Sixth century


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est to her heart, that of the Monophysite Ghassānids, who had revived the church of her confession. The 

remarkable number of monasteries built within a thirty-year period may thus be owed in part to the 

grants extended by the empress to federate Oriens, to the queens and kings of the Ghassānid royal house.

 

35 See 



BASIC I.1, 247.

 

36 See 



Martyrs, 54.

 

37  Imruʾ al-Qays, 



Dīwān, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1958), 386, verse 36. 

 

38  See Ḥassān, 



Dīwān, I, 272, line 8. 

 

39 



Hayjumāna  appears in the Dīwān of Salāma ibn Jandal, ed. F. Qabāwa (Aleppo, 1968), 190,  

verse 1.


 

40  See H. al-Zayyāt, “al-Diyārāt al-Naṣrāniyya fi al-Islam,” 



al-Machriq 36 (1938), 291–417; on the 

nunneries, see 312–15. 



90

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

they must go back to pre-Islamic times. The chances then are that Ghassānid 

queens, perhaps inspired in part by the imperial example of Theodora, did establish 

some nunneries in Oriens.41

 

It is also possible that one or more were founded for fallen women who 



repented—as had been done by the empress Theodora in Constantinople.42 Again, 

some strong circumstantial evidence points in this direction. Despite imperial and 

ecclesiastical disfavor, sensual festivities such as the Maiumas had not disappeared 

in this period in Oriens,43 and some Arabs, federate and Rhomaic, must have wan-

dered into venues that featured them. These could be the breeding ground for 

prostitution, as evidenced in the poetry of Ḥassān, who refers to the 



mūmis, the 

prostitute, more than once.44 Even the region whence the Ghassānids had hailed 

before they became 

foederati of Byzantium was no stranger to prostitution. The 

Laws of St. Gregentius, given to the Ḥimyarites of South Arabia, legislated against 

prostitution and sexual misbehavior; and in Najrān itself, a prostitute, Māḥiya, was 

among the women who had repented and around a.d. 520 chose to be martyred as 

a Christian.45

IV. Women and Religious Feasts

The Ghassānids were devout Christians, and Christianity was in effect their state 

religion. It followed that all the feasts of the Christian calendar were observed 

by the Ghassānids, including all members of their families. Indeed, in the scant 

sources on this aspect of Ghassānid social life, contemporary poetry mentions 

Ghassānid women rather than men.46 

 

Ghassānid women naturally would have had a special interest in the Marian 



feasts; their most famous queen carried the name Māriya. Also close to their 

hearts would have been the Feast of the Martyrs of Najrān, their relatives, whose 

numbers included about 100 women.47 And while these feast days were celebrated  

 

41  For a general account of Arab and Ghassānid nunneries in Oriens in the pre-Islamic period,  



see 

BASIC II.1, 195–200.

 

42  See Procopius, 



Anecdota, XVII.5–6.

 

43  See A. Segal, 



Theatres in Roman Palestine and Provincia Arabia (Leiden, 1995), 11 note 33.

 

44  For references in Ḥassān to 



mūmis, see the appendix to Chapter 8.

 

45  On the legislation against prostitution, see a summary of various laws in 



Life and Works of 

Saint Gregentios, Bishop of Taphar, ed. and trans. A. Berger (Berlin, 2006), 82. On Māḥiya of Najrān,  

see 


Martyrs, 55–57.

 

46  See, e.g., the verse in which Ḥassān describes the Ghassānid maidens weaving wreaths of coral for 



the fast-approaching Easter Sunday; 

Dīwān, I, 123, verse 6.

 

47  For the list of martyresses and the speech of Ruhm before her death, see “The Martyrdom of Early 



Arab Christians: Sixth Century Najran,” in 

BALA II, 165–67, 170. For a study of the female onomasti-

con of the martyresses, see Shahîd, “The Martyresses of Najrān.” For Ghassānid celebration of feast days 

generally, see the previous chapter.


91

The Women of  Ghassān

by both Ghassānid men and women, the women would have been more intimately 

involved in such matters as preparing the love-feast, the ἀγάπη, provided on  

such occasions.

