Non Chalcedonians and Chalcedonians on the eve of the Persian conquest

By the end of the sixth century, in spite of the imperial persecutions, the miaphysites constituted the majority in the Syriac-speaking regions of the Anatolike diocese, which lay to the east of the river Labotes and the Amanus mountains: in Euphratensis, Osrhoene, Mesopotamia, in the countryside of Antioch and Apamea, as well as in Arabia. In these areas the Syriac monasteries functioned as intellectual and spiritual epicenters. The influence exercised by the Syriac divines also proved decisive for the determination of the Armenian Church's Christological position during the course of the sixth century. The hellenophone Chalcedonian communities, by contrast, represented the majority in western Syria and Palestine and especially in the coastal cities. Their intellectual centers were situated in Jerusalem and in the monastic enclaves of the Judean desert, where Greek literary and theological traditions were especially cultivated.

The situation in Egypt was comparable to Syria: the Chalcedonian faith had been accepted or enforced mainly in the cities, which were culturally and linguistically Greek. In them the Chalcedonian patriarchs - the only prelates recognized by the emperor - enjoyed unrivaled sway. The Coptic monks, however, supported by the rural population, were largely opposed to the innovative Christological language introduced by the Council of Chalcedon. The recusant miaphysite prelates thus found refuge in the Coptic monasteries situated far from the administrative centers of the empire. The most important of these were located in the Wadi Natrun, in the oasis of Fayum, in the Western desert, in Upper Egypt, to the north of the Asyut, and in the Eastern desert. The rural areas of Upper Egypt were all miaphysite strongholds. During the second half of the sixth century, Coptic missionaries advanced up the Nile, allowing the miaphysite faith to become the prevalent form of Christianity in Nubia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

The Syro-Mesopotamian desert, through which ran the frontier between Byzantium and the Persian Empire, was inhabited by Arab tribes.3 The Ghas-sanid confederation - the dominant group of Byzantine Arab foederati - owed their miaphysitism to Empress Theodora (d. 548) and Jacob Baradaeus (Bishop

3 Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs, 922-48.

of Edessa in exile, fl. 542-78), and took an active part in spreading Christianity in the Arabian peninsula. The Ghassanids constituted a buffer kingdom between Byzantium and the Lakhmid Arab confederation (ofEast Syrian allegiance) which was based on the western bank of the lower Euphrates, where it served as the Sasanians' frontier guard. The relationship between Byzantium and the Ghassanids deteriorated after the empire embraced the Chalcedonian doctrine. When, in 584-85, the Emperor Maurice cut subsidies to the Ghas-sanids, their confederation fell apart. The Byzantines' weakening support ofthe foederati was later to strengthen Islam's attraction as the Arab national religion.

The bishops ordained by Jacob Baradaeus for Asia Minor, Syria (where they constituted the church later known as "Jacobite"), and Egypt were almost exclusively of monastic origin, and in the following centuries the miaphysite hierarchies were to maintain a decidedly monastic character. The monastic background of the miaphysite churches facilitated their survival under Islamic domination: the persecutions of non-Muslims were particularly devastating in the urban areas where the caliphate's governors resided, whereas the Christian communities of the remoter districts often succeeded in escaping direct control. In the following centuries the miaphysite monasteries were able to cultivate learning and to develop new literary and spiritual traditions both in Syriac and Coptic.

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