Cultures > Coele-Syria



Coele-Syria, Coele Syria, Coelosyria, Celesyria or Coelesyria, known in Greek as Κοίλη Συρία or Koílē Syría was a region that existed during the Hellenistic Period. This period was a major battleground of the Wars of the Diadochi that erupted following the death of Alexander the Great. Most famously known for its role in the Syrian Wars, Coele-Syria was heavily fought over between the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire as it represented vital trade and transportation routes to and from Greece and Kingdom of Macedon.


The name Coele for the region is most likely derived from the Aramic word kul which means "all" or "the entire" and was used to identify the entire region of Syria which was previously occupied by the Arameans. Coele also means "hollow" in Koine Greek so some historians and linguists believe they may be referring to the gap known as the Beqaa Valley between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges that forms part of modern day Lebanon, Syria and Palestine/Israel.

The only official use of the phrase "Coele-Syria" was used between 200 BCE and 64 BCE during the Seleucid Empire and historians wonder if this is what the Ptolemaic Kingdom referred to it as such. According to Polybius a former officer in the Ptolemaic Kingdom Ptolemy Thrasea defected to the Seleucid Empire under the leadership of Antiochus III the Great following the Battle of Raphia in 217 BCE. Here Antiochus would give the officer the title of "Strategos and Archiereus of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia". Polybius would also give the border for Coele-Syria as being between the towns of Rhinocorura and Raphia.

During this period of the Wars of the Diadochi the phrase "Coele Syria and Phoenicia" was also used to describe a region of territory that the Ptolemaic Kingdom formally controlled that was south of the River Eleutherus. This definition would be used by Strabo and the Books of the Maccabees. However, at the same time other Greek writers such as Agatharchides and Polemon of Athens use the term "Palestine". This was also the term used previously in 450 BCE by Herodotus for the region.

However, no matter what the origin eventually the phrase "Coele-Syria" became used to describe all of Syria except for Phoenicia by many historians and writers in history. These include Arrian of Nicomedia, Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy, and Diodorus Siculus who all mention that the territory stretched as far south as Joppa. Around 350 CE Eunapius would write that the capital of Coele-Syria was the city of Antioch located north of the River Eleutherus.

Syrian Wars

See Syrian Wars

Coele-Syria was a major disputed and contested territory between the Hellenistic Kingdoms that were formed as a result of the Wars of the Diadochi that conflagrated across the region following the death of Alexander the Great. The area was vital for trade and transportation routes and therefore ownership changed hands multiple times between the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire in what became known as the Syrian Wars.

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.

