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foederati, Theodosiani libri XVI cum constitutionibus
Sirmondianis et leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes, ed. T. Mommsen and P. M. Meyer, 2nd ed.
(Berlin, 1954), II, 61–64. Sometimes they are referred to as ἔνσπoνδοι, as in Procopius,
See also the discussion of terminology in the Preface, above.
4 On Florentinus and his poem on the Vandal king Tharasamund, see F. Clover, “Felix Karthago,”
Tradition and Innovation in Late Antiquity, ed. F. M. Clover and R. S. Humphreys (Madison, Wis.,
5 Vandals are not often associated with praise, for their image has been tarnished by the term
“vandalism,” but they also contributed the attractive name al-Andalus/Andalusia! For a defense of the
Vandals against their identification as vandals, see George, “Vandal Poets in Their Context,” 142–43.
he previous chapter has examined the importance of poetry to the Ghassānids
and their own services to it, notably through mediating the influence of
Byzantinism in Oriens, which enhanced Ghassānid urbanism. As the principal
poets who visited the Ghassānids in Oriens have already been discussed at some
length in a previous volume in this series,1 a brief enumeration of them will be
given in this section to demonstrate both the power of that court’s gravitational
pull and the extent of its influence on the verse of the poets who visited it. Because
this volume treats the poetry only within the general concept of culture, its purely
literary value will not be discussed.
Some fourteen poets wended their way to the Ghassānid court in Jābiya and
Jalliq.2 These can be divided and categorized, so as to reflect their own importance
as well as that of their Ghassānid patrons.
1. Five of them—Imruʾ al-Qays, al-Nābigha, ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm, Labīd, and
Maymūn al-Aʿshā—are among the foremost poets of Arabia; their poems were
included in the so-called Suspended Odes of pre-Islamic poetry.3
2. Some of these poets, such as ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm and al-Mutalammis,
chose to leave the Lakhmids for their rivals, the Ghassānids. Such desertions were
BASIC II.1, 220–80; there, the discussion focused on the toponyms that the odes of these
poets provided, which are crucial for understanding the urban character of the Ghassānid phylarchate.
2 The number becomes fifteen if al-Ranq, the poet of Medina who composed the sextet on Jabala,
is included. Cf. the fifteen poets of the Vandals, discussed in J. George, “Vandal Poets in their Context,”
Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique Africa, ed. A. H. Merrills (Aldershot,
Eng., 2004), 138–39. A sixteenth poet may now be added, a Ghassānid of the Royal House, namely,
rajaz metre is attributed to him. The poem is
very informative on the Ghassānids: it contains military terms in Arabic which evidence their advanced
military techniques; it refers to the Ghassānid king relaxing during his retirement in the countryside,
and uses the terms for Arabic
villeggiatura, such as mutabaddiyan and tabadā, which the extant sources
on the Ghassānids have hardly ever preserved. For the poet and his verses, see Abū-ʿAli al-Qāli,
al-Amāli wa al-Nawādir (Cairo, 2000), 179–80.
3 This was a collection of seven or ten odes, gathered together in the Umayyad period; see J. A.
The Seven Odes: The First Chapter in Arabic Literature (London and New York, 1957).
both flattering to the Ghassānids and indicative of the great drawing power of
3. Some were Christians, and their arrival at Oriens suggests that the Christ-
ian ity of the Ghassānids, not only their affluence and liberality, was an attraction.
4. Some were relatives of the Ghassānids, such as Ḥassān ibn Thābit and
Yazīd ibn Abd al-Madān, the
sayyid (chief) of Najrān and a descendant of its
martyrs. Both poets came from well-established urban groups in western Arabia,
and their visits to the Ghassānids to pay homage and compose eulogies reflect
the great prestige of the Ghassānids among their congeners in the Arabian
As indicated in the previous chapter, some of these poets were themselves
Ghassānids, hailing from Oriens; among them were ʿAdī ibn al-Raʿlāʾ. Although
the Ghassānids apparently did not produce an especially distinguished poet, some
of them could compose tolerable verse. More important than the aesthetic value of
their poetry is its influence in making the Ghassānids connoisseurs and promoters
of poetry. But the significance of poetry at the Ghassānid court is that it attracted
poets from all parts of the vast Peninsula: western Arabia (Ḥassān and, from
Najrān, Yazīd ibn ʿAbd al-Madān), midcentral Arabia (Ḥātim and al-Nābigha,
the foremost poet of his generation), and eastern Arabia (ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm and
al-Mutalammis); hence it might justly be said that in the sixth century practically
everybody who was anybody in Arabic poetry in the Peninsula paid homage to the
Ghassānids and experienced their liberality.
The Ghassānid poets are shadowy figures, from whose poetry only a verse or a
couplet has survived; the exception, ʿAdī ibn al-Raʿlāʾ, has two surviving fragments.
