Modern Urfa, Syriac Urhay, and ancient Adme, on the Balikh river, to the northwest of Ḥarran in southeastern Turkey. In ancient times Edessa was a caravan city on a trade route mentioned in Old Assyrian and Babylonian itineraries as Adme, Admi, and Admum, located beside Ḥarran. Ephrem associates Edessa with biblical Erech (the ancient Sumerian Uruk) ruled by the legendary Nimrod. Another source associates its name with its mythical first ruler ʾRHY BR ḤWYʾ, whereas Jewish and Islamic traditions conveniently turned the city into the dwelling place of Abraham. In 304 BC, Seleucus I Nicator rebuilt the ancient settlement into a Hellenistic polis , naming it after the Macedonian city of Edessa, possibly because both localities enjoyed plentiful water. The Syriac name Urhay (Arabic al-Rahhāʾ) may derive from the name Antiochia Kallirhoe ‘Antioch by the Kallirhoe’ inscribed on coins struck there by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–64 BC). The city became part of the small province of Osrhoene created after the defeat of Antiochus Sidetes in 130–129 BC at the hands of the Parthians. From this time the province enjoyed independence, being ruled by local kings (most of whom were named Abgar or Maʿnu) until AD 213 when it turned into a Roman colony (see Abgarids). Christianity spread out in Mesopotamia probably through Edessa, and in any case, its Aramaic dialect attested in inscriptions, deeds of sales, and coins, became the language of Syriac Christianity. Edessa is the scene of Addai’s missionary activities according to the Teaching of Addai, and it had a church destroyed in 201 by the flooding of the Daiṣan, the river that passed through the city. This is reported by the Chronicle of Edessa, which drew on the royal archives of the city. During the 3rd and 4th cent. Edessa witnessed a diversity of Christian traditions including followers of Bardaiṣan, Marcion, and Mani, all contending with Roman ecclesiastical orthodoxy championed by Ephrem (d. 373). During most of the 5th cent. Edessa was the scene of struggles between ‘Nestorians’ and Miaphysites, opposing Bp. Rabbula (d. 435), an archenemy of Nestorianism, and Hiba (d. 457) who, while teaching at the School of Edessa, assisted in the translation of the works of Theodore and other Antiochene theologians from Greek into Syriac. After succeeding Rabbula as bp. of Edessa, Hiba eventually anathematized both Nestorius and Eutyches, but the suppression of Nestorianism in the city occurred during the time of Bp. Qiyore (d. 498), under whose instigation the ‘School of the Persians’ was shut in 489 by Zeno on account of its ‘Nestorian’ tendencies. During the 6th cent. Edessa suffered the consequences of warfare between Byzantines and Sasanians some of which are vividly recorded in the so-called Chronicle of Yeshuʿ the Stylite. In about 542 the city had a bishop named Yaʿqub Burdʿoyo (d. 578), who, with the support of the Empress Theodora, undertook the reorganization of the Miaphysite community in Syria into the Syr. Orth. Church that survives to this day. In 641 Edessa was conquered by the Arabs and in 1098 it became a Crusader principality to be crushed by Zengi of Mosul in 1144. The Chronicle of Michael Rabo contains a dramatic report of the massacres that accompanied the fall of the city and a lamentation over it was composed by Dionysios Bar Ṣalibi bp. of Amid. From 1517 Edessa became part of the Ottoman empire, and during World War I some of its Syriac and Armenian inhabitants were massacred, a fact that led the remnants to leave the city once and for all in 1924, heading to Aleppo where they still live in Hay al-Suryān ‘Quarter of the Syriacs’. Edessa was a Syr. Orth. Metropolitan seat probably from the early 6th cent. and as late as 1924.
- Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, vol. 3, 260–7.
- R. Duval, Histoire politique, religieuse et littéraire d’Édesse jusqu’à la première croisade (1892).
- H. J. W. Drijvers, ‘Hatra, Palmyra und Edessa. Die Städte der syrisch-mesopotamischen Wüste in politischer, kulturgeschichtlicher und religionsgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung’, in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. VIII.2, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase (1977), 800–906.
- H. J. W. Drijvers, Cults and beliefs at Edessa (1980).
- Fiey, Pour un Oriens christianus novus, 194–6.
- L. Greisiger et al. (ed.), Edessa in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit. Religion, Kultur und Politik zwischen Ost und West (BTS 116; 2009).
- I. Guidi, Chronica minora, 1 (CSCO 1–2; 1903), 1–11 and 1–3 (Syr. with LT of ‘Chronicle of Edessa’).
- L. Hallier, Untersuchungen über die Edessenische Chronik (TU 9.2; 1892).
- A. Harrak, ‘The Ancient Name of Edessa’, JNES 51 (1992), 209–14.
- S. K. Ross, Roman Edessa. Politics and culture on the Eastern fringe of the Roman Empire, 114–224 CE (2001).
- J. B. Segal, Edessa ‘The Blessed City’ (1970).
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Amir Harrak, “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/Edessa.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Harrak, Amir. “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/Edessa.
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