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Neolithic Hauran

Overview: Auranitis (Hauran) (Arabic Ḥawrān) also spelled Hawran -- Houran -- Horan is a volcanic plateau, a geographic area and a people located in southwestern Syria and extending into the northwestern corner of Jordan (1) ...

Jebel el-Druze and Hauran. Shahbah (ancient Philippopolis) -- Library of Congress (1938)

Selected Excerpt on Hauran

The Neolithic of the Levant (1978)
A.M.T. Moore (Oxford University)

Chapter 4: Neolithic 2 Hauran (Page 208)

One surface station in the Hauran has yielded a collection of 13 blades. They were all large and unretouched with narrow rounded bulbular ends characteristic of platform preparation on double-ended cores. They may tentatively be attributed to a Neolithic 2 site although the exact location of their findpoint is not known. There is insufficient evidence to assign the site to any regional group ...

(2) Five Years in Damascus: including an account of the history topography and antiquities of that city : with travels and researches in Palmyra Lebanon and the Hauran -- Volume 2 by Josias Leslie Porter (1855) PDF

... I had already spent three years in Syria before an opportunity occurred of carrying out my intention with regard to the Hauran. I was hindered in part by the calls of duty and in part by the disturbed state of the country ; yet still my desire remained strong as ever and was even increased by a more minute study of those sketches of its history and geography contained in ancient writers. The breaking out of the Druze war in the autumn of 1852 took away all hope of visiting it for a lengthened period ; but the defeat of the Government troops and the consequent desire for peace on the part of the Sultan again seemed to open my way. Mr. Wood, the British consul at Damascus, was requested by the Pasha to act as mediator after the representatives of some other European nations had volunteered their services and failed. This tended to increase the great influence he had formerly possessed with the Druzes, the dominant party in the Hauran. He arranged a meeting with Sheikh Said Jimblat, the most powerful and influential of all the Druze chiefs ... The sheikhs of the Hauran all assembled to receive the proposals of the Government and discuss the terms of peace. It was a stormy scene ; and more than once a peace congress was well-nigh changed into a fierce battle. The fanatical Muslems (sic) feared or pretended to fear treachery on the part of Mr. Wood and Said Beg and once the cry was raised to pull down the house in which they were sitting. The proud Druze chief could ill brook such insults and haughtily stated that if he had anticipated such insolence he would have brought from his native mountains such a force as would have effectually prevented its recurrence for the future. In fact, it was only the smallness of his retinue about a hundred and fifty men that prevented him from taking instantaneous revenge. Still, notwithstanding such threats and insinuations on the spot and no less dangerous intrigues of disappointed consuls in Damascus, Mr. Wood with his usual ability succeeded in opening up communications which have secured a long truce and promise to effect final reconciliation and peace.

Mr. Wood, on his return to Damascus, assured me of the practicability of a journey to that province after the feelings of the people had quieted a little and the bandits, whom war ever draws toward it, had withdrawn to some other quarter ... Toward the close of January 1853 an American gentleman arrived in Damascus and expressed his determination to visit the Druzes of the Hauran ; and I at once agreed to accompany him. The Rev. Mr. Barnett also expressed his desire to join our party. Mr. Wood kindly favoured our proposed journey and promised us strong letters of recommendation to the five principal Druze sheikhs. The great difficulty now was to get to the Druze district. A blood feud existed between the Kurds and the Druzes ; and the former, being irregular troops in the pay of the Government, were scouring the plain of Damascus attacking and murdering little parties of Druzes wherever they could find them.

This blood feud prevented the Druzes from approaching the city of Damascus ; and hence our difficulty in obtaining an escort to the borders of their territory. The kindness of Mr. Wood again aided us. Mr. Misk, his dragoman, came to me on Saturday the 29th of January bringing with him a Christian, an inhabitaut of the village of Hit in the Jebel (mountain area of) Hauran. He informed us that a large caravan was to leave the city on Monday for his native village taking the direct road by Nejha and along the eastern border of the Lejah. This was the route which of all others I preferred to travel.

