Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Chronicle of SeertChristian Historical Imagination in Late Antique Iraq$

Philip Wood

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199670673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199670673.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 16 January 2021



(p.1) Introduction
The Chronicle of Seert

Philip Wood

Oxford University Press

When the Church of the East held its first synod in Ctesiphon in 410, Christians had already been present in Iraq for a long time. Converts from Judaism and ‘paganism’ mingled in the cities of the Sasanian (Persian) empire with Christian prisoners of war from the Roman world.1 Many of these Sasanian Christians were also linked to one another, and to their co-religionists across the Roman frontier, by their shared Syriac language.2

At certain points, however, the Sasanian regime subjected its Christian subjects to a series of ‘persecutions’.3 It is difficult to estimate the size of this Christian community, or to enumerate or quantify the persecutions it suffered, but these events provided the major source of the Christian community’s self-identity. The church of the Sasanian empire, which we glimpse in the acts of its first synod, was clearly divided by language and by administrative practices. However, a shared experience of persecution, and reverence for the martyrs of the fourth century, may have come to represent a powerful source of unity for these different communities: one of the first secure pieces of information we have for the Church of the East is a Syriac language martyrion (a list of martyrs), dated to the year 411, listing the martyrs killed under Shapur II (309–79).4

(p.2) A list of martyrs’ names may seem a humble beginning. Yet it represents an early stage in the development of a written history of the Church of the East. It is an important way point in the evolution of a sense of shared history that made different Christian communities conscious of their membership of a single church, a history that was constantly rearticulated in response to changing events. In short, changes in the church’s historical awareness altered the behaviour and identity of Christians.

There is also a second feature of the 411 martyrion that deserves our attention. It was composed in the city of Edessa, a centre for the Syriac language that lay well inside Roman territory, rather than within the Sasanian Empire. Its contents were said to have been collected by one Marutha, bishop of Maypherkat, the Roman emissary who helped to convene the 410 synod.5 The conjunction of the collection of a martyr list with the first church’s inaugural synod should remind us of the role of administrative centralization in stimulating the creation of history, both real and invented. The church’s shared experience was a good point of emphasis when the bishop of Ctesiphon intended to proclaim himself ‘catholicos’ over all the other bishops of the East.6 The origins of the document also point to the role of earlier Roman models for the Church of the East.7 This is true most clearly at the level of theology, since the Church of the East imported the dogma of the Western church wholesale. But it is equally important for the politics and history. In the Roman emperor Constantine, Iraqi Christians saw a model of state sponsorship that they would continue to wish for in their own rulers, while the church of the Roman world provided a centralized model that the bishops of the Sasanian capital Ctesiphon sought to emulate.

The Chronicle of Seert

Many of the sources for the history of Christians in late antique Iraq are much later medieval compilations. This study will attempt to unpeel the layers of the later compilations, some of which go back to the fifth to seventh centuries, and (p.3) use them as indications of the changing use of tradition by different generations of historians. This is a study of the Church of the East seen through its imagination of its own past.

The most important of these medieval texts is the tenth-century Chronicle of Seert, a universal history, written in Arabic, that was discovered by the Chaldean archbishop Addai Scher at the start of the twentieth century.8 The Chronicle’s surviving material covers the period c.251–423 and c.483–650, and there is a substantial gap in its coverage of the fifth century. We are left with only part of a work that may have once extended from Christ to the tenth century, though it is impossible to judge how dense this missing material might have been. Even as it stands, the text is very long, comprising some four fascicles of the Patrologia Orientalis.

The Chronicle was probably composed in the tenth century, since it employs the Melkite historian Qusṭā ibn Lūqā (d.910) and refers to Ishoʿyahb III as ‘the last catholicos of that name’, placing it before the reign of Ishoʿyahb IV in 1023.9 It is a dense text, and the Chronicle includes a number of different layers of composition, each of which may abbreviate material from other sources, and, in some cases, blend this material together. While the Chronicle is written in Arabic, much of it derives from material that was originally in Syriac, the chief written language of Sasanian Christians before the coming of the Arabs. Many of the sources cited in the Chronicle are ecclesiastical histories of the seventh century, though these would have included even earlier sources.10 In addition, the compiler has included extracts from earlier Syriac texts that are still extant, such as the Lives of the catholicoi Aba and Sabrishoʿ.

I argue that it is possible to reconstruct the agendas and, in some cases, the content of earlier histories by reading this later text in the context of earlier late antique material. Following this method, I propose that the Chronicle was based around a fifth-century ‘patriarchal history’ that was continued into the middle of the sixth century. After this point, the range of material expands greatly. New histories based around monasticism, scholastic culture, and the ecclesiastical history of the West and secular history were added from the late sixth century, and historians began to integrate their accounts of the catholicoi with these other narrative traditions. This expansion of an episcopal history (p.4) into something as voluminous as the Chronicle of Seert is an indication of the development of many different ways to assert a Christian identity or think about the Christian past, and the efforts of the catholicoi to subordinate these ideas to a ‘universal’ history, structured around the catholicosate.

The layered composition of the Chronicle provides rich evidence for patterns of history-writing in the Church of the East. This in turn, grants us an insight into the complex relationships that existed between church structures, laymen, and monastic institutions, all of which developed their own historical traditions. In all of these spheres, the reinvention of the past by each new generation of East Syrian Christians points to the changing contours of their self-conception as followers of a catholicos and as a ‘Christian people’ within the Sasanian world.

Approaching the Chronicle

Addai Scher’s discovery has not received great attention as a contribution to the history and historiography of late antiquity. It has been quarried as a repository of information about the Sasanian world and its Christians, but without many real attempts at source criticism, to determine how information entered the Chronicle and why. We cannot dismiss the Chronicle as untrustworthy merely because of its late date and the translation of older material into Arabic from other languages. For instance, François Decret has observed that the Chronicle’s entry on the third-century martyr-bishop Cyprian of Carthage is surprisingly accurate, in spite of the distance between the milieux of historian and subject.11 That said, we must not simply take the Chronicle at face value, especially where we cannot check its account against other sources. Though one might like to reconstruct the history of Christianity in third-century Iraq, it does not follow that we can use the Chronicle to do so, even where it is our only source.12 Indeed, it will be argued here that this early history was a particular target for inventions by Eastern historians, who replaced scanty early material with narratives that supported the claims of later eras.13

Approaches to the chronicle sources of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages have been greatly enriched over the last thirty to forty years. Western (p.5) medievalists in particular have come a long way from the assessment of sources merely as ‘plausible witnesses’. Instead, chronicles have been increasingly seen as sources for the history of ideas, as ‘coherent statements designed to have an effect on a contemporary audience’, with regard to the ‘salient features of society’.14 Studies on the Carolingian world have explored histories as statements on divine agency, on ideal hierarchy, and on the relationship between the localities and royal centres.15 In particular, Rosamond McKitterick’s study of the Royal Frankish Annals has explored the successive layers of a sequential annalistic history as a testimony to the changing attitudes and self-representation of the royal court of Charlemagne.16 Other studies have addressed the distinctively Christian vision of early medieval historians, whether in their suppression of the heroic past or their treatment of the history of language.17

Another important perspective on the study of historiography has come from historians working on the Far East. Breuker’s study of medieval Korea has observed that the intellectual environment of the kingdom of Koryo was an ‘ideological landscape littered with philosophical, religious, mythical and historical constructs…some remnants of other times, some more recently constructed’. He proposes that the writing of history can be seen as a kind of codification, a response to the breakdown of practical unity that provides the illusion of a reality that was never there.18

Many of these studies have much to offer this investigation of a historical compilation of the tenth century. It is particular appropriate to read each of the different levels of the Chronicle of Seert as a comment on the ‘salient features of society’ and their supposed relationship to the past. Moreover, as in Breuker’s study of Korea, these comments may assert a unity of identity that was never previously present, rendering it legitimate through appeals to a ‘continuous’ tradition. Indeed, it is important to remember that the historians (p.6) of the Church of the East did not just continue older histories. They also elaborated their record of the distant past to accommodate the needs of a changing present.

A third historiographical approach that is of particular relevance here is the work of historians of early Islam. They are faced with a similar problem to students of Middle Eastern Christianity: they are reliant on ninth- and tenth-century compilations to write the histories of the seventh and eighth centuries. As Stephen Humphreys puts it: ‘If our goal is to comprehend the way in which Muslims of the late 8th and 9th centuries understood the origins of their society, then we are very well off indeed. But if our aim is to find out what really happened…then we are in trouble.’19 Persuasive solutions to these problems have been proposed. Fred Donner and Antoine Borrut have argued that early Islamic history appears to have passed through a number of filters in successive generations of oral and written transmission, which exalted the ancestors of later sponsors and removed inconsistencies or inconvenient truths.20 In this model, if we are sufficiently attuned to the process of ‘filtration’, of the criteria on which information might be excluded, adapted, or expanded, we can make basic statements about what the material originally looked like.

Like some Islamicists looking at Muslim Arab sources, there is a temptation for us to see the Chronicle purely as a product of the tenth century, a work created entirely in the cities of Abbasid Iraq.21 There is certainly evidence of changes to place names to fit an Islamic context, changes that could well have been introduced at the moment of translation. Yet there are also good reasons to be hopeful of reconstructing earlier layers in the Chronicle. Indeed, I argue that we can be much more confident in unpicking the layers of the Chronicle of Seert than Islamicists can be in dissecting al-Tabari, al-Baladhuri, and their contemporaries.

Trusting the Chronicle

Firstly, it is clear that the compiler of the Chronicle has adopted a very conservative attitude to editing, preserving contradictory accounts of the same events alongside one another. We see this at the scale of whole narratives (p.7) in his divergent accounts of Constantine’s conversion, the Life of Ephraem, or the reign of Julian.22 This pattern points to great respect for earlier material and an inability to differentiate between different versions of the same event: in many cases, the tradition that the compiler depended on seems to have been isolated from Western sources that might have been used to check or alter his material. Indeed, the Chronicle is filled with anachronisms, misdated events, and obscure passages that have been mutilated during abbreviation.

