A Brief History Of The
Assyrian Nation and "Church Of The East”*

From the book "The British Betrayal of the Assyrians," by Yusuf Malek

 

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 crocodile.
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 before.
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 Western Asia.
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.
Ashurbanipal was 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.

Assyria 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 empire.
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.


The 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 (Mesopotamia) later.
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.

* By The Assyrian National League of America (Chicago).
** Note From The Publisher.
1) Cambridge Ancient History III, pg. 54. 2) Cambridge Ancient History III, pg. 60.
3) Cambridge Ancient History III, pp. 60 & 88. 4) Cambridge Ancient Hist. III, pp. 101-2.
5) Doctrine of Mar Addai. 6) Some historians say he (Addai) is of the seventy-two apostles.
7) Doctrine of Mar Addai. 8) The Assyrian Tragedy, Annemasse February 1934.
9) Some historians say he (Addai) is of the seventy apostles.
10) Bar-Sam-Mannie Part IV. “Gregoriu,” known also as “Bar-Ewraye.”
** Our dear readers if you would like more information concerning the Assyrian Nation & the Church of the East, then please visit some of our Assyrian Links, or you can surf the web.
We believe that all true Assyrians should be educated and aware of their past and present.
*** The illustrations of the Assyrian Kings are from the book
Assyrian Art, Coloring & Activity Fun Book,
drawn by Tania Simonov.
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