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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

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The Patriarchal Histories: Genesis of a Centralizing Narrative

The Patriarchal Histories: Genesis of a Centralizing Narrative

(p.66) 3 The Patriarchal Histories: Genesis of a Centralizing Narrative
The Chronicle of Seert

Philip Wood

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter proposes the existence of a patriarchal history, composed in Ctesiphon at the end of the fifth century. It argues this on the basis of the contents of the medieval Arabic compilations, of which the Chronicle of Seert is the most prominent, as well as the evidence of the synodica. This patriarchal history represented an attempt by a late fifth-century catholicos to connect himself to an earlier era of state favour in the early fifth century as well as to the era of Simeon and his martyrdom. A centralized catholicosate was, in reality, an ephemeral institution, but this history linked these moments of history to provide a single narrative. The final part of this chapter considers early stories of the deportation of Greek-speaking Christians into the Sasanian Empire.

Keywords:   historiography, deportation, Greek, School of ‘Abda, missionaries, Gundishapur, Khuzistan

The development of histories focused on the acts and succession of the catholicoi represented an important means of linking incumbents of the see of Ctesiphon to their prestigious forebears, and asserting their importance over the other sees of the Sasanian world. We have seen how Ishaq benefited from a period of peace between Yazdegard and the Romans to assert his new authority, with the aid of the Roman bishop Marutha. Ishaq’s coup was followed by a new interest in the relic cult for the fourth-century martyrs: mirroring trends in the West, Ishaq’s successor Ahai collected the first martyr acts for the Church of the East.

Renewed antipathy to Christianity from Yazdegard’s successors meant that Ahai’s initiative was not developed immediately (perhaps because educational and scribal centres were starved of the funds they briefly enjoyed at the start of the century). I have argued that the A version of the Acts of Symeon was composed in this era, and that it tended to focus on the role of Symeon as an opponent of the shah, rather than as a model for catholicoi in the fifth century, who did not take such a strong stance against the state.

The 480s witnessed a renewed centralization of church structures, focused once more on Ctesiphon. I suggest that this era saw the first collation of a history of the catholicoi, based around older bishop lists and fleshed out using hagiographies. This history asserted the connection between contemporary catholicoi and previous golden ages of the church, the martyrdom of Symeon and his successors and the first synod of the church under Ishaq and its aftermath. This history attempted a totalizing view of the past, addressing popular hagiographic traditions from outside Ctesiphon that painted earlier catholicoi as tyrants and filling in the embarrassing lacunae in the church’s memory that occupied much of the fourth century.

Earlier chapters have concentrated on the hagiographies that represented the older, traditional vehicles for ideas about the past, and have only occasionally glanced ahead to how these memories were transformed in the historical tradition. Since the sources do not survive in their original form, (p.67) I adopt a slightly different approach here, setting out the medieval redactions of the fifth- and sixth-century patriarchal chronicles before attempting to reconstruct these early compositions and investigate their significance for the cultural and political self-presentation of the catholicosate of Acacius through its reorganization of the past.

The Medieval Compilations: Bar Hebraeus, Mari, and ʿAmr

The reconstruction of the composition and content of a Christian historical tradition in Iraq is dependent on five medieval histories, four in Arabic and one in Syriac. The Chronicle of Seert is the richest and most important of these, but the other compilations also provide important information on the material available to medieval Christian historians and their working methods. Following the methodology outlined in the introduction, I argue that it is possible to isolate material in these chronicles pertaining to the catholicoi that is either related to known sources (such as the Acts of Symeon) and/or fits into narrative strands that run through the history. In this way, it is possible to isolate the components of later compilations, each of which show signs of development by different anonymous authors.

Three of these five texts also include large amounts of additional material drawn from Roman ecclesiastical history, monastic saints’ lives, and the histories of the School of Nisibis. This material represents additions of the late sixth century and after. In my view, the earlier patriarchal histories of the late fifth and middle sixth centuries were a single, connected tradition, distinct from these later additions, which can still be traced in the medieval sources. Similarly, the extension of the patriarchal lists back to Thomas and Addai as apostles of the East also represents a later innovation. Thus, the history expanded both ‘horizontally’, including new areas of interest, and ‘vertically’, both through successive continuations and through the elaboration or invention of a poorly known past.

The three simplest of the medieval sources are also the latest in date. These are the Ecclesiastical Histories of the Syrian orthodox maphrian1 and polymath Bar Hebraeus, and of Mari ibn Sulayman and ʿAmr ibn Matta of the Church of the East. Bar Hebraeus (d.1268) composed a detailed ecclesiastical history in three volumes, of which the first two describe the political history of the world and the history of the (Miaphysite) patriarchs of Antioch, while the third is (p.68) dedicated to ‘the East’.2 This history presents the early catholicoi as precursors to the late sixth-century Miaphysite maphrians Ahudemmeh and Marutha of Takrit, the leaders of the Syrian Orthodox in ‘the East’.

Bar Hebraeus presents events under each catholicos in turn, with a narrative focused upon their actions until the time of Barsauma. Bar Hebraeus imagines Dadishoʿ (reigns from 422) as the last ‘orthodox’ catholicos before the heresy of Barsauma destroyed ‘orthodoxy’, by importing Nestorianism, and monasticism, by removing clerical celibacy. He emphasizes the resistance of Miaphysite centres (Armenia, Takrit, and the monastery of Mar Mattai) to Barsauma and to Nestorianism, and he uses this resistance to claim a continuity of Miaphysite orthodoxy down to the missionary bishop Ahudemmeh and, ultimately, to himself.3 Bar Hebraeus’ vision of the catholicoi as antecedents of the maphrianate, coupled with the ecumenism of his own theology, make him a credible transmitter of the history of the catholicoi, especially since he presents it in Syriac, the original language of these traditions, rather than in Arabic.

Mari and ʿAmr composed their respective histories around the 1140s and 1320s. Both histories were written as parts of a longer work, the Books of the Tower, encyclopaedic texts that described and defended the theology, liturgy, and religious traditions of the Church of the East.4 Both texts seem to rely on identical Syriac sources, often transcribing the Syriac directly into Arabic, though their translations are independent. Mari’s Book of the Tower includes ‘a history of Christ and the apostles and a history of the patriarchs’ and declares his intention to describe the patriarchs’ birthplaces and teachers, their places of ordination, the length of their reigns, the ‘saints, kings, and rulers of their time and their places of burial’ (book V). Notably, he complains about the lack of historical works and the paucity of manuscripts dealing with the catholicoi, and presents his effort as a work of original research written on behalf of the catholicos.5

(p.69) ʿAmr’s Book of the Tower adopts a slightly different theological focus that made a more polemical use of history in asserting ‘Nestorian’ primacy. It begins by asserting the East as the place of origin of all things necessary for salvation: it is the most glorious land, the first place inhabited by men; the prophecies of Christ come from the East, especially from among the Zoroastrians, and the apostles first spread the word in ‘Babylon and Chaldea’.6 This assertion of the East as a chosen land is a preparation for declaring it the site of the first church as well, a suitable fountainhead of orthodoxy. ʿAmr continues by setting out various lists of ecclesiastical and political figures: of the patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, of the successors to James at Jerusalem, of the pagan emperors at Rome, of the men who attended the council of Nicaea, and of the patriarchs and emperors at Constantinople (book III). After a condemnation of Jews and heretics (book IV), he then provides his history of the apostles and of the patriarchs of the East (book V).7

Both Books of the Tower employ history as part of an encyclopaedic initiative that sought to defend the faith of the Church of the East and employed older records in doing so. The similarity of their accounts of the patriarchs to one another, and to that of Bar Hebraeus, especially for the period between the fourth and sixth centuries, suggests the existence of shared Syriac sources for this information. All three accounts focus on the lives and deeds of the catholicoi, and Mari and ʿAmr in particular give the origins, burial places, and reign lengths of the catholicoi (though their dating for their reigns do not always agree, which may indicate that it was sometimes produced by later calculation). And all three accounts incorporate related material on apostolic origins of the church, the martyr-bishops of the fourth century, and the more historical catholicoi of the fifth century.

The principal differences between the texts is that Mari supplements his account of the catholicoi with an additional narrative drawn from Roman ecclesiastical history, similar to the kind of material included in Eusebius or Sozomen. Mari begins to inject this additional material into his text in the reign of Shalupha, the (probably mythical) predecessor to Papas, and intersperses this additional material into the lives of the patriarchs until the period of Acacius and Babai. After this point Mari continues to include material peripheral to the lives of the catholicoi, but it tends to be drawn from East Syrian saints’ lives,8 rather than from Roman ecclesiastical sources. ʿAmr’s history, on the other hand, is much more closely focused on the deeds of the catholicoi: where Mari attempts to splice two quite distinct narratives, ʿAmr restricts his additional information to Eastern holy men who are somehow (p.70) involved with the catholicos (such as Mar ʿAbda) or simply lists churchmen, martyrs, or heretics living at the same time as the catholicos.9 He only includes information not found in Mari when it directly pertains to the catholicos, such as lengthy sermons attributed to Symeon bar Sabba‘e and the invented descriptions of the catholicoi that begin most sections (e.g. ‘Tomarsa was an old man with a large beard, and he was self-controlled and pious’).10 Bar Hebraeus is the most terse of the three chroniclers until the crisis with Barsauma, when his history becomes a mixture of information focused upon Mar Mattai and Takrit with Miaphysite exegesis of the traditional historical narrative of the Church of the East.

