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BYZANTIUM  

AND THE  

ARABS IN  

THE SIXTH  

CENTURY

Volume 2  |



 

Part 2


IRFAN SHAHÎD

BYZANTIUM AND THE ARABS

IN THE


SIXTH CENTURY

A mosaic in the floor of the southern sacristy of the Church of St. George at Mt. Nebo. It is dated 

536 and so its Arabic term, 



bi-salām, illustrates the calligraphic expression of the Arabic script in 

pre-Islamic times, as discussed in the chapter on Calligraphy in this volume. 



BYZANTIUM AND THE ARABS  

IN THE


SIXTH CENTURY

IRFAN SHAHÎD

Volume II

Part 2: Economic, Social, and Cultural History

PUBLISHED BY  

DUMBARTON OAKS RESEARCH LIBRARY AND COLLECTION

Washington, D.C.


Copyright © 2009 by Dumbarton Oaks

Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

All maps by K. Rasmussen (archeographics.com), © 2009 by Dumbarton Oaks,  

Trustees for Harvard University



Library of Congress cataloging-in-publication data available

ISBN 978-0-88402-347-0



IN MEMORIAM

P. MICHELE PICCIRILLO

1944–2008

P. FRANCIS DEMARET

1927–2009


Contents

 

 Abbreviations 



x

 

 Preface 



xiii

 

 Acknowledgements 



xxi

I

Economic History



 

I  The Role of the Ghassānids 

3

 

II  The Ghassānids and the Security of Oriens 



6

 

III  The Ghassānids and International Trade Routes 



10

 

IV  The Fairs 



33

 

V  The Ghassānids as Tax Collectors 



41

 

VI  A Ghassānid Dyarchy in Oriens 



43

 

VII  Other Contributions 



45

 

VIII  The Wealth of Arabia 



47

 

IX  Economic Rivalry in Arabia: Byzantium and Persia 



52

 

  Appendix  Al-Nuʿmān ibn al-Mundir:  

Ghassānid or Lakhmid? 57

II

Social History



A Background

 

I  Ghassānid Federate Society 



61

 

II  The Women of Ghassān 



81

 

 Appendices

 

I  Elizabeth of Najrān 



110

 

II  Yawm al-Khurūj: The Day of the Exodus 



111

 

IIi  Palm Sunday 



112

 

Iv  The Education of a Ghassānid Princess 



113

 

v  Al-Jūdī, Layla’s Father at Dūma 



115

 

vi  Yawm al-Furāt, “the Battle-day of the Euphrates”  116



Contents

 

III  Prose Accounts on the Ghassānids 



118

 

  Appendix  Reynold Nicholson  

on the Ghassānid Royal Court 

125

B  Daily Life



 

IV Food 


127

 

 Appendix Paradise in the Koran 

135


 

V Drink 


138

 

 Appendix Garisaean Bacchus 

157


 

VI Clothes 

159

 

  Appendix  The Vestimentary System:  

Further Observations 

173

  VII Medicine 



176

C  Rituals, Entertainment, and Leisure Activities

 

VIII  Music and Song 



182

 

 Appendix Μῖμος and μιμάς in Arabic 

201


 

IX Dance 

204

 

X  Victory Celebrations 



207

 

XI  Votive and Victory Offerings 



220

 

  Appendix  The Ghassānids and the  

Old Testament: Job/Ayyūb 

228

 

XII  The Horse 



230

 

XIII  The Hunt 



238

 

 Appendix Traps and Snares 

246


 

XIV  Ghassānid Banquets  

250

 

XV  Recreation in the Countryside: 



Tabaddi  

255


ix

Contents


III

Cultural History

 

I  The Ghassānid Limitrophe 



261

 

II  The Ghassānid Sedentary Presence 



268

 

III  Architecture and Decorative Art  



277

 

 Appendices

 

I  On the Archaeology of the Limitrophe  



285

 

II  The Monasteries of the Ghassānids  



287

 

III 



Al-Jawhara al-Nafīsa 289

 

IV  The Monastery as a Cultural Center 



291

 

V  The Arabic Script 



297

 

VI  Chivalry: The Birth of an Ideal 



303

  VII Poetry 

306

 

  Appendix  Poetry at the Court of the Occidental  

Foederati: The Vandals  

324


 

VIII  The Poets 

326

 

IX Oratory 



331

 

  Appendix    Michael Psellos: The ἐπιτάφιος λόγος  

on His Daughter  

336

 

