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authentic, this account provides valuable information on Ghassānid social life.
The maiden’s name is significant. Its consonantal skeleton,
d-l-f, can support
one of three roots—
d-l-f, z-l-f, or dh-l-f; the third reading is probably the correct
one.23 Dhalfā, applied to a woman, refers to one who has a beautiful nose, small
and straight.24 Dhalfāʾ is also attested as a female proper name belonging to some
of the medieval
qiyān (songstresses). It is a welcome addition to the onomasticon
of Ghassānid women, just as her father’s name, Jarwal,25 is to the onomasticon of
The description of the wedding party, however, is the most important part of
1. The bride and the bridegroom are cousins. Clearly the Ghassānids engaged
in endogamous marriages, since they were proud of the purity of their pedigree,
mentioned in the odes that eulogized them: the phrase
ghayr ashāʾib, “not sullied
or adulterated by admixture with other blood,” appears in their panegyrics.26 The
ently observed by the Ghassānids.27
2. Dancing was a feature of the celebrations that attended their wedding; this
is the only reference to dance in Ghassānid life.
3. The sister of the bride was leading the group; she appears both as an instru-
mentalist and vocalist. The entertainment was thus provided not by a professional
qayna, but by a family member, a sister singing at her sibling’s wedding.
4. Al-Dhalfāʾ uses a
duff, an instrument well-known and popular in this
period and on such occasions.
5. Finally, al-Dhalfāʾ sang a couplet of
verses. The impetus that the Ghassānids
imparted to Arabic poetry by their patronage has been explained in this volume.
22 Cambridge Manuscript, No. 1201, 115v;
Nihāyat al-Arab, ed. Dāneshpazhuh, 233–35.
23 But for the roots
d-l-f and z-l-f, see Ibn Man
Lisān al-ʿArab (Beirut, 1979), III, 405, 194–95.
24 Ibid., II, 467.
25 For Jarwal, meaning the rocky part of a mountain, see ibid., I, 411.
26 The phrase appears in the famous panegyric on the Ghassānids by al-Nābigha; see his
al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 42, verse 8.
kafāʾa, see J. Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford, 1964), 160 note 85.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
But the verses sung by al-Dhalfāʾ were not formal, solemn eulogies on their kings
such as al-Nābigha or ʿAlqama composed; rather, they were light verses, related to
entertainment and the social life of the Ghassānids. The author of the couplet is
unknown, but it may have been composed by al-Dhalfāʾ herself, or by one of her
relatives. The federates had women poets among them.28
The verses were apotropaic, as the princess wishes death upon those who envy
her house and do not wish them well. Such sentiments are not implausible. The
luxury and the splendor of the Ghassānid court must have elicited jealousy from
other Arabs, such as the Lakhmids and even the Meccans.29 So, the content of her
song corresponds with what is known about how the Ghassānids were perceived by
That this account is set in the region of Antioch should cause no surprise;
although Ghassānid power was centered in the south of Oriens, in the Provincia
Arabia and in Palaestina Secunda and Tertia, their influence extended to the north
and affected the whole of the region up to at least the Euphrates, after Justinian
archiphylarchia around a.d. 529. Furthermore, after the start of the
Muslim offensive against Oriens during the caliphate of Abū Bakr and the initial
Muslim successes, there was a major redeployment of Byzantine troops in Oriens;
it is quite possible that some of the Ghassānids who were fighting with Heraclius
were moved to the north—the region of Antioch.30
A final aspect that deserves comment is the Islamic framework within which
the account is set: namely, the dispatch of al-Nuʿmān to convert Heraclius to Islam.
This is surely a later Islamic pious embroidery. Indeed, the attribution of the account
to al-Nuʿmān ibn Bashīr may be cited as one of these later pieties; he was too young to
be sent by Abū Bakr to convert Heraclius, but the account is ascribed to him in order
to enhance its credibility, since he was one of the Companions of the Prophet.
Such then is the account on the Ghassānids in
Nihāyat al-Arab. Notably, it is
free of fantastic or miraculous elements, which would have made it completely unre-
liable, although it contains inaccuracies such as its attribution to al-Nuʿmān ibn
Bashīr. Even the dramatic manner of the maiden’s death at the end of the account
is not implausible. The reader has the choice of accepting Nöldeke’s judgment on
28 For the poet daughter of Dāwūd, the fifth-century Arab federate king, see
BAFIC, 434; see also
above, Chapter 2, note 101.
