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.

Composed shortly after the Anastasian War (502 to 506 CE), the text usually known as the Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite contains two rather disorienting pronouncements about the frontier city of Edessa’s relationship to the wider Roman Empire. The first is spoken by the Roman general Areobindus as he stands before the gates after a failed Persian assault and tells the King of Kings, “You have now seen by experience that the city is neither yours nor Anastasius’, but the city of Christ, who has blessed it. He rose against your forces so that they may not have dominion over it.”1 In the second, the narrator writes in his own voice of a later stage in the conflict, informing his addressee that “you can learn from others who are writing that even those who came to our aid in the name of saviors, as they were going in and coming out, plundered us almost like enemies.”2 Invulnerable to its opponents, sacked by its liberators, Edessa emerges in this text as a premier site for thinking through larger relations between local particularity and imperial belonging, a vantage point for reckoning how the inhabitants of a late Roman borderland articulated their place in the empire.

Written in Syriac by a citizen of Edessa with a wider Mesopotamian audience in mind, Ps.-Joshua is a witness to a pivotal moment in the larger trajectory of its region.3 On the one hand, the reign of Anastasius stood as the last in which compromise over the Council of Chalcedon seemed viable, a period of relaxed tension but also of factional regrouping before the schism in the reign of Justinian.4 On the other, the Anastasian War itself marked the renewal of Roman–Persian confrontation after six decades of peace, inaugurating a pattern of inter-imperial violence that would finally sever Mesopotamia from Constantinople about a century and a half later.5 As much “classicizing” history as chronicle in the strict sense, this carefully wrought composition has offered historians a trove of telling details on everything from theater culture to grain prices to apocalypticism.6 Yet, despite its widely acknowledged narrative cogency and literary sophistication, Ps.-Joshua has only just begun to be read as a sustained act of communication situated in its precise context.7

To help provide that context, I introduce two briefer Syriac texts whose conceptual building blocks and narrative patterns Ps.-Joshua also employs. First is the so-called Chronicle of Edessa (540), a sixth-century document which tabulates the city’s deep history from its Hellenistic founding to the reign of Justinian. Next is the Syriac version of Euphemia and the Goth, a fifth-century hagiographic romance dramatizing the pitfalls which beset fraternization between Edessene civilians and imperial soldiery. Despite representing a range of genres across the century 450 to 550 CE, these texts demonstrate a remarkably consistent conceptual vocabulary and set of rhetorical strategies for demarcating both what defined Edessa as a community and how that community related to the broader Roman Empire.

Community identification in late Roman Syria-Mesopotamia has recently emerged as a topic of lively scholarly interest. That interest has tended to focus on Syrian/Syriac ethnic or linguistic identity, especially among the anti-Chalcedonians whose descendants (spiritual or otherwise) would constitute the medieval and modern Suryoye.8 Despite its posterity, however, being Syrian was not the only, or necessarily the most salient, mode of local or regional affiliation available to Mesopotamian Syriac-speakers of the era. In the period between the council of Ephesus and the schism, the regional culture that would produce the West Syriac traditions witnessed a profound interweaving of Greek and Syriac religious and intellectual life.9 The opening stages of the Christological disputes emphatically did not break down along ethnic or linguistic lines.10 And indeed, Ps.-Joshua, the Chronicle of Edessa, and Euphemia employ ethnic discourse only for hostile outsiders, never (even by contrast) for the people of Syria-Mesopotamia themselves.

Instead, the communities to which the authors of these texts represent themselves as belonging are far more particularistic, the result of concrete interactions between specific individuals. A central contention of this essay is that such communities can be productively analyzed as “local” in precisely the etymological sense—that is, as focused on particular places: in the first instance on the city, but at times on smaller or larger units (a shrine, the region) too.11 From interest in the longevity of specifically urban styles of self-presentation to the suspicion that many attested ethnē are simply provinces in disguise, place-based modes of identification have formed a persistent, if not always spotlighted, object of concern for scholars of Late Antiquity.12 Maintaining even longstanding local identities in the face of the manifold transformations of humanly meaningful space which characterized the period was no simple task. The increasingly imperial and ecumenical horizons of Late Antiquity demanded new means of thinking what a city was.13

Ps.-Joshua, the Chronicle of Edessa, and Euphemia all respond directly to that challenge. Each constitutes a specific literary attempt to comprehend and represent a local domain intrinsically linked to the vastly larger institutions of empire and church. These texts do not merely register but (re)create and propagate conceptions of meaningful space. In doing so, each deploys an implicit recognition of one of cultural geography’s core insights about place: namely, that it is defined more by the nature of its connections to the outside than by purely internal attributes. In the words of Doreen Massey, “what gives a place its specificity is not some long internalized history but the fact that it is constructed out of a particular constellation of social relations, meeting and weaving together at a particular locus,” so that “[places’] ‘identities’ are constructed through the specificity of their interaction with other places rather than by counterposition to them.”14 Provincial communities’ intensifying entanglement with the centers of power in church and empire could serve, that is, to rearticulate rather than to erode their status as the loci of thought and action for their inhabitants. In the end, all of three of our Edessene texts announce an unambiguous loyalty to the Roman imperial system. That loyalty is, however, in each case articulated in distinctly local terms—particularistic rather than generically Roman.15

In fifth- and sixth-century Edessa, city, church, and empire proved to be pliable categories, capable not only of intertwining but also of being put to provincial use. This essay’s first section reads the Chronicle of Edessa as a composition designed to do just that. That document collates civic, ecclesiastic, and imperial frames of reference in order to construct an interconnectedly local history of Edessa—a project which becomes particularly evident as those three frames converge in more detailed narratives of the compiler’s sixth-century present.16 The second section extends that analysis to Ps.-Joshua. In this vastly more sophisticated composition, those three frames of reference intersect (or not) in different ways according to the different genre conventions followed by the text’s three major structural units. Most distinctively, the last of these subsections adopts a hybrid form in order to evoke a Roman Mesopotamian community composed of cities bound together by Christian belief and the shared exposure of location on the imperial frontier.

My third section turns to Euphemia and the Goth. This tale employs a set of Christian storytelling patterns and stock characters (including miraculous intercessions, perfidious barbarians, and noble Roman generals) as a means of ideologically reconciling provincial civilians to the endemic dangers of the imperial army. Rooted in Syriac-speaking Edessa, this bottom-up perspective on the empire enjoyed a long reception in Greek translation across the East Roman world. The fourth section returns to Ps.-Joshua, showing how that text uses those same narrative patterns to situate Edessa as simultaneously a member of and symbol for Roman Mesopotamia at large—and does so precisely in the two striking moments with which this essay began. The conclusion highlights how Ps.-Joshua’s distinctively place-based regional address fits into the larger trajectory of collective affiliation among the Syriac-speaking communities of the Late Roman frontier.

I. City, church, and empire in the Chronicle of Edessa (540)

By the turn of the sixth century, Edessa had been Roman for well over 300 years. Inclusion in the empire profoundly shaped the horizons of the city’s inhabitants. The reciprocal flow of decrees, taxes, and officials drew the city toward the Roman world of the Mediterranean and away from physically much nearer towns on the far side of the Sassanian frontier.17 The triumph of Christianity as the imperial religion intensified this pattern of connection, as recursive cycles of doctrinal controversy made unity of belief and practice across the empire a matter of increasing concern to provincials and central authorities alike.18 The dynamics of provincial integration, that is, never reached a single stable equilibrium. The imperial encounter retained its capacity for disorientation as long as the empire lasted: “being Roman” was as continuous a process as “becoming” it.19 In the sixth century, the local history of Edessa depended, in far-reaching but also in new ways, on what had happened elsewhere and long ago.

Making sense of such wide and reorienting perspectives required specific means of writing the Edessene past. The so-called Chronicle of Edessa, composed ca. 540 CE, represents one of the clearest extant examples of a text which addresses that task.20 A late antique “city chronicle” with parallels from across the Roman world, this composition covers some six centuries in the course of 106 lemmas and a dozen pages.21 Its telegraphic entries recount natural disasters and wars, the construction of nearby cities and of buildings within Edessa, and the dates of important church figures. Though indispensable for the early history of the city, the fragmentary and cryptic nature of the Chronicle can leave a definite “impression of incompleteness.”22 Much of its information seems to depend on what was available in the city archive, but important questions concerning the work’s sources and the reasons for its composition may be unanswerable.23 Yet the very spareness of the text’s contents offers an opportunity of a different kind, revealing the armature of its compiler’s sense of the past and, by implication, the present world which that past defined.24 Reading the Chronicle with attention to how it organizes its disparate information uncovers a nuanced local appreciation of the ways Edessa’s recent past was conditioned by actors and events stretching across a much larger Eastern Mediterranean geography and a much deeper chronological horizon. Though focused on Edessa, this document demonstrates a remarkably capacious sense of local history, one defined by the interaction of civic, ecclesiastic, and imperial frames of reference rather than parochially cordoned off from events in the wider world.

The text opens with an archival record of a flood in the year 513 (anno graecorum = 201 CE)—among the oldest Syriac narratives still extant.25 Longer than the next forty lemmas combined, this entry is a definite anomaly, not least for its placement: whether by design or accident, its current position stands roughly 350 years out of date.26 For our purposes, however, the next three entries are more relevant. These initiate the chronological sequence per se as the successive origins of three overlapping communities:

In the year 180 [AG] the kings began to rule in Edessa.

In the year 266 [AG] Augustus Caesar became emperor (’amlek).

In the year 309 [AG] our Lord was born.27

In programmatic fashion, these lemmas lay out the coordinates along which virtually all subsequent events will be plotted. The ascension of the Abgarid kings marks the breaking off of a separate Edessene history from that of the wider Hellenistic world, whose memory survives only in the fossilized form of the Seleucid Era.28 The reign of Augustus (dated, following Eusebius, from the death of Julius Caesar) initiates the Roman Empire. The birth of Christ proclaims the inception of both his literal and his metaphorical body, the Christian church.


The Contents of the Chronicle of Edessa (540) by frame. Lemma numbers follow the edition of Guidi. Thematic groups are arranged by their first lemma; lemmas may occur in multiple categories according to their contents. Table compiled by author.

