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Modern and Ancient Assyrians

by William Warda — author and historian. California, USA 2014. | writings

Posted: Thursday, November 06, 2014 at 07:14 PM UT


Up to the present time, history texts, and encyclopedias have failed to provide information about what happened to the ancient Assyrians, after the fall of Nineveh, primarily, because Greek historians who wrote about them corrupted their name to Syrian by dropping the starting A in their name. Furthermore, they gave the name Syria to the land west of the Euphrates because it had been part of the Assyrian Empire for 300 years before the fall of Nineveh. Consequently, references to Assyrians as Syrians led to the wrong assumption that Assyrians no longer existed.  

The Wikipedia about the “name Syria” confirms that, “the terms Syria and Assyria by the Greeks, were used almost interchangeably, although Herodotus' clarifications were a notable exception.” Name of Syria - Wikipedia

The 5th century Greek historian Herodotus in his “History of Herodotus”, attests to the fact that in 480 BC, when king Xerxes army attacked the Greeks city-states, among its fighters were Assyrian and Babylonian troops. He writes:

“The Assyrians went to the war with helmets upon their heads, made of brass, and plaited in a strange fashion, which is not easy to describe. They carried shields, lances, and daggers, very much like the Egyptian; but in addition they had wooden clubs knotted with iron, and linen corselets.” He continued, “This, people, whom the Greeks call Syrians, are called Assyrians by the barbarians.”
Greeks in Syria - Wikipedia

The term “barbarians” to the Greeks meant non-Greek neighbors of the Assyrians, including the Persians, who were far better informed about the exact nationality of the fighters who served in their military.

“The Persian Otaspas son of Artachaies was made the commander of the fifth infantry composed of Assyrian and Babylonian forces.” (Burn, Robert, 1962, 336) “Assyrians, and Babylonians, paid 1000 talents of silver tribute annually, and contributed 5 infantry contingents to the Empire’s military.” (Burn, Robert, 1962, 336)

According to Wikipedia, “The Name Syria and Assyria came to be used as distinct geographical terms.  "Syria," in the Roman Empire period referred to "those parts of the Empire situated between Asia Minor and Egypt", i.e. the western Levant, while "Assyria," was part of the Persian Empire, and only very briefly came under Roman control, from (116-118 AD), marking the historical peak of Roman expansion, it was known as Assyria Provincia.”

Despite irrefutable historical, and archaeological evidences, that prove the survival of the ancient Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh, writers such as John Joseph have strived to prove that the ancient Assyrians were defeated into extinction. For example, in his book titled: “The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East, Encounters with Western Christian Missions, Archaeologists, and Colonial Powers,” Joseph writes: “ancient Assyrians were wiped out, down to the last living one.” Thereafter he concludes it is not possible for the Modern Assyrians to be the descendant of the ancient Assyrians and goes on to claim that they are Arameans.   Assyriologist Simo Parpola in his “Assyrians after Assyria” writes:

“It is clear that no such thing as a wholesale massacre of all Assyrians ever happened. It is true that some of the great cities of Assyria were utterly destroyed and looted -- archaeology confirms this --, some deportations were certainly carried out, and a good part of the Assyrian aristocracy was probably massacred by the conquerors. However, Assyria was a vast and densely populated country, and outside the few destroyed urban centers life went on as usual. This is proved by a recently discovered post-imperial archive from the Assyrian provincial capital Dur-Katlimmu, on the Khabur River, which contains business documents drawn up in Assyrian cuneiform more than a decade after the fall of Nineveh.”
Professor Simo Parpola | Assyrians after Assyria

In a book, titled: “Assyrians Beyond the Fall of Nineveh”, William M Warda provides historical and archaeological evidences to prove that ancient Assyrians survived their 612 B.C. defeat and their descendants continued into the Christian era. Archeological discoveries in recent decades have proven that Assyrian communities in the cities of Assur, Hatra, Edessa, and Harran worshiped the ancient Assyrian gods such as Ashur, Shrua, Ishtar, Bell, Nebu and Nergal until the 3rd century AD. They also celebrated the Assyria Akitu Festival, and gave their children names that were inline with names during the neo-Assyrian period.

John Joseph admits that Georges Roux wrote: “during the Parthian period geographical ‘Assyria’ was literally resurrected ‘and that several of its cities’ were ‘inhabited again, and Ashur, rebuilt anew, became at least as large a city as it had been in the heyday of the Assyrian empire’.” p. 28 But he wastes no time to denigrate such evidences by writing that Roux also wrote:  “It must be emphasized that the ‘revived settlements had very little in common with their Assyrian or Babylonian precursors.” However, comparison of the following three pictures contradicts Roux’s statement that “the revived settlements had no resemblance to their Assyrian precursors.”

