The (Legacy) of the relics of saints were instrumental in the formation of the Christian communities at the frontiers of the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires. In this talk, I will argue that the flow of the relics was mostly from the Sasanian Iran to regions outside the empire. Predominantly to the recently Christianized areas in the borderlands. I will take a close look at the sources that focus on the translation of relics in two cities in Mesopotamia, Sophene, a region at the eastern end of the East Roman Empire and Singar, a city to the south of Sophene, in the Sasanian Iran. By the early fifth century, the bishop of Sophene, Marutha received favors and relics from both Theodosius II ( 401-450 CE), and the Sasanian king, Yazdgerd I (r. 399-410 CE). It was due to collection of these relics he transformed the main city of Sophene into a new city “Martyropolis.” In Singar, according to a legend, a tribe of Arab merchants established a saint cult by stealing the relics of Jewish boy who was converted to Chistianity and was killed by his own father. The accounts will reveal the different approaches that cities in the borderland took to host the cult of saints. The hagiographies in both cities try to present the importance of the cult of martyrs for symbolic construction of the communal unity either by asking for the blessing of martyrs from the neighboring regions or by highlighting their distinction from their Jewish neighbors by tapping into the anxiety of the Christians about coexisting with non-Christians.

Ani Honarchiansaky received her MA in Iranian Studies and her Ph.D. in Armenian Studies from the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work has focused on the social and cultural history of the Roman Empire and Sasanian Iran with Armenia as the focal point. In her dissertation, she applied world history methods to the study of the Late Antique Near East. She has studied how the history of the Armenian Church and the Church of the East were affected by each other and by the social, cultural, political and economic relationships between the two great empires of late antiquity. She studies the literary, hagiographic, and historiographic accounts produced by the authorities of these two Churches and the way in which these accounts constitute a Christian congruity by relating and thinking about the Roman and Sasanian authorities, about themselves, and each other. She is interested in the history of how these Christian communities imagined their possibilities and limits living under the Sasanians and later Islam. This brought her to her current project, where she will explore the role of taxation, violence, and military recruitment in defining and shaping contexts for coexistence of Christians within Sasanian Iran.

Respondent: Jack Tannous, History

Event Co-sponsor(s)
Committee for the Study of Late Antiquity
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