Practice Sheets for the Syriac Alphabet


I have just posted practice sheets for the Syriac alphabet on the Syriac Grammar page on Between the Perfect and the Doomed (  These letters are in the Estrangela script and show how letters are written when they are not attached to other letters.

There are three main scripts that are used to write Syriac: the Estrangela script, the Serto script (also referred to as the Jacobite script), and the Nestorian script.  The Estrangela script is the oldest script and is the script used in most scholarly editions of Syriac texts, including the Leiden Syriac Peshitta (the standard critical edition of the Syriac Old Testament) and the various writings in the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium series (e.g. works of Ephrem the Syrian, Syriac historical chronicles, etc.).  It is also the script used in Sokoloff’s A Syriac Lexicon (i.e. the updated version of Brockelmann’s Lexicon Syriacum).

The Estrangela script is a semi-cursive script, meaning that many of the letters are joined together to allow for continuous writing.  However, in certain situations the various letters of the Estrangela script will appear unattached and sometimes have a form that looks different from the form they would normally take when attached to other letters.  If you are learning Syriac, it is important to master these unattached forms.

While the Estrangela script can be written with a normal pen or pencil, you may want to purchase a calligraphy pen/marker in order to make the lines thinner or thicker when needed.  I use a Tombow calligraphy pen.

For those of you who know Hebrew, the fonts used for the Estrangela script are basically identical with how they look in manuscripts.  This is quite different from Hebrew where handwritten letters often look somewhat different from how they appear in printed editions of the Hebrew Bible.  This means that you will have little difficulty reading actual Syriac manuscripts if you master this script.  It also means that your own writing has the potential to look like Syriac writing as it appears in manuscripts.

Just a quick note.  Not everyone forms letters in the Estrangela script in the same sequence that I do for every letter of the alphabet, though most will be the same.  I have chosen this particular order because it allows my letters to be neater and, in the forms that are identical to how they look when they are attached to other letters, they allow the letters to be connected to the next letters more easily.



The Anonymous Chronicle of Edessa Up to 1234 – Sections 94-110 of the Secular History (Translation)

*Note – Translation by Mark Francois

94 – Concerning the beginning of the kingdom of the Arabs and concerning Muhammad, their leader, he who by them was called a prophet and apostle of God.

     In the year nine hundred and thirty-three of the Greeks,[1] twelve of Herakleios,[2] and thirty-three of Khusro[3], a man whose name was Muhammad, from the tribe of the Qurayshites,[4] went out into the land of Yathrib[5] and said to himself that he is a prophet.  It is fitting, therefore, to know the general reputation of all the Muslims,[6] who are called Arabs.  From the general reputation of this prosperous Arabia, which is the land of their dwelling, it is situated, as it were, from north to south from the Euphrates River as far as the southern sea and from west to east from the Red Sea to the bay of the Persian Sea.  They were called by a variety of names, as it were, from the tribes of their forefathers.[7]

     Therefore this Muhammad, about whom we have been speaking,[8] while he was in the stature and height of youth, began to go up and down from Yathrib, his city, to Palestine in the business of buying and selling.  While he was busy in that same place, he perceived the confession of One God, which seemed good in his eyes.  When he went to his fellow-tribesmen,[9] he laid[10] this confession before them.  And after he had persuaded a few people, they went out to him.  With this [confession] he also brought up before them the goodness of the land of Palestine, saying: “This land is good and prosperous because of the confession which was given in that one God.”  He added, “If you listen to me, God will also give you a good land, which flows with milk and honey.”  And because he wanted to confirm his word, he led troops of those who had obeyed him to [Palestine].  He began to go up to the land of Palestine and would plunder, take captive, and take spoil.  And he returned carrying [plunder] without injury and he did not fall short of the promise which he made to them.

     And so the love of possessions caused the work to become a custom for him.  So they again went up, plundering and then returning.  And when those who had still not followed him saw those who were subject to him, who had flourished exceedingly[11] in a multitude of riches, therefore, without compulsion, they were seduced to be subject to him.[12]

     After these things, when the men who were with him had increased and the army became great, he no longer permitted them to plunder and he dwelt in Yathrib, his city, in honour.  And when they were sent out again, that which was in Palestine was not sufficient for them to remain only [there] but they also went afar, openly killing, taking captives, destroying, and taking spoil.  And this was not sufficient for them so they made them tributaries[13] and subjects.

     Thus little by little they grew strong and spread abroad and they increased to the point where they had subjugated almost[14] all of the land of the Romans[15] and also the kingdom of the Persians under their power.[16]

     So then, their principality became an established kingdom.  And by gradual succession, from one man to another, it became excessively strong through those who ruled it as leaders, as it was pleasing to the judgments of God, who wanted to chasten us for our sins.

95 – Concerning their confession and their laws. 

     Therefore, since we have spoken about the motivation, origin, and  the movement of Muhammad, the first king of the Arabs, we should therefore also speak about the laws which he laid down for them, which he said had been given to him by God.

     He taught them as follows: That they should believe[17] in only one God, the maker of all things, not calling him Father, Son, nor Spirit but a deity with only one face and only one substance, “neither being begotten nor begetting,” and that he has no consort.  He accepts Moses and his writing and he accepts the gospel,[18] besides the fact that he does not believe that Christ was crucified.

     Now concerning Christ, [Muhammad] thought that he was a righteous and honourable man among the prophets; that he was born from a virgin without intercourse like Adam, who was created from the earth by the word of God; but he did not accept that he was crucified but that he [himself][19] performed miracles and raised the dead.  And when the Jews laid [their] hands on him, another man was transformed into his image to them and they crucified him, but Christ was taken up to the fourth heaven while [still] alive.[20]  And there he remains[21] until the end and he shall come[22] a second time to the earth and will judge human beings on the day of the resurrection according to the commandment of God.

     [The Muslims] believe in the resurrection and in the punishment of deeds.  [Muhammad] believed in a perceptible,[23] and very crass,[24] Paradise: food, drink, as well as intercourse with beautiful concubines, lying down on golden beds and _________ ___________[25] carpets, and rivers of milk and honey.

