The Chronicle of Zuqnin continues

The next installment makes clear how the Moslems even of this period behaved largely as bandits rather than rulers.

In the year 1062 (749-750), the Arabs of Maipherkat spread themselves across the region and began to do much harm to the inhabitants of the mountain and to all the country.  Qore (Korah) Ibn Thabit went up to the canton of Qoulab, seized its notables and killed them in September.  When their brothers, the residents of the township of Phis, knew what had happened, they stood on their guard for fear of being treated worse.  However, there was a brave man, loyal and God fearing, named John Bar Dadai, originally from the village of Phis, who gathered together all the inhabitants of the township of Phis, and spoke as follows: “Today, you know, there is no king to avenge our blood on their hands.  If we let them, they will gather against us and take us from here as captives, we and all that is ours.”  They listened to him eagerly, followed him and made him their leader.  He led them into the holy temple, and made them swear by the divine mysteries, that they would listen to all he commanded, that they would not act against his orders and would not deceive him in any way.  This man, strongly encouraged, making God his leader, took his troops and appointed generals and officers who commanded each group of one thousand, one hundred, fifty and ten men.  He established guards [53] at the entrance to all the passages that gave access to the mountain.  However, there came a man named Suda, who promised all the Arabs of Maipherkat to provide them with the severed heads of all the great men of the mountain, and to throw the others in chains.  After making such promises, he brought with him a strong army and advanced towards them, as if to ask for peace.These, being aware of his deceitful ruse, fell upon him unawares and killed many of his men; the others fled and escaped, thanks to the horses on which they were mounted; they returned to the city.  Since that time, great miseries have happened to them. 

The Arabs and the Christians wanted, by mutual agreement, to bring down the governor, who for two years, was established in the fortress of Qoulab.  They refused to obey him and rebelled against him. The Arabs wanted to bring him down lest he joined the inhabitants of the mountain; the Syrians also sought his departure for fear that he would betray them. He, resisting both parties, remained solidly in the fortress: he gathered together wicked men of whom he became the leader and went down at the head of his troops to ravage the villages and took the loot into the fortress. He fell suddenly on Elul and Pashpashat, where he and his army committed all sorts of atrocities.  He threw the people in chains and took everything they owned. While these men were inflicting these ills on the villagers, they secretly sent to John: “Hasten to our aid, so that we are not taken into captivity.” John, on learning of the oppression of his brothers, hurried to move his army quickly and to go down to them.  At night, he surrounded the village in which [their enemies] were and said to them: “Leave [54] the village, and go in peace.” But the governor would not. He put himself at the head of his troops and they came out in arms to fight.  John fell on him, and he perished with his army. The Lord turned his head against the evil that he had done; he threw him down in the presence of (John) and he died. 

There was also in the mountain one of the notables, named Stephen, son of Paul, a criminal and deceitful man who, trampling on the oath that he swore to John on the divine mysteries, held himself continually ready for an ambush.  He intended to deliver it to the Arabs. He therefore treacherously sent a message to the Arab army, and `Aouph came to find him, with a considerable body of men, in the village called Hazro (1).  He secretly agreed with them that he would bring John in order to deliver him into their hands.  He acted, in fact, thus in order to carry out his plans, but God did not allow the criminal to accomplish his desire. The project they had brought against the innocent man fell on their own heads and they filled with their own bodies the pit that they had dug.  So [Stephen] brought `Aouph, with two of his companions, into his house and hid them in a bedroom.  He agreed with them that, when he brought John, he would lead him into the house and then they would come out of hiding and kill him.  He also put the army in ambush at the village of Hazro and immediately sent someone to tell John this lie: “Come quickly to see what we must do, because the army surrounds us everywhere.” John, who was loyal, promptly ran like a lamb to the slaughter, knowing nothing. As he was about to enter the house where the ambush was waiting for him, he found there, as if by divine will, a faithful and God-fearing man, who had learned [55] of their plot, and made the betrayal known to him.  He promptly went back, and while they were awaiting his arrival in order to carry out their project, he sent an army which, before the troops they had with them were aware of it, surrounded them on all sides.  None of them escaped, but all of them perished by blows of the lance.  The matter was as yet unknown to Stephen, or to `Aouph, chief of the army. 

When they learned what had happened to their companions, they got on  the fast horses they had with them and thought of escape, but they were not saved in this way, because some swift men began to pursue them. They caught up to `Aouph and his companions and killed them by the sword.  As for Stephen, when he saw that his fraud and that of Satan, his father, was known, he fled, reached the city and so did not perish. After that, terrified, he never returned to the mountain. 

Since that time, evils have been added to evils.  The mountain people and the Arabs attacked and killed each other continuously.  The highlanders captured the passes and no Arabs live any more in the mountains.  