Secondly, the Chronicle, like a number of similar histories, has been structured around the reigns of catholicoi, the bishops of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, and the catholicosate provided a consistent central interest to the compiler’s predecessors, who provided his raw material. Sections on ‘the fathers of the church’ are especially important for this structural diagnosis: they list holy men and theologians active at the time of a given catholicos and read like a list of contents from other compilations very similar to the Chronicle itself.23 The Chronicle’s compiler has included these earlier, more abbreviated, attempts to organize this material. The succession of catholicoi, therefore, provided a core around which other information was organized from an early date.

Thirdly, a number of dateable sources exist in Syriac from the period described by the Chronicle that we can use as controls on its material. Most prominent among these is the so-called Synodicon Orientale, the record of synods of the Church of the East held in the fifth to eighth centuries. These sources also include a variety of hagiographic material, on the martyrs of the fifth-century persecutions; on prominent catholicoi and on the monastic founders of the late sixth and seventh centuries. In all these cases, the Syriac sources are important not only because they confirm or deny the ‘data’ of the Chronicle, but also because they provide plausible contexts for the composition of different parts of the Chronicle, and allow us an insight into the development of the historical tradition on which the Chronicle relies. In addition, this historiographical analysis is aided by a later, thirteenth-century list of earlier historians by ʿAbdishoʿ of Nisibis, which gives a sense of how an increasing number of historians worked within this tradition.24 Similarly, the chronological range of the texts of foreign origin in the Chronicle (such as ecclesiastical history from the Roman Empire) allows us to establish ‘termini post quem’ for the incorporation of this foreign material into the tradition.

Fourthly, and finally, we can also use a number of related medieval chronicles to shed further light on the material available to the compiler of the (p.8) Chronicle and provide alternative reconstructions of events. In particular, cases where the same material has been organized differently by the various compilers suggest points at which the original account of the events had not been divided into sections based around each catholicos in turn, and where these divisions had to be inserted later.

We can never take the information included in these chronicles at face value. We should never lose sight of their late date of compilation, or the fact that they rely on Arabic translations of earlier Syriac sources. However, too much of their material, especially their shared material, does not make sense as a tenth-century invention. Instead, I suggest that it is possible to isolate material in these chronicles that is either related to known sources or fits into narrative strands that run between different sections. Each of these narrative strands may be internally linked either by the succession of dramatis personae (often successive bishops or secular rulers or chains of scholars and disciples) or by similar political or theological agendas. In this way, it is possible to isolate the components of later compilations, each of which show signs of development by different anonymous authors. Many of these authors can be dated to the sixth or seventh centuries, rather than later, because of the individuals and places they praise or vilify.25

This study is an attempt to analyse the production of histories as a series of events in themselves. The Chronicle of Seert is organized into distinct sections, many of which are gobbets of narrative taken wholesale from other histories and embedded in this later medieval compilation. By isolating the shared biases and interests of these sections, I suggest that we can locate a series of different traditions within the Chronicle and sometimes identify when and how the material entered the historical tradition that was shared with other medieval compilations. This study aims to use each layer of the historical tradition as a testimony to the changing cultural awareness and intellectual agenda of the mostly anonymous historians whose work is embedded in the Chronicle. The different layers of historical writing allow us an insight into the social and rhetorical construction of orthodox belief and of the church as an institution in successive generations.26

(p.9) The texture of the Chronicle

The method proposed here compares each section against available contemporary sources and situates the section within one of a number of narrative strands within the Chronicle to try to establish the agenda of the original writer, as well as the presence of later adaptations. To illustrate this method, and to give a sense of the texture and form of the material, here I examine three short extracts from the Chronicle.

Part I, Section LXIX, The history of Ahai, the fifteenth catholicos

At the death of Ishaq, the catholicos, Marutha of Maypherkat chose Ahai, disiciple of Mar ʿAbda, [as catholicos in his place], and, at the command of Yazdegard, the fathers agreed. [Before his election as catholicos], his master established him as superior of his monastery and its students. After his election to the catholicosate, Yazdegard favoured him. A short time after he had taken over the catholicosate, Yazdegard sent him to Fars [to inspect] the merchandise and pearls taken by sea from the lands of India and China, which Nahrouz, son of his brother Shapur, governor of Fars, claimed had been stolen by pirates, so that the catholicos could check the truth of these allegations and inform him about it. On his arrival in Fars, the catholicos asked to see the tombs of those martyrs killed by Shapur and learnt the cause of their deaths. He recorded their stories and returned to Yazdegard to report what he had found out. He was even more favoured by the king…He demanded that all the fathers burn the houses of wizards and destroy magical objects, since the Christians were mixed among Marcionites and Manichees and were participating in these customs. Then he wrote a book on some of the martyrs of the East. Daniel bar Mariam, established this in his ecclesiastical history. He (Ahai) also wrote a life (tašīta) of his master ʿAbda. His catholicosate lasted four years, seven months and a few days. May God grant his soul eternal rest.

This section illustrates the ‘patriarchal history’, the sequential accounts of the catholicoi that provided the organizing structure for most Eastern historians up to the time of medieval compilers. Ahai’s life (410–14) is clearly placed in a sequence following his predecessor Ishaq (c.399–410), but the author also observes the role of Marutha, the Western emissary, in selecting Ahai. The period 410–20 saw the first regular use of church synods in the Church of the East, and Marutha’s presence was an important stimulus to the use of Western norms of church organization. In addition, the memory of this Western confirmation continued to be important long after this event: earlier connections with the West were invented by later historians, inspired by accounts such as this one.

This section also highlights Ahai’s close relationship with the shah Yazdegard. This, like the presence of Marutha, is invoked as an important feature of the catholicos’ legitimacy in the synods of the period. The section also includes the historian’s reflection on Ahai’s own role in collecting accurate ‘histories’ of (p.10) the martyrs of the Shapurian persecutions and the early monastic tradition in Ctesiphon. Several catholicoi of the early fifth century were associated with the ‘school of ʿAbda’. This school is only rarely referred to in the later record, and ʿAbda’s reputation as a monastic founder was eclipsed by earlier, fictitious figures such as Awgin. This reference, therefore, and the connection it makes between ʿAbda and a school in Ctesiphon seems to be a real one, and we can put some faith in his account of Ahai as an early collector of traditions on martyrdom and monasticism. The reference to the early seventh-century historian Daniel bar Mariam is essentially subsidiary: the emphasis here is that Ahai was the ultimate source for Daniel’s martyrdom accounts, and Daniel is not the author of the section as a whole.27

The first two chapters of the book treat this fifth-century commemoration of the martyrs, both the dimly remembered Shapurian martyrs and those of later persecutions. These hagiographies elaborated on simple lists of early martyrs to provide political models that discussed the nature of Christian loyalties to a potentially destructive Sasanian state, doing so by presenting this era as a golden age of martyrdom.

The stories of Ishaq, Ahai, and his contemporaries were strung together into a patriarchal history in the late fifth century, at the same time that church synods were reconvened after a long hiatus. The early fifth-century stories were organized around the reigns of catholicoi and were placed into a sequence with the martyred catholicoi of the Shapurian persecutions. This patriarchal history linked contemporary catholicoi to their martyred predecessors and to earlier moments when a temporarily centralized church had asserted the importance of the see of Ctesiphon. Thus, the disjointed memories of earlier eras were woven together into a single narrative that underlined the importance of the catholicosate as the central institution of the church (even if its importance may have actually fluctuated considerably). Lists of bishops, modelled on much older near eastern king lists, probably also underlie such ‘patriarchal histories’.28 Unlike in the earlier hagiographies of the Church of the East, the connection between the golden age and the present was set into a chain of succession that could be further elaborated into an accretive, continuous history that combined a number of different formative ‘golden ages’. I discuss this early patriarchal history in chapter 3.

Part II, Section VIII The history of Acacius (Aqaq), the twenty-first Catholicos

After the martyrdom of Babowai the catholicos, Acacius the teacher (malfāna) was elected to the catholicosate. And he was from Babowai’s family, which was (p.11) mentioned by him in his letter to Barsauma. Acacius29 studied at the school (askūl) of Edessa and met Theodoulos the disciple of the Interpreter [i.e. Theodore of Mopsuestia] there, and he blessed him and named him ‘the column of the east’. *He was good and virtuous. During the squabbles of Babowai and Barsauma, Acacius went from Edessa to al-Madā‘in [Ctesiphon], where he remained as a teacher for all the time that Babowai was there, aiding him and supporting him with the other bishops against Barsauma. He refuted the letter that he [Barsauma] wrote against the catholicos. When he was at the head of the church he conducted his affairs well. He opposed the Magians, who imprisoned him for a time and mistreated him. The followers of Barsauma, who detested his rule, accused him of adultery (zinā’), but they did not achieve their desire: In order to defy those who accused him, Acacius was forced to strip naked before the bishops to show them that he was a eunuch. And he was embarassed by the things he had done.

*Acacius went to the land of the Greeks (bilād al-rūm) at the time of Zeno and asked him to restore the bishops he had exiled. He composed a treatise on faith, in which he confounded those who argued for a single nature (jauhar-an wāhid-an) in Christ, and he wrote three other treatises on fasting. The Greeks and Persians remarked on his virtue and wisdom.

This section on the late fifth-century catholicos Acacius represents a continuation of the patriarchal history seen above in the section on Ahai. The difference is that this text has been more heavily overwritten using different historical traditions and with the perspective of mid-sixth-century hindsight.

