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This article is about Sasanian Babylonia. For Sasanian-era Assyria, see Adiabene.
Province of the Sasanian Empire

Capital Ctesiphon
Historical era Late Antiquity
 -  Sasanian conquest 226
 -  Rashidun conquest 637
Today part of  Iraq

This article is part of the series on the

History of the
Assyrian people

Early history

Old Assyrian period (20th–15th c. BC)
Aramaeans (14th–9th c. BC)
Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–612 BC)
Achaemenid Assyria (539–330 BC)

Classical Antiquity

Seleucid Empire (312–63 BC)
Osroene (132 BC – 244 AD)
Syrian Wars (66 BC – 217 AD)
Roman Syria (64 BC – 637 AD)
Adiabene (15–116 AD)
Roman Assyria (116–118)
Christianization (1st to 3rd c.)
Nestorian Schism (5th c.)
Asuristan (226–651)
Byzantine–Sassanid Wars (502–628)

Middle Ages

Muslim conquest of Syria (630s)
Abassid rule (750–1256)
Emirs of Mosul (905–1383)
Principality of Antioch (1098–1268)
Turco-Mongol rule (1256–1370)

Modern History

Ottoman Empire (1534–1917)
Schism of 1552 (16th c.)
Massacres of Badr Khan (1840s)
Massacres of Diyarbakir (1895)
Rise of nationalism (19th c.)
Adana Massacre (1909)
Assyrian Genocide (1914–1920)
Independence movement (since 1919)
Simele massacre (1933)
Post-Saddam Iraq (since 2003)

See also

Assyrian continuity
Assyrian diaspora

Asōrestān ( Asōrestān) was the name of the Sasanian provinces of Assyria and Babylonia, although the name Asorestan technically meant only Assyria which was in fact just to the north of Babylonia.[1][2]

Asōrestān was largely identical with ancient Mesopotamia.[1] The borders were, in the west, the Euphrates and, in the east, a strip of land east of the Tigris.[1] The northern border probably went along a line from Harran to the Hakkari mountains.[1]

Asorestan was the capital province of the Sasanian Empire and was called Del-e Īrānshahr (lit. "The Heart of Iran") in Persian.[2] The city of Ctesiphon served as the capital of both the Parthian and Sasanian empires, and was at this time the largest city in the world.[3] The main language spoken was Eastern Aramaic, with the Syriac dialect becoming an important vehicle for Christianity.[4]

Between 633 and 638 AD, the region was invaded by the Arabs, and annexed by the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate and together with Mayshan became the province of al-'Irāq. A century later, the area became the capital province of the Abbasid Caliphate and the centre of Islamic civilization for five hundred years; from the 8th to the 13th centuries.


The Parthian name Asōrestān (also spelled Asoristan, Asuristan, Asurestan, Assuristan) is known from Shapur I's inscription on the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht, and from the inscription of Narseh at Paikuli.[1] The adjective āsōrīg in Middle Persian accordingly means “Babylonian”.[1] The region was also called several other names: "Athour", "Bābēl" or "Bābil", and "Erech" or "Erāq". After the mid-6th century it was also called Khvārvarān in Persian.

The name Asōrestān is a compound of Asōr ("Assyria") and the Iranian suffix -estān ("land of"). The name Assyria, in the form Asōrestān, was shifted to ancient Babylonia by the Parthians, and this continued under the Sasanians.[5] The historical country of Assyria, however, lay to the north of Asorestan, in the semi independent frontier province of Adiabene.[6]


The population of Asorestan was a mixed one, composed of Assyrians, Babylonians (in the far south, and western deserts), and Persians.[1] The Greek element in the cities, still strong in the Parthian period, was absorbed by the Semites in Sasanian times.[1] The majority of the population were Assyrian people, speaking Eastern Aramaic dialects. [7] As the breadbasket of the Sasanian Empire, most of the population were engaged in agriculture or worked as traders and merchants. The Persians were found in the administrative class of society, as army officers, civil servants, and feudal lords, living partly in the country, partly in Ctesiphon.[1]


At least three dialects of Eastern Aramaic were in spoken and liturgical use: Syriac mainly in the north and among Assyrian Christians, Mandaic in the south and among Mandaeans, and a dialect in the central region, of which the Judaic subvariety is known as Jewish Babylonian Aramaic.