V. Women and Pilgrimages

The Ghassānids, men and women, also participated in the all-important institu-

tion of the early Christian Church that required travel, the pilgrimage.48 As noted 

in the previous chapter, the Ghassānids would have undertaken such journeys with 

particular enthusiasm because of their proximity to the Holy Land and because of 

their role in defending it.

 

Just as women may have been more involved than men in the social aspects 



of celebrating the feast days, so perhaps they may have been more active in travel-

ing to various pilgrimage centers. Ghassānid women must have been aware that the 

institution of pilgrimage was established largely by a woman—Helen, the mother 

of Constantine—whose feast they celebrated. They would also have known of the 

female pilgrim Egeria, who came from the far west of Europe and traveled all over 

the biblical lands in the fourth century,49 and of the empress Eudocia, who in the 

fifth century stayed long in the Holy Land.

 

The only extant explicit reference to Ghassānid involvement in pilgrimage 



refers to Ghassānid women rather than men. The source is Iṣfahānī’s 

al-Aghānī, 

which mentions Layla, a Ghassānid princess. Particularly noteworthy in this context 

is that the princess apparently undertook the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in a style wor-

thy of her station in life, surrounded by a group of devoted female attendants.50 Here, 

as in other aspects of Ghassānid social life, it is likely that the uniqueness of the refer-

ence reflects the scantiness of the sources, not the rarity of the event: other Ghassānid 

visits to the Holy Land were no doubt mentioned in accounts that have not survived. 

 

The sources have also revealed the Arabic term for a female pilgrim, 



ḥājja, 

which has survived in the form of a diminutive, 



al-ḥujayja. The term is attested 

in an account of Ṣafiyya bint Thaʿlaba, who gave refuge and the right of 



jiwār,  

“protection of a neighbor,” to Hind, the daughter of the last Lakhmid king of Ḥīra, 

al-Nuʿmān; both were Christian women.

 

Ṣafiyya is described as a courageous woman and a poet who harangued her 



own people to fight against the Persians and their Arab allies. They did so around 

 

48  For the destinations of the Ghassānid pilgrims in the Holy Land and in Oriens in general, see 



the previous chapter and “Arab Christian Pilgrimages in the Proto-Byzantine Period,” in 

BALA III, 

125–41.


 

49 See 


Egeria’s Travels, trans. J. Wilkinson (Warminster, Eng., 1999).

 

50  See Abū al-Faraj Iṣfahānī, 



al-Aghānī (Beirut, 1959), XVII, 273–75. The passage is discussed in 

detail later in this chapter. 



92

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

a.d. 604, at the famous battle known as Yawm Dhī Qār, in which the Arabs 

were victorious.

 

In her own verses Ṣafiyya five times refers to herself as 



al-ḥujayja. Traces 

of her religious belief are clear in references in her verse to God, Allah, whom 

she describes as al-Muhaymin (Preserver) and al-Mannān (Gracious Giver). 

Apparently, she used to wear a veil, the custom of aristocratic women in pre-Islamic 

Arabia.51 She belonged to the tribe of Bakr in northeastern Arabia and to the sub-

division of Shaybān. So she must have traveled far to reach Jerusalem in perform-

ing the pilgrimage, as did Bar Sauma, the Metropolitan of Nisibis (d. a.d. 496), 

who came from distant Mesopotamia.

 

The implication for pilgrimages by Ghassānid women to the Holy Land is 



clear. If a Christian woman from northeastern Arabia could make such a long jour-

ney, braving the harsh climate and difficult terrain, then women living close to the 

Holy Land undoubtedly made pilgrimages often.52

 

Already in the sixth century maps to the Holy Land were being provided for 



pilgrims,53 especially those who came from distant lands, who also needed 

xeno-

docheia and xenones. Possibly Ghassānid queens and princesses took part in one of 

these important activities related to pilgrimage, the construction of the hospices and 

hostels. Such involvement is attested in later Islamic times for the wives of Muslim 

rulers. Zubayda, the wife of Hārūn al-Rashīd (a.d. 786–809), constructed Darb 

Zubayda, “the Route of Zubayda,” the long pilgrim route that extended from Iraq to 

