Coele-Syria

Coele-Syria, Coele Syria, Coelesyria (Greek: Κοίλη Συρία, Koílē Syría), also rendered as Coelosyria and Celesyria, otherwise Hollow Syria (Latin: Cava Syria), was a region of Syria in classical antiquity. It probably derived from the Aramaic for all of the region of Syria but more often was applied to the Beqaa Valley between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges. The area now forms part of the modern nations of Lebanon and Syria.

It is widely accepted that the term Coele is a transcription of Aramaic kul, meaning "all, the entire", such that the term originally identified all of Syria.[1][2][3] The word "Coele", which literally means "hollow" in Koine Greek, is thought to have come about via a folk etymology referring to the "hollow" Beqaa Valley between Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountains.[3] However, the term Coele-Syria was also used in a wider sense to indicate "all Syria" or "all Syria except Phoenicia", by the writers; Pliny, Arrian, Ptolemy[4] and also Diodorus Siculus, who indicated Coele-Syria to at least stretch as far south as Joppa,[5][6] while Polybius stated that the border between Egypt and Coele-Syria lay between the towns of Rhinocolara and Rhaphia.[7][8]

The first and only official use of the term was during the period of Seleucid rule of the region, between c. 200 BCE and 64 BCE.[citation needed] During this period, the term "Coele Syria and Phoenicia" or "Coele Syria" was also used in a narrower sense to refer to the former Ptolemaic territory which the Seleucids now controlled, being the area south of the river Eleutherus. This usage was adopted by Strabo and the Books of the Maccabees.[9][10] However, Greek writers such as Agatharchides[11] and Polemon of Athens[12] used the term Palestine to refer to the region during this period, which was a term originally given circa 450 BCE by Herodotus. Later during the Roman Period c.350 CE, Eunapius wrote that the capital of Coele-Syria was the Seleucid city of Antioch, north of the Eleutherus.[13]

According to Polybius, a former officer of the Ptolemaic Empire named Ptolemy Thrasea, having fought in the 217 BCE Battle of Raphia, defected to the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great. Antiochus gave him the title "Strategos and Archiereus of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia". Some scholars speculate that this title may have been used previously by the Ptolemies, but no direct evidence exists to support this.[3]

The region was disputed between the Seleucid dynasty and the Ptolemaic dynasty during the Syrian Wars. Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy first occupied Coele-Syria in 318 BC. However, when Ptolemy joined the coalition against Antigonus I Monophthalmus in 313 BC, he quickly withdrew from Coele-Syria. In 312 BC Seleucus I Nicator, defeated Demetrius, the son of Antigonus, in the Battle of Gaza which again allowed Ptolemy to occupy Coele-Syria. Though he was again to pull out after only a few months, after Demetrius had won a battle over his general and Antigonus entered Syria in force up to Antigonuses, this brief success had enabled Seleucus to make a dash for Babylonia which Seleucus secured. In 302 BC, Ptolemy joined a new coalition against Antigonus and reoccupied Coele-Syria, but quickly withdrew on hearing a false report that Antigonus had won a victory. He was only to return when Antigonus had been defeated at Ipsus in 301 BC. Coele-Syria was assigned to Seleucus, by the victors of Ipsus, as Ptolemy had added nothing to the victory. Though, given Ptolemy's track record, he was unlikely to organize a serious defense of Coele-Syria, Seleucus acquiesced in Ptolemy's occupation, probably because Seleucus remembered how it had been with Ptolemy's help he had reestablished himself in Babylonia.

The later Seleucids were not to be so understanding, resulting in the century of Syrian Wars between the Ptolemies and Seleucids. The Battle of Panium in 200 BC, during the Fifth Syrian War, was the final decisive battle between the two sides in ending Ptolemaic control over the region. The 171–168 BC conflicts over Coele-Syria, between Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Ptolemy VI Philometor, are discussed in Livy’s The History of Rome from its Foundation (in XLII. 29 and XLV. 11–12).

Seleucid control over the area of Judea began diminishing with the eruption of the Maccabean Revolt in 165 BC. With Seleucid troops being involved in warfare on the Parthian front, Judea succeeded in securing its independence by 140 BC. Despite attempts of Seleucid rulers to regain territories, the conquests of Pompey in 64 BC were a decisive blow to them, and Syria became part of the Roman Republic.

