Bilad al-Sham

Bilad al-Sham
بِـلَاد الـشَّـام
Region of the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates
Syria in the 9th century.svg
Historical eraMiddle Ages
• Tulunid control
• Partition between Hamdanids and Ikhshidids
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Diocese of the East
Ikhshidid Dynasty
Hamdanid dynasty

Bilad al-Sham (Arabic: بِـلَاد الـشَّـام‎, romanizedBilād al-Šām) was the name of a region controlled by the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates in the Levant. It roughly corresponded with the former Byzantine territories of the Diocese of the East which was won after the decisive Battle of Yarmouk.[1]

The term "Bilad al-Sham" means "land to the north", literally "land on the left-hand" relative to someone in the Hejaz facing east (بِـلَاد اليَـمَـن, Bilād al-Yaman, correspondingly means "land of the right hand"). Today, Bilaad al-Sham represents the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.[citation needed]


The Umayyads divided al-Sham into four military/administrative provinces (jund, pl. ajnads):[2]

The governor of the provinces were called wali or amir.[12]


The name given to the Levant by the Arab conquerors was al-Shām (Arabic: الـشَّـام‎, "The North").[13][14] 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, Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan (602–680 CE) of the Banu Umayya clan governed the Syrian region for twenty years, and developed the province as his family's power base. Relying on Syrian military support, Mu'awiya emerged as the victor in the First Fitna (656–661) and established the Umayyad Caliphate (661).

Under the Umayyads, Damascus was the capital of the Caliphate and Syria formed the Caliphate's metropolitan province; likewise, the elite Syrian army, the Ahl al-Sham (أَهْـل الـشَّـام), formed the main pillar of the Umayyad government.

Al-Sham 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 Jund Qinnasrin were detached to form a new jund, called al-Awasim (اَلْـعَـوَاصِـم),[15][16] 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.[citation needed]

See also[]


  1. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 7: the region of al‑Sham consisted of a vast geographic region, from southern Turkey in the north to Palestine in the south, and several provinces (al‑Maqdisi 2002: 137‒138)
  2. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 154,158.
  3. ^ a b c Cobb 2001, p. 11-2.
  4. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 172; Cobb 2001, p. 13: Dimashq was the largest of the jund
  5. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 158-9: For several centuries Aylah, the present‑day Jordanian port city of al-'Aqabah on the Red Sea, was part of the Islamic administrative province of Jund Filastin
  6. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 160
  7. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 169: It was expanded further by the Tulunids, ... The province of Filastin was enlarged ... eastwards and southwards, at the expense of Jund Dimashq, to include Bilad al‑Sharat, ... in modern‑day southern Jordan and north‑western Saudi Arabia (Salibi 1993: 18‒20; le Strange 1890: 28).
  8. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 180; Meri 2006, p. 590: Ramla, the capital of Jund Filastin, was founded ... in 715; Gil 1997, p. 106: It became the capital of jund Filastin and actually the most important city in Palestine.
  9. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 160: Like Palaestina Secunda, Jund al‑Urdun included most of the Galilee and some territories in Transjordan.; Gil 1997, p. 111: The second sector contained upper and lower Galilee, and the western part of Peraea (the land stretching east of the Sea of Galilee)
  10. ^ Gil 1997, p. 111: including Acre and Tyre
  11. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 160; Gil 1997, p. 111
  12. ^ Masalha 2018, p. 154,159; Cobb 2001, p. 14
  13. ^ Article "Al-Shām" by C.E. Bosworth, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume 9 (1997), page 261. See also Name of Syria.
  14. ^ Salibi, K. S. (2003). A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered. I.B.Tauris. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-86064-912-7. To the Arabs, this same territory, which the Romans considered Arabian, formed part of what they called Bilad al-Sham, which was their own name for Syria. From the classical perspective however Syria, including Palestine, formed no more than the western fringes of what was reckoned to be Arabia between the first line of cities and the coast. Since there is no clear dividing line between what are called today the Syrian and Arabian deserts, which actually form one stretch of arid tableland, the classical concept of what actually constituted Syria had more to its cr geographically than the vaguer Arab concept of Syria as Bilad al-Sham. Under the Romans, there was a province of Syria, with its capital at Antioch, which carried the name of the territory. Otherwise, down the centuries, Syria like Arabia and Mesopotamia was no more than a geographic expression. In Islamic times, the Arab geographers used the name arabicized as Suriyah, to denote one special region of Bilad al-Sham, which was the middle section of the valley of the Orontes river, in the vicinity of the towns of Homs and Hama. They also noted that it was an old name for the whole of Bilad al-Sham which had gone out of use. As a geographic expression, however, the name Syria survived in its original classical sense in Byzantine and Western European usage, and also in the Syriac literature of some of the Eastern Christian churches, from which it occasionally found its way into Christian Arabic usage. It was only in the nineteenth century that the use of the name was revived in its modern Arabic form, frequently as Suriyya rather than the older Suriyah, to denote the whole of Bilad al-Sham: first of all in the Christian Arabic literature of the period, and under the influence of Western Europe. By the end of that century it had already replaced the name of Bilad al-Sham even in Muslim Arabic usage.
  15. ^ Le Strange, G. (1890). Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund. pp. 30–39. OCLC 1004386.
  16. ^ Cobb, Paul M. (2001). White Banners: Contention in ‘Abbāsid Syria, 750–880. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. pp. 11–182. ISBN 0-7914-4880-0.