Mecca in Ḥijāz, and she provided it with stations for accommodating the pilgrims.54

VI. Queens and Princesses

Māriya


The first Ghassānid queen known to the sources is Māriya, who appears in the 

matronymic of her son, the Ghassānid king al-Ḥārith ibn Māriya—al-Ḥārith/

Arethas, son of Māriya (a.d. 529–569). That he was referred to more often by his 

 

51  See B. Yamut, 



Shāʿirāt al-Arab fi al-Jāhiliyya wa al-Islam (Beirut, 1934). He does not specifically 

identify the source from which he derived the poems of Ṣafiyya, leaving it among a long list of sources 

given at the end of the work. For references to 

al-ḥujayja in her own poems, see 11, verse 11; 12, verse 8; 

14, verse 11; 15, verse 9; 16, verse 2. For her veil, see 24, verse 6, written by Hind, the Lakhmid princess 

who took refuge with her.

 

52  For other Arab Christians who came from Arabia as pilgrims to Palestine, see “Arab Christian 



Pilgrimages in the Proto-Byzantine Period,” in 

BALA III, 128.

 

53  See Y. Tsafrir, “The Maps Used by Theodosius: On the Pilgrim Maps of the Holy Land and 



Jerusalem in the Sixth Century c.e.,” 

DOP 40 (1986), 126–46. On the Madaba Mosaic map, see the 

present writer’s “The Madaba Mosaic Map Revisited: Its Meaning and Purpose,” in 



Madaba Map 

Centenary, ed. M. Piccirillo and E. Alliata, Collectio Maior 40 (Jerusalem, 1999), 147–54.

 

54  On Darb Zubayda and the facilities constructed along it, see Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Jubayr, 



The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, ed. W. Wright (Leiden, 1907), 208; S. al-Rāshid, Darb Zubayda: The Pilgrim 

Road from Kufa to Mecca (Riyadh, 1980).

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The Women of  Ghassān

matronymic than by his patronymic, as was usual in the Arabic onomasticon, sig-

nifies the importance of Māriya, his mother. But the name of this first Ghassānid 

queen known to the sources is attended by some problems, and it raises the follow-

ing questions. 

 

The first problem is correctly establishing Māriya within Ghassānid gene-



alogy. Was she the mother of the Arethas who was the most famous of all the 

Ghassānid kings (and so the wife of Jabala, his father), or was she the mother of a 

later Ghassānid king of the sixth century who was called al-Ḥārith? As a further 

complication, at least two more famous Ḥāriths flourished at the end of the sixth 

century and the beginning of the seventh.

 

Nöldeke was in favor of identifying Māriya as the mother of the later 



Ghassānid king/phylarch,55 but the case for her being the mother of the earlier, 

more famous, Arethas remains equally strong. That Arethas was also called “son of 

Jabala” does not invalidate this identification, since a patronymic is not inconsistent 

with a matronymic; Arab rulers were sometimes referred to by both.56 According 

to the sources she was a princess from the tribe of Kinda, and this description 

could support her being the mother of Arethas, the earlier Ḥārith, and the wife 

of Jabala, who had attacked the Roman frontier around a.d. 500 together with 

the two Kindites Ḥujr and Maʿdī Karib; this unified action suggests that the two 

groups, Kinda and Ghassān, were on friendly terms.57 The marriage of Jabala to 

the sister of the two Kindite phylarchs thus becomes credible. Also pointing to the 

earlier Arethas is the matronymic “son of Māriya” in Ḥassān’s famous ode.58 He is 

the only Ghassānid king mentioned in that ode, written long after the demise of 

the dynasty, and reference is made to a mausoleum around which his descendants 

gather. This can belong only to the famous early Arethas whose death was noted by 

the poet Labīd.59 The same matronymic appears in a verse referring to a Ghassānid 

king who established the peace



Pax Ghassānica, among the various clans of Ṭayyiʾ, 

and that king was the early Arethas.60 So it is highly probable that Māriya was the 

mother of the early Arethas and wife of his father, Jabala.

 

55  See Nöldeke, 



GF, 22–23.