The original core of the text may have begun at the first asterisk, with an assertion of the catholicos’ virtue that is a familiar feature of the biographies of earlier catholicoi. This original text probably included the references to Acacius as an opponent of Barsauma and as an ally of Babowai, as well as his connection to the school of Edessa and his opposition to the Magians. But even if this core text is earlier, it does not necessarily make it more reliable: this account makes the association with Babowai part of Acacius’ claim to legitimacy, and ignores the numerous accusations of misconduct that had been made against his predecessor. This silence is understandable if we realize that Babaowai’s opponent, Barsauma of Nisibis, had threatened to enact the necessary reforms of clerical marriage without the support of the catholicos. Thus the account has reimagined Babowai as a competent predecessor to avoid any challenges to the authority of the catholicos.

The sexual accusations against Acacius should also give us pause for thought. The synodica make clear that Acacius was responsible for the abolition of clerical celibacy, in response to the sexual scandals of Babowai’s reign (these reforms were annulled some sixty years later under the catholicos Aba). The section passes over these reforms in silence, but the emphasis on Acacius as a eunuch, whether true or not, may be included to defend his reputation. (p.12) The dissident Barsauma often appears as a scapegoat for the Acacian reforms, primarily because of the threat he had posed to the catholicosate as an institution, but other sources included in the Chronicle remember him as an important Dyophysite theologian (e.g. sections IX and XI).

The asterisks mark the limits of this hypothetical core text of this section. The material at the very start emphasizes Acacius’ position as teacher and his connection to the School of the Persians at Edessa, before its settlement at Nisibis after their expulsion under Zeno. It has probably been added as a supplement to the core text. Like the references at the end to Acacius’ intercession with Zeno and his scholarly writing, it probably derives from a tradition of ecclesiastical history and biography originating within Nisibis. The inclusion of this Nisibene material probably occurred in the last quarter of the sixth century, when catholicoi were consistently connected to the School and when a number of ecclesiastical historians are said to have worked. I discuss the clerical reforms and their impact on the historiography, as well as the changing relationship between catholicos and shah, in chapter 4.

Part II, Section VI History of Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople

At the death of Anatolius, patriarch of Constantinople, Gennadius came in his place. In his time, wars and strife broke out in the empire and in the priesthood (al-kohenūta) of East and West. In the east, Barsauma struggled with Babowai. Peter the Fuller, patriarch of Antioch, at the command of the emperor Zeno, stirred up the West and anathematized whoever confessed two natures in Christ. Gennadius and Felix resisted him: they reunited the fathers, re-established the faith and anathematized whoever confessed a single nature in Christ. Gennadius was patriarch for fifteen years. His successor Hilidiyon died in a fire that broke out in the town three years later.

This brief section seems to have originated in Greek Dyophysite circles before being transmitted to the East. The Eastern historical tradition had reused a large amount of Western ecclesiastical history running up to Chalcedon in 451. Sections such as this one show that the East continued to be aware of church affairs even after Chalcedon, and that it viewed the patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople as fellow Dyophysites working to uphold orthodoxy. This author seems to have been ignorant of the Chalcedonians’ condemnation of the extreme Dyophysite patriarch Nestorius, who would achieve a totemic status in the seventh-century Church of the East.

The inclusion of the Pope Felix implies a Western origin, but the text has also been reworked to link it to an event in the East, the struggle between Barsauma and Babowai (d.484) (which did not actually have the same theological composition as the Christological crises in the Roman world). The section is part of a series of accounts of the Constantinopolitan patriarchs that terminates in the middle of the sixth century and which was incorporated into the Eastern tradition in subsequent generations, when the catholicoi took an increasingly (p.13) sophisticated stance in their theology and emphasized their preservation of an original orthodoxy, once shared by the Roman world but now abandoned by Justinian (527–65). This kind of sentiment, which saw the Church of the East and the Chalcedonian churches as fellow Dyophysites, was challenged by an alternative anti-Chalcedonian tradition,30 which paved the way for the church’s heavy identification with Nestorius in the seventh and eighth centuries.

Roman ecclesiastical history represents just one of a number of additional strands that were added to the pre-existing patriarchal history. Other examples include monastic biographies of the late sixth and seventh centuries and the Persian royal tradition, the Xwadāy-Nāmag.31 These additions were the product of a new generation of ecclesiastical historians writing after c.580, a generation that coincided with growing connections between the Sasanian state and the church, the expansion of monasticism and the development of new connections with the Roman world. The expansion of this tradition allows us a wider insight into how the Church’s leaders incorporated, annexed, and opposed other strands of history in the East and reacted to the Church’s changing political situation, all the time preserving claims to continuity with the past. This ‘additional material’ is discussed in chapters 5 and 6.

The process of history writing needs to be set within two different contexts. The first of these is the changing behaviour of the Sasanian state, which moulded the social and political environments in which the Christian church developed and its leaders sought patronage. The second is the changing distribution and importance of Christians across the lands ruled by the shahs, the geographical context for the different societies that became Christian and that were ‘ruled’, to varying degrees, by catholicoi in Ctesiphon. Understanding this variety in state structures and in the forms of society that played host to the Church of the East is a necessary prerequisite for understanding how the histories of settlements and institutions outside Ctesiphon were integrated into a central historical tradition. From this basis, we can then examine how the catholicosate positioned itself vis-à-vis its rulers and other Christians, gradually incorporating and annexing the other pasts of Iraq.

Structures of the Sasanian State

Ardashir I (224–40) had come to power on the back of a revolution based in the province of Fars and drew on propaganda produced by his predecessors, (p.14) local rulers of Fars, that underscored their connection to the fire shrine dedicated to Anahita at Istakhr.32 Ardashir’s rock inscriptions, and those of his son, Shapur I (240–72), commemorate their divine mandate, which flowed from their deeds of martial prowess, especially their defeat of the Romans.33 But this divine mandate does not seem to have been monopolized by any ‘Zoroastrian church’: the institutional sponsorship of the magi by the shah seems only to have begun after Shapur (and even then, it only proceeded in fits and starts).34 At this early stage, it was still possible for a prophet outside the military aristocracy of the empire to include the Sasanians’ divine mandate into his cosmological system. Shapur I was a major sponsor of the prophet Mani, whose Middle Persian Shaburaghan deliberately conflates the roles of God, prophet, and king in the dissemination of his true religion.35

It was only after the death of Shapur, with the accession of the more vulnerable Vahram II, that we see a move away from earlier sponsorship of Mani towards a Zoroastrian cleric. Kartir, mobad of Istakhr, the traditional religious centre of the Sasanians in Fars, publicized his prominence at court under the shah Vahram II (276–93), as well as his promotion to the shrine of Istakhr and his defeat of other religious groups.36 In a great inscription at Naqsh-i-Rustam, Kartir celebrated his promotion by successive shahs and their foundation of fire shrines, emphasizing his prestige in the eyes of the shahs, even calling himself Vahram’s ‘soul-saviour’.37

(p.15) The inscriptions point to the existence of a weaker shah forced to rely more heavily on an Istakhr-based Zoroastrian cleric as a source of legitimacy. Given that Ardashir and Shapur had seemed much more free to pick and choose between religious alternatives, Vahram’s reliance on Kartir may be a sign of weakness, in which a conservative aristocracy was courted to preserve power against rival family members.

The legitimacy of Vahram’s predecessors was drawn overwhelmingly from military success. Shapur I’s victory inscriptions in his home province of Fars contrasted his homeland of ērān with anērān, the conquered, ethnically distinct lands to the west.38 This word ‘ērān’ was a Sasanian invention that is first used to designate the conquests of Ardsahir, and is later contrasted to ‘anērān’, the regions conquered by Shapur. The inscriptions project a view of the world where ērān came to be defined by its conquest of anērān under the leadership of the shahs.39

It was through investment in the conquered lands of ānērān, where their capitals of Ctesiphon and Beth Lapet were situated, that powerful shahs were able to develop ‘crown lands’, disconnected from the control of the Persian-speaking aristocracy. Islamic era sources preserve several different lists of royal foundations that are not identical, but the dominant trends are that cities were built in Mesopotamia rather than Iran and created by shahs who were successful in war: Ardashir I, Shapur I, Shapur II (309–79), and (to a lesser extent), Yazdegard I (399–420), Vahram V (421–38), Kavad I (488–531), and Khusrau I (531–79).40

The ascription of individual cities to their founders may sometimes be a function of the fame of the shah in question, rather than an accurate statement. But it does reinforce the fact that city foundation was a practice associated with successful shahs, and not, for instance, with their aristocratic (p.16) followers or rivals.41 References in Christian sources to the resettlement of captives also suggests that city foundations, often using Aramaic and Greek speaking Christians, were associated with victorious shahs because they gave them access to new manpower, which they could use for their investment in the sawād, the irrigated alluvial lands of southern Mesopotamia and Khuzistan.42 Saints’ lives and synodical records refer to Christians holding ranks as guild-masters (qarugbed) in Khuzistan, in trades such as silk-weaving and gold-working, so the shahs’ resettled population may have brought in revenue from industrial as well as agricultural production. This production was developed using professional hierarchies43 that were distinct from the warrior elites to whom shahs appealed with images of themselves as hunter and fighter.44

The creation of new cities in the sawād and elsewhere was not accompanied by the kind of civic prestige building seen in the Roman world. In observations that focus on Iran proper, Hugh Kennedy notes that fire temples, fortresses, and khans were located outside cities along major roads, and not in new cities such as Bishapur. He remarks that this reflects ‘the infrastructure of an itinerant monarchy’, where the countryside was the focus for the shah’s declarations of legitimacy, where elite society had a rural focus on fortified estates outside the cities, and where Zoroastrian cult sites had a similar distribution, often closely associated with elite estates or situated to receive the offerings of pilgrims.45 By contrast, cities themselves do not seem to have been characterized by central planning, public spaces, or state-commissioned monuments: the Talmudic texts, and excavations at Merv and Ctesiphon, suggest that the building encroached onto roads and that workshops and markets annexed public areas.46 Thus there appears to be a dichotomy (p.17) between an aristocracy based around the fortified countryside, and concentrated in the Iranian highlands, and cities that, while founded on royal initiative, were not the audience for the early shahs’ declaration of their own legitimacy. These cities may have been prosperous centres for artisanal production and, in some cases, trade, but the lack of urban monumental building implies that they were not, for the most part, centres of the military manpower that might support or topple a shah.47