Under the Macedonian kings, Upper Syria (Syria Superior) was divided into four parts (tetrarchies) which were named after their capitals. Later in the Roman Pompeian era, the province was divided into nine districts.[14]

Judging from Arrian and The Anabasis of Alexander, the historians of Alexander the Great, as well as more ancient authors,[15] gave the name of Syria to all the country comprehended between the Tigris and the Mediterranean. The part to the east of the Euphrates, afterwards named Mesopotamia was called "Syria between the rivers;" that to the west was called by the general name Coele-Syria, and although Phoenicia and Palestine were sometimes separated from it. Yet, it was often comprehended as the whole country as far as Egypt.[16][17]

In the Wars of the Diadochi, Coele-Syria came under the control of Antigonus I Monophthalmus. Then in 301 BCE, Ptolemy I Soter exploited events surrounding the Battle of Ipsus to take control of the region. The victors at Ipsus finalized the breakup of Alexander's empire. Coele-Syria was allocated to Ptolemy's former ally Seleucus I Nicator, who—having been previously aided by Ptolemy—took no military action to gain control of the region. Their successors, however, became embroiled in a series of conflicts over this issue.[21]

Authors of the Roman period differ on the limits of Coele-Syria, some extending and others contracting them. The Geography of Strabo notes that Coele Syria Propria (Proper) is defined by the Libanus and Anti-libanus mountain ranges, running parallel to each other.[31] In the wars between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidæ, the name Cœle (or Hollow Syria) was applied to the whole of the southern portion of Syria, but under the Romans, it was confined to "Cœlesyria Proper" and variously included the district east of Anti-Libanus, about Damascus, and a portion of Palestine east of the Jordan river (possibly of: Trans-Jordan, Perea, or the Decapolis).[32]

The name Syria comes from the ancient Greek regional name for the Levantine colonies and colonial territories which they had established and which were "formerly comprehended as part of Assyria" (see Name of Syria).[37] Syria had an uncertain border to the northeast that Pliny the Elder describes as including from west to east; Commagene, Sophene, and Adiabene. In Pliny's time, Syria was administratively divided into a number of provinces with various degrees of autonomy under the Roman Empire, such as the Ityraei or Ituraei, who were a people of Coelo-Syria famous for shooting with a bow, [The wood of the trees called] "yews are bent into Ituraean bows".[38][39]

The Decapolis was so called from its ten cities enumerated by Pliny. What Pliny calls Decapolis, Ptolomy makes his Cœle-Syria; and the Cœle-Syria of Pliny, is that part of Syria about Aleppo.[49][50]

Towns in Coelesyria given by Ptolemy c. 150 CE that are distinct from Pliny's Decapolis

The governor of Syria retained the civil administration of the whole large province undiminished, and held for long alone in all Asia a command of the first rank. It was only in the course of the second century that a diminution of his prerogatives occurred, when Hadrian took one of the four legions from the governor of Syria and handed it over to the governor of Palestine. It was Severus who at length withdrew the first place in the Roman military hierarchy from the Syrian governor. After having subdued the province —which had wished at that time to make Niger emperor, as it had formerly done with its governor Vespasian —amidst resistance from the capital Antioch in particular, he ordained its partition into a northern and a southern half, and gave to the governor of the former, which was called Coele-Syria, two legions, to the governor of the latter, the province of Syro-Phoenicia, one [legion].[54]

There is also the colony of Laodicea, in Coele Syria, to which also the divine Severus granted the Italian Law on account of its services in the Civil War.[58]

You may delineate the Promised Land of Moses from the Book of Numbers (ch. 34): as bounded on the south by the desert tract called Sina, between the Dead Sea and the city of Kadesh-barnea, [which is located with the Arabah to the east] and continues to the west, as far as the river of Egypt, that discharges into the open sea near the city of Rhinocolara; as bounded on the west by the sea along the coasts of Palestine, Phoenicia, Coele‑Syria, and Cilicia; as bounded on the north by the circle formed by the Taurus Mountains and Zephyrium and extending to Hamath, called Epiphany‑Syria; as bounded on the east by the city of Antioch Hippos and Lake Kinneret, now called Tiberias, and then the Jordan River which discharges into the salt sea, now called the Dead Sea.[59][60]

Libanius (died 392 CE) was born at Antioch, the capital of Coele Syria as it is called. This city was founded by Seleucus surnamed Nicator.[61][62]