 

56  Arethas’ contemporary, the famous Mundir of the reign of Justinian, was called the son of 



al-Nuʿmān (his father) and the son of al-Shaqīqa (his mother).

 

57  See “Ghassan and Byzantium: A New 



Terminus a quo,” in BALA I, 77–100, and BASIC I.1, 

3–12.


 

58 Ḥassān, 



Dīwān, I, 74, verse 11.

 

59 Labīd, 



Dīwān, ed. I. ʿAbbās (Kuwait, 1962), 266, verses 49–52; see BASIC II.1, 278–80.

 

60  On the peace, see 



BASIC II.2, 258. The phrase sulh Ibn Māriya, “the peace of Ibn Māriya,” appears 

in a verse by al-Ḥārith ibn Ḥilliza, wrongly attributed to Qays ibn Sharāhil in Iṣfahānī, 



al-Aghānī, XI, 

39. The matronymic Ibn Māriya appears again in another of Ḥārith’s verses; see al-Khatīb al-Tībrizi, 



Sharh Ikhtiyārāt al-Mufaḍḍal, ed. F. Qabāwa (Damascus, 1971), 24, line 9. Ibn Māriya is referred to in 

the previous verse as 



malik, “king,” a label that fits Arethas, who lived until a.d. 569—long enough to 

have been remembered in his poetry; see also note 6 to the verse. 



94

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

 

The princess who married a Ghassānid kept her Kindite affiliation, since 



around  a.d. 500 her group was more powerful and famous than the Ghassān, 

although it began to decline upon the death in 527 of its famous king, also called 

Ḥārith/Arethas.61 The retention by Māriya of her Kindite affiliation reflects the 

Kinda’s high status.

 

Another problem surrounds the meaning of Māriya. Was it the Arabic ver-



sion of the name of the Virgin Mary, or was it, as has been suggested by Nöldeke, 

a Syriac term meaning “the lady”? The case for the name being Mary in its Greek 

form, Maria, was made by the present writer some years ago,62 and may be sup-

ported by another observation. The Kindite princess had come from the heart of 

the Arabian Peninsula, where, unlike Oriens, Syriac was not known. Kinda was 

a Christian group, and the inscription of one of its princesses, Hind, vouched for 

the Christianity of the entire royal house: herself, her father, and her son.63 It was 

only natural that the women of Kinda should assume the name of the Virgin Mary, 

especially as the latter figured so prominently in the theological controversies of 

the period, which ended with her being called the Theotokos.

 

Māriya thus emerges from the preceding arguments as a Kindite princess; the 



wife of Jabala, the Ghassānid (ca. 500–528); mother of Arethas (529–569); and 

a Christian woman, whose name was that of the Virgin Mary, a reflection of the 

strong attachment of her house to Christianity. That attachment is demonstrated 

in the inscription at Ḥīra of Hind, who may have been Māriya’s sister.

 

The sources are almost silent on Māriya, and she would have remained a mere 



name in the Ghassānid onomasticon had it not been for a tantalizing reference to 

some of her jewelry. The Arabic sources associate her with two earrings—



qurṭā 

Māriya, “the two earrings of Māriya”—that are discussed below in the chapter 

“Votive and Victory Offerings.” 

Ḥalīma

Whereas Māriya was the most celebrated of the queens of Ghassān, Ḥalīma was 



the most celebrated of its princesses. She appears in the sources in a military con-

text—in the army of her father, the Ghassānid king—in the course of a battle 

fought with his inveterate adversary, the Lakhmid king of Ḥīra. Ḥalīma’s role was 

to perfume the Ghassānid warriors and clothe them in their coats of mail, acts 

that promoted the Ghassānid victory. Some uncertainty attends the identity of 

the Ghassānid king and the battle involved, but it is highly probable that the king 

 

61 See 


BASIC I.1, 148–60.

 

62  See “The Women of 



Oriens Christianus Arabicus in Pre-Islamic Times,” Parole de l’Orient 24 

(1999), 66 note 18. 