TopicLemma # (MS-order)
Flood: 1, 11, 52, 90 
Building (by king): 1, 5, 9 
Beginning of reign, kings: 
Building (by bishop): 12, 13 ,14, 18, 34, 48, 51, 59, 64, 68 
Beginning of reign, bishop: 14, 17, 18, 21, 24, 34, 42, 44, 48, 51, 56, 59, 64, 68, 72, 75, 82, 89, 92, 94, 100 
Building (patron unspecified): 16, 29, 38 
Death of Bishop: 22, 32, 37, 41, 43, 49, 59, 68, 71, 72, 75, 82, 91, 93, 100 
Church controversy: 24, 31, 33, 63, 73, 88, 89, 92, 
Literary composition: 47, 67 
Other natural disaster: 57, 76, 78, 79, 96 
Church decoration (by lay official): 60, 61 
Siege: 81, 105 
Arrival of lay official: 102 
Death of lay official: 103 
Summary of floods: 106 
Beginning of reign, emperor: 3, 27, 34, 39, 86, 101 
(Regional) war: 7, 26, 40, 80, 103, 105 
Founding of (regional) city (by emperor): 19, 20, 35, 70 
Death of emperor: 26, 86 
Attempted usurpation: 72, 85 
Remission of taxes: 74 
Peace treaty: 104 
Birth of Christ: 
Activity of major theologians (inc. heretics): 6, 8, 10, 45, 46, 50, 53, 55, 62, 65 
Ecumenical council: 15, 36, 58, 63, 66 
Death of (regional) bishop: 23, 99 
Death of (regional) saint: 28, 30, 54, 69 
Condemnation of (regional) bishop: 63, 87 
Controversy in Constantinople: 77, 83, 84 
Installation of four councils in diptychs: 95 
Natural disaster (regional or distant): 25, 76, 98 
TopicLemma # (MS-order)
Flood: 1, 11, 52, 90 
Building (by king): 1, 5, 9 
Beginning of reign, kings: 
Building (by bishop): 12, 13 ,14, 18, 34, 48, 51, 59, 64, 68 
Beginning of reign, bishop: 14, 17, 18, 21, 24, 34, 42, 44, 48, 51, 56, 59, 64, 68, 72, 75, 82, 89, 92, 94, 100 
Building (patron unspecified): 16, 29, 38 
Death of Bishop: 22, 32, 37, 41, 43, 49, 59, 68, 71, 72, 75, 82, 91, 93, 100 
Church controversy: 24, 31, 33, 63, 73, 88, 89, 92, 
Literary composition: 47, 67 
Other natural disaster: 57, 76, 78, 79, 96 
Church decoration (by lay official): 60, 61 
Siege: 81, 105 
Arrival of lay official: 102 
Death of lay official: 103 
Summary of floods: 106 
Beginning of reign, emperor: 3, 27, 34, 39, 86, 101 
(Regional) war: 7, 26, 40, 80, 103, 105 
Founding of (regional) city (by emperor): 19, 20, 35, 70 
Death of emperor: 26, 86 
Attempted usurpation: 72, 85 
Remission of taxes: 74 
Peace treaty: 104 
Birth of Christ: 
Activity of major theologians (inc. heretics): 6, 8, 10, 45, 46, 50, 53, 55, 62, 65 
Ecumenical council: 15, 36, 58, 63, 66 
Death of (regional) bishop: 23, 99 
Death of (regional) saint: 28, 30, 54, 69 
Condemnation of (regional) bishop: 63, 87 
Controversy in Constantinople: 77, 83, 84 
Installation of four councils in diptychs: 95 
Natural disaster (regional or distant): 25, 76, 98 

The Table provides an overview of how the subsequent chronological sequence plays out. Here, the city of Edessa takes pride of place. Civic entries extend deep into Edessa’s royal past, but that past is imagined in terms of concrete, material and personal legacies—most pertinently, in the royal sponsorship of the city’s monumental architecture. Abgar the Black and the events of the Legend of Addai remain entirely absent. Instead, the kings’ early prominence depends entirely on their building activities, and the end of Abgarid rule passes without comment as their evergetic function is filled by the city’s bishops.29 Indeed, until 356 CE the only events recorded within the city are the construction of monumental architecture or its destruction by catastrophic floods.30 From that point on, a running episcopal list begins, but until the sixth century, only one bishop does anything except take office, build, or die.31 Nevertheless, the regular appearance of these figures punctuates the more disparate series of outside events, giving the text something approaching an organizing rhythm.

Emperors make up the second most prominent set of agents. As well as providing a dating system, these figures prosecute wars, found neighboring cities, and from time to time intervene in church politics.32 These wars are always pitched as confrontations against external enemies, identified by ethnonym. Edessa’s second-century absorption into the Roman sphere of influence is thus recorded as Lucius Verus’ expulsion of the “Parthians.”33 Likewise, only in military contexts does the word “Roman” occur, often in the phrase bēt rhūmāyē (“Roman territory,” i.e. “Roman Empire”), implicitly including both Edessa and its neighbors.34 The list of nearby civic foundations might be taken to imply Edessa’s seniority versus its regional peers; certainly, the city’s own grant of colonia status (an equivalent event to many of the recorded “foundings”) passes without mention.35

The Christian world beyond Edessa appears largely in contestations of orthodoxy. Heresiarchs arrive early, with Marcion, Bardaisan, and Mani appearing in the first ten entries.36 Bauer took these references as sympathetic, traces of early heterodoxy preserved by the accretion of subsequent chronological layers, but there is no need to read them as positive.37 In the sixth-century, the Chronicle evinces strong Chalcedonian affiliation, and yet earlier it notes the floruit of important non-Chalcedonians without negative comment.38 Indeed, a few regional saints aside, most of the document’s ecclesiastical entries can be read as background to the Christological controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries, set against a deep background of previous heresy, especially Arianism in the fourth century.39 In its list of synods and theologians, the text offers a highly abbreviated but nearly complete précis of the theological debates of the era.40

This preparation bears fruit in the sixth century. In the final two dozen or so entries, the method of composition changes, becoming notably more discursive and narrating new types of incident at a new level of detail.41 Crucially, here for the first time sustained breaks from strict annalistic sequence allow the presentation of continuous narratives which treat themes of ecclesiastic and inter-imperial conflict. The first such sequence recounts the struggles within the church in Edessa following Justinian’s imposition of dyophysite orthodoxy, resulting in a series of expulsions and finally the triumphant inscription of Chalcedon into the diptychs.42 The second records local events in the wars with Khusro, before and after the Eternal Peace.43 The style of the Chronicle thus changes to recount the convergence of those original three frames in the history of the compiler’s present day. In the reign of Justinian, church and empire come home to Edessa. Looking backward, the whole Chronicle can be read as means of providing the context necessary for understanding events of the document’s here and now.

Events in Edessa in the sixth century could not be understood without reference to events that had occurred elsewhere decades or even centuries before. As chronicles often did, the Chronicle of Edessa collated that divergent past, braiding its originally separate threads into a single strand. In doing so, it projects a vision of the wider communities and geographies that matter for Edessa. As we saw in the introduction, a core insight of cultural geography is that places are defined in practical terms as much by their relations to other places as by internal objects or events.44

Mapping offers a means of concretely visualizing that point. Map 1 thus shows the “outside” that shapes the Edessa of the Chronicle.45 Though it does not entirely neglect the city’s neighbors, that geography is decidedly imperial. Much the most prominent are the administrative hubs of Constantinople and Antioch, and even distant ecumenical centers (the sites of the councils and Alexandria) figure as prominently as do any other Mesopotamian towns. As we will shortly see, this vision of significant space demonstrates remarkable congruence with that imagined by one section—but only one section—of Ps.-Joshua too.

Map 1.

The Chronicle of Edessa (540). Place frequency is determined by the total number of lemmas in which the name of the city occurs. Map by author.

Map 1.

The Chronicle of Edessa (540). Place frequency is determined by the total number of lemmas in which the name of the city occurs. Map by author.

II. Between empire and Edessa in Ps.-Joshua

The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite preserves a far more elaborate response to related dynamics of imperial integration. By all indications composed shortly after the events it describes, the text reports an extraordinary series of catastrophes that befell Rome’s eastern frontier at the turn of the sixth century. Though it operates within much the same parameters as the slightly later Chronicle of Edessa, this text interweaves the categories of civic, imperial, and ecclesiastic in considerably more complex and trenchant ways. Demonstrating a deft understanding of classical literary convention, its author successively deploys and then combines the genres of local chronicle and narrative historiography in order to recount the recent history not of Edessa nor of Rome but of an intermediate entity: (Roman) Mesopotamia.46 In the text, this loose collectivity emerges out of the interaction among the region’s multiple cities, their populations joined by intra-Christian dialogue and the shared vulnerability of location on the imperial frontier. Again, this is a community defined by a sense of interconnected place. The author of Ps.-Joshua never bestows upon this group a name of its own, denoting it instead with his own first-person plural, especially in conjunction with the place name “Mesopotamia” (bēt nahrawātā—literally, “between the rivers”). Nevertheless, as we will see in this and the fourth section, the appeal to this regional affiliation helps explain some of his text’s most distinctive features, including both its formal experimentation and those two disconcerting statements with which we began.

As John Watt has demonstrated, the body of Ps.-Joshua falls into three discrete sections, each marked by a programmatic introduction and employing specific literary conventions. The first section outlines the causes and progression of previous Roman-Persian conflict in a flowing narrative. It thus stands as a rare Syriac representative of what in Greek or Latin would be immediately recognized as “classicizing” historiography, the genre of inter-state politics par excellence.47 Here, everything is (inter-)imperial. “Romans” figure constantly as one of a set of collective actors that includes Persians, Huns, Armenians, and Arabs.48 These ethnonyms serve strictly political or indeed military functions. Each of the smaller “national” groups figures only as rebellious or cooperative sources of soldiers, and disappears once incorporated into the larger imperial armies.49 The section’s geographical horizons parallel the breadth of its theme, sweeping across the Roman and Persian worlds from Constantinople to the Sassanians’ Central Asian frontier. Edessa and Roman Mesopotamia remain as it were off-stage, but only just: the section ends on a cliffhanger as Kawad’s army approaches the limes.

