It was anciently the chief river of Syria, also called Draco, Typhon and Axius. The last was a native form, from whose revival, or continuous employment in native speech, has proceeded the modern name ‘Asi ("rebel"), which is variously interpreted by Arabs as referring to the stream’s impetuosity, to its unproductive channel, or to the fact that it flows away from Mecca.
The Orontes rises in the great springs of Labweh on the east side of the Bekaa Valley, very near the fountains of the southward-flowing Litani, and it runs due north, parallel with the coast, falling 2000 feet through a rocky gorge. Leaving this it expands into the Lake of Homs, having been dammed back in antiquity. The valley now widens out into the rich district of Hamah (Hamaih-Epiphaneia), below which lie the broad meadow-lands of GMb, containing the sites of ancient Apamea and Larissa. This central Orontes valley ends at the rocky barrier of Jisr al-Hadid, where the river is diverted to the west, and the plain of Antioch opens.
Two large tributaries from the north, the Afrin and Kara Su, here reach it through the former Lake of Antioch, which is now drained through an artificial channel (Nahr al-Kowsit). Passing north of the modern Antakia (Antioch) the Orontes plunges southwest into a gorge (compared by the ancients to Tempe), and falls 150 feet in 10 miles to the sea just south of the little port of Suedia (anc. Seleucia Pieriae), after a total course of 150 miles.
Mainly unnavigable and of little use for irrigation, the Orontes derives its historical importance solely from the convenience of its valley for traffic from north to south roads from north and northeast, converging at Antioch, follow the course of the stream up to Homs, where they fork to Damascus and to Coele-Syria and the south; and along its valley have passed the armies and traffic bound to and from Egypt in all ages.