Bilad al-Sham

Bilad ash-Sham
بِـلَاد الـشَّـام
Province of the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates


Location of Syria
Historical eraMiddle Ages
 • Battle of Yarmouk636
 • First Fitna656–661
 • Tulunid control878–904
 • Partition between Hamdanids and Ikhshidids940s

Bilad al-Sham (Arabic: بِـلَاد الـشَّـامBilād a'š-Šām) was a Rashidun, Umayyad and later Abbasid Caliphate province in what is now the Levant. It incorporated former Byzantine territories of the Diocese of the East, organized soon after the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the mid-7th century, which was completed at the decisive Battle of Yarmouk. The term "Bilad al-Sham" means "land to the north", literally "land on the left-hand" relative to someone in the Hejaz facing east (Bilad al-Yaman (بِـلَاد اليَـمَـن) correspondingly means "land of the right hand"). However, the name was most likely coined after Shem or Sam who lived in that area. [1][2]


The name given to the Levant by the Arab conquerors was Aš-Šām (Arabic: الـشَّـام‎, "The North").[1][2] The population of the region did not become predominantly Muslim and Arab in identity until nearly a millennium after the conquest. Following the Muslim conquest, Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan (602–680 CE) of the Banu Umayyah governed the Syrian region for twenty years, and developed the province as his family's power base. Relying on Syrian military support, Muawiyah emerged as the victor in the First Fitna (656–661) and established the Umayyad Caliphate (661). During Umayyad times, al-Sham was divided into five junds or military districts. The initial districts were Jund al-Urdunn (Arabic: جُـنْـد الْأُرْدُنّ‎, "Military district of the Jordan"), Jund Dimashq (Arabic: جُـنْـد دِمَـشْـق‎, "Military district of Damascus"), Jund Ḥimṣ (Arabic: جُـنْـد حِـمْـص‎, "Military district of Homs"), Jund Filasṭīn (Arabic: جُـنْـد فِـلَـسْـطِـيْـن‎, "Military district of Palestine"), and later, Jund Qinnasrîn (Arabic: جُـنْـد قِـنَّـسْـرِيْـن‎, "Military district of Qinnasrin") was carved 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 ash-Shâm (Arabic: أَهْـل الـشَّـام‎), 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, all of which were in Iraq, which consequently became their most important province. The mainly Arab Syrians were marginalized by Iranian and Turkish forces who rose to power under the Abbasids, a trend 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-ʿAwāṣim (Arabic: اَلْـعَـوَاصِـم‎),[3][4] which served as a second line of defence against Byzantine attacks, behind the actual frontier zone of the Thughur. From 878 until 905, Syria came 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 the Byzantine Empire under Nikephoros II Phokas conquered much of northern Syria, 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.