Barṣawma of Nisibis (d. ca. 491–96) [Ch. of E.]

Controversial E.-Syr. bp. of Nisibis. After spending time at the School of Edessa, Barṣawma was made metropolitan bp. of Nisibis (ca. 459, or perhaps as early as 435) by the Cath. Babowai (457–484/6). The shah Peroz (457–84) showed a liking to him and may have even commissioned him to officiate in matters pertaining to border security, even entrusting him with troops. Later Miaphysite sources suggest that he used this force against his theological enemies, but there seems to be an exaggeration in this account. Until Gero’s work, scholars generally believed the W.-Syr. characterization of Barṣawma as playing an important role in the so-called ‘nestorianization’ of the Ch. of E. For example, Shemʿun of Beth Arsham’s letter on the spread of Dyophysitism across the Sasanian Empire was published by Assemani as ‘On Barṣawma, Bishop of Nisibis, and the heresy of the Nestorians’, although it only mentions him twice and in passing. To what extent he played a central role in the propagation of Dyophysite Christology in the Ch. of  E. is unclear, but it seems certain that he was involved in some of the major ecclesiastical developments of the day. For example, he may have initiated the founding of the School of Nisibis. The sources describe him as persuading Narsai to found the new school in Nisibis after the expulsion of the Dyophysites from the School of Edessa in the last decades of the 5th cent. Barṣawma engaged in a project of ethical reform, which included granting permission for clergy to marry. He later had a falling out with Narsai, perhaps in part due to his marriage to an ex-nun, Mamai. He openly opposed the Cath. Babowai and called together a synod at Beth Lapaṭ in 484, which did not include the cath. This was followed by a synod at Beth ʿEdray (?) in 486. We have extant a letter from Barṣawma explaining his absence from the Synod of Mar Aqaq, held in 486, which further addressed the issues of clerical marriage. ʿAbdishoʿ bar Brikha is vague about his works, citing various genres, including metrical homilies, liturgical works, and epistles (Assemani, BibOr, vol. 3.1, 66). Gero provides a possible chronology for his several extant letters.


  • Assemani, BibOr, vol. 1, 351 n. 4.
  • P.  Bruns, ‘Barsauma von Nisibis und die Aufhebung der Klerikerenthaltsamkeit im Gefolge der Synode von Beth-Lapat (484)’, Annuarium Historiae Conciliorum 37 (2005), 1–42.
  • S.  Gero, Barṣauma of Nisibis and Persian Christianity in the fifth century (CSCO 426; 1981). (contains a full discussion of sources)

How to Cite This Entry

Adam H. Becker , “Barṣawma of Nisibis,” in Barṣawma of Nisibis, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Adam H. Becker , “Barṣawma of Nisibis,” in Barṣawma of Nisibis, 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:

Becker, Adam H. “Barṣawma of Nisibis.” In Barṣawma of Nisibis. 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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