Where earthly and divine touch
بلاد الشام (Bilad al-Sham):
Bilad al-Sham, the Land of Syria, or the Levant in the heathen tongue of the Franks, a land both united and torn asunder by the faith in God. It was here that the Jews found and settled their promised land, where the prophet Jesus was born and died, his followers forging a religion that would last many centuries, and where, according to the Qur'an, Muhammad made his Night Journey to Jerusalem. It has not just been a cradle of religions, but also of civilisation in general. Many of the world's first urban communities sprouted up in Syria, on its coasts and fertile river plains, living off agriculture, fishing and trade. This prosperity still lingers, but for how long shall it be able to last under the pressures the region experiences?
More information on this situation is coming, but first, here is an overhead view of the region, showing off the geographical features:
Geography and economy:
The Land of Syria has been strongly urbanised region since many millennia ago. This has come to pass because of the land's geographical composition. In the west, Syria is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, from which coasts the land gradually rises until reaching heights where it forms mountain ranges that protect the fertile plains from the desert sands that form the eastern border of the region. In the northern part of Syria, the land is especially fertile, due to the waters of the Orontes and Euphrates rivers. These geographical features create a particularly pleasant climate wherein agriculture, and therefore human life, thrives. As mentioned before, the eastern border is formed by desert, the Syrian Desert to be precise. This desert is very inhospitable, with there being only a few paths that can safely be crossed to reach Mesopotamia, which lies on the other side. The most viable of these corridors is the one that passes through the oasis city of Palmyra, and then continues through the desert until it reaches the Euphrates at al-Busayrah, from where the road follows the river into Arabian Iraq. Lastly, in the south, the border of Syria is defined by the Negev Desert, and to the north-east of this desert lies the Dead Sea, one of the world's largest and most saline lakes.
Notable are the many cities on the coast, most of which have existed since several millennia BC, and which are usually exactly a day sailing apart. This system of coastal towns came into existence very early in history, as the coast of Syria has long been the place where the Asian and the European trade routes came together, and as such thrived from all the commerce.
It was not just the merchandise moving through the region that made it rich, but also the local produce. As I insinuated previously, agricultural produce was very important to Syria. It was one of the major producers of wheat in the Mediterranean, though it could not compete with neighbouring Egypt in this regard. Another important product was salt from the Dead Sea, from which, as it is one of the most saline lakes in the world, it was easy to collect great quantities of salt. Cotton, though a relatively new product, having come here from India through Iran only a few centuries before 1080 AD, was also becoming popular, especially amongst the farmers of the Orontes and Euphrates river plains.
Here are, as usual, two screenshots giving more detail on the various towns and cities of Syria, note especially the PSF density visible in the coastal areas:
Demography and politics:
As I mentioned previously, Syria was heavily urbanised for its time, and had been so since the dawn of civilisation. A great many cities had risen to splendour here, especially the great cities of Aleppo, Antioch, Damascus and Jerusalem.
Aleppo, or Halab in Arabian, was in 1080 AD the largest of these four and still is today. The city is of great antiquity, having been mentioned as an important city since the 3rd millennium BC. The Citadel of Aleppo, the tell of the original city, still stands at the centre of the city today to testify this long history. It commands a central position on a very fertile plain, and as such has always been the focus of the surrounding settlements.
Antioch, Antiok in Armenian or Antakya in Arabian, previously the Roman capital of Syria and one of the grandest cities of the Empire, was during the Middle Ages mostly in ruins. Its great walls still stood to protect it, but many of its houses, churches and other buildings had been deserted and were decaying slowly as time passed. In 1080, a modest population of Muslims and Christians resided here, ruled by the former Byzantine general Philaretos Brachamios, who led the Armenian Christians in their struggle against the Muslim armies that threatened this last foothold of Christianity in Syria.
Damascus, or Dimashq in Arabian, is, like Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world, some even call it the oldest. The city is very comparable to its northern neighbour, but has also ever been in its shadow. At about half the size of Aleppo, it is much smaller, but not less significant in local politics. The fact that it was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphs still left traces, still made the city a strong contestant among the cities of Syria.
Jerusalem, known by many names, but one in particular, al-Quds: the Holy. The ancient city overlooking the Dead Sea was for many people the centre of the world and the place where the earthly and the divine touched. Firmly in Muslim hands, by 1080 AD the city had attracted many immigrants, pilgrims and opportunists alike, making it the second largest city of Syria.
As said, there were many great cities in Syria during the Middle Ages, and amongst the greatest should also be counted Afāmiyya*, Busrā, Germanikeia, Ghazza, Hamā, Hims, al-Khunāsir*, al-Lādhiqīyya, Manbig, al-Ramla, al-Rasūfa*, Tadmur* and Tarābulus.
The political situation in Syria in the 11th century could hardly be called stable. The region prospered economically, yes, but it was also torn apart by great wars and divided into many factions. By 1070, the Seljuk Turks were marching through these lands, taking city by city from the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt and other, smaller rulers, yet even they could not bring this land under one banner. Ten years later, the region was de facto autonomous from the Sultan in Esfahan, divided between several Emirs who ruled the great cities and trusted one another little. The Fatimid Caliph meanwhile, waited his chance to strike back and take the rich lands that he had been forced from. And while he had allowed Christian pilgrims free travel in the Holy Land, the arrival of the Seljuks threatened to deny them this access, and as such the eyes of the Pope of Rome indeed were turned as well to Jerusalem, contemplating how Catholic Europe should answer to the threat these Turkish invaders posed. In another corner, the Armenians were the last Christians to hold out against the Seljuk onslaught, and were prepared to fight to the last man to preserve the region for Christendom.
All that the common man knew, was that something was brewing, most likely a great conflict that would disturb the lives of many thousands, that would bring calamity to the people who had already suffered so greatly and could only pray to God, whichever one it was they followed, that it would end.
* Because apparently you guys like these, here are the coordinates of some ruined cities:
- Afāmiyya: massive Greek/Roman ruins of Apamea, with an even older tell adjoining the walls, in the Middle Ages reduced in population size, but still quite large (35░25'12.50"N, 36░24'0.40"E)
- al-Khunāsir: very large ruins of an originally Greek/Roman city with an ancient tell forming the citadel, note that you have to look very carefully to see the full scope of the city walls (35░46'49.91"N, 37░29'54.81"E)
- al-Rasūfa: note that the ruins have two tiers, one still mostly intact, the other vaguely visible (35░37'35.86"N, 38░45'39.89"E)
- Tadmur: the immense ruins of the city known better as Palmyra (Tadmur being the correct Arabian and original Aramaic name), which still flourished during the Middle Ages, though less densely populated (34░33'13.38"N, 38░15'57.18"E)
** Please note, the screenshots are slightly outdated. Adana and Tarsos should be controlled by Armenia, this will be fixed as soon as possible.
Here ends this preview, I hope you have enjoyed it!
Well, that took bloody long, didn't it? After life kicked me in the groin repeatedly whenever I tried to get this preview made and put me to work on other things, and then lastly technical issues that postponed its release further, the fourth preview is finally here. Hopefully I'll have more time in the coming weeks than I had the last two months, and as such be able to get previews up more frequently, but I can't promise I will. However, there is a good chance that there will be at least one more preview coming up within a week's time
If you have time to spare, please feel free to go here and contribute to the mod, it would be much appreciated.
If there are any questions about this or the previous preview, or about anything else related to this project, please feel free to ask them and I will do my best to answer.