29 Even the Prophet Muḥammad, who was aware of the power of the Ghassānids, is said to have
exclaimed, “O God, do away with the Ghassānid kingship.” See Ibn Qutayba, ʿ
Uyūn al-Akhbār (Cairo,
1963), IV, 71.
30 The move followed the incipient and unfinished thematization of Oriens after the Byzantine vic-
tory at the battle of Nineveh and the evacuation of Oriens by the Persians (see the five articles by the
present writer in
BALA I, 119–280).
Prose Accounts on the Ghassānids
Reynold Nicholson on the Ghassānid Royal Court
In the context of Chapter 3’s
Ghassānids, the views of a distinguished scholar of Arabic literature, Reynold
Nicholson, deserve to be noted. From the compositions attributed to Ḥassān, he
singled out the one in which the poet refers to a banquet given by the Ghassānid
king Jabala, when the
In Chapter 8, arguments have been advanced supporting the authenticity of the
account on the dispatch of
may be added here.
First, the statement on the king’s behavior, shunning all vulgarity or obscen-
ity in the course of that banquet,2 accords well with other poets’ allusions to the
Ghassānids’ chastity and decency,3 reflections of their Christian faith. And sec-
ond, the reference to snow/ice in the piece is not surprising, since the Ghassānids
lived so close to Mount Hermon, called in Arabic Jabal al-Thalj, “the Mountain of
Snow.” It was seen by Ḥassān and remembered by him in two of his poems.4
Applying his critical acumen, Nicholson accepted the historicity of the vari-
ous elements of the account, but doubted that it could have come from Ḥassān. The
distinguished scholar, however, wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century,
before the development of Byzantine studies and, more importantly, of research
on Arab-Byzantine relations, and so he was not clear about some aspects of that
1. His main difficulty in accepting the attribution of the piece to Ḥassān
derived from his erroneous belief that Jabala’s rule began in a.d. 6355—that is, one
year before the battle of the Yarmūk. He therefore concluded that Ḥassān could
not have met Jabala, since Ḥassān had accepted Islam long before Jabala acceded to
the kingship of Ghassān. Yet despite his reservations about the chronology and the
ascription of the passage in its present form to Ḥassān, Nicholson concluded that
“this does not seriously affect its value as evidence.”6
2. The last days of the Ghassānids and the reign of Jabala are now much bet-
ter understood than they were when Nicholson wrote. Ḥassān’s last visit to the
Ghassānids must be related to the
terminus 614, when the Persians occupied
1 See R. Nicholson,
A Literary History of the Arabs (1907; reprint, London, 1969), 53 and note 4.
2 The Arabic text uses the strong words
khanā and ʿarbada, which Nicholson discreetly translates,
“I never knew him offend in speech or act.”
3 For example, see
Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 47, verses 24, 27;
101, verse 4.
Dīwān Ḥassān ibn Thābit, ed. W. ʿArafāt, Gibb Memorial New Series 25 (London, 1971),
I, 137, verse 4; 308, verse 9.
Literary History of the Arabs, 52.
6 Ibid., 53 note 4.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
Jerusalem and Oriens. Some Ghassānid kings are known to have had extended
reigns—Arethas reigned for forty years, 529–569—so Jabala could easily have
ruled long enough that Ḥassān might have visited him before 614.7
3. Although Jabala quite possibly could have been the Ghassānid king
involved in this prose piece ascribed to Ḥassān, it also could have been some other
Ghassānid king who reigned before a.d. 614. The names of the Ghassānid king
and his phylarchs between 600 and 614 are known from contemporary Arabic
panegyrics on them: al-Ḥārith, al-Nuʿmān, ʿAmr, and Ḥujr. In the transmission of
a prose account such as this one, the name of one Ghassānid king may have been
substituted for that of a phylarch, but such an error would not affect the substance
of the account.
4. It might be added in this connection that female singers are attested at
the Ghassānid court as early as the first half of the sixth century, during the reign
of Arethas, who presented a poet, Ḥarmala, with two songstresses to convey his
7 Ibn Khaldūn gives the year of Jabala’s death as that of Heraclius—i.e., a.d. 640/641; see
(Beirut, 1956), II, 587.
8 See Abū al-Qāsim al-Āmidi,
al-Muʾtalif wa al-Mukhtalif, ed. ʿA. al-Sattār Farrāj (Cairo, 1961), 235.
B. DAILY LIFE
ood played an important role in the social life of the Ghassānids, who had
belonged to a people whose ideal of
pitality in peace and courage in war.1 The former was made real in food, especially
food offered to a stranger or guest. One of the fires that the Arabs lit was intended
to guide the wayfarer at night to where he could find food to satisfy his hunger; it
Their attachment to this virtue is clearly signaled even in their onomasticon.