The section which follows jumps back in time to record the preceding eight years in Edessa alone. The result is a “city chronicle” akin to the Chronicle of Edessa but at an opposite extreme of scale: instead of (in the modern editions) 13 pages spanning centuries, 21 pages cover just eight years.50 Nevertheless, the projection of Edessa’s relation to the larger world corresponds point by point to the other document’s, only now magnified in granular detail. With inter-imperial politics off the agenda, the word “Roman” virtually disappears; the empire, instead, becomes a presence felt in the administrative rhythms which determine the circulation of money, edicts, and representatives. In the early years, the author notes two regular replacements of the governor (hegmunā), the second coinciding with the consecration of a new bishop.51 In the same period, two decrees arrive from Anastasius.52 The first, which remits the four-yearly chrysargon tax, becomes the occasion of much local rejoicing: “all the city” feasts and processes for a week, while the tradespeople especially “leaned back enjoying themselves, bathing and resting in the churchyard and all the colonnades of the city.”53

This episode marks only one of the many communal ceremonies and celebrations which punctuate this section. Each of these events implicates both the citizens, as a collective, and the public spaces of the city. In the process, Ps.-Joshua offers profound evidence for the vitality of urban life in its region at the turn of the sixth century. The characteristic monumental spaces of the Roman city in its late antique form—the repeatedly enumerated gates, squares, avenues, porticoes, and demosia—provide the essential venues for the life of the community.54 This “local chronicle” is indeed in an important way about precisely those spaces and the communal life they facilitate. Tracing the fortunes of the latter via changes in the former is one of the section’s most distinctive narrative tools. This story of communal space opens in the good years, when each new governor or bishop takes measures to maintain or enhance areas where the people of Edessa assemble.55 The civic community, however, is also an agent in its own right. The section soon turns into a drama of sin and punishment in which the inhabitants of the city figure collectively as the central actor, when their public failings incur disaster from which only imperial intervention, coupled with God’s grace, offers deliverance.56

Ps.-Joshua states the cause outright: in the midst of peace and plenty in 807 AG (495 CE), “most of the people of the city cut off hope of salvation in order to commit impiety publicly” at a spring festival.57 God’s displeasure at this (ostensibly) pagan ritual is the root of the subsequent calamities. Descriptions of its recurrence highlight the ways in which the celebration takes over and perverts the city’s communal places. The first celebration will give the flavor: “[the people of the city] lit many candles in honor of this festival, without number, a custom which had not existed in the city before. From the Gate of the Theater and until the Gate of the Arches, they set them on the earth on the bank of the river. Shining candles lay on its edge and were hung up in the porticos, in the open market [b-anṭipōrōs], in the high markets [uncertain—MS. bšūq ‘elātā], and many places.”58

If the fault involves civic space, the penalty does too. After a series of portents in both Edessa and neighboring cities fails to change the disposition of the populace, real pain comes in the form of locusts and famine.59 The calamity is expressed as a disruption of regional space that quickly focuses in on the city itself. The starvation which follows the locusts throws rural life into confusion, depopulating the surrounding countryside.60 The sheer mass of those entering overwhelms Edessa’s infrastructure, impinging from public space into private, so that the hungry “were circling through the streets and the porticos and the courtyards to beg for a morsel of bread, but there was not one person with bread to spare in his house.”61

The city’s response proceeds along two tracks, both of which depend on the imbrication of civic and imperial. In the first, the leaders of the community journey to Constantinople to plead for relief. Here, the ordinary extractive mechanisms of Roman governance grind to a halt and (slowly) begin to reverse. At the beginning of the famine, the bishop Peter travels to the court, but since back home the taxes have already been collected, Anastasius offers far less than a full remission.62 By the next year, the situation has grown so desperate that the governor too must make the journey, receiving now substantially more—though still far from enough.63

Within the city, meanwhile, the local authorities attempt to organize the community’s response to overwhelming numbers of the indigent, now suffering from epidemic disease en masse. Ps.-Joshua narrates the process as a harrowing transformation of the same public spaces we have encountered so often before:

The governor blocked the openings of the colonnades by the winter baths and laid down straw and mats in it, and they were sleeping there. It was not sufficient. And when the city’s notables saw, they also made provision, and many came and took shelter there. Even the Romans (rhūmāyē = “soldiers”) provided places, and the sick slept in these and they attended to their expenses. They were dying continuously and wretchedly. And though each day many were buried, still the death increased. For the news had gone up into the district of the city that the Edessenes had concern for people in need, and for this reason there descended onto the city a countless multitude of humanity. The bath which stands beneath the Church of the Apostles near the Great Gate was also filled with the sick, and many corpses were coming from it each day.64

At the peak of the crisis, the Edessene community is led, both at home and abroad, by those figures through whom it interfaces with the empire at large. The bishop and governor are perhaps to be expected.65 Both offices depend on their double-facing character: they direct the local community because they represent an imperial institution, even as their voice in that institution depends on their representation of that local community. More striking, however, are those “Romans.” The use of rhūmāyā for “soldier” was standard in Syriac—perhaps not too surprisingly, when we reflect on the centrality of the army to the Roman state.66 Here, however, the army acts entirely “domestically”: these rhūmāyē are simply one of a set of local actors, like the governor or the nobility, who possess the resources to help out in a time of crisis. Even in its grandest and most aggressive manifestations, the imperial state is enmeshed with Edessene society in ways that hardly—perhaps only in that concessive “even” (āp)—provoke comment.

On their own, the city’s actions do not suffice. Edessa’s charity cannot stem the crisis. Famine worsens, plague spreads, the number of the dead grows. It is not via this second track but that first one, directly from Constantinople, that resolution arrives—in an order from Anastasius himself, finally banning the idolatrous spring festival. The author insists on the connection: with a little help from divine forgiveness, an empire-wide edict results in an immediate threefold drop in local grain prices.67 Just like the Chronicle of Edessa, that is, Ps.-Joshua’s second section concludes with the direct interlacing of imperial, Christian, and civic. Here and elsewhere are intimately intertwined.

Ps.-Joshua’s third and final section is its most formally distinctive. Much the longest within the work, this part blends chronography and historiography to narrate the course of Kawad’s invasion in a year-by-year framework that unites local and inter-imperial categories of reference.68 In it, those military ethnonyms—Persians, Romans, etc.—are joined by a whole series of Mesopotamian actors. The “Arab” or nomadic Ṭayyāyē mark one important category which cuts across imperial affiliations.69 By contrast, the people of the region’s settlements are always referred to by their individual city—that is, as Edessenes (ūrhāyē), Harranites (ḥārānāyē), Amidenes (amīdāyē), and so forth.70 No encompassing ethnic, linguistic, or even regional designation for the settled inhabitants of Mesopotamia occurs.71 Nevertheless, that community as a whole acts as both subject and addressee of the third section, serving as the impetus for some of the text’s most characteristic features.

One marker of that significance is the way the name “Mesopotamia” recurs at important moments in close connection to the narrator’s first-person plural. Thus Amida is said to lie “with us in Mesopotamia (lwātan bēt nahrawātā).”72 During the war Anastasius repeatedly grants tax remissions “to all Mesopotamia (l-kuleh d-bēyt nahrawātā)”—on the second occasion at the instigation of Edessa’s bishop.73 Most significant, however, are the programmatic statements. The entry for the start of Kawad’s invasion reads, “The year 814 [AG]. In this year great adversities battered also against the land of Mesopotamia in which we live.”74 It continues:

after there were famines and pestilences, and there arose fears and terrors, and great signs showed forth from the sky, “nation rose up against nation and kingdom against kingdom,” and we fell by the mouth of the sword and were captured in every place, and our land was trampled by foreign nations.75

Map 2.

Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua, §§25–46: the city chronicle. Place frequency is determined by the total number of paragraphs in which the name of the city occurs as listed in the Index of Persons and Places in Trombley and Watt 2000, 145–54. Constantinople includes references to “Anastasius.” Map by author.

Map 2.

Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua, §§25–46: the city chronicle. Place frequency is determined by the total number of paragraphs in which the name of the city occurs as listed in the Index of Persons and Places in Trombley and Watt 2000, 145–54. Constantinople includes references to “Anastasius.” Map by author.

Though these are indeed the signs that will portend the apocalypse, Ps.-Joshua argues that the end of the world has not indeed arrived. His reasoning turns precisely on the fact that war was limited to his and his audience’s own vicinity, rather than universal.76 Instead, “we recognized that it was not because it was the last age that these things happened to us, but they were for our penitence, because our sins had prevailed.”77 “Us” and “our” in that conclusive sentence are pivotal. These pronouns pick out both the collective subject of this third section—a communal body analogous to the people of Edessa in the preceding part—and its intended readership. Given the conflict’s scope, the group must include very nearly all the inhabitants of the “land of Mesopotamia” defined not by narrow administrative boundaries but by a capaciously interconnected sense of place.

A visualization of this section’s geographic references compared to those of the previous one brings home the point. While the second section repeats, with striking congruity, the imperial orientation of the Chronicle of Edessa, the third plays out across a regional stage.

Map 3.

Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua, §§47–100: the regional history. Place frequency is determined by the total number of paragraphs in which the name of the city occurs, as listed in the Index of Persons and Places in Trombley and Watt 2000, 145–54. Constantinople includes references to “Anastasius.” Map by author.

Map 3.

Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua, §§47–100: the regional history. Place frequency is determined by the total number of paragraphs in which the name of the city occurs, as listed in the Index of Persons and Places in Trombley and Watt 2000, 145–54. Constantinople includes references to “Anastasius.” Map by author.

Here for the first time, neighboring towns within Mesopotamia take on consistently greater prominence than more distant ecclesiastic or administrative centers. One, Amida, even rivals Edessa itself, far outweighing Constantinople and the emperor who sits there. The text’s attention here has a decidedly different focus, corresponding to the different community—not empire or ecumene but region—in which this section of Ps.-Joshua situates its Edessa. Yet the definition of that community remains unstable, summoned into coherence by the events themselves and the exigencies of their narration. An indication of that instability is the way the reference of the text’s first-person plural shifts. In the programmatic sentence at §49, the “we” who “fell by the mouth of the sword (npalan b-pūmā d-ḥarbā—a normal idiom)” must refer to a supra-urban set: Edessa was never sacked. At other times, however, “we” can only refer to the author himself, and in yet others to Edessenes more broadly. Sometimes it seems to hover ambiguously between all three possibilities.78

Though the most nebulous, that larger first-person plural, the one for whose chastisement the regional disasters occurred, is also the most laden with potential significance. Just as much as the Chronicle of Edessa, Ps.-Joshua understands events in terms of concrete connections and communications: the people of Edessa offending God at the festival, the bishop traveling to the emperor. For an author so focused on the particular, that Mesopotamian “us” identifies the specific audience for whom he is writing. It is the group at which his own communication aims. The generic hybridity of this section facilitates that communicative project, providing a literary form intermediate between local chronicle and imperial history just as Mesopotamia stands intermediate between Edessa and the Roman Empire as a whole. The manuscript reception of Ps.-Joshua offers evidence that this scope of concern was understood early on. The title under which the work is preserved probably did not originate with the author, yet it still underscores the text’s regional interest: “A narrative account of the time of distress which occurred in Edessa and in Amida and in all Mesopotamia.”79 That interest holds a key for understanding how this third section operates, not least in the two quotations with which we began. In doing so, however, this composition is playing on specific literary and cultural archetypes, and to understand those it will help to examine a third text first.

