lundi 10 décembre 2001

The singer of Edessa

The Syriac people wrote numerous chronicles that bring back us distant and previous events. One work is very interesting and precious.

The author

The anonymous writer of this Syriac Chronicle was may be a monk who came from the city of Edessa (Urhai), in Mesopotamia. He lived at the time of the First Crusades. He was the contemporary of the events that took place in the first half of the thirteenth century. He was staying in Jerusalem, when the emir Salah ad-Din captured it in 1187.

The Chronicle

The "Chronicle to the year 1234" was written at about the year 1237 A.D. It understands two sections, separating secular from ecclesiastical history. The Civil Chronicle continues to at least 1234, but should originally advance into the year 1237. The Ecclesiastical Chronicle, written first, but place second in the manuscript, tells the history of the West Syrians patriarchs. Very damaged, it stops at 1204 and completes the chronicle of the Syrian Orthodox patriarch Michael (1166-99). The author asserts that he has written others books, lost today.

We chose in the Civil Chronicle an interesting anecdote, which shows the self-control, the spirit fortitude and the heroism of a Christian woman, an artist of Edessa in the eleventh century. She was able to act patriotically, to risk one’s neck to save her fellow-citizens’ life. She spoke two languages, and played an important role in the tragedy.

The Turks Seljuk’s in Edessa

The author relates to the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, a people from the plains of Central Asia. From 1055, they occupied Baghdad little by little, they dominated Mesopotamia, and subjugated the Arabic princes. Under the reign of the great sultan Malik Shah (1072-1092), they advanced into Syria, in Gâzartâ, in Anatolia, and conquered the largest part of Asia Minor. Upon the death of Malik Shah, in 1092, (Abu ‘-Fatah in the Chronicle) his very young children survived in the Persian region of Khôrâzân where he had lived.

The governors of Syria, his subjects, held on to their cities and began fighting among themselves.

The Turkish general Buzan held the power to Edessa, a city that he had captured in 1087. He had appointed a Greek leader, Theodore, son of Hetoum. Buzan went to Damascus, made war on Tutus, the governor, but he was defeated, arrested. Tutus sent then soldiers to Edessa to capture the town, but the inhabitants refused to allow this. Tutus, angry about Edessa, beheaded Buzan and sent it with the general Al-Firg who entered the citadel and occupied the city.

Tutus had given order to Al-Firg to leave Edessa to be plundered by his soldiers, because the town had not succumbed to him from the beginning. When Al-Firg was staying in the citadel, every day, his officers would insist on letting them to plunder the "rebellious city" of Edessa, and he would prevent them from day to day.

"One day, he offered a banquet in the citadel to the majors of his army. He sent for all the singers of the city and the singer called Qira Gali, a Christian woman. The wine cheered up Al-Firg’s heart. The chiefs of the army approached him and asked him to carry out its promise to plunder the city. He made them oath that the next day, he would give the order to plunder the city. He spoke in Persian, but the singer understood the conversation. Immediately, she imagined a cunning guile: she began groaning with the stomachache. They asked for to her what she wished that one brought to her. However, she told them that she was in the habit of this stomachache and that when it took her, nothing relieved her than a bath. Then, they allowed her to go to the bath. Going down of the citadel, she went at once to Theodore, son of Hetoum, and informed him about this affair. Then, he said to her: "O woman, the blood of all the city is between your hands. See how you will save the city."

He gave her his own ring; when this one touched any food or drink, it killed immediately. So, she took the ring and went back up to the citadel, as if its stomachache had calmed down. The guests were delighted at it. In this enjoyment, she got up to dance, took a cup of wine and danced in a lascivious way. She dipped the ring into the cup after the dance, moved and presented it to Al-Firg. Having drunk the cup, he began complaining about the stomach. She said to him "Lord, please, hurry to go to the bath; because I, it is in the bath that I was delivered from my stomachache." He went down in the bath. She took off hers clothes and entered with him. Once they entered the internal house, he gave up the ghost. She went out, saying to the eunuchs and servants who held in the door: "King sleeps, please, be careful not to disturb him." (A.Abouna, in CSCO 354/154, II, P. 38-39, translated into English by Ephrem-Isa YOUSIF))

The Turkish soldiers ran into the baths, found their dead commander and asked the inhabitants to let them safely go out of the city. Those that stayed in the citadel sent to inform Tutus of Damascus of what had happened. At that very moment, Tutus who got ready to come to Edessa with the troops fell ill and died. Theodore was then brought from the citadel to the chief of the Turks who went away.

A brave, artful, oriental woman, who looked like a heroine of the Bible, saved the city of Edessa.

To save the town of Bethulie, a young girl, Judith seduced Holopherne, the general of Nabuchodonosor, king of Chaldeans, and cut his head when he was drunk. (The book of Judith)

Edessa returns to Romans until the arrival of the Crusaders. After the disappearance of Theodore, in 1097, murdered by his subjects, French crusaders turned the city into their regional capital.


The unique Syriac manuscript of the Chronicle to the year 1234 was found in Istanbul in 1899, it is not complete. It is dated to perhaps the end of the fourteenth century.

The Chronicle was published by the Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Rahmani, the first part of the text on 1904, the second part on 1911: Chronicon civile et ecclesiasticum anonymi auctoris (Charfet, 1904).

The complete work was published by J.B.Chabot, in CSCO 81 /Syr.36 et 82/Syr.37,



J.B.Chabot provided a Latin translation for vol. I in CSCO 109/56, 1937

A.S. Tritton, JRAS, 1933, translated partially the chronicle into English language: "The first and second Crusades from an anonymous Syriac chronicle."

Anonymi Auctotis Chronicon AD A.C 1234 Pertinens II, by A.Abouna, Louvain, in CSCO 354/154, 1974, translated it into French, with notes by J.M.Fiey.

A. Abouna, Bagdad, 1986, translated the Chronicle to the year 1234 into Arabic.

Zinda magazine, December 10, 2001.

Ephrem-Isa YOUSIF, Paris, France.