Map: Syria in c. AD 1215

Syria 979AD – 1215AD


In 1071 Syria and Palestine, like much of the Middle East, passed into the hands of the Seljuqs. Then, after 1098, it fell to the Christian Crusaders from Europe, who set up four states in Syria and Palestine: the kingdom of Jerusalem, the principality of Antioch, and the counties of Edessa and Tripoli. These were organized along the feudal lines of European states of the time.

The position of the Crusaders, always an alien minority within their territories, was never secure. In 1127, northern Syria came under the control of the Turkish Zangid dynasty, originally based in northern Iraq. The Zangid ruler, Nureddin, took Antioch and Edessa from the Crusaders in 1144. His general, Saladin, then gained complete control of Egypt and, on Nuredin’s death, became ruler of Syria and Palestine as well, founding the Ayyubid dynasty. He resoundingly defeated the Crusaders at the battle of Hattin in 1187, and all inland areas fell permanently back into Muslim hands, under Saladin and his successors.

Up to the time of the Crusades, the majority of the population of Syria and Palestine were probably Christians. However, the presence of hostile and alien Christian conquerors, who treated the local population with scant concern, meant that by this time most Syrians had become Muslims. A minority kept to to their old faith, most famously the Maronites, an isolated community whose location in the difficult terrain of Mount Lebanon gave them a measure of protection against the surrounding Muslims. Mount Lebanon also sheltered another tightly-knit mountain community, the Druze. This secretive sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, was an amalgam of Islamic, Jewish and Christian beliefs.

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