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Lebanon in Middle East Countries

Coele-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.

Variants of name


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.[4] 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[5] and also Diodorus Siculus, who indicated Coele-Syria to at least stretch as far south as Joppa,[6][7] while Polybius stated that the border between Egypt and Coele-Syria lay between the towns of Rhinocolara and Rhaphia.[8][9]

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. 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.[10][11] 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]

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.

Upper Syria

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

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]


  1. "La Syrie creuse n'existe pas", in G. L. Gatier, et al. Géographie historique au proche-orient (1988:15-40), reviving the explanation offered by A. Schalit (1954), is reported by Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer (2008, notes p378f): "the crux is solved".
  2. The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, Getzel M. Cohen, 2006 and pdf here
  3. A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 2, Lester L. Grabbe, p173
  4. A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 2, Lester L. Grabbe, p173
  5. From Sartre, pages 21-25: Diodorus 18.6.3, 61.4; 20.73.2; Polybius 8.17.10–11; Pliny, Naturalis Historiæ 5.106–10; Arrian Anabasis 2.13.7; Ptolemy 5.14.1.
  6. Diodorus Siculus c.150 BCE, Bibliotheca historica, XIX, 93; XXIX, 29
  7. Diodorus of Sicily, with an English translation by C.H. Oldfather
  8. Polybius; Hultsch, Friedrich Otto (1889). The Histories of Polybius.
  9. Polybius c.150 BCE, The Histories, Book 3, Chapter 2
  10. Studies in Josephus and the varieties of ancient Judaism: Louis H. Feldman.
  11. Parke, Herbert William. Sibyls and sibylline prophecy in classical antiquity.
  12. Grotius, Hugo; John CLARKE (Dean of Salisbury.) (1809).
  13. Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists
  14. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain) (1842).
  15. Besnier, Maurice (1914). Lexique de géographie ancienne. C. Klincksieck. pp. 222–223. "Image of p. 222 & p. 223 at Google Books"
  16. Strabo (1889). The geography of Strabo. Bell. p. 161, note 1. "Strabo below, c. ii. § 21,"