Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Persian Sassanide Empire

Part 2. Eastern Christian Nestorians: Personal Secretaries to Caliphs, Sultan and Viziers

My interest in translating and reviewing books on the history of “minority” Christian sects in the Middle-East is the direct result of the current trend of heavy diaspora for these sects who lived in Iraq and Syria.  Successive waves of relocating to NO-Man-Land started during the 2003 preemptive war of the US against Iraq.

Most of these eastern christians have lost everything and are paying the dear price to “professional passers” in order to land into a European State.

Since the start of the uprising last year in Syria against the Assad regime, no less than 150,000 Christians were forced to vacate from the city of Homs and its environs. They are flocking to the Christian quarters in Damascus and barely surviving the increased cost of living and the shortage of foodstuff, cooking gas, and heating fuel…

The Nestorian sect followed the Syriac Eastern Church till the year 431. In that year, its Patriarch Nestor was demoted by the “Orthodox Byzantium Church“.  Since then, the Nestorians developed and expanded within the Persian Sassanid Empire on the eastern shores of the Euphrates River and beyond, all the way along the silk road and into China.

In the early Arabic Abbassid dynasty around 762, the Nestorian Church was bestowed preeminence over all the other Christian sects till the year 1258 as the Mogul of Holago entered and destroyed Baghdad.

Scribes to the Caliphs and viziers were mostly selected  from the Nestorian Church, and a succession of personal secretaries to the caliphs were among them.  The personal secretaries were indispensable to the good and smooth running of the administrations and they had the eyes and ears of the highest authorities…

It seems that the governor of Basra Abi Moussa Ash3ari initiated the hiring of non-Moslems as personal secretaries. Caliph Omar Ben Khattab was very upset, claiming that the Coran forbade hiring non-Moslems in high positions… Ash3ari replied: “My Christian secretary has his religion and I have his letters…”

Since then, non-Moslem scholars were heavily engaged in the translation of manuscripts (mainly Greek, Persian, and Indian…) and writing the necessary documents for the Arabic administrations…

In fact, the Nestorian Church graduated the best medical personnel and scientists during that period and were hired as personal physicians to Caliphs and viziers…

The Abbassid Caliph Al Mo3taded preferred Nestorian scribes and personal secretaries on account that “the Christians have no design to capture political power. The Jews worked for the return of their Kingdom, and the Persians wanted to recapture their lost kingdom…”

In 5 centuries, 37 caliphs succeeded to power, which corresponded to 36 Nestorian Patriarchs. Caprol listed 115 Nestorian secretaries, 35 of them converted to Islam but refrained from pressuring their family members to follow suit…A few of the converted secretaries became viziers, such as Sa3ed Bin Mukhled.

The secretaries overcame many political upheavals and participated in the election of their Patriarchs, and aided their coreligionists to accede to prominent positions and wealth.  The Patriarchs used to relocate their headquarters to wherever the Capital was transplanted, from Baghdad to Samera2 for example.

In the 15th century, a faction of the Nestorian Church paid allegiance to the Catholic Pope of Rome and were labelled the Chaldean Church.  The loyal faction was recalled the Assyrian Church.

Note 1: Mahmoud Al Zibawi published a review in Arabic of the French book “The Nestorian secretaries in Baghdad 762-1258” by Cecile Caprol.  This book is a series of publications within the “Collection of Christian Arabic Studies” established by the Jesuit St. Joseph University in Beirut

Note 2: Caprol referred in the book to four other scholars in his topic: 1. Louis Chikho, 2. Louis Massignon, 3. Gerard Trubo, and 4. Jean Maurice Fiyye.  Chikho collected documents that were used after his death in 1929. Massignon studied the Secretaries who graduated from the convent of Kani on the eastern shores of the Tigres River in the 9th century

Note 3. You may read part 1.

Christianity: From total persecution to State religion: what happened? (Nov. 2, 2009)

            By the beginning of the fourth century, Christians in the Roman Empire were no longer persecuted as a sect behaving contrary to the Roman values.  The Christians have suffered one of the worst waves of persecutions from 303 to 311.

The father of Constantine persecuted the Christian mercilessly and Constantine witnessed the massacres. Constantine inherited England and France as co-Emperor, one of three other co-Emperors to the Roman Empire that dominated the Mediterranean Sea.

This article is not about the fictitious story or not of Constantine seeing the symbol of the Christians at night or in a dream before the battle to capturing Rome from Maxence in 312. This post intends on explaining the moratorium on Christian persecutions as this sect reached the threshold of a minority of 10% of the total population.

At that period, a Christian was not born a Christian: he was not baptized a week or longer after birth.  A Christian had to prove that he believed in Christ as the Redemptor of our sins, that Christ resurrected from death and that God is the creator of man and the universe and that God is One and all powerful, and all our actions were to be offered in honor of Him.

The intellectuals and educated leaned toward this concept of a unique God, an abstract God who is not emulated on earthly natural powers or actual planets and Sun: it was the cultural rage of the time.  The high ranked in the Roman caste system didn’t have to proselytize or proclaim their conversion; this task was relegated to the poorer Romans in the caste system so that the Christian religion spread its tenants with example of persecutions in arenas for the pleasure of the Romans.

