Asōristān

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This article is about Sasanian Assyria. For Parthian-era Assyria, see Osroene.
Asōristān
Province of the Sasanian Empire

226–637
Location of Babylon
Map of Asoristan and its surrounding provinces
Capital Ctesiphon
Historical era Late Antiquity
 •  Sassanian conquest 226
 •  1st Muslim campaign 633
 •  2nd Muslim campaign 637
Today part of  Iraq
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Detail from the Ishtar Gate
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Classical antiquity
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This article is part of the series on the

History of the
Assyrian people

medieval icon depicting Ephrem the Syrian.

Early history

Old Assyrian period (20th–15th c. BC)
Aramaeans (14th–9th c. BC)
Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–612 BC)
Achaemenid Assyria (539–330 BC)

Classical Antiquity

Seleucid Empire (312–63 BC)
Osroene (132 BC – 244 AD)
Syrian Wars (66 BC – 217 AD)
Roman Syria (64 BC – 637 AD)
Adiabene (15–116 AD)
Roman Assyria (116–118)
Christianization (1st to 3rd c.)
Nestorian Schism (5th c.)
Asuristan (226–651)
Byzantine–Sasanian wars (502–628)

Middle Ages

Muslim conquest of Syria (630s)
Abbasid rule (750–1258)
Emirs of Mosul (905–1383)
Buyid amirate of Iraq (945–1055)
Principality of Antioch (1098–1268)
Ilkhanate Empire (1258–1335)
Jalayirid Sultanate (1335–1432)
Kara Koyunlu (1375–1468)
Aq Qoyunlu (1453–1501)

Modern History

Safavid Empire (1508-1555)
Ottoman Empire (1555–1917)
Schism of 1552 (16th c.)
Massacres of Badr Khan (1840s)
Massacres of Diyarbakir (1895)
Rise of nationalism (19th c.)
Adana Massacre (1909)
Assyrian genocide (1914–1920)
Independence movement (since 1919)
Simele massacre (1933)
Post-Saddam Iraq (since 2003)

See also

Assyrian continuity
Assyrian diaspora

Asōristān (Middle Persian: 𐭠𐭮𐭥𐭥𐭮𐭲𐭭 Asōristān / Asōrestān) was (between 226 AD and 637 AD) the name of the Sasanian provinces of Assyria which included Babylonia to the south, although the name Asorestan technically meant only Assyria which was in fact just to the north of Babylonia.[1][2]

Asōristān was largely identical with ancient Mesopotamia.[1] The borders were, in the west, the Euphrates and, in the east, a strip of land east of the Tigris.[1] The northern border probably went along a line from Diyarbakir, through Harran to the Hakkari mountains.[1]

Asoristan (meaning the land of the Assyrians in Persian) was the capital province of the Sasanian Empire and was called Del-i Ērānshahr (lit. "The Heart of Iran") in Persian.[2] The city of Ctesiphon served as the capital of both the Parthian and Sasanian empires, and was for some time the largest city in the world.[3] The main language spoken by the indigenous Assyrian population was Eastern Aramaic, with the Assyrian founded Syriac dialect becoming an important vehicle for Christianity, with the Church of the East being founded in Assyria.[4]

During the Parthian Empire (150 BC - 225 AD) the land had been known as Athura (eastern Aramaic for Assyria). The Parthians had exercised only loose control at times, allowing for a number of Syriac speaking Assyrian kingdoms to flourish in Upper Mesopotamia, the independent Osroene, as well as the districts of Adiabene and the partly Assyrian state of Hatra. The Sassanids conquered Assyria and Mesopotamia from the Parthians during the 220's AD, and by 260 AD had abolished these Assyrian mini-states, with the 3000 year old city of Ashur being sacked in 256 AD. Some regions appear to have remained partly autonomous as late as the latter part of the 4th century AD, with an Assyrian king named Sennacherib II reputedly ruling a part of Assyria in the 370's AD.

Between 633 and 638 AD, the region was invaded by the Muslim Arabs, and annexed by the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate and together with Mayshan became the province of al-'Irāq. Asoristan was devolved by 639 AD, bringing an end to over 3,000 years of Assyria as a Geo-Political entity. A century later, the area became the capital province of the Abbasid Caliphate and the centre of Islamic civilization for five hundred years; from the 8th to the 13th centuries.

