A region in southwestern Iran, often identified as the heartland of the Iranian people. Known as Anshan in Elamite texts, the region received the name Fars in the mid 7th cent. BC, following the migration of Persian-speaking tribes from the northern Zagros Mountains (de Planhol, 328). Under the Sasanian Empire (224–642), the region reclaimed its role — established under the Achaemenids — as the epicenter for Persian royal ritual and building. Early Sasanian rulers honored the ‘holy places’ of their ancestors with new cliff reliefs and multilingual inscriptions and established ambitious urban foundations, such as Bishapur and Firuzabad, in the broad highland basins of the region’s interior (Wiesehöfer, 336).
Christianity arrived in Fars via at least two major channels between the 3rd and 4th cent. Deportees from Roman Syria, forcibly resettled in the region by Shapur I (r. 240–72) and his grandson Shapur II (r. 309–79), included Christians who maintained their faith even after some of them intermarried with the local ‘Persian’ population. E.-Syr. martyr literature, chronicles, and archaeology preserve scattered echoes of these deportees’ background in Roman Syria (Jullien and Jullien, 153–87). Commercial contacts with northern Mesopotamia provided the other major conduit for the introduction of Christian doctrines into Fars. The Acts of Mar Mari (a 7th-cent. apostolic narrative) claim, for instance, that merchants from Fars and Khuzistan traveled to the ‘West’, where they were converted by ‘the blessed apostle Addai’, presumably at Edessa, before returning home. The region’s earliest churches were thus diverse in both their origins and ethnicity. According to a plausible report in the 11th-cent. Chronicle of Siirt (ed. Scher, I.I [PO 4], 222, ch. 2), the liturgy in 3rd-cent. Fars was conducted in both Greek and Syriac.
During the 5th–6th cent., the Christian community of Fars emerged as one of the most important eparchies of the Ch. of E. The region’s metropolitan bp., based in the coastal city of Rev Ardashir, signed as the sixth highest ranking bp. at the synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 424 (Fiey, 178–9). Other regional cities, such as Darabgard, Ardashir Khurrah (possibly to be identified with medieval Siraf), and even Istakhr (where the Sasanian dynasty was founded), had also attained episcopal status by this time (idem, 202–3). The bishops’ names, more often Persian than Syriac, hint at the growing influence of ethnic Persians, whose conversion sparked a wave of translations, beginning in the 6th cent., from Syriac into Middle Persian. The demand for these translations was heightened by the links between Fars and the Persian-speaking population of adjoining regions, especially the dioceses scattered around the periphery of the Persian Gulf. According to a well-known passage in the Chronicle of Siirt (ed. Scher, II.I [PO 7], 117, ch. 9), Maʿna, metropolitan bp. of Fars in the mid-6th cent., produced Persian ‘hymns, homilies, and responses to be sung in church’, and distributed them to ‘the maritime lands (Beth Qaṭraye) and India’. It appears that the metropolitans of Fars even appointed clergy for the most far-flung merchant communities of the Indian Ocean. The 6th-cent. pepper merchant of Alexandria, Cosmas Indicopleustes, was amazed to find clergy appointed ‘from Persia’ (dia Persidos) on the island of Socotra near modern Somalia and at Kalliana on the south-western coast of India (‘Christian Topography’ 3.65; Weerakkody, 237 and 244).
In the late Sasanian and early Islamic period, the metropolitan bishops of Fars entered into a prolonged and bitter conflict with the E.-Syr. patriarchs. The patriarchal correspondence of Ishoʿyahb III documents the growth of this rivalry that culminated in the synod in 676, which raised the provinces of Beth Qaṭraye and India to metropolitan status, thus removing them from the authority of bishops of Fars. Despite this truncation of its jurisdiction, Fars remained the base for a vigorous Persian Christian culture deep into the Islamic period. Christian law books produced in Fars in the 8th and 9th cent. reveal not only the depth of Christians’ adoption of Sasanian-derived marriage patterns, but also the determined efforts of the clergy to purge their flock of these ‘Magian’ habits (Payne, 191–241). Synodical lists continue to name bishops for the region into the 12th cent. — and indeed as late as 1318 at the port city of Siraf.
In contrast to the range and depth of these textual references, the archaeology of Fars has not yet yielded any clear physical evidence for the region’s Christian communities. This lacuna probably reflects the biases of modern research conditions more than a lack of archaeological potential, since parallel fieldwork in the Persian Gulf has identified the remains of churches at at least eight sites, including a large 9th-cent. monastery (123 x 88 m) on the island of Kharg, only 50 km northwest of ancient Rev Ardashir (Carter, 97–8; Steve, 85–154).
- R. A. Carter, ‘Christianity in the Gulf during the first centuries of Islam’, Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy19 (2008), 71–108.
- J. Fiey, ‘Diocèses syriens orientaux du Golfe persique’, in Mémorial Mgr Gabriel Khouri-Sarkis (1969), 177–219.
- F. Jullien and C. Jullien, Apôtres des confins: Processus missionnaires chrétiens dans l’empire iranien (2002).
- R. Payne, Christianity and Iranian society in Late Antiquity, ca. 500–700 CE (Ph.D. Diss., Princeton Univ.; 2010).
- X. de Planhol, ‘Fars: Geography’, in EIr , vol. 9 (1999), 328–333.
- M.-J. Steve. L’île de Kharg: Une page de l’histoire du Golfe Persique et du monachisme oriental (2003).
- D. Weerakkody, Taprobanê: Ancient Sri Lanka as known to Greeks and Romans (1997).
- J. Wiesehöfer, ‘Fars: History in the pre-Islamic Period’, in EIr , vol.9 (1999), 333–7.
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Joel T. Walker , “Fars,” 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/Fars.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Walker, Joel T. “Fars.” 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/Fars.
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