The Medieval Compilations: the Chronicle of Seert and the Haddad Chronicle

The three later chronicles are all structured around the lives of the catholicoi, and these provide the headings within their histories. The two earlier chronicles, the Chronicle of Seert and the Haddad Chronicle differ in that the catholicoi do not provide such a dominant focus for the text. This more confused, voluminous structure was caused by the accretion of large amounts of new material onto earlier records of the catholicoi in the production of several similar histories that incorporated this patriarchal tradition. All of these histories then provided material for medieval compilers, who juxtaposed sections drawn from earlier ecclesiastical historians, sometimes registering the differences between the historians and sometimes including contradictory accounts alongside one another without comment.

The second of the longer chronicles is a recent discovery: it was identified by Butrus Haddad from a collection of manuscripts in the Chaldean patriarchate in Baghdad before being published in 2000, and its similarities to the Chronicle of Seert meant that it was originally identified as a missing portion of it. However, the inclusion of different material, particularly several histories of Hira, shows that it was the work of a different compiler. The manuscript is dated by colophon to 1137, though Haddad argued that the work itself had been composed in the tenth century, on the basis of the catholicoi known to the author.11 This chronicle, Mukhtasar al-akhbār al-biʿīya, referred to here as (p.71) the Haddad Chronicle, is only the first volume of a longer text and only extends from the birth of Jesus to the end of the fourth century, devoting its final section to Epiphanius of Salamis. It begins by recounting the events of the Gospels, before describing the origins of the sacraments.12 Next the compiler devotes around a third of the book to the activities of the apostles, including Mari and Addai, apostles of the East. After this he describes the ranks of the priesthood and the organization of the church, as well as the comparative standing of the patriarchs, in a short but dense passage that is separated from the narrative episodes that follow it.13 All of this material, while not found in the Chronicle of Seert as it now stands, has parallels in the inclusion of Christ’s life and the deeds of the apostles in Mari and in the ecclesiological content of book III of ʿAmr’s work.

The final third of the text is a narrative of the church fathers from the early catholicoi to the time of Ephraem and Theodore of Mopsuestia. This final part of the history is similar in composition to the Chronicle of Seert, and it includes the catholicoi in the same sequence and intersperses these accounts with stories of other fathers of the church.

Acacius’ History

The medieval sources all employ traditions built around the catholicoi and show signs, more marked in the later, simpler chronicles, that the catholicoi represented the principal criteria for dating material. Indeed, material drawn from dated sources (by year or by the shah’s reign) has been repositioned to fit into this sequence of the catholicoi. This structural primacy of the catholicoi suggests that it represented the chief model for East Syrian historiography from a relatively early date, and that this common pattern represents the shared sources of the more complex ecclesiastical histories composed in the sixth century and after, which in turn formed the raw material for the medieval compilations.

In addition to these medieval compilations, our reconstruction can also use a series of lists of the patriarchs. These correspond to the kind of information on the patriarchs presented by ʿAmr, except that they are frequently limited to length of reign, origin, and place of burial. Three examples exist, composed in the fifth, ninth, and eighteenth centuries.14 The composition of such lists (p.72) became linked to ‘history proper’ and shaped the way in which information from Iraq and beyond was recorded and analysed. Records of the patriarchs, whether stripped of extraneous narrative passages or not, came to represent the core of the historical tradition. We see this reflected in the surviving sources, which vary in brevity from these lists; to the sparse information on each catholicos that ʿAmr and Bar Hebraeus include, occasionally supplemented by lists of ‘famous men of the time’; to the inclusion of Roman ecclesiastical history alongside the lives of the patriarchs in Mari; and finally to the much more expansive Chronicle of Seert. In this last case, the importance of the patriarchs has been almost eclipsed, but it can still be traced in sections entitled ‘on famous men’, which have been drawn from more abbreviated ecclesiastical histories.

At what point was this patriarchal history composed and what information did it include? Given the late date for the compiled sources we are reliant upon, there always remains the possibility for later revision (e.g. juxtaposing one event to another to imply causation)15 and the introduction of anachronism (e.g. the use of later names for cities or ethnic groups).16 But it is still possible to trace the outlines of earlier compositions and the inclusion of information for which there was little motive for later invention.

This process of composition occurred in at least three phases before it took the form of a sequential history organized around each catholicos in turn. The first was the raw material of the hagiographies of the martyrs, possibly supplemented by a bishop list without any additional information, except certain dates.17 These hagiographies were then collected, organized, and expanded in connection with a developing relic cult under the catholicos Ahai and continued under his successors.18 In addition this period saw the composition of two ‘contemporary’ histories: one of them an account of the catholicoi after Ishaq and of the visitations of Marutha and Acacius, the other, Ahai’s Life of the monastic founder, Mar ʿAbda, whose monastery trained (p.73) several of the catholicoi of this era. As we will see, this second phase at the beginning of the fifth century also saw the elucidation of the life of Papas, the semi-legendary predecessor to Symeon whose contest with Miles of Susa would make him a controversial symbol of the authority of the catholicos.19

This material was developed into sequential history based around the reigns of catholicoi towards the end of the century in a third phase. The end of the fifth century witnessed the resumption of the Ctesiphon synod following a long gap (424–86), and we can take the 486 synod of Acacius as an important sign of the restoration of central authority soon after the see of Ctesiphon had been subjected to serious external challenge the powerful bishop of Nisibis, Barsauma. Acacius had been trained in the School of the Persians in Edessa and was a relative of his predecessor, Babowai.20 This background, and his role in re-establishing the Ctesiphon synod after a long interlude, makes his reign a plausible point to date the creation of a ‘patriarchal history’ that asserted the rights and antiquity of Ctesiphon, especially its connections to the martyrs and the bishops of the West.

There are also good textual reasons for this dating of the ‘patriarchal history’, both in the Syriac patriarchal lists and in the Arabic compilations. The earliest list of catholicoi found in Guidi’s edition has a strong stylistic break after the death of Babowai, and the original text probably concluded with the struggle with Barsauma, which indicates a point of composition shortly afterwards, in the reign of Acacius.21 The existence of such a list suggests a terminus a quo for the creation of a history where pre-existent material was ordered around the lives of the patriarchs (henceforth the ‘Acacian history’). Moreover, it is unlikely that a structure based around patriarchal reigns was introduced much earlier, since the sources disagree how to date the same information from the early fifth century: the act of reordering information around the reigns of catholicoi must have taken place when this chronology had already been forgotten. It is also notable how little material is available to the medieval compilations for the middle of the fifth century, which confirms our impression of the absence of central authority that could commission history-writing until the end of the century.22

(p.74) The Fifth Century in the Acacian History

The Chronicle of Seert’s account is relatively straightforward in its content on the early fifth century. Apart from asides on shahs and emperors that, in my view, were included later, it is focused upon two narrative strands: the catholicoi and their succession, and the acts of the monastic founder Mar ʿAbda and his successors. By looking at the patterns of the early phases of history-writing by Christians at Ctesiphon that is preserved in this material, we can investigate the relationship of catholicoi and ʿAbda’s legacy, as well as the memory of these institutions in the time of Acacius.

The descriptions of the catholicoi Tomarsa and Qayoma are essentially without detail: both are merely paragraphs that describe the circumstances of their election and relate it to other events in terms of chronology.23 It is only with Ishaq that we receive more information: the catholicos, ‘good, virtuous, and wise’, is a major participant in the narrative that includes Arcadius, Marutha, and the shah Yazdegard, all of whom are celebrated as the organizers of a new golden age that begins with the 410 Synod of Seleucia.24 Then, from Ishaq’s reign onwards, the Chronicle was based around a coherent narrative of the relationship between the catholicoi, Yazdegard, and the Romans, in contrast to the ‘hollow’ sections on his predecessors that have been filled out with hagiographic material.

