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Vassal of the Parthian Empire

Capital Arbela
Religion Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism
Government Monarchy
 - c. 15 Izates I
 - ?-116 Meharaspes
Historical era Antiquity
 - Established 15
 - Disestablished 116
This article is part of the series on the

History of the
Assyrian people

medieval icon depicting Ephrem the Syrian.
Ephrem the Syrian

Early history

Old Assyrian period (20th - 15th c. BC)
Aramaeans (14th - 9th c. BC)
Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 - 612 BC)
Achaemenid Assyria (539 - 330 BC)

Classical Antiquity

Seleucid Empire (312 - 63 BC)
Osroene (132 BC - 244 AD)
Syrian wars (66 BC - 217 AD)
Roman Syria (64 BC - 637 AD)
Adiabene (15 - 116 AD)
Roman Assyria (116 - 118)
Christianization (1st to 3rd c.)
Nestorian Schism (5th c.)
Asuristan (226 - 651)
Byzantine–Sassanid Wars (502 - 628)

Middle Ages

Muslim conquest of Syria (630s)
Abassid rule (750-1256)
Emirs of Mosul (905-1383)
Principality of Antioch (1098-1268)
Turco-Mongol rule (1256-1370)

Modern History

Ottoman Empire (1534-1917)
Rise of nationalism (19th c.)
Assyrian Genocide (1914-1920)
Independence movement (since 1919)
Simele massacre (1933)
Post-Saddam Iraq (since 2003)

See also

History of Syria
History of Iraq
Assyrian diaspora

Map showing kingdoms of Corduene and Adiabene in the first centuries AD.
The blue line shows the expedition and then retreat of the Ten Thousand through Corduene in 401 BC.

Adiabene (from the Greek: Αδιαβηνή, Adiabene, itself derived from Aramaic ܚܕܝܐܒ, Ḥaḏy’aḇ or Ḥḏay’aḇ)[1] was an ancient Assyrian semi-independent kingdom in Mesopotamia,[2][3][4][5][6] with its capital at Arbela (modern-day Arbil, Iraq). Its rulers converted to Judaism in the 1st Century.[7] The Queen of Adiabene at the time of the conversion to Judaism, Queen Helena of Adiabene, moved for a time to Jerusalem. There she built palaces for herself and her sons, Izates bar Monobaz and Monobaz II at the northern part of the city of David, south of the Temple Mount. According to the Talmud, both Heleni and Monbaz donated large funds for the Temple of Jerusalem.



Adiabene occupied a district in Mesopotamia between the Upper Zab River (Lycus) and the Lower Zab (Caprus), though Ammianus speaks of Nineveh, Ecbatana, and Gaugamela as also belonging to it.[8] Although nominally a dependency of the Parthian Empire, for some centuries, beginning with the first century BC, it was semi-independent. In the Talmudic writings the name occurs as חדייב ,חדייף and הדייב, which is parallel to its Syriac form "Hadyab" or "Hedayab." Its chief city was Arbela (Arba-ilu), where Mar Uqba had a school, or the neighboring Hazzah, by which name the Arabs also called Arbela.[9]

In Kiddushin 72a the Biblical Habor is identified with Adiabene (compare Yebamot 16b et seq., Yalqut Daniel 1064), but in Yerushalmi Megillah i. 71b with Riphath.[10] In the Targum to Jeremiah li. 27, Ararat, Mini, and Ashkenaz are paraphrased by Kordu, Harmini, and Hadayab, i.e., Corduene, Armenia, and Adiabene; while in Ezekiel xxvii. 23 Harran, Caneh, and Eden are interpreted by the Aramaic translator as "Harwan, Nisibis, and Adiabene."


Adiabene had a mixed population. In the account of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, the royal family and aristocracy all bear Hellenistic names, pointing to their origin as ruling class during the Seleucid Empire. The work also shows that there was a substantial Jewish population in the kingdom, which led to the establishment of a prominent rabbinic academy in Arbela. During the Sassanid era, Iranians came to the fore politically. Adiabene was home to Christians, Zoroastrians and Manichees. The difficult mixing of cultures can be seen in the story of the martyrdom of Mahanuš, a prominent Iranian Zoroastrian who converted to Christianity.[11] In later times Adiabene became an archbishopric, with the seat of the metropolitan at Arbela.[12]

Adiabene was a district in Mesopotamia between upper and lower Zab and was a part of the Assyrian Empire and inhabited by Assyrians even after the fall of Nineveh[13][14]. The region was later made a part of the Roman province of Assyria after the invasion by Trajan in the year 116[15].

(For subsequent history, see Arbil; Assyrian people, Roman Empire, Iraq).