X  The Ghassānid Identity 



338

 

  Addenda et Corrigenda 



347

 

 Bibliography 



351

 

 Index 



375

Abbreviations

BAFOC: Shahîd, 

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century

BAFIC: Shahîd, 

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fifth Century

BALA I–III: 

Shahîd, 


Byzantium and the Arabs: Late Antiquity, I–III 

BAR: 


British Archaeological Reports

BASIC I.1: 

Shahîd, 


Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century:  

Political and Military History

BASIC I.2:  

Shahîd, 


Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century:  

Ecclesiasti cal  History 

BASIC II.1: 

Shahîd, 


Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century: 

Toponymy, Monuments, Historical Geography, and  

Frontier Studies 

BASOR: 

Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (Jerusalem)

BGA: 

Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum

BSOAS: 

Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London)

BZ: 

Byzantinische Zeitschrift

CSCO: 


Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium

DOP: 

Dumbarton Oaks Papers

EI2: 

Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed.

GAS: Sezgin, 

Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums

GF: Nöldeke, 

Die Ghassänischen Fürsten 

JAOS: 

Journal of the American Oriental Society 

JÖB: 

Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik

JRA: 

Journal of Roman Archaeology

Lib.ann 

Studium biblicum franciscanum: Liber annuus

LSJ 


Liddell, Scott, and Jones, eds., 

A Greek-English Lexicon 

Martyrs: 

Shahîd, trans. and annot., 



The Martyrs of Najrân 

OC: 

Oriens Christianus

OCP: 

Orientalia Christiana Periodica

ODB: 

Kazhdan, ed., 



The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium

PAS: Nöldeke, 

Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sasaniden

PG: 


Migne, ed., Patrologia Graeca

PO: 


Patrologia Orientalis

xi

Abbreviations



RA: Shahîd, 

Rome and the Arabs 

RE: 

Paulys Realencyclopädie, new rev. ed.

SubsHag: 

Subsidia Hagiographica

ZDPV: 

Zeitschrift der Deutschen Palästina-Vereins


Preface

T

his volume, 



BASIC II.2, is the last of six volumes that constitute the middle sec-

tion of a three-part work, Byzantium and the Arabs. Its first part treated Arab-

Roman relations in the centuries that elapsed from the settlement of Pompey in 

63 b.c. to the reign of Diocletian (a.d. 284–305)—the centuries of the pagan empire. 

The third part and the climax of this project, 

Byzantium and Islam in the Seventh 

Century (BISC), will treat in two volumes the rise of Islam and the Arab Conquests. 

The six volumes of the middle part have their own identity as a contribution to the 

study of Arab-Byzantine relations in late antiquity, the proto-Byzantine period, but 

they are also prolegomena to the concluding part. The most relevant as prolegom-

enon is this volume, since it involves a brief discussion of the economic influences on 

the prime mover of both Islam and the conquests, the Prophet Muḥammad. 

 

This volume builds on its predecessor, 



BASIC II.1, which is devoted to 

Ghassānid toponymy, monuments, and historical geography. Elucidation of the 

Ghassānid 

Lebensraum—the limitrophe and the transverse wedge, with their set-

tlements, villages, and towns—is the 



sine qua non for discussing the three themes 

of this volume, namely, Ghassānid economic, social, and cultural life and history. 

The preceding volume revealed a new subdivision of Arab archaeology during the 

three centuries that preceded the rise of Islam in Oriens that had been 



terra incog-

nita; it was neither pagan Arab, such as that of Petra and Palmyra, nor Muslim 

Arab, such as that of Damascus and Jerusalem, but Christian Arab. 



BASIC II.1 

also revealed another aspect of Arab archaeology in the Oriens of the Muslim Arab 

period, now Bilād al-Shām: the strong Ghassānid substrate in the structure of 

many Umayyad structures, the so-called desert castles and palaces.

I

Two of the main strands of continuity between the two volumes may now be 



pointed out. 

 

1. This volume has unearthed the history of a truly mature and unique Christian 



Arab culture that arose in the shadow of the Christian Roman Empire. Its birth

growth, and maturation took place in the context of Byzantium’s 



mission civilisatrice, 

not outside the limits of the 



imperium among the “barbarian” peoples that surrounded 

Preface

xiv


it, but 

within Oriens, whither the Ghassānids and other Arab foederati had wandered 

from regions of the Near East that were physically and culturally disadvantaged and 

less developed. In the Diocese of Oriens, they inevitably were subjected to the gravi-

tational pull of Byzantium in its tripartite structure of “Romanitas,” Hellenism, and 

Christianity, all of which deeply affected their life. The third component was the most 

powerful and pervasive; it transformed innumerable aspects of their life and history. 

