Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History by Trevor Bryce

In this latest work, Trevor Bryce kept me entertained for two out of the three millennia of Syria’s long, eventful history it covers.  Through the rise and ebb of Ebla, the arrival of the Amorites, and the glories of Yamkhad.  The great clash of the three super-powers of the Late Bronze Age (Hatti, Mitanni, and Egypt) and their dramatic fall at its end.

Ancient-Syria_BryceThe verve with which Bryce tells of the duplicity and naked ambition of Abdi-Ashirta and his son, Aziru, as well as the desperation and frustration these roused in the King of Byblos, was wonderful.  And the new spin on the debacle that was Urhi-Teshub.  You know that Ramesses was secretly laughing his butt off.  Not only were these tales informative, but vastly entertaining.

Oh!  And speaking of Ramesses, I really enjoyed Bryce’s telling of the Battle of Kadesh, both here and in The Kingdom of the Hittites.  You can just see the young Pharaoh.  So young, brash, and self-confident as only a teenaged boy can be.  And then he meets the cunning and experience of Muwatalli, Great King of the Land of Hatti.  No contest.  Ramesses doesn’t obliterate the Hittites the way he tells it in his inscriptions all over Egypt, but escapes by the skin of his teeth.

Then we have the ravages of Assyria from it’s battle for dominance with Urartu to it’s fall at the hands of a resurgent Babylon and the Medes.  Then come the Persians with the meteoric rise of Cyrus followed a few centuries later by the anti-climatic death of Darius III at the hands of Alexander III, King of Macedon.  It is at this point that my enjoyment takes a nosedive.

I really liked this book up until that point.  Absolutely loved it.  Then we get to Alexander.  Frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of his or any of his supposed heirs.  I know, I know, it’s fascinating and entertaining to read about all the scheming, backbiting, betrayal, and assassination.  Or it should it.  But the whole era bores me to tears.  And I’m not much more interested in Rome.  So, despite the skill of Mr. Bryce, the last two parts of Ancient Syria, or the last millennium or so, were boring to me.

Ever since I read his The Kingdom of the Hittites, the first edition back in the ’90s, Trevor Bryce has been one of my favorite ancient history authors. In fact, I think I’ve read it twice.  I’ve also read the 2005 edition.  With all of the new discoveries and text-joins that must have happened since then, I’m kind of hoping for another edition sometime soon.  And here’s to hoping he rewrites with the style he uses in his latest, Ancient Syria:  A Three Thousand Year History.  Imagine if Bryce injected the same life into the tales of Uhha-Zitti and Piyama-Radu as he has here for the ravaging Habiru chieftains of Amurru!

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars for first two millennia; 2 out of 5 stars for the third.


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