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ORONTES (ō-rŏn'tēz). The chief river in Aram (Syria), almost 400 miles (640 km.) long, begins in the Anti-Lebanon range, at the height of almost 4,000 feet (1,250 m.), and flows north for the major portion of its course. It turns west around the northern end of its range at Antioch, and then bends SW to the sea. Its fertile valley forms the only extensive area in Syria-Palestine not broken by mountains where a powerful political unit might take shape. The Orontes valley was the scene of the campaign of Rameses II against the Hittites in 1288 b.c. The campaign and the culminating battle of Kadesh on the river constitute the most publicized feat of ancient Egyptian armed conflict. The Roman satirist Juvenal, writing of the undesirable Syrian immigrants in Rome, uses the river as a metaphor for the whole province: “Long since has Syrian Orontes been a tributary of the Tiber.”

ORONTES ō rŏn’ tez (Gr. ̓Ορόντης). Modern Nahr el-Assi in Lebanon and Syria. Its sources are E of the foothills of the Qurnet es-Sauda, the highest mountain of the Lebanon range. Then it flows northward through the Beqaa, the valley between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountains, until it enters Lake Homs, an artificial lake created by damming the river. Near Hamath (modern Hama), it turns to the NW, and the fertile valley becomes a narrow marsh, the Ghab, which today is being drained. Then after forcing its way through a limestone shelf, the Jisr esh-Shughur, the Orontes follows the Amq Valley westward to the Mediterranean Sea passing through Antioch (Antakya) on the way.

The well-watered Orontes Valley played a crucial role in history. It was a natural N-S route for traders and conquerors. Traders followed it either to Baalbek from which they crossed the Anti-Lebanon range to Damascus or they went S to the Litani Gorge where they turned W to Tyre or Sidon. In ancient times it was both a target of and a route of Egyp. conquests in Asia. Kadesh on the Orontes (Tell Nebi Mindu) was a victim of Thutmose III. Ramses II fought the Hittites, near this same city. Hittite, Hebrew, and Assyrian empires all extended into this valley. Some of the historic sites on the Orontes are Qatna (Mishrafeh), Hamath (Hama), Qarqar (N of Hamath where Ahab fought the Assyrians), and Alalakh (in the Amq Plain).


R. Boulanger, World Guides: The Middle East (1966), 211, 212, 346, 366, 367, 475-478.

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