III. Provincial civilians and imperial military in Euphemia and the Goth

Location on Rome’s late antique frontiers brought both opportunity and exposure. On the one hand, being positioned near the termini of the “corridors of empire” ensured continued access to financial and material resources during a period in which economic circulation was increasingly routed through the imperial state.80 On the other, those resources were inextricably linked to the dangers of coercive military force. Not only were towns of the frontier natural first targets for external invaders, but supporting the Roman defense produced traumas of its own.81 Difficulties intensified when and if the mobile field army was deployed to support permanently stationed garrisons.82 On the Persian frontier, troop concentrations could quickly number multiple tens of thousands. Moreover, to the townspeople of Mesopotamia as to citizens across the Roman world, the Balkan-Germanic culture of the empire’s elite military divisions, especially federate troops, could seem nearly as foreign as any conquering enemy.83 Reconciling allegiance to an ideal imperial community with vulnerability in the face of the real imperial military required careful ideological negotiation. Christian storytelling, centered as it was on the idea that even (or rather, especially) the humblest of the faithful could have the ear of an omnipotent and universal divinity, provided specific means of accomplishing that reconciliation. The originally fifth-century hagiographic romance of Euphemia and the Goth shows this work in action on the (fictionalized) ground in Edessa.84

The story’s protagonists are the modest widow Sophia and her beautiful daughter Euphemia, congregants of the church of the Edessene martyrs Guria, Shmona, and Habib.85 During an invasion by the Huns (therefore, the 390s), a Gothic soldier in Roman service is billeted in their house, to whom, after much persuasion, Sophia consents to give Euphemia in marriage. When the war is over, the new couple sets off for the Goth’s western home, but only after the widow has secured the new husband’s care for her daughter with an oath sworn at the shrine of the Confessors. The night before their arrival, the Goth betrays this oath, announcing he is already married to a Gothic woman. Utterly isolated, Euphemia serves as a slave in a foreign land, hated by her new mistress, whose jealousy reaches the breaking point when Euphemia turns out to be pregnant. The Gothic wife poisons the child, Euphemia poisons the wife, the wife’s family buries Euphemia alive. At last, the Edessene martyrs intervene, miraculously transporting the girl home to their shrine and a joyful reunion with her mother. Later, a new Hunnic incursion brings the Goth back to Edessa. There Sophia and her relations trap the villain and accuse him before the city’s commanding general Addai, who executes the Goth for defying God, the Martyrs, and the “victorious laws of the Romans.”86

This narrative addresses head-on the difference in power between humble local communities and a military apparatus capable of moving vast numbers of men and resources across continents. Within Edessa, there is economic disparity but also the possibility for accommodation. The Goth’s gold is a major factor in Sophia’s decision-making, but the initial arrangement brings at least this transactional benefit.87 Once Euphemia reaches the home of the Goth, however, the sheer distance that has been implicit in their encounter—one which unites opposite ends of the empire—becomes vertiginously clear. In her new role in a new land, the girl is utterly alone:

Her mistress was speaking with her with great hatred and great hostility, and was angry with her and beating her at every moment. And the girl did not know how to speak her language and appeal to her about anything, but she was weeping and sighing and calling the Confessors to her aid. For she was longing for someone to speak with her in Syriac and there was no one except the Goth who had taken her away from the Syrian land, since from the length of time he had spent in Edessa he had learned to speak.88

This passage encapsulates a nuanced understanding of the relationship between community and communication. A common language serves as a necessary but by no means sufficient condition for establishing relationships. Euphemia’s problem in not speaking her new mistress’s language is that she cannot “appeal to her” (tpiseh); the word, from Greek πείθω, may mean “persuade” as well as “request.”89 The girl proves unable, that is, to enter even into a stable subordinate relationship with the other woman, and remains a hated outsider. On the other hand, without the further qualities that establish trust, language per se matters little or not at all. Thus the person with whom Euphemia can speak is the Goth: a man whose word counts for nothing at all.90

Euphemia’s longing to use her native language here is at heart a longing for the place in the community (even the possibility of having a place in a community) which she lost when the Goth betrayed her. It is part and parcel of the social death of her enslavement. Indeed, communities, especially on the smallest scale, are central to this story. The narrative elsewhere turns on the actions of closely knit networks of kin. At the moment he reveals his treachery, the Goth commands Euphemia not to seek help, as “otherwise you will die an evil death from her family and from the people of her clan (men gensāh ū-men bnay šarbtāh), who are known in our country.”91 This threat is ultimately carried out when, after the Gothic lady’s death, “her family members and relations (bnay gensāh w-aḥyāneyh)” entomb the poor girl alive.92 Back in Edessa, however, the situation is reversed. There it is Euphemia’s and her mother’s own “family and neighbors (gensāh ū-bnay šbābūtā)” who trap the Goth and bring him before the judge.93

Euphemia offers a story of local community on a far more modest scale than we have seen before.94 Its perspective is that of the neighborhood—or more precisely, the parish—rather than of the city as a whole. Nevertheless, that community still stands at the center of the tale. Though the narrative focalizes on Sophia and Euphemia, its fundamental subject and most effective protagonists are the martyrs Guria, Shmona, and Habib. Their church is the tale’s key location, providing both authentication for the narrative (via the shrine’s custodian) and the site of its pivotal events, from the Goth’s false oath to Euphemia’s miraculous return.95

In the last decade, a small but illuminating debate has taken place over how to characterize this hagiography’s core community. Dealing solely with the Syriac version, Philip Wood sees a “parochial world” of Edessene specificity that locals such as Euphemia leave only at their peril.96 In an essay that concentrates more on the story’s significant Greek reception (BHG 739), meanwhile, Charis Messis and Stratis Papaioannou stress the “Roman and universal” relevance of the narrative’s concerns.97 The interconnected understanding of place and local identity which we have been developing shows there is little need to choose between these interpretations. Euphemia tells a particularly Edessene story (or rather, a particularly Congregation-of-the-Martyrs story) which could be repeated, changing a few specifics, across the Roman world. Its vision is imperial, but of the empire as seen from below. The text dramatizes the fears and concerns of those with no access to cross-imperial networks of communication and affiliation outside their local community: that is, of the overwhelming majority of the empire’s population. Though the story originated in Edessa, its rootedness in the concrete dynamics of being local within empire helps account for its subsequent wide popularity in Greek.

For this story, Rome means the army and the law. Law is presented entirely positively, though Euphemia and Sophia’s access to it depends on long-standing local ties whose reach does not exceed Edessa.98 The military, by contrast, is divided between two contrasting faces: the Goth and the general Addai. The former, as Wood and Messis and Papaioannou both emphasize, embodies a long line of ancient stereotypes about barbarity.99 The latter is his exact opposite, an ideal Roman as both soldier and vindicator of legal justice. This antithesis must have had some basis in experienced conflict with Germanic federate troops. For a text like Euphemia, however—and, we might imagine, for the inhabitants of Edessa in general—this opposition matters less for the precise cultural encounter at its origins than for its ideological function. Talking about Goths gave late antique civilians a means of externalizing the brutality inherent in “their” army. It afforded the possibility of recognizing the unruly violence of (at least much of) the Late Roman army while quarantining that violence off from a traditional, wholly heroic Roman martial identity. It is no accident that Euphemia ends in the triumph of the second figure—the good rhūmāyā, rightful protector of modest locals like Euphemia and Sophia—over the first.100

Without Christianity, however, that triumph would remain impossible. Religion provides a solution by linking even the smallest-scale neighborhood communities to the universal divinity. Within Edessa, Addai would never know of Sophia’s and Euphemia’s distress without petition and guidance from their friends and family. Against the vast distance traversed by the Goth, however, even such an extended network of neighbors and kin can gain little purchase. The martyrs Guria, Shmona, and Habib fill in the gap, acting as extensions of this Edessene network onto an ecumenical plane. They are the local patrons, themselves of humble origin, who still hear Euphemia at the far end of the empire.101 Only their intervention ensures the vindication of the Roman state, its final congruency with both God’s justice and the needs of provincial society.

Just as much as the Chronicle of Edessa, Euphemia and the Goth articulates a vision of how a specific local community in Edessa fits into the vastly wider horizon of the Roman Empire at large. It offers that articulation, however, not to account for historical events within the community but to make a claim on that community’s behalf. For this hagiography, the problematic dynamics of Roman-local integration represent an opportunity: an occasion for demonstrating what the Confessors, as patrons, can do.102 The imperial background, in other words, could offer a venue for intra-local politics as well. Precisely such politics, on a rather larger scale, underlie Ps.-Joshua’s literary strategies too.

IV. The Mesopotamian conversation

Euphemia’s abduction marks a profound crisis for a modest circle, set in the quasi-fictional past of folklore and hearsay. The Chronicle of Ps.-Joshua, on the other hand, presents contemporary disasters which, on the author’s account, were of such magnitude as to seem to threaten Creation itself. Despite major differences in scope, however, these texts deploy a congruent set of cultural archetypes and narrative strategies to repair their ruptures between provincial communities and the empire overall.103 The larger historical circumstances of the later text’s composition make the stakes all the higher there.

In the largely Syriac/Aramaic-speaking lands of Rome’s eastern frontier, the reign of Anastasius marked a period of non-Chalcedonian optimism but also factional retrenchment. Though never mentioned directly, the simmering Christological disputes have often been identified as an important context for Ps.-Joshua.104 To a late antique world on the lookout for signs and wonders, a sustained series of disasters such as this text recounts could only indicate divine disfavor, liable to redound especially on the rulers. A work with marked sympathy for the imperial hierarchy, Ps.-Joshua attempts to short-circuit such deductions.105 Instead, it reconfigures the three literary-cultural elements which we identified in Euphemia (miracles, Roman generals, and Goths) in order to tell a story of specifically regional sin and redemption.

The community at the center of this narrative is a Roman Christian Mesopotamia intermediate between individual cities and the empire as a whole. The role of Edessa within this community, however, presents a problem for the author of Ps.-Joshua. The difficulty turns on the miraculous event which gives the city its unique prominence—that protection from invasion which Christ, according to legend, promised to Abgar. On the one hand, within the text this episode holds a wider regional significance, serving both as the turning point of the war and as proof that the previous divine dispensation still holds. On the other, that same security from outside invasion separates the city from the wartime suffering that defines the region’s common experience. The need to negotiate this tricky rhetorical position—to make Edessa at once a symbol for Mesopotamia and a constituent member of it—gives rise to the two dense moments cited in my introduction.

