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Edessa, Mesopotamia

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The heritage of Roman Edessa survives today in these columns at the site of Urfa Castle, dominating the skyline of the modern city of Şanlı Urfa.

Şanlıurfa Turkey Provinces locator

Shows the location of Edessa within modern Turkey.

Edessa (Ancient Greek: Ἔδεσσα) is the historical name of a Syriac[1][2][3] town in northern Mesopotamia, refounded on an ancient site by Seleucus I Nicator. For the modern history of the city, see Şanlıurfa.


The name under which Edessa figures in cuneiform inscriptions is unknown. In early Greek texts, the city is called Ορρα or Ορροα, transliterated Orrha or Orrhoa respectively, as the capital of the Kingdom of Osroe, named after its legendary founder Osroe, the Armenian form for Chosroes. The later native name was Edessa, which became in Syriac ܐܘܪܗܝ, transliterated Orhāy or Ourhoï, in Armenian it is Ուռհա , transliterated Urha or Ourha, in Arabic it is الرُّهَا, transliterated as Er Roha or Ar-Ruha, commonly Orfa, Turkish Urfa, Ourfa, Sanli Urfa, or Şanlıurfa ("Glorious Urfa"), its present name. Due to similarity of names, folk mythology in Islam connects Edessa with Ur as the abode of Abraham. Seleucus I Nicator, when he refounded the town as a military colony in 303 BC, mixing Greeks with its eastern population, called it Edessa, in memory of Edessa the ancient capital of Macedon. The name is also recorded as Callirrhoe, and under Antiochus IV Epiphanes the town was called Antiochia on the Callirhoe (Greek: Αντιόχεια η επί Καλλιρρόης) by colonists from Syrian Antioch (modern Antakya, Turkey) who had settled there. During Byzantine rule it was named Justinopolis. Its Kurdish name is Riha.


In the second half of the second century BC, as the Seleucid monarchy disintegrated in the wars with Parthia (145 –129), Edessa became the capital of the Abgar dynasty, who founded the Kingdom of Osroene (also known in history as Kingdom of Edessa). This kingdom was established by Nabataean or Arab tribes from North Arabia, and lasted nearly four centuries (c.132 BC to 214), under twenty-eight rulers, who sometimes called themselves "king" on their coinage. Edessa was at first more or less under the protectorate of the Parthians, then of Tigranes of Armenia, then from the time of Pompey under the Romans. Following its capture and sack by Trajan, the Romans even occupied Edessa from 116 to 118, although its sympathies towards the Parthians led to Lucius Verus pillaging the city later in the second century. From 212 to 214 the kingdom was a Roman province. Caracalla was assassinated in Edessa in 217.

The literary language of the tribes which had founded this kingdom, was Aramaic, whence came the Syriac. Traces of Hellenistic culture were soon overwhelmed in Edessa, whose dynasty employs Syriac legends on their coinage, with the exception of the Syriac client king Abgar IX (179-214), and there is a corresponding lack of Greek public inscriptions.[4]

Rebuilt by Emperor Justin, and called after him Justinopolis (Evagrius, Hist. Eccl., IV, viii), Edessa was taken in 609 by the Sassanid Persia, soon retaken by Heraclius, but lost to the Muslim army under Rashidun Caliphate during the Islamic conquest of Levant in 638 A.D. The Byzantines often tried to retake Edessa, especially under Romanus Lacapenus, who obtained from the inhabitants the "Holy Mandylion", or ancient portrait of Christ, and solemnly transferred it to Constantinople, August 16, 944. This was the final great achievement of Romanus' reign. For an account of this venerable and famous image, which was certainly at Edessa in 544, and of which there is an ancient copy in the Vatican Library, brought to the West by the Venetians in 1207, see Weisliebersdorf, Christus und Apostelbilder (Freiburg, 1902), and Ernst von Dobschütz, Christusbilder (Leipzig, 1899).

In 1031 Edessa was given up to the Byzantines under George Maniakes by its Arab governor. It was retaken by the Arabs, and then successively held by the Greeks, the Armenians, the Seljuk Turks (1087), the Crusaders (1099), who established there the County of Edessa and kept the city until 1144, when it was again captured by the Turk Zengi, and most of its inhabitants were slaughtered together with the Latin archbishop (see Siege of Edessa). These events are known to us chiefly through the Armenian historian Matthew, who had been born at Edessa. Since the twelfth century, the city has successively belonged to the Sultans of Aleppo, the Mongols, the Mameluks, and from 1517 to 1918 to the Ottoman Empire.


The precise date of the introduction of Christianity into Edessa is not known. However, there is no doubt that even before 190 A.D. Christianity had spread vigorously within Edessa and its surroundings and that (shortly after 201 or even earlier?) the royal house joined the church.[5] According to a legend first reported by Eusebius in the 4th century, King Abgar V Ukāmā was converted by Addai,[6] who was one of the seventy-two disciples, sent to him by "Judas, who is also called Thomas".. Yet various sources confirm that the Abgar who embraced the Christian faith was Abgar IX.[7][8][9] Under him Christianity became the official religion of the kingdom.[10] As for Addai, he was neither one of the seventy-two disciples as the legend asserts, nor was sent by Apostle Thomas, as Eusebius says[11], but a missionary from Palestine who evangelized Mesopotamia about the middle of the second century, and became the first bishop of Edessa. He was succeeded by Aggai, then by Palout (Palut) who was ordained about 200 by Serapion of Antioch. Thence came to us in the second century the famous Peshitta, or Syriac translation of the Old Testament; also Tatian's Diatessaron, which was compiled about 172 and in common use until St. Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa (412-435), forbade its use. Among the illustrious disciples of the School of Edessa Bardesanes (154 - 222), a schoolfellow of Abgar IX, deserves special mention for his role in creating Christian religious poetry, and whose teaching was continued by his son Harmonius and his disciples.