Their eponymous ancestor was called Jafna, which means “a large platter”; and
they were often referred to as “the Sons of Jafna” (the Jafnids),
Awlād Jafna, or
“the House of Jafna,”
Āl-Jafna. Thus, their very name reminded the Arabs of their
hospitality, which became proverbial both in poetry and in prose. It was immortal-
ized by their poet laureate Ḥassān. In a verse that became celebrated in the annals
of Arabic poetry, he says that their splendid hospitality even silenced their dogs:
their supposed guardians against suspicious strangers, the dogs became so accus-
tomed to the frequent visits of guests that they ceased to howl!3 In prose, too, the
1 The pre-Islamic concept of
murūʾa included as many as seven elements, but the two main ones
were bravery in war and hospitality in peace, reflecting the division of the life of the pre-Islamic pastoral-
ists between war and peace. Islam enlisted
and Din,” in
Muslim Studies, ed. S. M. Stern, trans. C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern (London, 1967), I,
1–44 (especially 23 note 4, for the hadith); see also B. Farès, “Murūʾa,”
EI2, VII, 636–38, especially 637.
2 The pre-Islamic Arabs also applied the term
jawād (plural ajwād) to individuals known for their
outstanding hospitality. For an enumeration of these
ajwād in pre-Islamic time and on hospitality in
general, see Jawād ʿAli,
al-Mufaṣṣal fi Tārīkh al-ʿArab qabl al-Islam (Beirut, 1970), IV, 575–84; for the
fire of hospitality, see 582.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
Banū-Ghassān,” expressed their hospitality. Even as late as the tenth century, the
famous belle-lettrist Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadānī echoed it; in a memorable pas-
sage in one of his
One of their phylarchs, Imruʾ al-Qays, was nicknamed Qātil al-Jūʿ, “the
Killer of Hunger or Famine,”5 a sobriquet he acquired during a famine in which
he attended to the needs of his people. The epithet was preserved even in Greek
inscriptions that called him καθελόγος, as well as in an Arabic verse that the phy-
larch himself composed.6
I. Haute Cuisine
Food was important to all Arabs,7 and “the Sons of the Large Platter,” the
Ghassānids, must have enjoyed at their tables a high level of cuisine. This is attested
by the Arab authors who actually singled them out from all the Arabs for the high
standard that their culinary art had reached. Speaking of one succulent Ghassānid
tharīda (discussed below), Thaʿālibi (961–1038) wrote: “This group (the
Ghassānids) distinguished themselves among the Arabs for their specialization in
al-ṭayyibāt, the delicious foods, and to them belonged the tharīda, which is pro-
verbial. And about this dish the Arabs were united, declaring that there was no
tharīda more delicious than theirs, neither in the food of the common people nor
of the elite, and so it served as a proverb for the most delicious of foods.”8
Ghassānid cuisine may have been influenced by their origins in the Arabian
Peninsula, where they associated with the Ḥimyarites,9 and by later contacts with
the Palmyrene and the Nabataean Arabs, who accorded great importance to ban-
quets and feasts. Such expressions as “Children of the Banquet,” “Companions
of the Banquet,” and “Chief of the Banquet” speak for themselves.10 It is also
Rasāʾil Abī al-Fadl Badīʾ al-Zamān al-Hamadānī (Cairo, 1898), 300–301; see
BASIC II.1, 289–91.
5 See Ibn Ḥazm,
Jamharat Ansāb al-ʿArab, ed. A. Hārūn (Cairo, 1962), 372.
6 See Hishām al-Kalbī,
Jamharat al-Nasab, ed. N. Ḥasan (Beirut, 1986), 618–19; for the Greek
inscription, published by Maurice Sartre, see
BASIC I.1, 509–12; BASIC II.1, 44–46.
7 The importance of food in the life of the Arabs is reflected in the large number of dishes (twelve),
each of which had a name; see Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih,
al-ʿIqd al-Farīd, ed. A. Amīn, I. Abyārī, and A. Hārūn
(Beirut, 1982), VI, 290–92. And likewise, banquets were given on twelve named occasions (292). For
the list in English of these dishes and banquets, see G. J. H. van Gelder,
8 See ʿAbd al-Malik al-Thaʿālibi,
Thimār al-Qulūb fi al-Muḍāf wa al-Mansūb, ed. M. Ibrāhīm
(Cairo, 1965), 122–23.