One of those poets is Arethas, the Ghassānid king during the reign of Justinian;
another is Qātil al-Jūʿ; a third is Salmā, a woman; and two anonymous poets are
also attested. The poetry ascribed to the Ghassānid Jidhʿ is still
sub judice, but if it
is proved authentic, Jidhʿ will emerge as the earliest Ghassānid poet (ca. a.d. 500).4
These poets raise the question of whether the dynasty, like the Lakhmids, had
dīwān of the poetry composed in their honor; no such collection is extant.5
4 For Ibn al-Raʿlā, see Muhammad al-Marzubāni,
Muʿ jam al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. ʿA. al-Sattār Farrāj
(Cairo, 1960), 86; and Ibn Durayd,
al-Ishtiqāq, ed. ʿA. al-Salām Hārūn (Cairo, 1958), 486, with
note 3 for more sources on the poet. For Arethas/Ḥārith, see Abū al-Baqāʾ Hibat Allah,
al-Mazyadiyya, ed. S. Daradka and M. Khuraysāt (Amman, 1984), II, 377; for Qātil al-Jūʿ, see Hishām
Jamharat al-Nasab, ed. N. Hasan (Beirut, 1986), 618–19; for Salmā al-Ghassāniyya, to whom
is ascribed a heptad of
rajaz verses in a bukāʾiyya, a threnody, see al-Manāqib al-Mazyadiyya, I, 351. For
anonymous Ghassānid poets, see, for instance, Jāḥi
z, ed. ʿA. al-Salām Hārūn (Cairo,
1964), I, 209. For Jidhʿ as possibly the earliest of all Ghassānid poets, see Chapter 7, above.
5 On the Lakhmid
dīwān, see Ibn Sallām, Ṭabaqāt Fuḥūl al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. M. M. Shākir (Cairo,
1974), I, 25.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
The Fourteen Poets
The fourteen poets who converged on the Ghassānid court from all parts of the
Arabian Peninsula may be listed as follows.6
1. Imruʾ al-Qays, the foremost poet of pre-Islamic Arabia, was related to the
Ghassānids, whom he refers to as his maternal uncles. One of his two best poems,
the Caesar Ode, was inspired by Oriens, and according to one source was associ-
ated with his involvement with the Ghassānids; so was the
famous of all the Suspended Odes.7
2. Ḥassān ibn Thābit was the Ghassānids’ relative and poet laureate, the
source of much information about Ghassānid social life. Most of his extant poems
on the Ghassānids were written in the Islamic period, after the fall of the dynasty;
he composed them as a
3. Al-Nābigha, the foremost poet of the last phase in the development of
Arabic pre-Islamic poetry around a.d. 600, was so close to the Ghassānids that
he was in effect a second poet laureate. To him is owed precious references to their
Christianity and to their campaigns. And as argued in the previous chapter, a
unique ode in his
Dīwān may be an ekphrasis on a statue of Aphrodite, which he
would have seen in Palmyra or some other urban center in Oriens.9
4. ʿAlqama was a major poet of the Tamīm group in eastern Arabia. He wrote
a celebrated epinician in praise of the Ghassānid Arethas, whom he eulogized in
order to set free his brother. It has the only detailed description in Arabic verse of
a Ghassānid king directing a battle—in this case, the decisive battle of Chalcis, in
which Arethas fought as a Byzantine cataphract.10
5. Ḥātim was the chief of the Christian group Ṭayyiʾ, which had close rela-
tions with the Lakhmids. He too came to liberate some of his people whom the
Ghassānid king had captured. The Syriac writers used the name of his group as
the generic name of the Arabs, Ṭayāyē, thereby demonstrating the importance of
the Ṭayyiʾ in pre-Islamic times.11
6. ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm was the
sayyid of Taghlib, the powerful tribal group
in northeastern Arabia, famous as a warrior and as the composer of one of the
Suspended Odes. He left the Lakhmids and joined the Ghassānids in Oriens.12
7. Al-Aʿshā was the surname of Maymūn ibn Qays, who belonged to a
6 Eight of these poets are discussed in detail in the companion to this volume,
documentation to them will be given by cross-reference to it.
BASIC II.1, 259–65.
8 See ibid., 232–46.
9 See ibid., 221–32.
10 See ʿAlqama,
Dīwān, ed. D. al-Khaṭīb and I. Ṣaqqāl (Aleppo, 1969), 33–49; see also Sezgin, GAS,
II, 120–22 who has argued persuasively for the contemporaneity of ʿAlqama and Imruʾ al-Qays.
BASIC II.1, 246–59.