After the Arab Islamic Conquest Asoristan saw a gradual but large influx of Non-Indigenous Muslim peoples, firstly Arabs, but later also including Muslim Iranic and Turkic peoples.

The Assyrian population (known as Ashuriyun by the Arabs) continued to endure, rejecting Arabization and Islamification, and continued to form the majority population of the north as late as the 14th century AD, until the religiously motivated massacres of Tamurlane drastically reduced their numbers and led to the city of Ashur being finally abandoned. After this the Assyrians became the ethnic, linguistic and religious minority in their homeland that they are to this day.

Name[edit]

The Parthian name Asōristān (𐭀𐭎𐭅𐭓𐭎𐭕𐭍; also spelled Asoristan, Asuristan, Asurestan, Assuristan) is known from Shapur I's inscription on the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht, and from the inscription of Narseh at Paikuli.[1] The adjective āsōrīg in Middle Persian accordingly means “Assyrian”.[1] The region was also called several other names: Assyria, Athura Bēṯ Aramāyē (Classical Syriac: ܒܝܬ ܐܪܡܝܐ), Bābēl / Bābil, and Erech / Erāq. After the mid-6th century it was also called Khvārvarān in Persian.

The name Asōrestān is a compound of Asōr ("Assyria") and the Iranian suffix -estān ("land of"). The name Assyria, in the form Asōrestān, was shifted to include ancient Babylonia by the Parthians, and this continued under the Sasanians.[5] The historical country of Assyria (Athura), however, lay to the north of Babylonian Asorestan, in the independent frontier province of Osroene.[6]

Population[edit]

The population of Asorestan was a mixed one, the north was composed mostly of indigenous Assyrians, while the ethnically and linguistically identical Babylonians lived in the south, Arameans and Nabateans dwelt in the far southwestern deserts, and Persians, Armenians, Jews and Mandeans lived throughout Mesopotamia.[1] The Greek element in the southern cities, still strong in the Parthian period, was absorbed by the Semites in Sasanian times.[1] The majority of the population were Assyrian people, speaking Eastern Aramaic dialects. As the breadbasket of the Sasanian Empire, most of the population were engaged in agriculture or worked as soldiers, traders and merchants. The Persians were found in the administrative class of society, as army officers, civil servants, and feudal lords, living partly in the country, partly in Ctesiphon.[1]

Language[edit]

At least three dialects of Eastern Aramaic were in spoken and liturgical use: Syriac mainly in the north and among Assyrian Christians (the terms Syrian and Syriac originally being Indo-European derivatives of Assyrian), Mandaic in the north and then south and among the Mandaeans, and a dialect in the central region, of which the Judaic subvariety is known as Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. In addition, the native population spoke colloquial dialects of Akkadian infused and influenced Mesopotamian Eastern Aramaic, descended from the Imperial Aramaic introduced by Tiglath-pileser III as the lingua franca of Assyria and the Neo Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BC. These dialects survive to this day among the modern Assyrians, with estimates ranging from 577,000 to 1,000,000 fluent speakers, with a far smaller number of speakers of Mandaic still extant.

Aside from the liturgical scriptures of these religions which exist today, archaeological examples of all three of these dialects can be found in the collections of thousands of Aramaic incantation bowls—ceramic artifacts dated to this era—discovered in Iraq. While the Jewish Aramaic script retained the original "square" or "block" form of the Aramaic alphabet used in Imperial Aramaic (the Ashuri alphabet), the Syriac alphabet and the Mandaic alphabet developed when cursive styles of Aramaic began to appear. The Mandaic script itself developed from the Parthian chancellery script.

Religion[edit]

The religious demography of Mesopotamia was very diverse during Late Antiquity. From the 1st and 2nd centuries Syriac Christianity became the primary religion, while other groups practiced Mandaeism, Judaism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and the ancient Assyro-Babylonian Mesopotamian religion.[7] Assyrian Christians were probably the most numerous group in the province.[7]

Mesopotamian Religion[edit]

The old Mesopotamian religion of the indigenous Assyrians and Babylonians remained strong in places, particularly in the north, in Assyria proper. Temples were still being dedicated to Ashur, Shamash, Ishtar, Sin, Hadad and Ninurta in Assur, Arbela, Edessa, Amid, Nohadra and Harran among other places, during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and traces would survive into the 10th century in remote parts of Assyria.[8]

