Chaldeans in Northern Mesopotamia


As a result of the name conflict between the Eastern Christians, all kinds of theories are being sent out into the world. Theories formed by the selective use of historical information. Such theories form the basis of endless discussions and hinder the unity between the Christian population groups in the Middle East.

One of these theories we want to discuss in this article is the claim that Chaldeans, an ancient Semitic people, lived in the south of Mesopotamia and the modern Chaldean Christians in northern Mesopotamia cannot by definition be Chaldeans. The Christians living in northern Mesopotamia, according to today’s ‘Assyrian nationalists’, are then more logically wise ‘Assyrians’, since Assyria was located in northern Mesopotamia.

In this article we leave open whether Mesopotamian Christians are ethnic Chaldeans, Assyrians or Arameans. We will go deeper into the principle of such a used theory and with what motives such a theory arises.


Geography and migration

First of all, it is absurd to say that it is impossible for someone living in country A to have a connection with country B. People who dare to do so have not taken note of the fact that there is ‘human migration’, also known as population displacement.

If we have to follow such a theory, the third generation of Chaldean, Assyrian or Aramean Christians, who live in the diaspora, cannot possibly have a connection with their homeland.

They will of course say that this is traceable. That is true, but the same story applies to the older peoples. In order to find out, however, one must be open to all historical information and not proceed selectively.

The old Chaldeans settled – according to the historical sources – around 1000 B.C. in the south of Mesopotamia, with the world-famous Babylon as its stronghold. But like many peoples, the Chaldeans emigrated as well.


Below are some separate arguments that show that the false theory in question is based on a negligible assumption.


Deportation in the 8th century B.C.

During the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705 B.C. – 681 B.C.) there was a battle between Assyrians on the one hand and Elamites, Chaldeans and Arameans on the other. In these battles Sennacherib won decisively and deported 208 000 Chaldeans and Aramaeans to the north, more specifically to Nineveh. This historical information is mentioned in Akkadian on the prism of Sennacherib (versatile clay tablet), which can be viewed in The Oriental Institute of Chicago[1]. This prism is an archaeological find of the British Colonel Taylor in 1830 near Nineveh.


Neo-Babylon empire under Chaldean rule

The Neo-Babylonian Empire existed from 626 B.C. to 539 B.C. and was ruled by a Chaldean Dynasty. This Chaldean Dynasty with the first ruler Nabopolassar, together with the Medes, brought down the Assyrian Empire, from which territory was taken. The Neo-Babylonian Empire stretched from southern Mesopotamia to northern Mesopotamia (Iraq and southeastern Turkey) and included the levant (Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan). The Chaldeans were the last indigenous people to rule Mesopotamia. Of course this would not be possible if they were not present in all of Mesopotamia, including the north.


Christians of the Church of the East (éta ed medenha)

The Church of the East was a powerful Church, to which both modern Chaldean and Assyrian Christians belong. This Church had acquired autonomy in the 5th century AD.

At the Synod of the Church of the East in 424 AD it was decided that the metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon could be the sole head of the Persian Church (Church of the East) and that therefore there should be no ecclesiastical authorities above him[2]. Dadisho, the metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon at the time, took the title of ‘Catholicus’ and thus became the ‘Patriarch’.

Seleucia-Ctesiphon was located in the south of Mesopotamia, near historic Babylon. This city was an important centre for the Christians of the Church of the East. From 775 AD, the Patriarchate was moved to Baghdad because of its political relations with the Islamic Caliph.

This fact shows that in the south of Mesopotamia there was a significant presence of the Christians of the Church of the East. It is impossible to say now that the Christians in the south and the Christians in the north were separate peoples, because they were the same people, the same Church and spoke the same language.

Let’s say that all these Christians were Assyrians (descendants of the ancient Assyrians), so how is it possible that they were also present in the south of Mesopotamia? For if we have to follow the relevant theory, Assyrians lived in the north and Chaldeans in the south and the Assyrians could not possibly have lived in the south, while the Christian people we are talking about were also present in the south and even had their centre there.



Migration as a result of persecution of Christians

As we have read in the above paragraph, the Christians of the Eastern Church were spread throughout Mesopotamia from the beginning of Christianity.

This is quite logical because, according to tradition, throughout Mesopotamia, Christianity was evangelized by the apostles Mar Addai and Mar Mari, two of the legendary founders of the Church of the East. Mar Addai is said to have evangelized in northern Mesopotamia and Mar Mari in the south.

Christians in Mesopotamia have often been persecuted because of their faith. They have suffered from all the non-Christian superpowers and are still often targeted by extremist groups today.

As everywhere, a minority that is persecuted succeeds in fleeing and this has also been the case with the Mesopotamian Christians. There have been times when these Christians have fled in all directions. They were always the same people, regardless of their geographical location.

During the reign of the Islamic caliphs, Christianity in the south also came under more pressure and the Church of the East expanded very strongly in the north with additional dioceses[3]. This has been reflected up to and including the 20th century in the considerable presence of the Christians of the Church of the East in the north of Mesopotamia.



We can conclude that the geographical argument of the Assyrian nationalists is based on selective and superficial information and is rather used to convince the Mesopotamian Christians of an ethnic Assyrian identity. A history of 2,600 years has been passed in order to establish direct links with the ancient Assyrians.

However, the above arguments show that one cannot rely on geography alone when tracing the roots of a people.

Moreover, the geographical distance between ancient Babylon and Nineveh is only 700 km. However, when one uses the theory in question, one almost speaks of two separate worlds.

And to reinforce this theory even more, one mentions that Chaldeans originate from Basra, all the way in the south of Iraq. The deeper in the south, the more convincing the theory sounds. Fortunately, Mesopotamia borders on the Persian Gulf in the south, because who knows where else, according to these Assyrian nationalists, the Chaldeans would come from. (read also the article Assyrian Nationalism).

[1] Luckenbill D., The Annals of Sennacherib, The University of Chicago Oriental institute publications Volume II, Chicago, 1924, 196 pages.

[2] Wilmshurst, D., The Martyred Church, A History of the Church of the East, East & West Publishing Ltd, Londen, 2011, 522 pages. See chapter I.

[3] Wilmshurst, D., The Martyred Church, A History of the Church of the East, East & West Publishing Ltd, Londen, 2011, 522 pages. See chapter III Christians and Muslims.