James Howard-Johnston has articulated a model of the Sasanian world with a highly developed state structure: it is only this, he argues, that renders comprehensible the empire’s massive investment in irrigation, roads, fortifications, and armies that allowed it to hold its own against a Roman opponent with all the logistic advantages of the Mediterranean.48 Ze’ev Rubin offers a different model, in which the Sasanian rulers appear much more fragile, and where the rule of successful shahs is dependent on the cooperation of the aristocracy.49 This view that has been extended by Parvaneh Pourshariati, who has emphasized this aristocracy’s distinctive identity as ‘Parthian’, with an ancestry going back to Ardashir’s Arsacid opponents, and their ultimate rebellion against the centralizing reforms of the shah Khusrau II (590–628) at the beginning of the seventh century.50

Both arguments have a logic that recommends them, and some level of synthesis may be possible through emphasizing the connection between Iraq and the provision of revenue and bureaucratic manpower for the state and between Iran and military manpower. Coins and seals provide evidence for the increased standardization and sophistication of the Sasanian bureaucracy by the sixth century, a process that had its origins in the poorly attested fifth century.51 Sasanian shahs had always wished to find ways to extract revenue (p.18) from the settled populations of the sawād, through tithes and direct taxes. But the reforms of Khusrau I were an attempt to use a state apparatus to enforce this more efficiently by making taxation predictable, by gathering a poll tax and raising fixed revenue land taxes that targeted the cash crops of the sawād and Fars (dates and palms), but also encouraging landowners to engage in crop rotation, by not taxing land that was left fallow.52

Thus there existed a state apparatus that could tap the economy of Iraq increasingly effectively. Simultaneously, the shah could also disseminate an image of himself as an ideal ruler to the kinds of elite groups to whom his rural monuments were addressed. From the fifth century onwards, mirroring the developments in the fiscal system, shahs experimented with and propagated the image of their dynasty as a continuation of the much older, fictional, Kayanid kings, which made them the heirs to a history of eternal Iranian kingship.53 This emphasis on the eternal nature of the Sasanian dynasty must be recognized as one of the most successful features of the state’s self-representation. Only by the 590s would a non-Sasanian even attempt to make himself shah, and even after the death of all adult Sasanian males, in the wake of Khusrau II’s assassination, it was considered less revolutionary to have a female shah than a non-Sasanian.54 Throughout the sixth century, the histories originating in royal circles, the Xwadāy-Nāmag or ‘Book of Kings’, represented an overarching narrative of royal deeds stretching back to ancient times that both suppressed the reign of the previous dynastry, the Arsacids, and presented a framework for the local histories of noble houses, histories that focused the ambitions of aristocrats towards royal service.55 On the one hand, this initiative represents the royal promotion of a Sasanian-focused history as an aid to stability, but, on the other, it also illustrates the enduring importance of an Iranian aristocracy, who might in turn reuse and subvert the royal histories for their own ends.

(p.19) Our assessment of the stability of the empire and of the success of its shahs hinges on the ability of its rulers to manage both its agricultural heartlands and the highland zones of Fars, Media, and Azerbaijan that produced its main source of manpower. The Sasanian fiscal state was undeniably highly articulated by the sixth century, but this never reduced the shah’s dependence on the affections of the Farsi-speaking aristocracy, who might subvert the centralizing reforms of the shahs.56 Even a shah like Yazdegard I who successfully developed his economic base with royal foundations could be eliminated by his own aristocrats. Only the support of foreign troops in unusual circumstances, such as Kavad I’s alliance with the Hephthalites of Central Asia, or spectacular foreign victories, such as those of Khusrau I, allowed a shah to be free from these constraints and innovate more freely in his religious policy or his economic reforms.

Religion and the Sasanian State

The monumental building and self-representation of the shah often appealed to Zoroastrian ideas, from the Avestan stories of Zoroaster’s royal sponsors to the construction of royal fire shrines on mountain sites and the images of Zoroastrian gods Ohrmazd and Anahit bestowing kingship on the shahs.57 But we should not imagine that there was any neat symbiosis between shahs and a monolithic Zoroastrian religion. The aristocracy too were supporters of Zoroastrian cult buildings, and the career of the famous mobad (priest) Mihr Narseh, advisor to Vahram V (421–38) and Yazdegard II (438–57), show a man deeply embedded in aristocratic land-holding and family structures.58 The dominance of Mihr Narseh over the shahs he advised is emblematic as much of his personal accumulation of wealth and influence as it is of his religious and legal position: indeed, we might emphasize his role as an aristocrat as much as his role as a mobad. The wish of the shahs to organize and to patronize Zoroastrian religious institutions should be seen as a reflection of the threat posed by such powerful men, who could topple an (p.20) uncooperative shah like Yazdegard I, as well as an effort to use mobads as part of a bureaucracy centred on the shah.59

Yet, as we have seen, shahs who did not face such powerful aristocratic controllers might be much more free to innovate in the religious affairs of their non-Zoroastrian subjects, a pattern that is visible from Shapur I’s sponsorship of Mani, to Kavad I and the egalitarian prophet Mazdak, and to Khusrau II and the Christian catholicoi. In many of these cases, royal intervention seems to have taken the form of strengthening religious institutions and centralization, as well as more straightforward investment in infrastructure, in order to enhance the state’s ability to gather revenue and develop new forms of legitimacy.

The Talmudic evidence presents the shahs as relatively tolerant rulers, even if they did seek a much greater role in Jewish affairs than their predecessors.60 In Shapur II’s interviews with rabbis over their burial customs, the shah seems critical, but not outwardly hostile.61 The relationship between the shah and his Jewish subjects was not always irenic: Jewish leaders were twice purged after they backed the wrong side in the civil wars of Kavad I and Khusrau II.62 But the shahs’ relationship with the Jews, at least initially, seems to have been much more productive than their relations with the Christian leadership in Ctesiphon and elsewhere. Christians suffered persecution under Vahram II, Shapur II, and by most of the shahs of the fifth century: Yazdegard I, Vahram V, Yazdegard II, and Peroz.

Hagiographies of the fifth century record the role of the magi (and sometimes the Jews) in encouraging the shah or his officers to persecute Christians.63 The hagiographies imagined that the Sasanians objected to Christian asceticism and refusal to participate in public rituals,64 or feared that Christians in the East represented a Roman fifth column.65 But we should also (p.21) recognize that two of the most serious persecutions, that of Shapur II and Yazdegard I, were prompted by the failure of royal attempts to orchestrate Christians into malleable clients. Both Shapur and Yazdegard began their relationships as patrons of the Christians. Symeon bar Sebba‘e (c.329–41), the catholicos who perished under Shapur, is described as a ‘friend of the shah’ in the later hagiographies and was able to secure the promotion of his friends to high office.66 In the same vein, Yazdegard was praised as a beneficent ruler in the first synod of the church in 410, which was celebrated in the wake of the visit of the Roman emissary Marutha of Maypherkat, an event that must have had the blessing of the shah.67

Yet in both cases, the shahs expected something out of their relationship. In Shapur’s case it was Symeon’s cooperation in collecting a poll tax from Christians during war time: Symeon’s refusal resulted in ongoing persecution throughout Iraq, which may reflect the shah’s wishing to avoid loss of face after the disobedience of his client as well as the straightforward desire to expropriate church property.68 Similarly, Yazdegard seem to have expected a guarantee that the newly elevated bishops of Ctesiphon could both enhance his legitimacy among Christians and prevent interreligious tension and the proselytism of Zoroastrians. The failure of the catholicoi to accomplish this for more than a decade forced Yazdegard, like Shapur, to reverse his policy of toleration in an effort to maintain his prestige among his traditional aristocracy.69 His failure, and subsequent assassination, would entrench an anti-Christian policy under his successors, who preferred to restrict their religious patronage to the institutions of the Zoroastrian ‘church’, partly under the influence of the mobad Mihr Narseh.

The sixth century saw a much more successful rapprochement between Christians and the shah, when they received the patronage of Khusrau I and his successors. In spite of oscillation in the shah’s actual treatment of Christians, the histories of the catholicoi composed around the middle of the century accentuated the close relationships that existed between shahs and catholicoi. The memory of earlier persecutions remained, but the ‘patriarchal history’ of the mid-sixth century would emphasize the antipathy between Christians and the magi, and de-emphasize the connection between the shah and Zoroastrianism.70 By the end of this century and in the next, this (p.22) symbiosis between Persian elites and the Church would be even further strengthened, when the historical tradition included the whole history of the shahs, drawn from the Xwadāy-Nāmag, and celebrated the role of Khusrau II as the patron of the Christians par excellence.71

Geography of a Christian Minority

The presence of Christians east of the Tigris is recorded from the middle of the second century. The second-century philosopher and astrologer, Bardaisan of Edessa, remarks, in a work compiled by his pupils, that the Christians have become ‘a new people’ and are liberated from the customs of the peoples around them, including the Persians and the Gelians of the Caspian.72 Many converts to Christianity were Aramaic-speakers, former pagans and Jews who were converted by missions coming out of the eastern Roman world, from cities such as Edessa. These missions spread the use of the Syriac language as a high dialect of Aramaic, which transcended the many different Aramaic dialects spoken by Christians in Mesopotamia and the Levant.73

The late-sixth century Acts of Mari purport to describe this early process of missionary activity and place it in the first century. Much of this work is probably a later fiction, a composite text that functioned as a vehicle for different cities to assert their pre-eminence. However, it does appear to have been built out of earlier (related) foundation stories, and, as such, it suggests the existence of distinct conversion narratives that have been united into a single text. Much of this text is focused on Mari’s conversion of Ctesiphon, but there is also a long earlier section that describes his conversion of a series of northern cities, from Nisibis and Arzun on the Roman frontier, to Arbela and Assur in Adiabene and Shahrqart and Darabhar in Beth Garmai. The apostle concludes his mission in Khuzistan and Fars, only to find that these regions have already been converted by merchants who had travelled to Edessa, the origin point of Mari’s own mission.

