Who are the Assyrians?
A semitic peoples indigenous to North Iraq; builders of the great Mesopotamian civilizations; ethnically distinct from Arabs and Jews (the other semitic peoples of the region).
What language do they speak?
They currently speak modern Assyrian (also known as neo-Syriac), which is the oldest extant language, and was the lingua franca of the Middle East until 900 A.D., when it was supplanted by Arabic (except among Assyrians). Before this they spoke Akkadian and Assyrian Aramaic (which co-existed until circa 500 B.C. Aramaic was made the second official language of the Empire in 752 B.C.). Modern Assyrian (neo-Syriac) is derived from Assyrian Aramaic, is written right to left, and has a lot of Akkadian vocabulary and influence in it.
What is their religion?
Assyrians are Christians. They belong to three main Assyrian churches: 1) The Assyrian Church of the East ("Nestorian"), established in 33 A.D. by Theodos, Thomas, and Bartholomew; 2) the Syriac Orthodox Church ("Jacobite"), established in 450 A.D.; 3) the Chaldean Church of Babylon (Roman Catholic), established in 1552 A.D.
Where do they live?
The majority of Assyrians live in their ancestral homeland, which is now part of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Here is a geographical breakdown:
|World Assyrian Population|
|click on a column name to sort|
What are important dates for Assyrians?
A Brief History of the
For a brief history of
Assyrians, see here.
Assyrians of today belong to three major churches: the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East ("Nestorian"), The Assyrian Orthodox Church ("Jacobite") and the Chaldean Church of Babylon ("Chaldeans", who are Roman catholic uniates). Precise numbers are difficult to estimate, but there are about 800,000 members in the Church of the East, 1,500,000 members in the Chaldean Church, and about 900,000 members in the Assyrian Orthodox Church.
The Assyrian Church of the East (hence forth ACE), whose official name is the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, was established in 33 A.D. by the apostles Thomas (Toma in Assyrian), Theodos (Addai in Assyrian), and Bartholomew (Bar Tulmay in Assyrian). The first Patriarch of ACE was Addai, although Thomas and Bartholomew are also officially listed as the first Patriarchs (see Table of Apostolic Succession below).
ACE spread from the Assyrian city Arbela (in North Iraq; Arbela means "Four Gods" in Assyrian) to the surrounding areas of Persia, Syria, and Iraq, and later became centered in Seleucia-Ctesiphon (just south of Baghdad). Through an incredible missionary enterprise, ACE became the largest Church in the world by the 12th century, extending from Syria to China, Korea, Japan, and the Phillipines. ACE was overwhelmed by the Mongol Timurlane and after the thirteenth century could never recover its past glory. It was reduced to a small church in the Assyrian heartland in North Iraq.
The significant achievements of ACE include the first University in the world (Nisibis), and the incredible translation movement of its clergy and laity, which saw the translation of all the major Greek works of science, philosophy and religion into Assyrian (then into Arabic), and which produced original Assyrian thinkers who wrote extensively and diversely in various fields.
The First Division
ACE was centered in the Sassanid empire, which was rival to the Byzantine empire to the west. Political tension between the two empires separated Eastern from Western Christians, and doctrinal disputes over the nature of Christ (monophysites/diophysites) further distanced the Christian communities. The monophysitic movement gained a stronghold in the Byzantine realm and the Church of the East divided along these geopolitical/doctrinal lines by 450 A.D. -- The Syriac Orthodox Church (SOC) was born. The term "monophysite", although widely used, is incorrect; the correct term is henophysite.
The Second Division
In 780 A.D. there occurred a division in SOC, and Mar Maron took his followers from Syria and settled in Mount Lebanon, founding the Maronite Church. The Christians of Lebanon are known as "Maronites", after Mar Maron. The Maronite Church has since become a Roman Catholic Uniate.
The Third Division
In 1552 A.D. there arose a debate over how the Patriarch of ACE should be chosen. The Patriarch had been elected, but a faction in the Church desired that the Patriarchate become hereditary. The Hereditary faction lost its dispute and as a result sough allegiance with the Catholic Church of Rome. The Roman church made the hereditary faction Roman Catholic Uniates and called the new church the Chaldean Church of Babylon (CCB), to distinguish it from ACE. But in an interesting reversal, the hereditary faction returned fifty years later and took control of ACE, and the election faction took control of CCB.
