Syria is a country in the region of eastern Europe. The area of the modern country of Syria takes its name from the ancient empire of Assyria, which at its height in the eighth century B.C. dominated Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and conquered Egypt. The homeland of the Assyrians, though, lies in modern northwestern Iraq. Most of the area of modern Syria was occupied at the time of the Third Servile War by the Aramaean peoples, Semitic tribes who maintained kingdoms which had paid tribute first to the Assyrians, then the Persians, and then the Greco-Macedonian empires of the Antigonids, the descendants of Alexander's general Antigonus, and the empire of the Seleucids, descendants of Alexander's general Seleucus. The Greeks and Romans tended to refer both to the Aramaeans and the Assyrians indifferently as "Syrians" in view of Assyria's historical dominance of the region.

The Seleucid Empire which ruled Syria at the time of the Third Servile War had originally been centered on the heartland of the Persian Empire, but was steadily diminished by the resurgence of Persian culture in the third and second centuries B.C. The Parthian Empire gradually reconquered the eastern Seleucid Empire, severing the Seleucid Empire's trade connections with the Far East. The Seleucid Empire consistently attempted to dominate Asia Minor, but was finally militarily defeated by the Romans after the Seleucid's attempt to capitalise on the defeat of Macedon after the Second Punic War. Rome forced the Seleucids out of Asia Minor, and began regularly meddling in Seleucid politics and royal succession. By the time of the Third Servile War, the Seleucid Empire consisted of Syria and what parts of Mesopotamia the Seleucids could hold against regular Parthian attack, an area roughly equal to the old Assyrian Empire.

In Hellenistic and classical times, the land today known as Syria remained a locus of commerce and civilization. Syria retained its own language and culture, although it was no longer a center of great power by the time of the Third Servile War. Like the rest of the Hellenic states of the eastern Mediterranean ruled by the successors of Alexander, the ruling class identified with its Greco-Macedonian ancestors and the Greco-Macedonian culture, but the general population largely retained the culture and language of the area existing before Alexander the Great. Syrian culture at the time of the Third Servile War was therefore a mixture of old Aramaean and Assyrian customs mixed with the Greek culture of the ruling and merchant classes.

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