Syr./Hebrew Ḥārān; Latin Carrhae; Arabic Ḥarran. Ancient city in Mesopotamia, approximately 45 km south-southeast of Edessa. Residence, for brief periods in the 8th cent., of Syr. Orth. patriarchs. The first city built after the Flood according to a tradition recorded by the Arab geographer Yāqūt in his Muʿjam al-buldān and the place where Abraham and his family sojourned according to the Book of Genesis, Ḥarran had become known as a center for the cult of the moon god Sin by the 14th cent. BC. Because of its strategic importance as a frontier town, the Christian emperors usually refrained from interfering in the religious life of Ḥarran, which remained a stronghold of paganism. When the pilgrim Egeria visited Ḥarran in 383, the town had a Christian bp., and the house of Abraham, which stood outside the city, had been turned into a church, but the population of the city, she tells us, probably with some exaggeration, was wholly pagan. The Greek Fathers refer to Ḥarran as Hellenopolis, ‘the city of the (pagan) Greeks’; the Syriac Life of Ephrem likewise calls it ‘the city of the pagans’ (Ḥārān mdittā d-ḥanpe). Some have argued that it was in Ḥarran that Simplicius and his Neoplatonist companions settled upon their return from Persia where they had sought refuge after the closure of their school in Athens by Justinian in 529. Taken by the Arabs in 639/40, Ḥarran briefly became the seat of the caliphate under the last (eastern) Umayyad Marwān II (744–750). It was probably early on under Arab rule, before the 8th cent., that the Syriac work entitled the ‘Prophecies of the pagan philosophers in brief’ was written, inviting the pagans of Ḥarran to convert to Christianity. According to Ibn al-Nadīm, it was at the time of a visit by Caliph al-Maʾmūn in 830 that the people of the town identified themselves with the Sabians (Ṣābiʾ) mentioned in the Qurʾān, so as to escape persecution by claiming to be a ‘people of the book’. Ḥarran was considered a center of pagan Greek learning under the Abbasids, especially for the mathematical sciences. The Ḥarranians were probably the last group of non-Christians who continued to use Syriac. In his Lexicon, Bar Bahlul refers to the Syriac dialect specific to Ḥarran. Thābit b. Qurra (836–901), the most famous of the ‘Sabian’ scholars, still wrote some of his works in Syriac, which were known to and were quoted by Bar ʿEbroyo. Ḥarran became the principal seat of the Numayrids in the 11th cent. and remained an important city under the Artuqids, Zangids, and Ayyubids, but more or less disappears from history after it was taken by the Mongols in 1260 and was evacuated by them in 1271.
The first known bp. of the city is Barses, who was made metropolitan of Edessa in 361. His successors include Vitus, who attended the Council of Constantinople in 381, Daniel, a cousin of Hiba of Edessa (attested 444, 449), and John, who was at the Council of Chalcedon (451). At least three of their Chalcedonian successors would engage in writing against the Miaphysites, namely Constantine and Leon in the 8th cent. — who received replies in Syriac from a Miaphysite bp. called Eliya — and, more famously, Theodoros Abū Qurra (ca. 755 – ca. 830).
As Miaphysite bishops of Ḥarran before the Arab conquest, we know of Yuḥanon (mentioned in 502/3, banished by Emperor Justin in 519), Sergius bar Karyo (ca. 557 – ca. 578, translator of John bar Aphtonia’s biography of Severus of Antioch into Syriac), and Shemʿun (in 617/8). Before the Arab conquest, the main Syr. Orth. church in Ḥarran was confiscated and given to the Melkites by Emperor Maurice (582–602). Later, we hear of a new Syr. Orth. cathedral being completed just before 700. Bp. Iwannis of Ḥarran (d. 755) was elected patr. in 740 on the eve of the transfer of the caliphate to Ḥarran. Of his two successors as patr., both later considered illegitimate, Isḥaq (755–56) had also been bp. of Ḥarran, and Athanasios Sandloyo (756–58) was murdered in Ḥarran. Bp. Dawid of Ḥarran (attested 847, 874) may be the author of the Syriac Chronicle of 846 (Palmer, The seventh century in the West-Syrian chronicles, 83). The last known Syr. Orth. bp. of Ḥarran is Ephrem, heard of when the Armenians asked for access to an altar in the Syr. Orth. church in Ḥarran in 1252.
The E.-Syr. see of Ḥarran, attested between the 7th and 11th cent. and suffragan to Nisibis, counted among its occupants the canonist ʿAbdishoʿ bar Bahrīz (early 9th cent.) and the future Cath. Sabrishoʿ II (transferred from Ḥarran to Damascus before 823, then cath. 831–835).
Among the ruins of Ḥarran, dotted today with beehive-shaped adobe houses of the Bedouin Arabs who settled here in the 19th cent., are those of a large basilica church located near the northeastern end of the oval-shaped medieval city.
See Fig. 55.
- R. Aubert and J.-M. Fiey, ‘Harran’, in DHGE , vol.23 (1990), 405–6.
- C. E. Bosworth, ‘Ḥarrān’, in EIr , vol.12 (2004), 13–4.
- S. P. Brock, ‘A Syriac collection of prophecies of pagan philosophers’, OLP 14 (1983), 203–46.
- G. Fehérvári, ‘Ḥarrān’, in EI 2, vol. 3 (1986), 227–30.
- Fiey, Pour un Oriens christianus novus (1993), 88 and 207–8.
- T. M. Green, The city of the Moon God. Religious traditions of Harran (1992).
- I. Hadot, ‘Dans quel lieu le néoplatonicien Simplicius a-t-il fondé son école de mathématiques, et où a pu avoir lieu son entretien avec un manichéen?’ International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 1 (2007), 42–107. (incl. further references)
- R. Janin, ‘Carrae’, in DHGE , vol. 11 (1949), 1123–4.
- A. Mez, Die Stadt Ḥarrân bis zum Einfall der Araber (1892).
- D. Pingree, ‘The Ṣābians of Ḥarrān and the classical tradition’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition 9 (2002), 8–35.
- U. Possekel, ‘The transformation of Harran from a pagan cult center to a Christian pilgrimage site’, ParOr 36 (2011), 299–310.
- T. A. Sinclair, Eastern Turkey: An architectural and archaeological survey, vol. 4 (1990), 29–43.
- K. van Bladel, The Arabic Hermes (2009), 64–118.
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Hidemi Takahashi, “Ḥarran,” 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/Harran.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Takahashi, Hidemi. “Ḥarran.” 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/Harran.
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