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Bilad al-Sham

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Bilad al-Sham
Province of the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates


Capital Damascus
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Battle of Yarmouk 636
 - Partition between Hamdanids and Ikhshidids 940s
History of the Levant
Stone Age
Kebaran culture · Natufian culture
Halafian culture · Ghassulian culture  · Jericho
Ancient history
Ebla · Akkadian Empire
Canaanites · Amorites
Aramaeans  · Hittites
Israel and Judah  · Philistines  · Phoenicians
Neo-Assyrian Empire · Neo-Babylonian Empire
Achaemenid Empire
Classical antiquity
Wars of Alexander the Great
Seleucid Empire
Hasmonean kingdom  · Nabataeans
Roman Empire  · Herodians  · Palmyra
Byzantine Empire  · Sassanid Empire
Middle Ages
Rashidun · Umayyads
Abbasids · Fatimids
Crusades · Ayyubids · Mamluks
Modern history
Ottoman Syria (Mount Lebanon · Jerusalem)
Mandatory Syria and Lebanon
Mandatory Palestine (Transjordan)
Syria · Lebanon · Jordan
Israel · Palestinian Authority  · Gaza Strip

Bilad al-Sham (Arabic بلاد الشام, the country of Syria), in English usually referred to as Syria, was a Rashidun, Umayyad and later Abbasid Caliphate province, incorporating former Byzantine territories of the Diocese of the East, organized soon after the Muslim conquest of Syria in the mid-7th century, which was completed at the decisive Battle of Yarmouk.

At the time of the Arab conquest of the Rashidun, the region had been inhabited mainly by local Aramaic-speaking Monophysite Christian peasants (like the Mardaites and Byzantine Christians or Melchites), Ghassanid and Nabatean Arabs, as well as minorities of Jews, Samaritans and Ismaelite Itureans. The population of the region did not become predominantly Muslim and Arab in identity until several centuries after the conquest.

During Umayyad times, al-Sham was divided into five junds or military districts. They were Jund Dimashq, Jund Hims, Jund Filastin and Jund al-Urdunn. Later, Jund Qinnasrin was created out of part of Jund Hims. Under the Umayyads, the city of Damascus was the capital of the Islamic Caliphate and Syria formed the Caliphate's "metropolitan" province; likewise, the elite Syrian army, the ahl al-Sham, formed the main pillar of the Umayyad regime.

Syria became much less important under the Abbasid Caliphate, which succeeded the Umayyads in 750. The Abbasids moved the capital first to Kufa and then to Baghdad and Samarra in Iraq, which now became the most important province. The mainly Arab Syrians were marginalized by Iranian and Turkish forces who rose to power under the Abbasids, a movement which also expressed itself on a cultural level. Under Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809), the northern parts of the province were detached to form a new jund, called al-'Awasim, which served as a second line of defence against Byzantine attacks, behind the actual frontier zone of the Thughur.

From 878 until 905, Syria was under the effective control of the Tulunids of Egypt, but Abbasid control was re-established soon thereafter. It lasted until the 940s, when the province was partitioned between the Hamdanid Emirate of Aleppo in the north and Ikhshidid-controlled Egypt in the south. In the 960s, much of northern Syria was conquered by the Byzantine Empire under Nikephoros II Phokas and Aleppo became a Byzantine tributary, while the southern provinces passed to the Fatimid Caliphate after its conquest of Egypt in 969. The division of Syria into northern and southern parts would persist despite political changes until the Mamluk conquest in the late 13th century.



The term etymologically means "land of the left hand", referring to the fact that for someone in the Hejaz facing east, north is to the left (so the name Yemen correspondingly means "land of the right hand"). Sham comes from the Arabic consonantal root shin-hamza-mim ش ء م (referring to unluckiness, such as that traditionally associated with the left), as seen in alternative Arabic spellings such as شأم and شآم. There is no connection with the name of Shem son of Noah (which appears in Arabic as sam سام, with a different initial consonant, and without any internal glottal stop consonant), as is sometimes assumed.

Geographical / political meaning

Bilad al-Sham (also transliterated Bilad-ush-Sham, Cham under French influence etc.) can be used as a general name for the whole Levant or "Greater Syria" region (without special reference to the early historical caliphal province). The region is sometimes defined as the area that was dominated by Damascus, long an important regional centre — in fact, the Arabic word al-Sham الشام standing on its own can refer to the city of Damascus.

See also


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