I do not propose that we can derive a real record of conversion from this narrative, but it does give us the impression of the discrete memories of conversion that existed in three different zones, in Assyria in the north, in Babylon to the south, and in Khuzistan to the south-east. These stories have all been included in a single compilation that concentrates on Ctesiphon as the focus of (p.23) the mission to ‘the land of Babel’, but the text also includes sections that reflect different attempts to change this focus, to assert the importance of other sites as the see of Mari or to assert independence from the Mari narrative. Like the composite history of the early missions, the historical tradition that evolved out of the hagiographies and bishop lists of fourth- and fifth-century Ctesiphon served as a way of asserting the connections between Ctesiphon and other sees and defining the nature of that relationship.


Ctesiphon was not only a long-standing capital of the Sasanian shahs, but also host to large numbers of Jews and Christians, along with both the exilarch and the catholicos. It was in Ctesiphon’s hinterland that the rabbinic schools of Sura and Pumbedita were located, as well as the Christian school of ʿAbda and the monasteries that played a crucial role in education and proselytism. This region witnessed the production of hagiographies that articulated a modus vivendi with the shah and differentiated him from the Zoroastrian instigators of persecution.74 The economic and social context of Ctesiphon, and its relationship to the other Christian centres of Iraq, is crucial to understanding how the central historical tradition came into being and how it related to the Sasanian state and other Christian places and institutions.

The metropolitan see of Beth Aramaye, the region that surrounded the capital, extended from Kashkar in the south to the zone just north of the future site of Baghdad, from the point where the Tigris and Euphrates are at their closest until they reach their confluence at the Schatt al-Arab. Kokhe, the seat of the catholicos that lay in the suburbs of Ctesiphon, had five direct tributary bishoprics, of which the most important were Deir Qoni, supposed site of a visit by the apostle Mar Mari and later a major Christian school, and Kashkar itself, which produced a number of prominent catholicoi and laymen in the fifth and sixth centuries.75

The land under the authority of the catholicos was located in rich alluvial soil produced by the two rivers, but was also subject to very low rainfall, especially along the Euphrates: all settlement in the 1930s would be restricted to the banks of the rivers or to a few major irrigation canals that were cut between the rivers. This land could support valuable cash crops, such as palms, (p.24) sesame, dates, and rice, but was also highly dependent on the maintenance of massive-scale irrigation, which could often only be funded by the state.76

One important side effect of the dependence on irrigation was the continual cycling of settlement patterns. Where cities in Syria or Italy have consecutive layers built on top of one another, southern Iraq seems to have experienced dramatic exhaustion of the soil through salinization caused by irrigation. In addition, the Tigris often proved a false friend, shifting its course through settlements that it had previously nourished. The effect of both processes was that settlements constantly moved location. The most extreme example of this is the capital, probably also the most intensive site of irrigation: Ctesiphon, Seleucia, Veh Ardashir, Rumagan, and Kokhe all seem to have occupied different locations within a tight cluster. We cannot differentiate each of these sites accurately. The impression of 50 square miles of continuous conurbation, strung out in ribbon settlements, much of it abandoned at any one time, may have struck a late antique traveller as much as it would British travellers in the nineteenth century.77 Throughout the sawād the shahs intervened to establish new towns, which must have drawn people from other settlements: the net result was a constant alteration of settlement sites every few generations, but always in a restricted pattern that hugged the Tigris valley.

I speculate that the continual shift in population sites may have had a marked effect on the way that memory was preserved between generations, and on the way that people articulated their attachment to the land. Several cities in the north of Iraq, such as Arbela and Karka de Beth Slouq (modern Kirkuk) had a keen sense of their own history. But this expression of a localized connection with the past was more tenuous in the south. Instead of a strong focus on individual cities and their histories, the hagiographies and chronicles sought to preserve or create memory focused on the history of the church as an institution and on the idea that Ctesiphon lay at the heart of ‘the east’.78 Local sites of martyrdom and missionary activity were venerated, but the fifth-century texts produced in the wake of Ishaq’s claim to be catholicos (p.25) already focus much more on the deeds of Ishaq’s predecessors and successors, the schools they were involved with, and the missions they sponsored.79


Ctesiphon was not the only royal capital of the Sasanians: in the third and fourth centuries, capitals were also established at Beth Lapet (Gundishapur) and Karka de Ledan (Ērān-xwarrah-šābuhr) in the nearby province of Khuzistan, located to the south-west of Beth Aramaye and watered by the tributaries of the Schatt al-Arab, especially the Karun river. This region, like the hinterland of Ctesiphon, was dedicated to growing rice and water-hungry crops such as sugar cane that require irrigation. The two royal capitals were new foundations, built by victorious shahs transferring populations from the Roman world. In this sense, the Sasanian state sought to improve the land by civic foundations and irrigation investment in the same way that it did in southern Iraq.80

But we should also note that two other important cities preceded these new foundations and would outlast them (and form major cities of the province in modern times): Susa and Shushtar.81 This region seems to have been relatively peaceful in Sasanian times. Adams notes that there is a major departure from older patterns of fortification: ‘Linear settlement along canals is not indicative of peasant villages hugging the fortified seats of the nobility.’82 As in Beth Aramaye, agricultural productivity and population growth were closely tied to the state, to its ability to provide peaceful conditions and maintain irrigation, but the region does seem to have had some settlements with a longer continuous history than the newer royal foundations.

The new capital cities, with their close connections to the shah and his court, may have made natural allies of the catholicos in Ctesiphon: they appear in the synodica as ‘loyalists’ ranged against the ‘dissident’ bishops based in the other settlements here and in Fars. This alliance is preserved by the hagiographies that commemorate the death of the catholicos Symeon, in which Beth Lapet and Karka de Ledan appear as important sites alongside Ctesiphon (as the sites of his death and the collection of his relics). However, it is clear that (p.26) the joint prestige implied in this narrative, as well as the connections of these cities to older sees in the Roman world, was not acceptable in the longer term. The first stages of the historical tradition, composed in the fifth century, rework the history of these civic foundations to ensure that the Khuzistani bishops did not claim any direct succession from Antioch, and their predecessors are presented as acknowledging the superiority of the catholicos. These developments are described in chapter 3, the first chapter to deal specifically with the Chronicle of Seert and its related medieval compilations.

The sources for the sixth-century Church imply that Khuzistan’s relative importance diminished. Important bishops do not disappear: a bishop of Beth Lapet is a prominent figure in the civil war between Narsai and Elishe in the 530s and one Barsauma of Susa emerges as a major critic of the catholicos Ishoʿyahb II in the 630s. But Khuzistan’s significance as a region coequal to Beth Aramaye seems to have dwindled. In particular, it does not seem to have produced famous exegetical schools or monasteries to match those founded in Assyria and Babylonia in the sixth century.83 This need not be the result of economic decline in Khuzistan per se, but rather a contrast with the growing importance of the monasteries and cities of Assyria and their symbiosis with Ctesiphon.84


The earliest stages of the patriarchal history have a relatively limited geographical focus: their concern is mainly with Ctesiphon and the neighbouring provinces of Maishan and Khuzistan. But by the second half of the sixth century a greater variety of historical traditions are added to the central core, each of which reflect the importance of other Christian centres and institutions within the Church, and many of which were based in the north of Iraq, where a multitude of smaller cities had preserved their own independent memories of their conversion to Christianity.

(p.27) Northern Iraq is separated from the south by a substantial section of the Tigris and Euphrates where there is little settlement outside the sites of the cities of Takrit and Samarra. North of this zone, where the Greater and Lesser Zab join the east bank of the Tigris, there is a marked increase in rainfall across more hilly terrain. As one moves north towards the Caucasus this terrain becomes almost impassable, especially during winter. Throughout this region, even up to the 1930s, village settlement on the hills outside areas with perennial streams could vary considerably depending on rainfall, and only formed a large, permanent bloc in a few substantial plains, especially the plain of Nineveh (modern Mosul).85

Unlike the lands further south, this terrain has historically produced wheat and barley fed by rainwater rather than irrigation. In consequence of this, crop yields have been lower per unit, but they have also been more consistent in the long term and have not been subject to salinization. Thus, while cities have tended to be smaller than the metropoleis of the south, they have also been more numerous, and more permanent. In places such as Nisibis, Arbela, and Karka de Beth Slouq, the ruins of antiquity may have encouraged imagined connections with the extinct empires of the past.86 In addition, these cities were Christian centres of some significance: Arbela and other cities in the north produced the majority of the early martyrs commemorated in Edessa in the 411 martyr list, and Karka was subject to the last (alleged) mass persecution commemorated in hagiography, in the reign of Yazdegard II.87 Both distant antiquity and Christian martyrdom would serve as twin bases for the construction of developed histories for these regions at the end of the sixth century.

One of the most important of the cities of northern Iraq was the border city of Nisibis, ceded by the Romans in the 363 peace negotiations. This city, which had produced the great scholar-theologian Ephraem, was partially resettled by Persians, who also formed a minority community in many of the other cities of the north such as Karka de Beth Slouq.88 But in spite of this change of government, Nisibis retained close connections with the nearby city of Edessa and sent Christian scholars to its famous school. The School of ʿAbda near Ctesiphon appears in the early sections of the patriarchal history, but its destruction by Peroz (459–84) may have left the door open for the emergence (p.28) of Nisibis as a new educational centre, which would spawn imitators across Iraq and dominate the training of catholicoi by the 550s.

