Chronicle of Edessa (mid-6th cent.)

6th-cent. collection consisting of ca. 106 independent entries (‘lemmas’), most of them beginning with the precise indication of the year (‘In the year …’). It is preserved in six remaining folios of an ancient, probably 7th-cent., ms. (Vat. Syr. 163) and has the title: Tašʿyātā d-suʿrāne a(y)k da-b-pāsiqātā, ‘Narratives of events in brief’. Its importance was first recognized by J. S. Assemani, who provided an edition (with LT) in his Bibliotheca Orientalis, vol. 1 (1719), 387–417. Later editions were done by L. Hallier (1892, with GT) and I. Guidi (1903, with LT).

Most of the entries either deal with, or are immediately relevant to, the history of Edessa. Hence modern scholars, since Assemani, have called it ‘Chronicle of Edessa’. The period covered extends from 133/2 BC (A. Gr. 180) to AD 540, i.e., from the pre-Christian period (when Edessa was a kingdom under the Abgarids) well into the time that most of Edessa was Christian. The work opens with an elaborate account of a flood in Edessa in November AD 201 (no. 1; this contains a brief mention of damage done to ‘the sanctuary [hayklā] of the church of the Christians’), and then steps back to the year 133/2 BC, which is said to be when kings began to reign in Edessa (no. 2). With the exception of the flood account, the entries are few and sparse until the beginning of the 4th cent., when Bp. Qune is mentioned (no. 12). From then onwards entries become more frequent and more substantial, and regularly provide the names of the ruling bps. of the city. There are brief and rather detached references to Theodore of Mopsuestia (no. 46), to Bps. Rabbula (nos. 51 and 59) and Hiba (nos. 59, 60, 64, and 68), to the 449 Council of Ephesus (no. 63), to the Council of Chalcedon (no. 66), to the closure of the School of Edessa in 488/9 (no. 73), and to the anti-Chalcedonian policy of Emp. Anastasius (nos. 77, 83, and 84). The author’s language, however, becomes more personal when he reports about the religious policy of Emperors Justin I (518–527) and Justinian (527–565), and he empathetically mentions Justinian’s concern and care (bṭiluthā w-yaṣṣiputhā) to have the four synods (including the one of Chalcedon) recognized (no. 95). It is likely, therefore, that this reflects the author’s own religious (Chalcedonian) perspective.

As the city archives are explicitly mentioned at the end of the flood account, the author may very well have had access to them, directly or, more likely, indirectly. Since some of the later Chronicles reflect the use of archival materials as well, it has been suggested that the chronicler excerpted entries from an earlier and more comprehensive chronicle (‘Original Chronicle of Edessa’), from which also some of the later chroniclers drew (see Witakowski).

As one of the rare sources with a focused interest in the early history of Edessa, the short Chronicle has received much attention in modern scholarship. The Chronicle’s extreme paucity of data on Christianity in Edessa prior to the beginning of the 4th cent. — while, tellingly, Marcion (no. 6), Bardaiṣan (no. 7), and Mani (no.  10) are explicitly mentioned — led Bauer to challenge the traditional view that ‘orthodox’ Christianity preceded ‘heresy’ in Edessa, and to posit that prior to the early 4th cent. various Christian groups vied for power. It was only in the 4th cent., in his view, that ‘orthodox’ Christianity was able to assert itself and to oppress ‘non-orthodox’ groups, whose literary history subsequently fell into oblivion or was deliberately erased. In addition, scholars have noted the absence in the Chronicle of any reference to the conversion of the Abgarids or to the mission of Addai. This has contributed to the view that the legend of Addai, as found in the Teaching of Addai, represents an attempt at ‘orthodox’ rewriting of early Edessene Christian history, an attempt that — as Ephrem shows in the 4th cent. and the Chronicle of Edessa in the 6th — was not necessarily universally accepted.

    Primary Sources

    • B. H. Cowper, ‘Selections from the Syriac, No. 1. The Chronicle of Edessa’, Journal of Sacred Literature, ns. 5 (1864), 28–45. (ET)
    • I. Guidi, Chronica minora, 1 (CSCO 1–2; 1903), 1–13 and 1–11 (Syr. with LT).
    • L. Hallier, Untersuchungen über die Edessenische Chronik (TU 9.2; 1892).

    Secondary Sources

    • W. Bauer, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (1934, 2nd ed. 1963; ET by R. A. Kraft and G. Krodel, Orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity [1971]). (first chapter on Edessa)
    • J. B. Segal, Edessa ‘The blessed city’ (1970). (for the early period largely based on Chronicle of Edessa, with many excerpts)
    • W. Witakowski, ‘Chronicles of Edessa’, OrSuec 33–35 (1984–86), 487–98. (Chronicle of Edessa and Original Chronicle of Edessa)


How to Cite This Entry

Lucas Van Rompay, “Chronicle of Edessa,” 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, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Chronicle-of-Edessa.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Lucas Van Rompay, “Chronicle of Edessa,” 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/Chronicle-of-Edessa.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Van Rompay, Lucas. “Chronicle of Edessa.” 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/Chronicle-of-Edessa.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Chronicle-of-Edessa/tei.

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