A Holistic History of the Ālmā Suryāyā (Orbis Syriacus)

ܐ: Introduction
I greet all readers at this opening post. This is the opening post of another timeline, which I will discuss from a holistic perspective, from the viewpoint of the likes of Arnold J. Toynbee or O. Spengler, and from this macrohistorical viewpoint I will be discussing the development of major currents of history, rather than focusing on minute details (as I have done in the Dunes of the Desert), so that we don´t stop seeing the forest for the trees.

For this reason, I will also not be paying so much attention to individual historical statesmen, be they kings or military geniuses.

So let us start with the concept of a civilization, or “society” in Toynbeean terms, which we can define as a reasonable whole of study. To clarify a little more on what we ought to understand under this, let us imagine the city-states of the Classical , Greco-Roman world. They were rather comparable in size and political organization, and you could see similar phenomena going on in each of these city-states, with slightly different outcomes. You could not, however, see parallel developments in the empire of the Achaemenidae in this very same context.

Similarly, the Babylonic civilization (which should not be confused with the earlier Sumeric civilization) , which became organized not int city-states, but larger, regional states, such as Babylonia, Assyria or Elam, has seen likewise developments going on in each of these kingdoms, until the civilization itself has lost its vitality in a series of cataclysmic wars between Assyria and Babylonia, before the Achaemenidae would have taken up their role of providing a universal state for the Babylonic civilization.

The Syriac civilization could trace its origins to the time of the fall of the Achaemenidae after the campaigns of Alexander the Macedonian, when the Achaemenid Empire has not come to its natural conclusion, of a decaying empire overrun by barbarians, but its life was cut short by the Greek conqueror.

At that time, a new civilization would be slowly, but surely emerging from the shadows of history in Mesopotamia. This new civilization was not a daughter of the homegrown Babylonic civilization, worshipping a national god be his name Ashur or Marduk, and gazing the stars to divine the future, though this influence is not at all negligible, but more from the Canaanite civilization of the ancient Levantine coast, drawing from the religious genius of the Hebrew peoples of Judea and Israel.

The mood after Alexander´s conquest and during the domination of the Seleucidae in all of their homeland was similar, it was the wanting of a Saviour, a sōtēr in Greek, a Məšîḥā in Syriac. Why was this wanting so far spread? It was caused by the fact that the Hellenic civilization was an alien one, a civilization that was foreign and alien to that land. In the time of the Seleucidae, many new Hellenic-style poleis were being found across the realm, populated by Greek newcomers, spreading Hellenic civilization to the neighbouring region.

The emergent Syriac civilization was in its definition shaped by the clash of civilizations, between the encroaching Hellenic civilization with the submerging Babylonic civilization, which has already lost its vitality, and the still rather vital Canaanite civilization, which by then had been going through the phase of its universal state, the Punic (Carthaginian) empire in the Western Mediterranean.

The emerging Syriac civilization was gradually forming across the entire breadth of the Fertile Crescent from this mixture of older civilizations.

The principal axis of the earliest, Sumerian civilization was along the Euphrates river, having its beginning at the estuary to the Gulf near the city of Ur, and from there upstream of the Euphrates River to the Taurus Mountains and beyond.

Its heir, the Babylonic civilization had its axis shifted towards the neighboring Tigris river, with Assyria and Babylonia, as well as Elam being the major rivals.
The nations of the Babylonic civilization, 1200 BCE

When considering the principal axis of development of the Hellenic civilization, one can speak of an axis going from Sparta across Argos, Corinth and Megara to Thebes and Athens, and from there either across the Aegean to the cities of Ephesus and Miletos on the Asiatic coast, or up northwards along the Thessalian coast to Macedonia, which lay at the boundaries of barbarism. When considering, we are more convinced to favour the latter as the principal axis of development, with a secondary axis meeting the primary in the east-west direction, from these poleis on the Asiatic coast to Athens and then across the Gulf of Corinth.
A map of the Hellenic states:

Now when examing the nascent Syriac civilization, we find that the primary axis of development was a slight curve, in the Piedmont region of the Zagros mountains, from Seleukia-Ctesiphon, which was at one end of this curve, on the lower slopes of the mountains through the cities of Arbela, but more importantly towards Nisibis, Amid, Edessa before reaching the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in lower Cilicia and Antioch. A secondary axis, perpendicular to the first, could be found going from the Nile Delta around Alexandria, through Palestine, the Syrian Desert before emerging at the western outskirts of Seleukia and then continuing eastwards towards Beth Huzaye.

Though it was in the triangle of three cities: Amida, Edessa (Urhoy) and Nisibis (Nsibin), that literary Syriac refined its style, and that the Syriac civilization got its uniqueness.
The Syriac civilization was in its origin a theocentric civilization, with the view that the human predicament is to be understood as submitting to the will of God. While the ancient Sumerians saw humans as toys to an predictable pantheon of gods, who squabbled around, most likely being the result of Mesopotamia itself by then being an unpredictable environment, with a random mountain tribes invading once a while and random desert tribes invading another day, with a flood or two in between, the Syriac civilization has taken as its defining parameter the belief in monotheism, which has been previously championed by the Hebrews of the Judean and Israeli highlands.
Thus, the Syriac man should not be a fool and plan out carefully what he ought to do, but should give up his hopes and wishes to God the Almighty, and know that God has plans bigger that one would be able to comprehend by his very own wisdom alone.

When looking at the Syriac civilization in Spenglerian terms, the Urforme, an elementary symbol that can be most descriptive of the civilization in its entirety, appears to be a world cavern, like a cave a place which offers some form of relief from the desert heat. The Syriac perspective appears to see the world very well through a world cavern, with the dome being one of the primary architectural forms, becoming a typical mark of the Syriac civilization, to a comparable way as to which column ways had become a typical mark of Hellenic civilization.

The dome itself offers a separation of the mystic, hidden interior from the mundane outside, with the play of light and shadow, and its visual art often using the golden color as a background from portrait-depictions, be it frescoes or mosaics. The figures appear to be rigid, with no real plastic features, only a depiction from the front. The art of the Syriac civilization thus substantially differs not only from the Hellenic sculptures, aimed to be at the centre of a courtyard or square, with no background, but also from the late Babylonic art, which typically depicted men or animals from the side, with typical Mesopotamian depictions of moustaches. The Achaemenid architecture appears to have been modelled after the Babylonic architecture, with straight-lined coloured bricks.

A passing lion, example of Babylonic art

It was the yearning for a Messianic figure that had originally brought about the idea of a time perceived as finite, with the world being created as good in the past, a present marked by evil and a hope for a salvation and coming of Messiah in the future. This is quite the opposite of the Hellenic perception of time as linear regressive, meaning that a Golden Age has already been, and the quality of life has been decreasing and worsening ever since.

The Syriac civilization at the time when it was about to emerge, has found itself in a world which was politically and militarily dominated by the Hellenic Civilization, and after the defeat of Marc Anthony, the chances of a reversal were all but gone.

Therefore, the Syriac civilization could not fully manifest itself in a proper way and had to find a very specific form in which it would manifest itself. And so, the Syriac civilization in its beginnings had to proclaim what Jesus proclaimed to the Roman procurator “My kingdom is not of this world”. As the ambitions of the Syriac genius could not be brought into the political realm, they came to be driven in the spiritual realm, and the Syriac world appears to have taken its basic form of political organization in a community of faithful, quite unlike the city-states of the Classical Hellenic world or the regional states of the Babylonic world.

The nation of a Syriac world, in Spenglerian terms, a Magian nation, was defined not by a single language or home territory, but by unity of faith. A Hebrew who would convert to the faith of Zoroaster would become a member of the Zoroastrian (Persian) nation, while a Persian who undergoes circumcision and vows to sanctify the sabbath by all standards is to be considered a Jew.

Question of language or origin stop playing a role here, and the Syriac nation is defined in its self as a community of believers, into which one enters via sacramental rite. The Jews in this world were a Syriac nation without a homeland, dispersed among the entire Syriac world, as were other nations of like nature.

With the religious life having apparently more importance in the Syriac world than in any other civilization, religious questions and ideas become more and more politicized, with philosophers and theologians arguing on these issues as passionately as the reader may see arguments about national borders and which city should belong to which country being held not too long ago.

The emphasis on the religious aspect has also some other shared features in terms of religions in general. Unlike the 2nd Temple period Judaism, the Syriac religious practice is focused on a specific religious text, such as the Torah and Talmud in case of Judaism, or Avesta in case of Mazdaism, or the Christian Bible.

A Syriac manuscript from around 100 AD
Authorship of texts is not really considered a thing in this Syriac civilization, so often a document will go under the name of a figure with high authority, despite being written by someone else, perhaps one of his followers or disciples. It has very well been noted that most likely the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse may have been written down by very different scribes.

Therefore, you would get a solid number of texts circulating, some attributed to Plato, others to St. Paul, and so one, with it being very difficult to find out based on textual analysis as to which text was originally written by a specific author. These texts become viewed as authoritative, as literally the Word of God, and a very specific interpretation of law, the canonical law gradually develops. This law is applicable only to the members of a specific umməṯā (nation). (1)

While this canonical law, be it named halakha or in other terms, generally tries to be rooted in the Scripture, the sheer number of situations of daily life there are have made it impossible to predict every single one of them, so the Syriac society has gradually developed a class of legal experts, who will write commentaries on the existing principles of canonical law and establish new ones for specific cases. What is a very distinct mark of is the total erosion of the boundary between codes of individual conscience and civic law, as it exists in the Syriac civilization.

