241 BABYLON IA- THE COUNTRY.
is a country of much importance. On the north it extended to the Masian mountains; on the
east to the watershed of the Tigris valley; on the west, to the Euphrates. In this
district are the great rivers, the Bilik and the Khabour, with their numerous tributaries.
The banks of these streams are generally rich in pasturage, and in parts the fertility is
exceptionally good. Between the two rivers just mentioned, and in the district where rise
the Hills of Abd-el-Aziz, is found a region known as the Land of Fountains, where more
than three hundred springs of pure water break out into brooks and running streams,
refreshing the land with a natural irrigation.
West of the river Euphrates, and south of the Taurus range, lay the country known as
NORTHERN SYRIA. It was a land of small fertility and but few natural advantages. Like the
Euphrates valley, its usefulness consisted largely in the fact of its being a thoroughfare
between the East and the West. The surface was hilly and barren. From the north, beginning
with the spurs of the Amanus and Taurus, the rocky ranges gradually descended to the
desert country about Aleppo. The soil is generally unfruitful and the landscape desolate.
The rainfall is insufficient, and the streams few and poor in water. The hillsides and
plains are covered in many parts with stones, and but little cultivable land is found. A
meager crop of grain may be produced in the better districts, but, for the rest, the
country has no agricultural value beyond the production of pistachio-nuts and a few olives
and grapes. It was, however, across this somewhat forbidding region that the vast and
profitable trade between the countries of the Euphrates and the opulent cities of the
distant Mediterranean was carried on. To this source must be attributed the greater part
of whatever wealth and importance the region possessed in the times of the Empire.
As compared with the country just described, Syria Proper, lying to the south and west,
had many and great advantages. This important province of the Babylonian Empire extended
on the west to the Mediterranean, an^ on the south as far as
the latitude of Tyre. Along that distant coast arise the two mountain chains of Libanus
and Bargylus, forming the barrier of the desert and furnishing hundreds of streams of
water. Upon the slopes grew the finest timber. In the valleys between the spurs bounding
rivulets swelled into rivers. Further inland lies the parallel range of Antilibanus, with
Hermon on the southern and Jebel-el-Ala at the northern terminus; but in natural
attractiveness these mountain districts fall below the magnificent Libanus, with his
cascades and forests and glens.
Between these two mountain ranges, extending north and south for over two hundred miles,
is the famous valley known as the Hollow Syria. Few richer districts are found anywhere on
the earth's surface. About midway of this valley the two rivers, Orontes and Litany, one
flowing northward and the other southward, take their rise. Along their banks is found a
soil unsurpassed in fertility and resources. Stretching away to the foothills of the
mountains is spread an area of vegetation the most luxuriant to be seen in all Western
But not only in its natural advantages is this noble valley preeminent. Its historical
importance is even greater than the riches which nature has lavished upon it. For Hollow
Syria is the gateway between Asia and Africa. Along this lowland, flanked on either hand
with mountains, the tides of human ambition have surged to and fro for several thousand
years. Along this line the Egyptians carried their solemn banners in the days of Tothmes
and Ramses II. By the same route, in an opposite direction, came the conquering armies of
Sargon and Sennacherib. By this way marched and countermarched the forces of Necho and
Nebuchadnezzar. Alexander on his way to Amun to be proclaimed the Son of Jupiter,
traversed this valley. Here, too, marched the victorious legions of Pompey the Great; and
here the Crusaders swept up and down in their struggles to gain the Holy Sepulcher. Almost
every foot of this verdant region has been covered with the tents of conquest and ground
beneath the heel of war.