The Origin of the Name Syria

Lian Slayford By Lian Slayford, 27th Apr 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

This article looks at the history of the name 'Syria'.

The Origin of the Name Syria

The Origin of the Name Syria

The origin of the name ‘Syria’ is in fact Greek. For decades, scholars have tried to determine how and when this name came into being, with a number of different possibilities.

The main theory of the name Syria was that it derived from the Akkadian word ‘Subartu’. The Subartu were an ancient people found in the regions of Mitanni in northern Mesopotamia or of Arpad in modern day Syria. They are mentioned in ancient Assyrian texts and one early scholar read the name ‘Su-ri’, but this has long been regarded as a misspelling of the cuneiform.

In the Smith’s Bible Dictionary, the name Syria originates to the Greeks Suria to Sur, Tyre, which was one of the most important cities in the region. However, “inasmuch as the latter is rendered Tur in Greek, it is unlikely that the Greeks would have derived from it a name beginning with /s/”.

Another theory is that Syria was derived from the name ‘Assyria’, which was a neighbouring country. However, this theory has both linguistic and geographic objections. Firstly, J. Tkatsch states that “the disparate geography of the two regions would indicate separate indigenous origins for the names thereof. Rosenthal objected to Noldeke's etymology on the grounds that the long /u/ of Akkadian Assur would not have been shortened to short /u/ in Suria. This reasoning, however, is not fully supported by the facts. LXX renders Hebrew 'Assur as Assour, with long /u/, but when adding the suffix, shortens the vowel (Assuria). The transference of vowel length from one language to another is not a certain matter, as the example of Sur-Tur, discussed above, shows”.

There have been other theories that scholars have dismissed; the biblical Siryon, as a name for Mt. Hermon, would be geographically suitable for the origin of Greek Suria; the place-name Su-riki, occurring in the Nuzi tablets – although this may be the closest phonetically to Syria, the town was likely to have been located in northern Mesopotamia and not in Syria.

Known by many different names, in Biblical Hebrew, it was denominated as ‘Aram from the Aramaeans, who were the principal inhabitants of the Iron Age. In other parts of Mesopotamia, Syria was once known as Hrw by the ancient Egyptians from the 18th to the 21st Dynasties from the Hurrians. From here, it evolved to the Greek name ‘Suria’ and later spelt ‘Syria’.


Tvedtnes, John A. (1981) The Origin of the Name “Syria”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, The University of Chicago Press.


Historic, History, Middle East, Origin, Original, Syria

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author avatar Lian Slayford
Lian is a Research Archaeologist, specialising in Religious Archaeology.

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