(Ar., “eagle's nest”; Chalcis ad Belum),

settlement located in North Syria about 28 km (17 mi.) south-southwest of Aleppo (39°46′ N, 41°10′ E). The local name for the place was already attested in the Talmud and has always remained alive among the Arab population; it certainly derives from the widely visible, striking limestone mountain on whose south slope the settlement lies. It was one of many new Syrian cities founded by Seleucus Nicator (Appianus, Syria 57; Kai Brodersen, Appians Abriss der Seleukidengeschichte, Munich, 1989, p. 156).

The identification of the city is supported by the Itinerarium Antonini (Antonine Itinerary), according to which it lies 29 km (18 mi.) south of Beroea (Aleppo) on the way to Emesa (Homs), and by the Tabula Peutingeriana (Peutinger map), which on the way from Antioch to Beroea incorrectly gives a distance of 47 km (29 mi.). It is at least clear that Chalcis lay on a geographical crossroads and formed one of the centers in North Syria. Claudius Ptolemaeus (Geog. 5.18) mentions it as the chief city of the district of Chalcidike, a region he places between the Chalybonitis and the Apamene, proceeding from east to west. To differentiate it from Chalcis ad Libanum, Pliny (Nat. Hist. 5.19) calls the place in question Chalcis ad Belum. According to a new and convincing interpretation, Belus refers to the Qoueiq River and not to the easternmost foothills of the Syrian limestone mountain range opposite the flat, arable land stretching toward the Euphrates River (Balty, 1982). Strabo (16.2.11) mentions only the district of Chalcidike, which he says is inhabited primarily by the Skaenites (tent dwellers), a nomadic population expressly differentiated from the Arabs that displayed only a low standard of civilization. This remark, recorded during the Augustan period, is pertinent because it contrasts with numerous pieces of archaeological evidence from the imperial and early Christian periods. That evidence bears witness to dense settlement of the area and suggests a change from a nomadic mode to a larger and more fixed one, which in turn should have had an effect on the makeup of the population of Chalcis.

The first concrete historical events after the founding of the city are recorded for the year 145 BCE, when Diodotos Tryphon from Apamea, at the beginning of a revolt against Demetrius II, captured Chalcis with the help of the native leader Malchos, or Iamblichos, and then became the first non-Seleucid to ascend the Seleucid throne (Grainger, 1990). [See Seleucids.] In 92 CE the coins show the beginning of a new era, providing a basis for the plausible supposition that at this time the city was “freed” by a native dynast (who could have been a successor of Iamblichos or Malchos). Like many other places ruled by local dynasts, it was made completely subject to Roman administration (Grainger, 1990, pp. 132, 162). In 256 CE, Sapor I overran the “limes of Chalcis” (Malalas 295.17), whereupon he completely captured Syria and Antioch. This historical notice provided modern researchers with a name for the section of the limes between the Euphrates and the mountains of Palmyra (Poidebard and Mouterde, 1945). After that, however, Chalcis must have again been considered a secure place because, In 363 CE, the population of the Euphrates fortress Anatha was resettled there (Ammianus Marcellinus 24.1.9). In 529 CE it was again devastated by the Ghassamid leader al-Mundhir (cf. D. Feissel, “Remarques de toponymie syrienne,” Syria 59 [1982]: 326).

During Justinian's Persian wars, his general, Belisarius, moved south via Chalcis (Procopius, De Bellis Persicis 1.18.8; 90.21; 181.3). After being captured by Chosroes, the city had to ransom itself with 200 pounds of gold (Procopius, De Bellis Persicis 1.205.5). Furthermore, Procopius reports in two places that after the withdrawal of the Persians, the fortifications of Chalcis were renewed under Justinian In 550 and were also supplemented with an outwork. If there is no oversight on the part of the author here, perhaps both Chalcis ad Libanum and Chalcis ad Belum are meant (Procopius, De Aedificiis An inscription from Qinnishrin preserved in situ as a door lintel (Jalabert and Mouterde, 1939, no. 348) further specifies that the city wall was built by Isidorus of Miletus, a nephew of Justinian's chief architect of the same name (cf. Procopius, De Aedificiis 1.1.24). After the Battle of the Yarmuk In 636, the city was finally conquered by Abu Ubayda in the course of his conquest of North Syria. Furthermore, in the Umayyad period the city possessed a military garrison and remained the chief city of the djund Qinnishrin. After being destroyed a number of times, in the eleventh century it finally lost its significance to Aleppo (Elisséeff, 1986).

The ancient settlement, like the modern one, lay on a plain between two mountains. The Nebi Is, a foothill of the northern limestone mountain range, lies to the northwest; to the south there is a fortified tell. To the north, the Qoueiq River forms a natural boundary. The remains of the settlement that are visible on the surface have been mapped and described (Monceaux and Brossé, 1925; Jean Lauffray in Poidebard and Mouterde, 1945, p. 7, plan 1). No excavations have been carried out. Accordingly, it can only be reasonably assumed that the pre-Greek settlement lay on the eastern tell. This still shows an approximately trapezoidal fortification wall along the flanks of the hill and can be designated as the upper city. Its wall is certainly older than the walling off of the lower city that can be ascribed to Isidorus of Miletus; however, it would be difficult to provide a more precise date. Only a number of unconnected traces of foundations and ruins have been preserved of the city's architecture. The massiveness of the foundations and the use of columns of Egyptian granite show that presentation architecture was a element here. The large quarries on the south slope of the Nebi Is that extend up to the settlement provided abundant construction material for the building activity in Chalcis. Numerous hypogea, with arcosolia arranged in a cross-shaped pattern, were situated here. Some of the burial chambers are decorated with reliefs.


  • Balty, Jean Ch. “Le belus de Chalcis et les fleures de Ba῾al de Syrie-Palestine.” In Archéologie au Levant: Recueil à la mémoire de Roger Saidah, pp. 287–298. Lyon, 1982.
  • Brodersen, Kai. Appians Abriss der Seleukidengeschichte. Munich, 1989.
  • Elisséeff, Nikita. “Ḳinnasrīn.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, pp. 124–125. Leiden, 1960–.
  • Grainger, John D. The Cities of Seleukid Syria. Oxford, 1990.
  • Jalabert, Louis, and René Mouterde. Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Vol. 2. Paris, 1939.
  • Monceaux, Paul, and Léonce Brossé. “Chalcis ad Belum.” Syria 6 (1925): 339–350.
  • Poidebard, Antoine, and René Mouterde. Le limes de Chalcis. Paris, 1945.

Rüdiger GogräfeTranslated from German by Susan I. Schiedel