9 For food in Ḥimyarite South Arabia, see “Ghidhāʾ,”
EI, II, 1060–61; for the food of the Arabs
of the Peninsula in pre-Islamic times, see 1057–60. The entries “Ṭabkh” (“Cooking”) and “Matbakh”
(“Kitchen,” “Cookhouse”) by D. Waines may also be consulted, in
10 For these expressions in Nabataean and Palmyrene inscriptions, see R. G. Hoyland,
the Arabs (London, 2001), 136.
possible that Arethas introduced to the Ghassānid court foods that he had tasted
at imperial banquets in Constantinople.11 Such banquets in later times attracted
the attention of a Muslim observer, who left a vivid and detailed description of
one of them.12
The fourth-century historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who judged a particu-
lar people or society by what they ate and what they drank, dismissed the Arab
pastoralists of the fourth century as a people “wholly unacquainted with grain and
wine.”13 But the Ghassānids displayed a high level of cultural development in their
food and drink, recognized both by the poets who visited them and by the authors
of later Islamic times such as Thaʿālibi. In particular, Ḥassān distinguished the
Ghassānid princesses from the Arab women of the Peninsula by noting that they
Information on the Ghassānid diet is extremely limited. As bread was the staple
food of Byzantium, so it was for the Ghassānids. At the court, a major compo-
nent of the diet would have been
quite distinct from the bread made of coarse flour called
khushkār.15 The Syriac
ḥuwwārā,16 related to the root that means “white,” is attested in a piece of
rhyming prose addressed to one of the Ghassānid kings—a panegyric on him in
which the superiority of the food he eats is considered evidence for his superiority
over his rival, the Lakhmid king of Ḥīra.17 Coarser bread,
paximadion, was dis-
tributed to the Ghassānid troops when they were on duty.18 Ḥawrān/Auranitis
and Bathaniyya/Bāshān, where the Ghassānids were partly settled, were known as
cereal-growing regions in Oriens.
11 On Arethas in Constantinople, see
BASIC I.1, 282–88.
12 For Hārūn ibn Yaḥyā’s description of the imperial Christmas banquet in Constantinople, see the
English version of the Arabic text in A. Dalby,
Flavours of Byzantium (Trowbridge, Eng., 2003), 118–19.
13 Ammianus Marcellinus,
Res Gestae, XIV.vi.6. On Ammianus’ value system, see P. Tuffin and M.
McEvoy, “Steak à la Hun: Food and Drink, and Dietary Habits in Ammianus Marcellinus,” in
Fast or Famine: Food and Drink in Byzantium, ed. W. Mayer and S. Trzcionka, Byzantina Australiensia
15 (Brisbane, 2005), 69–84, especially 79–80.
14 See Ḥassān,
Dīwan, I, 255, verse 8, translated in BASIC II.1, 295.
khushkār, see van Gelder, God’s Banquet, 99, 120; it was probably baked in an oven called a
tannūr. On bread among the Arabs generally, see C. Pellat, “Khubz,” EI2, V, 41–43; in Byzantium, see A.
Karpozilos and A. Kazhdan, “Bread,”
ODB, I, 321. For ḥuwwārā as the bread of the Ghassānids, see Abū
al-Aghānī (Beirut, 1957), XV, 124, verse 14.
16 See S. Fraenkel,
Die aramäischen Fremdwörter im Arabischen (1886; reprint, Hildesheim,
17 For this piece of rhyming prose, see Iṣfahānī,
al-Aghānī, XV, 124–25.
18 For the simple baked loaves and the double-baked biscuit in Roman and Byzantine times, the
bucellatum and the paximadion/paximation, see J. Haldon, “Feeding the Army: Food and Transport in
Byzantium, ca. 600–1100,” in Mayer and Trzcionka, eds.,
Feast, Fast or Famine, 87.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
Bread was accompanied by cheese, either
jubn or a
kiṭ, and by honey, ʿasal, and
also “clarified butter,” both of which are documented in contemporary poetry.19
Olives and olive oil also went with bread as part of the Ghassānid meal. The olive
tree grew in the regions where the Ghassānids were settled; indeed, Oriens was
the major area of olives and oil production for Byzantium until the Arab Muslim
A bread and meat broth called
tharīdat Ghassān was highly prized among the
Arabs and acquired proverbial fame in the words of medieval authors such as
Thaʿālibi (quoted above). According to some, the meat in the dish was brains
(viewed as particularly choice).20 Two distinguished personages sang its praises: a
Do'stlaringiz bilan baham:
ma'muriyatiga murojaat qiling