Continuing the Chronicle of Zuqnin

The unknown 9th century chronicler from the abbey of Zuqnin in Mesopotamia, known to us as pseudo-Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, is continuing his tale of events after the Persians overthrew the Arabic Ummayad dynasty of Caliphs.

Of the pastors of the Church who flourished at that time.

After holy Athanasius, holy Mar John was patriarch of Antioch. At Edessa flourished the holy bishop Constantine; at Harran, holy Mar Simeon, of the holy monastery [46] of Qartamin; at Samosata, another Constantine; at Maipherkat, holy Mar Athanasius nicknamed Sandalia, who subsequently became patriarch.

At Amida, holy Mar Cosmas was succeeded by Mar Sabas, of the holy Monastery of Zuqnin, located within the jurisdiction of this city. He died after twenty years, and Severus, of the same monastery, succeeded him. He died after about a year during the epidemic, while he was visiting in his diocese. In his place was put another Severus, of the same monastery.

At this same time, a certain disturbance took place in the Church, about Mar John, to whom not all would submit.

The  movement of the royal treasury from the West into Mesopotamia.

Marwan, knowing the treachery of the West towards him, tried to bring the royal treasury to Mesopotamia. The westerners then rose up violently and began to turn against him.  Knowing that they would not yield anything up to him without a fight, he deceived them and said: “I do not want to take it to Mesopotamia, but to Damascus, because that is where the seat of royalty is established.” 

When he had done this, they allowed him to take it to Damascus.  They themselves accompanied it and led it into the city. After a few days, he sent them back to their homes, and after two or three months had elapsed, when the westerners were paying no attention, he secretly removed the treasure and took it to Harran, where he came himself to live. After that there was unceasing war throughout his kingdom. [47]

In the year 1058 (746-747) Dahaq, associating himself with the sect of the Harourites, invaded Mesopotamia.  Marwan in coming to Mesopotamia had still not found rest from his misfortunes: there emerged against him from this land of Mesopotamia a cruel thorn.  At that time the tyrant Dahaq, from Mount Izala, and with him Yakoub Haibara and Saqsaqi, came to fight many battles with Marwan and killed many of his soldiers.  After numerous engagements taking place everywhere, a violent and bloody battle took place at Tell Mashrita, which Dahaq perished with his whole army, which was cut to pieces. Those who remained fled.

In the year 1059 (747-748) there was a great and violent earthquake in the western region. “By shaking the earth will be shaken, by the staggering the earth will stagger, and it will sway like a hut.” These things, and similar things, and worse yet, were caused by the iniquities, sins, the wickedness that we commit every day.  Where can we find the cause of these earthquakes, except in the sins of men? Will the earth fall apart? When it trembles and is shaken, does it invoke the craftsman so that he shall come to fix it? I do not think so. But when it trembles, it protests against the iniquities that are performed on its face, as once was made clearly seen by the following fact: There was a commotion during the night, and we heard it from afar like the voice of a roaring bull. The next morning, the bishop ordered, under pain of excommunication, that everyone should assemble in prayer, because, he said, this happens because of sin.  All thus came to prayer, and went in procession to a shrine dedicated to the Mother of God, which was outside the city, that is to say Mabug, [48] in the western region. These people were Chalcedonians (1).

The bishop himself walked at their head.  When they had arrived at the church and they had all gone in like goats in a shed, while they were saying prayers together, there was suddenly an earthquake, the building collapsed on top of them and crushed them all with their bishop.  They all perished, and no one escaped alive. They suddenly became a mass of perdition and misfortune: the righteous perished there with the wicked.

In the year 1060 (748-749), the people of Persia (2) invaded the land of Syria, conquered the Arabs and ruled in their place.  It is in fact in Khorasan and eastern Persia that the Abbasids made the first attempts to revolt against the Ummyads and where they recruited their troops.  Isaiah prophesied about these things in saying: “Behold Asshur! He is the rod of my anger; in his hand is the stick with which I strike. I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and give him orders against the people of my wrath.” He also said: “It will happen in that day that the Lord will whistle to [call] the flies which are on the rivers of Egypt and the bees which are in the land of Ashur. They will rest in the desolate valleys and in the hollows of the rocks.” In truth, these are the rod of anger, and the staff which strikes is in their hands, as the prophet says, because they carry sticks in their hands, at the end of each of which were iron nails, as if they were coming to kill dogs. He also called them, “flies and bees”, and rightly so: for even as flies buzz, rising everywhere, and produce a foul odor, so also they were magicians, thieves, adulterers, murderers, wherever they went, causing evil, discord and disorder.  They came out from their land and marched in large numbers, like a swarm of bees which appears despicable, but never turns [49] back. They gathered together to invade the earth. An Arab army came down against them near Akoula (3); but it could not stand up to them: they destroyed it, and the survivors fled and dispersed. They seized weapons, horses and great wealth, because previously all of them went on foot and had nothing more than the sticks they carried in their hands. Joel spoke of them when he said: “As the dawn spreads over the mountains, and a numerous and strong people will spread; there was nothing like it since the beginning, and after it there will be nothing during the years of many generations. Before their face a devouring fire and behind them a burning flame. Before them the earth is like a paradise of Eden: and behind them, like the solitude of the desert. There is no one who escapes them.  Like the appearance of horses is their appearance; they shall run like horsemen.” The prophet was right to call them “horse-like” because, just as a horse has a mane on its head and neck, they had long hair, like the mane of a horse. Also he said again: “They run like horsemen, imitating the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains, the roar of the flames of a fire that consumes straw, like a strong people ready to fight. Before them all the peoples tremble, every face will become black like the soot from a pot. They run like giants; like men of war, they will scale the walls.” And again: “They go up into the cities, they run on the walls, they will ascend to the tops of houses and enter through the windows like thieves. At their face the earth shook, the heavens are shaken.” — Nahum also said: “Their appearance was like lamps of fire and they ran like lightning. They take possession of their masters, they speed in their marches, they will go up quickly onto the walls and appear at the niches.” And again: “Their face to all was like the black [50] of a pot.” Not only their faces were black, but all their clothes because their dress was that colour. For this reason they were called [in Arabic] Messouàdi, which means black [in Syriac].

