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Ancient town built on the banks of the Orontes River in central Syria (Sem., Hamath; Gk. Epiphania).

Hama, located on the main road between Damascus and Aleppo, is about 130 miles (210 km) north of Damascus, the capital of Syria, and about 94 miles (152 km) south of Aleppo. Like Homs, Hama lies close to the frontier of settlement facing the Syrian Desert, making it a flourishing market for the nomadic people and villagers in the countryside.

Agriculture in the Hama region profits from the water of the Orontes River. Water wheels (nawriyas), which raise the river water up into canals, help irrigate large stretches of land. Of the 100 water wheels in Hama province, only twenty are in use. Grains and fruits abound in the countryside.

The U.S. Department of State estimated the city's population in 2002 at 1.6 million. In the 1980 census, the inhabitants of the city of Hama numbered 177,208 out of a total of 475,582 inhabitants for the whole province. In the 1922 census, the inhabitants of Hama numbered 40,437 out of a total of 69,745 inhabitants for the whole province. The bedouin in the countryside of Hama are not accounted for.

The city of Hama prides itself on a number of ancient monuments. It has many mosques (the most important of which is the Umayyad Mosque), khans (caravansaries), and luxurious palaces belonging to the Azm family, which governed in Syria in the eighteenth century. Important archaeological sites in the countryside include Crusader castles and those built by Saladin, such as those of Shayzar, al-Madiq, and Misyaf.

Hama was a center of resistance to the French during the 19251927 Syrian rebellion and to Col. Adib Shishakli's government in 1954. After the Baʿth seizure of power in 1963, the city remained resistant to Damascus's edicts, driven largely by the popularity of the Islamist movement among the Sunni majority and by the merchant community's antagonism to the Baʿth's socialist strictures.

This opposition was first expressed in the spring 1964 rebellion in Hama, led by the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan), but reached its peak during the countrywide Ikhwan-led underground movement (19761982), sparked in part by the government's Alawi sectarian composition and by its intervention in the Lebanese civil war. In April 1981 government forces, responding to an Ikhwan-led ambush of an Alawi village on Hama's outskirts, entered the city, killing hundreds. The next year, a government attempt to suppress the Ikhwan led to a month-long rebellion in Hama (2 February5 March 1982). In putting down the revolt the government massacred an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 civilians and destroyed large parts of the city.

See also alawi; aleppo; damascus; hama massacre; homs; muslim brotherhood.


Batatu, Hannah. "Syria's Muslim Brethren." MERIP Reports 110 (Nov.Dec. 1982): 1220, 34, 36. Washington, DC: Middle East Research and Information Project, 19711985.

Lawson, Fred H. "Social Bases for the Hamah Revolt." MERIP Reports 110 (Nov.Dec. 1982): 2428. Washington, DC: Middle East Research and Information Project, 19711985.

Middle East Watch. Syria Unmasked: The Suppression of Human Rights by the Asad Regime. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

U.S. Department of State. Background Note: Syria. February 2002. Available at <http://www.state.gov>.

abdul-karim rafeq
updated by geoffrey d. schad

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Hama or Hamah (both: hä´mä), city (1995 est. pop. 280,000), capital of Hama governorate, W central Syria, on the Orontes River. It is the market center for an irrigated farm region where cotton, wheat, barley, millet, and corn are grown. Manufactures include cotton and woolen textiles, silk, carpets, and dairy products. Famous old waterwheels, some as much as 90 ft (27 m) in diameter, bring water up from the Orontes for irrigation. Other points of interest in Hama include the remains of the Roman aqueduct (still in use) and the Great Mosque of Djami al-Nuri (until 638 a Christian basilica). Hama also is a road and rail center, and an airport is nearby.

The city has a long history, having been settled as far back as the Bronze Age and Iron Age. In the 2d millennium BC, it was a center of the Hittites. As Hamath it is often mentioned in the Bible, where it is said to be the northern boundary of the Israelite tribes. The Assyrians under Shalmaneser III captured the city in the mid-9th cent. BC Later included in the Persian Empire, it was conquered by Alexander the Great and, after his death (323 BC), was claimed by the Seleucid kings, who renamed it Epiphania, after Antiochus IV (Antiochus Epiphanes).

The city later came under the control of Rome and of the Byzantine Empire. In AD 638 it was captured by the Arabs. Christian Crusaders held Hama briefly (1108), but in 1188 it was taken by Saladin, in whose family it remained until it passed to Egyptian Mamluk control in 1299. An early Mamluk governor of Hama was Abu al-Fida (reigned 1310–30), the historian and geographer. In the early 16th cent. the city came under the Ottoman Empire.

After World War I it was made part of the French Levant States League of Nations mandate, and in 1941 it became part of independent Syria. Political insurgency by Muslim groups beginning in the late 1970s culminated in an uprising in Hama against Hafez al-Assad in Feb., 1982. Government forces quelled the revolt but destroyed much of the city in the process; estimated deaths numbered more than 20,000. In 2011 the city again became the scene of ongoing antigovernment agitation, which was at times violently suppressed; during the subsequent civil war, the city was the site of fighting.