Ishaq’s successors Ahai and Iaballaha have brief sections devoted to them, but these are dense and seem to reflect larger passages that have been subsequently reduced. Ahai is remembered for his intervention in the royal pearl trade, his contests with Manichees and Marcionites and his role in recording saints’ lives, and Iaballaha is remembered for his confirmation of the Western decrees and his reception of a second Western emissary, Acacius of Amida.25 Mari, by contrast, presents very similar material to the Chronicle of Seert but allocates it to different catholicoi. Notably, he divides Marutha’s mission between the reigns of Qayoma and Ishaq (greatly reducing the importance of Ishaq and Yazdegard in the council of Seleucia).26

A similar reordering of material is visible for the beginning of Yazdegard’s persecution. In the Chronicle of Seert, Iaballaha’s reign witnesses Yazdegard’s change of heart and the order to destroy the monasteries, and Iaballaha manages to delay the persecution by interceding with the shah. Iaballaha then prays that he should die before there is any further bloodshed. Hosea’s (p.75) religious vandalism is then met by another successful appeal to the shah by Ishaq of Armenia, but this too appears to have been short-lived. Maʿna, Iaballaha’s successor, attempts to intercede with Yazdegard after further persecution. As we have seen, when Yazdegard questions Maʿna, Narsai replies to his questions instead and condemns him for his actions, after which he is taken away and killed, and the catholicos imprisoned.27 By contrast, Mari places the whole persecution under Maʿna, and Iaballaha’s request for an early death is caused by his anticipation of persecution, which does not occur in his lifetime.28

In both the account of Marutha’s embassy and Yazdegard’s persecution, the compilers differ in where they place the same material. In the latter case, this may be connected to a wish to remove blame for the persecution from Iaballaha and attach it more firmly to Maʿna, a figure with court connections instead of the monastic education of Iaballaha. Indeed, Iaballaha’s prayer for death may be a device intended to underline the fact that the persecution, and the breakdown in Ctesiphon’s authority shown by Hosea’s vandalism, only occurred after the reign of this favoured catholicos. The Chronicle of Seert’s presentation of numerous attempts to delay persecution by various figures is probably closest to the historical reality; a narrative that has been smoothed out in Mari’s account. But in addition to the manipulation of one individual’s reputation, the differences in the allocation of the same events between reigns also suggests that this information was not initially divided in this way. Material may well have been recorded at an early date, especially the complex accounts of the persecutions or Marutha’s mission, but the structure based around the reigns of catholicoi is probably the work of the later fifth-century chroniclers, who may also be responsible for the variations in where material is placed chronologically. The period from Ishaq to Maʿna (and possibly Dadishoʿ) seem to have been written as a single unit, which was subsequently allotted to the reigns of individual catholicoi and manipulated to minimize the culpability of favoured catholicoi or conflict with the shah.

The School of ʿAbda

A different kind of material is present in the period between Tomarsa and Maʿna that is less immediately focused on the deeds of the catholicoi, namely the Life of ʿAbda of Deir Qoni and the activities of his disciples. The seventh-century ecclesiastical historian Daniel bar Mariam reports that Ahai composed this Life while he was catholicos, and the Chronicle of Seert also includes (p.76) several related saints’ lives that discuss his successors and ʿAbda’s school, to which Ahai and Iaballaha were closely connected. The section on ʿAbda in the Chronicle is derived from a saint’s life, beginning with the saint’s birth ‘to a woman of low origins’, who gives the child to the church. The Life describes how ʿAbda was educated at his village school before founding the first monastery in ‘the land of the Nabati’, along with a ‘school for all’. From here he converted pagans, eventually leaving for the village of Tella. At the end of the Life, the compiler also adds a list of his miracles: creating bread for hungry monks, miraculously escaping from the Zoroastrians, and defeating Marcionites and Manichees.29

The Life of ʿAbda is followed in the Arabic compilations by another hagiographic account that is peripherally related. The scene describes how a miraculous cross was seen above the earth during the persecutions. The place where this occurred was then bought by a local chief, who built a monastery there, after which ʿAbda performed miracles there and converted pagans.30 This story probably represents the later attachment of ʿAbda to the monastery’s foundation legend to emphasize its antiquity, since ʿAbda’s role here is secondary and the saint’s Life seems self-contained. But the selection of ʿAbda for this invented association is significant: to the adapter of the original account, ʿAbda signified an early era of missionary endeavour in a time of persecution.31

A second tale that is associated with the Life of ʿAbda in the Arabic compilations describes the missions of ʿAbdishoʿ of Arphelouna in Maishan, who was trained at ʿAbda’s school. He is credited with the conversion of the village of Baksaya (possibly in Beth Arabaye), where he met the shah Vahram, and of the village of Rimioun in Maishan. Later, he is briefly made bishop of Deir Mahraq by Tomarsa, before fleeing for solitude to ‘Bahrayn and Yamama’ and converting more pagans. Here too he exorcizes a demon, who complains that the Christians have pursued him ‘even here’. He imprisons the demon on ‘the island now called Ramath’, before founding another monastery in Hira and returning to his monastery at Maishan, which he directs until his death.32

The fact that this cycle of stories was placed under Tomarsa probably reflects the lack of information about this catholicos. Indeed, Tomarsa’s presence in the Life of ʿAbdishoʿ is probably a later attempt to link him into the narrative and compensate for the embarrassing lack of information in the history of the catholicoi. The same point might be made about the holy man Bokhtishoʿ whom the Chronicle of Seert, Mari, and ʿAmr all place in Tomarsa’s reign:33 lack of information on the catholicos meant that other information was used, and (p.77) the information to which the late fifth-century historians had access was mostly hagiographic. Probably all that was actually known of Tomarsa and Qayoma at the time of Acacius were names in a bishop list.

These hagiographies that described the late fourth century highlighted the missionary history of the church in Maishan; its opposition to pagans, Manichees, and Marcionites and the institutional backgrounds of several early fifth-century catholicoi. Not only did this connection to contemporary catholicoi prompt Ahai’s composition of the Life of ʿAbda, but a later ‘Life of Iaballaha’ was composed and embedded in the Chronicle of Seert, which represents him in his capacity as a disciple of ʿAbda, as distinct from his position as catholicos: one section portrays him as ʿAbda’s disciple and the other as Ahai’s successor and catholicos in the traditional manner. The hagiography describes how he was educated at ʿAbda’s school and founded a monastery in the newly converted village of Daskart de ʿAbdishoʿ, where he established a tradition of continual psalm singing and performed rain miracles.34 Thus, Iaballaha was remembered in two different historical traditions (one focused on catholicoi, the other on missionary holy men), and both of these accounts have become embedded in the Chronicle via the patriarchal history.

The continuation of this narrative strand based around ʿAbda and his disciples points towards one of the major focuses of historical and hagiographic composition at the start of the fifth century. Alongside an emphasis on the martyred bishops earlier in the fifth century, Ahai also celebrated a relatively recent monastic founder and his disciples, whose monasteries in southern Iraq might have been useful elements of the patronage network of the church in Ctesiphon. Moreover, this link was still celebrated after Iaballaha’s death, when a record of his own reputation as a monastic founder in ʿAbda’s tradition was composed. This emphasis may also have been an attempt to draw a contrast with Iaballaha’s successors, Maʿna and Pharabokht, whose court connections and Persian background indicate that they were supported by different kinds of interest groups, mirroring the controversy over the dating of the persecutions to the period after Iaballaha’s reign.

It is hard to gauge the continuing importance of the monastery and school of ʿAbda in any detail, especially because much of its history lies in the missing part of the Chronicle of Seert. It is not necessary to think of it as a school with the degree of sophistication achieved by the schools of Edessa and Nisibis. But there are traces of information in the sources of several texts that extolled its founder and several of its pupils, and these suggest that the school was significant in its own regional context. In particular, Mari associates it with Babowai, the first catholicos to be drawn from a ‘pagan family’ from Tella (p.78) (which seems to confirm the school’s reputation as a missionary centre and the association of ʿAbda with the village). Subsequently, Mari reports that Peroz suppressed the school as part of his persecution following the death of Babowai.35

The material pertaining to Mar ʿAbda and his school in the histories also confirms a late fifth- or sixth-century date for the first composition of the patriarchal histories. After the time of Abraham of Kashkar and the refoundation of celibate monasticism in Iraq there would be little need to remember Mar ʿAbda. Stories of the antiquity of monasticism in Iraq were indeed necessary, but these would be provided by Mar Awgin, a fourth-century figure with his legendary connections to Antony and Pachomius in Egypt. Notably, no Syriac saint’s life survives for Mar ʿAbda or any of his disciples: they are recorded only in the historical tradition, even though their provenance is undoubtedly hagiography.36

The ʿAbda tradition, therefore, provided a source of prestige and institutional identity for several fifth-century catholicoi. This tradition, alongside the narratives surrounding the council of Seleucia, the era of stability that followed it, and the persecutions of Yazdegard I, formed the basis for the description of the early fifth century in the first patriarchal history. This collection of hagiographies, with its focus on the missions to Maishan, would suit the need for early sources of prestige of an expanding church in southern Iraq. For the late fifth-century historian, it provided the only source of raw material for the reigns of Tomarsa and Qayoma, as well as filling its original function, of reinforcing the connection between the monastic school and the catholicosate, particularly the catholicos Iaballaha. In addition, the association between the school of ʿAbda and Babowai, Acacius’ relative and predecessor as catholicos, may have been another incentive to preserve the memory of the institution after its destruction.