12 See ibid., 268–72.
subdivision of the powerful tribe of Bakr, which moved in the orbit of Ḥīra. A
major itinerant poet of pre-Islamic Arabia, he was called
Sannajat al-ʿArab, “the
Cymbalist of the Arabs and Arabia.” He too was one of the poets of the
or Suspended Odes, and visited the Ghassānids not only in the Provincia Arabia
but also in Palestine.13
Those named above are some of the foremost poets of Arabia. Others, less
highly esteemed by the Arab literary critics,14 may be listed as follows.
8. Al-Muraqqish the Elder belonged to a subdivision of the large and power-
ful group Bakr, which moved in the orbit of Ḥīra and its Lakhmids. He, too, came
over to the Ghassānid Arethas and, according to one source, became the king’s
secretary. He was a warrior who fought in the Basūs War, and was considered one
ushshāq, the famous lovers in Arabic poetry who died of love (welche sterben
wenn sie lieben).15
9. Al-Mutalammis also belonged to a subdivision of Bakr, left the Lakhmids
of Ḥīra, and joined the Ghassānids together with his son, ʿAbd al-Mannān, who
likewise was a poet. He and his son are associated with Bostra, a circumstance that
strengthens the view that the metropolis of the Provincia Arabia was accessible to
10. Like the two previous poets, al-Musayyab ibn ʿAlas came from northeast-
ern Arabia. Al-Aʿshā was his maternal uncle. He came over to the Ghassānids, and
his poetry was reminiscent of al-Nābigha’s in its reference to their morals.17
11. Abū-Zubayd from the tribe of Ṭayyiʾ is explicitly described by the sources
as a Christian, who retained his faith even after the rise of Islam. The caliph Omar
employed him to collect the taxes,
ṣadaqāt, of his group, but references in the
sources suggest that he was a contemporary of Arethas.18
12. Labīd is one of two poets of the group ʿĀmir associated with the
Ghassānids. One of his poems recorded the death of Arethas in specific terms, sug-
gesting that he witnessed it. So he must be viewed as one of the poets who visited
13 See ibid., 272–78.
14 In Arabic literary criticism, poets were often evaluated by layers,
ṭabaqat; see Ibn Sallām, Ṭabaqāt
Fuḥūl al-Shuʿarāʾ, a work that emphasizes the concept of layers in its very title.
15 See C. Pellat, “Mura
EI2, VII, 603–4; Sezgin, GAS, II, 153–54; BAFIC, 455. For Heine’s
Asra, see BAFIC, 455–56.
BASIC II.1, 265–68.
17 See Sezgin,
GAS, II, 176–77, and Ibn Saʿīd al-Andalusi, Nashwat al-Ṭarab, ed. N. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān
(Amman, 1982), II, 657.
18 For Abū-Zubayd, who is known by this tecnonymic rather than by his name, Ḥarmala, see
GAS, II, 161–62.
BASIC II.1, 278–82. Some prose sources place Labīd with the Ghassānids at the battle of
Yawm Ḥalīma. See Ibn Qutayba,
al-Shiʿr wa al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. A. M. Shākir (Cairo, 1966), I, 274.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
13. The other poet who belonged to ʿĀmir is al-Nābigha al-Jaʿdi. The refer-
ences to the Ghassānids in his poetry are clear, as he enjoyed their hospitality. He
was a Mukhadram, a poet who was born before the rise of Islam but lived well into
the Islamic period. He was considered one of the
with extraordinary longevity.20
14. Finally, there was Yazīd ibn ʿAbd al-Madān, the lord of Najrān, who was
related to the Ghassānids.21
The Ghassānids may have produced no distinguished pre-Islamic poets, but their
descendants did, especially in medieval al-Andalus. Even in recent times, in the
Mamālīk community of Egypt, which claimed descent from the Ghassānids, was
born the major neoclassical poet al-Bārūdi (d. 1904). More recently still, the Arab
Christian family of the Maʿloufs of Zaḥle in Lebanon, who similarly claim descent
from the Ghassānids, produced a number of distinguished poets; the foremost
of them was Fawzi al-Maʿlūf (d. 1930), whose work has been translated into five
20 See Sezgin,
GAS, II, 245–47; A. Arazi, “al-Nābigha al-Djaʿdi,” EI2, VII, 842–43.
21 See Abū al-Faraj Iṣfahānī,
al-Aghānī (Beirut, 1958), XII, 11–14.
22 For the poets of the Maʿlūf family, see R. al-Maʿlūf,
Shuʿarāʾ al-Maʿālifa (Beirut, 1962). In his
introduction, the author tries to document the Ghassānid descent of the Maʿlūfs and cites the names of
distinguished Ghassānid poets in medieval times (9). For the epic poem of Fawzi, ʿ
lated into five European languages, see 40–41.
ust as rhetoric was important and central in late antique literature,1 so it was
among the Arabs before the rise of Islam. Far less of pre-Islamic prose literature
than poetry has survived; only a few fragments remain, some of which are suspect.
