Dionysius I Telmaharoyo

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Dionysius I Telmaharoyo
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Church Syriac Orthodox Church
See Antioch
Installed 818
Predecessor Quriaqos
Successor John III
Personal details
Born Tel Mahre, Syria

Dionysius I Telmaharoyo (Latin: Dionysius Telmaharensis) was the Patriarch of Antioch, and head of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 818 until his death in 845. He was also the author of the Annals, an important world history, now lost, which was used as a source by the twelfth-century Jacobite historian Michael the Syrian. Dionysius was credited by Joseph Simon Assemani with the authorship of the Zuqnin Chronicle, an anonymous eighth-century Syriac history, but this attribution is now known to have been mistaken.

Early life[edit]

Dionysius was born in the village of Tel Mahre, near Raqqa on the Balikh River, into a wealthy Eddessene family. He studied philology, jurisprudence, philosophy and theology at the Monastery of Qenneshrin before becoming a monk there. In 815 the Monastery of Qenneshrin was badly damaged by fire and Dionysius moved northwards to the Monastery of Mar Jacob of Kaishum, near Samosata. In both monasteries he devoted himself to the study of history, and by 818 had gained a reputation as a scrupulous historian.[1]

During the reign of the previous patriarch, Quriaqos of Tagrit, there was a dispute concerning use of the phrase 'heavenly bread' in connection with the Eucharist. When Quriaqos tried to prevent the use of the phrase, his opponents responded by electing an anti-patriarch, Abraham (or Abarim) of Qartmin. Abraham consecrated several metropolitans, who championed the use of the phrase 'heavenly bread' despite its condemnation by Quriaqos and many of his own metropolitans and bishops.[2]

After Quriaqos died in August 817, forty-eight bishops convened a synod in June 818 at Raqqa in which they reiterated their opposition to the use of the phrase 'heavenly bread' and discussed the candidate for the partriarchy. After considerable discussion, the bishop Theodore of Kaishum proposed the election of Dionysius, whom he knew well . His proposal was approved by most of the bishops present, including the maphrian Basil I.[3]

Despite only being an initiate monk, Dionysius was brought to Raqqa, received deacon's orders on Friday 30 July in the monastery of the Column and priest's orders on Saturday 31 July in the Monastery of Mar Zakkai, and was consecrated patriarch in the Jacobite cathedral in Raqqa on Sunday 1 August 818 by the metropolitan Theodosius of Callinicus.[4] Afterwards, Abraham and his supporters continued their opposition against Dionysius, which led to scandalous scenes before the Muslim authorities.

Patriarch of Antioch[edit]

Immediately after his installation, Dionysius commenced a visitation of his vast diocese, going first northwards to Cyrrhus, thence to Antioch, Qirqisiya, the district of the Khabur, Nisibin, Dara and Kfartutha, after which he returned to Raqqa, where he enjoyed the protection of Emir Abdallah ibn Tahir against his rival Abraham. He did not on this occasion visit Mosul and Tagrit, because the maphrian Basil thought the times unfavourable.[5]

In 825 ʿAbdallah ibn Tahir was sent to Egypt to put down the rebellion of ʿObaidallah ibn al-Sari, and remained there as governor until 827. His brother, Muhammad ibn Tahir, who was by no means as well disposed towards the Christians, destroyed all that they had been allowed to build in Edessa. Dionysius went to Egypt to beg the Abdallah to write to his brother and bid him moderate his zeal against the Church; which he accordingly did.[6]

On his return from Egypt Dionysius had troubles with Philoxenus, bishop of Nisibis, who supported the cause of the anti-patriarch Abraham;[7] and he then went to Baghdad in 829 to confer with the caliph al-Ma'mun as to an edict that he had issued on the occasion of dissensions between the Palestinian and Babylonian Jews regarding the appointment of an exilarch.[8] During his stay in the capital disputes took place among the Christians, which ended in a reference to the caliph and in the deposition of the bishop Laʿzar bar Sabtha of Baghdad. From Baghdad Dionysius proceeded to Tagrit and Mosul, and consecrated Daniel as maphrian in place of the deceased Basil.[9]

In 830 al-Ma'mun launched an invasion of Byzantine Anatolia and the patriarch tried to see him on his return at Kaishum, but the caliph had hurried on to Damascus, whither Dionysius followed him and accompanied him to Egypt on a mission to the Bashmuric Copts, who were then in rebellion. Any efforts of his and of the Egyptian patriarch were, however, of no avail, and the unfortunate rebels suffered the last horrors of war at the hands of al-Ma'mun and his general Afshin.[10] On this journey Dionysius saw and examined the obelisks of Heliopolis, the pyramids and the Nilometer.[11]

In 834 Dionysius revisited Tagrit, where he settled a dispute over ecclesiastical precedence between the Jacobites of Tagrit and the monks of the monastery of Mar Mattai near Mosul. The maphrian Daniel of Tagrit (830–34) had recently died, and during the vacancy that followed his death the monks of Mar Mattai pressed for equal status for their own metropolitan. Dionysius reaffirmed the maphrian's primacy in the eastern provinces of the Syrian Orthodox Church, and consecrated Thomas (834–47) as Daniel's successor. In the same year he revisited Baghdad to pay his respects to the caliph al-Muʿtasim (833–42), who had recently succeeded al-Ma'mun. In Baghdad he met the son of the king of Nubia, who had come on the same errand.[12]