Miles and Papas: The Council of Dadishoʿ

The stories of Ishaq and his successors, and the hagiographies of ʿAbda, had all been products of a new golden age for the Church, which celebrated an era of missionary expansion in the teeth of heretical opposition, as well as the negotiation of the relationship between shah and catholicos and the importation of Roman models for church governance. These themes remained (p.79) significant to the Acacian historian and his successors, either because they represented the only information to be gleaned for a respected but unknown past, or because they represented a paradigm, an ideal of royal patronage and orthodoxy from the West, which might remain attractive to later catholicoi.

One of the effects of the creation of a history of a succession of catholicoi, which juxtaposed the reigns of different men into a single text, is that it also found a place for a second, earlier golden age, the reign of the martyr Symeon bar Sebba‘e and his successors. In this respect, chronicle-writing represented a more comprehensive discourse, a structure that provided a space for different accounts of the foundation of the catholicosate, where they could be reconciled into an authoritative whole. The recording and elaboration of the fourth-century martyrdoms in later histories acquired the charisma of the martyrs, commemorated in liturgy and hagiography, for the catholicoi. By presenting Symeon as the archetype of catholicos, priest, and martyr, these histories sought to appropriate a cult of the martyrs that had achieved substantial popularity by the beginning of the fifth century.

The importance of the Shapurian persecutions as a golden age in the church’s historical imagination is illustrated by the relative paucity of information for the period that followed it: only the 410s–20s, with their synods and the collection of the martyria, is equally well attested. The information that survives in the medieval chronicles was not the product of a continuous historical tradition, but the result of two moments of ecclesiastical centralization, in the 410s and 480s, and of corresponding historical invention, which related these two moments to an original ‘golden age’ of the fourth-century martyrs.

However, as we have seen, the catholicoi had their opponents in their quest for centralized power over the church and cooperation with the shah. Both Ishaq and Dadishoʿ were briefly imprisoned, probably as the result of denunciations.37 Moreover, the acts of Dadishoʿ’s synod in 424 demonstrate that the catholicoi did not have a monopoly on the invention or reuse of history, and that not all memories of this age were equally positive. Dadishoʿ had stood accused of apostasy, theft, and usury: he was suspected for his overly close cooperation with the court and the money it brought.38 In reply, a supporter of the catholicos, Agapetus of Beth Lapet, who had been present at the councils of Ishaq and Iaballaha,39 read out a letter, supposedly sent by the Western fathers to Symeon’s predecessor Papas. It is here, in the contested histories of Papas and his opponents, that we see the survival of memories of tyrannical bishops of Ctesiphon that coexisted with the image of the catholicos-martyr, which forced the self-presentation of fifth-century catholicoi to take a much more (p.80) defensive attitude. Some version of the Papas narrative was likely to have been part of the Acacian history, since this controversial story was an important site for competition over central authority. However, the continued importance of the narrative has meant that it continued to be adapted in later eras, and dateable evidence is provided in Syriac sources, especially the Synodicon and the Acts of Mar Miles. This section uses these sources to consider the fifth-century development of these stories of a tyrannical catholicos. The remainder of the chapter will use the medieval compilations to address their reception and continuing elaboration in the late sixth century.

The letter reported by Agapetus tells us that various bishops had testified against Papas’ bad conduct (of ‘his violence and impurity’) and that these accusations were judged by one Miles. Papas was angry that those who had no authority sought to judge him and struck the Gospels crying, ‘Speak, Gospels, speak!’ Papas was then struck down, for his lack of respect to the Gospels. Following this, Agapetus notes that Papas’ accusers included many good men, some of whom would later be martyred under Shapur, but that they were naïve and had been deceived by rebels against his authority. Their complaints were heard by the fathers of the West, who responded by affirming Papas as ‘head over all of them’ and naming Symeon bar Sebba‘e, who had replaced Papas while he was incapacitated, as his archdeacon. Their letter asserts that ‘only Christ can be the judge of a patriarch [catholicos]’40 and compares Papas to Peter, ‘on whom Christ built his church’.41 The acts of the synod spell out the consequences of this authority further: bishops in ‘the East’ will have no right of appeal to the West and no right to assemble unless commanded to do so by the catholicos, they complain against the opposition to Ishaq and Iaballaha, and they entreat Dadishoʿ to return as catholicos (after being briefly imprisoned).42 Agapetus emphasizes the visit of Marutha and his confirmation of Ishaq’s rule in the face of opposition, and presents it as a second intervention from the West to confirm the catholicos in the face of rebellion. By inventing Papas’ Western letter, Agapetus generates an ancient precedent for the external confirmation of the catholicos and uses it to bolster the position of all catholicoi.

Agapetus’ invocation of the figure of Papas as a model for the authority of Ctesiphon is essentially a retelling of a story that was originally directed against the catholicos. We can see this from his story in the reason Agapetus gives for Papas’ ‘stroke’. The scene was originally an invocation of God as Papas’ judge and presented the divine condemnation of the patriarch. Similarly, several aspects of his story that support the authority of the catholicosate, especially the point where Papas strikes the Gospels, seem to derive from an earlier version of the contest between Miles and Papas, which was originally opposed to the catholicos and presented Papas as a proud tyrant. The Western (p.81) confirmation of Papas’ authority has been added to a story that was critical of the bishop of Ctesiphon.

Agapetus’ interpolation is seen most clearly by comparing his account with the Syriac Acts of Miles, the famous martyr and Papas’ accuser, which illustrates several features of the story that underlay the politically charged adaptation of the 424 council. These Acts describe Miles’ travels near his home city of Susa, before his pilgrimage to visit Jerusalem, the monastery of Antony in Egypt, and Nisibis, where he helps Jacob build his church.43 In the second part of the Acts he arrives in Ctesiphon to find the church split by a schism (harinā) caused by its bishop,44 Papas, who ‘was exalted over the bishops of [other] lands who were gathered [in Ctesiphon] as if before his judgement’ and behaved arrogantly towards the priests and deacons of the city.45 Miles announces the accusations brought against Papas and chides him saying, ‘Isn’t it written that the first among you should be like your servant?’ Papas asks whether Miles presumes to teach him anything, to which Miles responds that he is only a man, but that Papas has failed to learn from the Gospels: ‘You do not see [God’s] commandment because the inner sight of your mind is shut away (b-ʿaynā ksitā d-tarʿitāk).’ At this point, the hagiographer places the judgement scene used by Agapetus: Papas angrily seizes the Gospels and cries, ‘Speak, Gospels, speak!’ But here the author also adds an explanation of the scene by Miles, who denounces Papas for his pride and tells the crowd that an angel will come to strike down Papas for his pompous behaviour (šubhārā) towards ‘the living word of our Lord’. Before an amazed crowd, Papas is then ‘struck down’ by a bolt of lightning that withers half of his body, and remains incapacitated until his death twelve years later.46 Finally, Miles leaves Ctesiphon and performs several miracles, after which he is captured and killed by Shapur and buried with his companions, Aborsima and Sina, at Malcan, which becomes an impregnable fortress thanks to his protection.47

Miles’ Acts have clearly been subject to later adaptation. The very distinct phases of his life (foreign travel, Ctesiphon, and martyrdom), the last of which associates him with companions who are buried with him, may mean that Labourt was correct in his hypothesis that the Acts of Miles combine the activities of several saints.48 The foreign travels at the start of the Acts are especially suspicious and closely resemble the itinerary of the sixth-century (p.82) catholicos Mar Aba, and the final version of the text may date to this era.49 But the association of the denouncer of Papas with a man martyred under Shapur was at least accepted by Agapetus, since he is forced to defensively explain away the denunciation of Papas to the Westerners. The defensive alterations in Agapetus’ speech (his alteration of the Gospel trial and his representation of Miles) show that the Acts of Miles reflects the original story more closely and that it continued to circulate and remain popular.50

The thrust of Miles’ denunciation is the contrast between the wishes of Papas’ many accusers, and the arrogance of a bishop who has led the church to schism. The crux of this is the requirement for the leader of the church to live a life determined by the Gospels and to be like a servant. Papas initially refuses to see the debate in these ideal terms and represents Miles’ criticism as a claim to authority by the saint. Miles maintains that Papas has failed according to the tenets of the Gospels rather than any human judgement. It is in this context that Papas’ phrase ‘Speak, Gospels, speak!’ makes sense: he has already been taken to task for his failure to live according to their tenets. Agapetus has removed this scene from context in order to render Miles as a pious and naïve judge, who is persuaded to act on behalf of the crowd, taking away the sting of his criticism that the catholicos is also bound by God. Agapetus has repeated the most significant phrase from the confrontation, but he doesn’t provide any of the substance of Miles’ criticism and limits the story to Papas’ refusal to be judged by any man, a sentiment that he subsequently justifies with the letter from the West.