     They also believe in an end to the torment which everyone suffers according to the sins they have committed.   They then go out from there to paradise.  He also began to permit a man to marry as many free[26] women as he wants legally and as many maidservants as he finds it is right [for him to take].  He [also permitted] a man to divorce his wife: he shall give her a certificate of divorce according to the law of Moses.

     He also taught that they should pray fives times per day, washing themselves as an absolute necessity[27] before prayer.  The fast is thirty days per year, a fixed month, which is called Ramadan.  After they have fasted during the day they are permitted to eat all night.[28]

     They administer circumcision to the males and females who are among them.  At the time of prayers their worship is [directed] toward Yemen.  That writing was also composed, which he, Muhammad, said had been poured out by God upon his minds through an angel and he himself brought it through his tongue to the hearing of human beings. They call it holy scripture..

96 – Concerning what was happening in the world in the year of the coming of Muhammad.

     In that[29] year Shahrbaraz subdued Ankara of Galatia as well as many islands of the sea and he committed many murders.  And Khusro became harsh and exalted himself and magnified himself in the victories.  Who is able to make lamentations for what human beings suffered at this very time!  What suffering!  What murder!  How many lamentable captives!  How much plundering![30]  How much rape!  How many bitter requisitions!  How many harsh tributes!  How many stones,[31] stone tables, marble pillars from churches, and windows of gold and silver went to Persia.[32]

     At that very time all of the silver which had adorned that great church of Edessa was stripped and was sent to Persia, to King Khusro, because of the enmity which seduced the house of Cyrus, the ruler of Edessa, and the people of the city.  By that enmity (because the people who were not instructed among the Edessans envied him) and according to their evil behaviour they denounced him to Khusro.  So he took all of the property[33] of all of the churches[34] of Edessa and the property of the cathedral church.  He stripped off the silver that overlaid the chapel (which is above the altar), its forty pillars, all of the columns (which are in front of the altar), and the bishop’s throne[35] (which is in the middle of the church).  And the weight of the silver was found to be one thousand and twelve pounds and he sent it to Khusro.

97 – Concerning the decree which went out from Khusro that Edessa should go down into captivity.[36]

     In the eighteenth year of the kingship of Herakleios,[37] Khusro decreed that Edessa should go down into captivity to Persia.  He wrote to the Marzban,[38] the ruler of Edessa, that he should do this immediately.  The Marzban was quiet, sweet, and compassionate and it pleased him that it should not immediately and altogether go down into captivity but [only] gradually because he was expecting forgiveness to come from the King.  So he began to send them one district at a time.[39]  And after the new was heard by Herakleios, he went town to Persia and, because of this, Edessa stopped going down into captivity.  However, two of these districts went down to the Euphrates and came as far as Dastgerd.[40]  Some of the nobles of the city also went down, one of whom was Sergius, the son of Iwannis the Ras9payite (the one whom we mentioned above), who was led into captivity with his mother at this time.[41]  In this very year the sun was eclipsed and half of the light of its sphere departed from October until June so that people said, “Its sphere will never be restored.”

98 – Concerning the siege of the Persians against Constantinople.

     In the year nine hundred and thirty-six,[42] and fourteen of Herakleios, and thirty-six of Khusro, and three of Muhammad, Khusro sent out Shahrbaraz and Kardigan, the leaders of the Persian Armies, with large armies and with the equipment of the instruments of war.  So they came and besieged Constantinople, targeting the western region of the city,  remaining against it for a period of nine months.  (And King Herakleios was in the city).[43]  And they were being weighed down by the Persians but, afterward, the Persians revolted against their king and they made a peace treaty with Herakleios because of the way which [their king] led.  For Shahrbaraz, the general, was being slandered[44] as follows: “He reviles the king and calls him a proud and evil person,[45] and [says] that he glorifies himself in the victories of others.”  So Khusro wrote to Kardigan, the leader of the army along with Shahrbaraz, that he should lay hold of Shahrbaraz and behead him.  As for the messenger who carried the letter, when he reached Galatia the Romans seized him and those with him who were responsible for transporting him.  When [the Romans] had bound him, they sent him to King Herakleios.  And so he came to the capital city without the knowledge[46] of the Persian pickets.[47]

     When Herakleios learned exactly why [the messenger] had been sent,[48] he secretly sent word to Shahrbaraz and assured him with oaths that he was summoning him for a reason that would be advantageous to him.  So he had [Shahrbaraz] brought to him.  Then Herakleios showed Shahrbaraz the letters of Khusro to Kardigan.  He also had the messenger brought and he placed him before [Shahrbaraz].  And when Shahrbaraz saw him he recognized him.  And when he read the letters and learned from the messenger [their] genuineness, he went out from the presence of Herakleios and went to the encampment and thought about[49] how it would be proper for him to act.  So he put together in his mind a good and cunning stratagem[50] which would be advantageous [for him] to do.  Now [Herakleios] had altered the letter of Khusro and wrote another in its place and added in it that certain illustrious, famous, and renowned Persian commanders of Khusro, three hundred, should be killed with him.

     And so [Shahrbaraz] placed a seal upon the letter and sealed it.  He sent word for the Persian commander and Kardigan with them to assemble.  And after the letter was read before the commanders, Shahrbaraz said to Kardigan, “Is it pleasing to you that you should do this?  What do you say?  And you, O commanders, what do you say?”  Those commanders, filled with anger, started to insult Khusro and dishonoured him.  They agreed among themselves[51] to make a treaty of peace with Herakleios and to give him whatever he would ask of them so that they might have a protector against being destroyed by Khusro.[52]

     And so they sent word to Herakleios and made an agreement and a peace treaty with him.  They gave him hostages to rectify the agreement which was [made] between them, those whom [Herakleios][53] had chosen from the sons and brothers of the Persians, the son of Shahrbaraz also having been among them.  The agreement was that the Persians should break camp and depart from the city.  So Herakleios took the Roman Army and went out to make war with Khusro and the Persians marched from Europe toward Asia.

     Herakleios sent word to the king of the Khazars to send him forty thousand troops from the region of Caspia to help him.[54]  Khagan, the king, sent word to him: “Look!  I am sending them [and] they will come to you at the place which you want.”  Herakleios promised Khagan that he would give him his daughter Eudokia in marriage.

