Late Antiquity and Early Islam

Document Type: Research Paper


Freie Universität Berlin, Germany


In this paper, an investigation on the relation between state-building and Near Eastern religion is attempted. Analyzing the city-state of Ḥaṭrā (Iraq, close to Kirkuk), it is demonstrated that pre-Islamic state craft in the region was dependent on the initiative of the Parthian monarchy in Iran. The kings of the Arsacid dynasty attempted to bestow the local Arabic tribes in the Jazira with a cultic center that would serve as a stronghold against Rome/Byzantium. The deity most venerated in Ḥaṭrā was the Sungod, Šamaš, the same as in Palmyra (Tadmor), Edessa (Urfa), and Emesa (Homs). It is of crucial importance, that since Constantine the Great venerated the Sungod before becoming a Christian, the combination between Greek and Iranian art on the border of the two empires became the basis of Christian art. Ḥaṭrā, a point of cross-cultural fusion between the East and the West, is now very much endangered as the troops of the “Islamic” State have destroyed the until recently well-preserved ruins.


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