City in eastern Anatolia, located near the right bank of the Euphrates and to the north of the main range of the Eastern Taurus. It lies in a fertile plain whose orchards are famed today for their apricots and where the ancient Persian ‘Royal Road’ intersected the north-south route along the Euphrates. Its name appears in forms such as Malidiya and Melidi in Hittite and Assyrian records from the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Melitene became an important garrison town under Roman rule and was made a provincial capital in the 4th cent. (of ‘Armenia  II’, renamed ‘Armenia III’ in 536). The city lay in an area that often changed hands between the Byzantines and the Arabs after the rise of Islam. It was first attacked by the Turks in 1058, and, after periods of rule by the Armenian curopalate Philaretos Brachamios and the similarly Armenian, though Chalcedonian, Gabriel (Khoril) of Melitene, it passed to the Danishmendids in 1101 and then to the Rum Seljuks in the 1170s. The Mongols first reached the neighbourhood of Melitene in 1231, and attacked the city on several occasions in 1243–44 and 1251–53. Melitene continued to be ruled by the Seljuks under Mongol suzerainty until it fell to the Mamluks in 1315. The city was taken by the Ottomans in 1516. The modern city of Malatya, to which the majority of the population migrated in the 19th cent., is situated approximately 12 km. to the south-southwest of the site of the antique and medieval city, which is known today as Old Malatya (Eski Malatya, officially Battalgazi).

Melitene was an important center of Christianity from early on. Meletius of Antioch (d. 381), who presided over the First Council of Constantinople, was a native of the city, while its early bishops included such figures as Otreios, present at that council of 381, Acacius (d. before 449), one of the fathers at Ephesus (431), Mamas (Momo), a renegade to the miaphysite cause who was restored to his see under Justin I, and Domitian (d. 602), a nephew of Emperor Maurice (582–602). The list of bishops for Melitene in the Chronicle of Michael I Rabo (Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, vol. 3, 494) indicates that there was a long interruption after Domitian, no doubt reflecting the absence of Syr. Orth. Christians in the area. The list resumes with names of four bishops whose dates are unknown. The fifth name on that part of the list is that of Bp. Daniel, ordained by Dionysios of Tel Maḥre ( patr. 818–45). From Grigorios onwards, who was ordained by Patr. Basilios (923–35), the titulars are styled as ‘metroplitans’.

Melitene and the surrounding area, lying to the north of areas traditionally inhabited by Syr. Christians, saw an influx of Syr. Orth. settlers in the wake of their reconquest by the Byzantines in 934 and especially after the adoption of a policy encouraging such migration by Nicephoras II Phocas (963–69), who, being unable to entice Chalcedonians to settle in the area, invited the Syr. Orth. Patr. Yuḥanon da-Srigteh (965–86) to move with his followers to the region of ‘Melitene, Hanzīṭ, and Qlisuro’, promising them immunity from persecution (Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, vol. 4, 335f.). Although that promise was not kept for long, the wealth created through this resettlement became a major factor in bringing about the revival of cultural activities among Syr. Christians which has come to be termed the ‘Syriac Renaissance’. Melitene played a central role in the ecclesiastical and cultural life of the Syr. Orth. Church during the following three centuries, giving birth to the most important Syr. Orth. authors from that period, Michael I Rabo, Bar ʿEbroyo, and, probably, Dionysios bar Ṣalibi. Of the Patriarchs from the period, Yuḥanon bar ʿAbdun (1004–31), Yuḥanon X bar Shushan (1064–73), Athanasios VI bar Qeṭreh (1139–66), and Michael II the Younger (1199–1215), as well as Michael I, were natives of Melitene, while Athanasios bar Kamoro (1090–1129), though born in Amid, was raised in Melitene, and Ignatius III Dawid (maph. 1215–22, patr. 1222–52), Dionysios VI ʿAngur (1252–61), and Philoxenos Nemrud (1283–92) were metropolitans of Melitene before their elevation to the patriarchate. A large number of other authors, such as the apostate Ignatius (Iwanis) Marqos bar Qiqi (metr. of Melitene, then maph. 991–1016), Ignatius of Melitene (d. 1104), Yuḥanon Saʿīd bar Ṣabūnī (metr. in 1105), Theodoros bar Wahbun (d. 1193), Grigorios Yaʿqub (maph. 1189–1214), were also associated with the city either as its natives or its metropolitans.

