Apologies if this is "really" a geographical question, but I suspect it must have been addressed by scholars of the past millenium of Middle Eastern history, not least because it is so central to a long-running conflict (current as of early 2015):

Historically, Mesopotamia has been recognized as a coherent spatial concept. Its core is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; its periphery has extended into and out of adjacent lands stretching from the Gulf in the southeast, the Zagros Mountains (and historic Persia) to the north and east, the Taurus Mountains (and historic Anatolia) to the far north, and a vast (and growing) desert to the west and south.

Syria has (IIUC) historically been rather more mutable, yet also remains conceptually distinct. Its most generally-agreed bounds are the Mediterranean to the west, the Taurus to the north, and those deserts to the east. Where one separates Syria from its southern neighbors, and what one calls the latter (e.g., Arabia, Egypt, the Levant, Palestine), seems to be endlessly contested.

But it seems pretty clear (ICBW) that, historically, populations and their attendant states have tended to settle in Mesopotamia or Syria, while the arid area "in between" has traditionally been a much less densely populated (and much poorer) borderland. So what has that mostly-desert area between Syria and Mesopotamia historically been called?

The only term I've found much used in English is the "Syrian desert," but mostly (like so many deserts) this area seems to be ignored by everyone except the people who live there ... at least until they attract the attention of outside powers.

4 Answers 4


Wikipedia seems to be saying that that entire area up to the Euphrates is considered part of Syria (or "Greater Syria" if you prefer). You are correct that the English name for this particular desert (and only that desert), is "The Syrian Desert".

Historically anywhere that is mostly uninhabited is going to have fairly vague political boundaries. If there's almost nobody living there, its going to be a waste of manpower to send armies there to enforce your political will on what few inhabitants there are, and most governmental amenities would be prohibitive to provide. It is possession of the bits on either side that matters, not the desert in-between. In many cases, its nice to have a bit of a buffer area between the two.

The Bible tended to refer to any area that wasn't inhabited by farming peoples as "the wilderness" (depending on your translation).

  • "Historically anywhere that is mostly uninhabited is going to have fairly vague political boundaries." Correct, but this question is about names, not boundaries.
    – TomRoche
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 3:46
  • "If there's almost nobody living there, its going to be a waste of manpower to send armies there" 1. One will nevertheless often send armies through it. Thus it will behoove you to know about it, and thus to name it for descriptive purposes in something like your war manual. 2. Borderlands have a proven record of producing people with comparative advantage in smuggling, raiding, and looting :-) which tends to eventually get armies sent into them from the richer places which the "bad guys" have offended.
    – TomRoche
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 3:50

Syria is contiguous with Mesopotamia.

The area to the south of Syria but east of Palestina and the five kingdoms (Israel, Judah, Ammon, Moab, Edom) is Arabia. In ancient times the eastern desert was sometimes generally called Ammon.


Historically, Syria and Assyria are the same. “Syria” is a Greek version of “Assyria”. In ancient times “Syria” designated the whole of the Assyrian empire. The Christians in Iraq call themselves Suryāyē “Syrians”. The modern country of Syria got its name in the period of French rule.


the area of northern Mesopotamia and eastern Syria is also known as the Jazira (or Al-Jazira) but this does not include the Levant and the Damascus and Aleppo regions.

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