     At that very time Herakleios became enflamed with the desire of the lust of the flesh.  He made light [of God] and treated God, the law of the church, and the law of nature with contempt, for he took Martina, the daughter of his brother, for himself as a wife.  Heraklonas, an illegitimate son, was born to him by her besides those who were born to him by his first wife.

99.  The Descent of Herakleios to Persia.
     Herakleios marched from the capital city with a great army and he made his journey across Armenia.  And wherever he went he brought out the Persians from the cities and brought them under the authority of the Romans.  When Khusro heard that Shahraraz and the Persian Armies had revolted against him and that Herakleios had set out to go to his territory, he became troubled and his soul was brought low.  On account of this the majority of the Persian Armies in the western territories, in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, scattered.  Nevertheless he assembled an army, as many as he [could] find, and he placed over them a leader, a man whose name was Ruzbihan.  And he ordered him to go and meet Herakleios and to engage him in battle.  So Ruzbihan left and went toward Assyria so that he might engage in battle with Herakleios.  The majority of the Armies of the Armenians, the Persians, and the Khazars (which were sent by Khagan) followed Herakleios from Armenia and they came to plunder in the region of Media and in the territory of Azerbaijan.

     And when Ruzbihan heard that Herakleios had come, he hastened[55] to meet him at the river which is in the region of Assyria, which is called Zab.  And they fought a severe battle and they caused the Persians to flee.[56]  The majority of them were killed and Ruzbihan, the leader of the army was [also] killed.  And the Romans took possession of their dwelling places.

     And when King Khusro heard that his armies had been defeated, he fled from the capital city and left behind his stores and all of his treasures.  He was in a fortress, that is _____,[57] which he built to the east of Ctesphon, about a two hour’s journey.  Herakleios chased after him and he entered his fortress.  He seized and plundered everything that was there in the royal palaces.  And he set the fortress on fire[58] and plundered and destroyed all of Assyria.[59]

100 – Concerning the death of Khusro and the reign of his son.

     Shiroe, the son of Khusro, was imprisoned in Assyria by his father.  When he learned about the flight of his father from Herakleios, he went out from Assyria and chased after his father Khusro.  He killed him on the ninth of Shebat[60] and he succeeded him.  That Khusro reigned thirty-eight years.

     Herakleios the king, after his victory and [after] his plundering of the kingdom of Khusro,[61] he returned to pass the winter near Assyria in Armenia so that he could return to pursue Khusro.  He had still not heard[62] about his murder by his son.

     After Shiroe took the kingdom he sent word to inform Herakleios about the murder of his father and he made a peace treaty and agreement with him.  As a result, Herakleios took over all of the territories which at one time had belonged to the Romans.  The Persians would have to remain within their former borders and those who were [living][63] among them in the western territories would have to cross over to Persia.

     Shiroe [began] to reign over Persia in the nineteenth year of Herakleios and the seventh of Muhammad.[64]  At that time Herakleios marched from the east to go to Syria.  He sent Theodore, his brother, before him so that he might bring out the Persians who were dwelling in the cities according to the agreement which was made, first of all, between him and Shahrbaraz and later between him and Shiroe.

101 – Concerning the arrival of Theodore to Edessa.

     Theodore, the brother of the king, passed through the cities of Mesopotamia and he announced to the Persians who were living in them that they should depart and go out to their own territory.  They had also known ahead of time from the letters of Shahrbaraz[65] and of Shiroe about the peace treaty which was established between the Romans and the Persians.  When the king followed his brother,[66] he came and set Roman governors and garrison in the cities.

     When Theodore came to Edessa he explained to the Persians who were in it about what had happened and about the coming of the king, those Persians despised him and would not agree to his words.  They answered him: “We do not recognize[67] Shiroe and we will not surrender[68] the city to the Romans.  The Jews who were dwelling in Edessa were also standing with the Persians upon the city wall because they are the enemy of Christians and because they wanted to find favour with the Persians.[69]  They insulted the Romans and mocked Theodore and shouted bitter abuses at him.  Then Theodore waged a severe battle against the city and pressed it with shots from a catapult.  And when the Persians who were in the city were pressed they brought terms of a covenant to them so that they might go out and depart to their territory.  A Jewish man, whose name was Joseph, was afraid that his people might be destroyed.[70]  He hurled himself from the city wall and marched to Herakleios.  And he met him at Tella of Mauzelat and he entered to him and begged him, [trying to] persuade him that the folly of his people should be forgiven, for they had insulted his brother Theodore.  So he sent word to him not to take vengeance on them.  When Theodore entered Edessa and had authority over it and had brought out the Persians so that they might go to their territory, he sent word to assemble all the Jews who had insulted him.  And when he had begun to kill them and plunder their houses, suddenly Joseph the Jew came, carrying the letter of the king which commanded his brother not to molest them.[71]

102 – Concerning the coming of Herakleios to Edessa.

     Then Theodore marched from Edessa and crossed the Euphrates.  He came to Mabug[72] in order to bring out the Persians who were in Syria and Phoenicia.

     In those days king Herakleios came to Edessa and he stayed in the palace which is above the place of the source of the spring.  And when he went down one day to take the Eucharist in the Cathedral, he met Isaiah, the Metropolitan of the city.  Either from the great fervor of his zeal or, what is true to say, from his innocence and lack of training, he did not permit him to take the Eucharist.  He said, “If you do not anathematize in writing the Synod of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo, I will not give you the Eucharist.”[73]  From that time forward that king became inflamed with rage.  He drove the bishop from the church and handed it over to the Chalcedonians, those who held to his confession.[74]

