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Residence of an Armenian Catholic see, also a titulary archbishopric

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Melitene, residence of an Armenian Catholic see, also a titulary archbishopric. According to Pliny (Nat. Hist. VI, 3), the city was founded by Queen Semiramis at a little distance from the Euphrates; the earliest mention of it is found in Tacitus (Annal., XV, 26). A Roman camp was there under Nero, and Traj an made it the principal stronghold of this frontier. Its name is probably derived from the river Melas which empties into the Euphrates. Under Marcus Aurelius the Legio XII fulminata was stationed there (Eusebius, H. E. V, v, 4); to this legion belonged the forty martyrs of Sebaste. Ptolemy (V, vi, 21) and Strabo (XII i, 2, 4; see also XI, xii, 2; XI, xiv, 2) make it one of the ten provinces of Cappadocia. Justinian fortified it and filled it with magnificent monuments (Procopius, De Aedificiis, III, 4), which have all disappeared. In 577 the Romans gained a great victory over the Persians in the vicinity of Melitene; two years before the city had been burned by the Shah Chosroes. Towards the middle of the seventh century Melitene again became Byzantine; it was afterwards taken by the Arabs and later recaptured by Emperor Constantine Copronymus in 751. The latter transported the Christian population to Thrace, dispersed the Mussulmans of the province, destroyed the city and razed the walls. In 760 Caliph Al-Manzur took possession of it and restored to it something of its former importance. In the tenth century the Byzantines reestablished their domination and in 965 the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas successfully undertook to colonize the region. The Greek Government had faithfully promised not to molest the Monophysites, whether Armenian or Syrian; but it did not keep its promise. In the eleventh century the city counted no less than fifty-six churches, and was able to furnish 60,000 armed men from among its own citizens and its environs, an index of its great prosperity. The number of suffragan sees increased at this time and was suddenly changed from three to nine (Gelzer, “Ungedruckte… Texte der Notitiae episcopatuum”, 579). The Monophysites had at that time seven sees in the vicinity of Melitene (Barhebraeus, H. E. II, 460). The city fell afterwards into the power of the Seljuk Turks of Iconium; then of the Mongols in 1235; of the Osmanlis in 1396; of Timur in 1401; then of different Turkish princes. Finally, at the beginning of the sixteenth century it was annexed to the Ottoman Empire, of which it is still a part.

Christianity seems to have reached Melitene very early. The Roman soldier, St. Polyeuctus, immortalized by Corneille, was martyred there in 254 or 259. Another third century martyr is known, St. Eudoxius, whose relics were found in 966, as indicated by an inscription carved on the door of a church. St. Meletius, the celebrated Bishop of Antioch, was a native of Melitene, as was also Saint Euthymius, to whom was chiefly due the organization of monastic life in Palestine during the fifth century. A council against the Arians was held there in 363. Le Quien (Oriens Christianus, I, 439-46) gives a long list of its Greek bishops, the last of whom belongs to the year 1193. Among them are St. Acacius, who died about 438; and Saint Domitian, first cousin to the Emperor Maurice, who played a most important role in the religious and political life of the second half of the sixth century. For its Jacobite bishops see Le Quien (II, 1451-58) and “Revue de l’Orient chretien” (VI, 201). Today the city of Malatia forms a sanjak of the vilayet of Mamouret-ul-Aziz; it numbers about 30,000 inhabitants of whom 16,000 are Turks; 4500 Kurds; 6500 Kizil Bach (a Mussulman sect); and about 3000 Armenians. Among the last mentioned are 800 Catholics. The Capuchins have established there a mission with a church built in 1884 and an orphan asylum. The city, which was disturbed by an earthquake in 1893, was still more sorely troubled by the massacres of 1895, during which 500 houses were burned and 1000 Christians massacred. About five miles from Malatia is the village of Eski-Malatia on the site of the ancient Melitene; a part of the walls is still preserved. The whole region is like an immense fruit garden in a delightful climate and a well-watered land. The Catholic Armenian diocese numbers 5100 souls, 9 priests, 10 churches and chapels, 7 stations, 9 primary schools, and an establishment of Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. The schismatic Armenian diocese is under the Catholicos of Sis. There is also established there a Protestant mission.


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