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DAMASCUS, colonia, now Damisk, or Damasco, as Europeans call it; Sciam or Chiam, as it is named by the Turks.- The most ancient city of coele-Syria (the Hollow Syria) it is situated in a beautiful and fertile valley, at the foot of Mount Hermon, from which flow two rivers, the Abana and the Pharpar. Of these mountain streams mention is made in Holy Writ (Kings, bk. 2, ch. 5, v. 12) - "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israil?" The former passes through the middle of the city; the other rolls its waters amidst gardens and orchards beyond the walls; both afterwards unite, and form one river named the Chrysorrhoas, or golden river (now the Barrada). In more remote antiquity, the metropolis of Phoenicia, and in later ages, comprehended in the patriarchate of Antioch, Damascus is still, according to description, the most agreeable, as it was once the most celebrated, city in the East, on account of the grandeur of its public edifices, and the elegance of its private habitations. Conflicting opinions are entertained respecting the origin of the word Damascus; amongst which Vaillant (in Coloniis, i. 232) suggessts, on the strength of a frequent type on its coins, the derivation to be "a Dama nutrice et Asco puero" (from the boy Ascus norished by a Doe). This city had at an early period from the foundation its own kings. Josephus (Antig. 7, cap. 6), speaks of Adadus, in the time of David, as king of Damascus, and whose posterity retained that royal title and authority to the tenth generation. - Pvertjrpwm bu the Assyrians, it became suject to the Seleucidae, whose era dates form the year of Rome 442, 312 years before Christ. - The Araians subsequently gained possession of it; and at length Pompey annexed it to the Roman republic. It was not made a colony until the reign of the emperor Philippus senior. And, although on coins its title of cotonia takes precedence of its dignity of metropolis, viz. COL. DAMAS METRO. &c. yet it had enjoyed the latter prerogative long before it obtained its colonial character. On many coins, with Greek legends, from Hadrian to Alexander Severus, is read Metropoleos, given to it as an honorary distinction, on account of the amplitude and importance of the place.
Besides Greek antonomes, and Greek imperials in brass, there are bilingual (viz. Greek and Latin) brass coins of this colony, dedicated consecutively to Philip senior, and to Otacillia, Philip junior, Herennius Etruscus, Trajanus Decius, Trebonianus Gallus, Volusianus, Aemilianus, Valerianus senior, Gallienus, and Salonina. These coins are inscribed COL. DAMA. METR. OR MET.
Bacchus and Silenus were the two tutelary deities of Damascus. Temples were erected to their worship in that city; and they are typified on coins of Trebonianus Gallus and Philip sen.
The following are amongst the prin cipal types which appear on the reverses of coins struck in this city, with bilingual legends: -
1. Bacchus. - On second brass of Trebonianus Gallus. - See type described in p. 120.
2. Cypress tree. - On a rare second brass, struck in honour of Volusianue, with the legend of Colonia Damascus Metropolis, this tree stands between a horse and a bull. - [The meaning of this singular type is far from having been satisfactorily explained. Vaillant, who seems to reject the idea of any local allusion in the case, puts it interrogatively whether this combined group of the tree and the two quadrupeds may not have a mustic signification? - For an ingenious conjecture see that author in Coloniis, ii. 222]
On second and third brass of Philip senior, Silenus stands before a cypress, which tree was held in veneration by the Phoenicians, being, according to Plutarch, dedicated to the Sun. - Vaillant, ii. p. 161.
3. Doe (Dama) giving suck to a little boy. - On first and second brass coins of this colony, minted under Philip senior, Otaacilia his wife and Trebonianus Gallus.
This type, accompanied by the legend of reverse COL. DAMAS. METR. occurs on coins of this colony, during the above reigns; and has given rise among the learned to a variety of conjectures. It is generally regarded as earing reference to the name of the city, and to the origin of its reputed founder. - Vaillant quotes some of the interpretations put upon it; but does not argue in favour of any of them. He simply remarks, that these, and other coins of similar type, seem intended to preserve in remembrance the tradition of Ascus, who having been exposed in infance, was suckled by a Dama, or female deer, and afterwards, rising to eminence, laid the foundations of Damascus.
