increase the productivity of Persia, many thousands of Greek and Syriac villages were deported en masse and resettled throughout Persia. The Christians among the exiles brought with them their ecclesiastical structures. In many of the new villages both Syriac and Greek churches were organised, which in turn attracted native Persians to the Christian faith. While Syriac and Greek Christians were taken into Persia, Manichaeans followed the Persian armies into the Roman empire and quite successfully established their version of Christianity within that context.

Another tendency of northern Mesopotamian Christianity is present from these earliest sources: that is, the struggle between adapting to the local intellectual and cultural traditions (Bardaisan) and the outright rejection of these (Thomas traditions, and later Ephrem). The religious vision is not uniform and is mediated through the experiences of the authors of individual texts. Even from the small number of extant texts, it is clear that any generalisations about the theological or social worldviews of early northern Mesopotamia are simplifications of the complex data.

The fourth century: The churches in northern Mesopotamia

The fourth century began with much of northern Mesopotamia firmly in the control of the Roman empire. Two of the cities, Edessa and Nisibis, had privileged status (perhaps to prevent the reconstitution of Palmyra or Nabatea) for trade between the Persian and Roman empires. The anonymous fourth-century northern Mesopotamian author of Expositio totius mundi et gentium (written c. 359) observed: 'They [Nisibeans] are rich and supplied with goods. They receive from the Persians all that they sell in the land of the Romans and that which they purchase, they in turn sell to them, except bronze and iron, because it is forbidden to give bronze and iron to enemies.'7 Both the Expositio and Ephrem's Hymns on Nicomedia describe Nisibis as a prosperous city with busy shops, artisans and agriculturalists. From Ephrem it is known that there were also economic connections to the unsettled Arab populations to the south. The Expositio noted that'... they lead a good life'. The privileged economic position facilitated the churches of these cities becoming the most important of northern Mesopotamia.8

7 Expositio totius mundi et gentium 22 (SC 124:157-7, with commentary: 235-9).

8 D. Bundy, 'Bishop Vologese'.

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