Gradually, the consensus of legal experts, the ʾawjutha´(2) becomes the standard. The spirit of the awjutha, the consensus of clerics was very much pursued in the ecumenical councils, where the bishops were to find an agreement on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, with the disagreeing faction usually breaking of, however. This spirit of the awjutha corresponds deeply with the general Syriac reply to the famous philosophical question of Pilate “What is truth?” While our readers may understand truth to unfold in time through a communal process (3) in which no one possess the whole truth at once, and gradually you may correct me and I may correct you until together we come closer and closer to the truth, the perception of truth was very different in the Syriac world. The truth was revealed by God through Prophets, and once this was not so easily applicable, the mechanism of the awjutha was used, for “Where there are two or three gathered in my name, I am in their midst”. The idea was that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the whole body of believers could not possible come to an incorrect conclusion.

While one could very well see here some glimpses of “democracy” as our readers understand it, it is very far from the case, as many were, in fact, excluded from the process of the awjutha, and the men involved in the process were chosen on merit of their function or expertise, never by popular will.

(1) ܐܘܡܬܐ - Wiktionary
(2) ܐܘܝܘܬܐ - Wiktionary
(3) Quigley: CarrollQuigley-TheEvolutionOfCivilizations-AnIntroductionToHistoricalAnalysis1979.pdf (archive.org), p. 18
Further maps:
(A map of Aramaic dialects, in Russian)

This is the opening post of this timeline. I will be writing this timeline, as you would expect an Arnold J. Toynbee to write about it in the A Study of History or an Oswald Spengler in the The Decline of the West. While my other timeline, the Dune of the Deserts, speaks about minute details, of what happened in which century in every corner of the world, this timeline will maintain a healthy distance from the details.
ܒ : Chapter1: Mixture
As mentioned, the Syriac civilization was starting to take shape by the time of Alexander´s conquests of the Achaemenidae, and this has provoked the first phase of the civilization´s existence, that of mixture. We have already sketched out, that this mixture of the Hellenic element, the Babylonic element and the Canaanite element, as well as the decaying Egyptiac element, resulted in quite a unique mix. This mixture is not of the kind of the vegetable salad, where you tomato and your carrot are clearly distinguishable and side-by-side, but rather as one mixes flour and eggs and milk or butter when making a caking. Sooner or later, the ingredients become so mixed that they are inseparable and form a substance quite unlike either of them.

A similar process happens when a new civilization is being formed. The table below depicts the “ingredients”, which were “used” to create this Syriac (1) civilization:

PhaseUniversal EmpireDecayAge of Conflict(Decay)
LanguageImperial AramaicHebrew, PunicAttic Greek(Demotic)
ParadigmTheocentric polytheistAnthropocentricAnthropocentric(Tanathocentric)
Elites(?)Merchant oligarchyFree citizens(Pharaoh, priests)
Instrument of expansionTempleCommercial capitalismPlantation slavery(Temple)
Primary form of political org.Regional kingdomCity-stateCity-stateUnified

We have included the Egyptiac civilization into this table, though it was not originally part of the melting pot, that ultimately would produce the emergent Syriac civilization in the domain of the Seleucidae, but would relatively soon join the orbit of this nascent Syriac civilization.

The Canaanite civilization, which some historians (1) have incorrectly merged with the Syriac civilization has its heyday long past, and the realities of post-Achaemenid Orient were far too distant from the times of king David or Solomon, and the Phoenician colonization of the Mediterranean. For in the early Biblican times, the Judaism was a religion of jealous tribal protector-god, who becomes angry and wipes out entire cities and hardens the heart of the Pharaoh, very much so as the their neighbours view Baal or Chemosh as their tribal patron. And tribe waged war against tribe, Israel against Moab, and Edom. With Book of Job or the Book of Jonah, a very different picture emerges, of a God who is not a mere patron deity of a tribal group, but an Almighty monotheistic God.

While we have state that the civilization was already in decay in the Levant, this was not the case by that time in the Western Mediterranean, where the universal empire in the from of the Carthaginian hegemony has still been a going concern.

The Canaanite ethos was a that of a merchant, perhaps more pronounced in the harbours of Tyre and Carthage, where you know you are righteous, when God blesses you with material goods and prosperity, and such was the outlook of the ancient Israelites. The change of the ethos begins especially with the Book of Job, when people start doubting the relationship between righteousness and prosperity and find that at times, people do not get what they deserve. One could argue that the Book of Job is perhaps one of the earliest documented works that shows a clear Syriac outlook, as opposed to the older Canaanite sections of the Bible.

The Hellenic civilization has established itself after Gaugamela as the new urban civilization of the Orient, with the Seleucidae and the Ptolemidae establishing many new poleis, acting as outposts for the Hellenic civilization, from where it was to radiate to the neighoburing countryside.

The Hellenic civilization has been by then beyond the “Time of Troubles”, marked by the Peloponesian hegemonic war between Athens and Sparta, which ultimately drained the life force of both, allowing semi-barbaric Macedon to establish a hegemony by establishing a league of puppets in Corinth. While reaching the foot of the Pamir, the empire of Alexander soon became prey of the ambitious generals and was partitioned among them. The Hellenic civilization would be only provided with its universal empire by the Romans.

Many a time, these cities were viewed as a foreign malice, and a native reaction, represented for example by the Maccabean revolts would erupt time and again, to rid the land of the foreign element.

Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Hellenic city of Alexandria was ethnically and culturally distinct from the rest of Egypt

While the Maccabees, and after them the Sassanids may have hoped to become an antithesis of the encroaching foreign Hellenic civilization, a truth is, that the nascent Syriac civilization was not, after all, an antithesis of the Hellenic civilization, but rather became a synthesis, taking elements from both the local civilizations, as well as the new Hellenic one, to become something else entirely. Thus the vision of Alexander of Macedon, to unite the cultures of the West and East has actually become a reality, for the Syriac civilization has since Constantine, and most certainly by the time of Justinian taken over the Rhomaic Empire.

The new Syriac civilization has taken its principal language from the vanquished Babylonic civilization, whose “Imperial Aramaic” functioned as the lingua franca. After Alexander´s conquest, Aramaic quickly diverged into a number of dialects, such as Arsacid Aramaic, Assurian Aramaic, Biblical Aramaic, Edessan Aramaic, Hatran Aramaic, Nabatean Aramaic, Palestinian Aramaic, Palmyrene Aaramaic, Phoenician Aramaic and Syrian Aramaic. Ultimately, it would be the variety spoken at Edessa, that would become the literary standard for the Syriac civilization.

Surprisingly, the difference between the written words grew more distinct as the difference between the spoken one, as the shapes of the letters changed faster and more frequently than the accents and dialects.

When considering the mix, we can see the influence of both the Egyptiac and Babyloniac civilization in shaping the theocentric nature of the Syriac civilization, while it was the Canaanite civilization that came with the specific understanding of the monotheistic deity. It was the Canaanites, that put the merchants forth as the dominant social class, while the Babylonic civilization provided the linguistic elements.

In the nascent Syriac civilizations, we can find, however, elements that cannot be traced to either of the original civilizations: when looking at the primary form of political organization, we cannot trace the umməṯā to neither the Babylonic regional state or satrapy, neither to the poleis of the Hellenic civilization, or to he city-states of the Canaanite, as it was something else entirely, something new.

The Immortals, the champions of the Achaemenidae

Similarly, when looking at warfare, we can see that the Achaemenidae relied mostly on elite archers, the Immortals, who were the pride of the Achaemenid army. The Persian force Alexander defeated, outnumbered his Hellenic force, but was mostly composed of infantry, archers, and hoped to field a couple of elephants or war chariots, but did not rely so heavily on cavalry as their later Persian heirs. The Assyrian before them, who were the militarist power of the Babylonic empire, relied mostly on the war chariots, with a few cavalrymen to counter the Medians.

The Hellenic armies were composed mostly of infantry, with the core being the hoplites with large shields and spears, fighting in tight battle-formations. This improved by the Spartans, until the Macedonians came with a longer spear (the phalanx) and the Romans with their prototype of the legionary.

The Hoplite, the cornerstone of Hellenic armies

The Syriac civilization however placed its cards on the cataphracts. Cataphracts were heavily armed Persian cavalry, the Persian knights. They would have become iconic in use by the Sassanidae, though they would have been already fielded at Gaugamela, they were certainly not the pride of the Persian army, the ace on which the Achaemenidae would place their bets on.

The period of the mixture phase could thus span from between 330 BC to roughly 100 BC. In terms of religious ideas, the Syriac world during this phase was still sort of asking the question, of how exactly what form should their religion take. This was a very important question, given the fact that the Syriac civilization was theocentric in its paradigm.

Apparently, the answer has not yet been found, and it was very much open for debate. When considering Second Temple Judaism, during this phase, we could have marked out by three major tendencies: the Pharisees, the Sadduccees and the Essenes. They could very well represent three different attitudes to the same religion: the Pharisees being the current sticking to the written word, the current of scholasticism and literalism. They would enjoy respect and support in the rural areas, as teachers of law and religion, bringing an altogether new understanding of religion.