The result was the rise of a mature Christian culture, which obtained only once in 

Arab history in Oriens (Bilād al-Shām), then came to an end in the seventh century, 

when its active and fruitful life ceased to flourish within a Christian political entity. 

Its flame, independently rekindled some twelve centuries later, has been flickering 

fitfully and intermittently in present-day Lebanon. In an effort to recover its history 

from oblivion, traces of this Byzantinized Christian Arab culture in distant proto- 

Byzantine Oriens have been ferreted out in this volume and retrieved from the debris 

of extant sources. 

 

2. Just as Ghassānid structures in the Oriens of the sixth century have been 



revealed in 

BASIC II.1 as substrates in many structures that the Umayyads erected 

in the later Muslim period, much of the Ghassānid contribution to the economic, 

social, and cultural life of Oriens persisted in the Umayyad state, especially as the 

Ghassānids, even after their defeat at the Yarmūk in 636 toppled them from their 

position as the phylarchs and client-kings of Byzantium in Oriens, succeeded in 

maintaining a strong presence in Umayyad Bilād al-Shām. Their three fairs, or 



aswāq, survived in the Umayyad period, as did many aspects of their social life, 

especially those pertaining to wine, song, and tavern life; these were enthusias-

tically embraced by the more hedonistically inclined of the Umayyad caliphs, 

such as the two Yazīds and Walīd, the son of the second Yazīd. Especially impor-

tant was the survival in Umayyad times of the various forms of entertainments 

in which the Ghassānids had indulged: namely, their sojourns in the country 

or 

tabaddi, the hunt, and horse races. These took place not in Inner Oriens but 

in the limitrophe, to which the Ghassānids had been consigned by their over-

lords, the Umayyads—but which the Umayyads, now themselves the lords of 

Bilād al-Shām, occupied and made the venue of their entertainments. Thus the 

Ghassānid substrate is disclosed by a strand of continuity in Umayyad 

social life, 

just as in the preceding volume it was disclosed by continuities in Umayyad 



mon-

umental structures. These continuities clearly suggest that the better-known and 

the better-documented Umayyad period can cast light on some aspects of social 

life among the Ghassānids.

II

The recovery of the life and history of this Christian Ghassānid community 



prompts the following two observations.

Preface

xv

 



1. Oriens has previously been conceived as bicultural, consisting of the 

Graeco-Roman and the Syriac/Aramaic. The final part of the present volume, 

devoted to cultural history, has revealed a third component, the Arab, which 

flourished not in the old familiar urban venue of the Graeco-Roman establish-

ment in Oriens but in the limitrophe and the transverse wedge; its most impor-

tant component was poetry. What is more, the Arab culture proved to be the 

most enduring of the three components, since it survived the Muslim Conquests 

and enjoyed a 



Nachleben in Umayyad times, during which poetry experienced 

an efflorescence that was a continuation of the pre-Islamic Ghassānid poetry of 

Byzantine Oriens. 

 

2. The recovery of the cultural life of this Byzantinized Arab Christian com-



munity in Oriens is also a contribution to the history of the more extensive 

Oriens 

Christianus, which comprised the Armenians, Georgians, Aramaeans, Copts, and 

Ethiopians. They were all the beneficiaries of the Byzantine 



mission civilisatrice, and 

they each developed their own version of Christian culture in which their ethos 

and mores were married to the ideals of the new faith that they had adopted— 

a fact most patently demonstrated in their art and architecture. In histories of 



Oriens  Christianus, the Arab element is either missing or unclear, its outlines 

vague. The present volume has now made the arc of 



Oriens Christianus a perfect 

circle, as it has restored the missing segment. This Arab identity contributed to the 

diversity of early Christian culture in 

Oriens Christianus and to the birth of some 

new elements, such as Christian chivalry, which developed in this pre-Islamic, 

proto-Byzantine period. Further archaeological research will undoubtedly shed 

more light on the Arab sector of 



Oriens Christianus.

