Dalrymple on Aleppo

The history of Aleppo is terrible stuff; a long succession of massacres and sieges disappearing into the mists of Syrian pre-history. First held by the Hittites, it was captured in turn by the Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Persians (again), Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols and Ottomans, each of whom vied to outdo the carnage of their predecessors. The Assyrians were the most imaginatively sadistic: they impaled the town’s menfolk on their spears and feasted for two days while their victims groaned to a slow death.

In between invasions Aleppo was ruled by a succession of aristocratic thugs who exacted outrageous taxes and perfected ingenious ways of bankrupting their burghers.

In all the town’s history there are only two cheering anecdotes. The first tells of the Arabs who captured Aleppo by dressing up as goats and nibbling their way into the city; the second concerns Abraham, who is supposed to have milked his cow on the citadel’s summit. It is not much in ten thousand years of history, especially when the one story ends in a massacre…and the other is a legend, and untrue. It is the result of a misunderstood derivation of the town’s (Arabic) name Haleb, which comes not from the Arabic for milk (halib) but a much older word, possibly Assyrian, connected with the mechanics of child abuse.

From William Dalrymple’s In Xanadu written in 1989…things have not since improved.


But what is a Leppo? I think my father used to drive one.

Did the Marx Brothers grow up in Aleppo?

No. The Marx Brothers, Karl, Groucho and Chico, were born and raised in Zeppo, New York.

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Aleppo.... meh... I don't think you're going to get much traction on MR with that topic. Far too symbolic of Obama's completely unnecessary Syrian adventure, and the resulting starving children.

You should have gone for an Iraqi city.

That being said William Dalrymple gives me a hard on.

Trump gave up Syria to ISIS. He's a coward and a wimp.

It wasn't his to give up. He/we never had it. We only went there to kill ISIS and after most were killed we are leaving. Incredibly smart. MAGA

The remarkable thing about the history of Aleppo is more that, well, we have such a long history, not necessarily that it's an unusually unlucky part of the world.

Much of what can be repeated above is probably much like what we'd see if we looked at Stockholm in the long sequence, but with rather more illiteracy and fewer burghers.

Yes this is exactly my opinion. Even taking Dalrymple at face value, It very much sounds like something truly awful happens in Aleppo approximately once every hundred years. Since the city has been around for over 7000 years the city has experienced at least 70 truly awful traumatic events. For most people most of the time, a great place to live.

Yes, and we can add survivor bias as well. Meaning, Aleppo has had the "good" fortune to keep surviving and coming back after all these depredations, resulting in a centuries-long list.

Places such as Nineveh, Babylon, Susa, Teotihuacan, etc. were destroyed utterly and never rebuilt (or survived but as insignificant towns). So their histories of repeated destruction will be shorter than Aleppo's.

Even Yorktown VA reflects this. It had been a reasonably thriving port but the siege during the Revolutionary War permanently disrupted its economy. There's a nice little town there, but mainly residences and historic and tourist buildings, not much other commerce that I could see.

"The Assyrians were the most imaginatively sadistic: they impaled the town’s menfolk on their spears and feasted for two days while their victims groaned to a slow death." - the Mongols used to use captured soldiers as target practice, while they lit them on fire. Then they slept with their women.

The theory was: resist and you'll be tortured, so it's better to submit right away. Actually the US IRS uses the same technique with the super rich or anybody they audit and wish to 'get'; same with the US government and prosecutors using mandatory sentencing laws (see the book by Eric Schlosser, "Reefer Madness", on how a single pot transaction in drug-harsh Indiana or a single joint can get you a life sentence for a two time convict and ruin your life for a first offender lawyer who was a City Hall gadfly (both got years of jail time, eventually after much effort appealed and they got out, ruined; ironically the sons of some US prosecutors were given a very light sentence for cocaine dealing).


Before 9/11, the World's most evil terrorist organization was the IRS. One has no right in tax court or the IRC. They amended the Constitution because the state/IRS (the Framers' nightmare) needs untrammeled power to ensure we the people don't "steal" its money.

