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daughter of Jabalah ibn-al-Ayham, Yazīd was spurred to extraordinary activity in
order to seize the Ghassānid king’s daughter.”146
Hitti makes clear the legendary element in the account.147 But there might be
a modicum of truth in it as well: the historicity of the siege conducted by the Arab
crown prince is beyond doubt, while descendants of Jabala were in evidence in
Anatolia and in Constantinople after the battle of the Yarmūk. It is not altogether
impossible that those Ghassānids who were still smarting after the debacle at the
Yarmūk did take part in the defense of the capital,148 especially as it was besieged
by congeners who had defeated them in 636. Nor is the reference to the tent occu-
pied by the princess alien to Arab practice on such occasions, as has been shown
above in the case of Maysūn. The Byzantine tent of “the king of the Rūm” may
have been a later embroidery, but the participation of Byzantine women in military
expeditions is not unknown, as mentioned above in the case of the empress Irene
Doukaina, who likewise was canopied.
mourning the death of his father, and he remembered her in the final verse of a five-line poem he com-
posed on the occasion; see Iṣfahānī,
146 See P. Hitti,
History of the Arabs, 10th ed. (New York, 1981), 201.
147 The truly legendary element in the account, not quoted here, ascribes to Yazīd some exploits
against the gates of Constantinople and a plaque that was nailed there to commemorate them. These
details (clearly a later embroidery) rather than the presence of Jabala’s daughter inclined not only Hitti
but also Marius Canard to reject this account. Much more is now known about the Ghassānids than
when these distinguished scholars wrote; as this chapter has shown, the women of Ghassān did take part
in warfare, as sometimes did their Byzantine counterparts as well. The later accretions that have grown
over the original kernel of truth in some of the Islamic sources on the pre-Islamic period have long cre-
ated a prejudice against using those sources, but the task of
truth. For Canard’s views on this episode, see “Les expéditions des Arabes contre Constantinople dans
l’histoire et dans la légende,”
148 As Constantinople had been defended successfully in a.d. 378 by the troops of the federate Arab
queen Mavia against the Goths after another debacle, the battle of Adrianople; see
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
Elizabeth of Najrān
Elizabeth was not a Ghassānid; but as a martyress of Najrān, she was very inti-
mately related to the women of Ghassān, her relatives, who looked at the martyrs
of Najrān ca. 520 as their role models. Elizabeth is significant as well to under-
standing the problem of the female diaconate in the early church, for she represents
its Arab profile in late antiquity.
Book of the Ḥimyarites is the most detailed account of the martyrdoms
at Najrān, but only the rubric of the chapter on Elizabeth has survived.1
Second Letter of Simeon of Bēth-Arshām, however, gives an account of her mar-
tyrdom, which was a most grievous one.2 The
Letter has also preserved important
data on her as a deaconess of the church of Najrān and the sister of Paul II, the
bishop of Najrān who was also martyred. Elizabeth became venerated as a saint
together with the rest of the martyrs of Najrān, and their feast is celebrated on
1. The martyress. One of the remarkable features of the martyrdoms of
Najrān was the number of women who died for their faith, together with the range
of social classes to which they belonged;3 the most famous of them was the “First
Lady” of Najrān, Ruhm. Elizabeth had the ecclesiastical rank of deaconess and so
belonged to the hierarchy of the church of Najrān, which was also unique, as the
only pre-Islamic Arab Christian Church for which the hierarchy, together with
the names of the various clerics, is precisely known.4 Elizabeth was the only female
As has been repeatedly noted in this volume, the martyrdoms of Najrān had
enormous spiritual resonance for the pre-Islamic Christian Arabs, especially those
related to them—the Ghassānids. Those martyrs, male and female, became role
models for the Ghassānids. Elizabeth was distinguished by being the only Arab
woman of the pre-Islamic period who held an ecclesiastical rank and whose name
has survived. The queens and princesses of the royal house were, like their husbands
and fathers, interested in institutionalizing Arab Christianity through the endow-
ment and foundation of churches and monasteries, and the church of Najrān—
specifically, the concrete example of Elizabeth—must have been a model.
2. The deaconess. In the latter part of the twentieth century, questions of
women’s roles in the church became pressing. Relevant here is the problem of
the diaconate.5 In one work on the subject, Phyllis Zagamo has contended that
The Book of the Himyarites, ed. A. Moberg (Lund, 1924), cii, no. XVII.
The Book of the Himyarites, cxxi.