     During that time the  honoured nobles in Edessa were the family of the house of Ras9paye, the family of the house of Tellmah9raye, the family of the house of Qozma the son of Arabi, and the family of the house of Nalar.   As for them, the property – all of the gold, silver, the gardens, the millstones, the chambers, and the baths – had been granted to the Cathedral by them and their fathers.  But they were not able to stand against the command of the king.  They waited so that when the king went away and travelled to Byzantium,[75] they would return to the church with the Bishop and take it over.  But God – the [God] of vengeance, the one who rules over human kingdoms[76] on earth, who gives them to whomsoever he wills and he sets over it the humblest of people – when he saw that the measure of the sins of the Romans, who behaved with every manner of cruelty against our people and our churches and our profession was close to perishing, he stirred up, induced, and brought the descendants of Ishmael from the land of the south.  They were despised and worthless, that is to say, they were not well-known among the peoples of the earth.  But he obtained redemption for us by their hands and in this way we benefitted not a little because we were delivered from the tyrannical kingdom of the Romans.  We suffered harm[77] by the fact that the catholic churches[78] – which were taken away[79] from our people during the oppression of Herakleios and were handed over to the Chalcedonians, those who held to his confession – continued to remain in their possession up to the present time.  For when the cities accepted terms when they were taken by storm and were subjugated to the Arabs, [the Arabs] gave to each of the confessions whatever churches they found in their possession.[80]  And in this way the Cathedral of Edessa was taken away from the Orthodox and also that of Haran and, little by little, each one [was taken away] – [from] the west until Jerusalem.  All of the cities of Mesopotamia were delivered because persecution began from Edessa, as we have shown.

103 – Concerning the death of Shiroe and concerning the murder of his son and the reign of Sharbaraz.

     When Herakleios marched from Edessa, he crosses the Euphrates and went as far as Jerusalem.  And he went from [Jerusalem] to Antioch and from there he returned to Mabug.  Then Shiroe, the King of the Persians, died and his son, whose name was Ardashir, was made king.  And after he had ruled a short time, Shahrbaraz killed him and he reigned in his place.  And he confirmed the covenants and the oaths which had been established between him and the Romans and he wrote letters to the Persians who were in Egypt and Palestine so that they might depart and come down to Persia. So in the year nine hundred and forty-one, nineteen of Herakleios, and five of Muhammad, no one remained among the Persians who had not crossed over the Euphrates.  And war broke out in Persia and some were inclined towards Shahrbaraz and some were with Kardigan.

     Shahrbaraz sent word to Herakleios and he sent him a Roman army.  He waged war with Kardigan and killed him and the kingdom of the Persians remained with Shahrbaraz the king.  Therefore Herakleios desired from Shahrbaraz that they should return the cross of the crucifixion which was taken away from Jerusalem by him when he captured it in the sixth year of Herakleios.  So Shahrbaraz gladly returned the cross of the crucifixion with honoured nobles.  When they brought it, Herakleios was in Mabug.  Those who were carrying the cross came to him and he went out to meet it and received it with a procession.

     At that time the Patriarch Athanasius approached Herakleios when they brought it into Mabug.  He came to him with twelve bishops.  And look, we have written about this subject in the book of Ecclesiastical Subjects.

104 – Concerning the murder of Shahrbaraz and concerning the things which happened[81] in that time.

     In the year nine hundred and forty-two,[82] twenty of Herakleios, and nine of Muhammad, Shahrbaraz was killed by one of the relatives of Khusro.  Then Boram, the daughter of Khusro, ruled over the Persians a short time and then she died and Azarmidokht, her sister, ruled in her place.

     During this year Athanasius the Patriarch departed.[83]

     And after two years a tumult broke out among the Persian people, for some of them wanted to make Yazdgerd, the son of Khusro, king while others were pleased with a man whose name was Hormizd.  And Yazdgerd ,the boy, ruled with his sister Azarmidakht.

105 – Concerning the death of Muhammad, the leader and first king of the Muslims.

     In the year nine hundred and forty-three[84] and twenty-one of Herakleios, Muhammad, the king of the Arabs, died after he had governed the kingdom for ten years.  And he commanded at his death that Abu Bakr should reign over the Arabs, the one who was the father of his wife Aisha.  Now Muhammad was descended by his family from Ishmael the son of Abraham, to whom Hagar gave birth.  Now these are Ishmael’s sons:[85] the first-born, Nebaioth; Kedar, Adbeel,[86] Mibsam, Misma, Dumah,[87] Massa, Hadad,[88] Tema, Yetur,[89] Naphish, Kedemah, and Aqid.[90]  Now this Aqid brought forth Hemel; Hemel [brought forth] Salaman; Salaman [brought forth] Nabat; Nebat brought forth Hamisah; Hamisah brought forth Dod; Dod brought forth Od; Od brought forth Adin; Adin brought forth Maad; Maad brought forth Nazar; Nazar brought forth Rabiah; Rabiah brought forth Mourad; Mourad brought forth Elis; Elis brought forth Modrekah; Modrekah brought forth Kuzimah; Kuzimah brought forth Anan; Anan brought forth Nadar; Nadar brought forth Malak; Malak brought forth Pur; Pur brought forth Galab; Galab brought forth Luay; Luay brought forth Kaab; Kaab brought forth Kilab; Kilab brought forth Qusayy; Qussay brought forth Abd  Kalif; Abd Kalif brought forth Hashim; Hashim brought forth Abd Almuttalib; Abd Almuttalib brought forth Abdullah and his twelve other brothers.  And Abdullah brought forth Muhammad, the one who was the head and first king as he have mentioned.

106 – Concerning the reign of Abu Bakr.

     After the death of Muhammad Abu Bakr became king.  In the first year which he reigned he sent out the Arab armies, an army of thirty thousand, to the land of Syria so that they might conquer it.  And he placed four generals over them.  The first was Abu Ubaida, son of Jarrah, whose name was Amr son of Abudullah son of Jarrah.  The second general was Amr son of Saiid the son of As.  The third general was Shurhabil[91] son of Hassana.  The fourth general was Yazid son of Abu Sufyan.  And he sent with them an army of about twelve thousand Yemanites.  The leader of the Yemenites was Abu Alkulab.  And when the Arab armies went out from their city, Abu Bakr went out with them so that he might pass through them.  And he charged them saying, “When you enter that land, you shall not kill: not an old man, not a small boy, and not a woman.  You shall not bring a stylite down from his place.  You shall not harm the monks, for they have separated themselves to God in order to serve [him].  You shall not cut down trees and you  shall not devastate the agriculture.  You shall not tear apart the domestic animals: neither a heard nor a flock.  As for every city and people which receives you, establish a peace treaty [with them] and make promises to them.  Let them be governed according to their laws and according to the deeds which they had before our time.  Let them offer tribute according to the regulation which is established between you [and them].[92]  Let them remain in their confessions and in their territory.  As for those who do not receive you, wage war with them.  Conduct yourselves circumspectly by all of the upright commands and laws which were given to you by God through our prophet so that you might not anger God.”

