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of Bostra and Petra were both accessible to the Ghassānids.
2. Another must have come from the Graeco-Roman communities living in
the Decapolis, which geographically was within the two Ghassānid provinces of
Arabia and Palaestina Secunda.
3. After the introduction of the silkworm, mulberry trees proliferated
in Oriens and sericulture flourished, as did silk production in centers such as
Tyre and Berytus, not far from the Ghassānids. It is natural to think that the
The Arab groups who moved in the orbit of Sasanid Persia were naturally influenced by the domi-
nant culture of their overlords. That this influence included Persian clothing can be inferred from a verse
by Ḥassān addressing a delegation of Tamīm, which came to the Prophet in Medina and accepted Islam.
He accused them of dressing like the
Aʿājim, “the non-Arabs”—in this case, the Persians; see Dīwān
Ḥassān ibn Thābit, ed. W. ʿArafāt, Gibb Memorial New Series 25 (London, 1971), I, 110, verse 12. The
relevance of this pattern of influence to Byzantium’s influence on its own allies, the Ghassānids, in mat-
ters of dress is obvious.
12 On the
manbijāniyya worn by the Prophet, see Stillman, Arab Dress, 13, and Jubouri, al-Malābis,
13 See al-Nābigha al-Jaʿdi,
Dīwān, ed. A. Rabbāḥ (Damascus, 1964), 61, verse 13.
14 Quoted by Bakri in his
Muʿ jam (Cairo, 1951), IV, 1134.
15 On Byzantine dress, see Ph. Koukoules,
Byzantinon bios kai politismos (Athens, 1948–57), II,
2, 5–59; VI, 267–94; and N. Ševčenko, “Costume,”
ODB, I, 538–40. The excellence of Byzantine tex-
tiles was proverbial, according to the Arabic sources; see ʿAbd al-Malik al-Thaʿālibi,
ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1965), 525, 535. Because of their high prestige, Byzantine garments sometimes
functioned as imperial gifts to promote diplomatic ties with foreign potentates.
Ghassānids were beneficiaries of this proximity to the silks and other textiles of
4. Finally came influence from Constantinople, resulting from gifts presented
to the supreme Ghassānid phylarchs and kings by the Byzantine emperor on their
visits to the capital.17
II. The Ghassānid Vestimentary System
The scanty evidence on Ghassānid dress is set within three venues: the court, the
battlefield, and the tavern, with its songstresses and waiters. The tavern has already
been discussed above, in Chapter 5, “Drink.” Most of the discussion will there-
fore focus on the Ghassānid king Arethas and his son Mundir of the sixth century,
especially the former. Contemporary poetry, the principal source, will be assessed
in light of the relevant Byzantine sources, which are informative on certain aspects
of the Ghassānid vestimentary system that have never been examined before. The
Ghassānid leader will be discussed in various contexts: as king at Jābiya, as
in Constantinople, and as phylarch, commander in chief, on the battlefield. His
garb on each occasion and in each venue reflects identities that sum up the com-
plex personality of the Ghassānid as a federate of the new Christian Roman Empire,
In documenting the conferment of the
basileia on the Ghassānid Arethas in
a.d. 529, Procopius omits any description of the attendant ceremony.18 Some
details can be recovered, however, from his two accounts of similar ceremonies,
in Constantinople and in the provinces, in which he describes the insignia and
the costumes worn by the “barbarian” kings on whom the
another account is provided by Malalas. Nevertheless, precisely what garb was pre-
sented to the Ghassānid kings Arethas and Mundir remains unclear.
After Justinian’s suspension of the Armenian pentarchy, Procopius gives the
following description of the insignia of the Armenian king:
It is worthwhile to describe these insignia, for they will never again be seen
by man. There is a cloak made of wool, not such as is produced by sheep, but
gathered from the sea.
Pinnos the creature is called on which this wool grows.
And the part where the purple should have been, that is, where the insertion
16 If the textiles of Manbij reached the Prophet Muḥammad in Medina, they certainly reached the
Ghassānids in Oriens (see note 12).