Syrian Tetropolis

See Syrian Tetropolis

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]Nomenclatures of Syria[edit]Further information: Name of Syria and Names of the LevantJudging from Arrian and The Anabasis of Alexander, the historians of Alexander the Great, as well as more ancient authors, 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.[15][16]Nomenclatures of Syria given in the time of Cyrus the Great c.530 BCEPrimaryKul Eber-NariAll Across-the-RiverAlternateKoile SyriaCorrupt Greek translationWars over Coele-Syria given by Polybius c.150 BCE[17]Ptolemy, marching on Pelusium, made his first halt at that city, and after picking up stragglers and serving out rations to his men moved on marching through the desert and skirting Mount Casius and the marshes called Barathra. Reaching the spot he was bound for on the fifth day he encamped at a distance of fifty stades from Raphia, (Modern Rafah at the border of Egypt and Israel, north of Rhinocolara (El Arish)) which is the first city of Coele-Syria on the Egyptian side after Rhinocolura.[7][18]Boundaries of Egypt given by Diodorus Siculus c.50 BCEHaving spoken of the three boundaries of Egypt, by which it is distinguished from the rest of the continent, we now proceed to the next. The fourth side is nearly surrounded with a vast sea, without any harbours, being a very long and tedious voyage, and very difficult to find any place of landing. For from Parcetonium in Africa, to Joppa in Cœlo-Syria, for the space almost of five thousand furlongs, there is not one safe harbour to be found, except Pharus.[19]Coele SyriaLater authors in the Roman period, would differ much in settling the limits of Coele-Syria, some extending and others contracting, them. Strabo says, Coele Syria Propria is defined by Libanus and Anti-libanus, running parallel to each other. Now if we determine the limits of these two mountains, we shall go near to settle those of Coele Syria. They both begin a little above the sea; Libanus near Tripolis; chiefly against the spot called Dei Facies: Antilibanus at Sidon; but they terminate near the mountains of Arabia, above the territory of Damascus, and near the mountains of the Trachonitis, and there they terminate in other mountains.[20]Nomenclatures of Syria given by Strabo c.30 BCE[15][21]PrimaryCœlê-Syria & Seleucis-Syria & Phœnicia &c. &c.Cœlê-Syria ≠ Cœlo-Syrians[22]AlternateCœlo-Syrians & Syrians & PhœniciansSimilar to nomenclature given by HerodotusSYRIA post 70 CECirca 40 CE Philo of Alexandria in his written work, On the Life of Moses ;When then [Moses] he received the supreme authority, with the good will of all his subjects, God himself being the regulator and approver of all his actions, he conducted his people as a colony into Phoenicia, and into the hollow Syria (Coele-syria), and Palestine, which was at that time called the land of the Canaanites, the borders of which country were three days' journey distant from Egypt.[23]Circa 40 CE Pomponius Mela in his written work, Description of the World ;Syria holds a broad expanse of the littoral, as well as lands that extend rather broadly into the interior, and it is designated by different names in different places. For example, it is called Coele, Mesopotamia, Judaea, Commagene, and Sophene. It is Palestine at the point where Syria abuts the Arabs, then Phoenicia, and then—where it reaches Cilicia—Antiochia. [...] In Palestine, however, is Gaza, a mighty and well fortified city.[24]Greek coloniesThe 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".[25] 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".[26][27]Nomenclatures of Syria given by Pliny the Elder c.70 CE[28]PrimarySyriadeprecated terms: Palæstina, Judæa, Cœle, PhœniceAlternateSyria & PhœniceCirca 70 CE Pliny the Elder in his written work, Natural History ;Next to these countries on the coast is Syria, once the greatest of lands. It had a multitude of divisions with different names, the part adjacent to Arabia was previously known as Palestine (who's northernmost city was Caesarea, Plin. NH 5.69: "Caesarea ..finis Palastine") or Judaea or Cœle.[29][30] (Cœle or Hollow Syria: In the wars between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidæ, the name was applied to the whole of the southern portion of Syria, but under the Romans, it was confined to Cœlesyria proper and included the district east of Anti-Libanus, about Damascus, and a portion of Palestine east of the Jordan river known as Trans-Jordan).[31]Circa 100 CE Josephus in his written work, Antiquities of the Jews ;Antiochus made a friendship and league with Ptolemy, and gave him his daughter Cleopatra in marriage, and yielded up to him Cœle-Syria and Samaria and Judæa and Phœnicia by way of dowry.[32]Coele Syria. HeliopolisCirca 150 CE Appian in his written work, Roman History ;Intending to write the history of the Romans, I have deemed it necessary to begin with the boundaries of the nations under their sway.... Here turning our course and passing round, we take in Palestine-Syria, and beyond it a part of Arabia. The Phoenicians hold the country next to Palestine on the sea, and beyond the Phoenician territory are Coele-Syria, and the parts stretching from the sea as far inland as the river Euphrates, namely Palmyra and the sandy country round about, extending even to the Euphrates itself.[33]Palestine & Coele-Syria according to Ptolemy (map by Claude Reignier Conder of the Palestine Exploration Fund)Decapolis was so called from its ten Cities enumerated by Pliny (lib. 5. 18.) And with them he reckons up among others, the Tetrarchy of Abila in the same Decapolis : Which demonstrates the Abila Decapolis and Abila Lysaniæ to be the same Place. And tho'it cannot be denied, but that some of Pliny's ten Cities are not far distant from that near Jordan ; yet it doth not appear that ever this other had the Title of a Tetrarchy. Here it is to be observed, that what Pliny calls Decapolis, Ptolomy makes his Cœle-Syria ; and the Cœle-Syria of Pliny, is that Part of Syria about Aleppo, formerly call'd Chalcidene, Cyrrhistice, etc.[34]Towns in Coelesyria given by Ptolemy c.150 CE[35][36][37]HeliopolisAbila which is called Lysinia (Abila Lysanios)SaanaInaSamulis (Samoulis)AbidaCapitoliasAdraCanathaThe Roman provinces of Syria, Palestina, and ArabiaThe 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].[38]Nomenclature of Syria given in the time of Septimius Severus c.200 CE[39][40][41]SyriaProvincia Syria CoeleSyria Coele ≠ Cœlê-Syria ≠ Cœlo-SyriansPhoeniceProvincia Syria PhoenicePalestinaProvincia Syria PalæstinaArabiaProvincia Arabia PetraeaBoundaries of the 'Promised Land' given by Jerome c.400 CEYou 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.[42][43]Circa 400 CE Eunapius in his written work, Lives of Philosophers and Sophists ;Libanius (d.392CE) was born at Antioch, the capital of Coele Syria as it is called. This city was founded by Seleucus surnamed Nicator.[44][45]Capital of the Seleucid Empire was Antioch (240–63 BCE)Capital of the Syria Coele (Roman province) was Antioch (200–600 CE)


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