107 – Concerning the things that the Arabs did when they went out and concerning the coming of Herakleios to Antioch.

     When the armies which were sent by Abu Bakr went out, they went on that desert road which is to the south of Damascus and he entered the region of Moab.  And when Herakleios heard, he sent word to assemble the armies of the Romans and the Christian Arabs to himself while he was in Damascus.  And he commanded and admonished them to guard the cities[93] and he sent them to attack the Arabs[94] in order to drive them away from the territory.  And Herakleios himself marched with a great army to Antioch.

     As for the four generals who were sent by Abu Bakr: the first, as we have said, went to the land of Moab and toward Palestine; the next one toward Egypt and Alexandria; the third against the Persians; and the next against the Arab Christians who were under the command of the Romans.

108 – Concerning the defeat of the Romans in Palestine before the Arabs.

     The general who came with the Arab Armies to Palestine was set in battle against Sergius, the Patrician, the one who had been in Caesarea of Palestine, [the one] to whom the city and the territory was entrusted by Herakleios.  When he became aware of the coming of the Arab Armies he gathered to himself the armies that were present and he sent for five thousand foot-soldiers from the people of Samaria so that his people might resist the attack of the Arab people.  When the Arabs heard of this  plan of Sergius, they assembled together and waited in ambush for the Romans so that they might attack them by a stratagem when they were not aware and destroy them.  While the Romans were travelling they came to the place where the Arab ambush had been set up[95]  – and they were still not aware of them.  [The foot-soldiers] asked Sergius the Patrician to allow them to rest a little from the labor and the exhaustion which the majority of the foot-soldiers were experiencing.[96]  The Patrician was not persuaded but, when he learned that the enemy[97] was near, he commanded that the horns should be sounded and that the drums should beat.  And they prepared themselves to attack them.  The Arabs armed themselves mightily and went out from the ambushes.  They came against them with shouting and great anger and attacked them.  They met the Samaritans first, those who had gone out first, and they were overpowered before the Arabs and all of the Samaritans were destroyed and perished.  And when the Patrician saw these things he retreated to a refuge so that he might be delivered from the sword.  And the Arabs chased after him and, like sickles to blades, they cut them down.  And Sergius the Patrician fell from his horse and those who followed him drew near to him and set him upon the horse.  And after he had remained awhile on the horse he fell a second time.  And those who were with him took[98] [him] and set him [on his horse again].  And after he had gone a little forward he fell on the ground a third time.  And when they were preparing to set him [upon the horse] again he said to them, “Leave me alone[99] and save yourselves.  Why should you and I drink the cup of death together?”  After they had left him and had departed from him a little while, those who were chasing him seized him violently and killed him in his place.  They likewise pursued and killed the Romans[100] until it was evening.  And none of them escaped except a few who hid themselves among trees, hedges, and vineyards and they entered Caesarea.

110[101] – Concerning the going up of Theodore, the brother of the king, against the Arabs.

     When Herakleios the king heard about the killing of Sergius the Patrician and also about the defeat of the Romans, including the Samaritans, he commanded Theodore his brother and [Theodore] gathered all of the Romans who were with him in Mesopotamia[102] and all those who were west of the Euphrates.  And when all of them were present together with him and the army became strong they proceeded to go out with eager pride and great haughtiness, relying upon the great number of men and the glory of the weapons, so that in every place where they camped they roused up exultation, joy, drinking, and music.  They thrust out the lip and shook the head saying, “What are the Arabs to us?  Are they not like dead dogs?”  And when they came to the district of Emessa, to the village of Gousit, a certain man, a Chalcedonian stylite, was standing upon a pillar.  Theodore approached him and fell into his society.  And after they had spoken many words to each other, that Stylite said to Theodore: “Do[103] you promise that when you return in peace and victory from the battle that you will blot out the Monophysites[104] and bring them low with a sentence of harsh judgments?”  Theodore the patrician answered him saying, “As for me, apart from these things which were sought by you, I resolved that I would deal with those Monophysites with persecutions and evil things.”  An orthodox servant, who was standing there -when he heard these things he burned zealously.  The reason why he was not able to speak was fear of the one who was the ruler.

     When they marched from there, they came in great pride and haughtiness to the place where the Arabs were encamped.  And they set up their camp in the vicinity of the camp of the Arabs and they waited, dwelling opposite each other.  And they threatened and were being threatened from the month of Iyar[105] till the former Tishrin.[106]  Then suddenly the sides were set against each other in battle array.  And after the first hour the Romans gathered their strength against the Arabs and the Arabs turned toward them.  [The Romans] shook to and fro and were afraid.  The heart of the Romans was broken and their hands were paralyzed.  So they turned their backs to flee but not even in flight were they able to escape because they had been deserted by divine providence.  They were trodden under foot by the foot-soldiers of their enemies and [their enemies] destroyed them with the sword.  No one escaped except Theodore, who escaped with a few.

     That man, the faithful servant whom we mentioned – when he saw Theodore before his eyes, whom terror had seized and darkness had bound, he took heart and said to him, “What do you say [now], O Theodore?  Where are the promises of that stylite which you made?  Well done!  Look!  You have returned with a good name and the news of the victory has been brought by you to the king!” Patricius heard but he did not answer.  So after the entire Roman army was destroyed Theodore fled to the king.  The Arabs returned to the camp, the tents, and all the fortifications of the Romans.  And they obtained gold, silver, splendid clothes, slaves, and female slaves without number.  And they increased in many riches and they abounded in possessions.

[1] I.e. the Seleucid Calendar, beginning in 311-310 BCE, thus 622/623 CE.

[2] Herakleios ruled from 610-641 C.E. (Dignas and Winter, Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity, 45).

[3] Khusro II ruled from 590-628 C.E. (Ibid., 42).

[4] Muhammad’s tribe.

[5] Modern Medina.

[6] Syr. ܛܝܝ̈ܐ.  This term was originally used for a particular Arab tribe, the Tay, but was then used to identify any Arab or Muslim.

