Sura was a city in the southern part of the area called by ancient Jewish sources Babylonia, located east of the Euphrates River. It was well known for its agricultural produce, which included grapes, wheat, and barley. It was also a major center of Torah scholarship and home of an important yeshiva – the Sura Yeshiva – which, together with the yeshivas in Pumbedita and Nehardea, gave rise to the Babylonian Talmud.
According to Rav Sherira Gaon, Sura was identical to the town of Mata Mehasya, which is also mentioned in the Talmud, but Mata Mehasya is cited in the Talmud many times, either as a nearby town or a suburb of Sura, and the Talmudist academy in Mata Mehasya served as a branch of the Sura Academy. Sura Academy was founded by Rav in the third century.
A contemporary Syriac source describes it as a town completely inhabited by Jews, situated between Māḥōzē and Al-Hira in southern Iraq. A responsum of Rabbi Natronai Gaon says that Sura was about 6 km from Al-Hira.
Roman and Sasanian rule
Sura was under Roman control in the time of Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) and Ptolemy (c. 100-170 CE), but was conquered by the Sasanian king Shapur I in 253 CE.
It was a [Byzantine] garrison of some importance in the Persian campaigns of Belisarius; and a full account is given of the circumstances under which it was taken and burned by Chosroes I. (A.D. 532), who, having marched three long days’ journey from Circesium to Zenobia, along the course of the Euphrates, thence proceeded an equal distance up the river to Sura. Incidental mention of the bishop proves that it was then an episcopal see. (Procop. Bell. Pers. i. 18, ii. 5.) Its walls were so weak that it did not hold out more than half an hour; but it was afterwards more substantially fortified, by order of the emperor Justinian. (Id. de Aedificiis Justiniani, ii. 9.)”