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The Assyrian Church of the East

History and Geography

Christine Chaillot

The cradle of the Church of the East was in Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and the Euphrates), where it developed its first centre at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, then the capital of the great Persian Empire and today an archaeological site to the south of Baghdad. From the very beginnings of Christianity until the fourteenth century, this Church experienced a remarkable expansion in Asia, its missionaries carrying the Gospel from Persia to India, via the Persian Gulf, and even as far as China. The Church of the East reached China as early as the seventh century via Central Asia and the celebrated Silk Road that linked China to the Mediterranean world. Much later, in the late fourteenth century, the invasions of the Mongol conqueror, Timur Lang (Tamerlane), across Asia brought about a great decline of the Church of the East. Eventually, after the genocide suffered by Christians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and the massacres that followed in Persia, the Church of the East and its people were on the verge of extinction. In 1940 the patriarchal seat was moved to Chicago (in the United States) and then in September 2015 to Erbil (in northern Iraq). Many of the faithful have left the Middle East and have formed diaspora communities throughout the world. The history of Christianity in the Middle East and well beyond, in Central and Eastern Asia, is very little known. In this book, the reader is invited to travel in time and space and undertake the fascinating discovery of a very ancient apostolic Church, the Church of the East, whose two-thousand year history constitutes an indispensable chapter in the history of the universal Church.
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Chapter 6 Under the Mongols (1206–1368) and Tamerlane (1370–1405)

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CHAPTER 6

Under the Mongols (1206–1368) and Tamerlane (1370–1405)

Under the Mongols (1206–1368), the Church of the East enjoyed a last period of expansion, thanks to the Mongols’ unification of Asia from the Euphrates to the Yellow Sea. During this period the Church of the East planted itself again in China. It was at this time that the Church of the East attained its broadest geographical extent.

The Mongols

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Mongols came to establish an Asian empire that was transcontinental and even European, one of the most extensive empires in history. In 1258, with their capture of Baghdad, they were for a time the masters of Asia. Beyond the Mongol Empire the principal states in the Middle East at that time were the Byzantine Empire (330–1453) and the Mamluk state in Egypt and Syria (1250–1517).

Even though the Mongols conducted ceaseless warfare, and despite their savage destruction of towns and populations, they also promoted a certain kind of ‘universal’ peace, the so-called Pax Mongolica, over their very vast territories in practically the whole of Asia. This period of stability created favourable conditions for travellers along the Silk Road and permitted the migration of peoples across Central Asia and China. The Mongol conquest resulted in an unprecedented unification of Eurasia that facilitated economic and cultural exchange. Thus from the social, cultural and economic viewpoints, the unified administration of this empire...

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