In late antiquity, Syria was a rich and important province of a great empire, as it had been for centuries. It contained many flourishing cities set in a densely populated countryside whose inhabitants built churches and houses of elegantly carved stone. In the sixth century the country suffered an unparalleled series of disasters in the form of earthquakes, plague, and foreign invasion. Early in the seventh it passed under the control of the Persians, who had barely left when the victorious armies of Islam definitively removed it from the orbit of Constantinople and Christianity. This was not the end, but the beginning of another glorious epoch in which Syria became the center of a vast empire and was again famed for its great cities and monuments.