17 The garments received by the Ghassānid king Mundir in Constantinople, a gift of the emperor
Tiberius, are discussed later in this chapter.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
of purple cloth is usually made, is overlaid with gold. The cloak was fastened
by a golden brooch in the middle of which was a precious stone from which
hung three sapphires by loose golden chains. There was a tunic of silk adorned
in every part with decorations of gold which they are wont to call
boots were of red color and reached to the knee, of the sort which only the
Roman emperor and the Persian king are permitted to wear.19
Elsewhere, he describes the royal “wardrobe” presented to the Mauri chiefs:
Now these symbols are a stuff of silver covered with gold, and a silver cap—
not covering the whole head, but like a crown and held in place on all sides
by bands of silver—a kind of white cloak gathered by a golden brooch on
the right shoulder in the form of a Thessalian cape, and a white tunic with
embroidery, and a gilded boot.20
Malalas gives the following description of the coronation of the king of
As soon as his father Damnazes died, he immediately traveled to the emperor
Justin in Byzantion, put himself at his disposal and asked to be proclaimed
emperor of the Laz. He was received by the emperor, baptized, and having
become a Christian, married a Roman wife named Valeriana, the grand-
daughter of Nomos the patrician, and he took her back with him to his own
country. He had been crowned by Justin, the emperor of the Romans, and
had put on a Roman imperial crown and a white cloak of pure silk. Instead
of the purple border it had the gold imperial border; in its middle was a true
purple portrait medallion with a likeness of the emperor Justin. He also
wore a white tunic, a
including the likeness of the emperor. The shoes that he wore he had brought
from his own country, and they were studded with pearls in Persian fashion.
Likewise his belt was decorated with pearls. He received many gifts from the
emperor Justin, as did his wife Valeriana.21
The title awarded to the Ghassānid ruler or chief by his own people was nei-
patricius nor phylarch but king, malik. This title, established beyond doubt
21 John Malalas,
Chronographia, ed. L. Dindorf (Bonn, 1835), 412–13; here translated by
E. Jeffreys, M. Jeffreys, and R. Scott as
The Chronicle of John Malalas (Melbourne [and Sydney], 1986),
by Procopius,22 is confirmed by the contemporary poetry of Ḥassān and of later
poets who continued this authentic tradition, but the strongest evidence is sup-
plied by contemporary epigraphy—the Usays inscription carved by one of Arethas’
commanders, Ibn al-Mughīra, who refers to him around a.d. 530 as
king.23 There is also no doubt that the Ghassānid Arethas was dressed as a king on
important occasions in Ghassānland, since the poet laureate of later times under-
scores his own eminent position among his Ghassānid patrons by noting that he
used to sit not far from their crowned head.24
Only the headgear of the Ghassānid king is explicitly mentioned in non-
Byzantine contemporary sources on the Ghassānids. In the first three-quarters of
the century, he wore not the royal crown of the Byzantine
autokrator, the diadem
(διάδημα), but the circlet, possibly the equivalent of Greek στεϕάνιον (a diminu-
tive of στέϕανος) assumed by Tzath, the king of the Laz. The Ghassānids may have
worn something that resembled the royal headgear of a contemporary Semitic
ruler, the Negus of Ethiopia; his was called both a στέμμα and a ϕακιόλιον.25 The
Ghassānid circlet was in Arabic an
iklīl, in Syriac a klīla.26 The Arab Labīd, one of
the pre-Islamic poets of the Suspended Odes, referred to the
kharazāt, the beads or
jewels, with which the Ghassānid crown was studded.27
Thus, during the long reign of Arethas from 529 to 569, the Ghassānid
headgear was a circlet. After his death, during the reign of his son al-Mundir, the
Ghassānid crown became more impressive: in the words of the contemporary
source John of Ephesus, the
express the appreciation of the emperor Tiberius of the Ghassānid king on the lat-
ter’s visit to Constantinople.28 This was the crown seen by the later poets of the
Ghassānids, such as Ḥassān; hence he hailed the Ghassānid king as
“the crown holder,” a term employed by later Islamic poets such as Abū Nuwās to
describe the Ghassānid rulers.29
The importance of the insignia of the Ghassānid king is reflected in the
events that followed the abduction of their king Mundir by Magnus, and Mundir’s
dispatch to Constantinople. His sons revolted and successfully demanded that the
23 That his father, Jabala, was also officially king is vouched for by the conclusion of the
Simeon of Bēth-Arshām, who visited King Jabala around a.d. 520, when he invoked his aid for the mar-
tyrs of Najrān; see
Dīwān, I, 255, verse 10.
25 For these four Greek terms, see
BASIC I.1, 105 –6 note 221.
26 On the
klīla, iklīl, see ibid., 105, 402, 518.
