Septuagint Greek for Hebrew 'Aram, fifth of Shem's sons. Aram means the high land N.E. of the Holy Land, extending from the Jordan and the sea of Galilee to the Euphrates; the term means "high". In Genesis Aram-Naharaim, i.e. "Aram between the two rivers", is Mesopotamia, part of which is Padan Aram; and Laban who lived there is called the Aramaean or Syrian. Syria is by some derived from Assyria, by others from Tyre, as if Tsyria; by Ritter from Shur, the wilderness into which Israel passed out of Egypt (Genesis 25:18; Exodus 15:22; 1 Samuel 27:8), from whence the name was extended over all Syria. The Hebrew Aram begins on the northern border of Israel, and thence goes northward to Mount Taurus, westward to the Mediterranean, eastward to the Khabour river. Divided into Aram or Syria of Damascus, Aram or Syria of Zobah (the tract between Euphrates and Coelosyria), Aram or Syria Naharaim ('of the two rivers"), i.e. Padan Aram or Mesopotamia, the N.W. part of the land between the Tigris and Euphrates.
On the W. two mountain chains run parallel to one another and to the coast from the latitude of Tyre to that of Antioch, namely, Lebanon and Antilebanon; Lebanon the western chain at its southern end becomes Bargylus. Mount Amanus, an offshoot of Taurus, meets the two long chains at their northern extremity, and separates Syria from Cilicia. The valley between Lebanon and Antilebanon is the most fertile in Syria, extending 230 miles, and in width from 8 to 20 miles. The southern portion is Coelosyria and Hamath. The Litany in this valley (el Bukaa) flows to the S.W.; the Orontes (nahr el Asi, i.e. "the rebel stream") flows to the N. and N.E. for 200 miles; the Barada of Damascus is another river of Syria. The Syrian desert is E. of the inner chain of mountains, and S. of Aleppo; it contains the oasis of Palmyra, and toward its western side the productive plain of Damascus.
The chief towns were Antioch, Damascus, Tadmor or Palmyra, Laodicea, Hamath (Epiphaneia), Hierapolis, Heliopolis or Baalbek in Coelosyria, Chalybon or Aleppo, Apamea, and Emesa. Hamites, as the Hittites (the Khatti in the monuments), first occupied Syria. Then a Shemite element entered from the S.E., e.g. Abraham, Chedorlaomer, Amraphel. In early times Syria was divided among many petty "kings," as Damascus, Rehob, Maacah, Zobah, Geshur, etc. 1 Kings 10:29, "kings of Syria"; 2 Kings 7:6, "kings of the Hittites." Joshua fought with the chiefs of the region of Lebanon and Hermon (Joshua 11:2-18). David conquered Hadadezer of Zobah, the Syrians of Damascus, Bethrehob. Rezon of Zobah set up an independent kingdom at Damascus, in Solomon's time. Damascus became soon the chief state, Hamath next, the Hittites with Carchemish their capital third. Scripture and the Assyrian records remarkably agree in the general picture of Syria.
In both the country between the middle Euphrates and Egypt appears parceled out among many tribes or nations; in the N. the Hittites, Hamathites, Phoenicians, and Syrians of Damascus; in the S. the Philistines and Idumeans. Damascus in both appears the strongest state, ruled by one monarch from one center; Hamath with its single king is secondary (2 Kings 19:13; 1 Chronicles 18:9). In contrast with these two centralized monarchies stand the Hittites and the Phoenicians, with their several independent kings (1 Kings 10:29; 1 Kings 20:1). Chariots and infantry, but not horsemen, are their strength The kings combined their forces for joint expeditions against foreign countries. Egypt and Assyria appear in both in the background, not yet able to subdue Syria, but feeling their way toward it, and tending toward the mutual struggle for supremacy in the coveted land between the Nile and the Euphrates (G. Rawlinson, Hist. Illustr. of Old Testament).
Syria passed under Assyria (Tiglath Pileser slaying Rezin and carrying away the people of Damascus to Kir), Babylon, and Graeco Macedonia successively. At Alexander's death Seleucus Nicator made Syria head of a vast kingdom, with Antioch (300 B.C.) as the capital. Under Nicator's successors Syria gradually disintegrated. The most remarkable of them was Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), who would have conquered Egypt but for the mediation of Rome (A.D. 168). Then he plundered the Jewish temple, desecrated the holy of holies, and so caused the revolt of the Jews which weakened the kingdom. The Parthians under Mithridates I overran the eastern provinces, 164 B.C. Syria passed under Tigranes of Armenia, 83 B.C., and finally under Rome upon Pompey's defeat of Mithridates and Tigranes his ally, 64 B.C.
In 27 B.C. at the division of provinces between the emperor and the senate Syria was assigned to the emperor and ruled by legates of consular rank. Judaea, being remote from the capital (Antioch) and having a restless people, was put under a special procurator, subordinate to the governor of Syria, but within his own province having the power of a legate. (See BENHADAD; AHAB; HAZAEL, on the wars of the early kings of Syria.) Abilene, so-called from its capital Abila, was a tetrarchy E. of Antilibanus, between Baalbek and Damascus. Lysanias was over it when John began baptizing (Luke 3:1), A.D. 26. Pompey left the principality of Damascus in the hands of Aretas, an Arabian prince, a tributary to Rome, and bound to allow if necessary a Roman garrison to hold it (Josephus, Ant. 14:4, section 5; 5, section 1; 11, section 7). Under Augustus Damascus was attached to Syria; Caligula severed it from Syria and gave it to another Aretas, king of Petra. At Paul's conversion an "ethnarch of king Aretas" held it (2 Corinthians 11:32).
Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., "Definition for 'syria' Fausset's Bible Dictionary".