When they had subdued the lower region, Marwan sent Ibn Houbeira again against them at Nisibis who, could not stand before them either and was also cut to pieces. Then `Abdullah Ibn Marwan came down and was also defeated. Marwan came himself, and after many battles in which many men were killed on both sides, they finally engaged in a great and terrible battle, and the earth was soaked with blood which they watered in abundance at Beit Zabé (2).

That is to say on the banks of the upper Zab, between Mosul and Arbrie: [Arabic] (Yakout, II, 904). This battle ended the domination of the Ummayads and assured the victory of the Abbasids. Merwan, cut to pieces, fled. His army was scattered; and he himself took refuge beyond the Euphrates. All the cities were closed to him, and the Westerners wanted to fight him. Then he disappeared and was seen no more, neither he nor any of his people. Part of the captives were killed, part were thrown in irons. The Persians, after beating Merwan, spread out over the earth, “like the wolves of evening or hungry eagles.” Habakkuk prophesied of them when he said:

“Here I raise up the Chaldeans, a bold and cruel nation that travels the breadth of the earth to seize tabernacles that are not theirs. It is great and terrible, it is by itself that his judgement goes forth,” — truly they have spread over the extent of the earth — “their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the wolves of evening. They will fly like an eagle hungry for its meal. Everything will be loot.” The prophet likens them justly to wolves in the evening. Wolves in fact [51] does not show themselves and can not be seen by men or dogs during the day. At night, they are hungry because they have not eaten all day. “From the rising of the sun they retire to their dens to sleep and the man leaves for his work and his labour until evening.  Just as they howl when they are hungry, so he was like them; they cry like the eagle that shrieks when hungry, and wherever they came, like wolves, they stole the property of men, just as it is said: “All the world became loot;” and elsewhere: “He will insult kings, turn princes into ridicule, make a mockery of all the fortifications.” Is not the prophecy right to say: “He will make a mockery of the fortifications,” since all the city walls were knocked down by their hands, and they destroyed everything that the wise and prudent kings had made at great cost to defend themselves against enemies. It said: “He will insult kings and turn princes into ridicule.” Does he not insult them, make a mockery of them, in destroying their buildings?

The first governor of Mesopotamia was `Aki, who made an edict requiring all Muslims to dress in black.

In the year 1054 (742-743), on Friday the first day of Kanoun II [January], stars fell from the sky and we saw them as balls of fire that ran in all directions. They presaged the calamities that later came upon the earth: the sword, plague and the Persian invasion.

In the year 1061 (749-750), the Arabs took the white  (4).  The Arabs, seeing the evils inflicted upon them by the Persians, who were constantly mercilessly killing them like sheep, and looting [52] their property, could not bear it any more and donned white. It is said: “He will laugh at kings and princes” and again: “The vile man will prevail over the great, and wretched men against those of honour.”

So the Arabs took the white, killed a large number [of Persians], put them to flight and went down into their country.  There was an interregnum of a year, during which disharmony arose and Boraïka embraced the sect of the Harourites.

1. I.e. supporters of the council of Chalcedon, which rejected the monophysites, and therefore heretical in the eyes of the author.
2. Dionysius refers to the Abbasids as the Persians. Theophanes, Chronograph., ad ann. m. 6240 calls them Χωρασανῖται and also Μαυροφόροι (dressers in black).
3. The former name of Kufa, on the west bank of the Euphrates to five days’ march from Baghdad. See Bar Hebraeus, Chron.eccl., II.111, n. 1.
4. I.e. revolted; or embraced the sect of the Harourites. See above p.27, n.2 Cf.History of Edessa, p.259, n.1.

2 Responses to “Continuing the Chronicle of Zuqnin”

  1. Dioscorus Boles

    Thank you very much for continuing this excellent translation of this very important book.

    I have been stricken by how easy the writer reads into current events the fulfilment of OT prophesies.

  2. Roger Pearse

    That tendency is pronounced in all monastic writings, I think.