The criticism of Papas in the ‘opposition’ tradition reflects, in broad terms, those made by the theologian Aphrahat in the fourth century against corrupt leaders of the church of his day. These older criticisms are reflected in the Acts of Miles and provide a deeper context for our understanding of Agapetus’ stance and his preservation and defence of the controversial idea that Papas could not be judged by men.

In his Demonstration X, On Pastors, Aphrahat attacks those who ‘clothe [themselves] with the wool of the sheep and devour the flesh of fatlings yet do not feed them’ and warns that the moment will come when ‘the Great Shepherd will come to inspect the sheep and make an account with his shepherd’.51 In Demonstration XIV, On Exhortation, addressed to his brothers in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, he goes on to attack ‘the leaders who have left the (p.83) law’, lamenting that they ‘love the rich and hate the poor’ and that ‘priest has become like layman’.52 He condemns priests who rely on the imposition of hands for their authority rather than on their fear of God: ‘The Lord will judge the princes and elders of the people for they have burned the vineyard.’53 Ultimately, he laments that all the land is not sufficient for kings, who will always desire war, and the priestly leaders of the flock, with their love of ceremony, are grouped with kings as the source of the misfortune of the people.54 In general, Aphrahat addresses similar themes to the Acts of Miles and his testimony allows us to further focus upon the chief issues at stake in fourth-century debates that continue to be reflected in the later texts, namely the idea that the leaders of the church were also subject to God’s will and that close involvement with the state damaged ‘the vineyard’.

The dating of these demonstrations is controversial, and their criticisms might not be directed against the historical ‘Papas’ himself,55 but they do seem to point towards traditional criticisms of powerful bishops that were re-echoed in the charges brought against Dadishoʿ and in the tales of the era of Papas that were told and retold before and after Dadishoʿ’s synod. The emphasis on the duties of powerful churchmen to their flock and the primacy of God’s judgement is shared with both versions of the story of Miles and Papas, as well as the core ideas of the Acts of Symeon.

This intellectual history of the criticism of the catholicos helps to explain the focus on Christ as the judge of the catholicos in the ‘letter of the Western fathers’ that Agapetus invokes. Like the actual narrative of Miles’ contest with Papas, the emphasis of the letter represents a manipulation of the earlier tradition. Aphrahat’s emphasis on Christ’s judgement of the mighty was used to reduce the prestige of the catholicos, who is subject to the judgement of the Great Shepherd. The same motif of Christ’s judgement is used in the letter of the Westerners, except that Agapetus uses it to deny the right of other bishops to stand in judgement over the catholicos: ‘Disciples cannot stand in judgement over their master, because Christ, their master, did not give them that authority.’56 Agapetus draws on a longstanding image of Christ as judge, but uses it to magnify the authority of the catholicos and to remove it from the context of public consensus and humility where it is placed by the Acts of Miles. This phrase also develops a parallel between the catholicos as master (p.84) and Christ as master: the rebellion of the bishops is made, by implication, the equivalent of the disciples opposing Christ.57

Miles and Papas: The Reconstructions of the Histories

The version of events that Agapetus gave was contradicted at several points by the Acts of Miles, and this text too reflects the defensive invention of history to compete with other versions. In other words, the dissident version of the history was also developing and reacted to the changes made in the versions produced by sources focused on Ctesiphon. I suggest that these adaptations include the travels of Miles to the West, and his association with Antony’s successor Ammonius in Egypt and with Jacob of Nisibis, as well as the assertion that Papas remained afflicted by his punishment until his death. In both cases, we see the dissident Acts of Miles reacting to the changes that occurred to the story of Miles and Papas in the patriarchal histories in the generation of Acacius and beyond.

The Chronicle of Seert does not include a section on Papas, since the text breaks off before the point where it should have stood, but the Haddad Chronicle provides three sections on Papas that can help to reconstruct the material that had been used in the Acacian history. The last of these sections is a retelling of the confrontation with Miles. In it, the Chronicle describes how Papas dedicated money to protecting the Christians, but that he allowed two bishops in each see, which prompted the objections of Miles and of one Boulidaʿ of Dastamaisan. Papas refused to listen and caused disagreement, striking the Bible and crying ‘Speak of me’, whereupon his right hand was withered for twelve years.58 After this, the people wrote to the Westerners for judgement in the matter ‘according to the tradition of the time’, who declared all the accusations false at the council of Nicaea. The Westerners declared that ‘no one can argue with his lord, who holds the patriarchate of the East, nor complain to the West in letters or speech. And [the] governor of the patriarch is Christ.’59 The final third of this section consists of a series of stories relating the correspondence between Papas and Helena (mother of Constantine), Jacob of Nisibis, and Ephraem, in which they add their weight to the rejection of the criticisms of Papas. The author also explains why there is no saint’s life (p.85) devoted to Papas: he observes that Ephraem offered to compose one but that Papas had refused out of modesty.60

This version of the story reflects two adaptations of the original narrative that seem to have drawn responses in the Acts of Miles. Firstly, in the story presented by the Haddad Chronicle, Papas is explicitly said to recover from his paralysis, which makes his punishment a lighter example. This may reflect a recognition of the popularity of the dissident tradition: the story admits a popular aspect of the narrative, Papas’ stroke, but adopts the focus of Agapetus’ story on the letter of the Westerners and on the authority of the catholicos. And it is this kind of change in emphasis that prompts the counter-assertion in the Acts of Miles that Papas, in actual fact, never recovered from his angelic punishment.

Secondly, the connection drawn between Papas and prominent figures of fourth-century Roman ecclesiastical history reflects the importance of the West in maintaining Papas’ dignity and the integration of the episode into the developing historical traditions of the Church of the East. The inclusion of Papas in a narrative history clearly produced a host of problems caused by the lack of information about this supposed first bishop of Ctesiphon. The medieval chronicles accord Papas a remarkable longevity, crediting him with some seventy years as catholicos (this may stem from the recording of all bishops before Symeon as ‘father’ [Papa], which has then been treated as a single proper name). The Haddad Chronicle in particular remarks that ‘Christ did not place anyone on the chair of the church for such a long time’.61 The overlap of Papas’ supposed reign with important events in the foundation of the Western church also prompted a series of inventions by later ecclesiastical historians who tried to reconcile their early dating of Papas’ life with his non-attendance at the council of Nicaea, variously proposing that Symeon bar Sebbaʿe, Shahdost, or Jacob of Nisibis had been sent as his representatives, or asserting that Papas had in fact been present.62

The same movement to integrate Papas into a prestigious Western history continued with the invention of letters by Ephraem and Jacob, to support the anonymous letter cited by Agapetus. It is these that the Haddad Chronicle summarizes at the end of its section on Papas and which Bar Hebraeus (p.86) specifically denounced as forgeries made by the catholicos Joseph (555–65).63 I suggest that the continued invention of Western connections for Papas in the tradition of Agapetus’ letter prompted a later hagiographer to adapt the Acts of Miles. This later hagiographer inserted a travel narrative that linked the saint to his own Western allies, in scenes modelled on the travels of the esteemed catholicos Mar Aba (d.555). If this is true, then this passage might well be a response to the adaptations to Papas’ life under Aba’s hated successor Joseph.

If the embedding of Papas into a broader history prompted the invention of Western connections, then it also created a variety of problems in the association of this controversial first ‘patriarch’ with his successor, the martyr Symeon. Symeon is not present in the Acts of Miles, which may indicate that the earliest stories of Miles and Papas did not consider the succession to the catholicos.64 However, the nature of Symeon’s succession does seem to have presented a problem for historians using a sequential narrative of the catholicoi: which of the two opponents did Symeon support? Agapetus imagined that Symeon only replaced Papas while he was incapacitated and that the Westerners confirmed him as Papas’ archdeacon and successor, but the tradition that Bar Hebraeus reports makes Symeon the appointee of those who had conspired against Papas.65

The report of Symeon’s election in the Chronicle of Seert attempts to reconcile the centralist and dissident traditions, and seems to belong to the cluster of stories surrounding Papas rather than to the traditions of Symeon’s martyrdom that make up the rest of the section on Symeon. The episode states that Symeon governed the affairs of the church as archdeacon after Papas’ hand was paralysed, and that ‘in some stories’ he was elected metropolitan by force by those who opposed Papas. After this, Papas condemns Symeon: ‘Christ will not forgive you until you have spilt your blood and endured martyrdom’, but ‘the Greeks’ write to Papas and ask him to forgive Symeon, which he does, making him his successor.66 At the core of this account is the idea that the dissidents had supported Symeon: the original root of the account had allied the tradition of Miles to that of the martyred catholicos and contrasted Symeon with his predecessor Papas.67

