Adiabene was an ancient kingdom in Assyria, with its capital at Arbela (modern-day Erbil, Iraq).

Adiabenian rulers converted to Judaism from paganism in the 1st century. Queen Helena of Adiabene (known in Jewish sources as Heleni HaMalka) moved to Jerusalem, where 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, and aided the Jews in their war with Rome. According to the Talmud, both Helena and Monobaz donated large funds for the Temple of Jerusalem. After 115 CE, there are no historic traces of Jewish royalty in Adiabene.

Adiabene occupied a district in Assyria between the Upper Zab (Lycus) and the Lower Zab (Caprus), though Ammianus speaks of Nineveh, Ecbatana, and Gaugamela as also belonging to it. Although nominally a dependency of the Parthian Empire, for some centuries, beginning with the 1st century BCE, it was independent. By the late 1st century CE, its borders extended as far as Nisibis. 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 later Arabs also called Arbela.

In Kiddushin 72a the Biblical Habor is identified with Adiabene, but in Yerushalmi Megillah i. 71b with Riphath. In the Targum to Jeremiah li. 27, Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz are paraphrased by KorduHarmini, 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, while the Syriac language was dominant spoken by Assyrians. According to Pliny, four tribes inhabited the region of Adiabene: OrontesAlaniAzones and Silices. The account of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 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, Persians came to the fore politically. The difficult mixing of cultures can be seen in the story of the martyrdom of Mahanuš, a prominent Iranian Zoroastrian who converted to Christianity. In later times Adiabene became an archbishopric, with the seat of the metropolitan at Arbela.

Based on names of the Adiabenian rulers, Ernst Herzfeld suggested a Saka/Scythian origin for the royal house of the kingdom; however, later progress in Iranian linguistic studies showed that these names were common west middle Iranian names. It has been suggested that the royal house of Adiabene, after fleeing Trajan’s invasion, established the later Amatuni dynasty which ruled the area between the lakes Urmia and Van.

Adiabene was a district in Mesopotamia between upper and lower Zab and was a part of the Neo Assyrian Empire and inhabited by Assyrians even after the fall of Nineveh. It was an integral part of Achaemenid Assyria (Athura) and Sassanid Assyria (Assuristan). The region was later made a part of the Roman province of Assyria after the invasion by Trajan in 116.

According to Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, when the heartland of Assyria was back into focus in early Christianity (during the Parthian era and about six centuries after the fall of the Assyrian Empire), “it was with an Assyrian, not a Persian let alone Greek, self-identification: the temple of Ashur was restored, the city was rebuilt, and an Assyrian successor state that returned in the shape of the client kingdom of Adiabene.” The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus states that the inhabitants of Adiabene were Assyrians.

In ancient times Adiabene was an integral part of Assyria.

Achaemenid Persian Empire

Under the Achaemenid 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 Achaemenid house; Ardashir III (king from 628 to 630 CE), before he came to the throne of Persia, had the title “King of Hadyab”. The Ten Thousand, an army of Greek mercenaries, retreated through Adiabene on their march to the Black Sea after the Battle of Cunaxa.

Queen Helena’s conversion to Judaism

According to Jewish tradition, Helena, the Queen of Adiabene converted to Judaism from paganism in the 1st century. Queen Helena of Adiabene (known in Jewish sources as Heleni HaMalka) moved to Jerusalem where 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, and aided Jews in their war with Rome. Queen Helena’s sarcophagus was discovered in 1863. A pair of inscriptions on the sarcophagus, “tzaddan malka” and “tzadda malkata,” is believed to be a reference to the provisions (tzeda in Hebrew) that Helena supplied to Jerusalem’s poor and to the Jewish kingdom in general. According to Josephus “the queen converted to Judaism together with her son Monobaz II, under the influence of two Jews. Another tradition has it that she met a Jewish jewelry merchant in Adiabene by the name of Hanania or Eliezer, who told her about the people of Israel and persuaded her to join them. All historic traces of Jewish royalty in Adiabne ended around 115 CE, but these stories made huge impact on rabbinic literature and Talmud. Nominally Zoroastrian, the people of Adiabne were tolerant toward Judaism, and permitted the establishment of Jewish communities there, The Jews of Edessa, Nisibis, and Adiabene repaid them by being among the most vigorous opponents of Trajan. In late second century Christianity rapidly spread among Zoroastrians and those formerly professing Judaism. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine, the position of Adiabenian Christians was naturally exacerbated, since they were seen as potentially disaffected by the zealously Zoroastrian Sasanians.

Hellenistic Period

The little kingdom may have had a series of native rulers nominally vassal to the Macedonian, Seleucid and later Armenian (under Tigranes the Great) empires.

Parthian Empire

It later became one of the client kingdoms of the Parthian empire. During the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE, it gained a certain prominence under a series of kings descended from Monobaz I and his son Izates I. Monobaz I is known to have been allied with king Abennerig of Characene, in whose court his son Izates II 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.

Roman intermezzo (117-118)

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, however, Rome gave up possession of Assyria, Mesopotamia, and Armenia.

In the summer of 195 Septimius 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.

Sassanid Persia

Despite the overthrow of the Parthians by the Sassanids in 224 CE, 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 gradually made Christianity its official religion during the fourth century, the inhabitants of Adiabene, who were primarily Assyrian Christians, sided with Christian Rome rather than the Zoroastrian Sassanids. The Byzantine Empire sent 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 Muslim conquest of Persia.

The region was recorded as Nod-Ardadkhshiragan or Nod-Ardashiragan in Sasanian period.

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