Apocalyptic thinking provides the context. Despite the accumulating catastrophes, from its very beginning Ps.-Joshua insists that the end of times is not approaching, that “God’s protection was girt round the world that it should not broken.”106 Instead, as in Euphemia, these horrors represent a shaking of the social order which despite its violence ends with the rightful functioning of world and community restored. As Edward Watts has noted, establishing the ongoing justice and stability of the secular order makes up an important component of the penitential message announced in the initial proem.107 In Ps.-Joshua’s own words, “all the punishment of human beings in this world is in order to restrain them from their sins and to make easier for them the judgment of the world to come.”108 Shifting blame to the authorities represents at best a misunderstanding and at worst a justification for continued sin.109 The legend of Christ’s promise to Abgar is introduced specifically in this context. The city’s salvation testifies to the reliability of God’s covenants: proof that the current dispensation holds. The Persians “were not able to hold dominion over our city because neither could it happen that the promise (šūdāyā) of Christ presented to the believing king Abgar might be annulled.”110 A few sentences later, those who still feared Edessa might be taken are castigated for their disbelief.111

At the critical point in its narrative, Ps.-Joshua dramatizes the promise’s role as a test of faith in steadily intensifying demonstrations of its power. These occur in quick succession after the sack of Amida, the low point in Roman fortunes. Ps.-Joshua’s first reference is subtle, but it speaks directly to the rich background of ongoing intra-Mesopotamian communication this text assumes. As the populace began to flee westward, the author notes, Jacob of Serug “did not turn aside at this time either from what he ought to do, but wrote letters of admonition to all the cities, exhorting people about God’s salvation and encouraging them not to flee.”112 A letter addressed to the people of Edessa still extant in Jacob’s corpus meets this description. Its theme is the eternal inviolability of any promise (šūdāyā) made by God from the days of Noah into the sixth-century present. Christ’s bestowal of protection to Abgar, Jacob writes, must be understood in such terms.113 Within Ps.-Joshua’s narrative, the promise’s first explicit appearance occurs as a manifestation of real power, when the Persian ally Nu’man is struck down for mocking its efficacy.114 The covenant’s crowning moment arrives soon after. Kawad’s army has surrounded the city; Areobindus, his own forces scattered, has narrowly avoided capture by trickery. Everything seems set for Persian victory. But though the Great Gate stands open and the enemy forces defy number, they are paralyzed with fear. After hours of stasis, a few Roman soldiers, supported by the women and children of the town, drive the enemy back.115

This episode—in which, the narrator says, “On the seventeenth of this month, a Wednesday, we saw Christ’s words and promises (l-melawhy…wa-l-šūdāyawhy) to Abgar being fulfilled in deed”—marks the turning point in in Ps.-Joshua’s account of the war.116 On the next day Areobindus delivers the defiant speech with which this essay began: “You have now seen by experience that the city is neither yours nor Anastasius’, but the city of Christ who has blessed it. He rose against your forces so that they may not have dominion over it.”117 The siege is not over quite yet: the general must still be convinced by the nobles of the city not to trust Kawad, and must still be shown by the villagers who have taken refuge there the Samson-esque invincibility of any who fight on Edessa’s behalf.118 But the Persians never regain the initiative. After their withdrawal from Edessa, a series of Roman retaliatory raids compels negotiations, ending with the transfer of Amida and peace.119

The speech needs to be read in light of this larger structure. At this pivotal moment, the three historical frames which we have been following since the Chronicle of Edessa—the civic, the imperial, and the ecclesiastic—combine in a moment of intense dramatic power. The speech unites the claims of city and religion not only to refute Persian imperial ambitions but, more profoundly, to offer a model of Roman consonance with Edessa. As often in Ps.-Joshua, this function turns on the significance of a specific point in Edessa’s civic topography. The following sentence is the only preface to the address: “The following day, Areobindus now went out beyond the Great Gate, and standing in the face of the Persian army he sent word to Kawad.”120 As both writer and audience would have been well aware, Edessa’s gates were intimately connected to the celebration of the Abgar legend, and by the sixth century in fact inscribed with the text of Christ’s letter.121 Standing at the threshold of the city, the enemy arrayed against him, Areobindus takes up exactly the position held by the defenders who drove the Persians back the day before, and by those villagers who will be miraculously preserved in the midst of battle a week later. Read in its setting, that is, this speech asserts a view of local distinctiveness which at the same time remains intrinsically open to Rome. The magister militum per orientem has met the test of faith.

Areobindus is finally only the most memorable in a series of figures, principally bishops and governors, who represent the Edessene community not despite their affiliations to the wider structures of empire but because of them. In context, his speech acts as a (Christian) restoration and vindication of Roman power even more sweeping than that of Euphemia’s general Addai. Here, however, the consequences affect not only or even primarily Edessa, but Mesopotamia in general. Edessa itself, after all, is already protected; it is as a sign of God’s continuing reliability for the rest of the region that Abgar’s promise matters most. The reversal is not immediate; the chain of causality must be assembled too—Ps.-Joshua still owes its debt to the conventions of classicizing historiography. But other signs of the shift in divine favor soon follow. An egg, miraculously inscribed “in Roman (rhūmā’īt)” and declaring victory, is found at Zeugma.122 Imperial forces win a series of engagements. God’s protection has not deserted either the cosmos or the Roman Empire. The crisis was regional, a temporary punishment for local sin.

Beyond its immediate intra-narrative function, Areobindus’ speech contains a message to the regional community we have seen to be determinative for Ps.-Joshua’s third section. Recent research on the Abgar legend has emphasized the ways in which the story acted as a focus for Edessa’s claims to spiritual authority within the Roman East.123 It does so here too, providing authentication of the author’s (and his allies’) claims on behalf of the imperial status quo against those of his apocalyptic opponents. For this maneuver, the text’s imagined audience matters as much as its contents. Here the epistolary frame of the narrative comes into its own. Regardless of the historicity of the addressee Sergius, in his bookending proem and conclusion the author of Ps.-Joshua is concerned to assert his participation in a supra-Edessene conversation.124 The body of the text also testifies to the importance of this regional, Syriac-speaking network of communication. In the second and third sections, we find repeated citation of letters (including that of Jacob of Serug) and one visit by a particularly prominent neighboring bishop (Philoxenos of Mabbug).125

Edessa’s special protection presents an obstacle for the author’s claim to belong to this broader community. The city is in Mesopotamia and held out as a symbol for Mesopotamia, but precisely because of Christ’s promise, it has not shared fully in the suffering that defines Mesopotamia’s experience of the war. Ps.-Joshua wrestles with the issue in a passage which contains perhaps his strongest claim to regional, Christian community. These are the sentences which surround the programmatic statement of the inviolability of the Christ’s promise (here in ellipsis) cited at the beginning of this section:

So also upon us they inflicted harm by their merciless will, as they are accustomed, for even if the “rod” of their affliction did not fall upon our body [i.e., here in Edessa]…but, through the believers who were plundered and captured and killed and destroyed in the other cities which were subjected, and who became like “mud in the streets,” all those who have learned to “suffer with those who suffer” have tasted no little suffering.126

This captatio benevolentiae imagines author and audience joined in a community defined by shared pain. The bonds of penitence and of sympathy are both cast in scriptural molds; the latter especially seems to make the efficacy of vicarious emotion a natural concomitant of Christian fellowship.127 As we saw before, the proem of Ps.-Joshua’s third section claims directly that “we fell by the mouth of the sword and were captured in every place, and our land was trampled by foreign nations.”128 Yet the heroic account of Edessa’s salvation later in the narrative, juxtaposed as it is to Amida’s sacking and depopulation immediately before, undermines that claim to common experience. Subsequent events help even the balance: even as Rome’s fortunes turned, Edessa’s misfortunes remained. Indeed, it seems that the very reinforcements responsible for increasing imperial success wreaked havoc in the city. Renouncing any hope of a full accounting of the suffering, the author tells Sergius, “But you can learn from others who are writing that even those who came to our aid in the name of saviors, as they were going in and coming out, plundered us almost like enemies.”129

There is no need to doubt that the influx of soldiers created genuine problems for Edessa’s citizens. More interesting for us, however, is how the statement operates in Ps.-Joshua’s larger rhetorical strategy. The move neatly assimilates Edessa’s experience to that of its occupied neighbors while sidestepping direct responsibility for the claim: this text is simply repeating previous statements in an ongoing literary conversation. More significantly still, the troops in question—those of the field army deployed in response to the invasion, rather than the permanently stationed rhūmāyē—are explicitly identified as “Goths.”130 Their behavior exemplifies the same ancient stereotypes of barbarity found in Euphemia, including violence, drunkenness, and insubordination. Indeed, the outrages these figures commit during their billeting—theft, torture, and murder—far exceed any injuries suffered by Sophia or Euphemia within Edessa’s walls. Yet these dissolute soldiers are at each point contrasted to the responsible high officers to whom the citizens appeal.131 Here again we meet that rhetorical division of the late imperial army into “Romans” and “Goths” developed so effectively in the hagiographic work. In Ps.-Joshua, however, it is turned to a new purpose: that of showing that a city need not be conquered in order to be, in the words of the programmatic statement of Mesopotamia’s suffering, “trampled by foreign nations.” The vulnerability of the frontier points in both directions. Edessa can participate in the common regional experience while still retaining its special symbolic significance.

V. Conclusion

Centuries after Caracalla and Constantine, reconciling being local with being Roman still took work. The Chronicle of Ps.-Joshua, the Chronicle of Edessa, and Euphemia and the Goth present different but interrelated responses to that challenge. Each offers a specific literary means of integrating Edessene and Roman frames of reference. The common vision of local identity all three project depends, just as Massey suggested, as much on the precise configuration of Edessa’s links to the broader imperial system as to the city’s internal history. Though presented in Syriac—and thus, necessarily, for a not universally Roman audience—this vision could be repeated mutatis mutandis across the East Roman world. The seventh-century mosaic at St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki, for example—a depiction of the saint clasping arms around bishop and governor as all three look over the congregation—presents a model of local community and authority instantly recognizable from our three Edessene compositions.132

In order to draw out those commonalities, I have so far made only passing reference to the dates of my texts. Putting the three into chronological succession, however, produces a narrative rather more specific to the lands of the Mesopotamian frontier. In its focus on the endemic traumas of civilian-military interaction and the fates of modest folk, Euphemia presents a Roman Christian Edessa untouched by the controversies over Ephesus and Chalcedon. Ps.-Joshua, as we have seen, makes a sophisticated intervention into intra-regional debates at the moment when imperially enforced compromise over Chalcedon threatened to come undone under the stress of environmental disaster and foreign invasion. Culminating in Khusro’s invasion and a decidedly pro-Chalcedonian rendition of the Justinianic schism, the Chronicle of Edessa shows those same lines of fracture in full break. Together, the three neatly track the trajectory of Syria-Mesopotamia’s relationship to Constantinople and the empire it governed.