However, this idea seems to have proved too revolutionary for later authors, who either present Symeon’s martyrdom as atonement to God for his (p.87) rebellion against Papas’ authority or make Symeon’s succession a specific clause of the Western letters (both explanations are incorporated in the Chronicle’s narrative).68 These levels of adaptation are hard to date. The first stage (where Symeon was seen as an ally of Papas’ opponents) could well reflect the divided rule of Narsai and Elishe, when a debate over the qualities of a good catholicos might make sense. The later emphasis on Papas’ authority would fit the reign of Joseph (or his successors), who emphasized his own personal control of the church and who may have invented other letters from the West. A late sixth-century date would also fit my dating of the Chronicle’s section on Symeon as a whole, because of its chronological calibration of events in Ctesiphon with events in the Roman world.69

The embedding of the stories of Miles, Papas and Symeon into a sequential historical narrative brought out many of the contradictions that had only been implicit in the way these stories were told as independent narratives. Agapetus had been free to remove much of the personality of Miles from his story and focus on the external confirmation of Papas by the Western fathers. But equally, it is clear that the dissident tradition represented by the Acts of Miles fed on longstanding criticisms of tyrannical priests and their collusion with government and continued to be copied and adapted. By juxtaposing the different versions of the story of Miles and Papas, later historians had to try to reconcile two opposing ways of telling the story. The fact that they did this has two major corollaries. First, it shows that both remained popular ways of interpreting the fourth-century past. And second, this implies that historians, and the political world they wrote for, wished to underline the limits on the power of the catholicos as well as to emphasize the claims of the see of Ctesiphon.

Papas and Demetrianus: Histories of Exile and the Rights of Gundishapur

The opposition of Miles and Papas was not the only story that involved this semi-mythical first catholicos. In a second story, unrelated to the tale of Miles, Papas is also credited with welcoming the exiled patriarch of Antioch, Demetrianus, to Gundishapur (Beth Lapet) and granting his successors rights as the second bishops of the Church of the East. Here a distinct narrative strand, concentrating on the Western exiles and the rights of their places of settlement, has been attached to ‘Papas’ as a supposed contemporary of these events and spokesman for the rights of the Church.

(p.88) The versions presented by ʿAmr, Mari, and the Haddad Chronicle are all very similar. Demetrianus denies that he has any right to govern as patriarch since he lies in Papas’ jurisdiction, but Papas allows him to retain the honour of patriarch and to govern the captives as metropolitan of Gundishapur. Demetrianus is also allowed to sit at the right hand of the catholicos in synods and to hold the right to be the first to consecrate his successor.70 The Haddad Chronicle also notes that the Zoroastrians held Demetrianus in great respect and that the liturgy was held in Greek and Syriac ‘in Fars and the East’, while the privileges of Gundishapur ‘continue to this day’.71

The story acknowledges the connection between Antioch and Ctesiphon and acts as an external justification of the importance of the catholicos. In this regard, it fulfils a role similar to that of Agapetus’ letter of the Westerners and the visit of Marutha. The meeting with Demetrianus also precludes any Antiochene claims to precedence over the catholicos: this relationship is not articulated here in the language of canon law, but it is clear in the story that the Holy Spirit will only act on a bishop within his own jurisdiction. This emphasis here may be connected to the claims of Ctesiphon as seat of a catholicos, i.e. as an autocephalous church beyond the Roman Empire.72 This title is only securely attested after 410: Ishaq is sometimes referred to as ‘grand metropolitan’ and sometimes ‘catholicos’ in his synod, which indicates that references to Symeon as ‘catholicos’ reflect later interpolation.73 Certainly, Bar Hebraeus’ assertion that Papas received the rank of catholicos at Nicaea is a later invention.74

The celebration of Demetrianus as bishop of Antioch and therefore second bishop of the Church of the East may also tie into the changing importance of the cities of Khuzistan and their relationship with the catholicos. Gundishapur (Beth Lapet) had become the new capital of Khuzistan after its settlement by Shapur I using Roman prisoners of war. Robert Wenke’s survey of Khuzistan argued that this royal initiative concentrated the population of central Khuzistan into the new city, draining several other smaller settlements of their population. He emphasizes the degree to which the prosperity of Khuzistan as a whole, and Gundishapur in particular, were dependent on royal investment and peaceful conditions, which allowed the irrigation that made its sugar (p.89) plantations and textile industry profitable.75 Wenke’s findings illustrate the close connections between the new cities of Khuzistan and the older capital of Ctesiphon.

Khuzistan itself features prominently in the hagiographies of the persecutions of the fourth century. Three episcopal martyrs attested in the 411 synaxarion come from Beth Lapet and Hormizd-Ardashir in Khuzistan and are mentioned at the start of the list, and two of them also appear in the Acts of Symeon.76 Two very famous early martyrs, Miles and Pusai, are associated with Khuzistan (with Susa and Beth Lapet, respectively), and a hagiographic collection was dedicated to the martyrs of the province as a whole. Wiessner observes that this text, On the Great Martyrdom of Khuzistan, was one of the first martyr acts to be appended to the Acts of Symeon.77 This textual history would also fit the role of a Khuzistani bishop in collecting the martyria (Sawmai of Karka de Ledan) and the longstanding memory of Karka de Ledan as the site of the martyrdom of Symeon, which is brought out at the end of the B Acts.78 Indeed, the composition of a hagiographic collection for Khuzistan might be an attempt to compensate for Karka de Ledan’s lack of native martyrs. The B Acts justifies this as the shah’s wish not to damage his recent foundation, a fact that then explains Karka de Ledan’s role in collecting relics ‘from places across the East’. While Arbela and Karka de Beth Slouq in northern Iraq also feature prominently as sites of martyrdom, the hagiography produced there does not seem so closely related to the catholicos and his companions, or to the relic cult that developed around them: it is only with later sources produced in the sixth and seventh centuries that sites in northern Iraq would assume importance.79

Khuzistan, then, was both a centre for the production of martyrs in the fourth century and for their commemoration in the fifth. And its commemoration was strongly linked to Ctesiphon. Such literary links may have come naturally given the ease of communications: the region was dependent on external investment and on trade and Gundishapur and Karka de Ledan were both royal foundations that served as the seat of the shah under Shapur I and (p.90) Shapur II.80 The commemoration of the martyrs also served to underline the connections between the two capital cities of Karka de Ledan and Ctesiphon. But as well as providing men like Sawmai of Karka de Ledan and Agapetus of Beth Lapet, Khuzistan was also the home province of the martyr ʿAbda of Hormizd-Ardashir, and was remembered as the home of several opponents of Papas in the clash with Miles.81 Bishops from Hormizd-Ardashir and Susa also head the list of dissidents who denied Dadishoʿ’s authority in 424.82 Some Khuzistani bishops sought to emphasize the authority of the catholicos and the interlinked Christian histories of these centres of Sasanian royal power, but others celebrated dissident traditions that remembered the role of its bishops in opposing a tyrannical catholicos or that promoted martyrdom and ignored the status quo that Ishaq and his immediate successors tried to establish with Yazdegard.

I suggest that Khuzistan features so strongly on both sides of arguments about patriarchal rights because of the proximity of Ctesiphon and the local significance of the martyr cult: the fifth century placed the region at the forefront of central claims to power in a way that was not true for Christian populations in the north of Iraq, who had produced many martyrs but who may have been less immediately connected to Ctesiphon by trade and government, and in terms of the histories of their local martyrs. There may also be a distinction between the older cities of Khuzistan, Susa, Shushtar, and Hormizd-Ardashir, and the newer royal foundations of Gundishapur/Beth Lapet and Karka de Ledan. Though our data does not go beyond the behaviour of individual bishops, the general impression is that the opponents of the catholicos were associated with the older cities, while the new royal cities of Khuzistan sided with the catholicos in the fifth century.

