By: C. E. Bosworth
Former Iranian city of Upper Mesopotamia, now located in the modern Turkish province of Diyarbakir approximately 40 km/25 miles south-southeast of Edessa (q.v.), or Urfa. It is the Greek "Hai Kharrai," and Roman "Carrhae," but has a more ancient history as the "Óarrānu" of Assyrian texts; in the Old Testament it is known as the dwelling-place of Abraham before he relocated to Palestine (Gen. 12:4-5).
Harrān was always a place of strategic importance due to its location on caravan routes connecting Anatolia and Syria with Persia. In Assyrian times it was the center of a cult of the moon god Sin, boasting a shrine which was adorned by the Assyrian kings. Biruni (p. 204) mentions that, as Sin's sacred city, Harrān was designed according to a moon-shaped plan.
[At the time Parthian dynasty Romans in a disastrous attempt, attacked Eastern Iranian provinces in which both armies met at Harrān. It is recorded that Iranians under the command of General Surena, destroyed entire Roman forces. Twenty thousand Romans are said to have been killed; ten thousand were captured, and deported to distant northern Iranian provinces of Margiana for hard labor and slavery. After that event the Euphrates was firmly established as the boundary between the two empires.]
However, Emperors tended to leave the town alone because of its strategic position in the region of Osroene, adjacent to the frontier with their enemies, the Sasanian Persians (see Pauly-Wissow X/2, cols, 2009-21; Mez, pp. 311-12, 560-63).
[After the invasion if Iran by Arabs in 637 C.E.] Harrān capitulated peacefully to the Arab invaders under the commander`Eyād b. Ghanam in 18/639 or 19/640 (Tabari, I, pp. 2504-6, 2507, 2578; Balādhori, Fotuh, pp. 174, 175, 186), and subsequently became one of the most important towns of the district of Diār Modar. It was favored by the Umayyad caliphs, and Ebn Abi Osaybe`a states that`Omar II transferred a school of medicine from Alexandria to Harrān (I, p. 116). More certainly, Marwān II transferred his capital from Damascus to Harrān, apparently with the aim of watching over the discontented eastern provinces (Tabari, II, p. 1892). According to Ya`qubi (II, p. 405), Marwān spent 10 million dirhams for the construction of his palace there. It was from Harrān that he set out to confront in battle the`Abbasid revolutionaries, and through which he later fled (Tabari, III, pp. 45, 47).
Under the`Abbasids, Hārun al-Raid provided the town with a water supply by constructing a canal from the Nahr Balikh, but Harrān is mentioned in the sources primarily for being the center for a persistent strain of paganism. In 215/830, Ma'mun is said to have offered the population the choice of conversion to Islam, or any of the protected religions, or death; the Harrānians, however, survived by arguing that they were the Koranic Sābe'un, and therefore already "People of the Book" (ahl al-ketāb; see Ebn al-Nadim, ed. Tajaddod, p. 385; tr. Dodge, II, pp. 751-52). Harrān flourished under the early`Abbasids as a prominent seat of learning, especially in the sciences; it became a major center for the translation of Greek texts on astronomy, mathematics, and medicine under the guidance of the outstanding scholar and translator Thābet b. Qorra (d. 288/901).
In the 4th/10th century, the geographer Maqdesi describes Harrān as a pleasant town with a citadel built of stone, while, two centuries later, Ebn Jobayr remarks on the stone town walls (Le Strange, p. 103). The ruined citadel and congregational mosque still survive as evidence of the town's florescence, and excavations in the 1950s under the direction of D. S. Rice (pp. 36-84) revealed the extent of the original walls and their many gates. The town continued to flourish under the Ayyubids, and Salāh-al-Din enlarged its great mosque, but Hülegü and his Mongol army arrived there in 658/1260; the Mongols later deported the population and destroyed public buildings, so that, in spite of the success of the Mamluks in regaining the Jazira and Harrān at the beginning of the 8th/14th century, the town never revived.
*** Note: This article is the courtesy of CAIS at SOAS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies).
- Claude Cahen, La Syrie du nord a l'epoque des croisades, Paris, 1940, pp. 110 ff.
- Ebn Abi Osaybe`a,`Oyun al-anbā', ed. A. Müller, Cairo, 1882-1883.
- K. K. Emskirchen, "Harrān," in Der Neue Pauly V, Stuttgart and Weimar, 1998, pp. 166-67.
- G. Fehervari, "Harrān," EI2 III, pp. 227-30. Guy Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 1930, pp. 103, 124.
- Adam Mez, Die Stadt Harrān bis zum Einfall der Araber, diss., Strassbourg, 1892. James Bennett Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd ed., Princeton, 1969, pp. 311-12, 560-63.
- D. S. Rice, "Mediaeval Harrān: Studies on its Topography and Monuments," Anatolian Studies 2, 1952, pp. 36-84.
- Judah Benzion Segal, Edessa and Harrān: An Inaugural Lecture, London, 1963. Yāqut, Boldān (Beirut), II, pp. 235-36.