[7] Syr.ܕܩܕ̈ܡܝܐ .  Substantivized masculine plural adjective meaning “ancient ones” and, thus, “ancestors”.

[8] Syr. ܕܐܡ̣ܪܢܢ.  Peal perfect 1cpl with a 1cpl enclitic independent personal pronoun joined to the end of the word.  This word forms a relative clause with the resumptive pronoun being unstated.

[9] Syr. ܒܢ̈ܝ ܫܪܒܬܗ.  “Son(s) of” is a common Semitic construction indicating membership in a particular class.

[10] Syr. ܣ݁ܐܡ ܗܘܐ.  This is a compound tense consisting of the peal msg active participle of the verb ܣܘܡ and the enclitic peal perfect 3msg of the verb ܗܘܐ, indicating repeated action in the past.  See Takamitsu Muraoka, Classical Syriac (2nd rev. ed.; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), §86.

[11] Syr. ܕܐܫܬܪܬܚܘ.  Eshtaphal perfect 3mpl, of the verb ܪܬܚ,  meaning “to acquire opulence/power, to flourish exceedingly, to be made to abound, etc.”

[12] Syr. ܠܫܘܥܒܕܗ.  Lit. “to his subjection”.  The pronominal suffix is in an objective genitival relationship to the noun and is thus the agent of the verbal action.

[13] Syr. ܡܣ̈ܩܝ ܡܐܕܬܐ.  Lit. “the ones who carry up tribute”.  ܡܣ̈ܩܝ is an aphel active participle mpl in the construct state from the verb ܣܠܩ.

[14] Syr. ܒܨܝܪ ܩܠܝܠ.  Msg passive participle of the verb ܒܨܪ (to take away) plus the adjective ܩܠܝܠ (little).  This idiom means “almost,” “partly,” or “about”.

[15] I.e. the Byzantines.

[16] Lit. “beneath their hands,” referring to the power of the Muslims.

[17] Syr. ܕܢܘܕܘܢ.  Aphel imperfect 3mpl of the verb ܝܕܐ.

[18] I.e. the stories about Jesus.

[19] The word “himself” has been added to the translation above to highlight the contrast between belief in Christ as a miracle-worker and belief in Christ as one who was crucified.  The Muslims believed that Christ healed and gave life to the dead so he was not able to be killed..

[20] For a chart summarizing Muslim views of the crucifixion of Jesus see Martin Bauschke, Stein des Anstoßes: Die Christologie des Korans und die deutsch-sprachige Theologie (Köln: Böhlau, 2000), 172.  The views summarized in this chart are based on various interpretations of Sūra 4.157

[21] Syr. ܐܝܬܘܗܝ.

[22] Syr. ܘܥܬܝܕ ܕܢܐܬܐ.  ܥܬܝܕ is the Peal passive participle of the verb ܥܬܕ and it is used to express the future tense.

[23] Syr. ܡܬܪܓܫܢܐ.  “That which is perceptible to the senses.” It may also be translated by the word “visible”.

[24] Syr. ܥܒܝܐ.  This word can simply mean “material” but it usually has a negative connotation, as the following context suggests.

[25] I could not find these words in Brockelmann or the large version of Payne Smith.  They must be adjectives describing the material out of which the carpets were made.

[26] I.e. a woman who is not a slave.

[27] Syr. ܩܛܝܪܐܝܬ ܡܢ ܐܢܢܩܝ.  Lit. “necessarily from necessity.”

[28] Syr. ܡܦܣ ܠܗܘܢ.  Lit. “it is permitted to them.”

[29] Lit. “this” but English idiom require the use of the remote demonstrative pronoun.

[30] Syriac is plural.

[31] This series begins with the partitive use of the preposition ܡܢ.

[32] Syr. ܠܒܝܬ ܦܖ̈ܣܝܐ.  Lit. “house of Persia.”  ܒܝܬ is often used in Syriac denote the land of particular peoples.

[33] Syr. ܩܡܠܐܘܢ = ܩܡ̈ܠܐ.

[34] Syr. ܕܗܝ̈ܟܠܐ.

[35] Syr. ܒܐܡܐ = ܒܝܡܐ.

[36] Compare the Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor and “the Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars”

[37] 628 C.E.  See introduction.

[38] Military commander on the border regions of the Sassanid Empire.

[39] Syr. ܚܕ ܚܕ ܫܘܩܐ.

[40] Near Baghdad, the royal seat of Khusro II.

[41] See J. B. Segal, Edessa, 154, 203.

[42] 626 C.E.

[43] This sentence, as well as the previous sentence in the Syriac text, begins with the word ܘܟܕ, which seems to be introducing a parenthetical clause.  For Herakleios’ presence in Constantinople during the siege see the introduction.

[44] Syr. ܐܬܐܟܠܘ ܩܪ̈ܨܘܗ ܕܫܗܪܒܪܙ.  Lit. “The broken morsels of Shahrbaraz were eaten.”  This is an idiomatic expression meaning “to slander”.  Cf. Daniel 3:8 (וַאֲכַלוּ קַרְצֵיהוֹן).  The same idiom is also used in Akkadian (kars9ī x akālum).

[45] Syr. ܡܫܩܠܐ ܘܒܝܫ ܕܘܒܪܐ.  ܕܘܒܪܐ may refer to a person’s manner of life.

[46] Syr. ܟܕ ܠܐ ܐܪܓܫ.  Lit. “without making it known.”

[47] Syr. ܟܡ̈ܐܢܐ.  Lit. “those lying in wait” or “ambushes”.  “Pickets” is an appropriate translation because it is the normal practice of armies to post pickets in ambush to prevent people from entering or leaving the place they are besieging.

[48] Syr. ܠܥܠܬܐ ܕܡܛܠܬܗ̇ ܐܫܬܕܪ.  Lit. “the occasion because of which he was sent.”

[49] Syr. ܘܦܠܚ ܚܘܫܒܐ.  Lit. “Made a thought”.

[50] Syr. ܨܢܥܬܐ ܕܚܪܥܘܬܐ ܫܦܝܪܬܐ.  Lit. “a good stratagem of cunning”.  The word “cunning” stands in an attributive genitival relationship to the “stratagem”.  “Good” is an attributive adjective modifying “stratagem”.  Thus “good and cunning stratagem”.