Within that trajectory, Ps.-Joshua’s appeal to a Mesopotamian regional community holds particular significance. For the author of that text, writing to and about Mesopotamia was a means of asserting the continuing validity of the previous secular dispensation, the persistent legitimacy of the rulers and of Rome. Events in the century that followed would inspire regional thinking with more pointedly revisionist intent. Despite acute civilian suffering, the Anastasian War ended relatively quickly with the return to the status quo ante. The compounding damage of subsequent wars, and especially more prolonged experience of occupation, would prompt the disassociation of core ties of affiliation, including the possible disassociation of Roman identity and episcopal authority from the political hierarchy of the empire.133 The hardening schism of the churches brought even more profound regional revisions. Syriac-speaking anti-Chalcedonian intellectuals of the later sixth century could imagine their communities as constituting both a geographically defined Mesopotamian “chosen land” and—more radically—as crossing the border to constitute a “frontier politeia” embracing believers in both Roman and Persian domains.134

These subsequent regional visions tend to be framed as prefiguring the epochal end of the Roman empire in Mesopotamia, laying the groundwork for the vast conceptual reorientations which the region’s incorporation into the medieval Islamic world would entail. Positioned at the moment when the threat of large-scale war and schism were just reemerging, the Ps.-Joshua offers a rather different perspective on what regional thinking could mean. This text constructs its ultimately conservative vision of Mesopotamian community out of the paradigmatically Roman categories of city, church, and empire. Those later revisionist models could be read as the disaggregation and piece-by-piece replacement of the tight web of connections Ps.-Joshua envisions. Thinking in terms of place helps here too. Schism slowly changed the ecclesiastic geography that mattered for non-Chalcedonians in ways which, despite the efforts of multiple emperors, were never reversed. First Persian, then Arab conquest introduced alternate centers of imperial power. The ties that bound city, church, and empire frayed and came undone; new links were strung, and different other places came to constitute the significant outside which shaped what Edessa and its neighbors were. The late antique fragmentation of the Roman world, that is, could be envisioned not only through the introduction of new modes of identification (e.g. new forms of ethnicity) but also through new interactions of characteristically Roman ones. In Ps.-Joshua that vision is distant and negative, a threat which the composition and circulation of the text itself is meant to help forestall. This conscious and sophisticated attempt to repair the links tying Rome to Edessa traces the very lines of fracture that would several generations later bring about the empire’s end.



Ps.-Joshua §61 (Wright 60.22–61.1). All translations are the author’s, from the edition of William Wright, ed., The Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1882), in consultation with the translations of Frank Trombley and John Watt, The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000) and of Andreas Luther, Die syrische Chronik des Josua Stylites (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1997).


Ps.-Joshua §86 (Wright 80.8–10).


The identity of the author has been a topic of much discussion. For one suggestion, see especially A. N. Palmer, “Who Wrote the Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite?” in Lingua restituta orientalis. Festgabe Für Julius Assfalg, ed. Regine Schulz and Manfred Görg (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 1990), 272–84; for salutary caution, Trombley and Watt, Pseudo-Joshua, xxiv–viii; for a defense of the traditional attribution, Luther, Josua Stylites, 16–19.


F. K. Haarer, Anastasius I: Politics and Empire in the Late Roman World, 1st ed (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 2006), 139–45; Volker-Lorenz Menze, Justinian and the Making of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 15–16.


Geoffrey Greatrex, Rome and Persia at War, 502 – 532, Arca 37 (Leeds: Cairns, 1998), 1–4.


On theater culture, Hugh Kennedy, “From Polis to Madina: Urban Change in Late Antique and Early Islamic Syria,” Past & Present 106 (1985): 7; grain prices, Dionysios Stathakopoulos, Famine and Pestilence in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Empire: A Systematic Survey of Subsistence Crises and Epidemics, Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Monographs 9 (Aldershot, Hants; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004), 252–53; apocalypticism, Wolfram Brandes, “Anasastasios ὁ Δίκορος: Endzeiterwartung und Kaiserkritik in Byzanz um 500 n. Chr.,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 90, no. 1 (1997): 39–40.


The most thorough studies of which I am aware are John W. Watt, “Greek Historiography and the ‘Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite,’” in After Bardaisan: Studies on Continuity and Change in Syriac Christianity in Honour of Professor Han J.W. Drijvers, ed. G. J. Reinink and A. C. Klugkist (Peeters Publishers, 1999), 317–27, and Watt, “Two Syriac Writers from the Reign of Anastasius: Philoxenus of Mabbug and Joshua the Stylite,” Harp 20 (2006): 275–93. Brief but insightful commentary can be found at Edward Watts, “Interpreting Catastrophe: Disasters in the Works of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, Socrates Scholasticus, Philostorgius, and Timothy Aelurus,” Journal of Late Antiquity 2.1 (2009): 79–82, and Muriel Debié, “L'Héritage de l'historiographie grecque,” in L’historiographie syriaque, ed. Muriel Debié, Etudes syriaques 6 (Paris: Geuthner, 2009), 13–14. A further recognition of the text’s importance is Philip Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ’: Christian Political Thought in Greater Syria on the Eve of the Arab Conquest (c. 400–585) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), which draws its title from Areobindus’ speech but otherwise concentrates on other sources.


A recent overview of the state of the field is Nathanael Andrade, “Syriac and Syrians in the Later Roman Empire: Questions of Identity,” in The Syriac World, ed. Daniel King, The Routledge Worlds (London; New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2019), 161–67. The most thorough study is Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ,’ which makes strong claims for the existence of ethnicity from the fifth century. Somewhat more cautious are the essays in R. B. ter Haar Romeny, ed., Religious Origins of Nations? The Christian Communities of the Middle East (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010). A summary of the latter can be found at Baas ter Haar Romeny, “Ethnicity, Ethnogenesis, and the Identity of Syriac Orthodox Christians,” in Visions of Community in the Post-Roman World: The West, Byzantium and the Islamic World, 300–1100, ed. Walter Pohl, Clemens Gantner, and Richard E. Payne (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012), 183–204. On late antique “Syrians” in light of earlier Roman and Hellenistic formations, see Nathanael Andrade, “Framing the Syrian of Late Antiquity: Engagements with Hellenism,” Journal of Modern Hellenism 28 (2010–2011): 1–41. The same author lays out that background in much greater depth in Syrian Identity in the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Importantly, these studies tend to center on a consistent, if loosely defined, region delimited by the extension of Syriac-speaking networks of communication rather than any physical or administrative boundaries.


On the intellectual culture of the post-Ephesus church, see David A. Michelson, “‘It Is Not the Custom of Our Syriac Language…’: Reconsidering the Role of Translation in the Polemics of Philoxenos of Mabbug,” in Shifting Cultural Frontiers in Late Antiquity, ed. David Brakke, Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis, and Edward Jay Watts (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012), 7–8, and Arieh Kofsky and Serge Ruzer, Reshaping Identities in Late Antique Syria-Mesopotamia: Christian and Jewish Hermeneutics and Narrative Strategies, Judaism in Context 19 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2016), 3–4. For contrast with the previous period, Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (London: T & T Clark, 2006). By the fifth century, bilingualism between Greek and Aramaic, including Syriac, was widespread: David Taylor, “Bilingualism and Diglossia in Late Antique Syria and Mesopotamia,” in Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Text, ed. J. N. Adams, Mark Janse, and Simon Swain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 314–15. For the epigraphic evidence from Edessa itself, with a note of caution: Sebastian Brock, “Edessene Syriac Inscriptions in Late Antique Syria,” in From Hellenism to Islam: Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East, ed. Hannah Cotton (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 296–97.


Fergus Millar, “Ethnic Identity in the Roman Near East, 325–450: Language, Religion, and Culture,” Mediterranean Archaeology 11 (1998): 165–67, and A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief under Theodosius II (408/450), Sather Classical Lectures 64 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 114–16. The locus classicus on this point is A. H. M. Jones, “Were the Ancient Heresies National or Social Movements in Disguise?,” The Journal of Theological Studies 10, no. 2 (1959): 280–98. Bas ter Haar Romeny’s introduction to Religious Origins, 3–11, contains a good discussion of the issue, with bibliography, for the period after Chalcedon in light of contemporary approaches to ethnicity.


This technical sense of place (specific location as a bearer of human significance) has been one of the core concepts of late twentieth- and twenty-first-century cultural geography. A handy starting point is Tim Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction, Short Introductions to Geography (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004). Importantly, “places” on this understanding are delimited by their cultural and cognitive coherence rather than determinate physical size, and so may vary enormously in terms of the latter.


On the enormous literature on late antique cities, see now Mark Humphries, “Cities and the Meanings of Late Antiquity,” Brill Research Perspectives in Ancient History 2, no. 4 (2019): esp. bibliography 90–91. On provincial “pseudo-ethnics,” see Millar, “Ethnic Identity in the Roman Near East,” 163–64; Millar, “Libanius and the Near East,” Scripta classica israelica 26 (2007): 173–74. On the parallel question of regionalism in the contemporary (post-)Roman West, see Patrick J. Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), esp. 104–7.


Claudia Rapp and H. A. Drake, “PolisImperiumOikoumenē: A World Reconfigured,” in The City in the Classical and Post-Classical World: Changing Contexts of Power and Identity, ed. Claudia Rapp and H. A. Drake (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 5–6; Humphries, “Cities and the Meanings of Late Antiquity,” 23–31, 40–42. For regions like Mesopotamia which did not experience urban collapse, this issue is somewhat tangential to that of civic decline. J. H. W. F. Liebeschuetz, e.g., always recognizes continuing demographic and economic vitality where it existed, framing his position rather in terms of the loss of a specific political function and the form of life it underwrote: “The End of the Ancient City,” in The City in Late Antiquity, ed. John Rich, Leicester-Nottingham Studies in Ancient Society 3 (London; New York: Routledge, 1992), 31–32, and Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 5–11, 414–16.


Doreen Massey, Space, Place, and Gender (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 154, 121. For an application of Massey’s conception to the post-Ottoman Near East, see Amy Mills, “Critical Place Studies and Middle East Histories: Power, Politics, and Social Change,” History Compass 10, no. 10 (2012): 778–88.


Roman identity in late antique Syria-Mesopotamia has formed another area of recent interest: see Hartmut Leppin, “Roman Identity in a Border Region: Evagrius and the Defence of the Roman Empire,” in Visions of Community in the Post-Roman World: The West, Byzantium and the Islamic World, 300–1100, ed. Walter Pohl, Clemens Gantner, and Richard E. Payne (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012); Jack Tannous, “Romanness in the Syriac East,” in Transformations of Romanness: Early Medieval Regions and Identities, ed. Walter Pohl et al. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2018), 457–79; Hartmut Leppin, “The Roman Empire in John of Ephesus’s Church History: Being Roman, Writing Syriac,” in Historiography and Space in Late Antiquity, ed. Peter Van Nuffelen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 113–35.


For the sake of clarity, I use the term “civic” to denote events that occur within the city as bounded area (e.g., building activity, episcopal succession, public celebrations) and “local” to refer to Massey’s more capacious sense of “place.” This heuristic distinction breaks down under close scrutiny: e.g., the bishop is a member of a larger ecclesiastical hierarchy—which is part of the point.


