Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History

by Trevor Bryce

Hardcover, 2014



Call number



Oxford University Press (2014), Edition: 1, 400 pages


Syria has long been one of the most trouble-prone and politically volatile regions of the Near and Middle Eastern world. This book looks back beyond the troubles of the present to tell the 3000-year story of what came before: the peoples, cities, and kingdoms that arose, flourished, declined, and disappeared in the lands that now constitute Syria, from the time of the region's earliest written records in the third millennium BC, right through the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early 4th century AD.

User reviews

LibraryThing member deusvitae
When you are the crossroads of the ancient Near Eastern world, you’re going to experience a lot of drama. And empires.

That’s probably the most concise way of explaining the history presented in Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History by Trevor Bryce.

The period in question at its greatest
Show More
extent is around 2600 BCE to 730 CE; the author’s primary focus is from 2300 BCE to around 280 CE. The author chronicles the Bronze Age kingdoms of Ebla and Mari, the influence of Mesopotamian empires and Mitanni, the Hittites, the Egyptian Empire of its New Kingdom, the collapse of the Bronze Age and the Syro-Hittite kingdoms which arose in the Early Iron Age, and then the litany of empires: Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek - primarily Seleucid but some Ptolemaic, and then, of course, the Romans. The author also highlights the rise and fall of Palmyra. The rest of Roman and Byzantine Syria is quickly covered in what amounts to an afterword.

If you’re looking for the “great man” approach to history, and an expansive overview over a large region and time, then this work will do very well for you. A particular strength is the detail in which the author covers the Seleucid Empire; normally it is passed over quickly in favor of Rome.

The two main challenges I have with the work involve geography and focus.

“Syria” is a nebulous being. The very term itself expresses the challenge: “Syria” is the Greek rendering of Assyria, and the Greeks were coming of age and exploring their world right at the time the Assyrian Empire was fading and would ultimately collapse. If anything, the greatest reminder of the Assyrian Empire is how it would give its name to a wide swath of its western holdings.

But that’s the problem: “Syria” was only part of the “Assyrian Empire.” Those from the areas between Anatolia and the Assyrian heartland would resent being given the name of the people who overcame and oppressed them.

It would seem “Syria” is really the area the Greeks and Romans considered “Syria,” roughly between Anatolia and the Euphrates, and at some times, all the way down to Egypt. Such is why Israelite and Jewish history are also considered in this work.

But in the process eastern areas of modern Syria get short shrift; the Parthians and Sassanids are only discussed inasmuch as they are influencing the story of the Seleucid and Roman territories of Syria.

Beyond this, as a “great man” history, the last we hear much about “Syrians” themselves are…in the days of Assyria. There’s a lot of great information about the various Syrian states before the Assyrians in this work, but once we get to Assyrian dominance, the story now becomes all about the people who ruled over Syria and the Syrians. Discussion of religion is almost non-existent; what might be known about ancient Syrian cultures or societies will not be found here.

Thus this work is good for what it is: a political history of “Syria” as conceived of by the Seleucids and Romans, projected back in history to the Early Bronze Age and extending to the fall of Palmyra with a coda regarding everything up to the days of the Islamic conquest. But to learn more about ancient Syrians, one will have to look elsewhere.
Show Less


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

400 p.; 9.3 inches


0199646678 / 9780199646678


Page: 0.1385 seconds