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Arwad fortress
Harbor in Arwad
Arwad viewed from the air

Arwad (Arabic: أرواد‎) – formerly known as Arado (Greek: Άραδο), Arados (Greek: Άραδος), Arvad, Arpad, Arphad, and Antiochia in Pieria (Greek: Αντιόχεια της Πιερίας), also called Ruad Island – located in the Mediterranean Sea, is the only inhabited island in Syria. The town of Arwad takes up the entire island. It is located 3 km from Tartus, Syria's largest port. Today, it is mainly a fishing town. (Arados was also a Greek name for Muharraq near Bahrain.[1])



Ancient history

The island was settled in the early 2nd millennium BC by the Phoenicians. Under Phoenician control, it became an independent kingdom called Arvad or Jazirat (the latter term meaning "island"). The Phoenician name for the city was probably 𐤀𐤉𐤍𐤊 (Aynook).[2] In Greek it was known as Arados. The city also appears in ancient sources as Arpad and Arphad.[3] The city was renamed Antiochia in Pieria by Antiochus I Soter. The island was important as a base for commercial ventures into the Orontes valley.

Arvad was an island city off the coast of Syria some 30 miles north of Tripolis. It was a barren rock covered with fortifications and houses several stories in height. The island was about 800 m long by 500 m wide, surrounded by a massive wall, and an artificial harbor was constructed on the east toward the mainland. It developed into a trading city in early times, as did most of the Phoenician cities on this coast. It had a powerful navy, and its ships are mentioned in the monuments of Egypt and Assyria. It seems to have had a sort of hegemony over the northern Phoenician cities, from the mouth of the Orontes to the northern limits of Lebanon, something like that of Sidon in the south. It had its own local dynasty and coinage, and some of the names of its kings have been recovered.

Its inhabitants are mentioned in the early lists of Genesis (10:18), and Ezekiel (27:8,11) refers to its seamen and soldiers in the service of Tyre. It brought under its authority some of the neighboring cities on the mainland, such as Marathos and Simyra, the former nearly opposite the island and the latter some miles to the south. Thutmose III, of Egypt, took it in his campaign in north Syria (1472 BC) and it is noticed in the campaigns of Ramesses II in the early part of the 13th century BC (Breasted, Ancient Records). It is also mentioned in the Tell el-Amarna Letters as being in league with the Amorites in their attacks on the Egyptian possessions in Syria (44 and 28, B.M. Tell el-Amarna Letters). About the year 1200 or later, it was sacked by invaders from Asia Minor or the islands, as were most of the cities on the coast (Paton, Syria and Palestine, 145) but it recovered when they were driven back. Its maritime importance is indicated by the inscriptions of the Assyrian kings. Tiglath-pileser I (circa 1020) boasts that he sailed in the ships of Arvad. Ashurnasirpal II (circa 876) made it tributary, but it revolted, and we find 200 men of Arvad mentioned among the allies of Hadadezer of Aram Damascus at the Battle of Qarqar, when all Syria seems to have been in league against Shalmaneser II (circa 854). At this time the king of Arvad was Mattan Baal.

It was afterward tributary to Tiglath-pileser III and Sennacherib, the king who paid it to the latter being Abd-ilihit (circa 701). Ashurbanipal (circa 664) compelled its king Yakinlu to submit and send one of his daughters to become a member of the royal harem (Rawlinson, Phoenicia, 456-57). Under the Persians Arvad was allowed to unite in a confederation with Sidon and Tyre, with a common council at Tripolis (ibid, 484). When Alexander the Great invaded Syria in 332 BC Arvad submitted without a struggle under her king Strato, who sent his navy to aid Alexander in the reduction of Tyre. It seems to have received the favor of the Seleucid kings of Syria and enjoyed the right of asylum for political refugees. It is mentioned in a rescript from Rome about 138 BC, in connection with other cities and rulers of the East, to show favor to the Jews. It was after Rome had begun to interfere in the affairs of Judea and Syria, and indicates that Arvad was of considerable importance at that time.

Crusades history

During the time of the Crusades, the island of Ruad was used as bridgehead or staging area by the Crusaders, as they attempted to retake Tortosa after they lost the city in 1291.

