City on the Tigris, approximately 35 km. north of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. The seat of the Ch. of E. cath. under the Abbasids and the seat today of the Chald. patr. and Ancient Ch. of E. patr. ‘Baghdad’, whose etymology is disputed, was originally the name of one of the villages that stood on the site of the city founded by the second Abbasid caliph al-Manṣūr under the name of Madīnat al-Salām ‘City of Peace’ in 762. Later Syriac authors often call the city ‘Babel’, i.e., Babylon. From 762 until 1258, when it was taken by Hulagu (except in 836–92, when the caliphs resided in Sāmarrāʾ), Baghdad was the seat of the Abbasid caliphate, and in the first half of that period was among the most prosperous and culturally advanced cities in the world. Capital of a province corresponding largely to the central part of today’s Iraq under the Ottomans (1534–1623, 1638–1918), Baghdad became the capital of the newly formed state of Iraq in 1921.
The first Ch. of E. cath. to spend time in Baghdad was Yaʿqob II (753–73), namely in a prison there, an experience shared by the Syr. Orth. Patr. Giwargis I (759–90) and the Melk. Patr. Theodoros (751–97). Cath. Ḥenanishoʿ II (773–80), though elected in the Monastery of Mar Petion in Baghdad, continued to reside in Seleucia-Ctesiphon. With Timotheos I (780–823) the Catholicoi begin to reside permanently in Baghdad. Major groups of Christians who settled in the city came from earlier E. Syr. centers at Ḥirta, Kashkar (al-Wāsiṭ), and Beth Garmai. W.-Syr. Christians also had a significant presence in Baghdad by the end of the 8th cent. Beginning with Timotheos I himself, in the period down to the middle of the 11th cent., Syr. Christian scholars played a vital role in the intellectual life of Baghdad, especially as physicians and as translators of Greek philosophical and scientific works into Arabic — scholars such as Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq (d. 873), Abū Bishr Mattā b. Yūnus (d. 940), Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī (893–974), and Abū al-Faraj ibn al-Ṭayyib (d. 1043), to name but a few (see medicine and Greek, Syriac translations from). Though not subject to official persecutions as occurred earlier under the Sasanians, the Christians in Baghdad were subject to certain discriminations and were vulnerable to attacks by the populace, especially at times of instability under weak governments, which was often the case from the middle of the 10th cent. onwards.
The residences of the Catholicoi generally followed the movement of the political and commercial center of the city. In the first period, they resided on the right bank of the Tigris, in the Monastery of Klil Ishoʿ (also called Dayr al-Jāthalīq ‘Monastery of the Catholicos’) to the south of the ‘Round City’, where most of the Catholicoi from Timotheos I to Sargis I (860–72) were buried, and in the Monastery of Mar Petion (Dayr al-ʿAtīqa) in the former village of Sūrāyā (al-ʿAtīqa) to the east of the Round City, which predated the foundation of Madīnat al-Salām and was restored by Sabrishoʿ II (831–35). Yoḥannan II (884–91) was the first Catholicos to establish his residence on the left bank, in the Shammāsiyya Quarter in the northern part of the walled city of that period. Most of the Catholicoi from Yoḥannan III (893– 899) to Eliya II (1111–32) resided there and were buried in the ‘Palace of the Greeks’ (Dār al-Rūm). Barṣawma I (1134–36) moved his residence south to the Church of Mar Sabrishoʿ in Sūq al-Thalātha, and Yahbalaha II (1190–1222) to the Church of St. Mary in the Karkh Quarter on the west bank. After the fall of Baghdad to the initially pro-Christian Mongols, Makkika II (1257–65) was given a group of buildings centered around the mansion of a former vizier on the Tigris as his residence, but his successor Denḥa I (1265–81) was forced to withdraw to Arbela by Muslim reactions against Mongol rule in the city. Yahbalaha III (1281–1317), Timotheos II (1318–32) and, probably, Denḥa II (mid-14th cent.) were still consecrated in Baghdad, but normally resided away from Baghdad in northern Iraq and (today’s Iranian) Azerbaijan.
Ḥabib, the first known Syr. Orth. bp. of Baghdad, is attested in 818. Among the churches belonging to the Syr. Orth. community in Baghdad was that of Mār Tūmā, the burial place of Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī, in the Christian quarter (Qaṭīʿat al-Naṣārā) to the south of the Round City. Ch. of E. cath. Yoḥannan V (1000–11) succeeded in obtaining a decree from the caliph forbidding the long-term residence of Syr. Orth. maphrians in Baghdad during a visit to the city by Maph. Ignatius bar Qiqi (991–1016) in 1003/4. Nevertheless, Yuḥanon bar Maʿdani (Maphr. 1232–53, patr. 1253–63) was later able to spend several years of his maphrianate in Baghdad, devoting part of that time to the study of Arabic literature. The last pre-modern Syr. Orth. bp. of Baghdad was Timotheos Yeshuʿ, ordained there by Bar ʿEbroyo in 1265.
