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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Who were the Sūryōyē/ Sūryāyē (Syrians)?

SOAA 00250
Mōr Dīonysīus Tēlmāhrōyō (Dionysius of Tēl-Mahrē), Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church (ca. 818-845 CE) informs us "Therefore we can conclude that those west of the Euphrates are the real Sūryōyē (lit. Syrians)." [1] Those Syrians living east of the Euphrates are Syrians only in a metaphorical sense, he says, as they also speak the “Syriac language, that is the Aramaic language." What are the implications here for the definition of the Syrians as an ethnos, a 'ạmmā (lit. people)? Should a Syrian identity have been defined, it was not one based on civic or political grounds, as we have seen, rather through the use of a common language— Syriac. By extension, Sūryā (lit. Syria) would be the symbolic homeland of the Syriac language and its speakers, irrespective of their ethnic-origin.

Mōr Mikha'il Rabo (Michael the Great) stresses that the territorial boundary of Syria was geographically situated to the west of the Euphrates river and that the name Syrians was employed within a metaphorical sense to those “who speak our language, the Ōrōmōyē (lit. Arameans), of which the Syrians are only one part.” In the heading of Appendix II, Mōr Mikha'il states "Aramean people, that is, sons of Aram, who are called Syrians, that is people from Syria (i.e. west of the Euphrates)."  [2] The celebrated author and Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church (ca. 1166-1199) goes on to distinguish that the Ōthurōyē (lit. Assyrians) who were also known as Syrians lived “east of the Euphrates, that is from the banks of the Euphrates all the way to Persia” (see SOAA 00250). [3] These Assyrians, as Mōr Mikha'il explains were those from Aššur who founded the city of Nineveh. [4] For Mōr Mikha'il, both the Arameans and Assyrians were Syrians, that is speakers of Syriac. The former (Arameans), nonetheless, were the real Syrians whereas the latter (Assyrians) were Syrians in a metaphorical sense.

With respect to the historic origin and usage of the name Syrian, just like Yaqūb d-Urhōy (Jacob of Edessa) and Mōr Dīonysīus— Mōr Mikha'il stresses that it was the Greeks of antiquity who designated the Arameans and Assyrians by that name. Furthermore, Mōr Mikha'il evidentially demonstrates that the Arameans formed, as he says, “only one part” of the Syrians. These statements suggest that the exonym Syrian held linguistic implications and was employed by a multi-ethnic population who were not all necessarily ethnic Arameans. This can be attested due to the obvious existence of various Syriac-speaking ethnic groups (i.e. Greek Orthodox Christians) who also linguistically designated themselves as Syrians.

BnF 4956, Fol. 10v
By contrast, the Arameans were distinct from the Assyrians in pre-Hellenistic times. The Greeks, nonetheless, complicated this distinction. Since Arameans and Assyrians by Achaemenid Persian rule are considered to have spoken the same language, Greeks increasingly categorised them as one and the same— Syrians. The fifth-century BCE Greek historian Herodotus explains "this people, whom the Greeks call Syrians (in reference to those east of the Euphrates), are called Assyrians by the barbarians (non-Greeks)." (see. Herodoti, Halicarn Assei Historiarum) [5] To complicate these distinctions, Herodotus furthermore informs us that "the Cappadocians are called by the Greeks Syrians." [6] Strabo, citing Posidonius of Apameia (mod. Hama Governorate, Syria.) stated that "the people we Greeks call Syrians (in reference to those west of the Euphrates) were called by the Syrians themselves Arameans." [7] Greeks thereby often defined Arameans and Assyrians to constitute the same society that inhabited a vast landscape. In the fourth-century CE, Latin historian Marcus Junianus Justinus (see. BnF 4956, Fol. 10v) noted "the Assyrians, who were afterwards called Syrians, held their empire thirteen-hundred years." [8] The Seleucids ruled the Syrians as an individual subject population, whether the Greeks called it Aramean or Assyrian. Even as the Seleucids treated Syrians as the "indigenous" population, the premise that Syrians were in fact ethnic Arameans and Assyrians persisted. Remarkably, citizens residing within the Greek cities of Syria or Phoenicia assumed identifications as Greeks and Syrians. [9]
Herodoti, Halicarn Assei Historiarum Lib. IX Editio Secunda
(Excudebat Henricus Stephanus, 1592), 463.

[1] The Chronicle by Mōr Dīonysīus Tēlmāharōyō (Dionysius of Tēl-Mahrē) is lost. See Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Anonymi Auctoris chronicon ad annum Christi 1234 pertinens 1 (CSCO, 81, 109, Syr. 36, 56; Paris, 1916, Leuven, 1937), ed. pp. 112-114; trans. pp.88-90; Chabot, Chronique, ed. Vol. 4, pp. 522-524, trans. Vol. 3, pp. 76-78, where similar excerpts of this passage of his work are extant. Bas ter Haar Romeny, Religious Origins of Nations? The Christian Communities of the Middle East (Boston: BRILL, 2010), 121.
[2] Ibid. 119.
[3] J.-B. Chabot, Chronique de Michael Le Syrien Patriarchae Jacobite D'Antioche (1166-1199) (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1899).
[4] Jean-Baptiste Chabot, De Michel Le Syrien, Patriarche Jacobite D'Antioche (1166-1199) Ed. 3 (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905), 443.
[5] George Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus (London: John Murray, 1862), 51.
[6] Gabriel Herman et al., Greeks between East and West: essays in Greek literature and history in memory of David Asheri (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2007), 192.
[7] I.G. Kidd, Posidonius: Volume III, The Translation of the Fragments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972-1999), 356.
[8] John Selby Watson, Justin, Cornelius Nepos and Eutropius: Literally Translated, with Notes and a General Index (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), 5.
[9] see. Nathanael J. Andrade, Syrian Identity in the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).