Aside from the liturgical scriptures of these religions which exist today, archaeological examples of all three of these dialects can be found in the collections of thousands of Aramaic incantation bowls—ceramic artifacts dated to this era—discovered in Iraq. While the Jewish Aramaic script retained the original "square" or "block" form of the Aramaic alphabet used in Imperial Aramaic (the Ashuri alphabet), the Syriac alphabet and the Mandaic alphabet developed when cursive styles of Aramaic began to appear. The Mandaic script itself developed from the Parthian chancellery script.


The religious demography of Mesopotamia was very diverse during Late Antiquity. From the 1st and 2nd centuries Syriac Christianity became the primary religion, while other groups practiced Mandaeism, Judaism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and the old Mesopotamian religion.[7] Christians were probably the most numerous group in the province.[7]

Mesopotamian Religion

The old Mesopotamian religion of the indigenous Assyrians and Babylonians remained strong in places, particularly in the north, in Assyria proper. Temples were still being dedicated to Ashur, Shamash, Ishtar, Sin, Hadad and Ninurta in Assur, Arbela and Harran among other places, during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and traces would survive into the 10th century in remote parts of Assyria.[8]


Asorestan, and particularly Assyria proper, were the centers for the Church of the East (now the Assyrian Church of the East), which at times (partially due to the vast areas the Sasanian empire covered) was the most widespread Christian church in the world, reaching well into Central Asia, China and India. It sees as its founders the apostle Thomas (Mar Toma), and Saint Thaddeus (Mar Addai), and uses the distinctly Assyrian Syriac version of Aramaic for its scriptures. One of the central scriptures of the Church of the East, the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, is one of the oldest Eucharistic prayers in the Christianity, composed around the year 200 AD. The Church of the East went through major consolidation and expansion in 410 during the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, held at the Sasanian capital (in Asorestan). Selucia-Ctesiphon remained a location of the Patriarchate of the Church of the East for over 600 years.


The Mandaean religion, whose adherents according to their traditions are the original followers of John the Baptist, and who are considered to be the only surviving Gnostic group in the world, also originated in the region at this time (or slightly earlier during the Parthian era). Their language and script was the Mandaic form of Aramaic. Two of their central works, both written within the 2nd and 3rd centuries, are the Ginza Rabba and the Mandaean Book of John (preserving original traditions about John the Baptist).


The religion of Manichaeism, founded by Mani (216–276), originated in 3rd century Asorestan, and spread across a vast geographical area. In some instances, Manichaeism even surpassed the Church of the East in its reach, as it was for a time also widespread in the Roman Empire. While none of the six original Syriac scriptures of the Manichaeans have survived in their entirety, a long Syriac section of one of their works detailing key beliefs was preserved by Theodore Bar Konai (a Church of the East author from Beth Garmaï), in his book Ketba Deskolion written in about 792. Like the Church of the East, the traditional center of the Manichaean church was in Seleucia-Ctesiphon.[9] Mani dedicated his only Middle Persian writing, the Shāpuragān, to Shapur I.


Babylonia remained the center of Judaism in the world. The major book defining Rabbinic Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud, was written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic in Asorestan between the 3rd and 5th centuries. The Babylonian Talmudic academies were all established relatively near to Seleucia-Ctesiphon. The first Talmudic academy was founded in Sura by Rav (175–247) in about 220. One of the most influential Talmudic teachers, Rava (270–350), who was influenced by both Manichaean polemic and Zoroastrian theology, studied in another Talmudic academy at Pumbedita.


The Sasanian state religion, Zoroastrianism, was largely confined to the Persian administrative class.[7]

See also


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