Damascus : A History book cover
2nd Edition

A History

ISBN 9781138483354
Published February 4, 2019 by Routledge
438 Pages

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Book Description

Damascus, first published in 2005, was the first account in English of the history of the city, bringing out the crucial role it has played at many points in the region’s past. It traces the story of this colourful, significant and complex city through its physical development, from the its emergence in around 7000 BC through the changing cavalcade of Aramaean, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Turkish and French rulers to independence in 1946. This new edition has been thoroughly updated using recent scholarship and includes an additional chapter placing the events of the Syrian post-2011 conflict in the context of the city’s tumultuous experiences over the last century.

This volume is a must-read for anyone interested in the sweep of Syrian history and archaeology, and is an ideal partner to Burns’ Aleppo (2016). Lavishly illustrated, Damascus: A History remains a unique and compelling exploration of this fascinating city.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

List of Maps





Four Roads to Damascus

The setting

Legends of a birth

For want of a spade


Chapter 1 – The Emergence of Damascus (9000 – c1100 BC)

The first villages

Ta-ms-qu in Upi

The mother of all battles

A wider catastrophe

Chapter 2 – Dimashqu – Damascus from the Aramaeans to the Assyrians (c1100 – 732 BC)

After the turmoil

An Aramaean Empire (Eleventh Century–733 BC)

Aram-Damascus vs Israel

Neo-Assyrian Empire (964–c800 BC)

The city of the god

Damascus in Aramaean Times

The temple

Resurgent Assyria (8th century BC)

Epilogue: An altar for Jerusalem

Chapter 3 – A Greater Game – Assyrians, Persians, Greeks (732 – c300 BC)

Assyrian Rule (732–636 BC)

Neo-Babylonians (Chaldean Rule) (626–539 BC)

Persian (Achaemenid) rule (539–333 BC)

Damascus during the twilight of the Ancient Near East

After Issus (333–331 BC)

A Hellenic millennium

Chapter 4 – The Sowing of Hellenism – Ptolemies and Seleucids (300 – 64 BC)

Ptolemaic rule – Third Century BC

Damascus between rival dynasties

Seleucid rule – second century BC

The persistence of the plan

A Greek city

Temple of Zeus

A Hellenistic civilisation?

Chapter 5 – Towards a Pax Romana (64 BC – AD 30)

Rome Intervenes

Pompey’s settlement

The east Mediterranean theatre

Damascus and the struggle for empire

Stabilising the Damascus region

Urge to monumentalise

Civic works

Chapter 6 – Metropolis Romana (AD 30 – 268)

Who were the Syrians?

The city and temple of Jupiter

Importance of cult centres

First Christian mission

An imperial city

Syrian consorts

The eastern question


City and country

Chapter 7 – Holding the Line (AD 269 – 610)

Nature of the Persian threat

Hard and soft frontiers

A Christian city

Cathedral of Saint John

Decline and disintegration

Who were the Arabs|?

‘Do it yourself’ defence doctrine

Chapter 8 – ‘Farewell, Oh Syria’ (611 – 661)

Damascus – The First Bulwark

The great field army perishes

Arab aims

Heraclius retreats

Arab administration

Chapter 9 – The Umayyads (661 – 750)

Muʿawiya and the new order

The Umayyad prism

The ʿAlite revolt

Acquisition of the Church of Saint John

The building of the Mosque

The fantastic garden

Threshold of Paradise

A ninety year empire

A glorious failure?


Preface to Part Two - When did the ancient end?

Chapter 10 – Decline, Confusion and Irrelevance (750 – 1098)

Ostracism (750–877)

Teaching Damascus a lesson

Sullen revolt

Turkish inroads, Tulunids (877–905)


Fragmentation (905–964)

Fatimids (969–1071)

Seljuks (1055–1104)

Arrival of the Burids (1104)

First madrasas

Chapter 11 – Islam Resurgent (1098 – 1174)

Bulwark Against the Crusaders?

Early Burids (Tughtagin r. 1104–28)

Burids versus Zengids (1128–48)


The Second Crusade (1148) – ‘Fiasco’

Citadel of the faith


Nur al-Din (1154–74)

Nur al-Din’s monuments

A new ‘Golden Age’

Chapter 12 – Saladin and the Ayyubids (1174 – 1250)

Saladin’s rise

Hattin (1187)

‘The last victory’

The Ayyubid succession

Al-Muazzim ʿIssa (1218–28)

Jerusalem betrayed

Al-Ashraf (1229–38)

Back on the periphery (1238-50)

Courtly society

Chapter 13 – Mamluks (1250 – 1515)

The Central Asian threat

Baybars (1260–77)

Return of the Mongols

The Mamluk system

A new prosperity


Mamluk building

Tengiz’s governorship (1312– 40)

Decline (1341-82)

Burji Mamluks (1382–1516)

Siege of Tamerlane (1401)

A Venetian window


Chapter 14 – The First Ottoman Centuries (1516 – 1840)

Military rule

The Hajj


Stability of population

Reshaping Damascus

Municipal services

A new role (1706–58)

‘Age of the aʿyan’

Cathedrals of commerce

Acre’s rise – and fall

European ambitions – Egypt intervenes

Chapter 15 – Reform and Reaction (1840 – 1918)

Tanzimat – reform and reaction

1860 massacre

A ‘Little Istanbul’

Telegraph, road and rail

To Mecca by train?

The great fire of 1893

Suq al-Hamidiye

The Damascus house

Command for monument protection

Arab awakening

‘To Damascus!’ – the great ride

Whose Damascus?

Chapter 16 Epilogue – Countdown to Catastrophe (1919–2011)







Glossary of Terms and Names

Maps of City and Environs



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Ross Burns was in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs for 37 years until his retirement in 2003, including as Ambassador to Syria from 1984 to 1987. After his retirement, he completed a PhD at Macquarie University in Sydney on ‘The Origins of the Colonnaded Streets in the Cities of the Roman East’. He is the author of Aleppo (2016) and Monuments of Syria (3rd edition, 2009).


'Despite widespread interest in Damascus due to the Syrian Civil War, little has been written about the city in English. First published in 2004, Burns’ Damascus: A History remains the only English language volume to offer a comprehensive overview of the archaeology, architecture and history of one of the oldest cities on Earth. Therefore the second edition of this work is to be warmly welcomed for the addition of a new chapter bringing the reader up to date with the current situation and offering us a timely reminder of the effects of the war on this exceptional and fascinating city.'

- Emma Loosley, University of Exeter, UK