Commencement of the Jebel Hauran

... After twenty minutes delay an old man rode up to us and directed us in the road to Hiyat. The road we were directed to follow led south by east up the easy slopes which are here bleak enough; not a tree or a shrub to diversify the naked scenery. The soil is extremely fertile ; but as the basaltic rock occasionally crops over it and large boulders and broken fragments lie scattered thinly over its surface, the whole has a ragged and forbidding aspect. And there were no grand features to relieve the monotony. The mountain summits in front were concealed by the heavy drifting clouds.

After ascending about three-quarters of an hour and surmounting a little eminence we began to observe the first signs of modern cultivation ; and we also obtained our first view of the village of Hiyat standing upon the hill side above us like a huge fortress. On our left also we saw several castle-like villages, some on the summits of tells (mounds) and others at their bases. The signs of life and industry now appeared in the fields on every side. Numerous yokes of oxen were engaged in turning up the fertile soil with ploughs which are no doubt exact counterparts of those used in the days of the patriarchs and by the subjects of the mighty Og, whose ancient kingdom we were traversing.

Jebel el-Druze & Hauran --- A Ploughman with the Salkhad Castle in Bakground (1938)

At 8-30 we reached the village of Hiyat and rode at once to the sheikh's house where we were received with great distinction. We simply announced ourselves as Englishmen and this was sufficient to open to us the heart and home of the noble Druze. Coffee was produced, roasted, pounded and presented with all due formality .... I now expressed a desire to see the various ruins of the village ; and a young Druze offered to act as my guide.

Hiyat is built on the gentle slope of the hillside in the form of a quadrangle and is somewhat less than a mile in circumference. The houses are all constructed of roughly hewn stones, uncemented but closely jointed. They are massive and simple in their plan, giving evidence of remote antiquity. The present inhabitants have selected the most convenient and comfortable chambers and in these have settled down without alterations or additions. The roofs are all of stone like those of Burak and so also are the doors ; but I observed in one or two places that the stone doors had been removed and wooden ones substituted.

Jebel el-Druze and Hauran. Kanawat. Double stone (basalt) doors -- Library of Congress (1938)

There is no structure in the village with any pretension to architectural beauty ; but on the eastern side near a large tank there are ruins with fragments of ornamented cornices and pediments : these are now so completely destroyed that it is impossible to ascertain even the plan of the original building ... I estimated that about one-half of the houses in this village still remain perfect or nearly so and quite habitable ; but not more than a fourth of these were occupied at the time of my visit.

On returning to the sheikh's house after a brief inspection of the ruins, I found that our servants had arrived and that a horseman had also come from Sheikh Ass'ad of Hit to conduct us to his residence where our companion was comfortably installed.

On our way to Hit we visited a large house or palace that stands about three hundred yards east of Hiyat. It is a fine structure and must in its palmy days have presented a striking appearance. In front was a paved courtyard surrounded by a wall and having a gateway opposite the entrance door. The main door is now choked up with heaps of fallen stones ; but a side door about eight feet high and of proportional width with fine folding doors of stone opens into a spacious chamber. From this a narrow winding staircase leads to an open divan supported in front by an arch, similar to the lewans (sheltered seating area) of the modern Damascus houses. This apartment commands a noble view over the whole country northward and westward to Antilibanus and Hermon.

Leaving this interesting ruin we rode up the hill-side through fine grain fields to Hit, which we reached in half an hour. We were led immediately to the house of Sheikh Ass'ad 'Amer, who received us with every demonstration of respect and welcome, having come out to the gate of his courtyard to meet us. We were ushered into the reception room, a mean half-ruinous and dirty apartment where a crowd of villagers and others were assembled. The massive stone roof was supported by antique columns and in the centre of the floor was a square hearth sunk about six inches below the rough pavement. Here blazed and crackled an immense fire of charcoal. There was no opening or chimney above to let out the volumes of smoke but in the midst of the blazing mass was a huge bar of iron which was intended to prevent any deleterious effects from the fumes of the charcoal.

I presented our letter of introduction and the sheikh, after reading it and seeing coffee properly served, left the room. In about half an hour he returned and invited us to another apartment in the harim which had been prepared specially for ourselves. Here we found comforts such as we had not anticipated. The floor and divans of the spacious apartment were covered with rich Persian carpets and cushions of embroidered velvet were arranged against the wall, while three immense mankals of blazing charcoal diffused an agreeable heat through the chamber.