5 See R. Gryson,
The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, Minn., 1976); P. Zagano,
The Women of Ghassān
Yawm al-Khurūj: The Day of the Exodus
The striking phrase “Yawm al-Khurūj,” “The Day of the Exodus,” in Hassān’s love
poem on al-Naḍīra repays careful analysis. As has already been noted above, it was
probably used in celebration of a religious occasion.
The Islamic Arabic sources speak of the procession that al-Nuʿmān, the
Lakhmid king of Ḥīra, used to organize together with his household. They would
go out on Sundays and feast days, dressed in festive clothes and carrying the cross,
to the monastery of Dayr al-Lujj, where they would celebrate the feast. They would
then go to a beauty spot in the vicinity of Ḥīra, where they would relax for the rest
of the day.1
1 See Abu al-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī,
Kitāb al-Diyārāt, ed. J. al-ʿAtiyya (London, 1991), 139–40; on the
Ghassānids, the Lakhmids, and the Ḥārithids of Najrān, and their building of monasteries in beautiful
spots, see 163. As a member of the Ghassānid royal house, whose Christianity was of longer standing
and more deeply rooted than that of the Lakhmids, al-Naḍīra would surely have participated in similar
proceedings on religious occasions.
nothing in scripture, ecclesiastical history, or Christian theology argues against the
female diaconate, and therefore has concluded that the ordination of women for
the ministry of the diaconate is desirable, defensible, and necessary. The example of
Elizabeth of Najrān supports her case in two ways.
First, Elizabeth concretely illustrates the employment of women in the church
in late antiquity. Najrān was an Arab city, and Arab society was conservative in its
view of women and of relations between the sexes. Ruhm of Najrān prided herself
on wearing a veil to cover her face and prevent unwelcome attention and gazes.6
Church services and ceremonies involved activities, such as baptism by immersion,
that for women could not be performed by male clerics with propriety. On such
occasions a female deaconess could officiate more appropriately.
In addition, Elizabeth was likely ordained. According to the
Second Letter of
Simeon of Bēth-Arshām, Elizabeth’s brother Paul was consecrated bishop of Najrān
by Philoxenos of Mabboug (Hierapolis).7 If Philoxenos consecrated her brother for
the church of Najrān, the chances are that he also ordained Elizabeth as deaconess of
Najrān. Both that ordination and the consecration of Paul would have had particu-
lar significance, for the first bishop of Najrān (also consecrated by Philoxenos) had
been martyred in a persecution that preceded that of 520; it thus was important to
emphasize the legitimacy of the church of Najrān and reestablish it on a firm basis.
Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church (New York,
2000); and V. Karras, “Female Deacons in the Byzantine Church,”
Church History 73 (2004), 272–316.
7 Ibid., 46.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
In one of the accounts that describes such a “going out” on a religious occasion—
singling out Palm Sunday—the word used for the procession is
kharaja, the very
same verb from which
khurūj is derived.2 The phrase Yawm al-Khurūj thus could
easily have been technical, used by the Christian Arabs of pre-Islamic times for
such occasions.3 If so, this poem of Hassān, composed before he became the poet
of Islam, will have preserved a welcome addition to the Christian Arab vocabulary
of those times.
A sort of Yawm al-Khurūj was still observed until recently in the Holy
Land by Christian Arabs. Such a “going out” had as its destination Mount Tabor
and Mount Carmel for the Feast of Transfiguration and of Mar Elias (Elijah),
respectively. On both occasions the Christians of Nazareth and Haifa would go
out to these two mountains in Galilee to celebrate the feasts and afterward to
relax and picnic.4
2 See al-ʿUmari,
Masālik al-Abṣār fi Mamalik al-Amṣār, ed. A. Zaki Pasha (Cairo, 1924), I, 312.
3 It is especially appropriate for Palm Sunday, because that is the one dominical feast associated in
the Gospels with a procession (the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem from Bethany, followed by a crowd
crying “Hosanna” and carrying branches; see Mark 11:8–11). Ismāʿīl ibn ʿAmmār, an eighth-century
poet, uses the term
XI, 346, verse 7.
4 Celebration of the Feast of Mar Elias by making
al-Khurūj from Nazareth to Elijah’s shrine
is little practiced nowadays, but it has been recorded by Dr. Elias Srouji, a physician whose Christian
Arab family used to observe the feast annually. For his detailed account of how it was celebrated during
the British Mandate of Palestine, see E. S. Srouji,
Cyclamens from Galilee: Memoir of a Physician from
Nazareth (Lincoln, Neb., 2003), 12–14.
Arabic has two terms for Palm Sunday,
Yawm al-Shaʿānīn and Yawm al-Sabāsib.