 

63  For the inscription, see ibid., 68.



95

The Women of  Ghassān

was the famous Arethas, of the reign of Justinian, and the battle was the decisive 

battle of a.d. 554, a smashing victory in which the equally famous Lakhmid king 

Mundir was not only defeated but killed.64

 

This rare glimpse of a Ghassānid princess on the battlefield makes possible 



several observations.

 

1. Ḥalīma’s identity. She was the daughter of Arethas, son of Māriya. The 



identity of her mother is not clear, but at least through her father she was the 

granddaughter of Māriya and so had some Kindite blood. Arethas had many sons, 

at least two of whom are known by their names: Mundir, his successor in 569, and 

Jabala. Whether Ḥalīma had sisters is not known.65

 

2. Ḥalīma’s name. Like all other Ghassānid names of the royal house, Ḥalīma 



was a purely Arab name. It has survived in two toponyms: a wadi

, Wādī Ḥalīma, 

and a meadow, 



Marj Ḥalīma.66 Above all, it is attached to the most famous of 

Arab pre-Islamic battle-days (



ayyām), Yawm Ḥalīma, the battle of Chalcis, which 

gave rise to the proverbial saying “The day of Ḥalīma is no secret,” applied even in 

Islamic times to a celebrated event.67

 

3. Ḥalīma’s participation in the famous battle. Her contribution is striking 



in many ways, one of which pertains to the Ghassānid style in waging wars: the 

king, who is the commander in chief, fights together with his family—normally 

his sons, who are either current or prospective phylarchs. At this battle of Chalcis/

Qinnasrīn, the king’s son Jabala died;68 another son—his successor, Mundir—may 

also have fought there. The involvement of his daughter means that possibly three 

of Arethas’ children participated in the battle. 

 

More generally, the episode underscores the importance of women’s par-



ticipation in Arab warfare in pre-Islamic times. They had duties to perform, 

such as looking after the wounded. But their more important function was 

 

64  The battle is described in many sources, including Ibn Qutayba; for his description of the role of 



Ḥalīma in the battle, see R. Nicholson, 

A Literary History of the Arabs (1907; reprint, London, 1969), 

50. For the battle of Chalcis, see 



BASIC I.1, 240–51. On which Lakhmid was killed in this battle, the 

judicious Ibn al-Athīr is positive, and rightly so, that it was the famous Mundir; see 



al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh 

(Beirut, 1965), I, 547.

 

65  For the family of her grandfather Jabala, see 



BASIC I.1, 69–70.

 

66  See the poem on the battle by Ibn al-Athīr, in 



al-Kāmil, 544, verses 1, 4. Nöldeke doubted  

(

GF, 19) that the name Ḥalīma belonged to a woman who accompanied the Ghassānid army, suggesting 

instead that it referred to a place, the Valley of Ḥalīma (

Wādī Ḥalīma). It is difficult to accept this view, 

which Yāqūt rejected; see 



Muʿ jam al-Buldān (Beirut, 1955–57), II, 292. Ḥalīma is clearly a woman’s 

personal name, though perhaps the valley was given the name Ḥalīma after the Ghassānid princess.  

See Ibn al-Athīr, 

al-Kāmil, I, 543.

 

67  Even some fifty years after the engagement, al-Nābigha invokes the Day of Ḥalīma to praise the 



swords of the Ghassānids, handed down as heirlooms from that day and distinguished by having been 

unsheathed during that heroic encounter; see 



Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 45, verse 20. In another poem, he 

speaks of the Two Days of Ḥalīma, indicating that the battle lasted long (206, verse 4).

 

68  On the son Jabala, see 



BASIC I.1, 243.

96

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

moral—imparting spirit to the warriors to do their best. Sometimes, it was a 

woman who recited the 



rajaz verses to hearten the warriors.69 Apparently the 

Ghassānids followed this Arab custom when fighting other Arabs, as in this 

battle with the Lakhmids, but not when they fought as part of the army of the 

Orient against the Persians.

 

The participation of women in military campaigns in pre-Islamic Arabia 



received its classical statement in the Suspended Ode of ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm 

(ca. a.d. 570), which included an octave of verses that explained the reason for 

their participation. Although the lilt of the Arabic meter and the sting of its 

rhyme are lost in the following English version, the substance of what the poet 




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