The story of Demetrianus may be intended to enhance the connections between Gundishapur and the catholicos, since it emphasizes the Greek origins of this new community and gives it special rights within the church. Greek communities had been settled in the Iranian world since Alexander, but the deportations under Shapur I (in c.256–61) were the only ones to leave such a significant mark in the Christian histories of Iraq.83 The section on the death of Valerian and Shapur’s sack of Antioch in the Chronicle of Seert incorporates a list of Shapur’s foundations using Greek captives in Iraq, Khuzistan, and Fars and a brief note from the seventh-century historian Daniel bar Maryam that (p.91) Azdaq succeeded Demetrianus as bishop in Gundishapur while Paul of Samosata succeeded him as patriarch of Antioch.84 We cannot determine how this third-century material related to the missing earlier parts of the Chronicle of Seert, but the focus of the section is on how Shapur I’s Roman wars created new communities in Iraq and on their effect on the church. This material was probably included in one of the sixth-or seventh-century ecclesiastical histories used in the compilation of the Chronicle. The inclusion of these lists of civic foundations shows that the third century was still seen as a formative moment by these communities and that this was acknowledged by the compilers of the historical tradition.85

The prestige of the Greek histories of the new royal foundations may also explain the creation of the meeting between Demetrianus and Papas. By focusing on the Western origins of the city’s inhabitants, the author accentuates the connection between Iraq’s new settlements and the persecutions of the third-century West. The prestige of Papas and his church was confirmed through his involvement in these important events of the universal church, while also explaining the ties of the catholicos to the new royal foundations. In the case of Khuzistan, while other cities might have been older, the Western origins of Gundishapur gave it a longer Christian history and allowed the inclusion of the Sasanian Empire’s second city into a suitable place in the hierarchy.

There may well be a historical core to the story of Demetrianus: a bishop by his name did reign in Antioch before Paul of Samosata.86 But the story of Demetrianus and Papas as we have received it should be dated to the period after 410 because of its assertion of the autocephalous rights of the catholicos. The story’s focus on Gundishapur might reflect the early competition between the sees of Khuzistan, but the preservation and inclusion of the story in later histories was also prompted by the continuing importance of the city of Gundishapur/Beth Lapet, and the need to maintain major allies of the catholicos in this region.


Strands of earlier history were reconciled in the patriarchal history composed towards the end of the fifth century. The first, abortive phase in the centralization (p.92) of the Church of the East in the 410s had brought it doctrine and organizational canons from the West, as well as a model for the commemoration of the martyrs. Earlier hagiographic material was edited to focus on the succession of the three ‘catholicos-martyrs’ of the early fourth century, who provided a prestigious justification for the later authority of the see of Ctesiphon. Additionally, the early fifth century produced saints’ lives that emphasized the connection of Ahai and Iaballaha to the ‘school of ʿAbda’, which claimed a role in the proselytism of south-central Iraq.

The choice of a late fifth-century historian to structure his record around the lives of the catholicoi was surely influenced by contemporary succession lists that were produced without any historical detail. But the paucity of information for some catholicoi, such as Tomarsa and Qayoma, points to the fact that this structure was a later development, forcing the historian to stretch his available hagiographic material in his account of the late fourth century.

Finally, there are also traces of an alternative point of origin for the see of Ctesiphon in the reports of the squabbles of Miles and Papas, which were invoked against the catholicos and may have emerged from a real contest for power in the early fourth century. However, these dissident claims were spectacularly inverted by the supporters of Dadishoʿ in 424. This story continued to be contested and reworked in later centuries, and it provided a focal point for interlinked discourses of authority and dissent. The obscure figure of Papas also provided a vehicle for other claims about the past and confirmation from the West, where the indigenous histories of Gundishapur were incorporated into a tradition focused on the catholicoi, and where the city’s Western connections rendered it a guarantor of Ctesiphon’s authority rather than a challenge to it.


(1) Bishop of the Jacobite East, second only to the patriarch of Antioch. See W. Hage, Die syrisch-jakobitisch Kirche in frühislamischer Zeit: nach orientalischen Quellen (Wiesbaden, 1966), 23–32.

(2) On his career see H. Takahashi, Barhebraeus: A Bio-bibliography (Piscataway, NJ, 2005).

(3) See esp. Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 67–73 on Barsauma and sites of resistance against him. On Mar Mattai and its rivalry with Takrit see Hage, Die syrisch-jakobitisch Kirche, 38.

(4) B. Holmberg, ‘A reconsideration of the Kitab al-Magdal’, PdO 18 (1993), 256–73 argues that the chronicle in the text attributed to Mari was written c.1000 and embedded later in this religious encyclopaedia, because of the author’s claims to be an eyewitness to these events and the text’s theological vocabulary. He also questions the identification of the authors, though I refer to them by their traditional names because no other works are attributed to either men.

(5) This description is based on G. Putrus, Kitab al-Magdal (Paris, Sorbonne, unpublished PhD thesis, 1968), 8–12 and 51–65, who chiefly consulted MS Paris Arabe 190. Also see Assemani, BO IIIa, 554–5 and 582; G. Graf, La littérature nestorienne, tr. J. Sanders (Heemstede, 1985), 140–3 and E. Yousif, Les chroniqueurs syriaques (Paris, 2002), 377–9. G. Westphal, Untersuchungen über die Quellen und die Glaubwürdigkeit der Patriarchenchroniken des Marī ibn Sulaimān, ʿAmr ibn Mattai und Ṣalība ibn Joḥannān. Abschnitt 1 Bis zum Beginn des Nestorianischen Streites (Kirchain, 1901) remains thought-provoking. All manuscripts of Mari are eighteenth-century copies.

(6) Putrus, Kitab al-Magdal, 23; Assemani, BO IIIa, 586–9; Graf, Littérature nestorienne, 166–7. Compare the claims of the patriarch Timothy, Letter 26.

(7) Putrus, Kitab al-Magdal, 25–9.

(8) E.g. the Life of the monastic founder Abraham of Kashkar: Mari, HE, 52/45–6.

(9) In passages similar to the lists of churchmen in the Chronicle of Seert (e.g. I/i, VIII (236); XXV (292).

(10) For the speeches see ʿAmr, HE, 15–6/9 and 24/14. See HE, 21/12 for the description of Tomarsa.

(11) Letter from Fiey to Haddad (1988). See further H. Teule, ‘L’abrégé de la chronique ecclésiastique Muhtasar al-akhbar al-biʿiyya et la chronique de Séert: quelques sondages’, in Debié, L’historiographie syriaque, 161–77.

(12) Haddad Chronicle, XIX and XX (35).

(13) Haddad Chronicle, LXXVII–LXXXIII (116–22).

(14) I. Guidi, ‘Nomina Catholicorum’, Rendiconti: Reale Accademia dei Lincei, ser. 4, vol. 2, pt. 2 (1885–6), 556–7 (I am grateful to Scott McDonough for providing a copy of this text); R. Ebied and M. Young, ‘List of the Nestorian patriarchs’, LM 87 (1974), 87–113; Solomon of Basra, Book of the Bee, LI (tr. E. Wallace-Budge, 116–20).

(15) E.g. Chronicle of Seert, I/i, IX (237–9), where the influx of the Manichees is used to explain the persecutions of Vahram II.

(16) E.g. Chronicle of Seert, II/i, XVII (132) where the Hephthalites are referred to as ‘Turks’, though they are ‘Hefṭārīn’ at II/i, XII (124); II/ii, LXXVI (514) for the anachronistic use of ‘Mosul’ instead of Nineveh.

(17) Wiessner, Martyrenüberlieferung, 74 notes the presence of ‘unworked’ lists of martyrs in the Acts of Symeon B, 779–82 and lists of martyrs read from the diptychs would continue to be a major feature of the liturgy: J.-M. Fiey, ‘Diptyques nestoriens du XIVe siècle’, AB 81 (1963), 371–414. Bishop lists had always been an important source for ecclesiastical historians and religious commentators: H. Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church in the First Three Centuries, tr. J. Baker (London, 1967), 163–73 and R. L. Williams, Bishop Lists: The Formation of Ecclesiastical Succession in Ecclesiastical Crises (Piscataway, NJ, 2005). Such lists were also important early sources in West Syrian historiography: see Debié, ‘Record-keeping’.

(18) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXIX (325). Wiessner, Martyrenüberlieferung, 276–9 observes that the Arbelan hagiograpahies, such as the Acts of John of Arbela, are ‘worked-up’ versions of lists of names from the diptychs, to which narrative has later been added.

(19) Guidi’s list, which is the earliest record of the catholicoi, begins with Papas, rather than the earlier apocryphal figures found in (e.g.) the Haddad Chronicle.

(20) Labourt, Le christianisme, 132 and143.

(21) After this there is a narrative of the flight of the followers of Nestorius from Edessa, before the text concludes with the catholicoi up to Gregory of Pherat. This points to a final date for the continuation of the text during Babai the great’s stewardship. It also includes an alternative list of incumbents between Barbaʿshemin and Qayoma.

(22) The different styles of the section on Babowai (Chronicle of Seert, II/i, I), with its interest in the court and its AG dating (i.e. the Seleucid era), may demonstrate that material for this catholicos was rewritten later, or that ‘the Acacian history’ did not come up to the composer’s own time.

(23) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LIX (305) and LXIII (315). Higgins, ‘Metropolitans’, 49 and 61 discusses the specifically chronographic problems related to these reigns.

(24) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXVII (317–18).

(25) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXVII (324–5) and LXIX (327–8).

(26) Mari, HE, 29–31/25–7. ʿAmr, HE, 22–3/13 follows the Chronicle of Seert but adds long invented speeches for Qayoma and Yazdegard.