Nisibis produced its own internal histories, and there are clear signs that this record of the succession of theologians was added into the core history of the Church at the end of the sixth century. There are marked differences between the different records of the same individuals within the Chronicle of Seert, which reflects contradictory memories of them as politicians and as theologians who brought the Dyophysite teachings of Theodore of Mopsuestia to the East. The new role of the School of Nisibis and its successors across Iraq, including the capital, heralded its inclusion in an influential symbiosis with the catholicoi, and this was reflected in the union of the historical traditions, which is discussed in chapter 4.

The organization of the catholicosate itself, the arrangement of church synods and the development of a cult of the martyrs in the early fifth century can all be traced to the influence of clerics from the Roman Mesopotamia, led by Marutha of Maypherkat. But there were also substantial lacunae in this relationship with the Roman world. The reign of Acacius (485–96), which saw the adoption of Dyophysitism and the first patriarchal history, was shaped by the catholicos’ training at the School of the Persians in Edessa. Acacius’ centralizing initiative would only last a decade before the Church’s hierarchy was beset by internal disagreement. It would only be in the reign of Aba (540–52) and his successors that a continuous pattern emerged of catholicoi trained at Nisibis who were increasingly interested in the theological politics of the Roman world. This new international awareness of the late sixth century was also reflected in additional material that was added to the central tradition. This additional historical material set out the theological and ecclesiological position of the Church in terms of Roman ecclesiastical history, which is discussed in chapter 5. This development too, should be seen as a result of the catholicos’ more positive relationship with the shah and the growing role of Nisibis as a bridge for information from the West.

Northern Iraq also witnessed a second social and intellectual revolution that changed the way that the Church of the East operated. This was the monastic reformation of Abraham of Kashkar, whose monastery of Izla developed a new monastic rule and inspired new monastic foundations across Iraq, Iran, and the Persian Gulf. Assyria may have provided an especially suitable nursery for this movement, since its rainfall-based agriculture and pastoral economy allowed groups of men to found new communities with relatively little initial investment. This monastic movement provided a third pillar of the Church by the end of the sixth century, alongside the catholicosate and the system of Christian schools. The monasteries cooperated in the dissemination of religious knowledge and providing another focus for the ecclesiastical historians, (p.29) which is analysed in chapter 6.89 The effects of the new importance of the north is most clearly seen in the shift in the geographical origins of catholicoi from the late sixth century: Ishoʿyahb I (582–96), Sabrishoʿ (596–604), Ishoʿyahb II (628–46), Maremmeh (646–50), Ishoʿyahb III (650–60), and Giwargis (661–80) all came from the north of Iraq, from Assyria and Beth Garmai, rather than Beth Aramaye or Khuzistan.90

The sponsorship of monasticism in the north is also an indicator of a broader shift of power within the church. The end of the sixth century also saw a number of Christian texts, such as the Acts of Mar Qardagh or the History of Karka de Beth Slouq, that celebrated the heritage of the Persianized aristocracies of the north in terms of an imagined ‘Assyrian’ past and/or membership of a wider Iranian culture. Prominent conversions by elites brought with them new emphases in the memorialization of the past and in the patronage of the present, and these aristocrats were also important supporters of a growing monastic movement. If the catholicosate had come to emphasize the importance of its relationship with the shah, the unitary nature of this relationship was reimagined by the end of the century, when Eastern Christians sought patrons from a wider spectrum of the elite.

This deeper relationship between the Church and its lay patrons came to a head with the accession of Khusrau II, whose reign generated a wide variety of an alternative accounts, all of which have been embedded in the Chronicle of Seert. Khusrau’s reign saw a breakdown in the old symbiosis between the catholicosate, the monastic movement, and the School of Nisibis. After the death of Khusrau’s appointee Sabrishoʿ, the shah grew dissatisfied with his successor and dissolved the catholicosate. This produced a vacuum in authority within the church. Notably, it was the northern metropolitans, led by the abbot Babai the Great (d.628), who asserted the orthodoxy of the Church’s Dyophysite theology before the shah in 612, phrased now in increasingly uncompromising language. Babai’s prestige was connected to his importance as a monastic leader and theologian, but other strands in the Chronicle present other figures as a pseudo-catholicos, most notably Gregory, bishop of Nisibis and opponent of the ‘heretic’ Henana. In the absence of a catholicos, we see authority being claimed by the prestigious centres of the north. These changes in authority are reflected in the diversity of history-writing in this period, which is investigated in chapter 7. But equally, there was no single centre that could rival Ctesiphon, and the Abbasid period witnessed a reunification of the Iraqi historical tradition (chapter 8), which continued to tell a history of (p.30) the Church focused on the catholicos, a tradition that would be preserved into the eighteenth century.91

The Church of the East faced a series of radical changes in the course of the long sixth century. Its political relations with the shah and other elites moved from resistance and animosity to cooperation and supplication. And its theological position became increasingly clearly defined in reaction to its awareness of debates in the West. Around the same time, the gradual establishment of symbiosis between catholicos and the monastic and scholastic movement suddenly broke down in an era of political and theological turmoil.

In the face of these twists of fortune, the historical tradition of the catholicosate represented an overarching discourse against which all claims to contemporary legitimacy could be judged and, if found worthy, embedded. The early development of a historical tradition based around the catholicoi meant that it presented a magnet for the histories of other institutions. The historical tradition represented a universalizing vehicle through which other understandings of the past could be connected and repackaged as part of the shared history of the Church of the East, focused on its catholicoi.


(1) Note especially S. P. Brock, ‘Christians in the Sasanian Empire: a case of divided loyalties’, Studies in Church History 18 (1982), 1–19 and his ‘Nestorian church: a lamentable misnomer’, BJRL 78 (1996), 23–53. General surveys are provided by J. Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire Perse (Paris, 1904); C. Baumer, The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity (London, 2006) and W. Baum and D. Winkler, The Church of the East: A Concise History (London/New York, 2003). Underlying much of this work is J.-M. Fiey, L’Assyrie chrétienne: contribution à l’étude de l’histoire et de la géographie ecclésiastiques et monastiques du Nord de l’Iraq, 3 vols. (Beiruit, 1966–8).

(2) On the existence of a shared Syriac religious culture on both sides of the border see R. Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in the Early Syriac Tradition (London, 2004), esp. 343–4. Also note E. Kettenhoffen, ‘Deportations ii. In the Pathian and Sasanian periods’, in EIr.

(3) J. Rist, ‘Die Verfolgung der Christen im spätantiken Sasanidenreich’, OC 80 (1996), 17–42, esp. 40 (though he tends to take the hagiographers’ reports at face value).

(4) W. Hatch, An Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts (Boston, Mass., 1946), 52. These martyria may be based on a slightly earlier Greek original.

(5) Marutha’s role here is a matter of debate. See Labourt, Le christianisme, 53–4 and M. Van Esbroek, ‘Abraham le confesseur (Ve siècle), traducteur des passions des martyres perses’, AB 95 (1977), 169–79.

(6) The catholicos Ahai would himself collect martyrs’ relics and hagiographic accounts (c.414). See chapters 2–3.

(7) S. P. Brock, ‘Review of Wiessner, Untersuchungen…’, JTS (new series) 19 (1968), 300–9, at 303 observes that it was contact with the Roman world that ensured that the Shapurian persecutions were remembered, while others, known from inscriptions in the third century, were mostly forgotten by the Christians.

(8) J.-M. Fiey, ‘L’apport de Mgr Addai Scher (+1915) à l’hagiographie orientale’, AB 83 (1965), 121–45.

(9) See R. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Princeton, NJ, 1997), 444; J.-M. Fiey, Jalons pour l’histoire de l’église en Iraq (Beiruit, 1970), 21; R. Degen, ‘Zwei Miszellen zur Chronik von Se‘ert’, OC 54 (1970), 76–95. There is also one reference in the text to a thirteenth-century Fatimid caliph (Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, 263), but this seems to be a later scribal addition. The manuscript, written in a hand that is ‘old-fashioned, large, and clear’, probably dates to this time (A. Scher, PO 4, 215–18).

(10) L. Sako, ‘Les sources de la chronique de Seert’, PdO 14 (1987), 155–67 lists these.

(11) F. Decret, ‘L’affrontement des empires romain et sassanide’, Recherches Augustiniennes 14 (1979), 91–152, at 100–102. Also n.b. Fiey, Jalons, 21–3.

(12) E.g. M.-L.Chaumont, La christianisation de l’empire iranien, des origines aux grandes persécutions du IVe siècle (Louvain, 1988). Other possible sources for this period are also problematic: C. Jullien and F. Jullien, ‘La Chronique d’Arbèles: propositions pour la fin d’une controverse’, Oriens Christianus 85 (2001), 41–83.

(13) See this volume, chapters 3 and 8.

(14) M. Innes and Y. Hen (eds.), The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2000), 2–4. Cf. R. McKitterick, History and Memory in the Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2004), 2, who writes of ‘the shift towards the study of historical texts as constructed narratives and bearers of memory’ and Averil Cameron, ‘Form and meaning: the Vita Constantini and the Vita Antonii’, in T. Hägg and P. Rousseau (eds.), Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity (Berkeley, 2000), 72–88, at 86, who calls for a focus on hagiographies as ‘texts’ rather than as ‘sources’.

(15) Y. Hen, ‘The Annals of Metz and the Merovingian past’, in Innes and Hen, Uses of the Past, 175–90.

(16) R. McKitterick, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, 2008), 27–43.

