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Constantine and the Captive Christians of PersiaMartyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity$
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Kyle Smith

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520289604

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520289604.001.0001

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Rereading Nisibis

Rereading Nisibis

Narrating the Battle for Roman Mesopotamia

(p.65) Three Rereading Nisibis
Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia

Kyle Smith

University of California Press

This chapter examines contemporary observers' interpretation of the battle for Roman Mesopotamia, including the city of Nisibis. Following Constantine's death, Shapur II's armies began attacking fortified cities throughout Mesopotamia, including the important Roman stronghold of Nisibis. Shapur tried, but failed, to take Nisibis three times between 337 and 350. Drawing on two eyewitness testimonies, the Latin military history of Ammianus Marcellinus and the Syriac hymns of the poet-theologian Ephrem the Syrian, this chapter considers whether Shapur's defeats at Nisibis led to his persecution of Christians in Persia. It first discusses Julian's Orations, which celebrates the military exploits of his Christian cousin Constantius II, before turning to Ammianus Marcellinus's account of the Roman–Persian War in the Res Gestae. It then analyzes Christian historians' claim that Roman Mesopotamia was divinely defended. Based on the evidence, it suggests that Roman Christians had no knowledge of any persecution of Persian Christians even long after the violence was supposed to have begun.

Keywords:   persecution, Roman Mesopotamia, Nisibis, Constantine, Shapur II, Ammianus Marcellinus, Ephrem the Syrian, Persia, Roman-Persian war, Persian Christians

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