2.0 Background

2.1 Archaeological background

According to cuneiform texts, the history of Aleppo goes back to the 3rd millennium BC (Klengel 1997). It was certainly occupied by the Romans and Byzantines, and the classical road system is still to be seen in the suq. Aleppo was conquered by the Arab troops in 636 but only became important under the Hamdanid ruler, Sayf al-Dawla (AD 916/9 to 967), who made Aleppo the capital of his principality. His son, Sa'd al-Dawla, is reported to be the first ruler to move his residence on the citadel. After the Hamdanids, Aleppo was under control of the Fatimids, the Mirdasids, the Uqaylids, the Seldjuks and the Zangids. Yet the town reached its apogee under the Ayyubids, when Saladin's son, al-Zahir Ghazi turned Aleppo into one of most flourishing kingdoms of the Ayyubid empire. Both the town and the citadel were heavily destroyed by the Mongols (1260) and later by the troops of Timur (1400). The Mamluks, who installed a governor in Aleppo, restored much of the town. Sultan al-Ghuri, the last Mamluk sultan, put much effort into the refortification of the citadel: he quite rightly feared the Ottoman troops who finally took over in 1516 after the battle of Marj Dabiq, in which the sultan was himself to die. Aleppo then became one of the most important trading towns of the Ottoman empire second only to Cairo and Istanbul. Today, as for most of the medieval period, in Syria the city of Aleppo is rivalled only by Damascus in its size and importance.

In 1996, a Syrian-German mission started excavations on top of the citadel under the direction of Wahid Khayyata, director of the Museum of Aleppo, and Kay Kohlmeyer, from the Fachhochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (FHTW), Berlin. Their main aim is to search for the remains of the Bronze Age, when Aleppo was capital of the kingdom of Yamhad. In three seasons, parts of what is probably one of the largest Syrian temples were uncovered. It can be identified with the temple of the ancient weather-god Hadad and dates to around 1700 BC. A restoration took place around 1000 BC. An 11m long wall with quite spectacular reliefs depicting gods and mythical creatures, belongs to this restoration phase (Khayyata and Kohlmeyer 1999). Subsequent phases include a significant Byzantine component, while the earliest Islamic presence is of the Umayyad period (late 7th-early 8th centuries) and represents unbroken use of Byzantine features. Four successive phases represent Abbasid and Mirdasid periods (9th-early 11th centuries); Zangid and Ayyubid periods (12th-early 13th centuries); Mamluk period (late 13th century to c. 1400); and Ottoman (16th to 19th centuries). The pottery that will be discussed here is of the Zangid-Ayyubid and the Mamluk phases.

2.2. Geological background

For the geology of the region see Figure 1.


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Tue Oct 24 2000