A reconstruction of the Second Temple​

The Sadduccees appear to be a continuation of the old Canaanite understanding of religion. The priestly caste continued to deliver the same sacrifices of cattle and blood, as one reads of them in the Pentateuch. The Temple of Jerusalem stood at the forefront of their worship, for the Samaritans it was at Gerizim, and apparently the Temple itself was the focal point of religion, rather than the message of the Torah itself.

The third attitude was that of the Essenes, which we may very well view as a Jewish religious order, with Qumran possibly being their monastery. Looking closer, we find that they were a religious order, possessing secret texts, like the Neopythagoreans, or the Hemerticists, or any other late-Hellenistic group. The Essenes, could be very well seen a proto-Gnostic group, if we were to take this table as an adjective of form, not content.

While the Zealots were effectively a fourth group, it is way easier to tell what they stood against (Hellenic influences) than what they did stand for. They advocated an armed rebellion against the Hellenic influence, like that of the Maccabees, however, it appears that it had been a lost cause from the start, as soon after the Maccabees had won, they begin adopting Hellenic customs, due to the sheer attractivity of the Hellenic civilization, that it could be expected to be a matter of time before the Hellenic civilization would return to this Zealot state again.

However, to get the full picture, we must understand that Judea by this time could not be considered as the intellectual heart of Judaism, as that was in ”Ārām Nahrīn, or Mesopotamia, from where most of the Prophetic books came, while Judea was more and more becoming rigid and scholastic. In Toynbeean terms, Judea has come to idolize its past achievements, while a new spirit was being cultivated in ”Ārām Nahrīn

The destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem has been crucial in defeating the last remnant of parochialism in Judaism, the focus on Jerusalem, a remnant of the Canaanite Iron-Age civilization long perished, with the Zealots and the Sadducees perished, thus freeing up Judaism from the anachronistic parochialism.

(1) While using the term “Syriac” from A. J. Toynbee, I solely use this to describe the developments of this civilization from 300 BC onwards, what Spengler calls “Magian” civilization. The Canaanite civilization labels the society of the Levant between 1300 BC and 500BC, in the West surviving to roughly 200 BC, whose bearers were the Phoenicians, Israelites and other neighbouring peoples. While A.J. Toynbee lables both civilizations as Syriac, his label of Syriac needs to be cut in two.
ܓ:Chapter 2: Gestation
The gestation period of the Syriac civilization could be considered to have lasted since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem to the roughly early 4th century AD. This period saw Christianity rise in influence, becoming state religion of the roman Empire, Armenia and Aksum, while a reformed Zoroastrianism becomes state religion under the Sassanid Empire by the close of the 3rd century AD.

This gestation period can be marked by a sudden burst of religious current, new umməṯās forming quickly in this newborn Syriac civilization. They continued to be formed by the contact of the Hellenic civilization in the state of its universal empire, entering the phase of a second religiosity, thirsty for a new religion as its legacy upon its necessary disintegration.

The explosion of religious life during this gestation phase of the Syriac world following the destruction of the Second Temple, often based upon different interpretations of the allegorical language of the Apocalypse.

The Council of Jamnia in the year 90 AD came to redefine Judaism, from a Temple-centered religion to a scripture-centered religion, and thus Rabbinical Judaism as a distinct umməṯā was established. The non-existent Temple was thus replaced by synagogues, which became centres of Jewish prayer and rituals. Following the revolt of Bar Kokhba, even more Jews were sent into exile, and Judaism has almost entirely lost its connection to Judea and Samaria, and has become a world religion by the end of the gestation period, with important communities in Adiabene, Mesopotamia, in Yemen, in Aksum, in Cyrene and Egypt.
Destruction of Jerusalem

Unlike the Jews, the Samaritans have maintained a solid presence in their lands following the Bar Kokhba revolt, numbering roughly around a million. The Samaritan religion is very similar to Judaism, though the Samaritans were using an older Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, while the Jewish square script had been adopted from the Imperial Aramaic. Nevertheless, the Samaritans are generally assumed to have been descendants of the Israelite tribes that had not been sent to Babylonian exile, having intermarried with other peoples as well. Following thr Bar Kokhba revolt, the Temple at Mount Gerizim had been restored, while new Samaritan communities had been established overseas, though to a much lesser extent than Jewish ones.

Several Gnostic umməṯās have been established throughout out this period, across the Syriac world, combining elements of the Jewish Pentateuch and Hellenic, namely Platonic, philosophy. Syria and Egypt especially have seen many of these new Gnostic denominations emerge.

Gnostic communities founded by the disciples of John the Baptist, namely Simon Magus and Basilides , named after their founders as Simonians (in Syria and Asia Minor) and Basilidians (in the Nile Delta).

Other gnostic denominations, such as Sethians, Valentians, Bardaisanites, Cerdonians and Cerinthians have established themselves during this period, as have the serpent gnostics, followers of the gnosis of Saint Thomas and Marcionites, who rejected the Old Testament God as an evil deity, drawing contrast with the God of the New Testament. We will not pay closer look at the different Gnostic groups, as many were rather short-lived, and will describe the ones that have passed the test of time in the next chapter.

Christianity as it developed by this period was not a uniform movement, and in many ways the borders between Christianity, Gnosticism and Judaism were not strict. Judeo-Christian groups, acknowledging Jesus as Messiah and observing halakha law, such as the Ebionites or Nazarenes did exist, while Christian Gnostic groups such as the Bardaisanites and Valentinians.

In many places, Gnostic Christianity has been the original form of Christianity, and offered one of the answers on how to reconcile Canaanite religion with Hellenic philosophy, with many Syriac Gnostics developing complex cosmological diagrams on how the world is organized. The groups thought of themselves as possessing some form of hidden knowledge, and may have been influenced by the similar phenomenon of mystery cults in the late Hellenic civilization.

Christianity as it arose in the Palestinian countryside was very distinct from the Christianity peached by Paul. Paul went from city to city, and preached of Jesus, establishing the cult of Jesus at first in a pantheon among other pagan deities. This sense of a pantheon of saints, with a patron saint of every city and every profession became later apparent in western Christianity.

The Syriac east however focused on Jesus as a Messiah, on Jesus as a Prophet. For the Hellenic west, Jesus could very well be a demigod, a son of god or something in between, for Gnostic philosophers an emanation the deity, but for the Syriac world, he was either the Messiah or at least a prophet.

Most popular among these was the cult of Mithras, originally from Persia, which had become popular mainly among the frontier garrisons. Other religions gaining ground in the Roamn Empire were the Isaic and Serapian mysteries , cult of Sol Invictus or Manicheism.
Mani, the Persian Prophet

Manicheism was born as religion in Persian Mesopotamia, and Mani saw himself as the Seal of the Prophets, and hoped to create a truly universal religions, claiming to be a successor of Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus. He titled himself as a Paraclete, that is the “advocate” or “helper”, a tite that in Christianity is attributed to the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly the fate of Mani has been like that of Jesus Christ, eventually being crucified in the city of Gundeshapur. Mani´s attempt at unifying the whole Syriac world in an umməṯā of his followers, a religion adaptable to syncretism may have perhaps been one of the biggest non-events in history, though he has certainly set the stage for a similar development in the future.

It may very well have been that partly as a reaction against Manichaeism that the Zoroastrian church of Persia has established itself as a state-church.

The gestation period of the Syriac civilization comes to a close by the end of the early 4th century, as both Zoroastrianism, soon followed by Christianity emerge amongst their competition as organized state religions, defeating rivalling religious systems, such as Mithraism, Manichaeism, Gnosticism as well as Platonism from potential rivals.
Tauroctony, or Mithras slaying the bull. Presumably the most common depiction of Mithras.

Thus the Christian and Zoroastrian umməṯās would have had the stage set for converting practically the entirety of these two empires, the Roman and Persian, to their faith. This faith, or creed would become a point of focal importance and intense debate in the Syriac world, the question of “orthodoxy” would be a question of unity and disunity for Christianity, while in the Hellenic world it wouldn’t have actually mattered, as long as proper “orthopraxy”, proper rituals were respected.

Thus to conclude, the gestation phase of the Syriac civilization saw at first an outburst of many Gnostic denominations, as well as churches of the pseudomorphosis as Syriac religions have entered the western sphere, in form of Hellenistic Judaism, the cult of Christ, the Mithras cult etc.

Once the Hellenic civilization has entered the crisis of the 3rd century, ending the Indian summer of the Hellenic civilization and marking the start of its decline, the attitude towards religion changed in favour of the Syriac understanding, and western cults become organized as Syriac umməṯās, engaged in stark competition , until at last Christianity (or Christianities), made by Hellenized Jews as well as the followers of Saint Paul gradually gained the upper ground, having Constantine proclaim Christianity as the new state religion.
So I sensed that this scenario has a slight Samaritan-wank, right? Well, I already watched!
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So I sensed that this scenario has a slight Samaritan-wank, right? Well, I already watched!
I haven't actually gotten to the PoD yet :) but OTL Samaritans really were a thing, with roughly 1million people in Late Roman Empire, revolting several times against the Rhomaic (Byzantine) Empire
[TD]Universal Empire[/TD]
[TD]Age of Conflict[/TD]
[TD]Imperial Aramaic[/TD]
[TD]Hebrew, Punic[/TD]
[TD]Attic Greek[/TD]
[TD]Theocentric polytheist[/TD]
[TD]Merchant oligarchy[/TD]
[TD]Free citizens[/TD]
[TD](Pharaoh, priests)[/TD]
[TD]Instrument of expansion[/TD]
[TD]Commercial capitalism[/TD]
[TD]Plantation slavery[/TD]
[TD]Primary form of political org.[/TD]
[TD]Regional kingdom[/TD]
Sorry - but I was puzzled by this table. First, where did the Hellenes get the plantation economy from? There is not even a place there - land plots are strictly limited, and belong to individual families. If you want a new one, sail to Gaul or Taurida.
Secondly - I do not think that the term "Merchant Capitalism" is correct for such a time period. Third, why is the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations separated?
Sorry - but I was puzzled by this table. First, where did the Hellenes get the plantation economy from? There is not even a place there - land plots are strictly limited, and belong to individual families. If you want a new one, sail to Gaul or Taurida.
Secondly - I do not think that the term "Merchant Capitalism" is correct for such a time period. Third, why is the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations separated?
Those claims were actually made by Carroll Quigley:
ܕ:Chapter 3: Expansion ܕ
The Syriac civilization thus entered its era of expansion by the turn of the 3rd and 4th century, as it has come to replace the Hellenic civilization in the Sassanid Empire and largely replacing the Hellenic civilization in much of the Roman Empire.

The model of a state church, as it has developed by the Sassanidae was copied by the late Roman Empire following the Constantinian shift. Christianity has come to be organized as a state church, generally copying the administrative framework of the late Roman provinces, with each province having an archbishop in its capital. On the highest level, the bishops of the cities of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch enjoyed the title of the Patriarch, soon joined by the city of Constantinople by virtue of it being the new capital and Jerusalem as it was the site of the Messiah´s crucifixion.

These five patriarchal sees have gradually come to be considered as the “Pentarchy”. The model of the Pentarchy presupposes that the Emperor be the final arbiter in case of disputes, as none of the patriarchal sees has any authority over the others. Christian communities outside the borders of the Roman Empire, such as Georgia, Armenia, Aghbania, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Ethiopia were not considered for that matter. This was so, as the Great Church has been organized as a state church of the Roman Empire, and thus by definition left out the centers of Christianity beyond the Roman borders, and those communities were expected to look towards Antioch or Alexandria for guidance.

When looking at the spatial distribution of the patriarchal sees, one really a big disbalance between the East and the West, with Rome being the sole patriarchal see in the western half of the empire. Indeed, in the very first councils, very few bishops spoke Latin, and more often Greek, Syriac and Coptic would be heard.
Map of the Pentarchy by 565

The canonical territory of the Roman Patriarchate, which would later be known as the Papacy, thus included not only Italy, Gaul, Britain, and Spain, but also Africa and the entire Ilyricum, up to the eastern borders of Macedonia and Upper Moesia. Territorially, this was the largest jurisdiction, covering most Latin-speaking regions, though some of Greek-speaking regions as well.

The jurisdiction of Constantinople included the city´s Thracian hinterlands, but more importantly the Anatolian plateau, up to the Taurus mountains, almost entirely Hellenophone, though most of the population were descended from the original Anatolic peoples.

The see of Alexandria, traditionally tied to St. Mark, established its authority over the Egypt and Cyrenaica, and by extension also held influence over Christian communities in Ethiopia and Yemen. While Coptic was the prevailing in the Egyptian countryside, Greek was the language of the citizens of Alexandria and Cyrenaica.

The extent of Antioch´s jurisdiction was limited by the Taurus mountains in the north and theoretically extended into Mesopotamia, Armenia, and the Kartvelian kingdoms of Lazica and Iberia, and formally included Cyprus as well. De facto, these independent kingdoms, as well as Cyprus had their ecclesiastical autonomy. Syria was even more evenly divided between the Greek-speaking citizens along coastal cities, and the Syriac speaking hinterland, an issue that would cause more trouble later.

Ultimately, the smallest of the five patriarchates was Jerusalem, whose jurisdiction included only the regions of Palestine and the Sinai peninsula.

Christianity in the Roman Empire has thus changed role from an underground minority do becoming the state church. As such, questions arose on the exact nature of the creed arose, and an official creed was to be established, formulated, and further propagated. On the one hand, Christianity thus became formalized, and the beliefs of the church clearly defined. On the other hand, however, the dissenting faction would then break off, weakening the overall unity of Christianity.

Thus, when the Council of Nicaea agreed on a Trinitarian definition of Christianity and this stance was underlined by the canons of the Council of Constantinople, the supporters of the Egyptian priest Arius, who were not Trinitarian seceded to form their own church, the Arian Church. Similarly, the Council of Ephesus has condemned the Nestorian beliefs , which had been held by the Patriarch of Constantinople and supported by the catechetical school of Antioch, thus strengthening the position of Coptic Egypt, weakening the position of Constantinople (which supported the “wrong” party twice: first Arianism and later Nestorianism). Monophysitism, which grew first as a reaction against Nestorianism found itself confronted at the Council of Chalcedon, and emperor Justinian sought to reestablish concord with the Monophysites at the 2nd council of Constantinople by decrying Nestorianism once more.

A depiction of the Council of Ephesus

The lines upon which Christianity did break up in the Orient were the lines showing the degree of Hellenization: with the Grecophone regions becoming Chalcedonian, most of the Coptic and most Syriac provinces of the Rhomaic Empire leaning towards Monophysitism, while the Syriac provinces of the Sassanidae turned Nestorian, especially upon accommodating a few persecuted heretics from the Rhomaic Empire.

These splits thus showed the degree of Hellenization of the Syriac world: the Nestorian regions saw almost no degree of Hellenization, the Monophysite regions were areas where non-Greeks were living under Greek rule and the Chalcedonian areas were regions inhabited by the Greeks and Latins.

A secondary axis, which was running from Alexandria, through Jerusalem, Damascus, Palmyra, Ctesiphon and then along the Silk Road, into the depths of Asia. This secondary axis would later expand into Transoxiana and Bactria.

The period of expansion could be said to have lasted until the late 6th century, when a destructive war of 572-591 between the Rhomaic Empire and the Sassanidae befell the Syriac world. Before that, the Syriac umməṯās have greatly expanded their domain, establishing Christianity as far afield as Britain at the northwestern edge of the world and the Malabar coast of southern India at the southeastern end; Herat and Samarkand have had their bishops since the early 5th century, and Christianity has been present in both Yemen and Ethiopia by then.

The Greco-Bactrian kingdom, a stepping stone for Buddhism in Central Asia,

It was especially the Nestorians who have had a strong missionary zeal, seeking converts among the Turkic nomads of Central Asia and the Sogdians. That region has already had a pluralistic religious background, for it has been the centre of Mahayana Buddhism, as it had spread from Gandhara in northwestern India northwards into Sogdia, where it displaced earlier Zoroastrian practices, and then continued along the Silk Road into the heart of China.

Central Asia has by then been a religiously diverse region, with Buddhists, Manicheans, Nestorians and Miaphysites all living together. This region, which could be called Sogdia or Transoxiana, had seceded in the post-Alexandrine period to start its own civiliziation, which was either in the phase of mixture or gestation, as Chinese (post-Sinic and early Far Eastern), Indian and Hellenic influences, as well as late Achaemenid ones were mingling to form a new Transoxianan civilization, marked by religious plurality, mercantile society, and a city-state cosmos. The border between the Syriac civilization and this Transoxianan civilization would have been at the line where the Iranian Plateau descends into lower altitudes of the Oxus and Jaxartes Basins, which marked the northwestern border of Parthian and Sassanid dynasties; the southern border of the Transoxianan civilization appears to have been the northern foothills of the Apershen mountains (1), known to the Greeks as the Paropamisidae.

A map of Sogdia
The era of expansion has thus manifested itself territorially, in briefly expanding the region into which the Syriac religions have spread. On the peripheries, we could have seen Judaism , Ebionitism and Collyridianism (2) , as well as Mophysitism spreading among the Arabian tribes of Hejaz.

In the intellectual field, the Syriac world has had quite a few distinct universities: apart from the catechetical schools of Antioch and Alexandria, there were the Syriac schools of Edessa and Nisibis. Furthermore, the Jews had their own academies in the Mesopotamian cities of Pumbeditta (3) and Nehardea (4) , while a great Persian center of learning was located in Gundeshapur (5). A later addition had been the School of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. All these universities have seen major advances, namely in the fields of astronomy, medicine and even astrology. While fleeing religious persecution, the Nestorian Syriacs have taken with them some ancient Greek philosophical texts, translating them into Syriac. Interestingly, despite the Persians being the language of Sassanidae, almost all treatises were written in Syriac rather than Persian, as Syriac had been considered a more prestigious language.

The Syriac world, while articulated in a number of umməṯās, namely the Orthodox Christian, the Zoroastrian, the Manichaean, the Mazdaki (believers of some form of collectivism), the Nestorian, the Monophystie, the Arian, the Jewish, the Samaritan, the Collyridian, the Mandean, the Rahmani, the Sabean (6) and the Hermetics of Harran, who were in fact the last heirs of the defunct Babylonic civilization, a living fossil of a once great civilization (7)

  1. IŠKATA – Encyclopaedia Iranica (iranicaonline.org) The oroignal name in Avestan was Uparisaena, and such a name was used in Sanskrit as well. The Hindukush Mountains.
  2. A sect of Christianity worshipping Virgin Mary as a Goddess, as a fourth divine person.
  3. Falluja, Anbar Province, Iraq
  4. Located also in Anbar Province, Iraq
  5. The Academy of Gundeshapur, known in Syriac as Beth Lapat, in Khuzestan, Iran
  6. The Sabean religion of Yemen
  7. Muslim sources refer to them as the Sabians of Harran. Harran (Carrhae) is a city to the south of Edessa, where ancient Babylonian polytheism is likely to have survived the longest. Wikipedia describes them as being Hermeticisits, so that’s what I call them.


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ܗ: Chapter 4: A Time of Troubles
The late fifth and the entire sixth century has seen the Syriac world descend into a period of strife, a time of troubles. The empire of the Sassanidae has had to counter the egalitarian movement of the Mazdakites, and the Iranian society has been becoming more and more fatalistic.

In the Rhomaic Empire, religious strife, between the pro-Chalcedonian and the Monophysite parties had become the norm. The Monophysite-dominated provinces of Egypt and Syria had been increasingly restless as Rhomaic inquisition has come to enforce religious uniformity.

Such policies had already resulted in the disappearance of the Hellenic religion and saw persecution of the Samaritans in Palestine and outlawing of various Gnostic groups, which had become known as heretics.

The Sassanid-Rhomaic war of 572, fought due to conflicting spheres of influence in the Caucasus could very well be the start of the Time of Troubles in the Syriac world. While Emperor Justin, a Dardanian-born Vlach had no interest in pushing eastwards, and did not want to drain the imperial resource to push eastwards, he nonetheless had to fight the war, and in the end the Kartvelian states of Lazica and Iberia have come into the Rhomaic sphere, as has the western part of Armenia come under Rhomaic rule.

These states had converted to Christianity and had been looking to Constantinople for protection. By the end of the war, the Rhomaic Empire has thus expanded its domain to not only include the upper Euphrates watershed, but also the upper Araxes, to the shores of lakes Van and Sevan. Furthermore, the Rhomaic war effort had been helped by internal turmoil in the Sassanid domain.

This war, ending in 591 has tilted the balance more in favour of the Rhomaic Empire. However, an even more destructive war was to follow a few years later. The war that had broken out in 602 was to severely weaken both empires, rendering them too exhausted to defend themselves from all but the weakest of threats.


The Rhomaic-Sassanid border in late Antiquity
The Rhomaic forces have already weakened themselves following the campaigns of emperor Justinian under his general Belisarius, by recovering Italy from the Ostrogoths and Africa from the Vandals. These campaigns have however drained the imperial resources, carefully consolidated under emperor Anastasius. The outcome of Justinians Reconquista was a general weakening of the empire´s resources: the emptying of coffers and the depopulation of the Illyrian and Thracian provinces, which had served as recruiting grounds for the Rhomaic armies were left defenseless as the Slavic peoples flooded into the Illyricum.

Thus, when the Rhomaic Empire had yet to fight the Sassanid forces in 602 it has already been in a bad shape and would have needed two or three decades to recover, and was certainly not prepared for an utterly devastating hegemonic war, a life-and-death combat of two titans (1).

We could compare this situation to the endemic warfare between Assyrian and Babylonia of the late Babylonic period, or to the first and second Punic wars of the western Mediterranean, or perhaps to the hegemonic conflict of the Hellenic civilization, which culminated in the Peloponesian war, seeing Sparta and her allies on one side and Athens with the Delian League on the other. The continued warfare between Assyria and Babylonia as well as that between Athens and Sparta has drained the resources of both of these powers, who were aspiring to unite the whole of their civilization to such a degree, that a victory came at a Pyrrhic cost and the hegemonic conflict had thus come to consume all vitality from the two rivals. With more lives lost as the conflict continued, it became almost impossible to stop such a war with all those casualties in mind, else one would have to admit that the whole war effort were a vanity.

Such was the case in this hegemonic war as well, and similarly to the way how in the end Athens and Sparta lay prostrate for a victorious Philipp of Macedon, who at the periphery had gradually built up strength, and how the hegemonic struggle between Assyria and Babylon has given a peripheral Persian Cyrus the opportunity to unite the ancient world, so too has the costly war of 602 left an open invitation to the periphery to seize the opportunity and build a universal empire for the Syriac world.

Initially,the war of 602 has seen a civil war in the Rhomaic Empire, overthrowing Phocas and installing the Heraclian dynasty. The Sassanidae have taken advantage of this, as well of the Rhomaic weakeness and have proceeded to seize all of Levant and Egypt, counting also on the Jewish population, while many thousand Greek residents were sent to exile. At the zenith of their glory, the Persians not only seized Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, but have crossed the Taurus and seized control over Cappadocia. In Jerusalem, the Persians were with open arms greeted by Jewish insurgents, who sought to establish a Jewish home in Israel. By 615, the Persians had overrun most of Anatolia and the Rhomaic Empire was at breaking point, almost prepared to surrender.

Ultimately, Constantinople was besieged by a combined Sassanid and Avar force, though the siege had eventually been broken. Heraclius hit the now overextended Persians into the rear, defeating army after army, campaigning largely in the Armenian Highland and burning the Zoroastrian fire temple (2) at Adur Gushnasp. The Rhomaic Empire enlisted the help of the Gokturks, who crossed the Caucasus and attacked from the north.

Heraclius then imitated Alexander the Macedonian, defeated the bulk of the remaining Persian forces at Niniveh (3) and was ready to march upon Ctesiphon to claim his prize, going down the same path as the Macedonians from Gaugamela to Babylon.

By this time, Heraclius sent an ultimatum, writing: I pursue and run after peace. I do not willingly burn Persia, but compelled by you. Let us now throw down our arms and embrace peace. Let us quench the fire before it burns up everything.


Heraclius and the cherubim recieving the surrender of Khosrw II

There was now no Persian army left to oppose Heraclius by 627. Shah Khosrow, seeking to continue the resistance had tried to gather a new force in Susiana but was overthrown. The Persians were forced to return all seized relics, and pay a large war indemnity. While borders returned to status quo ante, it was clear that the Sassanids have lost the war (4), as it had been followed by a period of political instability with multiple civil wars and dynastic conflicts.

While both empires were exhausted, it can be safe to say, that the impacts upon the Sassanidae were more severe than the impacts upon the Rhomaic Empire, despite the fact, that Anatolia, Egypt and Syria had been ravaged by war on the Rhomaic side, while the Rhomaic armies have not devastated the Iranian Plateau (with the exception of Media) nor Lower Mesopotamia. This may have been outweighed by Africa and Sicily being a safe hinterland for the Rhomaic Empire, despite the Rhomaic positions in Italy being hard-pressed by the Langobards.

So which was to be the power to emerge from the periphery to provide a universal state for the Syriac world? Both Macedon and Persia, as well as later Rome were smaller powers, semi-barbaric, usually overshadowed greatly by their more powerful neighbours, who had emerged victorious to exploit the moment of weakness of their neighbours. In the Syriac world, this semi-periphery could be found in three regions: in the northwest, there were the Caucasian kingdoms of Lazica, Iberia (5), Aghbania (6) and most importantly, Armenia. These region did not however possess the necessary potential to exploit the weakness of the powers of the Syriac world, as Armenia and the other Caucasian kingdoms had been ravaged by both Rhomaic-Persian wars. A second region, which had found itself in the periphery were the satrapies of Makran and Mazun in the southeast, which have been under the domain of the Sassanidae.


A map of the Ghassanid Kingdom, by AbdurRahman AbdulMoneim
The southern periphery, in the arid and semi-arid areas of the Arabian Peninsula has been to least touched by these events. We are here speaking of the kingdom of the clan of Banu Ghassan (7), who had been the warden of the eastern frontier regions of Rhomaic Syria since the fifth century, and had been paid as foederati to keep out hostile Arab raids from inland into Syrian and Palestinian territory. The Ghassanids have gradually expanded their domains, by receiving Rhomaic subsidies, to include most of the length of the frontier from the Euphrates to the Red Sea.

The Ghassanid Kingdom has had its precursors in the Nabatean kingdom, which had been established in the region between the 3rd century BC and the early 1st century AD, which had controlled the region from Sinai to Damascus. The Nabatean script had been a precursor to the later Arabic script. The legacy of the Nabateans had been the city of Petra, carved into the sandstone rock in an oasis, and their kingdom had eventually been annexed to the Roman Empire as the province of Arabia.

Another precursor was the kingdom of Palmyra, which emerged during the crisis of the 3rd century AD and went on to seize control of all the Levant and Egypt. The Ghassanids have established their realm in very much the same area, having their main keep in Jabiyah in the volcanic plateau of Hawran. The western border of the Ghassanids had been the Limes Arabicus, along which ran the highway of Via Nova Traiana


Via Nova Traiana depicted in red

The Ghassanids had been rivals with another kingdom, that of the Banu Lakhm or Lakhmids, who had performed the very same function on behalf of the Sassanidae, before they had been annexed in the early 600s. The Lakhmids had had their capital in Hira at the western bank of the Euphrates, and had been initially pagan, but had ultimately converted to Nestorian Christianity, the version of Christianity which had been followed by most the Mesopotamian subjects of Shah.

Banner of the Ghassanids
The Ghassanids on the other hand were staunchly Monophysite Christians, and had repeatedly acted as the champions, patrons, and protectors of Monophysite Christianity in Syria. Syria had seen a particularly strong tension between the “Melkites”, who were of the same Chalcedonian creed as the Emperor at Constantinople, and were mostly Greek-speaking and living in the cities of the coast or in the valley of the Orontes, and the Monophysite Jacobites who spoke mostly Syriac and lived in the rural regions or inland. The Emperors had of course favoured the Melkites, much to the Monophysites´discontent. Thus, when 641 the Ghassanids had decided to make themselves the masters of the Levant, they had been greeted by their co-religionists with open arms, and the Rhomaic garrisons were undermanned. (8)

  1. The reader may see a parallel between the 578-591 Rhomaic-Iranian war and the Great War of 1914-1918 and the 602-628 may be then compared with the Second World War. While the first of these conflicts shocked the contemporaries, by its scale, it was soon overshadowed by a second conflict, which was even more destructive and longer-lasting
  2. No pun intended
  3. On the other bank of the Tigris river, opposite the city of Mosul
  4. Dictate of Versailles?
  5. The Kartvelian kingdom of Iberia, located in the valley of the Cyrus (Kura) river (Eastern Georgia)
  6. Caucasian Albania. I have decided to use this term (Aghbania) to avoid confusion with the Illyrian Albania or even the Gaelic Alba in Caledonia.
  7. The “gh” in this, and all Arabic words is to be read as a consonant between the French “r” as in France
  8. This then, is the Point of Divergence. Instead of the early Caliphate, it is the Monophysite Ghassanids who come and seize Syria for themselves.
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ܘ: Chapter 5: The Ghassanid Conquest of Syria
In this chapter, we will see some excerpts from the contemporary historians, describing the events in the aftermath of the destructive Rhomaic-Persian war.
Our first chronicler is George of Resh´aina (1), a Syriac Jacobite (i.e. Monophysite) chronicler, who writes about the Ghassanid conquest.

And then God the Almighty has chosen in his wisdom to punish the Greeks for their blasphemy and for their sins. Thus when Heraclius had died, and his attempt to find good-will with the Syriacs and the Copts with him. After the brief reign of Constantine III and Heraklonas, the first of whom died of illness in less than three months, and the second was deposed and had his nose cut off before sent to exile, Constans II was crowned Basileus. A wicked man, he angered all (3) by banning the mere discussion of the nature of Our Saviour (4). The first to raise his banners in rebellion was Gregory, the Exarch of Africa (5). When hearing the grievances of his faithful, the His Holiness John III, known as the Sedre (6) anointed the Phylarch of the Ghassanids, Jabalah ibn al-Aiham, to be king of Syria and free the land from the Greek oppressors. Holding in high esteem the word of the His Holiness the Patriarch, king Jabalah raised his banners and gathered his men, some on horseback, others on camel to be the champion of the True Faith and conquer Syria.
Thus in the autumn of the 647 of Our Lord, Jabalah entered the city of Damascus through its southern gate, and was crowned king of the Syrians by the archbishop of Damascus. From there, he sent one half of his force to Tadmor, while remaining in Damascus with a better part of his force. Another host, freshly arriving from the desert came to the cities of the Arabia Petraea, which had been the ancient kingdom of Nabatea.
Thus, when the Emperor gathered his forces to meet the Ghassanids, thery had already controlled all lands east of the Jordan River and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. With their rear secured, the Arabs then crossed the mountains: with king Jabalah seizing the city of Baalbek after a short siege, before meeting the rest of his forces at Emesa, which upon seeing another Arab army approaching from the south opened its gates. The garrison were allowed to leave, and they marched quickly northwards along the Orontes river. King Jabalah then repaired the fortifications of Emesa, especially from the northern and western approaches.
In the south, the Arabs entered the Samaritan country, after crossing the Jordan at Scythopolis and approached Sikhem, or Neapolis under Gerizim. There, the nephew of king Jabalah, Arethas (Harith) read his uncle´s letter, where king Jabalah vowed to uphold the liberties of the Samaritans, who had been persecuted heavily by the Greek Emperors. The high Priest of the Samaritans, Elazar IX, was delighted by the offer and offered supplies of his land to the Arabs. From beneath Mount Gerizim, Arethas lead this force south to the gates of Jerusalem, which had been defended heavily by the Greek Patriarch Sophronius (7). Seeing the city well defended, Arethas turned westwards to take over Jaffa, Ceasarea Maritima, Ascalon and approached Gaza, to block any supplies to Jerusalem by sea. Meanwhile, the vicinity of Hebron and Bersaba continued to be raided by Bedouin nomads from the Idumean desert (8).”

A Samaritan pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim
The first sign of any resistance to the incoming Arabs was at Emesa, but that was a very weak one. This was because Emesa was the first city which had a significant Melkite population; the other cities upon which the Ghassanids had stumbled had a large Monophysite or otherwise non-Chalcedonian population. By the time king Jabalah was strengthening his position in Emesa, a Rhomaic army has departed from Antioch to meet them. Emesa was perhaps one of the most important cities in Syria, located on the crossroads between the road running along the Orontes river (connecting Antioch with Emesa, and then further with Baalbek) and the west-east road from the coast through the gap (9) between the Bargylus mountains (10) and the Lebanese Mountains and then further towards Tadmor and the Euphrates.

However, his commanders were impatient and Jabalah had allowed them to seize the cities of Raphanea (11) and Epiphania (12), where the Arab forces encountered the Rhomaic army, commanded by Theodore Trithyrus (13), who held the left wing, while the centre was commanded by an Armenian prince called Vahan (14). In the Battle of Epiphania, the battle has been won by the less numerous Arab force, who relied on their superior mobility and manouvering tactics, having charged numerous times into the side of the Rhomaic infantrymen, while the heavy cataphracts of Rhomaic force had been a slow counter for the Arabic horsemen and camelry.
Following the victory at Epiphania, the Arabs marched victorious into the city of Apamea on the Orontes, before turning northeastwards towards Chalkis, Beroea, which returned to its ancient name of Aleppo and the city of Hierapolis (15). During their campaigns in northern Syria, the Ghassanids were joined by the Tanukhids (16), who used to be the frontiersmen in the 1st to 4th centuries.


Ruins of Rhomaic architecture in Apamea

Meanwhile, in the south, the city of Gaza supplied by the sea from Cyprus and Alexandria has managed to withstand the siege, as Harith ibn Jabalah quit the siege and decided to redirect his efforts on Jerusalem. It was the beginning of the advent season, when the Arab armies entered the city of Bethlehem just to the south of Jerusalem. Patriarch Sophronius had by then concentrated all the resources and men he could have have found in the Palestinian interior to defend the city of David and had prepared for a heroic siege. The army of Egypt had just set sail from Alexandria, and has ready to disembark at Raphia, to the south of Gaza. By 10 th December, the Arab forces had moved from Bethlehem northwards and commenced with a siege of Jerusalem from its southern approaches.

In the north, the army defeated at Epiphania has decided to attack in the rear of the Arabs. Turning back through Apamea, Vahan marched his forces along the coast, through Laodicea (17), through the gap of Emesa to the city of the same name. The garrison that he found there was a token force whose commander offered to resistance and left through back door, while leaving it to the bishop to rend the keys to the Rhomaic commander. The bulk of the Arab force had been in the northeast, where they entered the city of Edessa as liberators, and were seizing control of the district of Osrhoene beyond the Euphrates. That area would have been a well defended region, with many fortifications. However, the bulk of the forces had been recalled to Antioch to join the field armies of Vahan. The only skirmish that had occurred was outside Amida, and was won by the Arabs. The Arabs had split their forces in the east again: the Tanukhids seized Callinicum (18) and Circesium, before crossing the desert to Tadmor and regaining Emesa for a second time from the Romans, while king Jabalah marched through Samasoata to Germanicia (19), where defeated another Rhomaic army sent from beyond the Taurus.

From there, king Jabalah decided to press for Antioch. Two Rhomaic armies have been meeting before Antioch: Vahan had descended along the Orontes, while the army defeat at Germanicia had marched to Antioch to regenerate. The combined forces had managed to defeat the Arabs at the gates of Antioch, from where they retreated to Aleppo.

Meanwhile, in the south by the start of Lent, the walls of Jerusalem had been breached, though the defenders continued fighting. The defenders had retreated to the Temple Mount, to hold their last stand, hoping that a relief force would soon arrive. The relief force by then had taken Ascalon and was halfway to Jerusalem when news of the breach of Jerusalem´s walls had reached them. The remaining archers in the defending garrison had run out of arrows, and their supplies were running out. Meanwhile, the Arabs were attending a Monophysite service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, something which must have frustrated Sophronius and his men, with a party loosing nerves and attempting a sortie, before being cut down by the Arabs. With Sophronius himself dying soon after, the garrison lay down arms immediately.

Just as the surrender had been agreed, the Rhomaic army of Egypt had appeared from one of the hills. A battle followed suit, with once again the Arabs coming out victorious.
By this time, a truce had been agreed, as both the Rhomaic Empire had badly needed to consolidate its forces, after having to defend both the Balkans, the Exarchate of Ravenna and needing to pacify Africa. Egypt of course, was growing restless. Thus, a two year truce was agreed, with the Ghassanids seizing practically all of Syria, with the exception of the Phoenician coast, Galilee, the Syria coast in the regions of Laodicea and Antioch, and Cilicia.

Green: Ghassanid Campaigns,Red: Rhomaic Campaigns, Yellow: line of control during the truce.

The peace that followed enabled the Ghassanids to expand their influence further inland, accepted new tribes into their kingdom, most notably the strongly Monophysite Banu Tayy (20), as well as other Monophysite Chrisitan tribes of northwestern Arabia, namely the Ghatafanids. Thus, the Ghassanids have expanded their domains, in peaceful manner, much deeper into Arabia, with the Jewish oasis of Yathrib falling outside of their control.
Of course, this greatly enhanced the numbers of warriors that the Arabs could raise, while having enough time to begin consolidating their domains in Syria.
A map of Ghassanid Expansion. Pink: original extent of Ghassanid control. Pink outline: areas controlled by the Ghassanids at the renewal of hostilities with the Rhomaic Empire

  1. George of Resh'aina - Wikipedia
  2. Abandonned the Monotheletist compromise, due to disagreement from Rome
  3. In the west, the Latins violently rejected Monotheletism.
  4. Typos of Constans - Wikipedia
  5. Gregory the Patrician - Wikipedia
  6. John III of the Sedre - Wikipedia
  7. Sophronius of Jerusalem - Wikipedia. Sophronius being a strongly Chalcedonian, he would have strongly opposed the Monophysite army of the Ghassanids.
  8. Negev
  9. Homs Gap - Wikipedia
  10. Syrian Coastal Mountain Range - Wikipedia
  11. Raphanea - Wikipedia
  12. Modern Hama: Hama - Wikipedia
  13. Theodore Trithyrius - Wikipedia
  14. Vahan (Byzantine commander) - Wikipedia
  15. Manbij, Syria
  16. Tanukhids - Wikipedia
  17. Modern Latakia, Syria
  18. Ar-Raqqah, Syria
  19. Marash - Wikipedia
  20. Tayy - Wikipedia
ܙ: Chapter 6: The Conquest of Syria and Mesopotamia
While during the first phase of their campaign in Syria, the Ghassanids had met with relatively little resistance, perhaps with the notable exception of Jerusalem, in the second phase theywould have met a more heavily defended region. The coastal stripe, extending from Antioch through Laodicea down the Phoenicia coast to Tyre and Galilee had been largely populated by Chalcedonians. In Antioch and Laodicia, they were Antiochian Greeks. In Galilee, Tyre and many other cities, and more importantly, in much of the countryside, they were Syriac-speaking Melkites. The city of Berythos (1) may have been very well an exception, as it was largely Latinate speaking (though with many speaking Greek or Syriac).

While the heroic defense of Jerusalem had become famous and patriarch Sophronius had been declared a martyr, the Army of the East had not fully recovered. The bulk of the forces were concentrated to defend the city of Antioch, Laodicea, and the northern Phoenician coast. Gaza and Raphia were resupplied, and have become harbours for many Melkites of Palestine. For the Emperor, however, their only function would have been to slow down the attackers, while the army stationed in Egypt had been repairing fortifications to the west of the Sinai.

From contemporary sources, it appears clearly, that the Rhomanian army attempted to commit its imperial field armies to retake northern Syria, namely the city of Berroea (2) and Osroene, while the Army of the East was to defend the approaches towards the city of Antioch, and in the counteroffensive, the Orontes valley has to be retaken.

The Ghatafanid and Banu Judham tribes had poured into the non-defended Galilee, seizing Tiberias, Nazareth, Ptolemais (3) and other towns and cities in the region before moving northwards to besiege Tyre. Interestingly, however both Tyre and Sidon had been found undefended and without garrison.

The horsemen of the Tayy tribe, as well as the Tanukhids, together with a small number of local Syrian militiamen and recruits, had moved to cross the Gap of Emesa, where they met with a strong resistance, and thus turned back.

The Ghassanids had been preparing to launch an attack towards the city of Antioch, and had met with elements of the Army of the East at the Iron Bridge across the Orontes, at the approaches to Antioch. The Arab victory had begun the siege of Antioch, and the Arabs have had their reinforcements coming from the south. The Rhomaic field army, returning from Beroea was met outside the walls of Antioch. The victory of the Arabs occurred despite a sortie of a defeated Rhomaic force, attempting to hit the Arabs from behind; and was possible perhaps due to the Rhomaics tired after a rather long march.

The result was of course, the Arab conquest of Antioch, followed by a march in the southerly direction, besieging Laodicea and Gabala (before their garrisons escaped to Cyprus by boat). However, as the Arabs tried to continue further southwards, along the Phoenician coast, they had been constantly skirmished by small local forces, as was the case in the vicinity of the Black Mountain near the city of Cyrrhus (4). These local forces, known as were headed by Syriac speaking Monothelite loyalists (5), composed also of forces left behind after imperial retreat to the Taurus foothills in Cilicia.

In the south, the defenders of both Gaza and Raphia surrendered upon the approach of the Arab forces; and after the Levant was conquered, the Arabs poured into Cilicia, where, after overcoming the defenses of the mountain passes found no resistance until reaching the Taurus. Thus, the Ghassanids have seized Syria from the Rhomaic Empire.

The Sassanid Empire, devastated by several civil wars, was already in a bad shape. The annexation of the Lakhmid kingdom, which had been the southern bulwark of the Sassanidae, defending Eranshahr from invading Arab tribes had been no more, and thus the empire had become vulnerable for any attackers from the south.

These attacks have come from the Banu Tamim tribal group; the Banu Tamim had inhabited the region to the southeast of the former Lakhmid kingdom. The Banu Tamim had conquered much of Khozestan and southern Mesopotamia without heavy resistance; some of them had already been Zoroastrians. Thus, when the Banu Tamim took over, they were not seen as a completely alien force, but as a more barbaric people of the same civilizational circuit coming to take over, similarly as Philipp II Macedonian was seen as a semi-barbaric marksman of the Hellenic civilization.

A map of the Sassanid Empire (source: Islamic Cartography Society on Discord)
In the east, the Sassanidae have come under heavy pressure from the Gokturks, who had been attacking the northeastern frontier regions of Eranshahr. The frontier regions had been heavily fortified, and in a usual situation it would not have been beyond the power of the Sassanidae to defend the marches of the Kust -i- Xwarāsān. This, however, has not been a typical situation, as the Sassanidae had been exhausted after a life-and-death climactic war with the Rhomaic Empire, and plagued by a succession crisis. This allowed the Gokturks to seize Xwarasan: the satrapies of Marew (6), Harev (7), Sakastan (8), Abarshahr (9) and Hyrcania (10). The Western Gokturks had by this time become receptive of Indic cultural influences, with the ruling elites adopting a sympathy towards the Mahayana branch of Buddhism.

A Turk mourning the Buddha, from the Bezeklik caves. The practice of self-mutilation is likely of Scythian origin
Having said this, the Gokturks were becoming gradually receptive of the Indic civilization, though their conversion to becoming the external proletariat of the Indic civilization has just begun; and most of them clung to their ancestral Tengri faith. Nevertheless, their hold over the Xwarasan has been perceived very differently than that of Tamimids: while the Tamimids were percieved as essentially loud rusty hillbillies, who just need to take in proper manners, the perception of the Gokturks as essentially foreign invaders in Eranshahr would later cause a reaction against their presence.

The weakening of the Sassanidae has also caused the northwestern satrapies of Armenia, Iberia and Aghbania breaking free, and now coming under the influence of the Rhomaic Empire. Thus, the Persians were left with two regions under their control. In the northwest, there was Adurbadagan and the historical region of Media. In the south, there was the whole Kust -i- Nēmrōz, spanning from the satrapy of Pars, through Kirman, Makran, Paradan, Turan and Hind.

Needless to say, Sassanid control over the Arabian satrapies had collapsed. The Qatari coast (Beth Qatraye) had come under the rule of the Tamimids, while in Mazoun (11), the coast had come under control of the Persian satraps before being overrun by the al-Azd tribe of the interior.

  1. OTL Beirut, Lebanon. The city was famous for its law school.
  2. Aleppo, Syria
  3. Ptolemais in Phoenicia - Wikipedia (Acre, Israel)
  4. Cyrrhus - Wikipedia (in the Afrin district of Aleppo province, Syria)
  5. Yes, I am essentially speaking here about the Maronites, though they do not have that distinct identity.
  6. Satrapy centred around the city of Merv, Turkmenistan
  7. Satrapy centred around the city of Herat, Afghanistan
  8. Sakastan, or Segestan is the satrapy found in the valley of Helmand River, southern Afghanistan
  9. Satrapy located in northeastern Iran
  10. Satrapy located at the southwestern shore of the Caspian Sea.
  11. Coastal Oman
Hmm, I was hoping for a repulsion of the Ghassanids leading to their eventual turn towards conquering Persia. A Monophysite Eranshahr versus a Chalcedonian ERE would have been interesting. Oh well.
Hmm, I was hoping for a repulsion of the Ghassanids leading to their eventual turn towards conquering Persia. A Monophysite Eranshahr versus a Chalcedonian ERE would have been interesting. Oh well.
Most likely, victorious Arabs will turn upon themselves (something paralleling the fitna). This won't be the end state.
I love to see a Buddhist revival and it taking position of Islam.
So far we haven't diverged much from history in Central Asia. I am curious for how long Indian can dominate culturally in the area
ܚ: Chapter 7: Conquest of Egypt
Returning to the Rhomaic Empire, it appears to be still overextended. The empire has just lost Syria, which had housed some of the intellectual centres of the Empire, namely Antioch, Edessa, Nisibis and Berythos. With them, however the empire had lost many troublesome subjects of the Monophysite creed. In Thrace and Illyricum, the Empire was on the defensive, as Slavic and Avar raids intensified, flooding most of Moesia and the interior of what used to be Dalmatia; with fortified towns clinging to the Adriatic coast here and there; citizens of what after the reforms of Diocletian had been known as Dacia (previously Upper Moesia) (1) had been largely scattered: some fled southwards into areas still part of the Empire, to be settled in fields deserted after the plague of Justinian, or in the highlands of the Pindus Mountains. Some have fled into the safety of the mountains, others were left behind and got accepted into the Slavic tribes.

In Africa, Flavius Gregorius had risen in revolt to be a champion of the pro-Chalcedonian party, partly to oppose the conciliatory stance of the Emperors towards the Monophysites (in the form of Monothelitism) , partly as a means to consolidate his own power and keep the revenue generated in Africa within Africa itself.

As for Africa, the area had previously been under the control of the Vandals, an East Germanic people who were indeed as Unroman amongst the Germanic peoples as it was possible, having had no prior contact with the Roman Empire. Therefore, tensions between the Arian Vandals and the Trinitarian Romans had been strong, and Belisarius had been greeted in Carthage as a liberator. Africa by this time had three distinct characteristics: firstly, the area had seen quite strong religious persecution and controversy: in the first round, it was the Great Church against the Donatists, in the second round it was Arians against Trinitarians, and now religious fervour had been called upon by Flavius Gregorius in his defiance towards the Monothelite compromise. Secondly, Africa had been the brainbasket of much of the Mediterranean (together with Egypt), and Constantinople could not afford to lose both Egypt and Africa without causing large unrest among the citizens of Constantinople. Ultimately, Carthage remained a center of trade between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean basin. From a strategic point of view, Africa by this time was among the most stable and most secure regions of the empire. With the Lombards lacking access to any major port, and the Berber tribal confederations disunited, the Carthage was perhaps the safest major city in the entire Rhomaic Empire (indeed, Heraclius once contemplated leaving Constantinople and relocating to Carthage). Flavius Gregorius in his revolt perhaps sought to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Heraclius the Elder. He briefly campaigned across southern Italy, where he was greeted and welcomed by the populace.

Out of the provinces still under control of the Rhomaic Empire, control over Egypt remained perhaps most tentative. The decline of the Roman cities saw the importance of major cities, namely Alexandria, gradually fade, while the role of the rural landowners, many of them Coptic, increased. Egypt, and most notably Alexandria remained marked by endemic religious violence, between supporters of competing claimants to the Patriarchal throne, and by regulated prices for which the government bought off grain from the farmers.

Thus, when the Ghassanids decided to add Egypt to their Syrian exploits, they were left virtually unopposed, with the Alexandrian Greeks left alone to defend Egypt

While the Rhomaic Empire had attempted to repair the fortresses guarding the entry into Egypt from the Sinai Peninsula, along the line from Pelusium at the eastern end of the Delta, to Clysma on the Red Sea, it just wasn´t enough. The area had not been considered a border region only until recently, and therefore, it lacked major defenses. Thus, when the Ghassanids attacked from the Levant, after a token resistance, the defenses were overwhelmed. Once overwhelmed, the entire army of Egypt pulled back towards the safety of Alexandria.

From a strategic point of view, there are only four localities needed to be controlled in order to effectively occupy the entirety of Egypt. Only one of them is located in Upper Egypt, and marks the southern end of Egypt on the border with Nubia. Usually, this has been at the location of the First Cataract, but this point can shift upstream or downstream. The hinterlands of this strategic point marking Egypt´s southern boundary had been historically the core of ancient Egypt, with the city of Thebes (Weset) as its capital.

The other three points required to effectively control Egypt are located in the Delta region, and are located at the three corners of the triangle made of the Delta. In the south, this point is located at the place where the Nile begins to divide itself up into the various branches of the Delta. This place had been the location of the ancient city of Memfi (Memphis) ,on the eastern side of the Nile, opposite which stood the pyramid complex at Tipersis (2).


A satellite map of the Nile Delta
In the northeast, the city of Pelusium, known to the Copts as Peremoun, stood at the estuary of the easternmost branch of the Nile. Its strategic importance had been recognized by Diocletian by making it the capital of the province of Augustamnica, which encompassed the eastern half of Lower Egypt. The Hyksos, who had invaded Egypt from the Levant had located their capital not that far from Pelusium.

The third , northwestern, corner of the Delta lay at Alexandria. Alexandria had been the capital of Egypt throughout the Hellenistic period, though it was quite unlike the countryside surrounding it. Some called the city “Alexandria by Egypt”, suggesting that it was not, in fact, part of Egypt proper. The city was, truly, a Hellenistic outpost, surrounded by post-Egyptiac countryside, which was soon to join the nascent Syriac civilization.

Even during the Eastern Rhomaic period, had Alexandria remained largely Greek-speaking and Chalcedonian in religion, with a significant number of Jews as well, while the countryside was fiercely Monophysite and Coptic-speaking. Monophysite clergy had been banned from entering Alexandria, and for many ordinary Copts, Alexandria was the place, where hated Rhoamic governors and tax collectors resided, a place from where Egyptian hgrain was shipped towards Constantinople. Indeed, for the Rhomaic Empire, Alexandria was perhaps their strongest point d´appui in Egypt.

Thus, once the Arabs passed the defenses, all Rhomaic garrisons could be seen retreating towards Alexandria, with the exception of the garrison of Tamiathis (3), which was prepared to cross the Mediterranean in case of siege.

The Arabs found no resistance in any form in the eastern Delta, and once a detachment of the forces reached Memphis and the Babylon Fortress, they were surprised to fin d no local resistance, and proceeded hastily up the Nile.

The garrisons in Egypt pleaded for hasty support from Constantinople, however the reigning emperor was gathering the forces he could to block off Flavius Gregorius, who had by then landed in Cyrenaica and Crete, and was on his way to Constantinople, repeating the feat of Heraclius.

It was clear, that no support was going to come, though the Gregorius did send some supplies along his way. The Arabs, who were now approaching Alexandria, were witnessing deserted villages and an emptied landscape, as all the Greeks living near Alexandria in places like Naukratis were now safe behind the walls.

Meanwhile in the Aegean, Flavius Gregorius had been victorious and been proclaimed Emperor. He was supported by the army and many staunchly pro-Chalcedonian Christians. Flavius Gregorius had thus effectively deposed the Heraclian dynasty, and not long after, he moved the capital back to Carthage. While not having the intention to reconquer Syria and Egypt, Flavius Gregorius was keen on keeping Alexandria within the Empire. The siege of Alexandria by the Arabs was a lengthy one, but without control of the sea, the Arabs had no way of preventing supplies and reinforcements from arriving into the city.

The new emperor was actually happy to see the Monophysites outside the Empire´s borders, and agreed to a peace treaty, giving up most of Egypt, while keeping Alexandria and Libya within the borders of the Empire.

The agreed border between the Rhomaic Empire and the Ghassanidae
In the short term, this satisfied both the residents of Alexandria and the Copts. The Greek parts of Egypt were to remain under Rhomaic rule, while the Copts were happy under the new Arab rule. In the long term, Alexandria would suffer from this arrangement. From being the seat of administration for Egypt, and the key grain-exporting port, Alexandria was reduced to a border fortress, and in a turn of events, being dependent on imports of grain, rather than exports, as the city lost its hinterland in the countryside.

This of course meant that the population of Alexandria decreased substantially. The population reduced substantially: from some 300 000 people before the Arab invasion it decreased to some 75 000 within less than a century. The ethos of the city changed as well: from a bureaucratic and commercial hub, the city became marked more and more by military realities, with many weaponsmiths and field medics in the cities. The garrison of the city amounted often to around a quarter of the population, while guild members were expected to take up arms if necessary.

The Arabs in Egypt quickly recruited local Coptic notables to administer the country for them. Coptic thus replaced Greek as the language of administration, while in general the administrative framework was largely left intact. The city of Memphis had been chosen as the seat of the Ghassanid governor, was also the heir apparent. The administrative pattern of the late Roman provinces remained also largely in place. In fact, the Ghassanid presence in Egypt has never manifested itself in any form; rather Egypt felt chiefly the lack of Rhomaic presence.

As result, Egypt experienced a period of creative energy and population growth, after having shaken off the burden of the Rhomaic Empire. While this is good news for the Copts, the Arabs have just little too easily taken hold over Syria and Egypt. It would have been exceptional, had they not turned upon themselves the way the diadochi have turned upon each other in the process of carving up the prize won by Alexander.

  1. Mostly modern Serbia, in the Morava valley
  2. Coptic name for Giza
  3. Greek name of Damietta