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A State of MixtureChristians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity$
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Richard E. Payne

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780520286191

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520286191.001.0001

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Creating a Christian Aristocracy

Creating a Christian Aristocracy

Hagiography and Empire in Northern Mesopotamia

(p.127) 4. Creating a Christian Aristocracy
A State of Mixture

Richard E. Payne

University of California Press

In northern Mesopotamia, the construction of shrines of martyrs on the tells of cities that were centers of imperial authority introduced a new technology with which ecclesiastical leaders could redefine relations between Christian and Zoroastrian elites. This chapter draws upon two hagiographical works that recount the histories of these martyrs, the History of Karka d-Beit Slok and Its Martyrs and the History of Mar Qardagh. These texts explicitly segment the Christian communities that gathered at the sites into aristocrats and commoners, with ecclesiastical leaders belonging to the ranks of the former almost without exception. The contemporaneous hagiographers of these works both sought to demonstrate, in Iranian terms, that Christians could be no less noble than their Zoroastrian counterparts, while rooting their claims to aristocracy in cities that were also the loci of episcopal authority. Their works thus offer an opportunity to explore some fundamental questions of Sasanian social history that have remained unanswered such as: How did provincial elites earn recognition as nobles from their Iranian peers? How did Christian and Zoroastrian elites find bases for collaboration within imperial institutions?

Keywords:   martyrs, Christians, Zoroastrians, shrines, social history, Karka d-Beit Slok

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