[51] Syr. ܘܫܪܬ̇ ܒܝܢܬܗܘܢ.  Lit. “It was established among them.”

[52] Syr. ܥܠ ܐܒܕܢܗ ܕܟܣܪܘ.  Lit. “against the destruction of Khusro.”  “Khusro” is in an subjective genitival relationship to “destruction”.  In other words, Khusro is the agent of the verbal idea conveyed by the noun.

[53] Syr. ܡܠܟܐ.

[54] See Dingas and Winter, Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity, 46.

[55] Syr. ܣܪܗܒ.  This is the Saphel perfect, 3msg, of ܪܗܒ.

[56] Syr. ܘܐܦܢܝܘ ܚܨܐ ܦܪ̈ܣܝܐ.  Lit. “they caused the Persians to turn the back.”

[57] Syr. ܣܩܪܬܐ.  The only definition in the standard dictionaries is “red paint” but the context would seem to suggest some sort of fortress.

[58] Syr. ܘܠܚܣܢܐ ܐܘܩܕܗ ܒܢܘܪܐ.  Lit. “and he set the fortress on fire with fire.”

[59] Syr. ܒܝܬ ܐܪ̈ܡܝܐ.

[60] The month from the new moon of February to the new moon of March.

[61] Syr. ܘܒܙܬܐ ܕܡܠܟܘܬܗ ܕܟܣܪܘ.  Lit. “and the plundering of the kingdom of Khusro.”

[62] Syr. ܫܡܝܥ ܗܘܐ ܠܗ.  Lit. “It was not heard by him.”

[63] Syr. ܕܐܝܬ ܗܘܐ ܡܢܗܘܢ ܒܐܬܪ̈ܘܬܐ ܕܡܥܪܒܐ.  Lit. “who had been among them in the territories of the west.”

[64] 628-629 C.E.

[65] See section 103 below.

[66] Lit. “in the footsteps of his brother.”

[67] Syr. ܠܐ ܝ̇ܕܥܝܢܢ.  This is a compound tense formed with the masculine plural active participle of the verb ܝܕܥ and the personal pronoun ܚܢܢ suffixed to the word.  This construction is used to form the simple present.

[68] Syr. ܠܐ ܡܫܠܡܝܢܢ.  See the previous footnote.  I have translated this construction as a future for the sake of English idiom.

[69] Syr. ܘܕܢܫܬܦܪܘܢ ܠܦܪ̈ܣܝܐ.  Lit. “and so that they might be pleasing to the Persians.”

[70] Syr. ܕܚܠ ܥܠ ܐܒܕܢܐ ܕܒܢ̈ܝ ܥܡܗ.  Lit. “He feared about the destruction of the sons of his people.”  “Sons of his people” simple refers to the Jews who were living in Edessa.  They are the recipients of the verbal idea communicated by the noun “destruction” (it is in an objective genitival relationship to the word “destruction”) so the phrase may be translated as it is above in order to make this more explicit.

[71] Cf. Segal, Edessa, 103-104.

[72] Modern Manbij in Syria.

[73] J. B. Segal, Edessa: ‘The Blessed City,’ 99.

[74] Syr. ܒܢ̈ܝ ܬܘܕܝ̇ܬܗ.  Lit. “the sons of his confession.”

[75] Syr. ܠܒܝܬ ܪ̈ܘܡܝܐ.  This phrase, literally “the house of the Romans,” refers to the “land of the Romans,” in other words, Byzantium.

[76] I have translated the singular noun ܡܠܟܘܬܐ as a plural to emphasize the proverbial nature of this section.  This section is taken from the book of Daniel.

[77] Syr. ܐܙܕܡܝܢܢ.  I could not find this word in the dictionary but the root is evidently ܙܡܝ.  The closest word that I could find in the dictionary was the word ܙܝܡܝܐ, which comes from the Greek word zhmi&a, meaning “harm, injury, misfortune.”  This leads me to believe that the Greek word from which the verb in question is derived is zhmio&w, which means “to punish, fine”.  The verb in question would then be a Ethpeal perfect 1cpl plus the 1cpl personal pronoun.

[78] I.e. the cathedral churches.

[79] Syr. ܕܬܢܣܒ̈ܝܢ.  This particular form occurs several times in the following context.  The ending is a rare form of the 3fpl perfect.  See Muraoka §44.

[80] Syr. ܒܐܝܕ̈ܝܗ̇.  Lit. “in its hands,” emphasizing the possessions of the individual confessions.

[81] Syr. ܕܓܕ̈ܫܝ.  This is another rare form of the 3fpl perfect.  See Muraoka, §44.

[82] 640 C.E.

[83] I.e. he died.

[84] 631 C.E.

[85] See Genesis 25:12-15.  I have followed the renderings of these names in the Hebrew Bible.  Differences in spelling in this chronicle are also reflected in the Peshitta.

[86] Syr.ܐܪܒܠ.

[87] Syr. ܪܘܡܐ.

[88] Syr. ܚܕܪ.

[89] Syr. ܢܛܘܪ.

[90] This name is neither found in the Hebrew Bible nor in the Peshitta.

[91] Syr. ܫܪܚܒܫ.  The note in Chabot’s edition says to read ܫܪܚܒܝܠ.

[92] Syr. ܒܝܢܬܟܘܢ.

[93] Syr. ܠܢܛܘܪܬܐ ܕܡܕܝ̈ܢܬܐ.  Lit. “for the keeping of the cities.”

[94] Syr. ܠܐܘܪܥܐ ܕܛܝ̈ܝܐ.  Lit. “for the attacking/meeting of the Arabs.”

[95] Syr. ܘܐܬܘ ܠܕܘܟܬܐ ܐܝܕܐ ܕܒܗ̇ ܐܝܬܘܗܝ ܗܘܐ ܟܡܐܢܐ ܕܛܝ̈ܝܐ.  Lit. “They came to the place in which the ambush of the Arabs was.”