The first, the common term for the feast day, is still used in the Arab Christian
Orient for Palm Sunday. It is an Arabicization of the Hebrew/Aramaic term
crowd shouted during the procession from Bethany to Jerusalem on the Sunday
before the Crucifixion. The Hebrew/Aramaic verb became a noun, transferred first
to the branches carried by the crowd in the procession and then to the feast day
itself. It appears as a plural, the singular of which is
lexica, which recognize it as a loanword.2
The second term,
Yawm al-Sabāsib, was used earlier than the first, in pre-
Islamic times. It is the one used by al-Nābigha, the panegyrist of the Ghassānids, in
1 See S. Fraenkel,
Die aramäischen Fremdwörter im Arabischen (1886; reprint, Hildesheim,
2 See Ibn Man
Lisān al-ʿArab (Beirut, 1979), III, 291.
The Women of Ghassān
his most famous ode on them,3 and is the indigenous native Arabic term for Palm
Sunday. It derives from the plural of
sabsab, an Arabian tree from whose branches
arrows used to be made.4 Apparently this was considered an appropriate name for
the branches carried on Palm Sunday, and so the feast day came to be called Yawm
al-Sabāsib, the Day of Sabāsib. Al-Nābigha’s use of the phrase in connection with
the Ghassānids suggests that this was the term in Ghassānland for the feast day.
The term seems to have been known and used in Ḥijāz, in Mecca or Medina, since
the Prophet Muḥammad is said to have asked his community to give up celebrat-
ing Palm Sunday in favor of a Muslim feast.5
Apparently, after the rise of Islam the first term gained currency, as it is
attested in the verse of a Muslim poet who lived in the eighth century.6
Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 47, verse 24.
4 See Ibn Man
Lisān al-ʿArab, III, 235.
5 See Murtaḍa al-Zabīdī,
Tāj al-ʿArūs, ed. ʿA. Hārūn (Kuwait, 1970), III, 41.
6 For the attestation of Yawm al-Shaʿānīn in the verse of Ismāʿil ibn ʿAmmār, see Abū al-Faraj
al-Aghānī (Beirut, 1957), XI, 346, verse 7.
The Education of a Ghassānid Princess
The federate Germanic kings and
magistri militum of the Roman Occident did not
neglect the education of their daughters. Maria, who was the daughter of the Vandal
magister militum Stilicho and wife of the emperor Honorius, was well versed in
Greek and Latin literature. Pulcheria, the sister of Theodosius II and granddaughter
of the Frankish
and Latin. The daughter of the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Great, Amalaswintha,
was trilingual, fluent in Greek, Latin, and Gothic.1 Their example raises the ques-
tion of whether the counterparts of these Germanic federates in the Orient, such as
the Ghassānids, similarly nurtured the education of their daughters, who perhaps
were sent elsewhere in Oriens or to Constantinople to be educated.
The question is particularly pertinent in the sixth century, a time when liter-
ary art among the Arabs and at the court of the Ghassānids was at its climax; this
was the period of Imruʾ al-Qays, the foremost pre-Islamic poet in Arabic,2 and the
Ghassānids were well integrated into Byzantine society, both as
Christians. To serve Byzantium, their phylarchs must have been bilingual or per-
haps trilingual. The federates of the previous century counted among their rank a
notable woman poet, the daughter of the Salīḥid king Dāwūd, who may have been
influenced by Eudocia, the ex-empress who herself wrote poetry.3 It is thus possible
1 See A. Goltz, “Gelehrte Barbaren?” in
Gelehrte in der Antike: Alexander Demandt zum 65.
Geburtstag, ed. A. Goltz, A. Luther, and H. Schlange-Schöningen (Köln, 2002), 297–316.
2 On Imruʾ al-Qays and the Ghassānids, see
BASIC II.1, 259–65.
BAFIC, xxvii, 436–38, 518.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
that the Ghassānids, like their German counterparts, devoted considerable atten-
tion to the education of their daughters.
The sources confirm the presence of only one young federate Arab in
Constantinople: Muʿāwiya (a son of the Kindite phylarch Qays, not a Ghassānid),
who presumably received some “Byzantine” education while spending time in the
capital.4 Nothing can be inferred from their silence about federate daughters; but
they make clear the female influence at play in the Byzantine state through the most
famous of all Byzantine empresses, Theodora, who was a friend of the Ghassānid phy-
larch Arethas and was even in his debt because he helped to revive Monophysitism,
her confession. Her well-known activities provide a relevant background for specu-
lating on whether young Ghassānid princesses ever visited Constantinople and were
familiar with the Roman Byzantine educational tradition.
