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77 For Ḥassān’s and al-Nābigha’s verses on the
walāʾid, the maidens, see the discussion in BASIC
Al-walāʾid in al-Nābigha can only be the plural of walīda, “daughter,” and not a reference to the
slaves or servants, as suggested by the scholiast, who explains the word as
imāʾ (plural of ama, “servant,
Dīwān, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 47 note 25, and ed. S. Fayṣal (Beirut, 1968), 63 note 25.
The context surely suggests the meaning “daughters,” a reading clinched by a verse of Ḥassān that explic-
itly uses the same term,
nomads indulging in occupations appropriate only to the pastoralists; see
Dīwān, I, 255, verses 6, 7, 8.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
by Justin I and his successors, they refused to assume non-Arab names.78 This resis-
tance is especially noteworthy in the context of the sacrament of baptism. Already
in the fourth century, John Chrysostom had chided Christian parents for calling
their children after their forebears, urging them instead to use the names of the
apostles, martyrs, and saints.79 The Ghassānids never responded to this call.80 All
their names for their sons and daughters were strictly Arab, including Ḥalīma and
(their queens) Hind or Umāma or Salma, as well as Ḥārith, Jabala, and Nuʿmān.
The one exception occurred not among the Ghassānids but within another phy-
larchal royal house, that of Kinda, where the name Māriya (Mary) appeared; thus
Arethas, whose father Jabala had married the Kindite princess Māriya, was called
Ibn Māriya, “the son of Māriya.”81
The conversion of Arabs to Christianity before the rise of Islam brought
about a change more generally in Arab attitudes toward the birth of female chil-
dren. Theirs was a society of warriors, most notably in the Peninsula but also when
they became federates of the two empires, Persia and Byzantium. Hence their par-
tiality to sons rather than daughters—well-illustrated in the Koran’s description of
the suppressed anger of a father told that his wife had given birth to a daughter.82
The Koran and Islam ameliorated the earlier attitudes of Arabs toward women,
but Christianity did more, since it was a woman, the Virgin Mary, through whom
the mystery of the Incarnation and the miraculous birth of Christ took place.83
Women continued to play an important role in the life of Jesus and subsequently
as saints and martyrs; hence women among the Arabs such as the Kinda and
also Muslims often assumed the name of the Virgin, as Māriya or Maryam. The
Ghassānids apparently resisted that impulse, however, as the extant sources record
no Māriya or Maryam in their onomasticon.
Ghassānid parents demonstrated their pride in their children by including
the names of their sons and daughters as part of their own names. Patronymics
(“son of”) are widely used across peoples and societies, but the Arabs went further
78 On “Flavius” and “Philochristos” as honorific titles bestowed on them, see “The Ghassānid
Identity,” below (Part III, Chapter 10).
79 See John Chrysostom,
Sur la vaine gloire et l’éducation des enfants, ed. and trans. A.-M. Malingrey,
Sources Chrétiennes 188 (Paris, 1972), 146–47.
80 Many of their kings and phylarchs were called by the name of al-Ḥārith, the Arethas of the Greek
sources. Ḥārith, a very Arab name, was also the name of the chief martyr of Najrān, al-Ḥārith ibn-Kaʿb
Martyrium Arethae and the Syriac Book of the Ḥimyarites; see the index to Martyrs, s.v. Arethas.
81 This matronymic of the famous Arethas was remembered as late as the days of the poet laureate
Ḥassān, ca. a.d. 600; see his
Dīwān, I, 74, verse 11.
82 Koran, Sūrat al-Naḥl, 16:58–59; Sūrat al-Zukhruf, 43:17. These verses rejected and inveighed
against the pre-Islamic ethos of partiality to male issue.
83 The veneration for Mary was also shared by the Koran; Maryam, 19:16–26; Āl-ʿImrān, 3:35–37.
Ghassānid Federate Society
by also adding tecnonymics (“father of”) to their proper names. Most of the Arab
tecnonymics involve sons rather than daughters.84
The importance of children among the Arabs is reflected in some of the cus-
toms and terms associated with them, including the Ghassānids.
1. In aristocratic circles, infants were not suckled by their own mother but
were given to another woman called the
murdiʿ or murdiʿa. The end of suckling
represented the end of a phase of infancy, and the weaning was performed by a
woman called a
Arab women, including the Prophet Muḥammad’s daughter.