[96] Syr. ܡܢ ܥܡܠܐ ܘܛܘܪܦܐ ܒܗ̇ܝ ܕܣܘܓܐܗܘܢ ܪ̈ܓܠܝܐ ܐܬܝܗܘܢ ܗܘܘ.  Lit. “from the labor and exhaustion in which the majority of the foot-soldiers were.”

[97] Syr. ܒܥ̈ܠܕܒܒܐ.  Lit. “the enemies”.

[98] Syr. ܐܬܠܒܟܘ.  Payne Smith only provides passive meanings for this verb but the context would seem to require an active meaning.

[99] Syr. ܫܘܒܩܘܢܝ.  This is a peal imperative 2mpl with a 1csg pronominal suffix.

[100] Syr. ܒܪ̈ܘܡܝܐ.  The preposition indicates the sphere in which the killing took place, i.e. “among the Romans,” but it may be left untranslated.

[101] The text skips from section 108 to section 110.

[102] Syr. ܓܙܝܪܬܐ.  This word means “island” or “enclosed space” and, according to Brockelmann’s Syriac lexicon, is another word for Mesopotamia.

[103] As in Hebrew, questions may be introduced by the word “if”, similar to the use of the word “ob” in German to ask questions.

[104] Syr. ܒܝܬ ܣܐܘܝܪܐ.  This expression refers to the followers of Severus.

[105] May.

[106] October.

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.

Introduction to the Anonymous Chronicle of Edessa Up to the Year 1234 AD (Part 1)

1. The Chronicle

     The Anonymous Chronicle Up to the Year 1234 A.D. is one of the most important Syriac chronicles in the tradition of Syriac historical chronicles.[1]  Although little is known about the author, it is likely that he was a Monophysite monk[2] from Edessa who completed his work in the second quarter of the thirteenth century C.E.[3]  The chronicle is divided into two volumes: one dealing with secular history and one dealing with church history.[4]  The chronicle is preserved  in a fourteenth century manuscript.  The Syriac text was edited by J. B. Chabot and is available in the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium series.[5]  The translation offered here – my own translation, which will appear in future posts – covers sections ninety-four to one hundred and ten of the secular history.  In this post I will begin to introduce the chronicle by summarizing the sections dealing with the rise of Islam.  Future posts will summarize other sections and a translation will eventually follow.  The translation in particular will be helpful because English translations of this text are not readily available.  Placing it online should prove helpful for those interested in this chronicle.

2. The Rise of Islam

      Sections ninety-four and ninety-five describe the rise of Muhammad, the initial spread of Islam, and the beliefs and practices of this newly-founded religion.  What is particularly interesting about this section is that it opens a window for the modern reader into how Islam was viewed by Syriac-speaking Christians living under Muslim rule when the Muslim kingdoms were first expanding.[6]  When viewed in this light, this section produces many significant insights.

     First, the chronicler attributes the early success of Islam not to the strength of its monotheistic beliefs but to the greed of its first adherents.  Muhammad promised his early followers that God would give them a land flowing with milk and honey, words that echo God’s promises to the people of Israel in the Hebrew Bible,[7] and he made good on this promise by leading small raiding parties into Palestine.  When these raiding parties returned to their homes in Yathrib the people, who had initially not followed Muhammad, converted to Islam because of the wealth they could secure.  Muslim raids expanded beyond Palestine, not because they wanted to spread the message of Islam, but because their lust for spoil could not be satiated by the wealth of Palestine alone.  Thus, for the chronicler, the root of Muslim success was much baser than Muslims themselves may have believed.

     Second, the chronicler attributes the ultimate success of the Muslim armies over the Byzantine Empire to the judgment of God.  In language reminiscent of the Deuteronomistic History, the chronicler states that the Muslim principality became an established kingdom because God wanted to chasten his people for their sins.  This theme is picked up again in section one hundred and two, which describes the wickedness of the Byzantine Emperor toward the Monophysites of Edessa.  The chronicler viewed the conquering of Edessa both as the judgment of God against the Byzantines and also the means by which God rescued the Monophysites from imperial persecution.  The details of this section will be discussed in a future post.

     Third, the chronicler is aware that Muslim and Christian beliefs are ultimately incompatible but is content to note the differences and remains surprisingly irenic in his tone.  In section ninety-five, the chronicler highlights several points of variance between Islam and Christianity including their beliefs about the Trinity, the crucifixion of Christ, the nature of Paradise,[8] and their views about marriage but stops short of caricature or prolonged censure.  Likewise, the chronicler does not explicitly call Muhammad a false prophet, which would have been imprudent for a Christian living under Muslim rule to assert, but formulates his descriptions of Muhammad’s revelations and status as a prophet in a way that casts doubt on their veracity.[9]  Perhaps the chronicler’s restraint in vilifying Muhammad and the beliefs of Islam is due to his belief that God sent the Muslims to punish the Byzantines and to rescue the Monophysites from persecution.  The chronicler’s descriptions of the beliefs and practices of Islam are quite accurate and no doubt reflect the reality of Christianity existing under Muslim rule.

The translation of this section will appear in a future post.

[1] S. Brock, A Brief Outline of Syriac Literature (Kerala, India: St Ephrem Ecumenical Research Institute, 1997), 74.

[2] See below.

[3] Matti Moosa (“The Crusades: An Eastern Perspective, With Emphasis on Syriac Sources,” The Muslim World  93, 251) notes that the Patriarch Aphram Barsoum believed the author “was a monk from the Barsoum Monastery near Melitene, probably born at Edessa in 1160.”

[4] Ibid, 251.

[5] J. B. Chabot,  Anonymi auctoris Chronicon ad annum Christi 1234 pertinens (CSCO 109.  Syr. syri 36.  Louvain: Imprimerie Orientaliste L. Durbecq, 1952).

[6] Although this Chronicle was written around the year 1234 C.E., the views expressed in these sections are much earlier.  As was stated above, chroniclers incorporated previously written material and did not significantly alter or update the material.

[7] E.g. Exodus 3:8.

[8] Muslim views of Paradise would have been particularly incompatible to the ascetic form of Christianity practiced in the Middle East.

[9] The chronicler subtly  notes that Muslims call Muhammad a prophet and that Muhammad claimed to have received revelations from God.  Cf. the description of Muhammad in the Chronicle of Theophanes (Trans. Harry Turtledove; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 34-35.