Oratory represented the artistic arm of that prose. The
very special position in pre-Islamic society, equaling and sometimes even surpass-
ing that of the poet. Public speaking had perhaps an even more important function
than poetry, since it was needed on various social, political, and military occasions.
The Arabic sources describe in some detail the ideal orator and the venue of his
oratory, even noting the staff or bow that he sometimes held in his hand. Certain
tribes, such as Iyād and Tamīm, attained fame for producing the best orators.2 To
the former belonged Quss ibn Sāʿida, the most famous orator of pre-Islamic times,
who was also the bishop of Najrān. He used to come to the fair of ʿUkā
Mecca, and preach there; the Prophet Muḥammad admired him and remembered
his speech, which has been preserved and which is considered authentic.3
I. References to Ghassānid Oratory
As Arabs, the Ghassānids felt oratory to be important in all aspects of their life.
Only a few extant oratorical compositions as well as a few significant references to
that art remain to be examined in this context. The sources refer to the Ghassānids
1 On rhetoric in Byzantium and late antiquity, see G. Kennedy, “The Classical Tradition in
Byzantium and the Classical Tradition: University of Birmingham Thirteenth Spring
Symposium of Byzantine Studies 1979, ed. M. Mullett and R. Scott (Birmingham, Eng., 1981), 20–34;
H. Hunger, “The Classical Tradition in Byzantine Literature: The Importance of Rhetoric,” in ibid.,
(Aldershot, Eng., 2003).
locus classicus for all that pertains to Arabic oratory in pre-Islamic times is the detailed
account in the ninth-century Abbasid author al-Jāḥi
z, in his
al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, ed. A. Hārūn
(Cairo, 1960), I, 306–410; see also J. Pedersen, “Khaṭīb,”
EI2, IV, 1109–11, especially 1109–10.
3 On Quss, see al-Jāḥi
al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, I, 308–9; C. Pellat, “
V, 528–29. Because his entry predates basic studies on Najrān and its Christianity, which began with the
faulty assumptions and should be rejected.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
themselves as great orators, and associate them with
has survived of strictly
Ghassānid oratory. Like its poetry, Ghassānid oratory fol-
lowed the native Arabic tradition, which was strong and very well developed. But
Byzantine influence on Ghassānid oratory—for example, in speeches delivered on
the accession of a Ghassānid king or on his death—cannot be entirely ruled out.
Evidently Arab oratory was known to the Byzantines; thus Choricius of Gaza speaks
of “the clear-voiced orator of the Arabs,” λιγὺν Ἀράβων ἀγορητήν.5 Moreover, in
section 25 of his
the Provincia Arabia to study with him and whose father was very well known in
the province, γνώρισμα μέγιστον ὁ πατήρ. It is tempting to think that the father was the
famous Ghassānid Arethas, and that the young man was one of his many sons.6 As has
become clear in this volume, Arethas was not only a doughty warrior but also a prince
of peace, interested in the humanities: he was a connoisseur of poetry and apparently
composed some himself. The career of Arethas’ son Mundir, who succeeded him in
a.d. 569, could reflect an education acquired in Gaza. He probably used Greek, the
lingua franca of Byzantium, in corresponding with Justinianus, the
in Oriens,7 and in addressing a large Monophysite gathering, composed of individu-
als from various ethnic groups, in Constantinople in the early 580s.8
II. Influences on Ghassānid Oratory
One foreign influence on Ghassānid oratory that must have asserted itself was
church homilies, inspired by Christianity—specifically, by Syriac Christianity, in
view of the Ghassānids’ intimate relations with the Monophysite Syriac church.
But nothing of this religious oratory has survived.
Yet though Ghassānid speeches that display the influence of Christianity
have not survived, speeches of other Christian Arabs have. The oration of Quss,
the bishop of Najrān, has already been mentioned, but closer to the Ghassānids
4 The term used is
manābir (plural of minbar); see J. Pedersen, “Minbar,” EI2, VII, 73–76. The asso-
ciation of the Ghassānids with
manābir is mentioned both by ʿAmr ibn Maʿdi Karib, in a dialogue with
the orthodox caliph Omar, and in an eighth-century poem by al-Anṣāri, a contemporary of Bashshār
ibn Burd. Both were proud of the Ghassānids, with whom they shared an ancestral homeland, Yaman.
Because the two statements come from later Islamic times, their attribution may be called into ques-
tion, but in any case they reflect the late Islamic perception of the Ghassānids. For the two statements,
al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, I, 371; III, 117.
Choricii Gazaei opera, ed. R. Förster and E. Richsteig (Leipzig, 1929), 79; discussed in BASIC I.1,
6 See above, Part II, Chapter 1, notes 90–91.
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