The Syriac tradition presents an exceptional opportunity to investigate how the people of a late Roman frontier articulated local community affiliation against the backdrop of the larger Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. Over the last decade, Syrian/Syriac identity and Roman identity in late antique Syria-Mesopotamia have emerged as topics of increasing interest. In concentrating on ethnicity, however, studies of specifically local affiliations have generally left unexamined the other modes of group identification which may have been equally or more salient. This essay fills that gap by excavating non-ethnic means of constructing local and regional identity in three Syriac texts written in and about Edessa in the pivotal century around 500 CE: the Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, the Chronicle of Edessa (540), and Euphemia and the Goth.
Across their differences in date and genre, these three texts demonstrate a convergent set of strategies for reconciling Edessa and its neighbors to the Roman Empire at large. Crucially, all three project notions of local belonging which focus not on ethnic markers but on particular places: in the first instance, on the city. Drawing from cultural geography’s interdependent concept of “place,” the essay shows how in these texts local identity emerges from the interaction of city, church, and empire; Edessa’s connections to the wider Roman world serve not to negate but to articulate its specificity as a community. Moreover, such place-based means of identification could be extended to frame larger regional communities too, as Ps.-Joshua does in its most distinctive moments.