27 Labīd ibn Rabīʿah,
Die Gedichte des Labîd, ed. C. Brockelmann (Leiden, 1891), 42, verse 50. See
BASIC I.1, 106 note 222.
BASIC I.1, 399–400.
Dīwān Abū Nūwās, ed. A. al-Ghazālī (Beirut, 1982), 160, a poem written ca. a.d. 800.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
symbols of their father’s
Arabia, at whose capital, Bostra, these symbols were deposited.30
Two other items of the royal “wardrobe” are indirectly referred to in the con-
temporary Arabic sources: their robes and their shoes or boots. Briefly touched
upon in the Arabic poetry that eulogized the Ghassānids, these are depicted
in detail in the Byzantine sources that report on the kings and chiefs of the
Armenians, the Mauri, and the Laz, as well as in the sources that describe the dress
A triplet of verses in the most famous of all panegyrics on the Ghassānids is a mine
of information on the royal wardrobe, despite its brevity.31
In this panegyric on the Ghassānid king ʿAmr (ca. a.d. 600), al-Nābigha
speaks of the “robes of
iḍrīj,” aksiyat al-iḍrīj,32 which were hung on trestles
consonant with the popularity of the color red for royal dress and with the descrip-
tion of the
term for red silk,
khazz, is also used in this connection. In his description of the
robes of the Lazic king quoted above, Malalas speaks of his
paragaudion as a white
tunic—possibly a mistake, since both the Greek lexicon and the lexicographers
who glossed pre-Islamic Arabic poetry (where the term appears in the form
interpret it as a purple-colored garment.33
White robes were part of the royal wardrobe. Most descriptions of the dress
of the client kings or chiefs in Procopius and Malalas emphasize the white tunic.
White robes were well known at the Ghassānid court, worn by their princesses34
and presented by Ghassānid kings as gifts to distinguished visitors and poets who
eulogized them. Sometimes, these white robes were perfumed,
BASIC I.1, 469. This episode indicates clearly that the Ghassānids had a residence in Bostra,
in which they deposited these symbols of their
basileia, perhaps to be assumed on important occasions
held in the capital of the
provincia of which Arethas and later Mundir were phylarchs.
Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 47, verses 25–27.
32 Ibid., verse 26.
33 See LSJ, s.v.
paragaudion; on barjad in the poetry of the pre-Islamic poet Tarafa, see Jubouri,
al-Malābis, 79. The significance of the color red in Byzantium and among the foederati is not clear. The
autokrator wore red boots, but his robes were purple. The Ghassānid client-kings and phy-
larchs may have wanted to avoid purple lest they seem to be inappropriately encroaching on the imperial
dignity, as expressed in that color.
rayṭ, white robes, used by Ghassānid princesses, see Ḥassān, Dīwān, I, 255, verse 7; they are
discussed later in this chapter.
35 Although it was Ḥātim, the
sayyid of the group Ṭayyiʾ, who visited the court of the Ghassānids
and composed poetry on them, it was another member of the Ṭayyiʾ that remembered their royal gifts to
These presents clearly resemble the imperial gifts that were showered on client-kings
such as the Lazic Tzath and his wife Valeriana, as well as on federates in Oriens,
such as those given the Ghassānid Mundir in a.d. 580 by the emperor Tiberius,
described in detail by John of Ephesus.36 The Gothic historian John of Biclar is
likewise informative on the gifts of “barbaria” that Mundir brought with him from
Oriens for Tiberius.37 He does not name these gifts, but they may have included
expensive garments or cloth from Najrān that were accessible to the Ghassānids.
In return, Tiberius gave him a number of gifts, including “magnificent garments”
for which Byzantium was known; perhaps Mundir had brought with him a simi-
lar kind of gift,38 deluxe garments, and the emperor wanted to reciprocate in kind.
A further note on the royal federate clothing comes from al-Nābigha. In the
third verse of the triplet devoted to the Ghassānids’ clothes, mentioned above, he
refers to the sleeves,
ardān, of their robes. They were pure white, khāliṣat al-ardān, but
the upper extremity of the sleeve near the shoulder was green,
The color green attained great significance for Muslims; it became and still remains
the distinctive color of Shiʿite Islam. It already had received scriptural authority in
the Koran itself. In three suras, the blessed are described as clothed in green gar-
ments of fine silk and brocade, and as reclining on green cushions.40 The appeal of
the color green to the Arabs, dwellers in an arid area, is readily understandable, as
it suggests well-watered oases. The Ghassānids, Arabs living in a mostly arid area of
Oriens, would naturally have responded positively to the color green; it is not clear
whether the color had any religious symbolism for them as Christians.41
Among the descriptions of life of the Ghassānids at court is an account by
Ḥassān of how they changed their robes seasonally: “During winter aloes-wood
those who came to their court. He was Thurmula ibn Shuʿath, who in the third verse of a triplet remarked
on the Ghassānids’ gold (certainly gold coins,
further described as fragrant,
rādiʿ; see Dīwān Shiʿr Ḥātim at-Ṭāʾi, ed. ʿĀ. S. Jamāl (Cairo, 1980), 325.