Warfare has unwritten rules. Horrid consequences meted out on indigenous populations that resist conquest/invasion tend to minimize such resistance and decrease body counts on both sides. In medieval Europe, before a horde of knights and footmen laid siege to a castle or a fortified town, an offer was made to surrender. If refused, Shakespeare's notorious "Cry havoc!" could (they had been given the offer of leniency but refused it) be proclaimed meaning no prisoners.

Also agree that mandatory sentencing is immoral and arguably unconstitutional.

@Ray, the FBI's and DOJ's history of using process 'crimes'.

What is Aleppo?


"history of Aleppo is terrible stuff"

... in contrast to the rest of human history -- which was mostly sunshine, rainbows, milk & honey, and peace on Earth.

So the point here would be ??

Americans living an ahistoric, extremely comfortable 21st life have little comprehension of the genuine gritty details of past human existence.
Popular books, textbooks, and PBS documentaries convey a sterilized genteel historical view.
Our current American news media hammers into our psyche that the trivial "Government Shutdown" is/was one of the most important events in the world and our lives.

One can not compare civiled countries with Asian barbarism.

At one time all civilisations were either in Asia or Africa.

And it was awful, from Joshua murdering everyone around to Timur killing everyone around.
Real Civilization started in the West. It is written: "Remember, Roman, that it is for thee to rule the nations. This shall be thy task, to impose the ways of peace, to spare the vanquished, and to tame the proud by war."

Thank goodness, Joshua didn't exist. Alas, Timur did.

We can not be sure.


"mechanics of child abuse"?

I'm surprised the French weren't blamed? It's as if the problems in these countries predate the Sykes picot theory, but as we all know the west is responsible for every bad thing in the rest of the world!

Not the West, it’s the British, in fact the English — to blame, 100%, for everything bad.

Timur the Conqueror, when not gratuitously slaughtering some other province or city somewhere in Asia, is said to've built a tower of the skulls of some 20,000 former citizens of Aleppo after its capture, an advertisement that apparently helped convince the Mamluk army to retreat from Damascus and the resident Damascenes of their day to surrender their city to Timur.

Has any "Damascus-Aleppo" dynamic through the latter's vexed history redounded to the relative benefit of Damascus each and every time? (or: how many captures, sieges, or sacks have Damascus and Aleppo both been subject to, respectively?)

Did Aleppo ever "benefit" from any catastrophe befalling Damascus?

One hears similar stories of outlandish cruelty for any number of conquerors across history. It's propaganda, and it's typically almost impossible to assess its truth.

Here is this:


I cannot speak to the scholarship of John Joseph Saunders (see n. 17 in the Wikipedia account), but his estimates don't appear conspicuously fanciful given Timur's continent-wide career (little doubt Timur would have been pleased to spread far and wide views on the ruthlessness of his conquests).

If you believe in God, perhaps he is trying to tell you something.

If the Library ofCongress is archiving this blog, you got to up your game: to wit, link to the other Important Dalrymple, “Theodore Dalrymple”.

On the positive side, there's Aleppo soap and bubble bath. A bit of change from impaled losers, right?

Their soap is pretty good, though. But it's mostly made in Turkey now.

"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."

St Simeon Stylites' life suggests that Aleppo enjoyed at least 37 years of unbroken peace. Or perhaps living 15 metres in the air was the best way to escape the carnage ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites

Always loved that historical tidbit, thanks for the reminder +1

St. Simon the Stylite, a drone _avant la lettre_.

Good reference! Bunuel's film "Simon of the Desert" was evidently inspired by him. According to wikipedia although he stayed on that pillar, he would talk with visitors, I wonder if that's the source of today's cartoon stereotype where a pilgrim journeys up a remote mountain to talk with a wise man or hermit.

William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997) is also terrific on Syria. The book takes the form of a journey through much of the old Byzantine Empire from Greece to the southern tip of Egypt, and Syria which comes across as possibly the most tolerant of any country in the region of its ancient Christian minorities. Some of the ancient monasteries he visits had been in operation since soon after the dawn of Christianity. Had been.

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