Little is heard of the Christians in Baghdad after the sack of the city by Timur in 1401, and it is only in the 17th cent. that we have evidence again of the presence of Christians in any significant numbers. From the middle of the 19th cent., the Chald. patriarchs (bearing the title ‘of Babylon’), though normally resident in Mosul, often visited Baghdad. Two of them, Yoḥannan VIII Hormizd (1830–38) and ʿAbdishoʿ V Khayyāṭ (1895–99), died and were buried in Baghdad. The Chald. patriarchate was transferred from Mosul to Baghdad de facto under Yawsep VII Ghanīma (1947–58) and officially under Pawlos II Cheikho (1958–89). The Ch. of E. Patr. Shemʿon XX Pawlos (1918–20), who died as a refugee in Baʿqūba, was interred in Baghdad. The Ch. of E. has had a bishop in Baghdad since 1951. Baghdad has been the seat of the patriarchs of the Ancient Church of the East since 1968, when Toma Darmo (d. 1969) was elected patriarch there by those opposed to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the Ch. of E. The Syr. Catholic Church has had a bp. resident in Baghdad since 1862. The new Syr. Orth. see of Baghdad and Baṣra was erected in 1960, and has had the scholar Būlus Behnām (metr. 1962–69) and the future patriarch Severus (later Ignatius) Zakkā ʿIwāṣ (metr. 1969–80, patr. 1980–) as its occupants.
There are around fifty churches of various denominations in the city today (including 24 Chald., 7 Syr. Orth., 4 Ch. of E., 3 Syr. Catholic, and 2 Ancient Ch. of E. in regular use, according to S. Rassam, Christianity in Iraq, 2005). The oldest is that of the Virgin Mary on al-Maydān Square near the northern end of the Ottoman city area, built in 1639 and now in Armenian Orthodox hands. A number of churches were founded in the 19th cent. in the area that came to be called ʿAqd al-Naṣārā nearer the center of the old city, including the Chald. Church of Mary Mother of Sorrows (Umm al-Aḥzān; place of burial of Patr. Yoḥannan VIII, ʿAbdishoʿ V, and Pawlos II) and the former Syr. Cath. cathedral, as well as the Latin church now used by the Coptic Orthodox. Many of the newer representative churches are found in the area to the southeast of the city center, including the new Syr. Cath. Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance/Sayyidat al-Najāt (1968, commonly called Umm al-Ṭāq) and the Chald. Church of St. Joseph (Kharbanda, 1956; place of burial of Patr. Yawsep VII) in the eastern part of al-Karrāda. The Syr. Orth. cathedral (Sts. Peter and Paul, 1964) is located further east near the University of Technology, and the Ancient Church of the East cathedral (Virgin Mary, 1988) further southeast in Ḥayy al-Riyāḍ. Another important Christian area of the city is al-Dawra to the south of the large bend of the Tigris, including the ‘Assyrian Quarter’ (Ḥayy al-Āthūriyyīn) in its southern part and Ḥayy al-Mīkānīk further south with the Ch. of E. Church of Mar Zaya (built to replace the former Cathedral of Mar Zaya in Karrādat Maryam which was demolished by the government in 1985) and the Pontifical Babel College for Philosophy and Theology (founded in 1991, temporarily transferred to ʿAynkawa near Arbela in 2007). Many of the churches in Baghdad have been the targets of terrorist attacks in the period of instability since 2003.
The Syriac Corporation of the Iraqi Academy of Science, originally founded as the Syriac Academy in 1975, has played an important role in the promotion of the academic study of Syriac. A Department of Syriac Language was established at the University of Baghdad in 2004. The troubles since 2003 have had adverse effects on the state of Syriac and Christian Arabic mss. in Baghdad, including those in major collections, such as those of the Chald. Monastery of St. Antony (collection formerly at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Seeds at Alqosh), the Chald. Patriarchate (incorporating collections from elsewhere in Iraq) and the Ch. of E. Archbishopric, as well as those in other ecclesiastical, public and private collections.
- M. Allard, ‘Les chrétiens à Baġdād’, Arabica 9 (1962), 375–88.
- A. A. Duri, in EI 2, vol. 1 (1960), 894–908.
- J.-M. Fiey, Chrétiens syriaques sous les Abbassides surtout à Bagdad (749–1258) (CSCO 420; 1980).
- J.-M. Fiey, ‘Résidences et sépultures des patriarches syriaques-orientaux’, LM 98 (1985), 149–68.
- J.-M. Fiey, Pour un Oriens christianus novus, 57, 173–4.
- J. Habbi, ‘Manuscrits arabes chrétiens en Iraq’, ParOr 22 (1997), 361–80.
- H. Kaufhold, ‘Bagdad’, in KLCO , 92–3.
- Wilmshurst, Ecclesiastical organisation, 182–7.
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Hidemi Takahashi, “Baghdad,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Baghdad.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Takahashi, Hidemi. “Baghdad.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Baghdad.
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