Dionysius's final years were embittered by Muslim oppression. According to Bar Hebraeus, many Christians had their property confiscated, and Dionysius was angered both at the injustice of Muslim policy and at his own inability to protect the Christians. In the final sentences of his lost Annals, he complained about his lot to John of Dara and prayed for an early death to release him from his troubles:

At the same time the Arabs heaped calamity after calamity upon the Christians everywhere with their intolerable confiscations of property. Dionysius wrote about this to John of Dara: 'I do not think it necessary to burden your understanding by enumerating all the calamities that afflict me, so that I spend every night without sleeping and every day without rest. I will pass over all those worries and cares that wear me down, which burn my heart and waste my body (for my bones decay in response to the grief in my heart). I therefore weep and lament my life, unlucky man that I am, since because of my sins I am forced to drink this cup, so that I suffer and my heart is choked with grief whenever my eyes see the disasters and sufferings inflicted upon the sons of the Church. From day to day our evils increase, and only one release is left to me from them, that of death, which I thirst for as a good and welcome thing.' In these words that blessed man finished his chronicle.[13][original research?]

Dionysius died on 22 August 845, and was buried in the monastery of Qenneshrin, which had been restored since the fire of 815.[14]

His literary achievement[edit]

His authorship of the Annals[edit]

Dionysius was the author of an important world history, the Annals, which has perished apart for some passages quoted in the anonymous Chronicle of 1234 (mistakenly attributed in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica to Bar Hebraeus) and by Michael the Syrian. He is also quoted occasionally by the eleventh-century Nestorian writer Elijah of Nisibis.[15] According to Michael the Syrian, the Annals consisted of two parts, each divided into eight chapters, and covered a period of 260 years, from the accession of the Roman emperor Maurice in 582 to the death of the emperor Theophilus in 842.[16]

For events in the 7th and 8th century, Dionysius made use of the chronicle of the Maronite historian Theophilus of Edessa (695–785). However, he criticised this source for its chronological inaccuracies and poor organisation. As a good Jacobite, he was also distressed on occasion by the Maronite theological slant given by Theophilus to his material, and complained that his narrative 'deviated from the truth'. Nevertheless, Dionysius appears to have made greater use of the chronicle of Theophilus than his Greek contemporary Theophanes the Confessor and the eleventh-century Christian Arab historian Agapius of Hierapolis, who also used material from Theophilus in their own histories.[17]

The British scholar Andrew Palmer has attempted to reconstitute part of the original text of the Annals by extracting passages known to be dependent on Dionysius of Tel Mahre from the histories of Michael the Syrian and other Jacobite authors.[18][page needed]

His imputed authorship of the Zuqnin Chronicle[edit]

Dionysius has been mistakenly credited with the authorship of the Zuqnin Chronicle, an eighth-century history in Syriac by an unknown author. In 1715 the Maronite scholar Joseph Simon Assemani discovered a manuscript (now MS Vatican Syriac 162) in the monastery of Saint Mary of the Syrians (Deir al-Suryani) in the Nitrian Desert in Egypt, containing what he thought was a partial text of the Annals of Dionysius. He published a number of extracts from this manuscript in his Bibliotheca Orientalis (ii. 72–7 and 98–116), attributing them to Dionysius of Tel Mahre. Two partial editions of the text of MS Vatican Syriac 162 published in the nineteenth century (by the Swedish scholar Otto Fredrik Tullberg in 1850 and by Jean-Baptiste Chabot in 1895) also credited Dionysius with its authorship. In 1896 the scholars François Nau and Theodor Nöldeke demonstrated independently that Assemani's attribution of the text to Dionysius was mistaken. The Zuqnin Chronicle appears to have been written towards the end of the eighth century (several decades before Dionysius wrote the Annals) by a monk of the Jacobite monastery of Zuqnin near Amid (Diyarbakir). For much of the twentieth century it was formally known as the Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel Mahre, but is now usually referred to as the Chronicle of Zuqnin or the Zuqnin Chronicle. Its authorship has been attributed by some scholars to Joshua the Stylite, a monk of the monastery of Zuqnin who is known to have written a Syriac history; but this identification, while plausible, is not certain.[19]



  1. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 347–9
  2. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 342
  3. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 346–8
  4. ^ Michael the Syrian, Chronicle, iii. 43; Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 350–2
  5. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 353
  6. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 369
  7. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 363
  8. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 365
  9. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 365–71
  10. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 373
  11. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 374–82
  12. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 382–4
  13. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 384–6
  14. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, i. 386
  15. ^ Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 417
  16. ^ Michael the Syrian, Chronicle, iii. 111
  17. ^ Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 418
  18. ^ Palmer, The Seventh Century in the West Syrian Chronicles, 85–221.[page needed]
  19. ^ Witakowski, Pseudo-Dionysius, xix–xxiii


  • Abbeloos, Jean Baptiste; Lamy, Thomas Joseph, eds. (1877). Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum (3 vols). Paris. 
  • Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, Patriarche Jacobite d'Antioche (1166-1199). Éditée pour la première fois et traduite en francais I-IV (1899;1901;1905;1910; a supplement to volume I containing an introduction to Michael and his work, corrections, and an index, was published in 1924. Reprinted in four volumes 1963, 2010).
  • Hoyland, R. G., Seeing Islam as Others Saw It (Princeton, 1997).
  • Palmer, Andrew, The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles (Liverpool, 1993)
  • Witakowski, Witold, Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, Chronicle, Part III (Liverpool,1996)

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Quriaqos of Tagrit
Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch
Succeeded by
John III