(27) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXXXII (328–9).

(28) Mari, HE, 33/28–9.

(29) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LX (307–8).

(30) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXI (308–9).

(31) This association may precede the creation of the Acacian history.

(32) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXII (310–12).

(33) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LIX (305); Mari, HE, 28/24; ʿAmr, HE, 21/12.

(34) Chronicle of Seert, I/ii, LXVIII (321–2). This life was treated by the compilers as one of ‘the famous men of the time’: ʿAmr, HE, 25/15, brackets him with John Chrysostom and places the reference to him in the reign of Ishaq.

(35) Mari, HE, 42/36–7.

(36) A. Vööbus, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient. Volume II: Early Monasticism in Mesopotamia and Syria (Louvain, 1960), 266–72 observes the striking omission of any material on ʿAbda by Barhadbeshaba or by Ishoʿdnah of Basra, both of whom purport to cover this period. On Awgin, see Chapter 8, under ‘A new history of monasticism: the Nestorians in the West’.

(37) Syndoicon, 44 and 49.

(38) Synodicon, 45–6.

(39) He is mentioned third in the signatory list of the 420 synod (Synodicon, 44). He may have been appointed to Beth Lapet by Ishaq, since the see lay vacant in 410, though the catholicos asserted its theoretical authority over the other sees of Khuzistan (Synodicon, 33).

(40) The text reads ‘patriarch’, but this must be a later addition.

(41) Synodicon, 46–8.

(42) Synodicon, 49–51.

(43) Acts of Miles, 263–6.

(44) Notably, he is not referred to as a catholicos, which further indicates an early date for this section of the text.

(45) Acts of Miles, 266–7. This sentence implies that these other bishops ought not to be subject to Ctesiphon, in contrast to the normal assumptions of the fifth-century sources.

(46) Acts of Miles, 267–8.

(47) Acts of Miles, 268–75. Miles, Aborsima, and Sina are also included in the primary list of confessors: 411 Martyrion, 23.

(48) Labourt, Le christianisme, 23.

(49) See S. P. Brock, ‘Saints in Syriac: a little-tapped resource’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 16 (2008), 181–96.

(50) The accumulation of new scenes in the Acts and the transmission of the Acts in a Miles cycle with other shorter martyr acts in much later manuscripts demonstrate the story’s continuing appeal. See Wiessner, Martyrenüberlieferung, 283 for the Acts of Daniel and Warda and their circulation alongside the Acts of Miles.

(51) Aphrahat, Demonstration X, 3.

(52) Aphrahat, Demonstration XIV, 3.

(53) Aphrahat, Demonstration XIV, 5 (and 25).

(54) Aphrahat, Demonstration XIV, 24.

(55) Demonstration X is dated to 336/7 and XIV to 343/4, based on Aphrahat’s own statements. Therefore, Labourt, Le christianisme, 26 suggests that the Demonstration XIV was directed against Symeon bar Sebba‘e. J.-M. Fiey, ‘Notule de la littérature syriaque’, LM 81 (1968), 449–54 argues that Demonstration XIV should be dated to the reign of Papas (i.e. before 329) and that the colophon date reflects the point of compilation.

(56) Synodicon, 47.

(57) The ideas developed in this synod were enshrined in a brief forgery, the Second Letter of the Western Fathers, which circulated independently from the Synodicon itself: Fiey, Jalons, 69 note 20. The idea of the Western confirmation of Papas is also invoked in the eleventh-century canons of Ibn al-Tayyib, Fiqh al-Naṣrānīya (ed. and tr. W. Hoenerbach and O. Spies), II, 116.

(58) Haddad Chronicle, XCVIII (158–9).

(59) Haddad Chronicle, XCVIII (159).

(60) Haddad Chronicle, XCVIII (159–60). Mari, HE, 9/7 includes a précis of a very similar account, though he also includes the miracles of Miles, probably derived from his Acts: another testimony to the saint’s very long-lasting popularity. Conversely, ʿAmr and Bar Hebraeus do not mention Miles by name at all.

(61) Haddad Chronicle, XCVII (158). Mari, HE, 9/7 also notes the list of shahs contemporary with Papas, who have probably been derived from a comparative chronological table similar to Eusebius’ Chronicon.

(62) Haddad Chronicle, XCVIII (159); ʿAmr, HE, 14/9; Mari, HE, 9/7; Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XXVIII (277); Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 27. Given the importance of Nicaea to the Church of the East after 410, these histories could well depend on earlier inventions from the fifth century.

(63) Bar Habraeus, HE, III, 31.

(64) Given that ‘Papas’ is probably a composite figure combining the memories of many bishops of Ctesiphon, the historical Symeon may not have been the immediate successor of Miles’ opponent.

(65) Synodicon, 47; Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 33.

(66) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XXVII (296).

(67) The idea of Symeon’s election by the dissidents may also point to the use of the Symeon tradition to criticize his successors who were accused of straying from his example, as I have argued for the Acts of Symeon B in the reigns of Narsai and Elishe.

(68) Ibn al-Tayyib, Fiqh al-Na ṣrānīya, I, 90–1 also reports that the Western letter confirmed Symeon.

(69) See chapters 2 and 5, this volume.

(70) Haddad Chronicle, XCVII (158); Mari, HE, 9/7 ʿAmr, HE, 14/8.

(71) Haddad Chronicle, XCVII (158). P. Peeters, ‘Demetrianus, évêque d’Antioche?’, AB 42 (1924), 288–314 argues that Daniel bar Maryam has suppressed the meeting of Demetrianus and Papas in the account used by the Chronicle of Seert. However, the reference to Demetrianus that uses Daniel in I/i, II is only given as additional information and Daniel is not the main source of the section. I suspect that the Chronicle did include the scene in a section on Papas that was placed before the beginning of the text as it stands.

(72) G. Amadouni, L’autocephalie du Katholicat arménien, OCA 181 (1968), 137–78 and Fiey, Jalons, 69–72.

(73) Synodicon 33, canon 21; Symeon B, 959.

(74) Bar Hebraeus, HE, III, 27.

(75) R. Wenke, ‘Elymaeans, Parthians and the evolution of empires in southwestern Iran’, JAOS 101 (1981), 303–13, esp. the map on 308. He emphasizes the transition from a linear distribution of settlement size to a primate distribution, skewed by certain major sites such as Gundishapur. Also see R. Wenke, ‘Parthian and Sasanian Khuzistan’, Mesopotamia 10 (1975), 31–217, esp. 134 for the city as an uncompleted project, and R. Adams and D. Hansen, ‘Archaeological reconnaissance and soundings in Jundi-Shapur’, Ars Orientalis 7 (1968), 158–70. D. Potts, The Archaeology of Elam (Cambridge, 1999), 421, sees Gundishapur as the continuation of an older settlement on etymological grounds.

(76) 411 Synaxarion, 24; Acts of Symeon B, 781.

(77) Wiessner, Martyrenüberlieferung, 128–44.

(78) Acts of Symeon B, 958.

(79) The hagiography of these regions is also probably later. Wiessner, Martyrenüberlieferung, 280–1 sees the Arbela cycle as the expansion of a simple list into a hagiographic collection, modelled on southern precedents.

(80) J.-M. Fiey, ‘L’Elam: la première des métropoles ecclésiastiques syriennes orientales’, Melto 5 (1969), 221–69 and PdO 1 (1970), 123–55, at 234–5; Potts, Elam, 419–22; C. Jullien and F. Jullien, Aux origines de l’église perse: les actes de Mar Mari (Louvain, 2003), 16–17. See also Chronicle of Seert, I/i, XXIII (288) for Shapur II’s foundation of Karka de Ledan and the later movement of the population to Susa.

(81) Chronicle of Seert I/i, VIII (236): Gadiab of Gundishapur, Abraham of Shushtar and Miles of Susa (half of the list of six).

(82) Synodicon, 44.

(83) On the deportations in general see C. Jullien, ‘La minorité chrétienne grecque en terre d’Iran à l’époque sasanide’, in R. Gyselen (ed.), Les chrétiens en terre de l’Iran (Yves, 2006), 105–43.

(84) Chronicle of Seert, I/i, II (221). It is worth comparing this to a later note on Khusrau I’s sack of Antioch in 540 and his foundation of Rumagan, which is much more brief: Chronicle of Seert, II/i, XXXII (182).

(85) The fifth- or sixth-century text, the Martyrs of Beth Zabde, continued to celebrate its heroes and its audience as ‘sons of the captivity’ and imagines a third-century community led by its exiled bishops, Heliodorus and Dausas. On the descendants of Roman captives, see further Smith, Persian Persecution, ch. 6.

(86) Eusebius, HE, VII, xxvii. Also see P. Peeters, ‘Demetrianus’, in Acta Sanctorum (Brussels), Nov, IV, 308–11.