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Syriac Historiography and Identity Formation

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Historiographical texts are here read as literary compositions of their time, providing us with various elements of the process of identity construction or reconstruction. The first West Syrian historical texts were produced in the sixth century, when the history of what would become the Syrian Orthodox Church began. An examination of contemporary sources and myths of origins shows that the ethnic origins of the Abgarid dynasty played no part in Syrian 'ethnogenesis', but that there existed a notion of Syro-Mesopotamian origins, closely related to a supposed homeland, that of Aram. An acknowledged common ancestry going back to the Chaldean and Assyrian Empires relies on a common language more than a common homeland or sovereign. Whereas the Assyrians came to personify the ever-hostile Persian neighbour, a sort of stereotypical enemy, the Hellenistic kings were perceived as having effected a synthesis of the double Syro-Mesopotamian and Greek culture. The Seleucid era, as adopted by the Edessans, thus remained in use regardless of the prevailing political powers and is an assertion of independence and a strong local identity marker, being a rejection of the local Antiochene as well as the imperial Byzantine eras. The Syrian Orthodox also developed an innovative method of writing the history of their separated Church, producing a new genre consisting of lengthy chronicles written in several parts or columns, in which political and ecclesiastical history were kept separate. This Syrian Orthodox method of writing history is the only truly distinctive Syrian Orthodox literary genre.

Affiliations: 1: Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS), Paris;, Email:


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