Assyrian temple of the sun god in the city of Hatra.
Assyrian temple of the sun god in the city of Hatra.
Assyrian gate of the city of Assur in Assyria.
612 B.C. Assyrian gate of the city of Assur in Assyria.

The picture on the left is of the 3rd century A.D. Assyrian temple of the sun-god in the city of Hatra. The picture below shows the 612 B.C. gate of the city of Assur before the fall.  Comparison of the two images indicates that arched gateways, which played an important role in the ancient Assyrian architecture, were common in the 3rd century AD buildings dedicated to the ancient Assyrian deities.  This fact contradicts Joseph’s assertion that “ancient Assyrians were wiped out, down to the last living one,” and his opinion that modern Assyrians are Aramean rather than Assyrian.

Assyrian temple of the sun god in the city of Hatra.
Another view of the temple of Shamash in Hatra.

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Hatra was a small Assyrian settlement that in the 3rd century BC, it became a fortress and a trading centre of the Parthian dynasty. It is “an exceptional testimony to an entire facet of Assyro-Babylonian civilization that later was subjected to the influence of Greeks, Parthians, Romans and Arabs.”

It is a fact that “during the Parthian period, between 100 BC and 270 AD, the city of Assur became an important administrative center… new administrative buildings were erected to the north of the old city, and a palace to the south. The old temple dedicated to the national god of the Assyrians Assur (Ashur) was also rebuilt, indicating the continued occupation by ethnic Assyrians.” (Walter Andrae, Der Anu-Adad-Tempel in Assur, JC Hinrichs, 1909, (1984 reprint ISBN 3-7648-1805-0) see also:

New Archaeological discoveries in recent decades have convinced the Assyriologists such as H.W.F. Saggs, Robert D. Biggs, Giorgi Tsereteli, Simon Parpola, and Iranologists like Richard Nelson Frye to believe that ancient Assyrians survived their 612 B.C. defeat and their descendants continued into the Christian era. For example: H.W.F. Saggs, the author of several books about history of Mesopotamia, including “The Greatness that was Babylon,” in his “The Might That Was Assyria”, writes:

“The destruction of the Assyrian empire did not wipe out its population. They were predominantly peasant farmers, and since Assyria contains some of the best wheat land in the Near East, descendants of the Assyrian peasants would, as opportunity permitted, build new villages over the old cities and carry on with agricultural life, remembering traditions of the former cities. After seven or eight centuries and various vicissitudes, these people became Christians.” (Saggs, H.W.F., 1989, 290)

While Western historians believed that the city of Nineveh was never inhabited, after it was destroyed, historical evidences prove otherwise. When Arab Geographer Al-Masudi visited Nineveh in 943 A.D., he described Nineveh as a complex of ruins in the middle of which there are several villages and farms.” He also wrote: “It was to these settlements that God sent Jonah." (Brian M. Fagan, Return to Babylon, Little, Brown & Co., Canada p.18.)  This implies that the inhabitants of these settlements believed that they were the descendants of the people, whom Jonah visited. (“Warda, Assyrians Beyond the Fall of Nineveh.”)

Since the early centuries of Christianity, Christian Assyrians have observed a three-days fast called Baota d’ Ninevayee, or “the wish of the Ninivites” based on the book of Jonah of the Old Testament. Nineveh became an important center of the Assyrian Christianity. It was presided over by a long list of bishops from 554 AD to the late ninth century. Later its bishopric was transferred to Mosul. Mar Emma, the Bishop of Nineveh was elected Patriarch of the Church of the East and served in that position from 644 to 647. Ishoyahab was the bishop of Nineveh (627-637). When the byzantine forces under the command of Roman emperor Hercules, defeated the Persians near Nineveh in 627 he fled to his estate in the mountain during the war because he feared that the Byzantines might take him prisoner. (William G. Young, "Patriarch, Shah and Caliph", Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 1974, p. 87) Christian Assyrian writers, such as the fourth century Mar Ephraim the great, the fifth century Narsay Kinara d rouka, the 7th century Ishoyahab III, the ninth century Timothy, the 12th century poet Ghiwargis Warda Arbilaya, the fourteenth century Sleewa Bar yohana, and others, in different centuries, have identified their people as Assyrians. Given such facts it is obvious that those who question the Assyrian identity of the modern Assyrians and their relation to the ancient Assyrians do so because of their superficial knowledge of the Christian Assyrians' history, or they do so out of malice.

For more information about Assyrians history after the fall of Nineveh,
see: Assyrians Beyond the Fall of Nineveh, by William M. Warda

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