Corduene (or Gordyene; Kurdish:Kardox, Greek:Κορδυηνή Kordyene) was an ancient state in northern Mesopotamia, in today’s Kurdistan region.  It is said to have been located in the mountainous region around the Van Lake in today’s Turkish-occupied Kurdistan. The state stretched to the left bank of the Tigris.

Origin of the Name

The name Corduene is possibly derived from the tribe of the Karduchoi (Καρδουχοι) mentioned by Xenophon in the Anabasis (4,18). The different names probably stem from the difficult transcription of the “kh” in Latin. The inhabitants of the region probably spoke an Iranic language [1] and according to Mekerdich Chahin were descendants of the Medes [2]. On the other hand, according to Xenophon, the Karduchoi spoke a Scythian dialect.

Corduene in Roman Sources

The Roman historian Strabon (11, 747) equates Gordiaia and the Gordini with Xenophon’s Karduchoi. Strabo used the term Gordyene (Γορδυηνη: Gordiene or Γορδυαια ορη: Gordiaea) for the mountains between Diyarbakır and Muş. The largest cities were Sareisa (Şarış) near Ergani, Satalka and Pinaka (16.1.24). Pinaka is identified with Finek, Cizre or Eski Yapi [3]. Ammianus Marcellinus mentions it as Phaenicha in the Zabdikene, the Syriac name was Phenek [4]. According to Strabo the Gordinis were great builders and known as experts in siege weapon construction. Also the Carduene in the Roman sources is identified with the Corduene. Ammianus Marcellinus visited the region on a diplomatic journey. Pliny mentions a king named Zarbinios (n. 6, 44).


From 189 to 90 BC, Corduene was an independent state. Thereafter, Phraates III. Of Parthia as well as Tigranes the Great of Armenia ruled the country. By the Roman conquest, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus reigned Corduene. After Tigranes destroyed the cities and moved parts of the population to Tigranocerta, there was no longer resistance against the Armenian rule. In 69 BC Zarbienus, king of Corduene, planned an uprising against Tigranes. He called for help from Rome’s Appius Claudius Pulcher, but the insurrection failed and Zarbienus was killed by Tigranes. Lucullus had a tribute to Zarbienus and conquered Corduene.

After Pompeius’s success against Pontos and Armenia, the latters pushed forward as far as the Euphrates, and demanded Corduene from the Parthians. As they wanted to avoid a conflict with Rome, Afronius, who had been sent by Pompey, could occupy the area without fighting. The remaining Parthians were expelled from the country. The state became a Roman vassal.

In the 3rd century, Diocletian again conquered the country and the Romanity of the area was confirmed in a peace treaty between Rome and Persia. The name of the province reappears in the reports of a battle between the Persians under Shapur II and Rome under Julian. Under Jovian (363-364) the Romans gave up Corduene after they could not take Seleucia-Ctesiphon.

As a result of the victory over Narseh in 296, a peace treaty was signed which would strike the northern bank of the Tigris with Corduene to the Roman sphere of influence. In spring 360, Shapur II started a campaign to capture the city of Singara (modern Sinjar or Shingal). The city fell after a few days of siege. After this victory, Shapur continued his way northward, leaving Nisibis to the left and attacking the fortress Bezabde (Cizre, Eski Hendek in Turkified form) [5]. This fortress controlled the region at the Tigris, where it flows from the mountain to the plains and where many trade routes run along. Therefore the castle was built by the Romans with a double wall and three legions occupied. With a trick Shapur succeeded in overcoming the walls, but a battle took place, at the other end the city was taken and the defenders were massacred.

Today the territory is occupied by Turkey but still populated by Kurds. The inhabitants of Corduene are regarded as ancestors of today’s Kurds. According to 19th century researchers, for instance G.Rawlinson, Corduene is the oldest lexical version of Kurdistan.[6][7][8][9] Some current academic sources upheld this opinion.[10]


2. M. Chahin, Before the Greeks, Cambridge : Lutterworth Press 1996, p. 109
3. Nigel Pollard, Soldiers, cities, and civilians in Roman Syria 2000, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2000, 288
4.P. M. Michèle Daviau, John William Wevers, Michael Weigl, Paul-Eugène Dio (Hrsg.), The world of the Aramaeans III: Studies in Language. and Literature in Honour of Paul-Eugène Dion (Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press 2001), 173
5.Nigel Pollard, Soldiers, cities, and civilians in Roman Syria 2000, 288
6.Rawlinson, George, The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7, 1871 (copy at Project Gutenberg)
7.Grässe, J. G. Th. (1909) [1861]. “Gordyene”. Orbis latinus; oder, Verzeichnis der wichtigsten lateinischen orts- und ländernamen (in German) (2nd ed.). Berlin: Schmidt. via Columbia University.
8.Kurds. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07
9.A.D. Lee, The Role of Hostages in Roman Diplomacy with Sasanian Persia, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 40, No. 3 (1991), pp. 366-374 (see p.371)
10.Revue des études arméniennes, vol.21, 1988-1989, p.281, By Société des études armeniennes, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Published by Imprimerie nationale, P. Geuthner, 1989