(17) W. Goffart, ‘Conspicuously absent: martial heroism in the Histories of Gregory of Tours and its likes’, in W. Goffart, Barbarians, Maps and Historiography (Aldershot, 2009), VI; W. Pohl, ‘Telling the difference: signs of ethnic identity’, in W. Pohl and H. Reimitz (eds.), Strategies of Distinction (Leiden/Cologne, 1998), 19–71, at 22–7.

(18) R. Breuker, Establishing a Pluralist Society in Medieval Korea, 918–1170. History, Ideology and Identity in the Koryo Dynasty (Leiden, 2010), 3–9.

(19) R. S. Humphreys, Islamic History: A Framework for Enquiry (Princeton, 1992), 69.

(20) F. Donner, Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing (Princeton, 1998); A. Borrut, Entre mémoire et pouvoir: l’espace syrien sous les derniers Omeyyades et les premiers Abbassides (v. 72–193/692–809) (Leiden, 2011).

(21) J. Howard-Johnston, Witnesses to a World Crisis: Historians and Histories of the Seventh-Century Middle East (Oxford, 2010), 519–20 for this trend in the historiography.

(22) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XIV (Constantine); I/ii, XXXIII–XXXIV (Julian); XXVI/LIV (Ephraem).

(23) Chronicle of Seert I/i, VIII (236); XXV (292); XXX (311); I/ii, LVII (305).

(24) Published with an extensive Latin commentary in J. S. Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, 4 vols. (Vatican City, 1719–28), IIIa, a collection that provides the groundwork for all nineteenth-and twentieth-century surveys of Syriac literature.

(25) There are some important exceptions where this method has not worked so well. Several sections provide ‘timeless’ morality tales, and I have been unable to suggest a plausible context for their invention: Chronicle of Seert, II/i, VII; XVI; II/ii, LVII. Others (e.g. I/ii, XLIV–XLVII) are clearly adapted from Western ecclesiastical history, but these narratives could have achieved their final form at any point after the late sixth century.

(26) Compare S. Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy (Oxford, 2004), xi and M. Swanson, The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt (641–1517) (Cairo/New York, 2010) for a good example of the assertion of a distinctive Christian identity through the themes of apostolicity, martyrdom, and orthodoxy.

(27) E. Degen, ‘Daniel bar Maryam: ein nestorianischer Kirchenhistoriker’, OC 52 (1968), 45–80.

(28) On these lists in the Roman east, see M. Debié, ‘Record keeping and chronicle writing in Antioch and Edessa’, Aram 12 (2000), 409–17. Her L’historiographie syriaque (Paris, 2009) also provides important background for this study.

(29) The text reads ‘Barsauma’: Scher (PO 9, 112, note 3) identifies this as a copyist’s error.

(30) E.g. Barsauma of Susa’s attack on Chalcedon in II/ii, XCIV.

(31) S. Shahbazi, ‘On the Xwadāy-Nāmag’, in Iranica Varia: Papers in Honour of Ehsan Yarshater (Leiden, 1990), 208–29; M. Macuch, ‘Pahlavi literature’, in R. Emmerick and M. Macuch (eds.), The Literature of Pre-Islamic Iran (London, 2009), 116–96, at 173–7.

(32) For the Parthian coins of Fars see V. Curtis, ‘Iranian revival in the Parthian period’, in V. Curtis and S. Stewart (eds.), The Idea of Iran vol. 2: The Age of the Parthians (London, 2006), 7–25, at 21, and for the Sasanian graffiti at Persepolis, suggesting a sense of continuity with the Achaemenid past, see D. Huff, ‘Formation and ideology of the Sasanian state in the context of archaeological evidence’, in V. Curtis and S. Stewart (eds.), The Idea of Iran volume III: The Sasanian Era (London, 2008), 32–9, at 32. For a useful survey of Sasanian history see J. Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia: From 550 B.C. to 650 A.D. (2nd edn., London, 2001), Part IV.

(33) The inscriptions show Ardashir and Shapur being crowned by Anahit, Mithra, and Nike: G. Herrmann, The Iranian Revival (Oxford, 1977), 90–1 and 104–6. For a survey of royal titles and their association with the gods see P. Huyse, ‘Die sasanidische Königstitulatur: eine Gegenüberstellung der Quellen’, in P. Huyse and J. Wiesehöfer (eds.), Ērān ud Anērān (Stuttgart, 2006), 182–201.

(34) S. Shaked, Dualism in Transformation: Varieties of Religion in Sasanian Iran (Jerusalem, 1994), esp. 108, has presented Shapur I as a Platonic philosopher king, using religion as a tool to unite and educate his people.

(35) D. Mackenzie, ‘Mani’s Šāburaghān’, BSOAS 42 (1979), 500–34, at 505–21. See also M. Hutter, ‘Manichaeism in the early Sasanian Empire’, Numen 40 (1993), 2–15 and W. Sundermann, ‘Manichaean literature in Iranian languages’, in R. Emmerick and M. Macuch (eds.), The Literature of Pre-Islamic Iran (London, 2009), 197–265, at 219–22.

(36) On the Istakhr shrine see M.-L. Chaumont, ‘Le culte d’Anahita à Staxr et les premiers Sassanides’, RHR 153 (1958), 154–75. Al-Tabari, I, 819 describes Ardashir dedicating the heads of his enemies at the shrine.

(37) D. MacKenzie, ‘Kerdir’s inscription’, in G. Herrmann, D. MacKenzie, and R. Howell (eds.), The Sasanian Rock Reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam. Naqsh-i Rustam 6 (Berlin, 1989), 35–72 provides a full discussion.

(38) G. Gnoli, The Idea of Iran: An Essay on its Origin (Rome, 1989), 151–6 emphasizes that the Manichees did not use the term ‘ērān’ and ‘anērān’ found in Shapur’s victory inscription, which had both ethnic and geographical connotations, and continued to use the term ‘king of Persia’.

(39) D. Mackenzie, ‘Eranshahr’, in EIr. P. Gignoux, ‘Aneran’, in EIr also notes that the term ‘anēr’ has a religious connotation in post-Islamic writing and may have also had this in some Sasanian-era texts. See further, S. Shaked, ‘Religion in the late Sasanian period: eran, aneran and other designations’, in Curtis and Stewart, Sasanian Era, 98–109; T. Daryaee, ‘The idea of ērānshahr: Jewish, Christian and Manichaean views in late antiquity’, in C. Cereti (ed.), Iranian Identity in the Course of History (Rome, 2010), 91–107; M. Canepa, The Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship between Rome and Sasanian Iran (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, 2009), ch. 4.

(40) See the list in P. Christensen, The Decline of Iranshahr: Irrigation and Environments in the History of the Middle East, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1500 (Copenhagen, 1999), 30, taken from al-Tabari and Hamza al-Isfahani, as well as the seventh-century Middle Persian foundation list, the Shahrestan-i Eranshahr (tr. Daryaee). The Sasanian period is taken to be a high point in the pre-twentieth-century settlement history of some parts of Iran: K. Alizadeh and J. Ur, ‘Formation and destruction of pastoral and irrigation landscapes of the Mughan steppe, North-west Iran’, Antiquity 81 (2007), 148–60.

(41) Notably, Ardashir’s foundation of the city of Jur was seen as a sign of rebellion by the Parthian king Ardawan. Al-Tabari, I, 817.

(42) See F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Finanzgeschichte der Spätantike (Frankfurt, 1957), esp. 44 and Z. Rubin, ‘Sasanian Persia’, in Averil Cameron, P. Garnsey, and B. Ward Perkins (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. XIV : Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors A. D. 425–600 (Cambridge, 2000), 650.

(43) On the role of guilds, note the importance of the qarugbed and martyr Pusai during the Shapurian persecution in Khuzistan (e.g. Acts of Symeon A, 775–7) and in local synods in the same province in the sixth century (Synodicon Orientale, 79). See the discussion in N. Pigulevskaja, Les villes de l’état iranien aux époques parthe et sassanide, (Paris, 1963), 159–61.

(44) For the record of the gilded silver plate that disseminated the image of the victorious shahs seen in the rock inscriptions see P. Harper, In Search of a Cultural Identity: Monuments and Artefacts of the Sasanian Near East (Third to Seventh Centuries A.D.) (New York, 2006), 120–1. The fourth-century Manichaean homilies report that Vahram II condemned Mani as one who ‘did not hunt or fight’ (cited in S. Lieu and I. Gardner, Manichaean Texts from the Roman Empire (Cambridge, 2004), 84). Without claiming that this was an accurate report, it may reflect something of how early shahs wished to be seen and the allies with whom they sought to be associated.

(45) H. Kennedy, ‘From Shahrestan to Medina’, Studia Islamica 102 (2006), 5–35, at 10–18. On fire temples and their distribution in rural Fars and Media see L. Vanden Berghe, ‘Nouvelles découvertes de monuments de feu d’époque sasanide’, IrAnt 5 (1965), 128–47.

(46) St J. Simpson, ‘Ancient Merv: archaeological insights into the economy of the city during the Sasanian period (3rd–7th centuries AD)’, in The Turkmen Land as a Centre of Ancient Cultures and Civilizations: Materials of the International Scientific Conference, 1–3 October 2008 (Ashgabat, 2008), 247–57 and A. Invernizzi, ‘Ten years’ research in the al-Mada’in area, Seleucia and Ctesiphon’, Sumer 32 (1976), 167–75. For observations on the Talmud, A. Oppenheimer, Babylonia Judaica in the Talmudic Period (Wiesbaden, 1983), 228–9.

(47) Every century of the Sasanian Empire saw a number of coups against weaker shahs, a pattern that was only really broken in the sixth century by Kavad I and Khusrau II.

(48) J. Howard-Johnston, ‘The two great powers in late antiquity: a comparison’, in J. Howard-Johnston, East Rome, Sasanian Persia and the End of Antiquity (Aldershot, 2006), I.