2. The teething of infants was also considered a significant stage of develop-
ment. The Arabic word for tooth,
sinn, came to mean the age of an individual, and
it also gave rise to
musinn, the term for an elderly man.85
3. One of the occasions on which Arabs gave a banquet,
al-khurs, was child-
birth.86 It is practically certain that the Ghassānids observed this celebration.
The education of Ghassānid boys is shrouded in obscurity, for the scanty extant
sources say nothing about it. But it surely must have included a preparation for their
future duties as federates, such as training in weapons, the sword and the spear, and
in the equestrianism for which the Ghassānids were celebrated.87 Religious instruc-
tion must also have been part of their education, since their royal house was the
protector of the Monophysite church. Arabic poetry undoubtedly played a role; the
art was closely associated with the court at which poets eulogized the Ghassānid
kings, and some poetry was composed by the Ghassānids themselves. It is worth
exploring the extent to which these children were likely also exposed to non-Arab
and non-Arabic education, particularly knowledge of Latin and Greek, the two
languages important for the Ghassānids as
foederati in the service of Byzantium.88
The higher echelons of the Ghassānid hierarchy probably knew both, enabling the
famous Arethas to confer directly with Justinian and Theodora, without an inter-
preter, when he visited the capital. Similarly, his son, Mundir, almost certainly
84 The Ghassānid onomasticon presents a unique case when al-Ḥārith, one of the many Ḥāriths, is
called Ibn Abī-Shamir, which thus simultaneously combined both the tecnonymic and the patronymic;
for the occurrence of this in the Arabic poetry of the period, see Nöldeke,
85 See Ibn Man
Lisān al-ʿArab (Beirut, 1997), III, 351.
86 For the term, see ibid., II, 239.
87 Analogies can be drawn from the education of Lakhmid children, about which more is known.
Like the Ghassānids, the Lakhmids originally hailed from South Arabia, and the two groups shared
ideas and ideals common to Arabs; see Y. R. Ghunayma,
al-Ḥīra (Baghdad, 1936), 109–11.
88 On Byzantine education, see “School,”
ODB, III, 1853.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
addressed the Monophysite conference in Constantinople in a.d. 580 using Greek,
the language common to all the participants, who came from different parts of the
empire or at least the Pars Orientalis, including Coptic Egypt.89
A passage in Choricius of Gaza, from the 530s, has some relevant material.
In section 25 of his
Laudatio Summi, the rhetor speaks of one of his students, who
was sent to him by Summus, the
dux of Palestine, and whose father was a very well
known figure in the Provincia Arabia: γνώρισμα μέγιστον ὁ πατήρ.90 No one after
tempting to think that it was he who sent his son—possibly Mundir, who would
become equally celebrated—to study with Choricius in Gaza.91
In this context, Choricius is also helpful when he speaks of an Arab orator
who functioned as the
symboulos of the dux Summus in either assessing the taxes
of Palestine or reconciling two Arab phylarchs.92 Here the Roman officer, who
belonged to the Graeco-Roman establishment, had to depend on an interpreter
who could communicate with the Arabs of the
provincia. Surely he must also have
known the languages that Summus spoke or knew, Latin and Greek. The Arab
phylarchs and their children, who were trained as future phylarchs, thus not only
spoke Arabic but also may have been taught one or both of the official languages of
Also instructive is the case of a young Arab prince who belonged to the other
phylarchal family, Kinda, in central Arabia. To negotiate a settlement, Justinian
sent Kinda his veteran diplomat, Abraham, who succeeded in 528 in striking a
dus with the Kindite phylarch, Qays; as part of the agreement, Qays sent his son,
Muʿāwiya, to the capital as a hostage, a ὅμηρος.93 Surely a young Arab prince resid-
ing in Constantinople received some Byzantine education at the court or some
schooling at home, learning Greek, the language of the capital where he was living,
and possibly some Latin, which was still the language of the army and thus espe-
cially important to the son of an Arab military ally. Some Ghassānid princes may
also have been sent to Constantinople, since Ghassānid-Byzantine relations during
89 For the Monophysite conference in Constantinople, see
BASIC I.2, 900–908.
Laudatio Summi, section 25, in Choricii Gazaei opera, ed. R. Förster and E. Richsteig (Leipzig,
1929), 76, lines 17–18; see
BASIC I.1, 189.
91 When I wrote
BASIC I.1 in the 1990s, I doubted that Arethas was involved (189 note 47). But my
subsequent lectures on and research into other aspects of Ghassānid life have led me to conclude that the
leader left unnamed by Choricius was almost certainly Arethas; especially persuasive are Arethas’ non-
military attainments, which recent research has revealed. Such an accomplished king might well have
sent his sons to Gaza to be trained for their future careers in the service of Byzantium in the style of the
“barbarian” chiefs of the Roman Occident, who cared for the education of their children.
