Introuction to the Anonymous Chronicle of Edessa (Part 2)

3. The Plight of Edessa Under the Persians 

     Sections ninety-six and ninety-seven describe plight of the Edessans living under Persian rule.  Khusro, the Persian king, plundered the churches of Edessa because the people slandered Cyrus, the governor whom he had appointed over the city when he captured it in 609 C.E.[1]  Next Khusro decided to send the people to exile in Persia.  He ordered the Marzban, the military governor of the region,[2] to evacuate the city immediately.  But the Marzban, hoping that the king would rescind his order, evacuated the city little by little.  When Herakleios, the Byzantine emperor, heard the news he mounted an offensive against the Persians and liberated the city around 628 C.E.[3]  The events recorded in section ninety-seven took place after the siege of Constantinople in 626 C.E.  In this instance the sequence of events is thematic rather than chronological.

 4. The Siege of Constantinople

     Section ninety-eight describes the siege of Constantinople by the Persians in 626 C.E. [4]   Khusro sent his armies, under Shahrbaraz and Kardigan, to wage war against the Byzantines.  The account of the siege given in the chronicle varies significantly from other accounts of the siege.[5]  According to the chronicle, the Persian army besieged Constantinople for nine months.  The siege was finally lifted when Shahrbaraz revolted against Khusro through Byzantine subterfuge.  In reality, Constantinople was under siege for ten days, the Persians were not even involved, and Herakleios was not even in the city.  The siege was undertaken by the Avars, Persia’s allies, while the Persian armies attacked Herakleios in the north-eastern part of Asia Minor, preventing him from relieving the capital.[6]  Herakleios defeated the Persian army under Shahrbaraz and the balance of power shifted in his favour, which enabled him to launch a counter-offensive into Persian-held territories.  The chronicle is correct, however, in noting that Shahrbaraz did make a treaty with the Byzantines, but this was only after the death of Khusro in 628 C.E.[7]

5. The Fall of Khusro and the Expulsion of the Persians from Byzantine Territory

      Sections ninety-nine to one hundred and one describe the fall of Khusro and the expulsion of the Persians from Byzantine territory.  After making an agreement with Shahrbaraz, Herakleios marched from Constantinople and raided Media and Azerbaijan from his sanctuary in Armenia.  The Persian Army, led by Ruzbihan, attacked Herakleios but was defeated.  Khusro fled but was killed by his son Shiroe.  Shiroe made a treaty with Herakleios and agreed to return all of the territory that had once belonged to the Romans and that all of the Persians living in Byzantine territory should return to Persia, an agreement which he had already made with Shahrbaraz.  Unbeknownst to him, Herakleios’ defeat of the Persians created a vacuum that would soon be filled by the Arab Muslims and would ultimately lead to the loss of Byzantine hegemony over that entire region.

     Herakleios sent his brother Theodore to Syria in order to expel the Persians who were living in his territory.  When he came to Edessa the Persians would not surrender the city.  The Jews of the city joined the Persians in rejecting Theodore’s demands.  The Jews of the city were most likely in sympathy with the Persians because of their strong religious ties to Nisibis, which was then in Persian territory.[8]  When the city capitulated to the Byzantines, Theodore planned to exterminate the Jews because of the insults they hurled at him from the wall.  Theodore was stopped when a Jew named Joseph, who had escaped from the city and pleaded with Herakleios to spare the Jews, arrived with a letter commanding Theodore not to molest the Jews.[9]

6.  Herakleios’ Persecution of the Monophysites of Edessa

     Section one hundred and two describes Herakleios’ persecution of the Monophysites of Edessa.  The Monophysites believed that the human and divine natures of Christ were undivided and that they were united in one person during the incarnation.  The Dyophysites, also known as Nestorians, believed that the human and divine nature of Christ, though present in one person, were divided.  The Council of Chalcedon formulated a compromise between these two positions and stated that the two natures of Christ were both distinguishable and inseparable.[10]  Those who held to the ruling of the Council of Chalcedon were called Chalcedonians.

     The Chalcedonians and the Monophysites were bitter opponents in Edessa.  Section one hundred and two describes an incident that was typical of this animosity.  When Herakleios came to the Cathedral to take the Eucharist, the Metropolitan of the city, a Monophysite, foolishly refused to give it to him unless he condemned the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo, which formed the basis of the Council’s decision.  Herakleios was filled with rage and handed over the cathedral to the Chalcedonians.[11]  The conquest of Edessa by the Arab Muslims brought an end to Herakleios’ oppression but the cathedral remained in the hands of the Chalecedonians because the Muslims wished to maintain the status quo.  Nonetheless, the Monophysites attributed the Muslim victories to the judgment of God, who was punishing the Byzantines for persecuting them.

7.  The Victories of Abu Bakr

     The remainder of the chronicle being dealt with here describes the defeat of the Byzantine army by Abu Bakr, the successor of Muhammad and leader of the Muslim armies.  The chronicler again expresses the belief that the Byzantines were defeated because of their persecution of the Monophysites.  There is a telling incident in section one hundred and ten involving three people: Theodore, a Chalcedonian stylite, and a Monophysite servant.  Theodore, the brother of Herakleios encountered the stylite standing on a pillar, who asked Theodore to promise to persecute the Monophysites when he returned victoriously from battle against the Muslims.  Theodore was more than willing to acquiesce to the stylite’s request.  Meanwhile, the Monophysite servant overheard this conversation but was too afraid to say anything.  When Theodore returned from battle in defeat, this same servant mocked him for failing to defeat the Muslim armies and, as a result, the promises he made to persecute the Monophysites upon his victory.

     The sections of the chronicle translated in my next post give a fascinating glimpse into how the fall of the Persian and Byzantine Empires were viewed by the Monphysite Christians of Syria.  For them, the Muslims were sent by God to punish the Byzantines for their wickedness.  Although the Monophysites had much more in common with the Byzantines than the Muslims in terms of beliefs and practices, the Monophysites welcomed the Muslims as liberators from an oppressive empire and, with it, an oppressive church.

[1] Segal, Edessa, 114.

[2] Beae Dignas and Engelbert Winter, Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rival (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 186 n. 60.  Marzban was the “the title of the governor of a border province and military commander of the Sasanian border troops.”

[3] Segal, Edessa, 114.

[4] For a full account of the siege see Cyril Mango and Gilbert Dargon, eds., “The siege of Constantinople in 626” in James Howard-Johnston, ed., East Rome, Sasanian Persia and the End of Antiquity: Historiographical and Historical Studies (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006), VII 131-142.

[5] G. Gnoli, ed., “Pride and fall: Khusro II and his regime, 626-628,” in James Howard-Johnston, ed., East Rome, Sasanian Persia and the End of Antiquity: Historiographical and Historical Studies, IX 106, n. 29.

[6] Mango and Dargon, eds., “The siege of Constantinople in 626,” VII 133-134.

[7] Tourjai Daryaee, Sasanian Iran (224-651 CE): Portrait of a Late Antique Empire (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 2008), 90-91.

[8] Segal, Edessa, 101.

[9] Cf. Ibid, 104.

[10] Dignas and Winder, Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity, 274.

[11] Segal, Edessa, 99.  “The refusal of the intolerant Bishop Isaiah to give the sacrament to Heraclius at the Cathedral of Edessa and the harsh reaction of the Emperor was not an isolate incident.


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