Methodology and Terminology

A

BASIC II.2 is also methodologically a continuation of its predecessor, which was 

written in strict obedience to Nöldeke’s Law for reconstructing the history of 

Arab-Byzantine relations in pre-Islamic times: namely, the employment of Greek 

and Latin sources and early Arabic poetry rather than the prose sources of later 

Islamic times.1 

 

These sources, like all sources of ancient and medieval history, are mostly 



concerned with wars and politics and thus are not very informative on economic, 

social, and cultural life. But the information they supply, though scant and inter-

mittent, remains invaluable and indispensable for elucidating these three aspects 

of the history of the Arab 



foederati of Byzantium in Oriens in the sixth century. 

The sources become more revealing when set against the background of Byzantine 

 1 See 

BASIC II.1, xxvi–xxvii.


Preface

xvi


economic, social, and cultural history, as presented in well-known contributions to 

the field. The social history part of the present volume has profited from the monu-

mental work of Phaidon Koukoules, 

Byzantinon bios kai politismos; Cyril Mango, 

“Daily Life in Byzantium”; Harry Magoulias, “The Lives of Saints as Sources of 

Data for Sixth and Seventh Century Byzantine Social and Economic History”; 

Speros Vryonis, “Aspects of Byzantine Society in Syro-Palestine”; and the most 

recent articles of Apostolos Karpozilos.2 Its discussion of economics has benefited 

from the work of A. H. M. Jones, 



The Later Roman Empire; a number of articles 

in 


The Economic History of Byzantium, edited by Angeliki Laiou; and the relevant 

essays in the first volume of 



Le monde byzantin, edited by Cécile Morrisson, espe-

cially Morrisson’s own contribution.3 On culture, especially poetry and rhetoric, 

the works of Marc Lauxtermann and George Kennedy—

Byzantine Poetry from 

Pisides to Geometres and Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition 

from Ancient to Modern Times, respectively—have been valuable.4 With the excep-

tion of Speros Vryonis, these scholars focus solely on Byzantium in discussing 

the three aspects of its history on which the present volume focuses; but because 

BASIC II.2 is a history not of the Arabs as such but of the Arab-Byzantine rela-

tionship, the cited works were important for providing historical background. 

 

Just as the Byzantine background of economic, social, and cultural history 



presented in these works has been helpful in reconstructing the history of the Arab 

foederati in these areas, so has been the Arab background of the Lakhmids of Ḥīra 

in Lower Mesopotamia—the contemporaries of the Ghassānids, and Arabs similar 

to them in ethos and mores—especially since there are abundant sources on them. 

Also useful have been the sources on the Umayyads, who immediately followed 

the Ghassānids as masters of Oriens, and who willingly assimilated the Byzantine 

experience of their predecessors. 

 

2  Ph. Koukoules, 



Byzantinon  bios kai politismos, 6 vols. (Athens, 1948–57); C. Mango, “Daily 

Life in Byzantium,” 



JÖB 31 (1981), 337–53; H. Magoulias, “The Lives of Saints as Sources of Data for 

Sixth and Seventh Century Byzantine Social and Economic History” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 

1962); S. Vryonis, “Aspects of Byzantine Society in Syro-Palestine,” in 

Byzantine Studies in Honor of 

Milton V. Anastos, ed. S. Vryonis, Byzantina kai metabyzantina 4 (Malibu, Calif., 1985), 43–63; and  

A. Karpozilos in various entries in 



ODB.

 

3  See A. H. M. Jones, 



The Late Roman Empire: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey,  

2 vols. (Oxford and Norman, Okla., 1964); A. Laiou et al., eds., 



The Economic History of Byzantium 

from the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C., 2002), especially I, 115–20, 

171–220; and C. Morrisson, “Peuplement, économie et société de l’Orient Byzantin,” in 



Le monde byz-

antin, ed. C. Morrisson, vol. 1, L’Empire romain d’Orient, 330–641 (Paris, 2004), 193–220. 

 

4  M. D. Lauxtermann, 



Byzantine Poetry from Pisides to Geometres, Wiener Byzantinistische 

Studien 24/1 (Vienna, 2003); G. Kennedy, 



Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition 

from Ancient to Modern Times, 2nd ed. (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1999); idem, “Judeo-Christian Rhetoric,” 

in 


Rhetoric in Byzantium, ed. E. Jeffreys (Aldershot, Eng., 2003), 137–82; and see also W. Hörandner, 

“Court Poetry: Questions of Motifs, Structure and Function,” in ibid., 75–85.



Preface

xvii


B

Because certain terms peculiar to the history of the 



foederati  of Byzantium in 

Oriens are frequently employed, they must be explained at the outset so that 

this volume can be more easily understood. The need for such clarification was 




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