Sadly as I write, the city of Homs is under bombardment from government forces as Syria slowly sinks in to what looks increasingly like civil war.
Many history buffs may be unaware of the city of Homs until I refer to it as Emesa. Then those of you with a strong interest in ancient Roman history will experience a twinge of recognition.
Emesa came to prominence under the Severan dynasty of emperors (late second/early third century AD) when Septimius Severus married in to the local nobility.
After his death, the family continued to rule in Rome producing the wildly erratic teenage emperor Elagabalus who introduced the cult of Sol Invictus to the centre of Roman life – as well as bringing a holy stone, probably a meteor, to Rome to be worshiped. This object would have been similar to the holy stone still venerated in Mecca.
Emesa remained under Roman control being ruled from Constantinople when the empire divided permanently after Theodosius (late 4th century AD). But as with the rest of Syria – it was invaded by the armies of Islam in the seventh century when the emperor Heraclius was forced to abandon Emesa, which then became Homs. A resurgent Byzantine (eastern Roman) empire was able to retake Homs for about thirty years in the tenth century – which partly explains why many Muslims mistook the First Crusade for a Byzantine attack.
By the time Jerusalem and Antioch were taken by the crusaders, Homs was back under Muslim control – though no doubt with nervous glances down the road to the newly arrived westerners. Homs changed hands several times among different Islamic rulers but by the 12th century was firmly under the sway of the Seljuk Turks. The crusaders realised its strategic importance and tried to take Homs but it was given super fortifications that effectively repelled the crusaders and provided the Saracens with a strong base from which to attack the Christian states of outremer.
Being very much on the front line of the crusades, Homs was not that far from the crusader stronghold of Krak des Chevaliers. Unfortunately – if you’re planning a trip there you may have to wait a while. Normally, you would go from Homs to this historic location but until the fighting between government and rebels is over – your plans may have to go on the back burner.