Syria is a large historical and cultural region whose boundaries do not entirely coincide with the borders of the modern state. Over the course of millennia, Syria played a very significant role in the formation and development of human civilization.
In the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, the very ancient city states of Ebla (Tell Mardikh) and Mari (Tell Hariri) existed on the territory of present-day Syria, as well as Ugarit (Ras Shamra) on the Syrian coast of the Mediterranean. The cuneiform archives that excavations uncovered at those places provided invaluable material for understanding the history of some of the earliest cultures.
In the 1st millennium BC, Syria was involved in all the major historical processes taking place in the Middle East. Its abundant lands became the object of the imperial ambitions of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites and Persians. From the 4th century BC, following the conquest of Alexander the Great, Syria became a part of the Hellenistic world under his successors from the Seleucid dynasty. In the 1st century BC, the territory of Syria was conquered by Rome and later it became a Byzantine province. The Syrian region is of enormous importance in the early history of Christianity. From the 7th century, following the Arab conquest, Syria became a part of the Arabic caliphate, whose capital from 661 to 750 was Damascus. The Aramaic language was gradually supplanted by Arabic and Islam became the dominant religion.
Syria's long history is reflected in the cultural monuments and artefacts that have survived in the country. Syria’s museums possess extensive historical and architectural materials. The ancient cities of Palmyra, Baalbek, Bosra and Dura-Europos are open-air museums. Existing alongside one another in the Syrian landscape are Roman and Byzantine buildings, mosques and Crusader castles. The early 8th-century Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the first grand Muslim religious edifices, retains traces of Roman history (fragments of a temple of Jupiter) and the Byzantine past - the famous mosaics on the facade and galleries of the mosque. That multicultural and multi-religious element is a feature of modern Syria as well.
Cultural artefacts that originated in Syria can be found in many museums around the world, including the Hermitage.