Christianity[edit]

Asorestan, and particularly Assyria proper, were the centers for the Church of the East (now the Assyrian Church of the East, with more modern offshoots being the Chaldean Catholic Church and Ancient Church of the East), which at times (partially due to the vast areas the Sasanian empire covered) was the most widespread Christian church in the world, reaching well into Central Asia, China, Mongolia and India. It sees as its founders the apostle Thomas (Mar Toma), and Saint Thaddeus (Mar Addai), and uses the distinctly Assyrian Syriac version of Eastern Aramaic for its scriptures. One of the central scriptures of the Church of the East, the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, is one of the oldest Eucharistic prayers in the Christianity, composed around the year 200 AD. The Church of the East went through major consolidation and expansion in 410 during the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, held at the Sasanian capital (in Asorestan). Selucia-Ctesiphon remained a location of the Patriarchate of the Church of the East for over 600 years. The three million or so Assyrians of the Near East still remain Eastern Rite Christians to this day.

Mandaeism[edit]

The Mandaean religion, whose adherents according to their traditions are the original followers of John the Baptist, and who are considered to be the only surviving Gnostic group in the world, also originated in the region at this time (or slightly earlier during the Parthian era). Their language and script was the Mandaic form of Aramaic. Two of their central works, both written within the 2nd and 3rd centuries, are the Ginza Rabba and the Mandaean Book of John (preserving original traditions about John the Baptist). The Mandean population numbers no more than 50,000 to 75,000 today.

Manichaeism[edit]

The religion of Manichaeism, founded by Mani (216–276), originated in 3rd century Asorestan, and spread across a vast geographical area. In some instances, Manichaeism even surpassed the Church of the East in its reach, as it was for a time also widespread in the Roman Empire. While none of the six original Syriac scriptures of the Manichaeans have survived in their entirety, a long Syriac section of one of their works detailing key beliefs was preserved by Theodore Bar Konai (a Church of the East author from Beth Garmaï), in his book Ketba Deskolion written in about 792. Like the Church of the East, the traditional center of the Manichaean church was in Seleucia-Ctesiphon.[9] Mani dedicated his only Middle Persian writing, the Shāpuragān, to Shapur I.

Judaism[edit]

Babylonia remained the center of Judaism in the world. The major book defining Rabbinic Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud, was written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic in Asorestan between the 3rd and 5th centuries. The Babylonian Talmudic academies were all established relatively near to Seleucia-Ctesiphon. The first Talmudic academy was founded in Sura by Rav (175–247) in about 220. One of the most influential Talmudic teachers, Rava (270–350), who was influenced by both Manichaean polemic and Zoroastrian theology, studied in another Talmudic academy at Pumbedita.

Zoroastrianism[edit]

The Sasanian state religion, Zoroastrianism, was largely confined to the Persian administrative class, and did not filter down to the Assyrian population.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "ĀSŌRISTĀN". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 15 July 2013. ĀSŌRISTĀN, name of the Sasanian province of Babylonia. 
  2. ^ a b Buck, Christopher (1999). Paradise and Paradigm: Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Baháí̕ Faith. SUNY Press. p. 69. ISBN 9780791497944. 
  3. ^ Rosenberg, Matt T. (2007). "Largest Cities Through History". New York: About.com. 
  4. ^ Khanbaghi, Aptin. The Fire, the Star and the Cross: Minority Religions in Medieval and Early Modern Iran. I.B. Tauris. p. 6. ISBN 9781845110567. 
  5. ^ Panaino, Antonio C.D.; Pettinato, Giovanni (2002). Ideologies as Intercultural Phenomena. Melammu Project. p. 76. ISBN 9788884831071. 
  6. ^ The Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. to the Present, Part 25. Richard Ernest Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt Dupuy. Harper & Row, 1970. Page 115.
  7. ^ a b c Etheredge, Laura (2011). Iraq. Rosen Publishing. p. 72. ISBN 9781615303045. 
  8. ^ Georges Roux - Ancient Iraq
  9. ^ Gardner, Iain; Lieu, Samuel N.C. (2004). Manichaean Texts from the Roman Empire. Cambridge University Press. p. 43. ISBN 9780521568227.