The following data may be recovered from the surviving sources.
1. It seems plausible that the wife of the Ghassānid king Arethas accompa-
nied her husband to Constantinople for the ceremony promoting him to the patri-
ciate. As noted in Chapter 2, she had a role to play in that ceremony. Perhaps, after
seeing the splendors of the capital, the Ghassānid queen desired her daughter to
benefit from its cultural opportunities and from acquaintance with an empress
determined to help women promote Monophysite Christianity.
2. Even more relevant and more certain is the name
Arabia, which was given
to the daughter of Justin II, the nephew of Justinian. Nomenclature is significant
and can reflect attitudes and relationships; I have argued elsewhere that this strik-
ingly un-Byzantine, un-Greek, and un-Christian name was given her as a result of
the warm relations that obtained between the Arab phylarchate-kingship of the
Ghassānids and the central government during the reign of Justinian.5 Though
corroborating texts or inscriptions have yet to be discovered, it is possible that the
female members of the family of the federate
patricius Arethas were well-known
to the imperial family, and that a personal relationship arose based on their shared
Monophysitism. The name Arabia, given to the daughter of the heir to the throne,
may reflect the warmth of the friendship between the female members of the two
families, consequent on a female Ghassānid presence in the capital.
3. A clearer indication of some social contact between the Byzantine impe-
rial family and the royal Ghassānids during Arethas’ visit to Constantinople in the
540s derives from a statement by John of Ephesus: after Justin II became insane in
the 570s, his guardians would quiet him by saying, “Arethas is coming for you.”6
BASIC I.1, 155, and above, Chapter 1, note 93.
BASIC I.1, 318–22 (note that her birth, not her marriage, must have occurred in the
mid-540s; see 319).
BASIC I.1, 287–88.
The Women of Ghassān
Justin II must have met and been impressed by Arethas under happier circum-
stances; it was possibly then that his daughter was born or was young enough to
take on a new name, Arabia.
It would be pleasant to think that Ḥalīma, the most celebrated of all Ghassānid
princesses, or one of the two Hinds of the late sixth century did visit Constantinople,
but no evidence of such a visit survives. The only princess whose visit was recorded by
the extant sources is the daughter of the last Ghassānid king, Jabala, who with many
of his followers followed Heraclius to Anatolia. Though the story cannot be firmly
confirmed or rejected, it is said that during the Arab siege of Constantinople in
a.d. 669, which was conducted by Yazīd, who would succeed Muʿāwiya, the crown
prince strove hard to capture the tent that housed this princess.7
7 P. Hitti,
History of Syria, Including Lebanon and Palestine (London, 1951), 444.
Al-Jūdī, Layla’s Father at Dūma
In his account of the conquest of Dūma, Ṭabarī in his
Tārīkh refers to al-Jūdī ibn
Rabīʿa as one of the two commanders of the federates of Byzantium who were
defending this fortress against Khālid ibn al-Wālid; the other commander was a
Kindite, Ukaydir ibn ʿAbd al-Malik. Khālid had an encounter with al-Jūdī and
captured him. After Dūma fell to Muslim arms, Khālid had al-Jūdī executed.
The women of Dūma were taken captive and were offered for sale as prisoners
of war. Khālid bought the daughter of al-Jūdi, who was apparently known for
The account in Ṭabarī presents some problems, one of which is the iden-
tity of Dūma itself.2 Three locations of that name are known: one at the south-
ern end of Wādī Sirḥān in northern Arabia, one in Lower Mesopotamia near
Ḥīra (suggested by references to Ḥīra and al-Anbār in the rest of the account after
the fall of Dūma), and a third near Damascus. A more important question con-
cerns the identity of al-Jūdī. Was he the same Ghassānid whose daughter Layla
became the wife of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, son of the caliph, Abū-Bakr, after Oriens
was conquered by the Muslims, as discussed in the section in Chapter 2 on Layla?
It is practically certain that Dūma was the famous Dūmat al-Jandal,
which lay at the southern tip of Wādī Sirḥān, and that the al-Jūdī involved in
this episode was Layla’s father. Two strong pieces of evidence argue for these
Tārīkh, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1962), III, 378–79. Note that he erroneously gives al-Jūdī
the patronymic Ibn Rabīʿa; he is given the good Ghassānid name ʿAdī in Abū al-Faraj Iṣfahānī,
(Beirut, 1959), III, 273.
2 Another problem is the number of expeditions launched in different years to capture Dūma; see
L. Veccia Vaglieri, “Dūmat al-Jandal,”
EI2, II, 624–26.
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