Monday, August 19, 2013

The Hellenism of Syria and its historical decline

Map with the sites of the Greek settlement in Syria

The presence of Hellenism in the area of historical Syria and middle East starts from the 4rth century BC, after the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was boosted by the founder of the Seleucid kingdom Seleucus I who was son of Antiochus the general of King Philip of Macedon.There are some references though about Greek presence in Syria earlier than the 4rth century BC. Philosopher Livanius stated that the Greek town of Ione which was located near Antiochia of Syria was a Greek colony that was established since the times of the Assyrian empire.Ione was founded by Greek people from Argos and later it was settled by Cypriots and Cretans too.
 As a memorial for his victory against the Persians in the battle of Issus, Alexander the Great founded a city called Nicopolis and a city called Alexandria over Issus.One of the diadochi of Alexander called Antigonus founded a city called Antigoneia and settled it with Atheneans.Later Seleucus, according to Libanius founded many Greek cities in Syria to create a Greek core in his multinational empire. Libanius exaggerated by saying that Seleucus founded so more Greek colonies than Athens and Miletus did during the big colonization of the Mediterranean.
 According to the chronographies of Malalas and Pausanias, Seuleucus founded 75 cities in Mesopotamia and Persia. The area of Syria was colonised and many cities were created and promoted Greek culture.The most famous of these was Antioch.It was founded in 300 BC and was colonised by Atheneans,Cretans,Macedonians and Cypriots. It became the center of the Hellenism and later of Christianity in Syria.
Palmyra. The ruins the findings by archaeologists suggest a strong Hellenistic presence in this ancient city.
 Antioch became a metropolis considering the city sizes of antiquity.It became a center of Greek arts,philosophy and rhetorics.Near Antioch there was an another Greek city called Apameia. Apameia was the name of the wife of Seleucus.Its citizens were also calling it Pella. According to Strabo near Apameia were also built several Greek towns like Megara, Larisa and Apollonia.
The coastal city of Laodicea took its name from Seleucus' mother.It was a prominent city in Syria just like Seleukeia over Orontes which was the port city of Antioch.Other famous Greek cities in Northern Syria were Arethousa,Epiphaneia,Ierapolis,Veroia,Herakleia,Poseidion,Herakleion, Germanikeia,Doliche,Nikopolis ,Kiristine and Seleukovilos.
Damascus was not founded by Greeks but during the Seleucid rule it was colonised by Greeks. Historians refer that Olympic games were taking place in Damascus.Another famous Greek city was Chalkis over Velus which was the hometown of philosopher Iamblichus.Homs which during the Hellenistic times was named Emessa was the hometown of the Stoic philosopher Poseidonius. Palmyra was also settled by Greeks. There are numerous of Greek inscriptions that were excavated by archaeologists.
Representation of how Antioch would look like in Antiquity
 Some of the most renowned Greeks who were born and lived in Syria were the historian Apollodorus of Artemita, the physician Apollonius of Antioch, the philosopher Apollophanes from Antioch,the son of Iamblichus Ariston, the poet Archias from Antioch, the rhetor Demetrius the Syrian, the stoic philosopher Diogenes from Seleucia and the historian Selecus from Emessa.

Antioch was the city were the terms Christians and Christianity were coined.The language of the Antiochian church was Greek. Paul the apostle who founded the church in Antioch wrote his letters in Greek.The Greek orthodox christians of Syria descend from these first christians. There are many christian text authors that were born and lived in Syria. All of the them had Greek education.

Seleucus I founder of the Seleucid kingdom which streched from Syria to India but later it would be confined only in the Hellenized region of Syria.
Until the 7th century and the rise of Islam Syria was primarily a christian country with a Greek speaking population.Antioch was the gate of Greek culture in the middle east.When the Arabs took the city, Hellenism and christianity bagan to dwindle.After 1453 and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans the Orthodox patriarchs of Antioch were found in a position fighting the Catholic propagnada and the massive conversion of Christians to Islam due to their persecution and for economic reasons.

 Since the 16th century when a latin bishop settled in Sidon many Orthodox christians converted to catholicism.In 1837 the Uniate church was acknowledged by the Ottoman Sultan and acquired many of the assets of the orthodox church.The Patriarchs of Antioch had meagre economic means to confront the Catholic influence.Afterwards a Russian called Porphyrius Uspensky appeared in 1843 and founded the Palestinian company which would promote the interests of Russia in the area.The Russians who wanted to take the primacy of the Orthodox world from the Greek orthodox patriarchate in Constantinople incited the Arab issue. They compelled the Syrians to abandon the Greek language as their church language and change it with the Arab language.
This scandalous intervention of the Russians caused the resignation of the Patriarch of Antioch in on April the 15th 1897 and the election of an Arabic speaking patriarch, excluding the Greek speaking candidates.
"Convent of our lady" Greek orthodox church in Syria
In the end of the 19th century the area of Syria was populated by Ansari, Chriastian and Islamic Arabs, Amenians,Bedouins,Druze(people from Libanon,Greeks,Jacobites,Ismailites(shiite Persians),Israelites,Circassians,Kurds,Latins,Maronites(people who settled there hunted by the Byzantine as heretics who adhered Monothelitism),Melkites(christianized Arabs),Syrians,Turks,Turkomans,Chaldeans,Roma people and Persians.
Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Theodora in an Orthodox church fresco.
We can say that generally these populations were descended from Ancient
 Syrians(Aramaeans),Ancient Greeks,Arabs,Turks and Western Europeans.Regarding the religion the Greek speaking populations which were under the jurisdiction of the Antioch patriarchate were located in Tarsus, Adana, Erserum and Diyarbakir.All these areas were out of historical Syria and this illustrated the general demise of Hellenism in Syria.According to unofficial statistics of the Patriarchate there were 500,000 Greek speaking people in the area that streched from Syria to Lebanon and Iraq.
The current events in Syria attract now the global attention.It's a country that traditionally had many antitheses concerning its populations that lived there.Among these populations still continue to live the remnants of the once dominant Hellenism of Syria and they are also endagered by this ongoing civil conflict. 

source: American-Greek newspaper "Hellas"(page 32)
translation of the Greek text done by the blog owner.

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