92 Ibid., 189–90.
93 See “Byzantium and Kinda,” in
BALA III, 86–90.
Ghassānid Federate Society
the reign of Justinian were very good; but the young Ghassānids did not have to
make the journey to the distant capital to learn the two languages, since instruc-
tion was available in the many schools of Oriens.
The marriage of Ghassānid children was noticed in the prose account of the wed-
ding of the princess al-Dhalfāʾ to her cousin, which pointed out that the mar-
riage was endogamous.94 Both these accounts derive from later prose works.
Contemporary poetry on the Ghassānids, or what has survived of it, is silent on
marriages. But in federate, non-Ghassānid history—such as that reported by the
of the daughter of Queen Mavia to the
magister equitum, Victor, a remarkable mar-
riage between a
Rhomaios, Sarmatian though he was, and a “barbarian” princess. It
was a significant political marriage, unique in the social history of Arab-Byzantine
relations.95 Its varied dimensions involved the Christian faith, which united Victor
and the princess, and the imperial interests, political and military, of Byzantium in
the second half of the fourth century.
The statement of the ecclesiastical historian on this marriage was very laconic,
even leaving the princess anonymous. There is no doubt, however, that the wed-
ding was royally celebrated and involved a nuptial banquet, which the Arabs always
gave on such occasions and which they called the
Mavia also belongs the earliest solid reference to the composition of Arabic poetry
(celebrating victories over the imperial armies of Valens), and it is very likely that
epithalamia were composed on this unusual marriage. According to Sozomen, the
epinician odes of Mavia were still remembered and sung in the fifth century, but
they—together with the epithalamia, if any were composed—have unfortunately
The Arabs in pre-Islamic times did circumcise their children, a practice attested
by Josephus.98 They also celebrated childbirth with a meal called
ʿadhīra.99 But the Ghassānids, after converting to Christianity, became devoted
to their new faith. As is well known, St. Paul rejected circumcision in favor of
94 For a description of the wedding, see the Cambridge Manuscript, No. 1201, 115v.
96 On this term, see Ibn Man
Lisān al-ʿArab, IV, 298.
BAFOC, 151–52 and note 54.
Jewish Antiquities, book I, 193, 214.
99 See Ibn Man
Lisān al-ʿArab, IV, 286.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
baptism,100 and following his recommendation, circumcision was abandoned by
the Christian Church, although it has survived among some of the Christian com-
munities in the Orient such as the Ethiopians.
Extant texts do not definitively settle the question of whether the Ghassānids
had their children circumcised. However, baptism was close to their hearts, liv-
ing as they did near the Jordan, the river of baptism. And the Ghassānids, like
other Christians, sought to distinguish themselves from the Jews—whom St. Paul
referred to as ἡ περιτομή, “circumcision”101—in an age that viewed the Jews as
Theoktonoi, deicides. Like other Monophysites, the Ghassānids were probably hos-
tile toward the Jews and Judaism.102 It is thus almost certain that the Ghassānids
did not circumcise their children. But soon after the fall of the Ghassānids, Islam
prevailed in Oriens and the practice of circumcision returned, but not as a religious
100 Galatians 5:6, 6:15.
101 Romans 3:30; Ephesians 2:11.
102 When Michael the Syrian, the Monophysite historian and patriarch, expressed his antipathy to
the Chalcedonian patriarch of Antioch during the latter’s encounter with the Ghassānid king, Arethas,
he pejoratively referred to him as Ephraim the Jew: see
BASIC I.2, 748.
The Women of Ghassān
ender studies across the humanities have been considerably stimulated by
Joan Scott’s pathbreaking article “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical
Analysis,” which appeared in 1986.1 The field of Byzantine studies has witnessed
the publication of many important works that have built on older well-known
ones as they have taken up the theme of women in Byzantium.2 These provide
a valuable background for considering the Arab women of Ghassān, since the
Ghassānids lived in the shadow of Byzantium for a century and a half and were
as societies today grapple with the problem of the veil and its return as a head-
dress, promoted by Muslim fundamentalists to reassert Muslim identity.3 None
has appeared on Arab women in late antiquity, let alone on the more special-
ized subject of Ghassānid women. Among scholars, only the late Nabia Abbott
touched briefly on the Arab women in late antiquity in an article that treated
the theme of Arab queens from the Assyrian period of the eighth century b.c. to
the Byzantine period of the seventh century a.d.4 More recently and more rel-
evantly, Sebastian Brock and Susan Harvey have dealt with the Syriac Orient in
1 J. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,”
American Historical Review 91
2 See D. M. Nicol,
The Byzantine Lady: Ten Portraits, 1250–1500 (Cambridge, 1994); L. Garland,
Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium, ad 527–1204 (London, 1999); A.-M. Talbot,
Women and Religious Life in Byzantium (Aldershot, Eng., 2001); I. Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and
Their World (New Haven, 2003); and C. L. Connor, Women of Byzantium (New Haven, 2004). See
also A. Laiou, “The Role of Women in Byzantine Society,”
JÖB 31 (1981), 233–60, with a useful bib-
liography (233 notes 1–2) of some important works on Byzantine women that preceded Scott’s article.
