Ephrem was born in the Mesopotamian city of Nisibis toward the end of the third century. An outpost of the Roman Empire, Nisibis and its Christian citizens were formed under the reign of Constantine and the doctrines of the Council of Nicea. There, amidst a large and sophisticated Jewish population along with numerous Gnostic sects, Ephremsought to defend orthodox Nicene Christianity. His skill as a teacher and writer made him an influential voice in the life of Syriac Christianity through the peaceful years of Constantine's patronage.
It was as a poet that Ephrem made his greatest impact. Writing in isosyllabic verses called madrashe, he attained the literary brilliance that won him a place of prominence not only in his own tradition, but in the Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Arabic traditions as well. His hymns had a formative influence on the development of European medieval religious drama. Blending Greek forms with his native style, he wove a highly crafted poetry of rich symbolism into the cosmic framework of God's redemptive act in Christ.