In the first half of the 11th cent., the Coptic bp. Michael of Tinnīs, reporting on his visit to the region, spoke of Melitene as the large city under the jurisdiction of Patr. Yuḥanon bar ʿAbdun, with 56 churches and 60,000 arms-bearing Christians in the city and its surroundings (A. S. Atiya et al., History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, vol. 2, pt. 2 [Cairo, 1948], 141f.). The Christians of the city included Melkites, as well as Armenians, and it may have been through contacts with Melkites there that the redaction of the Qonune yawnoye designated as Melitenian was adopted by the Syr. Christians. The leading role Metr. Dionysios ʿAngur is reported to have played in the defence of the city in 1243 suggests that the Syr. Christians then constituted the majority of the Christians and possibly also of the overall population. One peculiarity of the local dialect of Aramaic, the pronunciation of qoph as gomal, is mentioned by Bar ʿEbroyo in his treatise ‘On equilitteral words’ (Martin, Œuvres grammaticales d’Abou’lfaradj dit Bar Hebreus, vol. 2, 82; cf. Duval, Traité de grammaire syriaque, xi).

The political disturbances in the latter half of the 13th cent. evidently had a devastating effect on the Syr. Orth. communities in Melitene and its surroundings; Bar ʿEbroyo, writing in 1283, says that there was ‘not one house remaining’ in the seven dioceses in the neighbourhood of Melitene, namely Laqabin, ʿArqo, Qlisuro, Gubos, Ṣemḥo, Qlawdiya, and Gargar (Abbeloos and Lamy, Gregorii Barhebraei chronicon ecclesiasticum, vol. 3, 459). One of the three claimants to the patriarchate in the schism following the death of Philoxenos Nemrud was Constantine of Melitene, who was murdered by the Kurds within a year of his ordination in 1293. The third in the Cilician line of patriarchs was Basilios Gabriel of Melitene (1349–87), while Ignatius Shihāb (1366–81), the third in the Mardin line, is also said to have been metropolitan of Melitene (A. Barsoum, History of the Zaʿfaraan Monastery [2008], 49; F. Y. Dolabani, Maktbonuto d-faṭriyarke d-Anṭiyokiya [1990], 186). In two lists drawn up in 1579/80–81 the title of the bp. of Melitene is found attached to that of Gargar and Edessa. By the end of the 19th cent., the Christian population of the city consisted almost entirely of Armenians, who made up about one tenth of the total population of 30,000 (V.  Cuinet, La Turquie d’Asie, vol. 2 [1892], 372).

Although there was never any significant E.-Syr. presence in the region around Melitene, ‘bishop of Tarsus and Malatya’ is mentioned as a suffragan of Damascus in a list of Ch. of E. bishoprics found appended in an early 13th-cent. ms. (Vat. Arab. 157) to the canonical work of Elias of Damascus (ca. 900) (Assemani, BibOr, vol. 2, 458f.; cf. Graf, GCAL, vol. 2, 134).


  • Baumstark, Literatur, 290–303.
  • G.  Dagron, ‘Minorités ethniques et religieuses dans l’Orient byzantin à la fin du Xe et au XIe siècle: L’immigration syrienne’, Travaux et mémoires 6 (1976), 177–216. (reprinted in Dagron, La romanité chrétien en Orient [1984], ch. X)
  • Fiey, Pour un Oriens christianus novus, 138 (s.v. ‘Tarse’), 242–3 (s.v. ‘Mélitène’).
  • E.  Honigmann and S.  Faroqhi, ‘Malaṭya’, EI 2, vol. 6 (1990), 230–2. (also the earlier, more detailed article by Honigmann in EI 1, vol. 5, 193–7)
  • H. Husmann, ‘Die melkitische Liturgie als Quelle der syrischen Qanune iaonaie. Melitene und Edessa’, OCP 41 (1975), 5–56.
  • A.  Palmer, ‘Charting undercurrents in the history of the West-Syrian people: The resettlement of Byzantine Melitene after 934’, OC 70 (1986), 37–68.
  • T. A.  Sinclair, Eastern Turkey. An architectural and archaeological survey, vol. 3 (1989), 3–18, 134–60, 421–2.
  • H.  Takahashi, Barhebraeus: A Bio-Bibliography (2005), 3–7.
  • D.  Weltecke, Die «Beschreibung der Zeiten» von Mōr Michael dem Grossen (1126–1199) (CSCO 594; 2003), 62–8.

How to Cite This Entry

Hidemi Takahashi, “Melitene,” 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,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Hidemi Takahashi, “Melitene,” 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),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Takahashi, Hidemi. “Melitene.” 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.

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