36 John of Ephesus, Ioannis Ephesini Historiae Ecclesiasticae Pars Tertia, Latin trans. E. W. Brooks,
CSCO, Scriptores Syri 106, ser. 3, III (Louvain, 1936), 164; see
BASIC I.1, 399–400.
37 John of Biclar,
Chronicum, ed. T. Mommsen, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores
Antiquissimi, XI 1, Chronica Minora 2 (Berlin, 1893), 214; see BASIC I.1, 384.
BASIC I.1, 388.
39 The scholiasts explained
khāliṣat al-ardān as “white,” “pure white”; for their commentary on this
Dīwān al-Nābigha, ed. S. Fayṣal (Beirut, 1968), 63 note 27.
40 Koran, 76:21; 18:31; 55:76.
41 See A. Cutler, “Color,”
ODB, I, 482–83. The Islamic veneration of the color green may have been
Ghassānid in inspiration. Al-Nābigha’s verse mentioning green as favored by the Ghassānids was writ-
ten before the suras of the Koran that extol this color. In addition, in the first hemistich of the verse he
uses the term
naʿīm, “worldly bliss”—a word that appears some twenty times in the Koran in the phrase
Jannat al-Naʿīm, “the Paradise of Bliss”; see al-Muʿ jam al-Mufahras li alfā
z al-Qurʾan al-Karīm, ed.
M. ʿAbd al-Bāqi (Cairo, n.d.), s.v. Jannāt. Perhaps the Ghassānids similarly associated green with the life
of the blessed in the other world, in which case the sleeve described by the poet might represent the addi-
tion of green to a color (white) already linked to Christian martyrs.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
was burned in [the king’s] apartments, while in summer he cooled himself with
snow. Both he and his courtiers wore light robes, arranged with more regard to
comfort than ceremony, in the hot weather, and white furs, called
in the cold season.”42 On
fanak, Reynold Nicholson has the following note: “The
fanak is properly a kind of white stoat or weasel found in Abyssinia and northern
Africa, but the name is also applied by Muhammadans to other furs.” He adds that
although the account may not contain the poet laureate’s
not seriously affect its value as evidence.”43
The shoes or boots of the Ghassānids attracted the attention of the poets who
eulogized them and the scholiasts who annotated pre-Islamic poetry. They were
included in the list of items that the “barbarian” kings were given or allowed to
wear, and they were red, the same color as the boots of Byzantine emperors. The
Arab poets noted that the boots of the Ghassānids had “thin soles,”
interpreted by the scholiast as meaning that the shoes were designed for treading
on soft or smooth floors or ground, not for traversing the hard terrain of desert and
steppe. What is more, the Ghassānids were prosperous enough to throw away their
shoes when they needed resoling, a process that would make the soles thick.45
Expensive clothes were not only worn by the Ghassānids but also used as
gifts for distinguished visitors. They were sometimes referred to as
“the robes of satisfaction or pleasure,” though the more common name for a pre-
sentation garment or robe was
express the Ghassānid patron’s extreme satisfaction for a panegyric or some special
service rendered; in such a case the dynast would throw his own robe on the hon-
orand as a special favor.
Such Ghassānid gifts are attested in the prose account of the poet laureate,
Ḥassān, which Nicholson cited to illustrate the gaiety of Jabala’s court. The rel-
evant part may be quoted here: “and, by God, I was never in his company but he
gave me the robe which he was wearing on that day, and many of his friends were
thus honoured. He treated the rude with forbearance; he laughed without reserve
and lavished his gifts before they were sought.”46 The verses of the poet al-Nābigha
42 Translated by R. Nicholson, with comments, in
A Literary History of the Arabs (1907; reprint,
London, 1969), 53 and notes 2–4.
43 Ibid., note 3. See also F. Viré, “Fanak,”
EI2, II, 775.
44 See al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī,
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