A thorough recent discussion of the Roman view of the region through the fourth century is Hamish Cameron, Making Mesopotamia: Geography and Empire in a Romano-Iranian Borderland, Impact of Empire: Roman Empire, c. 200 B.C.–A.D. 476, 32 (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2019). On the process of incorporation, see Steven K. Ross, Roman Edessa: Politics and Culture on the Eastern Fringes of the Roman Empire, 114 – 242 C.E. (London: Routledge, 2001), 46–68, and Michael Sommer, “Modelling Rome’s Eastern Frontier: The Case of Osrhoene,” in Kingdoms and Principalities in the Roman Near East, ed. Ted Kaizer and Margherita Facella, Alte Geschichte 19 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2010). For Late Antiquity specifically, see Elif Keser-Kayaalp, “Boundaries of a Frontier Region: Late Antique Northern Mesopotamia,” in Bordered Places–Bounded Times: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Turkey, ed. Emma L. Baysal and Leonidas Karakatsanis, Monograph/British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara 51 (London: British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 2017), 135–48. For an archeological view from the Sassanian side, see Dan Lawrence and Tony J. Wilkinson, “The Northern and Western Borderlands of the Sasanian Empire: Contextualising the Roman/Byzantine and Sasanian Frontier,” in Sasanian Persia: Between Rome and the Steppes of Eurasia, ed. Eberhard W. Sauer, Edinburgh Studies in Ancient Persia (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017), 106–9.


Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 6–9; Menze, Justinian and the Making of the Syrian Orthodox Church, 12–18.


On these dynamics in the earlier Roman empire, see D. J. Mattingly, Imperialism, Power, and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 213–18.


The date was an early subject of debate: Witold Witakowski, “Chronicles of Edessa,” Orientalia suecana 33 (1984): 487; Ludwig Hallier, Untersuchungen über die Edessenische Chronik, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 9 (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1892), 63,


On the genre (which may often have relied on local archives), see Brian Croke, “City Chronicles of Late Antiquity,” in Reading the Past in Late Antiquity, ed. G. Clarke (Sydney: Pergamon Press, 1990), for Edessa esp. 194–95.


Andrew Palmer, “Edessa,” in Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, ed. G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999), 421.


For a measured discussion, see Philip Wood, “Historiography in the Syriac-Speaking World, 300–1000,” in The Syriac World, ed. Daniel King, The Routledge Worlds (London; New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2019), 409. Earlier attempts at isolating sources are rather less convincing: Hallier, Die Edessenische Chronik, 63; Witakowski, “Chronicles of Edessa,” 495. An interesting attempt at a comprehensive reading is Andrew Palmer, “Procopius and Edessa,” Antiquité tardive 8 (2001): 132–35.


On the organizing function of chronicles, Richard W. Burgess and Michael Kulikowski, Mosaics of Time: The Latin Chronicle Traditions from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), 1:26–29.


And for that reason a staple of the primers, e.g., Takamitsu Muraoka and Sebastian P. Brock, Classical Syriac: A Basic Grammar with a Chrestomathy, 2., rev. ed, Porta linguarum orientalium, n.s., 19 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005), 4*–7*; George Anton Kiraz, The New Syriac Primer, Gorgias Handbooks 9 (Piscataway, N.J: Gorgias Press, 2007), 194–97.


The anachronism was noted in Assemani’s editio princeps, where it was corrected as a mistake: J. S. Assemani, ed., “Chronicon Edessenum,” in Bibliothecae orientalis Clementino-Vaticanae, tomus primum de scriptoribus Syris orthodoxis (Rome: Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, 1719), 387–429.


Chronicle of Edessa §§2–4. Syriac text from the Latin-Syriac edition of Ignacio Guidi, Chronica minora, pars prior (Paris: Typographeo Reipublicae, 1903), Syriac pp. 1–13, and all citations are to manuscript (rather than chronological) order. There are some anomalies in this text’s use of the Seleucid Era, already noted by Assemani (p. 387). Translation is mine in consultation with B. H. Cowper, “Selections from the Syriac. No. I: The Chronicle of Edessa,” The Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record 5.9 (1864): 28–45.


The historical Abgarids seem not to have claimed the title “king” (malkā) until ca. 30 BCE: Andreas Luther, “Die ersten Könige von Osrhoene,” Klio 81, no. 2 (February 1, 1999): 453–54. On the Seleucid Era, Paul J. Kosmin, Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018).


On bishops’ emerging role as civic leaders, see Claudia Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), esp. 220–23.


An exception is the birth of Bardaisan at §8, though the event is not localized at Edessa.


The exception is Ibas of Edessa, who temporarily leaves office before death in §64.


On Roman emperors in this text, Tannous, “Romanness in the Syriac East,” 459–60.


Chronicle of Edessa §7. On the rather more complicated historical circumstances of this event, see Ross, Roman Edessa, 37–39. The only other ethnonyms are “Huns” (§40, §47) and “Persians” (§100, §101, §102, §105).


Chronicle of Edessa §40, §47, §103, §105.


An event contemporaneous with the removal of the kings (under Caracalla): Ross, Roman Edessa, 57–64.


Chronicle of Edessa §6, §8, §10, §3.


Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, ed. Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Krodel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 16–17.


E.g., Dioscurus of Alexandria (§62).


Chronicle of Edessa §31, §33.


On chronicles as aides-mémoire, Burgess and Kulikowski, Mosaics of Time, 25.


The change begins with a pious story criticizing Anastasius (§83).


Chronicle of Edessa §§88–95 (chronological order §§89–95, 88). The concluding lemma of the manuscript sequence (MS §95) records the inclusion of Chalcedon in the church dyptichs by “the friend of God, the emperor Justinian.”


Chronicle of Edessa §§102–105 (chron. 100–2, 105). There does seem to be an error involving MS §96, which chronologically would fall as §104. The phrase “in the same year” at the beginning of §105 requires its date (= 540 CE).


Recognizing the importance of interconnection by no means requires denying that ideas about a “long internalized history” (Massey, Space, Place, and Gender, 154) are irrelevant for the Chronicle. The incorporation of that archival record of the flood as the outsized first lemma—whose achronological placement the final summary lemma confirms as deliberate—is a telling act of local antiquarianism. As Susan Alcock has shown for the Greek cities of the High Empire, emphasis on local distinctiveness often depends on much larger imperial forces: Susan E. Alcock, “The Reconfiguration of Memory in the Eastern Roman Empire,” in Empires: Perspectives from Archaeology and History, ed. Susan E. Alcock, Kathleen D. Morrison, and Carla M. Sinopoli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 323–50. On antiquarianism in Late Antiquity, see Jan Willem Drijvers et al., Mapping Antiquarianism in Late Antiquity, Revue Belge de philologie et d’histoire 96 (Bruxelles: Société pour le progrès des études philologiques et historiques, 2018).


Connections to that outside are, importantly, always embedded and embodied in individual human agents—a point noted by Massey at Space, Place, and Gender, 121 n. 3.


Such formal experimentation has long been seen as characteristic of late antique composition: Geoffrey Greatrex, “Introduction,” in Shifting Genres in Late Antiquity, ed. Geoffrey Greatrex and Hugh Elton (Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2015), 1–4.


Watt, “Greek Historiography,” 321–24. The first section encompasses Ps.-Joshua §§7–24.


E.g., Ps.-Joshua §9, §§18–9 Huns; §§20–21 Armenians; §22 et passim Arabs (ṭayyāyē). On the precise designation of the last, see Jack Tannous, The Making of the Medieval Middle East: Religion, Society, and Simple Believers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018), 525–31.


Kawad must wrangle most of these ethnic allies in preparing his invasion (§24); in the meantime, Anastasius has “Isaurian” problems of his own (§23). Once incorporated among the “Persians,” individual ethnic units disappear except where they operate independently (§51, §59, §55) or defect (§57, §88).


Watt, “Greek Historiography,” 320. The second section encompasses Ps.-Joshua §§25–46. The relation to the Chronicle of Edessa is more direct still, in that the later text has used either the similar sources or Ps.-Joshua itself for several entries starting from §75.


Ps.-Joshua §29 and §32.


Ps.-Joshua §31 and §34.


Ps.-Joshua §31 (Wright 26.18–20).


Ps.-Joshua may be read as additional literary evidence for the approach to late antique urbanism advanced by Hendrik W. Dey, The Afterlife of the Roman City: Architecture and Ceremony in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014). See 9–13 on these characteristic spaces; for other literary manifestations, 84–89.


Ps.-Joshua §29 and §32. Such actions include the clearing out of illegal market stalls, the installation of a judicial “complaint box,” and the construction of a new demosion in the case of the first governor and the (apparently ominous) whitewashing of the porticoes in the second. There is a lacuna in the passage describing the bishop’s reforms, but it involves additions to the festivals, including some kind of consecration or prayer now undertaken “in front of the whole people.” On the passage, see Trombley and Watt, Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, 32 n. 150.


The structuring importance of the “sin and punishment rhythm” throughout Ps.-Joshua has been noted by Watts, “Interpreting Catastrophe,” 80.


Ps.-Joshua §27 (Wright 22.3–4). On this celebration’s possible affinities in the wider East Roman world, see John Watt, “One, Two or Three Feasts? The Brytae, the Maiuma, and the May Festival at Edessa,” Oriens christianus 83 (1999): 1–21.


Ps.-Joshua §27 (Wright 22.10–16). On the precise identification of these spaces, see Trombley and Watt, Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, 25 n. 123 and n. 124.


One particularly threatening sign (an occlusion of the sun) is ameliorated by a timely display of communal repentance, in which the whole populace follow the bishop on a procession through the city (§36).


Ps.-Joshua §38. The geographical extent of the locusts’ activity, which depended on their means of locomotion (crawling vs. flying), is carefully demarcated.


Ps.-Joshua §40 (Wright 36.2–4). The desperation culminates in the violation of sacred space, as people invade the churches in search of eucharistic loaves (§40).


The description of tax collection is evocative: “the governor (dayānā) got hold of the village landowners (māray qūryā), put them under great pressure, and forced them” (§39).


Ps.-Joshua §42.


Ps.-Joshua §43 (Wright 38.7–19).


On bishops’ growing role as civic leaders in the region and period, see Trombley and Watt, Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, xlviii–l.


On this usage, see Tannous, “Romanness,” 457–59.


Ps.-Joshua §46. The connection between the edict and the price decrease, with specific figures for both wheat and barley, is drawn at Wright 42.5–10.


Watt, “Greek Historiography,” 320–21; for Greek parallels, see Debié, “L’héritage de l’historiographie grecque,” 13–14. The section encompasses Ps.-Joshua §§47–100.


On this term, whose meaning can shift between “nomad,” “Arab,” and a specific tribe, see Tannous, The Making of the Medieval Middle East, 525–31. Ps.-Joshua regularly divides this group into the “Ṭayyāyē of the Persians” (ṭayyāye d-pūrsāyē) and the “Ṭayyāyē of the Roman Empire” (ṭayyāyē d-bēt rhūmāyē) who campaign against each other, e.g., at §57. I owe this point to one of the anonymous reviewers.


E.g. Ps.-Joshua §52 (for Harranites) or §53 (Amidenes).


“Mesopotamia” occurs only as a toponym, and Syriac as a language is never mentioned. The only hint that the inhabitants of the region speak a different language from others in the Roman (or for that matter, Persian) Empire is found in the miraculous appearance of an egg inscribed “in Roman” (rhūmā’īt)—though it is a matter of conjecture whether that should be understood as Latin or Greek.