But here let his eminent numinmatist of the seventeenth century, speak ihis own seentiments on this point, in his own way, if not indeed in his native tongue: -
"Should we venture (says Vaillant, in Col. ii. p. 271), to regard this type of a boy sucking a doe, as referring to the origin of the city of Damascus; and should we further assert, that the name itself of that city is derived for the words dama (the doe) and Ascus (the boy), the whole host of the learned would be ready to cry out against us: let us, notwithstanding, propound our own conjectures. What is the import of the boy suckled by a doe, who so frequently appears on the coins of Damascus? - Does not that type illustrate the history of some boy nourished by a doe, just as that of the wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, depicts the first mode in which those infants were nopurished; and was not another boy, similarly brought up by a deer ( ?? ) named, accordingly, Telephus? The animal dama, however, derives its name from ? (to tame), by the figure antiphrasis. Stephens, in his Thesaurus, v. ? states, that Damascus was so called from Ascus, a giant. Now, this giant might have been brought up by a deer; andit is a reasonable conjecture, that the name of the city, ?, was compounded of the two words ? and ?; but if this etymology dooes not meet with approbation, we take refuge in another founder of the city, by name Damascus, after whom Damascus, the noblest city in Syria, was called, as Justin thus relates, xxxvi. 2 - 'The name was given to the city by it king Damascus, in whose honour the Syrians reverenced the sepulchre of his wife Arathis as a temple, and paid her the highest adoration as a deity.' - Perhaps this king had been exposed, and tended by a deer, and so by tghe act of sucking that animal, he points to the memory of the founder, and the origin of the city."
In a learned Dissertation on certain coins of Damascus, inserted in the Revue Numismatique (vol. vii year 1844, p. 1. et seq.) M.J. DeWitle, who has illustrated his subject with appropriate engravings, enters at great length into the traditions, often as contradictory as they are various, which have been furnished by mythographers, but which (he observes), result in showing only that the name of the city owes its origin to one of those jeux de mots in which the ancients, especially the Greeks, took delight.
"Mythological legends (says in substance this living French numismatist), relate that a personage of the family of the earth-born Giants, bearing the name of lAscus (who, from a numismatic type, is supposed to have been deserted in his infance, and suckled by a doe), pursued in his manhood a heroic and successful career; until, having cut down the vineyards which Dionysus (Bacchus) had planted in Syria, that god in his wrath, flayed the offender; and of his skin was made a leathern bottle or sack, which served to contain wine."
Vaillant, it will have been seen , in explaining the type of the above reverse, recognises in the infant suckled by an animal resembling a female deer (Dama) the young Ascus; and suggests that the word Dama being prefixed to that of Ascus, which assimilates with ?; signifying in Greek a wine skin, Aqua ?, abbreviated to Damascus, became the name of the city.
Eckhel (D. N. V. iii. p. 332, refuses to admit the explanation given, in this instance by Vaillant, first of all, because the word ?, as used to designate a doe, is not Greek; and secondly, because the doe appears by itself on pieces struck whilst Damascus enjoyed a government and laws of its own long before the epoch when that city was declared a Roman colony. - M. De Witte combats both these objections, first by pointing to the bilingual feature of the legends on the colonial imperial coins of Damascus, and next by a series of arguments founded on philological, historical, and mythological data, to which, as well as to the entire dissertation, the numismatic student will be advantaged by referring; for they throw light on other types of the Damascene colonial mintages, with both Greek and Latin inscriptions. The following are his concluding remarks on this disputer point: -
Vaillant, confining himself to the study of an isolated numismatic type, has not pushed his investigations far enough. But this explanation perfectly elucidates the play upon words concealed in the type of the infant Ascus suckled by the doe (dama). The animal, however, which nurishes Ascus does not figure in the traditionary legends of Damascus, at least in those with which we are aquainted.