On the most famous of all Byzantine women, Theodora, the most recent study is C. Foss, “The Empress
Byzantion 72 (2002), 141–76, which contains a select bibliography on Theodora (141 note
1). To these works on Byzantine women may be added K. G. Holum,
Theodosian Empresses: Women and
Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity (Berkeley, 1982).
3 On the veil, see “Veiling in the Islamic Vestimentary System,” in the standard work on Arab
dress, Y. K. Stillman,
Arab Dress: A Short History; From the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times, ed. N. A.
Stillman (Leiden, 2003), 138–45.
4 N. Abbott, “Pre-Islamic Arab Queens,”
American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures
58 (1941), 1–23.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
late antiquity in a volume that appeared in 1987, but they did not concentrate on
The present writer broached the topic in 1999 in an article on the Christian
Arab women of late antiquity from the third to the seventh century; a more spe-
cialized article on the martyresses of Najrān followed in 2004.6 Hence this chapter
is the first detailed and comprehensive account of the women of federate Ghassān.
While the Greek sources have yielded data on only two Arab federate women in
the fourth century—namely, Queen Mavia and her daughter7—and on a single
anonymous woman in the fifth century—namely, the poet daughter of the Salīḥid
federate king, Dāwūd8—more information is available on Ghassānid women in
the sixth and seventh centuries.
On Ghassānid women, as on all aspects of Ghassānid social history, the sources
have their limitations. They deal with the aristocracy and with members of the
royal house, rarely or almost never with ordinary Ghassānids. But they are reliable,
since they are mostly contemporary poetry. Only a few sources are prose accounts
written later, but even these are borne out by contemporary poetry. The first refer-
ence to the women of Ghassān appropriately begins in the reign of Justinian with a
matronymic: Arethas ibn Māriya.
The examination of the sources on the women of Ghassān has revealed the
names of no fewer than thirteen queens and princesses: Māriya, Ḥalīma, two
Hinds, Umāma, Salma, Maysūn, Fākhita, al-Raʿlāʾ, al-Naḍīra, Layla, Dhalfāʾ, and
Ramla, each discussed below. Despite their importance, revealed so clearly in the
matronymics of the Ghassānid kings, little data on them have survived, but those
data are sufficient to enable a picture of their functions in Ghassānid life to emerge.
Moreover, the limitations of the extant sources can be partially counteracted when
those sources are set against the background of what is known about the social
role of Arab women in this period,9 as well the rise of the status of women through
Christianity in the history of the Christian Roman Empire.10
5 S. P. Brock and S. A. Harvey,
Holy Women of the Syrian Orient (Berkeley, 1987).
6 See I. Shahîd, “The Women of
Oriens Christianus Arabicus in Pre-Islamic Times,” Parole de
l’Orient 24 (1999), 61–77; idem, “The Martyresses of Najrān,” in Aegyptus Christiana: Mélanges
d’hagiographie égyptienne et orientale dédiés à la mémoire du P. Paul Devos, Bollandiste, ed. U. Zanetti
and E. Lucchesi, Cahiers d’Orientalisme 25 (Geneva, 2004), 123–33.
8 See ibid., 426, 434, 436–38.
9 See Abbott, “Pre-Islamic Arab Queens”; Jawād ʿAli,
al-Mufaṣṣal fi Tārīkh al-ʿArab qabl al-Islam
(Beirut, 1970), IV, 616–54.
10 For a succinct description of the status of women in Byzantium, see J. Herrin, A. Kazhdan, and
The Women of Ghassān
Despite the number of queens and princesses whose names are known, their
story is a practically unknown chapter in Ghassānid history. Source survival is part
of the problem. An entire long ode has survived on an Arab queen of this period,
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