A Christian council was held at Edessa as early as 197.[12] In 201 the city was devastated by a great flood, and the Christian church was destroyed.[13] In 232 the relics of the Apostle St. Thomas were brought from Mylapore,India, on which occasion his Syriac Acts were written. Under Roman domination many martyrs suffered at Edessa: Sts. Scharbîl and Barsamya, under Decius; Sts. Gûrja, Schâmôna, Habib, and others under Diocletian. In the meanwhile Christian priests from Edessa had evangelized Eastern Mesopotamia and Persia, and established the first Churches in the kingdom of the Sassanids. Atillâtiâ, Bishop of Edessa, assisted at the Council of Nicaea (325). The Peregrinatio Silviae (or Etheriae)[14] gives an account of the many sanctuaries at Edessa about 388.

When Nisibis was ceded to the Persians in 363, Saint Ephrem the Syrian left his native town for Edessa, where he founded the celebrated School of the Persians. This school, largely attended by the Christian youth of Persia, and closely watched by St. Rabbula, the friend of St. Cyril of Alexandria, on account of its Nestorian tendencies, reached its highest development under Bishop Ibas, famous through the controversy of the Three Chapters, was temporarily closed in 457, and finally in 488, by command of Emperor Zeno and Bishop Cyrus, when the teachers and students of the School of Edessa repaired to Nisibis and became the founders and chief writers of the Nestorian Church in Persia.[15] Miaphysitism prospered at Edessa, even after the Arab conquest.

Under Byzantine rule, as metropolis of Osroene, it had eleven suffragan sees.[16] Lequien[17] mentions thirty-five Bishops of Edessa; yet his list is incomplete. The Eastern Orthodox episcopate seems to have disappeared after the eleventh century. Of its Jacobite bishops twenty-nine are mentioned by Lequien (II, 1429 sqq.), many others in the Revue de l'Orient chrétien (VI, 195), some in Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft (1899), 261 sqq. Moreover, Nestorian bishops are said to have resided at Edessa as early as the sixth century.


Famous individuals connected with Edessa include: Jacob Baradaeus, the real chief of the Syriac Miaphysites known after him as Jacobites; Stephen Bar Sudaïli, monk and pantheist, to whom was owing, in Palestine, the last crisis of Origenism in the sixth century; Jacob, Bishop of Edessa, a fertile writer (d. 708); Theophilus the Maronite, an astronomer, who translated into Syriac verse Homer's Iliad and Odyssey; the anonymous author of the Chronicon Edessenum (Chronicle of Edessa), compiled in 540; the writer of the story of "The Man of God", in the fifth century, which gave rise to the legend of St. Alexius. The oldest known dated Syriac manuscripts (AD 411 and 462), containing Greek patristic texts, come from Edessa.

See also


  1. "National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Time". Simo Parpola, Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, p. 20. "... several semi-independent kingdoms of decidedly Assyrian stamp and/or identity (Osrhoene, Adiabene, Hatra, Assur) popped up in the East..." 
  2. Aramaic (Assyrian/Syriac) Dictionary - s. 206, by Nicolas Awde..
  3. Evans, Craig A., The interpretation of scripture in early Judaism and Christianity, (T & T Clark International, 2000), 250.
  4. Bauer, Walter (1991) [1934]. "1 "Edessa"". Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. 
  5. von Harnack, Adolph (1905). The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries. Williams & Norgate. pp. 293. "there is no doubt that even before 190 A.D. Christianity had spread vigorously within Edessa and its surroundings and that (shortly after 201 or even earlier?) the royal house joined the church" 
  6. Herbermann, Charles George (1913). The Catholic Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Press. pp. 282. 
  7. Cheetham, Samuel (1905). A History of the Christian Church During the First Six Centuries. Macmillan and Co. pp. 58. 
  8. von Gutschmid, A. (7 1887). "Untersuchungen über die Geschichte des Könligliches Osroëne". Mémoires de l'Académie impériale des Sciences de St. Petersbourg (St. Petersburg, Russia) 35 (1). 
  9. Shahid, Irfan (1984). Rome and the Arabs. Dumbarton Oaks. pp. 109–112. 
  10. Lockyer, Herbert (1988). All the Apostles of the Bible. Zondervan. pp. 260. ISBN 0310280117. 
  11. Historia Ecclesiastica, I, xiii.
  12. Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia ecclesiastica, V, 23.
  13. Chronicon Edessenum, ad. an. 201.
  14. Ed. Gian-Francesco Gamurrini, Rome, 1887, 62 sqq.
  15. Labourt, Le christianisme dans l'empire perse, Paris, 1904, 130-141.
  16. Echos d'Orient, 1907, 145.
  17. Oriens christianus II, 953 sqq.

Further reading

  • Walter Bauer 1971. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 1934, (in English 1971): Chapter 1 "Edessa" (On-line text)
  • A. von Gutschmid, Untersuchungen über die Geschichte des Könligliches Osroëne, in series Mémoires de l'Académie impériale des Sciences de S. Petersbourg, series 7, vol. 35.1 (St. Petersburg, 1887)
  • J. B. Segal, Edessa: The Blessed City (Oxford and New York: University Press, 1970)
  • Schulz, Mathias, "Wegweiser ins Paradies," Der Spiegel 2372006, Pp. 158–170.
  • This entry uses text from the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909.

External links

Coordinates: 37°09′N 38°48′E / 37.15°N 38.8°E / 37.15; 38.8


bg:Едеса ca:Edessafa:رها (میان‌رودان)no:Edessa (Mesopotamia)pt:Edessa (Mesopotâmia) ru:Эдесса sv:Edessa

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