The four co-Emperors needed stability in their respective allocated Empires and they needed the Christians support in the highest administrative jobs.  If the Christians were about 10% of the total they constituted a much higher ratio in the Orient and in Africa.  After Constantine won the Orient he was left with only one co-Emperor Licinius in Africa.

Emperor Constantine who build Constantinople (later to be named the Byzantium Empire) converted to Christianity and was both pragmatic toward the vast majority of pagans and an intolerant Christian who wanted to unite all the Christian sects in his empire, a sort of centralized orthodox church with a dogma that suited a newly converted Emperor.

Christianity was Not a new ideology to Emperor Constantine; that would be the case a century later. The people were born in the rituals to being “patriotic” to the Roman Empire and to obeying the reigning Emperor. The people were not dupe: not a single ex-voto (in Greek or Latin) to an Emperor (living or dead) was found. People asked and demanded from their Gods to be cured or saved from calamities.

The temporal sovereign was considered a need to safeguard the peace and continuity of the communities; as long as no new heavy taxes were imposed the Emperor could be labeled “The so good and beloved monarch”. The luxurious way of life of the monarch was accepted as a right that fit the position: the monarch didn’t have to abuse of pageantry to impress upon the people, it was not a sort of propaganda to remind the people of his role and power. It was simply a right attached to the position of power.  All that an Emperor had to do is to occasionally speak on the virtue of the existing rituals so that to clear the void and the silence in the kingdom.

In 325 Emperor Constantine summoned all the Bishops to a conclave in Nicaea (Turkey).  The conclave dragged on for four months and ended with a slight majority agreeing to a new abstract dogma of the Trinity of Father, Son, and the Virgin Mary, the Holy Ghost and the Credo.  The dissenting Christian sects were labeled “heretics” because they wanted to believe in One God and not bestow divinity on Jesus and much less on Mary.

Ten years later Emperor Constantine defeated Licinius and became the sole Emperor to the Mediterranean Sea Empire. Persecution of the heretic Christian sects started in earnests and they had to flee to the eastern shores of the Euphrates River, a kingdom under the Persian Sassanide Empire.

Apparently, Emperor Constantine was never defeated in military battles; if he were he might have had a second thought about his all powerful protector new God; at least he might have listened more seriously to the heretic Christian Unique God.  Two years before his death, Emperor Constantine defeated the Germans and wrote to the Bishops meeting in conclave in Tyr (Lebanon) “The Germans are converting to Christianity; they are convinced that our God cannot be defeated or vanquished.”

Constantine died in 337.

From this year to 400 Christianity could have easily lost its supremacy as the Emperor religion.  Emperor Julian reverted to paganism but died two years later; he could have easily converted the whole Empire to paganism which was the vast majority.  Several Christian Emperors were elected by factional armies not on religious ground but for many other reasons.

One main reason that Christian Emperors succeeded to the throne in the next 60 years was because the paganism was flexible, indifferent, and tolerant, while the Christian Church was exclusive (once converted then you are sucked in) and it grabbed tightly at any rights it gained.  The minority Church used to the hilt the temporal power of the Emperors to affirm its positions.

In 394, Emperor Theodosius managed to defeat the pagan German General Arbogast in Slovenia. This defeat was a pure fluke of nature: a violent wind blew in the face of the combined more powerful Roman/Germanic army.  Arbogast had reigned in Rome and installed a figure head Emperor Eugene; he re-confirmed paganism in Rome and for six years paganism was master in the western provinces. Also, two years earlier to the definitive battle, Theodosius had banished all public pagan rituals in the Orient in reaction to Arbogast attempts to restore paganism.

This military defeat had set the stage for the supremacy of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Thus, in the 5th century, the number of bishops jumped drastically; from around 6 to 50 in North Italy, from 20 to 70 in France (Gaul), and in North Africa the number tripled. The pagans transformed Christianity into paganism rituals of visiting every new sanctified Saint or shrines where miracles were invented and propagated.  Pictures and statues of Saints and the Virgin Mary proliferated much quicker than churches.

When Islam conquered the Near East by defeating Heracles in the battle of Yarmouk, the heretic Christian sects (the true monolithic sects) converted to a religion that coincided with their belief system in One and Unique God and that accepted all the Jewish and Christian Bibles as forming integral part of Islam’s fundamental doctrine.  If the Byzantium Empire had selected the Christian heretic dogma instead of the Trinity Islam would have never emerged to fill this vacuum since the Prophet Muhammad was initially a convert to one of the Christian-Jewish sects in Mecca.

There are two distinct civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea. 

The main difference is in the transmission of rituals and traditions among the people.  The Oriental civilization accepts a temporal sovereign who appoints the religious clergy of bishops and Imam (a decentralized religion) and the western civilization was comfortable with the cast of the clergy using the temporal power to expand its dominion over the people (a centralized religious power in Rome); that was the case after the year 400 in pagan Rome.

The Christian religion emulated the trend of former civilizations and a major schism occurred in 1000 between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches based on the perception, power, and the rights of the temporal power. In fact, Emperor Theodoric of Constantinople exerted pressures on Pope Gelase 1st to submit to the temporal rights of the sovereign; then, the Pope created the theory of separation of the spiritual and temporal powers in order to appease the Emperor.

While the Orient experienced a resurgence of the sciences and rational thinking in the 7th century, Europe was engulfed in the Dark Age till the 15th century because the Catholic Church prohibited any rational challenges to its authority.




June 2023

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