But another thorn pricked them from within.  A certain Ourtaean (2), named Gregory, advanced against them with a large army and attacked the inhabitants of the banks of the river Hara. He killed many; he cut off the hands of some, and the members of others: from some the ears, some the nose; from still others, he put out their eyes with fire. The inhabitants of Mount Cahya (3) stood on their guard and confided the matter to John. 

In the East, Boraika joined the sect of the Harourites. 

In the region of Edessa, `Ibn Oubeidallah Boktari(1) also revolted and did much harm to many men, especially in Beit Ma`adi, [56] where he captured the principal residents and had them roasted in the fire like fish.  In order to seize their gold, he killed, took captive or slew many persons. He devastated all the monasteries in the region of Edessa, Harran and Tela, took all their belongings and killed their Superiors, roasted with fire.  Here are the monasteries which he ruined, together with a large number of villages: the monastery of Coube, the monastery of Resmat at Tispa, the monastery of Qatara, the great monastery of Hesmi, the monastery of Mar Lazarus, Beit Ma`adi, the monastery of Mar Habil, the monastery of Mar Miles (4), the monastery of Sanin (5) and many villages. This impious one directed all his anger against the monasteries.  Satan also excited him against churches, and he continually threatened the convents of the East and North, in order to satisfy the hate of the devil his father.  

1. The name is here added in the margin of the manuscript — This village is located west and about 20 miles from Maipherkat on the Amida road.
2. The Syriac “Ourtaia”, which is often translated as “Iberian”, means properly the inhabitants of the district of Anzitene. Cf. Joshua the Stylite, ed. Wright. 33.9 (trans., 23, n.).
3. I.e. Mount Aratus. Proper name of a place near the town of Balat on the Tigris. Cf. Bibl. or., I, 249; II. ij.lxciv, cj, 127, 218. — The name also referred generally to the part south of Taurus which is the territories of Arzoun, of Maipherkat, Amida, of Hanazit, and of Samosata.
4. The text reads “Migas” is the text, but the confusion of the letters lomad and gomal is so common among inexperienced scribes that we may correct it to Miles, the name of a martyr much honoured among the Syrians.
5. Probably the monastery also called Sanouna. — Cf. Bibl. or. II, 19, 38. Cat. Bibl. Vatican., III. 217; Cat. of syriac mss. of the British Muséum, 649, 706. 



4 thoughts on “The Chronicle of Zuqnin continues

  1. John Bar Dadai seems to have been an important figure and is very interesting. Does any of the readers know more about him?

    I was hoping to find in the Chronicle of Zuqnin more about what the Coptic writer in the History of the Patriarchs has said about the Abbasids favourable attitude to the Christians of that area while the Abbasids were fighting the Ummayads and overthrowing them.

  2. The following passage is from the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church which is wrongly attributed to Severus of Ashmunin. This particular section, the Biography of Michael I (744-767 AD), was written by a monk called John, often called John Moses, after his spiritual guide, Fr Moses, Bishop of Wasim (Giza area) at that time.

    As you can see, the Coptic writer describes the victory of the Abbasids as if it had been willed by God in terms similar to those earlier Christian writers, such as Eusabius of Caesarea, used to describe Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Melvian Bridge in 312 AD. There is evidence that the Copts saw the last Ummayad’s caliph, Marwan II (744-750 AD), as the famous apocalyptic 19th king who would be the last king before a new era ushered in a new age (Muhammad was followed by 4 immediate successors, those so-called the rightly-guided caliphs, and then 14 Ummayad caliphs).

    I am not sure that the Abbasids were any more sympathetic to the Christians than the Ummayads; however, it is possible that they wanted to gain the support of the majority of the population in the area, who were Christians, in their struggle against the Ummayads, and therefore spread these rumours to win over the Christians. The Chronicle of Zuqnin, which Roger Pearse has so patiently continued to translate, so far does not seem to support the claims of John Moses.

    As it transpired, the Abbasids continued the Islamic policy of persecution of non-Moslims, and codifying it, proved even worse. The Coptic writer was clearly over-optimistic and deluded about the Abbasids.

