Damascus, located in modern day Syria, has been referred to as " the capital of Arab culture and pride". It has been a part of numerous empires because of its rich economic history. Because of it being under so many different empires, it was exposed to and thrived with multiple religions and cultures. During the post- classical era, Damascus became very influential because of its proximity to the silk routes. The Umayyad Dynasty, the new power in the Islamic world, decided to make Damascus its capital because of its economic success. Becoming the capital of a powerful empire gave Damascus a new found sense of entitlement which it was able to use to control the Silk Routes. Damascus was a thriving commercial force because of its location, a political power by virtue of becoming the capital of the Umayyad dynasty, and was home to numerous cultures as a result.
Damascus had multiple advantages to help it become an economic powerhouse. The first one was the natural location advantage they enjoyed over other countries because it was in the vicinity of the silk routes. The economy has been influential especially in the post classical era; they wielded a lot of power over the economy of multiple countries and most of the trading had to go through Damascus for the goods to make it to the other side. In the middle ages around the time of 1100-1600 CE, Damascus was known for its steel. Damascus steel became a metaphor in the steel industry because it was known for its quality and strength; it was exclusively used to make swords and other steel based weaponry. The steel’s high quality (historians today are yet to figure out the source of its strength) made it a highly valued export item that was sought after by many countries. Damascus would import steel ingots from India and use this to make the swords then export the swords out to China, other south Asian countries, and also civilizations in Europe such as the Byzantine and the Persian Empires which helped further ignite its trade. A physical piece of architecture that helped fuel the Damascus economy was the Umayyad Mosque. The Mosque is one of the largest and oldest in the world and it attracted many visitors. It holds high importance to not only Muslims but also to Christians, both brought new cultures and helped the economy in a small way while they were buying products while touring Damascus. The Umayyad dynasty was also credited with the creation of the world’s first banking system. The banking was centered around its capital and its economic center, Damascus. They created the first structures that were similar to banks. In the middle of the Mosque there were money centers that would serve as a model for the Abbasid Empire to create the first official banking system. The key part to the success of Damascus was the fact that there was a unified currency that was used throughout the Umayyad Empire. The centralized currency made trade tremendously easier because there was no need to figure out how to equate the values to make sure that both sides of the deal were getting equal values. This just increased the attraction for foreign countries to want to trade with Damascus. They made the arduous process of long distance trade easier and quicker. Damascus mainly traded with countries such as India and northern Africa which were the more or less the boundaries of the spread of Islam. In the agricultural trade department, Damascus started growing rice that was imported from India, and they used timber imported from Africa to compensate for the lake of timber in their area and to use for their many architectural projects such as the Great Mosque.
The political history of Damascus during the time of Islam was confusing and poorly controlled. It changed hands many times and had no reliable system of law. The city was situated in a beneficial location on the political map; so trade supported the economic growth of Damascus. When trade and the economy was blossoming, politics were made much easier because there was less turmoil. But since this city was located between many major empires such as the Umayyad and the Egyptians it was never governed independently, instead sub-rulers from Cairo or Baghdad would attend and watch over the city (It was always part of a larger empire). Once the Arabs conquered it in 635, it became the capital and the most important city under Muslim control. Besides being the center of trade, Damascus was extremely important to the Umayyad Military. Since it was on the outer part of the plains in Syria, the military was in prime location to gather food and be constantly supported by the rest of the empire. In 750 with the Abbasid’s gaining control, the capital city was moved to Baghdad. With all the attention removed from the city the people of Damascus became somewhat harsh and incapable of being governed. The Umayyad troops along the border of Syria became weak and the new soldiers from the Abbasid began to seize control. In the start of the 10th century, militias in Damascus became large and started to strike fear into the governors from Syria. There were constant changes in position but the successors of the old governors were not strong and they lacked strength and control over the people. A man named "Sultan" Malikshah was the leader of Baghdad. He was the center of the empire but in 1092 he died and suddenly the City of Baghdad and the empire fell into smaller parts. This made Damascus a separate city/power from the empire that was left. Now Damascus became a small city that was governed only by people within the region. Nur al-Din was the leader during the time period around 1150-1174. Under his reign, there were fewer militia attacks and he was very popular in parts of the Muslim world. After the Reign of Nur al-Din, Saladin became the leader and he attempted to conquer new land. Saladin gained new territories during his conquests and formed the Ayyubid confederation. Under this new rule, Damascus became a vital piece because of its ability to resist the invasions from Egypt. Since so many rulers wanted control over the city, it was forced to surrender multiple times to armies including the Ayyubids. The Ayyubids held power over the city for many years until the Mongols (Germanic invaders) defeated them in1260. Now that the city was in no command, the Mamluk sultanate occupied it. It became a capital of a province in Syria. It was not used as much and was mainly there for the protection of Egypt and a place for the Mamluk to prepare for battles against Mongols and rival Muslim groups. As a smaller city under the Sultanate, it inherited wealth and gifts from the Mamluk hierarchy. The Mamluks would place chiefs to carry out policies within their assigned region.
Since Damascus is one of the oldest cities, the social part of its outlook changes from time to time. Before Damascus formed its social structure as Islamic, the Byzantine Empire ruled it under the Christen Orthodox culture. The Byzantine rulers tried to rule as many silk route cities as they could while they reigned. They eventually used Damascus as one of the key silk routes cities in their empire. For most of the time, Damascus was predominantly an Islamic culture during the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman Empires. But, the Umayyad Empire used the Roman streets street styles and used the walls around the city for protection against nomadic invaders from the Northern steppes. The Umayyads also added the caliph tombs of some Muslim rulers located adjacent to an old temple ground in the Northwestern part of the city, which held the Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist during the Byzantine Empire. But before the Church was build, it was a massive temple built to Jupiter by the Romans. The temple ground would then be turned into the Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist and then Umayyad mosque- palace. The Umayyad Mosque- palace lasts in the same spot until present day and would be a centerpiece for Damascus for most of the post classical era. The massive palace would have quarters for the local rulers of the Umayyad Dynasty and for any other important government official visiting the city. The city would then use the mosque as the center of the city for the Muslims even though it was located in the Northwestern part of the city. The merchants would live surrounding the Masque-palace, thus connecting trade and culture together. The poor classes lived in the southwestern quarter of the city and were taken to serve the nobles in the Umayyad Mosque-palace. The connection to the silk routes brought and sent many different cultures to and from Damascus. This especially occurred when Muhammad started preaching about Allah and his message. Many of the Muslim people started to become merchants to try and use Muhammad’s life as an example, so they traveled to Damascus to interact on the silk route and sent the Islamic faith with them. The city became overwhelmed with people and grew a population of more than sixty-six thousand people when the Islamic faith rose to its high point. Damascus also became the center of Muslim learning during the twelfth century with the arrival of Nur al-Din. He founded many of the madrasahs in Damascus and influenced local scholars too. A local Hanafite school emerged as a result of the Turkish courts and armies during the twelfth centuries would not last long without getting influenced by the Muslim way of life.
Damascus, located in Syria, is one of the oldest cities and was important to the growth of many empires. It was located in a prime location for trade along the silk routes, which lured in major empires such as the Umayyad and Abbasid. Although it was politically unstable, it always thrived economically. Over the centuries, many empires gained and lost control of city. At times it was part of major empires but it was independent at others. This city was impacted many times by the changes in the islamic world. This small city had a tremendous impact on neighboring cities and empires.