Under the Achamenid Persian kings Adiabene seems for a time to have been a vassal state of the Persian Empire. At times the throne of Adiabene was held by a member of the Achamenid house; Ardashir III (king from AD 628 to 630), before he came to the throne of Persia, had the title "King of Hadyab".[16] The Ten Thousand, an army of Greek mercenaries, retreated through Adiabene on their march to the Black Sea after the Battle of Cunaxa. The little kingdom may have had a series of native rulers nominally vassal to the Macedonian and later Seleucid empires. It later became one of the client kingdoms of the Parthian empire. During the first century BC and the first century AD, it gained a certain prominence under a series of kings descended from Izates I and his son Monobaz I. Monobaz I is known ot have been allied with king Abennerig of Characene, in whose court his son Izates bar Monobaz lived for a time and whose daughter Symacho Izates married, as well as the rulers of other small kingdoms on the periphery of the Parthian sphere of influence.

Izates, the son of Monobaz I and his wife Helena of Adiabene, became a Jew. His conversion to Judaism took place before he ascended the throne and while he lived in Charax Spasinu. At about the same time his mother, Helena, was also converted. The period was characterized by chaos in the Parthian empire, with a string of Parthian kings and counter-kings following each other in quick succession. Artabanus II of Parthia was king of Atropatene. He had succeeded Vonones I, who, having been educated entirely at Rome, was unsympathetic toward the Parthians. Artabanus soon had to flee to Hyrcania to escape from the rival king, Tiridates III. He returned, however, in 36, and, being afraid of a conspiracy, took refuge at the court of Izates, who was powerful enough to induce the Parthians to reinstate Artabanus. For this service certain kingly honors were granted Izates, and the city of Nisibis was added to his dominions. However, around 40, Gotarzes II, an adopted son of Artabanus, was raised to the throne by the nobles, in preference to Vardanes I, his half-brother. In 49 Meherdates Mithridates, a son of Vonones, was sent from Rome by Claudius to take possession of the throne of Parthia. Izates played a double game, though he secretly sided with Gotarzes. A few years later, Vologeses I set out with the intention of invading Adiabene and of punishing Izates; but a force of Dacians and Scythians had just entered Parthia, and Vologeses had to return home.

Izates was followed on the throne by his elder brother, Monobaz II. It is related that in the year 61 he sent a contingent of soldiers to Armenia to assist the Parthian candidate, Tiridates, against Tigranes, who had made an incursion into the territory of Adiabene. The troops of Monobaz, however, were beaten back at Tigranocerta. Monobaz was present when peace was concluded at Rhandea between Parthia and Rome in the year 63. He later sent assistance to the Jews in their rebellion against Rome in the late 60's and early 70's AD.

The "Tomb of the Kings", built outside the walls of Jerusalem by Queen Helena in the mid first century AD. From a lithograph by William Henry Bartlett.

The chief opponent of Trajan in Mesopotamia during the year 115 was the last king of independent Adiabene, Meharaspes. He had made common cause with Ma'nu (Mannus) of Singar (Singara). Trajan invaded Adiabene, and made it part of the Roman province of Assyria; under Hadrian in 117,[3] however, Rome gave up possession of Assyria, Mesopotamia, and Armenia. In the summer of 195 Septimus Severus was again warring in Mesopotamia, and in 196 three divisions of the Roman army fell upon Adiabene. According to Dio Cassius, Caracalla took Arbela in the year 216, and searched all the graves there, wishing to ascertain whether the Arsacid kings were buried there. Many of the ancient royal tombs were destroyed.

As a province of Sassanid Persia

Despite the overthrow of the Parthians by the Sassanids, the feudatory dynasties remained loyal to the Parthians, and resisted Sassanid advance into Adiabene and Atropatene. Due to this, and religious differences, Adiabene was never regarded as an integral part of Iran, even though the Sassanids controlled it for several centuries. After the Roman empire declared Christianity its official religion, the inhabitants of Adiabene, who were Christians, sided with Christian Rome rather than the Zoroastrian Sassanids. The Byzantine empire sent many armies to the region during the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars, but this did nothing to change the territorial boundaries. Adiabene remained a province of the Sassanid Empire until the Islamic conquests of Persia.[17]

Rulers of Adiabene

  1. Izates I (c. 15 AD)
  2. Bazeus Monobazus I (20?–30?)
  3. Heleni (c. 30–58)
  4. Izates II bar Monobazus (c. 34–58)
  5. Vologases (a Parthian rebel opposing Izates II) (c. 50)
  6. Monobazus II bar Monobazus (58 – middle of the 70s)
  7. Meharaspes (?–116)
  8. To the Roman Empire (116–117)
  9. Narsai of Adiabene (c. 170–200)
  10. unknown (200 – c. 310)
  11. Aphraates (c. 310)
  12. To the Sassanid Empire (226–649)

Bishops of Adiabene

Between the fifth and the fourteenth centuries Adiabene was a metropolitan province of the Assyrian Church of the East. The Chronicle of Erbil, a purported history of Christianity in Adiabene under the Parthians and Sassanians, lists a number of early bishops of Erbil. The authenticity of the Chronicle of Erbil has been questioned, and scholars remain divided on how much credence to place in its evidence. Some of the bishops in the following list are attested in other sources, but the early bishops are probably legendary.

  1. Pkidha (104–114)
  2. Semsoun (120–123)
  3. Isaac (135–148)
  4. Abraham (148–163)
  5. Noh (163–179)
  6. Habel (183–190)
  7. Abedhmiha (190–225)
  8. Hiran of Adiabene (225–258)
  9. Saloupha (258–273)
  10. Ahadabuhi (273–291)
  11. Sri'a (291–317)
  12. Iohannon (317–346)
  13. Abraham (346–347)
  14. Maran-zkha (347–376)
  15. Soubhaliso (376–407)
  16. Daniel (407–431)
  17. Rhima (431–450)
  18. Abbousta (450–499)
  19. Joseph (499–511)
  20. Huana (511–?)


  1. ^ other variants include Parthian Nôd-Šîragân and Middle Persian Ardaxširagân. "Assyria".
  2. ^ Parpola, Simo. "Assyrian Identity in Ancient Times and Today" (PDF). Assyriology. Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. pp. 15. "When the Seleucid Empire disintegrated at the end of the second century BC, its western remnants were annexed to Rome, while several semi-independent kingdoms of decidedly Assyrian identity (Osrhoene, Adiabene, Hatra, Assur) popped up in the east under Parthian overlordship."  
  3. ^ a b "The Chronicle of Arbela" (PDF). "In 115, the Romans invaded Adiabene and named it Assyria."  
  4. ^ The Biblical Geography of Central Asia: With a General Introduction, By Ern. Frid. Car. Rosenmüller. Page 122.
  5. ^ In Memory of Rabbi and Mrs. Carl Friedman: Studies on the Problem of Tannaim in Babylonia (ca. 130-160 C. E.) Author(s): Jacob Neusner Source: Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 30 (1962), pp. 79-127.
  6. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, another fourth-century writer. In his excursus on the Sasanian Empire he describes Assyria in such a way that there is no mistaking he is talking about lower Mesopotamia (Amm. Marc. XXIII. 6. 15). For Assyria he lists three major cities-Babylon, Ctesiphon and Seleucia (Amm. Marc. xxIII. 6. 23), whereas he refers to Adiabene as 'Assyria priscis temporibus vocitata' (Amm. Marc. xxIII. 6. 20).
  7. ^ The forced conversion of the Jewish community of Persia and the beginnings of the Kurds
  8. ^ "Hist." xviii., vii. 1
  9. ^ Yaqut, Geographisches Wörterbuch, ii. 263; Payne-Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus, under "Hadyab"; Hoffmann, Auszüge aus Syrischen Akten, pp. 241, 243.
  10. ^ Genesis x. 3; compare also Genesis Rabba xxxvii.
  11. ^ Fiey, J. M. (1965). Assyrie chrétienne I. Beirut: Imprimerie catholique.  
  12. ^ Hoffmann, "Akten," pp. 259 et seq.
  13. ^ Whinston, William. Translator. The Works of Josephus. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc. 1999
  14. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. David Womersley, ed. Penguin Books, 2000
  15. ^
  16. ^ Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 70.
  17. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica [ online], article on Adiabene


  • idem, Wars of the Jews. ii. 19, § 2; iv. 9, § 11; v. 2, § 2; 3, § 3; 4, § 2; 6, § 1, noting that Josephus probably got his information from Adiabene Jews in Jerusalem (Von Gutschmid, Kleine Schriften, iii. 4).
  • Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, v. 66, vi. 44 et seq.
  • Ammianus, History, xviii. 7, § 1; xxiii. 6, § 21
  • Strabo, Geography, xvi. 745 et seq.
  • Brüll, Adiabene, in Jahrbuch i. 58 et seq.
  • Grätz, Heinrich, in Monatsschrift, 1877, xxvi. 241 et seq., 289 et seq.
  • Von Gutschmid, Gesch. Irans, pp. 140 et seq.
  • Schürer, Gesch. ii. 562.

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