The Syrian Desert (Arabic: بادية الشام, Bâdiyat aş-Şâm), also known as the Hamad, is a combination of steppe and true desert covering 500,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles) of the Middle East, including parts of south-eastern Syria, northeastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq. To the south it borders and merges into the Arabian Desert. The land is open, gravely desert pavement, cut with occasional wadis.
|Syrian Desert (بادية الشَّام)|
Syrian Desert on a topographic map
Location and nameEdit
The desert is bounded by the Orontes Valley and volcanic field of Harrat al-Shamah to the west, and by the Euphrates to the east. In the north, the desert gives way to the more fertile areas of grass, and the south it runs into the deserts of the southern Arabian Peninsula.
Some sources equate the Syrian Desert with the "Hamad Desert", while others limit the name Hamad to the southern central plateau, and a few consider the Hamad to be the whole region and the Syrian Desert just the northern part.
The name Shamiyah has also been used for the Syrian Desert.
The 700-900m high region in the middle of the desert is the Hamad Plateau, a rather flat, stony semi-desert consisting of limestone bedrock covered with chert gravel. What little rain arrives on the plateau flows into local salt flats. The highest peaks of the Plateau are those of the 1000m+ Khawr um Wual in Saudi Arabia, and the 960m high Jebel Aneiza, at the border tripoint between Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
The Syrian Desert is the origin of the Syrian hamster. Storks, herons, cranes, small waders, waterfowl and also raptors visit the seasonal lakes. Small rodents are common, as are their predators such as snakes, scorpions and camel spiders; previously common were gazelle, wolf, jackal, fox, cat and caracal, also ostrich, cheetah, hartebeest and onager. The large mammals are now no longer to be found, thought to be due to hunting by man.
The desert was historically inhabited by Bedouin tribes, and many tribes still remain in the region, their members living mainly in towns and settlements built near oases. Some Bedouin still maintain their traditional way of life in the desert. Safaitic inscriptions, proto-Arabic texts written by literate Bedouin, are found throughout the Syrian Desert. These date approximately from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.
One of the most important ancient settlements in the Syrian desert is Palmyra, first mentioned in the second millennium BC, the city was an important trading center in Roman times, and its people were renowned merchants who took advantage of its strategic position on the silk road linking the far east to the mediterranean, by taxing passing by caravans, establishing colonies on the silk road, and trading in the rare commodities from the far east, thus bringing enormous wealth to their city. The city's people were a combination of Arameans, Amorites and Arabs.
Another important ancient settlement is the city of Dura-Europos on the Euphrates. Originally a fortress, it was founded by the Seleucids by the name of Dura, which means "Fortress", but was called Europos by the Greeks, as the combination Dura-Europos is a modern invention. The city prospered, mainly for its location on the Euphrates, importantly linking Mesopotomia to the Mediterranean, thus playing a huge part in both the commercial and military connections between the two regions. It was, however, raided by the Sassanian king Shapur I in the 250s, most of its citizens fled, and under Sassanian rule, the city was subsequently abandoned.
The desert was first traversed by motor vehicle in 1919. During the Iraq War, the desert served as a major supply line for the Iraqi resistance, with the Iraq portion of the desert becoming a primary stronghold of the Sunni resistance operating in the Al Anbar Governorate, particularly after the Coalition capture of Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury. A series of Coalition military operations were relatively ineffective at removing the resistance presence in the Desert. As the resistance began to gain control of the surrounding areas, coalition spokesmen began to downplay the importance of the Syrian desert as a center of operations; nevertheless the Syrian Desert remains one of the primary routes for smuggling equipment due to its location near the Syrian border. By September 2006 the resistance had gained control of virtually all of the Anbar Governorate and had moved most of their forces, equipment and leaders further east to resistance-controlled cities near the Euphrates river.
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