chapter  12
16 Pages

Education in the Syriac World of Late Antiquity

ByDANIEL KING

The ‘Shifting Frontiers’ of Late Antiquity have become a scholarly sound bite: whether the frontiers in question be the limes that defined the edges of the empire, or the equally permeable frontiers between multiple religious identities; frontiers that (in both cases) seclude, con/preserve, define and control; frontiers that seep, leak; that remain open to negotiation and definition; that offer a variety of paths into a still undefined future. The Syriac-speaking peoples who inhabited provinces on both sides of the Euphrates were familiar with living near the military limes, and even with finding themselves suddenly in a different empire as the result of diplomacy or of being forcibly removed to a distant new home. Their religious limes were equally porous, however. Only very gradually did the doctrinal conflicts of the fifth century take on the concrete form of denominations, and for much of Late Antiquity their long-term futures were uncertainly dependent upon the vigorous persecutions of emperors and shahs; the tenacity of the monks; and the political and theological acumen of the bishops. Meanwhile the linguistic frontiers of deeper history continued to criss-cross both the religious and the political frontiers. And that is to say nothing of social or economic frontiers and how these might interact with, and influence, all those others. The Syriac-speaking peoples of those regions thus faced any number of intersecting identity issues. To which religion do I belong? To which denomination? To which empire and government? To which language group? To which social group?