previous next


EDESSA ( Ἔδεσσα: Eth.Ἐδεσσαῖος, Eth. Ἐδεσσηνός), a town of great importance in the northern extremity of Mesopotamia, in the province of Osrhoëne, which itself is said to have derived its name from one of the early kings of the town. (Dionys. Patr. ap. Assem.ii. p. 98; Procop. B. P. 2.17.) It was situated on the river Scirtus (now Daisan), a small tributary of the Euphrates, and was distant about 40 miles from Zeugma (Itin. Ant. l.c.), and a day's journey from Batna (Procop. B. P. 2.12). Accounts differ as to the date of its foundation, some placing it extremely early, and ascendingto mythical times, as St. Isidore, who attributes its origin to Nembroth or Nimrod, and St. Ephrem, who says Nimrod ruled at Arach and Edessa (Comment, in Genesim.) It is, however, most likely that Appian is correct in stating that it was really built by Seleucus, and that it was one of the many towns, built or restored about the same period of history to which European names were given by the Macedonian rulers. (Syr. 57.) The same statement is made by Cedrenus (i. p. 166). Its position has not been clearly noted by some ancient writers. Thus Stephanus and Strabo placed it in Syria, the latter confounding it with Hierapolis, and stating that, like it, it bore anciently the name of Bambyce (Βαμβύκη, xvi. p. 748). Pliny asserts that it was in Arabia, and was called Antiocheia-Calirrhoes, from a fountain of that name which existed in the city (5.24. s. 21), This position is certainly wrong; but the remark is curious, as it connects the town with some notices in other authors. Thus Stephanus (l.c.) states that it was called Edessa from the force of its waters (διὰ δὴν τῶν ὑδάτων δύμην οὕτω κληθεῖσα), and from the town of the same name in Macedonia; while, in his list of the places which bore the name of Antiocheia, the 8th is designated ἐπὶ τῆς Καλιρρόης λίμνης. Ancient coins of Edessa abound between the ages of Commodus and Trajanus Decius; the majority of them reading, on the reverse, ΚΟΛ. Μ. ΕΔΕΞΞΑ or ΕΔΕΞΑ, or with the insertion of the title “Metropolis,” ΚΟΛ. ΜΑΚ. ΕΔΕΞΞΑ. ΜΗΤΡ. The exact meaning of the second word ΜΑΚ. has not been satisfactorily explained; but we cannot help suspecting that it refers to the popular belief in the Macedonian origin of the city, ΚΟΛ. ΜΑΚ. being short for ΚΛΛΩΝΙΑ ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ. The obverses present busts of the Abgari or local rulers, and of the contemporaneous Roman emperors. There exists, too, a peculiar class of autonomous Greek copper coins, all of which bear on the obverses heads of Antiochus IV., and are perfectly alike in their fabric and art. Their reverses bear respectively the names of an Antiocheia in Ptolemais, Mygdonia, and near Daphne; the fourth has been till this time undetermined. It reads ΑΝΤΙΟΧΕΩΝ ΤΩΝ ΕΠΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΡΟΗΙ. With the evidence stated above, we make no doubt that this coin belongs to the 8th Antiocheia of Stephanus, one of the names, as it appears, of Edessa, and the title whereby it may have been usually recognised during the period of Antiochus IV. There is no reasonable objection to the belief that the modern town of Orfah or Urfah represents the site of the ancient Edessa. (Tavernier, 2.4; Pococke, ii. p. 232; Niebuhr, ii. p. 407.) In this instance the most ancient name; appears to have been preserved, Isidorus speaking of Μαννούορρα, evidently the Orrha of Mannus, who was one of the kings of Edessa.

Little is known of the history of Edessa, subsequently to its foundation by Seleucus, till Christian times: but during the wars between the Graeco-Roman empire and the Persians, and in Ecclesiastical history, Edessa plays a very prominent part. Many notices of the events of the period may be found in the following authorities. (Procop. B. P. 1.17, &c., B. G. 4.14, &c., de Aedific. 2.7; Evagrius, H. E. 4.8--26; Malala, Chron. 17. p. 418; Hierocl. p. 714; Dionys. Patriarch. ap. Assem. l.c.; Theophanes and Cedrenus.) It appears that the town suffered as much from natural causes as from the attacks. of enemies. Of these, the river Scirtus was the principal cause, no less than four destructive foods being recorded in the Chronicon Edessenum (ap. Assem. p. 386) and other works. In A.D. 718 the town was nearly destroyed by an earthquake (Dionys. Patr. ap. Assem. ii. p. 259), yet the work of restoration (commenced by Justinian after one of the floods, Procop. de Aedif. 2.7) must have been rapid, or the importance of the place, itself very great, since it appears from the Chronicon of Bar Hebraeus, that as late as A.D. 1184 there were no less than 15 large churches which fell into the hands of the Saracens. (Assem. ii. p. 368). In A.D. 1285 it is coupled with other deserted and ruined towns, such as Beroea and Haran, by Maphrianus. (Assem. ii. p. 260.) Since then, it has never risen to its former greatness, though it is and has been a place of some importance for the inland trade between Kurdistan and Aleppo. The original government of Edessa appears to have been vested in kings or petty princes, more or less dependent on the neighbouring empires, first on the rulers of the Syro-Macedonian dynasty, and then under the Roman and Byzantine emperors. The local names of the kings were Abgarus and Mannus; titles which appear to have been preserved among them, like the names of the Pharaohs and Ptolemies in Egypt. Their names are found (as stated before) on the Greek coins of Edessa, till the time of Trajanus Decius. A series of them is given by Dionysius (ap. Assem. l.c.), and many of them are mentioned in the histories of the times (Procop. Bell. 4.17., Eusebius, and the Chronicon Edessenum).

Edessa was celebrated in Christian times for its schools of theology, to which students came from great distances. Of these, the most important was the Schola Persica. This school appears to have been limited to Christians of the Persian nation. The professors are memorable in history for the part they took in, the Nestorian controversy, under the guidance of John, Patriarch of Antioch, and Ibas, Bishop of Edessa, A.D. 449--457, against St. Cyril, It is clear from a letter of Beth Arsamensis, and from the Chronicon Edessenum, that their Nestorian [p. 1.807]teaching was the cause of the ruin of this school. The professors were expelled by Martyrus, Bishop of Edessa, and the school itself pulled down by order of Zeno the Roman emperor, A.D. 489, and a: church dedicated to St. Mary was built on its ruins. (Simeon Beth Arsamensis ap. Assem. i. p. 353; Chron. Edess. ap. Assem. i. p. 406,; Theodor. H. E. 2.558. 566.) The expulsion of the professors was doubtless one chief cause of the immediate and subsequent spread of the Nestorian heresy. There was, besides the Schola Persica, at least: one other school for miscellaneous pupils and learning. St. Epiphanius shows that the Syriac language was in his day, much studied by the Persians (Haeres. 66), and it is manifest that Edessa was for many years the principal seat of Oriental learning.



hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: