The origin of the Assyrian as a people or even as a
nation is shrouded in the mists of the past, but when they first
appear on the stage of history, in the middle of the third millennium
B.C., we find them already a strong city Kingdom—although vassal
to Babylonia—organized around the first capital, Ashur, located
on the left banks of the Tigris, in the upper Mesopotamia. The Assyrians
are of Semitic race; they took their name from the name of their
god, Assur, or, as some historians assert, from their first Capital.
However, although forming a very powerful vassal of the Babylonian
Empire, the Assyrians played a passive part in the affairs of Western
Asia until the decline of Babylon in the middle of the eighteenth
century (1740 B.C.) when Assyria went its own way as an independent
Kingdom. From that time on, until the destruction of Nineveh, in
606 B.C., the Assyrian Empire remained, with varying degrees of fortune,
the supreme power in the Orient.
During this one thousand years Assyria remained above all else a military
state with a strong will and a deliberate policy. She expanded in all directions,
welding together smaller states into one more or less compacted well-organized
empire, on an entirely different basis from that of its predecessors, the
Babylonian and Egyptian Empires.
From 1740 B.C. until 1300 B.C., Assyria was a mere Kingdom, a rival of Babylon,
reserving her power for future possibilities, defensive as well as offensive.
Beginning with Shalmaneser I, about 1300 B.C., the city Kingdom began to
expand into an Empire, conquering and consolidating smaller states around
it. Campaign after campaign was conducted by Shalmaneser against the declining
empire of the Hittites, until even Capodocia was reached, where several Assyrian
military colonies were settled. The Armenians and the Kurdish tribes in the
north and northeast were also attacked by Shalmaneser. Nor did Syria escape
the effect of this triumphant reigns of the power of Assyria. Shalmaneser’s
successor turned his attention to Babylon which he added to his dominions,
thus making Assyria the mistress of the oriental world. Under Tiglath-Pileser
I, the frontier of Assyria was further extended westward as far as the Mediterranean
Sea, and the mighty Egypt presented the Assyrian conqueror with a present—a
During the eighth and ninth centuries the Assyrian emperors did not merely
expand their territories, but inspired the Hebrew prophets with new idea
of God, that is, Jehovah, a tribal God of Israel becomes a universal God,
even more powerful than the Assyrian Monarchs, whose rods they were, according
to Amos and Isaiah. Israel had become a vassal to Shalmaneser III, and Judah
could not remain very much longer unaffected by the Assyrian Empire. The
Syro-Phoenician maritime commercial cities, and the trade routes connecting
them with India by the way of the Persian Gulf, were a prize worth contending
for, and Shalmaneser made these serve his Empire.
The death of Shalmaneser III was followed by a short interval of military
inactivity. That Monarch and his predecessors had inaugurated an entirely
new imperial policy, unknown in the ancient world before them. To render
the trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf absolutely
safe, the territory through which these routes passed could not be left to
chance, the precarious loyalty of the vassal states. “The experience
of centuries had shown that such control could not be secured unless the
country were systematically conquered, occupied and guarded by the Assyrians.” In
other words, the whole territory from the Great Sea to Tigris, should become
an integral part of Assyria. The process led to the direct annexation and
government of the subdued peoples. This policy of systematic conquest and
subjugation resulted perforce in the assimilation of conquered people.
With the accession of Tiglath-Pileser III to the throne in 745 B.C., a new
drive began for the empire of Ashur. The reign of the Monarch inaugurated
what may be called the “Golden Age” of the second Assyrian Empire,
which lasted until the destruction of the State. Politically there came upon
the throne of Assyria, in rapid succession, beginning with Tiglath-Pileser
III, a long line of rulers of magnitude. Only one other throne, that of the
Ottoman Turks, can claim a similar line of first rate conquerors and administrators.
Under these rulers Assyria not only recovered all the lost grounds, but also
new provinces, greater glory, and prestige were added, besides winning back
territory and political strength which was lost after the death of Shalmaneser
III. The policy of consolidating provincial administration, and the process
of assimilation of subject-peoples were continued more systematically than
Tiglath-Pileser III was the firs king of Assyria to make Babylon an Assyrian
province. His further conquests carried the Assyrian arms farther than those
of his predecessor. To the east, the shores of the Caspian Sea were reached,
and Media was organized with a province. In the west, his conquest penetrated
Asia Minor and covered the entire easter coast of the Mediterranean Sea until
they reached Egypt.
But Tiglath-Pileser was not merely a conqueror. His achievements as a ruler
and an administrator were equally remarkable, and one might venture to say,
revolutionary, resembling in some respect those of Julius Caesar. His first
act was to reorganize the army upon a new foundation. This he did by creating
a powerful standing army in which lay the strength of the Assyrian Empire.
It was also a national army, recruited from a nation and not from a congeries
of loosely connected vassal states, city kingdoms, and tribal districts.
In other words, Assyria resembled a modern state not merely in its military
organization, but in its political and social structure—a compact state,
not unlike the Ottoman or Russian Empire.
But the army was simply a means to a greater end. The Assyrian Monarch never
planned vast conquests, like those of Alexander the Great. The policy of
assimilation to which the empire had been committed, could not be adjusted
to meet the exigencies of such rapid and vast accumulations of new people.
Tiglath-Pileser III, did not add very much to what his predecessors had claimed,
nor did his great successors except Esarhaddon who added Egypt to the fortune
of his fathers. The authorities tell us that every campaign fought by the
second Assyrian Empire, that is, from the accession of Tiglath-Pileser III
to the fall of Nineveh, 606 B.C., was a defensive project. The Emperors were
engaged in a political effort unprecedented in the ancient Orient. It was
their nation’s supreme contribution to civilization—the creation
of a new political concept to which the Persian and Roman Empires fell heir.
To make Assyria a modern State, two methods were invoked by Tiglath-Pileser.
These methods had been used by his predecessors, but on a smaller scale.
The Egyptian, Babylonian, and Hittite Empires had conquered many people,
but no attempts were made to reduce the subject-people into a centralized
State. The conquered territories remained vassal States which merely recognized
the suzerainty of their overlords and paid them an annual tribute. The Assyrians
departed from this in two ways: (a) they detached the conquered people from
their old loyalties—religious, traditional, racial, and territorial,
by a well calculated, but reprehensible, system of deportation. The best
example was the captivity of the Ten Tribes of Israel. Its object was to
create a uniform population and to lessen the possibilities of revolt. (b)
The other factor evolved by Tiglath-Pileser was that of centralization. It
is possible to maintain that the wholesale deportation of the conquered people
was a consequence of this policy. Competent historians assure us that it
was the first time in history that the idea of centralization was introduced
into politics. When a new territory was conquered, it became an integral
part of the Assyrian Empire. All its former political and even religious
organs were destroyed. In the place of these, a new system was imposed, and
in the place of the former ruler—in most cases a king—an Assyrian
provincial governor was appointed by the king and was directly responsible
to him. The Assyrian Monarchs were careful to secure “men of such energy,
intelligence and efficiency for important provincial governships, that the
characteristic evils of eastern officialdom, lethargy and incompetence were
almost unknown”1. These governors administered their provinces according
to the king’s will. Assyrian jurisprudence, courts and language were
substituted for those of the conquered people for all administrative purposes.
Assyrian coins, weights and measures, as well as commercial practice, were
established. These advantages of Assyrian civilization were spread from one
end of the Empire to the other and made uniform. Commercial and military
roads were constructed to facilitate travel and movement of armies. The Assyrian
domination of Western Asia was not merely military, but cultural as well—Assyria
was a civilizing factor. It was for this reason that the Assyrian provinces
enjoyed a protracted period of peace, rare in the history of the East at
that time; and not until the coming of Rome did Western Asia enjoy a uniform
legal practice under which the trader and the poor found safety and protection.
In other words, what Rome did for the Mediterranean world, Assyria did for
Such was the work of Tiglath-Pileser III, the greatest of Assyrian Monarch.
The four greatest Monarchs who followed him are Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon,
and Ashurbanipal who consolidated and carried out his policies and measures.
Their task was primarily that of holding firmly to the territory already
acquired and of spreading the Babylonian culture throughout their Empire.
Therefore, their wars were largely defensive in character, and even in purpose,
preserving and cementing the Assyrian Empire as firmly as would seem humanly
possible. The Assyrian State, unlike the Roman Empire, was surrounded in
all directions by Sates and nations of might equal to its own.
The Assyrian Monarchs were as truly great patrons of learning and culture
as they were statesman. Tiglath-Pileser III, erected a vast and magnificent
palace at his new capital, Kalah, with a row of colonnades at its entrance.
Other public and private buildings must have been equally magnificent to
harmonize with the royal palace, and many other great men of the empire must
have imitated their master in the beautification of their own palaces. As
the Assyrian Monarchs were incurably religious, they built magnificent temples
to their national gods. Other cities of the empire must have certainly followed
the example of the capital in this, as in many other respects.
Sargon II, the next great Assyrian Monarch, was, like his predecessor, not
only a great conqueror and statesmen but a great builder; for he also founded
a new capital with a palace of equal magnificence with that of Tiglath-Pileser
III. Similar impetus must have been given to the development of culture throughout
the empire. Sargon went a step further than his predecessor by arousing tremendous
growth of interest in the study of the past history of Assyria. By naming
himself Sargon II, he wished to create a strong sentiment for the antiquities
or traditions of his people. This fact is illustrated by Sargon’s ordering
and directing the edition of various texts which concerned adventures of
Sargon of Agade (3800 B.C.) It would not be stretching the evidence too far
in saying that Sargon was the first enlightened Monarch of Western Asia,
who set a new example for his successors in the promotion of learning and
culture. As Sidney Smith says, “Sargon was not only a great King but
an enlightened man, and in him is to be found the same taste for artistic
and literary effort that distinguished his successors”2.
Sennacherib, Sargon’s son and successor to his throne, surpassed all
his predecessors in his zeal for the restoration of old and building of new
cities. He transferred his residence to Nineveh which he made the capital
of the Assyrian Empire. He reconstructed, beautified, and enlarged the city,
and in its center erected several vast public buildings, among which was
his palace, an edifice of great architectural magnificence, and remarkable
for base reliefs upon its walls and the great stone colossi which adorned
its gateways. This Monarch’s passion for building resulted in such
a vast number of projects that their enumeration would be tedious. In literature
and fine art the reign of Sennacherib marked an epoch equal to any reached
in ancient Orient. All in all, Sennacherib was as able a monarch as his father
in the battlefield and surpassed him in his interest in art and literature.
Esarhaddon’s reign is essentially a period of political developments,
defense and expansion of the Empire, and its administration. Cultural side
of the Empire was left to his son’s reign, Ashurbanipal III, the Grand
Monarch of Assyria. His interest in development and spread of learning surpassed
those of his grandfather. Ashurbanipal was himself a learned Monarch, and
his fondness for learning led to his collection of two magnificent libraries
at Nineveh. His interest in art was as personal as that of his grandfather
and the Assyrian art reached its perfection during his reign. “The
Age of Ashurbanipal marks a definite stage in the history of culture, and
the modern term (the Age of Ashurbanipal) befittingly links that king’s
name with his time, as it connects the glories of Imperial Rome with the
name of Augustus”3.
The Assyrian civilization—specifically culture and learning—was
based upon that of the Babylonians, a kindred people. In this respect the
Assyrians did not create a culture of their own, but neither did the Romans.
However, the Assyrians served civilization in their own way, a contribution
which the historians of the Ancient East compare to that of the Romans; that
is “accepting in its entirety the civilization of a kindred people
(the Babylonians) they (the Assyrians) maintained it and spread it in a matter
the original creators were entirely incapable of, at a time when a failure
to do so would have considerably affected the course of history”4.
the last great Monarch of Assyria. The Empire, even during his lifetime
had begun to decline, and even to disintegrate. Fourteen years after
his death and even to disintegrate. Fourteen years after his death
(626 B.C.) the Assyrian Empire was extinct, and the proud and arrogant
Nineveh became a heap of smoldering ashes. Assyria, as a political
entity, disappeared from the face of the earth—a most unique
phenomenon in history.
From 600 B.C. to Date (Meaning 1935)
Nineveh was destroyed in 606 B.C. Its fall was brought about by corrupt officials
who turned traitors in divulging the military secrets of their government
to the Medes, thus causing the defeat and eventual downfall of that great
Hardly anything has been recorded in the ancient historians concerning this
nation after Nineveh was destroyed. What happened to those people? Where
did they go? According to the recorded history King Abgar Aukama IX, an Assyrian,
the remnants of this empire were under the Roman mandate. King Abgar himself
was ruling in Edessa or the modern city of Urhai during the time of Christ.
In the previously mentioned city 29 Assyrian kings ruled, 14 of which were
from the house of Abgar and fifteen from the House of Mano5.
Perhaps many students of ancient history will challenge the claim that Urhai
was an Assyrian city, but this truth is proven by ancient historians in that,
when the Assyrians conquered and subdued a nation, it was their custom to
transfer their newly subdued subjects into Assyria proper and rehabilitate
their newly acquired territories by their own nationals. Such must have been
the case with the city of Urhai, for even Mar Addai—one of the Twelve
Disciples6, refers to Urhai as being inhabited by the Assyrians7.
This little Assyrian Kingdom endured until 336 A.D. In the middle of the
fourth century, the Romans and the Persians began one of their wars, and
during this campaign Urhai was taken by the Persians. The Assyrians were
dispersed throughout Asia Minor. Some went into Syria, some remained under
the Persian rule and others took refuge in the Mountains of Kurdistan8. In
these mountains they lived and enjoyed a home-rule until 1915. When the world
conflict of 1914 broke out, these Assyrians, threw their lot with that of
the Allies. They were forced to flee from their mountain homes—north
of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital,—to Persia where they maintained themselves
until 1918 when they were again uprooted. This time in accordance with the
British promises they retreated to Mesopotamia to remain under British protection.
During these misfortunes the Assyrians lost not only their homes and property,
but practically two-thirds of their number.
Assyrian “Church of the East”
Embracement and Extension of Christianity
In The Orient
It was in the second year after the Ascension of Christ that Christianity
showed its first signs in Mesopotamia. At about this time, Thomas, one
of the twelve, had begun the preaching and teaching of the gospel and the
new religion, which was prophetically destined to embrace all of Beth-Nahreen
Thomas continued with his apostolic mission until 45 A.D., that is to say,
twelve years after the Ascension and then proceeded to India to commence
his pioneering activities in Christian teaching there. In the meantime, Simon,
called Peter, had succeeded Thomas as the apostle to Mesopotamia. It was
during his tenure of apostolic mission that the first Christian church was
founded in Babylon thus establishing Eastern Apostate. Completing his task
in Mesopotamia, Peter returned to Rome. (Peter 1, Chap. 5: 13-14).
In the year 45 A.D., Addai, or better known as Thaddeus, one of the twelve9,
succeeded Simon as the apostle to Mesopotamia. Addai went to Urhai or Edessa
in fulfillment of a promise which Jesus had made to King Abgar, while on
earth. Historical documents point out that this promise was involved in direct
correspondence between Jesus and King Abgar. On October 15, 31 A.D., during
the reign of Tiberius, the Roman Governor of Jerusalem, King Abgar had dispatched
three of his most trusted men to invite Jesus to come for a visit and to
cure him of his malady. Marhat, Shamshagrum and Hannan the artist, the three
men that King Abgar had sent as emissaries of good-will to Jesus, had set
out on their journey. Arriving in the border city of Beth-Gobrin, they went
to the house of Cebinus, the son of Astragius, their governor, and remained
there twenty-five days. Cebinus, realizing the importance of their mission,
gave them a letter of introduction to the Roman Magistrate in Jerusalem requesting
him to extend these men all necessary courtesies. Resuming their journey,
on the way they met many divers people from sundry countries. Joining this
anxious and faithful crowd of pilgrims they continued their journey to Jerusalem.
Arriving in the city, they met Jesus and were amazed at his beauty. Upon
speaking to him, they were overwhelmed with admiration for his wisdom and
knowledge. As emissaries of King Abgar, they remained with Jesus for ten
days. During their stay, Hannan, the artist, painted a portrait of Jesus,
and wrote in form of a diary everything that He had spoken and of all that
had taken place during their stay. On their return to Urhai, in reverence
and admiration, they related to King Abgar what they had seen and heard,
also mentioning the promise that Jesus had made of sending one of his disciples
to him to cure his malady. The journey of Addai to Urhai or Edessa was in
fulfillment of that promise, and on his arrival King Abgar extended him a
cordial welcome and gave him assurance of every possible assistance with
which to carry on his work. With the King’s aid Addai taught the new
doctrine of Jesus, founded churches and established great theological seminaries
throughout the country. It was the great impetus of Christian teaching that
placed Edessa among the foremost centers of learning of the time10.
From the year 48 A.D. until 87 A.D., Agai and Mari , his (Mar Addai) disciples,
carried on the work of their master. They founded strong apostates and extended
Christianity to the eastern and southern portions of Mesopotamia. They performed
miracles, such as raising the dead, causing the blind to see, etc. They chose
spirited missionaries from among their true Assyrian converts which later
carried the name of Christ with a fiery zeal into the pagan and Jewish elements
of their time and converted millions of souls to Christianity. How did these
men carry on their work? Under what conditions and handicaps were they performing
their duties? History well records their heroic deeds in the name of the
Cross. Many were burned at stake, others were mutilated in the most horrible
manners, and many others were placed under most diabolic and cruel punishments
unknown to man. The amputation of arms legs and the dismemberment of other
parts of the body were common penalties imposed upon them because of their
belief and teaching. In spite of this scourge of human wrath evidenced against
them, they strove on sincerely believing in their mission. For Christ and
his teaching they were willing to sacrifice their lives. They were imbued
with a spirit of zeal and altruism and were eager to acquaint others with
the new philosophy of eternal life. The following names are prominently engraved
in the annals of Christian history for their valor and heroism in fighting
to carry on the name of Christ to the world.
St. Thomas, "one of the twelve" 35 A.D. - 45 A.D.
St. Addai (Thaddeus) 33 A.D. - 45 A.D.
Agai and Mari, “Two of the Seventy” 45 A.D. - 48 A.D.
Ambrius, related to Mary, the Virgin 82 A.D. -98 A.D.
Oraham I “of Kashchar” 98 A.D. - 120 A.D.
Jacob I, related to Joseph the “Nagara” (Carpenter) 120 A.D.
- 138 A.D.
In the third century the Eastern Apostate made tremendous strides in development
of education, theology, and philosophy. From the institutions of learning,
founded by this apostate emerged men of eminence in the various fields
of knowledge, who went into the world of their time and propagated their
learning to the advantage of mankind. Their influence was so great in its
purpose that its beneficial effects are manifest even today. Such names
as those of Mar Ephraim the Great (born 303 A.D - died 373 A.D) Khamis “Bar
Kardakhe,” Mar Odishoo “Bar Ninwaya,” the Metropolitan
of Souva, and Mar Narsay “Khanara d’Rookha” (born 437
A.D - died 502 A.D.), stand out as gigantic monuments in theology and philosophy.
Although their work and their teachings are written in Aramaic, yet translations
of their works in different languages afford the interested reader an easy
access to acquaint himself with these men. It would be futile on any one’s
part to attempt to evaluate the importance and influence of their work,
but it can be earnestly and truthfully said, the acquaintance of one’s
self with these would be a satisfying and soothing medium for minds inclined
toward theological and philosophical studies.
During the age of these mental giants, great institutions of learning were
in existence. From the universities of N’siwin (Nisibin), Antioch,
Salak-Thispun (Seleucia-Cteseiphon) and Alexandria (Egypt) was poured a new
life into the veins of the humanity. India, China, and parts of Africa were
emblazoned with the name and teaching of Christ. The champions of this cause
had aquired the appearance of beggars and wanderers and as such they pioneered
into the darkest parts of the world suffering untold hardships, abuses and
persecutions. Their mission was to inlighten the world by a new life and
toward that goal they proceeded unheedful of obstacles that stood in their
way. History well records the results of their efforts and deeds. Even today
magnificent monuments in China, India and Egypt stand as mute evidence of
their glorious work.
The fall of the Eastern Apostate had its initial step in that direction long
before the church had attained its full growth and expansion. As it has been
previously mentioned that all of this missionary work was carrried on in
hostile territory, one can easily see the antagonistic forces continually
working for its destruction. The forces that once were peacfully subdued
by its influence had suddenly risen against it, causing its gradual decline
to the weakend state of today.
As the Patriarchate was the center of gravity of the whole Eastern Church,
we can easily realize that any force directed toward endangering its peace
and security would have destructive and deleterious effects upon the whole
frame-work of the church. This was exactly what happened. All of the maor
persecutions against the Christians were aimed directly at the Patriarchate.
For centuries it was driven from one place to another, and finally forced
to seek refuge in the secluded mountains of Kurdistan, and by this time it
was so badly weakened, that the entire frame-work of the church had collapsed.
Greatly reduced in both material and spiritual forces, the Church was unable
to resist further the continuous onslaughters of antagonistic forces against
it, and as a result it gave way to almost submission, thus losing its prestige
and domination and for many years to follow forcing complete extension.
In 779 A.D., the Patriarchate was driven from Salak-Thispun to Baghdad. In
1257 A.D. under Mar Makeekha Shimun II, the Patriarchate was moved to Arbel.
It is noteworthy, at this point, to mention that from 1265 A.D. on the Patriarchate
was inherited and carried on by the same family from which the late Mar Eshai
Shimun XXIII (23rd), Catholicos patriarch of the East, had directly descended.
In 1320 A.D. Patriarchate was forced to leave Arbel and take refuge in Alqoosh.
In 1480 A.D. the Patriarchate was driven out of Alqoosh and moved to Marakha.
In 1590 it was moved to Khosrawa (Salamis). In 1592 the Patriarchate moved
to Qudchanis where it became permanently established unitl 1915 when the
Assyrians were once again forced to leave there homeland. It must be borne
in mind that the flight of the Patriarchate from one locality to another
was brought about by extreme pressure by the enemies of Christianity. During
the period of these different flights millions of Assyrian Christian were
brutally massacred by the blood-thirsty Caliphates that came into power.
Millions of others were converted to Mohammedanism by force. Church monasteries,
libraries and institutions of learning were completely destroyed. Cities
were looted and burned down. The unfortunate victims of these persecutions
could not escape the wrath of Islam. It was, “forsake Christ and follow
Mohammed or die.”
** We would like to remind our readers that His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV is
the present Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East, and is the 120th
succesor to the Apostolic See of Babylon.
As the scope of this book only permits this extremely abridged history of
the church, we, nevertheless feel confident that we have laid the foundation
for the interested reader to do further research work on the amazing epic
of this people. The rise and fall of the Eastern Apostate form a harmonious
contrast. It brings out the elemental qualities of a race that is rarely
displayed in other people. Great zeal, courage, and devotation to principle
enabled this nation to withstand the indescribable persecutions and massacres
of the blood thirsty Mohammedans and Tartar barbarians. History clearly cites
the butchering campaings connducted by Genghis-Khan, Tamerlane, Omar, Abdul
Bakhir, **and even to present day by the enemies of Ator.