    I have made the relevant sentences in upper caste. Please, accept my apology for this, since I can’t use italics, emboldening or underlining.
    “Then Marwân again sent another forty thousand horsemen against them, at the fourth hour of the day, from behind rocks; BUT GOD DELIVERED THEM INTO THEIR HANDS, and they captured their horses and weapons. So, when Marwân saw that, he fled. And he executed the following stratagem. He brought out what he possessed of money and vessels and furniture, and put the gold in bags, and scattered it along the road, while he was fleeing, accompanied by twenty thousand horsemen, who remained with him. But Abd Allah and Abu Muslim did not understand his deceit, and so, as they pursued him, they busied themselves with seizing the money and the weapons for seven days, so that Marwân escaped and crossed the Euphrates. |153 But many of his followers were drowned, and he set fire to the boats, and none reached the shore but he and eight thousand men with him.
    “SO THE OLD MAN ABU MUSLIM BADE HIS SOLDIERS MAKE CROSSES OF EVERY KIND, AND PLACE THEM ON THEIR BREASTS, SAYING TO THEM : «BY MEANS OF THIS SIGN GOD HAS GIVEN US THE VICTORY, AND IT HAS CONQUERED THE EMPIRE FOR US.» And his followers multiplied, for men came to them from every place at which they arrived : from Khorassan and Sidon and the Euphrates and the land of the Romans; and all that heard of them in distant lands. And at every city which they captured, their followers established a camp.
    “But as for Marwân, he set fire to every place that he reached in his flight, When Abu Muslim and Abd Allah came to the Euphrates, and saw the burnt boats, they put on black garments, and left their heads unshaven, and neglected their wives, and continued to fast and pray for six months, UNTIL GOD GAVE THEIR ENEMY INTO THEIR HANDS. Then they took the boats that they could get, and crossed the Euphrates, and pursued Marwân. AND WHEN THEY REACHED A PLACE WHERE THERE WERE CHRISTIANS, THEY MARKED IT OUT BY THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, WHICH THEY ALSO HAD MARKED ON THEIR TENTS AND GARMENTS. And the Muslims among them wore black garments. AND HIM WHO WAS WITHOUT THESE TWO SIGNS THEY PUT TO DEATH, because the followers of Marwân were Persians, and therefore did not approve of these things. And so, when they found them, they killed them, |154 and ripped them open. And they used to rip open their pregnant wives, and kill the babes, saying : «We will leave them no offspring on earth to go about the world as beggars.»
    “Then Marwân went into the public treasury at Damascus, for that was the capital of the Omeyyads, and brought forth much money and jewels and treasures, and burnt the rest with fire. And he went on doing thus, till he had laid waste seven provinces with fire. When Abd al-Malik, the governor of Egypt, heard the news, he feared that Marwân would summon him to fight, and therefore he wrote to him a letter with guile, inviting him to Egypt, and saying : «Thy enemies cannot enter this country.»
    “Accordingly, Marwân marched thither, slaying the chiefs of the towns and provinces through which he passed, and seizing their money. So also he did in the monasteries of the monks, which he wrecked and robbed of their money. And there was in Palestine a clean and decent monastery, which entertained thousands of travellers, and contained a thousand monks; and it was called Dair Mût, and in Coptic, the Monastery of Abba Harmanus… when Marwân arrived at the aforesaid monastery, he demanded of them a sum of money amounting to three weights; and he severely chastised the superior of the monastery and his assistant, for he killed those two; and he plundered the monastery, and continued his march, accompanied by his army. Then, when they were at a short distance from the monastery, there was a hermit upon a pillar, a very old man, who had been there many years, an orthodox Theodosian. |156 So one of Marwân’s friends said : «Verily all that this old monk says comes to pass, for he speaks the truth.» And he came up to that hermit, and asked him what would be his fate. So the old man said in a low voice, like the voice of Jeremias the prophet 30 : «IF I TELL THEE THE TRUTH, THOU WILT SLAY ME; YET WILL I DECLARE WHAT GOD HAS REVEALED TO ME. THAT WHICH GOD HAS TOLD ME OF THEE IS THIS. WITH THE MEASURE WITH WHICH THOU HAST MEASURED IT SHALL BE MEASURED TO THEE. AS THOU HAST MADE MOTHERS CHILDLESS, SO SHALL THY MOTHER BE CHILDLESS. AND THY PATH SHALL BE VERY TERRIBLE TO ALL THAT BEHOLD THEE; FOR THY CHILDREN AND THY WIVES AND ALL THAT ARE THINE SHALL BE TAKEN CAPTIVE; AND HE WHO IS NOW PURSUING THEE SHALL TAKE THY EMPIRE, AND NONE OF THY FAMILY SHALL REIGN AFTER THEE FOR EVER. AND THINE ENEMIES SHALL PUT THEE TO FLIGHT, UNTIL THOU COMEST TO ARSINOITES, TO CLEOPATRA. ALL THIS SHALL BEFALL THEE THIS YEAR IN THE MONTH OF MISRI.» When Marwân heard this, he commanded that the pillar should be overthrown; and he brought down the old man, and burnt him alive in the fire.”

    Dioscorus Boles

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