In the end of 1300, a message came from the Mongol leader Ghazan asking to coordinate operations, inviting the Cypriots to meet him in Armenia.[4] The Cypriots then prepared a land-based force of approximately 600 men: 300 under Amalric of Lusigan, son of Hugh III of Cyprus, and similar contingents from the Templars and Hospitallers.[4] The men and their horses were ferried from Cyprus to a staging area on the island of Ruad, a mile off the coast of Tortosa.[5][4] From there, they had a certain amount of success attacking Tortosa (some sources say they engaged in raids, others that they captured the city), but when the hoped-for Mongol reinforcements were delayed (sources differ on whether the delay was caused by weather or illness), the Crusaders had to retreat to Ruad.[6][7] When the Mongols still did not appear, the majority of the Christian forces returned to Cyprus, though they left a garrison on Ruad which was manned by rotating groups of different Cypriot forces. Pope Clement V formally awarded the island to the Knights Templar, and it was the last piece of land that the Crusaders maintained in the Holy Land, as they were fighting a losing battle against the Muslims.

A few months later, in February 1301, the Mongols did arrive with a force of 60,000, but could do little else than engage in some raids around Syria. Kutluka (Qutlugh-Shah for the Mongols, Cotelesse in Frank sources) stationed 20,000 horsemen in the Jordan valley to protect Damas, where a Mongol governor was stationed.[8] Soon however, they had to withdraw.

The garrison on Ruad Island was being manned by Templars at the time: 120 knights, 500 bowmen and 400 Syrian helpers, under the Templar Maréchal (Commander-in-Chief) Barthélemy de Quincy. In September 1302 a Mamluk fleet landed a force, starting the Siege of Ruad. The Crusaders finally had to surrender on September 26, 1302, following a promise of safe conduct.[9] The promise was not honoured, and all the bowmen and Syrian helpers were killed, and the Templar knights sent to Cairo prisons.[10]


  1. ^ Monique Kervran, Fredrik Talmage Hiebert, and Axelle Rougeulle, Qalʻat al-Bahrain: A Trading and Military Outpost 3rd Millennium B.C. - 17th Century A.D. (Brepols, 2005: ISBN 2503991076), p. 249.
  2. ^ Krahmalkov, Phoenician Punic Dictionary, p. 47.
  3. ^ Hazlitt, p. 53
  4. ^ a b c Schein, p. 811
  5. ^ Demurger, p. 147
  6. ^ The Trial of the Templars, Malcolm Barber, 2nd edition, page 22: "In November, 1300, James of Molay and the king's brother, Amaury of Lusignan, attempted to occupy the former Templar stronghold of Tortosa. A force of 600 men, of which the Templars supplied about 150, failed to establish itself in the town itself, although they were able to leave a garrison of 120 men on the island of Ruad, just off the coast.
  7. ^ Demurger, p. 147
  8. ^ Jean Richard, p.481
  9. ^ Demurger, p.156
  10. ^ "Nearly 40 of these men were still in prison in Cairo years later where, according to a former fellow prisoner, the Genoese Matthew Zaccaria, they died of starvation, having refused an offer of 'many riches and goods' in return for apostatising"" The Trial of the Templars, Malcolm Barber, p.22


  • Malcolm Barber, Trial of the Templars
  • Martin Bernal, Black Athena Writes Back (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 359.
  • Lawrence I Conrad, ‘The Conquest of Arwād: A Source-critical study in the historiography of the early medieval Near East’, in The Byzantine and early Islamic Near East: Papers of the First Workshop on Late Antiquity and Early Islam, edited by Averil Cameron and Lawrence I Conrad, Studies in late antiquity and early Islam, 1, vol. 1, Problems in the literary source material (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1992), 317-401.
  • Alain Demurger, The Last Templar
  • Hazlitt, The Classical Gazetteer, p. 53.
  • Newman, Sharan (2006). Real History Behind the Templars. Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-425-21533-3.
  • Jean Richard, Les Croisades
  • Sylvia Schein, "Gesta Dei per Mongolos"
  • Dave Eggers, Zeitoun

External links

Coordinates: 34°51′22″N 35°51′30″E / 34.85611°N 35.85833°E / 34.85611; 35.85833

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