(49) Z. Rubin, ‘The Reforms of Khusro Anushirwān’, in Averil Cameron (ed.), The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East III: States Resources and Armies (Princeton, 1995), 225–97. At 292 he notes how reforms depended on a powerful monarch with external resources of his own in trade and booty, and that marzbans were already acquiring personal fiefs by the end of Khusrau’s reign.

(50) P. Pourshariati, Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran (London, 2008).

(51) R. Gyselen, La géographie administrative de l’empire sasanide (Paris, 1989) and S. Sears, ‘Monetary revision and monetization in the late Sasanian Empire’, in R. Gyselen and M. Szuppe (eds.), Matériaux pour l’histoire économique du monde iranien (Paris, 1999), 149–167 for the sixth-century peak in minting and seals. See further S. McDonough, Power by Negotiation: Institutional Reform in the Fifth-Century Sasanian Empire (UCLA, 2002, unpublished PhD thesis).

(52) The content of the reform is summarized in M. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton, 1984), 99–100.

(53) T. Daryaee, ‘History, epic and numismatics: on the title of Yazdegard I’, AJN 16 (2004), 89–92. Vahram V clearly uses a Kayanid slogan in the phrase ‘Mazda-worshipping lord’, evoking the Kayanid heroes of the Avesta: McDonough, Power by Negotiation, 168.

(54) A. Panaino, ‘Women and kingship: some remarks about the enthronisation of Queen Boran and her sister Azarmigduxt’, in P. Huyse and J. Wiesehöfer (eds.), Ērān ud Anērān: Studien zu den Beziehungen zwischen dem Sasanidenreich und der Mittelmeerwelt (Stuttgart, 2006), 221–40.

(55) E. Yarshater, ‘Iranian National History’ in E. Yarshater (ed.), The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. III: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods (Cambridge, 1983), 359–481. On the exclusion of the Arsacids see M. Boyce, The Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (repr., London, 2001), 127. Harper, In Search of a Cultural Identity, 83 and 122–3 observes that centrally produced images from the tales of kings were imitated in ‘provincial’ workshops, which may show the successful diffusion of these ideas. See further chapter 6 in this volume.

(56) Pourshariati, Decline and Fall, 98–121 discusses the example of the office of spāhbed, the four generals of the empire, whose power was enlarged under Khusrau but which remained heritable within a small caste of noble families. See al-Tabari, I, 894.

(57) K. Schippman, Die iranische Feuerheiligtümer (Berlin, 1971) observes the distribution of temples on mountain sites.

(58) The connection between aristocratic estates and ‘chahar taqs’, free-standing ‘Zoroastrian’ cult structures, is suggested by the excavation of M. Azarnoush, The Sasanian Manor House at Hājjīābād (Florence, 1994), 23. For Mihr Narseh’s widespread wealth see al-Tabari, I, 869–70 and the assembly of evidence in Pourshariati, Decline and Fall, 61–2.

(59) On the bureaucratic role of mobads see R. Gyselen, La géographie administrative, 30–5 on the development of the mobads and the office of ‘mogbed’ as a land administrator for the Magi and R. Gyselen and P. Gignoux, ‘Empreintes des sceaux sasanides’, StIr 93 (1992), 49–56, at 53 for the association of magi with specific towns and provinces.

(60) J. Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia, 6 vols. (Leiden, 1960), II, 71 and 95 for the decline in exilarch’s legal autonomy under the Sasanians.

(61) Neusner, Jews in Babylonia, IV, 49.

(62) See Morony, Iraq, 319, on the suppression of worship under Peroz and the later revolts.

(63) E.g. the fifth-century Acts of Narsai and Acts of Tataq, which emphasize the role of the mobad Mihr Narseh.

(64) The Acts of Candida, describing events in the third century, record the saint’s refusal to ‘drink blood and worship the sun’, as prescribed in Zoroastrian rituals, or to break her vow of celibacy by marrying a magus. For the targeting of the lay ascetic bnay qyama (‘sons of the covenant’) see, for instance, The Martyrs of Khuzistan, 241 and Acts of Thecla, 308.

(65) Sasanian suspicion of Christians in the reign of Shapur II is reflected in the later hagiographies (e.g. Acts of Symeon A, 735 and 739). T. Barnes, ‘Constantine and the Christians of Persia’, JRS 75 (1985), 126–36 suggests that Eastern Christians such as Aphrahat hoped for a Roman conquest, but this may involve an overreading of his evidence (Aphrahat’s discourse V, On Wars).

(66) Acts of Symeon A, 751, 767 for Symeon’s patronage of Gushtazad and his reputation for ‘beauty’. The Acts of Shahdost, Symeon’s successor but one, also describes Symeon as the shah’s former friend.

(67) See this volume, chapter 1.

(68) Acts of Symeon B, 793–801. Using later hagiographic sources to reconstruct fourth-century events is obviously problematic, but tax features as the initial motive for Shapur’s interview with Symeon in both narratives of his martyrdom (A and B). I discuss these texts further in chapter 2.

(69) This volume, chapter 1.

(70) This volume, chapter 4.

(71) This volume, chapters 6 and 7.

(72) Bardaisan, Laws of the Countries, 60.

(73) See P. Wood, We Have No King but Christ: Christian Political Thought in Greater Syria on the Eve of the Arab Conquest (c.400–580) (Oxford, 2010), chapter. 3. Note especially Sozomen, HE, II, 8 and VI, 33–4 (ed. Bidez, 68 and 289–91).

(74) On the rabbinic schools see J. Neusner, Israel’s Politics in Sasanian Iran (Lanham, 1986), 123. On Christian monasteries near Ctesiphon, notably the monastery of Abgar and its production see P. Devos, ‘Abgar: un hagiographe perse méconnu’, AB 83 (1965), 303–28 and J.-M. Fiey, ‘Topographie chrétienne de Mahoze’, OS 2 (1967), 407–19. See further, this volume, chapter 1.

(75) See Fiey, AC, III, 148–63. Later tradition would make Kashkar the second most ancient see after Kokhe.

(76) Naval Intelligence Survey: Iraq and the Persian Gulf (Oxford, 1944), 60–8 on the situation in the 1930s; Christensen, Decline of Iranshahr, 36 and G. Le Strange, Lands of the Eastern Caliphate (London, 1905), 35–9 on the massive wealth of this region, the future site of Umayyad Wasit.

(77) J. Fraser, Travels in Koordistan, Mesopotamia etc., including an account of those parts hitherto unvisited by Europeans, 2 vols. (London, 1840), II, 6. Note also St. John Simpson, Aspects of the Archaeology of the Sasanian Period in Mesopotamia (unpublished DPhil thesis, Oxford, 1992), 168–84 on the changing settlement patterns of the Ctesiphon area. For identification of sites within the Ctesiphon conurbation see J.-M. Fiey, ‘Topography of al-Mada‘in’, Sumer 23, (1967), 3–36.

(78) E.g. the final prayers of Acts of Symeon A, 763 and Symeon B, 955, going back to an earlier shared source, where the saint prays for ‘all the peoples of the east’.

(79) This volume, chapters 2 and 3.

(80) S. Shahbazi, ‘Gundishapur’, in EIr; M. Morony, ‘Beth Lapat’, in EIr.

(81) This is explicitly stated in the Acts of Mar Mari, 31 (ed. Harrak, 70), and is confirmed by R. Wenke, ‘Elymaeans, Parthians and the evolution of empires in southwestern Iran’, JAOS 101 (1981), 303–13, especially in his reconstructions of settlement size, though he is obviously unable to make size estimates for cities with modern populations.

(82) R. Adams, The Land Behind Baghdad: A History of Settlement on the Diyala Plains (Chicago, 1967), 73.

(83) J.-M. Fiey, ‘L’Elam: la première des métropoles ecclésiastiques syriennes orientales’, Melto 5 (1969), 221–69; PdO 1 (1970), 123–55, at 152.

(84) The effect of cumulative centuries of investment by shahs in the region around Ctesiphon, most notably in the construction of a major canal around Kashkar early in the sixth century, may have transferred irrigation water away from Khuzistan and Maishan. See P. Verkinderen, Tigris, Euphrates, Karun, Karhe and Jarahi: Tracing the changes of five rivers in Lower Iraq and Khuzistan in the early Islamic Period (unpublished PhD thesis, Ghent, 2009), 151–7 for discussion of the Kashkar/Wasit canal and the possible dates (ranging from c.520–628) given for the eastward shift in the course of the Tigris, which greatly benefited this city, to the detriment of Khuzistan. See also the summaries in Morony, Iraq, 156–7 and Simpson, Sasanian Mesopotamia, 206.

(85) Naval Intelligence Survey: Iraq, 82–95.

(86) On the invention of history in northern Iraq see J. Walker, ‘The legacy of Mesopotamia in Late Antique Iraq: the Christian martyr shrine at Melqi (Neo-Assyrian Milqia)’, Aram 19 (2007), 471–96. P. Crone and M. Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (Cambridge, 1977), 55–8 remains thought-provoking on the distinction between Babylonia and Assyria, especially the importance of the latter’s aristocracy and their claims to primordial history.

(87) See 411 Martyrion, 23–6 and the discussion of P. Peeters, ‘Le Passionaire d’Adiabene’, AB 43 (1925), 261–304. The persecution of Yazdegard II is the core of the History of Karka de Beth Slouq.

(88) Morony, Iraq, 181–2.

(89) See A. Camplani, ‘The revival of Persian monasticism: church structures, theological academy and reformed monks’, in A. Camplani and G. Filoramo (eds.), Foundations of Power and Conflicts of Authority in Late Antique Monasticism (Louvain, 2007), 277–97 for the model of the three-way symbiosis of the late sixth-century Church.

(90) See the biographies given in ʿAmr.

(91) R. Ebied and M. Young, ‘List of the Nestorian patriarchs’, LM 87 (1974), 87–113.