The Assyrian Kings List - B.C.
|A: Early Period - "Kings who lived in tents"|
|Zariqum||(Beginning of the Assyrian independence)|
|Ilu-Shuma||(Raids into southern Mesoptamia)|
|B: During Akkadian Domination|
|Sargon I||2334||2279||55 years||United Mesopotamia (Sumer & Akkad)|
|Rimush||2278||2270||8||Conquers Elam and Marhashi (Central Iran)|
|Manishtushu||2269||2255||14||Renovates Temple of Ishtar|
|Naram-Sin||2254||2218||36||Arrogates god-like status to himself|
|Shar-Kali-Shari||2217||2193||24||Akkadian kingship begins to weaken|
|Shu-Turul||2168||2154||14||Akkadian empire collapses|
|C: Neo-Sumerian Domination|
|Ur-Nammu||2112||2095||17||Establishes the Third Dynasty of Ur|
|Shulgi||2094||2047||47||Extends father's empire to all of Assyria|
|Ibbi-Sin||2028||2004||24||Amorites weaken Sumerian power|
|D: Assyrian kings during the Akkadian Domination|
|Ushpiya||May have succeeded ollowed king Azarah|
|Apiashal||Ushpiya & Apiashal are also considered tent kings|
|E: "Kings who were ancestors"|
|Hale||Chief of an Amorite tribe|
|F: Historic Period (written history)|
|Shamshi-Adad I||1813||1781||32||Unites all independent Assyrian city-states|
|Ishme-Dagan I||1780||1741||39||Contemporary with Hammurabi of Babylon|
|5 Unknown Rulers|
|Several Minor Rulers|
|Ashur-Uballit I||1363||1328||35||Gains Assyrian Independecne from Mittani|
|Adad-Nirari I||1305||1274||31||Mittani falls to Assyria|
|Shalmaneser I||1273||1244||29||Urartu falls to Assyria|
|Tukulti-Ninurta I||1243||1207||36||Sacks Babylon, killed by his own son|
|Ashur-Nadin-Apli||1206||1203||3||Assyrian power is weakened|
|Ashur-Dan I||1178||1133||45||Elam captures Babylonia|
|Ashur-Resha-Ishi I||1132||1115||17||Nebuchadnezzar I of Babylon captures Elam|
|Tiglath-Pileser I||1114||1076||38||In defending Assyria, defeats Nebuchadnezzar|
|Asharid-Pal-Ekur II||Limited to Nineveh,Irbil, & Ashur province|
|5 Unknown Rulers||1049||1010||39|
|Ashur-Rabi II||1010||970||40||Isreal & Judah under David & Solomon|
|G: Late Period|
|Adad-Nirari II||911||891||20||Captures Babylonia, Anatolia, & Syrian plain|
|Tukulti-Ninurta II||890||884||6||Peace with Babylon, no tributes required|
|Ashurnasirpal II||883||859||24||Assyrian empire reaches Mediterranean Sea|
|Shalmaneser III||858||824||34||Defeats Arameans, captures Babylon & Persia|
|Shamiram||811||806||5||Ruler of Assyria while her son was a minor|
|Adad-Nirari III||806||783||23||Assyrian rule weakens|
|Ashur-Dan III||772||755||17||Rebelions against Assyria|
|Tiglath-Pileser III||744||727||17||Re-gains Assyrian might greater than before|
|Shalmaneser V||726||722||4||Captures Samaria, deports Isrealites|
|Sargon II||721||705||16||Captures Egypt, Urartu, Babylon, Dies in a battle|
|Sennacherib||704||681||23||Faught rebellions, destroyed Babylon|
|Esarhaddon||680||669||11||Rebuilt Babylon, defeated Scythians, Cimmerians|
|Ashurbanipal||668||627||41||Defeats Egypt, Lydia, & Elam|
|Ashur-Etel-Ilani||627||624||3||Babylonians attack Assyria|
|Sin-Shar-Ishkun||623||612||11||Medes sack Nineveh|
||Flees to Harran, supported by Egyptians|
Table of Apostolic Succession for the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East
Table of Apostolic Succession for the Syriac Orthodox Church
Table of Apostolic Succession for the Chaldean Church of BabylonPatriarchs 1 to 96 (33 A.D. to 1552 A.D.) are the same as the Church of the East.
The Might That Was Assyria; H.W.F. Saggs; Sidgwick and Jackson; 1984.
History of Assyria; A.T. Olmstead.
Hagarism: the Making of the Islamic World; Patricia Crone, Michael Cook; Cambridge University Press; 1977.
History of Christianity in Asia: Volume One, Beginnings to 1500; Samuel Moffet; Harper Collins; 1994.
Cambridge Ancient History: The Roman Republic, 133-44 B.C.; W. W. Tarn; Cambridge University Press; 1985; pp 597.
By Foot to China: Mission of the Church of the East, to 1400; John M. L. Young; Grey Pilgrim Publications; Lookout Mountain, GA; 1991.
The Nestorians and their Rituals; George Percy Badger.
A Short History of Syriac Christianity; W. Stewart McCullough.
Patriarch, Shah, and Caliph; William G. Young.
An Introduction to the History
of the Assyrian Church; W. A. Wigram.