A plentiful repast of honey, dibs, butter and various kinds of sweetmeats were served up soon after our entrance and at sunset a feast was prepared for us which far surpassed anything of the kind I had before seen. A whole sheep roasted and stuffed with rice, graced the centre ; beside it was a huge dish of pillau, some three feet in diameter. Around these were arranged nearly twenty other dishes of various kinds of dainties including fowls, soups, kibbeh, burghul and a host of others. Round these again were arranged the thin cakes of bread in little piles, on the top of each of which was placed a wooden spoon, the only instrument used in this primitive land in taking food.

The village (Hit) is about a mile and a half in circumference and the general character of the architecture is similar to that of Hiyat. Many of the ancient streets in Hit can be traced, notwithstanding the masses of ruins and rubbish that have accumulated in them during the course of ages. They are narrow and tortuous and thus bear a marked contrast to those of other towns in this region which are manifestly of Roman origin or at least were reconstructed in the Roman age. The houses are all massive and simple in plan with stone roofs supported on arches and stone doors. Some of the latter are finely panelled and otherwise ornamented with tasteful mouldings.

Foot Note: In this town a large majority of the houses are mere heaps of ruins ; many however are still nearly perfect and the present inhabitants occupy exclusively ancient dwellings.

At Hit there is no fountain of living water but in the centre of the town is a spacious tank for collecting rain water during the winter. There is besides, we were informed, a subterranean aqueduct coming from the mountains toward the south which still conveys sufficient water for the domestic uses of the inhabitants. Beyond the walls is a large subterranean reservoir and from this small canals formerly conducted the water to each of the principal houses. We did not see any of these works but we drank of the water and found it excellent and we were assured that even during the heat of summer it is cold as ice. It is generally believed that the source is somewhere in the distant mountains but I think the water is collected in the same way as many of those streams which are now seen in the plain of Damascus, by a canal carried along for several miles at a little depth beneath the surface. Due south from Hit, about ten miles distant, a lofty conical peak shoots up over the surrounding hills and forms a prominent object in the landscape. It is called Tell Abu Tumeis and is one of the highest summits in the Jebel Hauran.

Our kind host used every effort to persuade us to spend the day with him but when he saw that we were determined on proceeding he sent with us his nephew and another horseman to serve as both guide and guard of honour; while he himself stated that he would ride direct to Shuhba and acquaint his brother Fares of our intention to visit him. We ordered our servants to accompany him with the baggage as we wished to make a long detour in order to visit the ruins of Bathanyeh and Shuka.

At 11-10 we rode out of the court-yard amid the salams and prayers of the assembled villagers and proceeded across the fields in a direction about north-east straight towards the ancient town of Bathanyeh. The soil in this region is of unrivalled fertility and the wheat is celebrated as the finest in Syria. The fields were already green with the new crop, which was springing up with a luxuriance seldom seen in other parts of Syria. In several places I observed traces of an ancient road with large sections of the pavement still remaining and the foundations of walls along each side. The day was bright and cool, the turf firm and smooth, our horses fresh and our own spirits high; the effect of the hearty welcome we had received and the magnificent and interesting country around us. Our new companions too were eager to display the metal of their fine steeds and their own skill in horsemanship ; so giving rein to our horses, we dashed across the slopes and soon reached Bathanyeh. The distance from Hit is about an hour but in less than half that time we accomplished it.

Bathanyeh is situated on the northern slope of the Jebel Hauran, commanding an extensive view to the north and north-west. About an hour below the town the gentle declivity terminates in a plain which stretches away to the lakes of Damascus and the Tellul ... Bathanyeh is not quite so extensive as Hit ; but the buildings are of a superior style of workmanship and in better preservation.

So far as I am aware no traveller has ever before visited this ancient site or even referred to its situation and importance as tending to identify the ancient province of Batanaea. On entering the town we first passed along a paved street to a large building with a square tower some forty feet in height beside the entrance. The spacious gateway was shut by massive folding-doors of stone ; but we threw them open with ease and entered a large flagged court-yard, in part covered with ruins. Around this were the apartments, each opening into it by stone doors, thus resembling the plan of a modern Damascus mansion.

There are no public buildings of any extent or pretensions to architectural beauty standing ; but there is evidence of comfort and wealth in almost all the private dwellings. Durability and simplicity appear to have been the only objects aimed at by these utilitarian architects; and they have succeeded so well that though their land has been long deserted and their city long forsaken; and though the name and the history of the former inhabitants have for centuries been forgotten and unknown; yet these mansions remain as their only memorials.

