Beth Aramaye

Ecclesiastical province of the Ch. of E., situated in Central Iraq. It had the patriarchal see of Kokhe, or Seleucia-Ctesiphon, as its administrative and spiritual center. Its name points to a significant presence of Arameans or speakers of Aramaic in the region. The Persian name Asuristan (or Asorestan), which is preserved in some Arabic sources as well as in Armenian, may be a translation of the Aramaic name. In a letter of Barṣawma of Nisibis, dated 484, it is reported that there was a ‘marzbān (i.e., governor) of Beth Aramaye’ (Chabot, 527.3; FT 533), who must have been a Sasanian official (Christensen, 136–40).

In the Synod of 410 (see Isḥaq) only one bp. is mentioned under the jurisdiction of the bp. of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (later: Catholicos), namely the bp. of Kashkar, who is the bp. of Seleucia-Ctesiphon’s right hand and assistant as well as the caretaker of his see after his death (Canon 21: Chabot, 33.15; FT 272). But four more dioceses of Beth Aramaye are known for the early 5th cent.: Zabe, Ḥirta, Dayra d-Qunni, and Dasqarta d-Malka (Fiey 1968, 148; map facing p. 152), while slightly later sources provide several additional names. Fiey (1968, 151–261) distinguishes between the ‘Persian’ and the ‘Arab’ dioceses. The ‘Persian’ dioceses, tracing their origin back to the Sasanian period, include: 1. Kashkar-Wāsiṭ; 2. Dayra d-Qunni (said to be the earliest monastery in Beth Aramaye), Beth Daraye, and Beth Kusaye; 3. Zabe (al-Zawābi, i.e., the region between Seleucia and Kashkar), al-Nuʿmāniyya, and Dayr Ḥazqiel); 4. Dasqarta d-Malka (ca. 88 km. northeast of Baghdad); 5. Ḥirta, ʿĀqūlā, and Nagran (named after Nagran in S. Arabia); 6.  Peruz Shapur, later known as al-Anbār. The ‘Arab’ dioceses emerged under Abbasid rule. They include: 1.  al-Qaṣr, between Baghdad and al-Kūfa; 2. Niffar (ancient Nippur) and al-Nīl; 3. ʿAbdāsi and Nahrgūr, both in the southeast of Iraq; 4. al-Rādhān, al-Baradān, and Beth Dārūn (of uncertain location, not far from Baghdad). In the later Islamic period, dioceses of Beth Aramaye were repeatedly amalgamated. By the 14th cent., Syr. Christianity had largely disappeared from Central Iraq. It was the north of Iraq that gradually became the center of the Ch. of E. (Wilmshurst, Ecclesiastical Organisation, 344). The name ‘Beth Aramaye’ lost its relevance.

While both Persian and Arabic must have existed in the region from an early period onwards, in Syriac sources the inhabitants of Beth Aramaye were called Ārāmāye ‘Arameans’ (most often to be distinguished from Armāye ‘pagans’), sing. Ārāmāyā, i.e., ‘from Beth Aramaye’ (this usage thus coexisted with a different and broader use of the term for the Aramaic language and ethnicity in general). Bar Bahlul, in his Lexicon, quotes some peculiar forms of the Aramaic language of Beth Aramaye, which he, therefore, did not see as identical to Classical Syriac. Fiey (1990) has pointed out that in the Islamic period much of the content of the term ‘Beth Aramaye’ was transferred to the Arabic name ‘Nabaṭ’ (even though the ‘Nabaṭ’ of Central Iraq were distinguished from different groups of ‘Nabaṭ’, esp. in Arabia and Syria; see also Nöldeke). The Arabic term nabṭī also carried some of the connotations of ‘Aramean’ and ‘Aramaic’ and even was occasionally used, both by Christians and Muslims, as a substitute for ‘Aramaic’. This occurs, e.g., in Ibn al-Ṭayyib’s ‘Paradise of Christianity’ (commenting on the first language of the world) and in a related passage in Ibn al-Nadīm’s Fihrist (Fiey 1990, 83–84; cf. K. Samir, ‘Théodore de Mopsueste dans le «Fihrist» d’Ibn an-Nadīm’, LM 90 [1977], 355–63). Bar ʿEbroyo, in his Mukhtaṣar, is aware that the Aramaic language (nabṭiyya) of Central Iraq is different from the Syriac of Edessa and Ḥarran as well as from ‘Palestinian’ Aramaic (quoted in Fiey 1990, 86), but it is not clear whether he speaks about the situation of his own day or rather reflects notions of a much earlier period.


  • Chabot, Synodicon Orientale.
  • A. Christensen, L’Iran sous les Sassanides, 2nd ed. (1944).
  • Fiey, Assyrie chrétienne, vol. 3 (1968), 147–261.
  • Fiey, ‘Les « Nabaṭ » de Kaskar-Wāsiṭ dans les premiers siècles de l’Islam’, MUSJ 51 (1990), 51–87.
  • T. Nöldeke, ‘Die Namen der aramäischen Nation und Sprache’, ZDMG 25 (1871), 113–31.

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