Ps.-Joshua §50 (Wright 46.12).


Ps.-Joshua §66, §78, §92, §99.


Ps.-Joshua §49 (Wright 45.10–11). The word order in the Syriac emphasizes the spatial designation at the front of the sentence: šnat tmānemā’’ w-arba‘esrē. op ‘al atrā dēn d-bēt nahrawātā d-beh ‘āmrīnan ‘āqātā ‘āqtā rawrbātā smak bšantā hānā.


Ps.-Joshua §49 (Wright 45.16–19).


Ps.-Joshua §49 (Wright 46.1–2).


Ps.-Joshua §49 (Wright 46.8–9).


Watt has noticed the prominence of the narrator’s first-person plural but argues it is confined to Edessa (“Two Syriac Writers,” 283).


Wright 1: maktbānūtā d-taš‘itā d-zabnā d-ūlṣānā d-hwā b-ūrhāy ū-b-amed ū-b-kuleh bēt nahrīn. The different plural in “Mesopotamia” here versus in the text proper suggests the title is not the author’s.


On “corridors of empire” in Late Antiquity, see Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 187; L. Focanti, “Looking for an Identity: The Patria and the Greek Cities in Late Antique Roman Empire,” Revue Belge de philologie et d’histoire 96, no. 3 (2018): 948.


For an accounting of the damage caused by invasion on the eastern frontier, see Alan Douglas Lee, War in Late Antiquity: A Social History (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 106–7, 111–14, 133–46. The Roman army had never been a gentle institution: Benjamin H. Isaac, “Army and Violence in the Roman World,” in Empire and Ideology in the Graeco-Roman World: Selected Papers (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 69–81. For the burdens of requisitioning and supply, see Nigel Pollard, Soldiers, Cities, and Civilians in Roman Syria (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 104–10, 222–25, and Benjamin Isaac, The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East, rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), 282–97.


On the difference between limitanei and the field army, see Lee, War in Late Antiquity, 165–66; for the particular burdens of billeting, see Issac, Limits of Empire, 297–302.


Brent D. Shaw, “War and Violence,” in Interpreting Late Antiquity: Essays on the Postclassical World, ed. Glen W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2001), 151. From a Syriac-speaking civilian’s point of view, the self-conceptions of these “Gothic” soldiers and the latter’s historical origins, especially in the West, are close to irrelevant. On the latter topics, see Patrick Amory, People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489–554 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 18–42; reply by Peter Heather, “Merely an Ideology? Gothic Identity in Ostrogothic Italy,” in The Ostrogoths from the Migration Period to the Sixth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective, ed. Samuel Barnish, Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology 7 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2007), 31–79.


On “fictionalization” in hagiography, see Charis Messis, “Fiction and/or Novelisation in Byzantine Hagiography,” in The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography: Volume II: Genres and Contexts., ed. Stephanos Efthymiadis (Farnham: Taylor & Francis Group, 2014), 315–16.


Text at F. C. Burkitt, Euphemia and the Goth, with the Acts of Martyrdom of the Confessors of Edessa (London: Williams and Norgate, 1913), 129–53,


Euphemia §44; nomūsē zakāyē d-rhūmāyē (Burkitt 73.3).


Euphemia §§8–11.


Euphemia §19 (Burkitt 54.13–55.8). Translation mine in consultation with Burkitt’s.


J. Payne Smith, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary, s.v. ܦܝܣ.


For an alternate reading of this passage, see Wood, ‘We have no king but Christ, 98–99.


Euphemia §15 (Burkitt 52.6–8).


Euphemia, §24 (Burkitt 58.9).


Euphemia §37 (Burkitt 65.6).


Susan Ashbrook Harvey has stressed this text’s presentation of the values and preoccupations of the socially modest: Susan Ashbrook Harvey, “Sacred Bonding: Mothers and Daughters in Early Syriac Hagiography,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4, no. 1 (March 1, 1996): 40–41.


Custodian, §2; oath, §§13–4; return, §31.


Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ, 98. For Wood that specificity turns on linguistic difference.


Charis Messis and Stratis Papaioannou, “Histoires ‘gothiques’ à Byzance: Le saint, le soldat et le miracle d’Euphémie et du Goth (BHG 739),” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 67 (2013): 31.


The paragraph that recounts the Gothic family’s torture and entombment of Euphemia twice notes that they can conduct such summary punishments “because the judge was far from that place (meṭul d-dayānā raḥīq men atrā haw)” (§24, Burkitt 58.14 and 59.11–12). On Roman law as a major factor in Roman imperialism, see Clifford Ando, Law, Language, and Empire in the Roman Tradition (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).


Messis and Papaioannou, “Histoires ‘gothiques,’” 18–19; Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ, 97–98.


Messis and Papaioannou, “Histoires ‘gothiques,’” 30–31; cf. Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ, 98.


On the social background of the martyrs, see Ashbrook Harvey, “Sacred Bonding,” 36–37.


Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ, 100.


This connection likely depends on a shared style of thinking—a “common cultural imagination”—rather than direct influence: for parallel examples from late antique Egypt, see David Brakke, “From Temple to Cell, from Gods to Demons: Pagan Temples in the Monastic Topography of Fourth-Century Egypt,” From Temple to Church: Destruction and Renewal of Local Cultic Topography in Late Antiquity, ed. Johannes Hahn, Stephen Emmel, and Ulrich Gotter (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 93; Gianfranco Agosti, “Nonnus and Late Antique Society,” in Brill’s Companion to Nonnus of Panopolis, ed. Domenico Accorinti (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016), 353. Such affinities can also be expressed in narratological terms as shared “storyworlds,” on which see AnnaLinden Weller, “Ideological Storyworlds in Byzantium and Armenia: Historiography and Model Selves in Narratives of Insurrection,” in Storytelling in Byzantium: Narratological Approaches to Byzantine Texts and Images, ed. Charis Messis, Margaret Mullett, and Ingela Nilsson (Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2018), 71–87.


Susan Ashbrook Harvey, “Remembering Pain: Syriac Historiography and the Separation of the Churches,” Byzantion 58, no. 2 (1988): 297–301; Palmer, “Who Wrote the Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite?,” 279–81; Watt, “Two Syriac Writers,” 275–81; Watts, “Interpreting Catastrophe,” 97–98.


On the author’s enthusiasm for officialdom, Trombley and Watt, Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, xxxviii.


Ps.-Joshua §3 (Wright 4.15).


As Watts explains, if the suffering were taken as evidence of approaching apocalypse rather than of sin, people might resist reevaluating their behavior on the belief that “if they stayed true to their principles, they could expect an imminent reward” (“Interpreting Catastrophe,” 97). Watts highlights how the latter logic figured in resistance to Chalcedon in the later fifth century—in particular, Timothy Aelurus’ apparent claim that the Western Empire fell because of Leo’s Tome (“Interpreting Catastrophe,” 94–95). This interpretation would fit rather neatly with Andrew Palmer’s suggestion that the pervasive sin cryptically referred to at Ps.-Joshua §46 which brought down the scourge of Kawad’s invasion was “sectarianism” (“Who Wrote the Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite?,” 279).


Ps.-Joshua §4 (Wright 6.2–4).


A point well explained by Watts, “Interpreting Catastrophe,” 81–82.


Ps.-Joshua §5 (Wright 7.9–11). With its multiple negated modals, the convolutedness of the syntax underscores the unthinkability of the event.


Ps.-Joshua §5 (Wright 7.17–18).


Ps.-Joshua §54 (Wright 52.1–4).


Gunnar Olinder, ed., Iacobi Saurugensis epistulae quotquot supersunt, Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium 45 (Typographeo Reipublicae, 1937), Letter 20, 129–135; for French translation, see Michel Albert, Les Lettres de Jacques de Saroug, Patrimonie syriaque (Parole de l’Orient, 2004), 178–85. The assimilation of the promise to Abgar to the covenant with Noah occurs on Olinder, 132.19–31.


Ps.-Joshua §58.


Ps.-Joshua §§59–60.


Ps.-Joshua §60 (Wright 59.20–60.1).


Ps.-Joshua §61 (Wright pp. 60.22–61.1); quoted at note 1 above.


Ps.-Joshua §§61–62.


Ps.-Joshua §69, §75, §79 (raids); §81 (peace).


Ps.-Joshua §61 (Wright 60.20–22).


Ida Toth, “The Epigraphy of the Abgar Story: Traditions and Transitions,” in Inscribing Texts in Byzantium: Continuities and Transformations: Papers from the Forty-Ninth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, ed. Marc Diederik Lauxtermann and Ida Toth, Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies, Publication 23 (New York: Routledge, 2020), 74–75. It is tempting, but not certain, to imagine Areobindus standing at the inscribed gate.


Ps.-Joshua §67.


The most important Syriac document for this tradition is the Teaching of Addai, in its current form generally agreed to be a mid-fifth-century composition intended to burnish Edessa’s historical credentials as a center of (post-Ephesus) orthodoxy and Roman loyalty: H. J. W. Drijvers, “The Protonike Legend, the ‘Doctrina Addai,’ and Bishop Rabbula of Edessa,” Vigiliae christianae 51, no. 3 (1997): 303; Sidney Harrison Griffith, “The ‘Doctrina Addai’ as a Paradigm of Christian Thought in Edessa in the Fifth Century,” Hugoye 6, no. 2 (2003): 291–92; Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ, 82–93; Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 38–46.


“On “Sergius”” multiple functions in the text, see Trombley and Watt, Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, xiii.


Letters at §34, §47, §54, §68; Philoxenos appears (rather unflatteringly) at §30. On the author’s regional sources and network, see Watt, “Two Syriac Writers,” 291–93.


Ps.-Joshua §5 (Wright 7.7–9 and 7.13–16).


“Rod” and “mud in the streets” quote Isaiah 10:5 and 10:6, “suffer with those who suffer” recalls Romans 12:15. We might remember the MS title here too, which identifies the narrative’s topic specifically as a “time of distress.” See note 79 above.


Ps.-Joshua §49. See note 79 above.


Ps.-Joshua §86 (Wright 80.8–10) cited at note 2 above.


Ps.-Joshua, §93ff.


Ps.-Joshua, §94 and §96. The former section employs the contrast between barbarian soldier and civilized officer to comic effect, as a group of Goths chases the dux Romanus across the rooftops. On this text’s portrayal of Goths, see Trombley and Watt, Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, xxxviii.


On the mosaic, see Charalambos Bakirtzis, “The Mosaic of the Basilica of St Demetrios,” in The Mosaics of Thessaloniki Revisited, ed. Antony Eastmond and Myrto Hatzaki (Athens: Kapon Editions, 2017), 96–97, image at 99.


Leppin, “Roman Identity in a Border Region,” 256–58.


Wood, ‘We Have No King but Christ, 178–82; Nathanael Andrade, “The Syriac Life of John of Tella and the Frontier Politeia,” Hugoye 12 (2009): 199–234.