Such is the situation and such the character and state of the buildings in Bathanyeh. There can be no doubt that we have here preserved in modern days the name of the Roman province of Batanaea and the Syrian kingdom of Bashan. It is quite true that both these ancient names were given to provinces or sections of country ; but it is also true, as I shall show, that there was in that district an important town of the same name. At present there is a province called Ard el-Bathanyeh --- " the country of Bathanyeh" --- embracing the whole of the mountain-chain called Jebel Hauran with a section of the plain on the northern and eastern sides. This district is now universally called by the natives either Ard el-Bathanyeh or Jebel el-Druze ; the name Jebel Hauran is only applied to it by strangers.

Batanaea is frequently mentioned by ancient writers as a province but down to the Christian era we have no notice of a city of that name. In the Notitia Ecclesiastica however Batanis is one of the thirty-four ecclesiastical cities of the province of Arabia, whose bishops were suffragans of the primate of Bostra; and it can scarcely be doubted that Bathanyeh is the place there referred to. By the early Arabian geographers, Bathanyeh is mentioned both as a city and a province but no details are given of it.

Turning away from these interesting remains, we rode across the fields in a direction a little east of south towards a small conical hill called Tell Azran. Having surmounted a gentle swell on the eastern side we came in sight of the ruins of Shuka, the ancient Saccaea; and in a quarter of an hour more were beside them.

From Bathanyeh to Shuka is about four miles. There is a gentle ascent as far as the Tell Azran ; but the remainder is level. In several places are traces of an ancient paved road. This town is built on the side of an extensive plateau which surmounts the slopes of Hit and Bathanyeh and extends eastward as far as Juneineh, one hour distant.

Immediately on entering Shuka I climbed to the summit of a square tower to gain a general view of the whole town and the surrounding country and to take bearings of all the prominent objects in view. The ruins I estimated at about two miles in circuit. Few of the buildings are in a good state of preservation but some of them exhibit marks of considerable taste and skill in architecture. The lines of most of the streets can be traced, though now encumbered with ruins ; they are narrow but straighter and more regular than those of Hit or Bathanyeh.

... I proceeded over ruinous houses and narrow streets toward that part of the town now inhabited. The stones have here been cleared away from the centre of the streets to form a path for animals and similar paths have also been made through the rubbish that encumbers a few of the ancient courtyards. The present inhabitants -- Druzes --have taken possession of such chambers as had their roofs and doors perfect ; but I did not observe anywhere a new erection or even recent repairs ; indeed this would be quite unnecessary for there are far more houses still habitable than there are people to occupy them.

... At 2-40 we again mounted and rode over a rocky swell into the fertile plain through which we dashed at a hard gallop towards Shuhba, now visible on the summit of a ragged ridge. Our course was first through fresh ploughed fields till we reached the regular path. Here again are traces of an ancient road. After riding about two miles we saw on the ridge of the mountains -- two hours' distant on the left -- a ruin resembling a castle; our attendants had forgotten its name but pointed out, on a conical peak below it, the village of Tufhah ; and they informed us that in the wady, half an hour farther east, is Nimreh. A deep and wild ravine commences a little eastward of the latter place and runs in a western direction past Tufhah to Shuhba. We could now clearly see its course beyond the swelling ground on our left hand and from Shuhba I ascertained its true direction. This ravine divides the acclivities of Hit, Bathanyeh and Juneineh from the lofty mountains on the south. The main chain rises up abrupt and rugged on its southern bank and the scenery here becomes bolder and more picturesque, the hill-sides and wild glens between being generally clothed with forests of evergreen oak.

Crossing the ravine we reached Shuhba, situated on its southern bank. The distance of this place from Shuka is eight miles and a half but we accomplished it in an hour and three-quarters. We scrambled over the ruined wall beside a fine Roman gate and after watering our horses at a large tank, partly filled with muddy water, we proceeded along a well-paved ancient street to the residence of the sheikh.

(1) Wikipedia

(2) Five years in Damascus: including an account of the history topography and antiquities of that city :
with travels and researches in Palmyra Lebanon and the Hauran --Volume 2 by Josias Leslie Porter (1855) PDF

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium