Sixth century


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says is preserved:

Upon our tracks follow fair, noble ladies

that we take care shall not leave us, nor be insulted,

litter-borne ladies of Banu Jusham bin Bakr

who mingle, with good looks, high birth and obedience.

They have taken a covenant with their husbands

that, when they should meet with signal horsemen,

they will plunder mail-coats and shining sabers

and captives fettered together in irons.

When they fare forth, they walk sedately

swinging their gait like swaying tipplers.

They provender our horses, saying, “You are not

our husbands, if you do not protect us.”

If we defend them not, may we survive not

nor live on for any thing after them!

Nothing protects women like a smiting

that sends the forearms flying like play-chucks.70

 

Female participation in campaigns is not unknown in Byzantine mili-



tary history—for example, the empress Irene Doukaina, the wife of Alexios I 

Komnenos (1081–1118), occasionally accompanied her husband on his military 

campaigns71—but this was the exception rather than the rule. Closer to Ḥalīma 

 

69  For example, on the battle-day of al-Sharʿabiyya a woman named Layla was 



al-ḥāḍḍa—the one 

who urges the warriors or stirs them up; see 



Shiʿr al-Akhṭal, ed. F. Qabāwa (Beirut, n.d.), 129. The battle 

was fought by the Christian tribe of the Taghlib.

 

70  Translated in A. J. Arberry, 



The Seven Odes: The First Chapter in Arabic Literature (London and 

New York, 1957), 208–9.

 

71  The campaigns of Alexios Komnenos were remembered by his daughter Anna in the 



Alexiad, 

97

The Women of  Ghassān

and the Ghassānids was the figure of Mavia, the Christian federate queen of the 

fourth century; as already noted, she personally led military campaigns against 

the emperor Valens. Her memory was certainly still green in the Ghassānid 

consciousness.72

 

Women continued to participate in the wars of Islamic times, taking part in 



the battle of Uḥud, which Islamic forces lost to the pagan Meccans, and at the 

Yarmūk in a.d. 636, which Islamic forces won against those of Byzantium.73

 

4. The 


qubba, the canopy. A typically Arab structure, the qubba was usually 

put up for the commander in chief and also for those women of the group who 

participated in the battle. This was the setting in which Ḥalīma is said to have 

perfumed the warriors and clad them in white sheets and coats of mail, prepar-

ing them for the charge. Women in 

qibāb (plural of qubba) during the battle are 

attested elsewhere as well in Arabic poetry and prose accounts.74

 

5. The romantic element. The participation of Ḥalīma at the battle of Chalcis 



endows the engagement with a romantic element, unrelated to the purely military 

facets of the battle. Though the account was much embroidered in later times, its 

core remains sound. These embroideries include reference to a warrior by the name 

of Labīd (not the famous poet of the Suspended Ode) who was smitten by Ḥalīma’s 

charms and was able to win her hand only after acquitting himself remarkably well 

in the battle,75 illustrating the principle of “none but the brave deserves the fair.” 

Indeed, the concept of chivalry may be rooted in this famous encounter at Chalcis, 

which involved key chivalrous elements: the lady (the dame of medieval European 

literature) and the knight in shining armor, riding his mare, who performs his duty 

in the service of the lady. ʿAntara, the black poet who is associated with the idea of 

chivalry in pre-Islamic Arabia,76 was the younger contemporary of those involved 

in the battle of Chalcis, but his lady, ʿAbla, never participated in battle; Ḥalīma 

which contains data on her mother relevant to Ḥalīma and to female Arab participation in war. In par-

ticular, (1) during the campaign, an imperial canopy covered her, not unlike the 



qubba which covered 

Ghassānid women such as Maysūn, who took part in Ghassānid military expeditions; and (2) her dress 

was modest and decorous, protecting her from the public eye. See Anna Comnena, 

Alexiade, ed. and 

trans. B. Leib (Paris, 1945), III, 60, lines 22–24; 62, lines 8–11. See also the comments of Laiou in “The 

Role of Women in Byzantine Society,” especially section 3, “Society and Politics,” 249–60. 

 

72  On Mavia and her exploits, see 



BAFOC, 138–201.

 

73  On Hind, the mother of the future caliph Muʿāwiya, at the battle of Uḥud, see Ibn Isḥāq, 



The Life 

of Muhammad, trans. A. Guillaume (1955; reprint, Karachi, 1990), 374; on Arab women at the Yarmūk, 

see Ṭabarī, 



Tārīkh, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1962), III, 401. 

 

74 The 



qubba of Maysūn, another Ghassānid princess, and of the daughter of Jabala, the last 

Ghassānid king, are discussed below. 

 

75  See Ibn al-Athīr, 



al-Kāmil, I, 543, 546–47.

 

76  On ʿAntara and the romance, and on chivalry in his 



Sīra, see E. Heller, “Sīrat ʿAntara,” EI2,  

I, 520–21. 



98

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

did. And so she provides an important element in what may be assembled as an 

Arab pre-Islamic concept—which perhaps was a gift from pre-Islamic Arabia to 

European medieval literature.77

 

Ḥalīma died some fifteen centuries ago, but as noted above, she lives in the lit-



erary consciousness of the Arabs through the proverbial saying “The day of Ḥalīma 

is no secret” and through two toponyms, Wādī Ḥalīma and Marj Ḥalīma. She also 

is memorialized in the second verse of a celebrated couplet extolling the swords of 

the Ghassānids that performed well at the battle of Chalcis—namely, Mikhdam 

and Rasūb; this couplet was recited in Islamic times as late as the tenth century

when the epic Arab-Byzantine conflict involved the Ḥamdānid Sayf al-Dawla and 

the Byzantine Nicephorus Phocas.78

Al-Raʿlāʾ

Just as Yawm Ḥalīma, “the Battle-Day of Ḥalīma” (a.d. 554), was remembered 

in a poem by a Ghassānid, so was ʿAyn Ubāgh (a.d. 570) in another Ghassānid 

poem. Whereas the author of the former poem was anonymous, the poet of the 

second is known through his matronymic, Ibn al-Raʿlāʾ, the son of al-Raʿlāʾ.79 

That the poet did not use his patronymic suggests that the mother was an impor-

tant personage. Nothing else is known about her, and the meaning of her name 

is also obscure. 

 

Ibn al-Athīr attributed the poem to a poet with almost the same matronymic, 



although he calls him not a Ghassānid but a Dubyāni.80 But as a historian, Ibn 

al-Athīr’s attribution is less reliable than that of Marzubāni, who made the poets 

and their names his specialty. Furthermore, the poem is redolent of 

Ghassānica: 

it connects the Ghassānid broadsword, the 



ṣafīḥa or spathe, with Bostra, where 

evidently there was a factory for making swords, and mentions a Ghassānid 



rāya, 

“standard,” called al-ʿUqāb, “the Falcon,” a favorite name for battle standards.81 

 

77  On this controversial subject, see H. A. R. Gibb, “Literature,” in 



The Legacy of Islam, ed. 

T. Arnold and A. Guillaume (London, 1931), 180–209, especially 184–86; F. Rosenthal, “Literature,” in 



The Legacy of Islam, 2nd ed., ed. E. Bosworth and J. Schacht (Oxford, 1974), 321–49, especially 340; but 

particularly F. Gabrieli, “Islam in the Mediterranean World,” in ibid., 81, 89, 95–96.

 

78  For the two verses, see al-Nābigha, 



Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 44–45, verses 19–20. On their recitation 

by Sayf al-Dawla in the tenth century, see 



Dīwān al-Mutanabbi, ed. ‘A. al-Barqūqī (Cairo, 1930), II, 286 

note 2. The swords are discussed in detail below, in Chapter 11, “Votive and Victory Offerings.”

 

79  For the poem and its poet, see Muḥammad al-Marzubāni, 



Muʿ jam al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. ʿA. al-Sattar 

Farrāj (Cairo, 1960), 86.

 

80  See Ibn al-Athīr, 



al-Kāmil, I, 542.

 

81  For all the Ghassānid elements, see the poem on ʿAyn Ubāgh in Marzubāni, 



Muʿ jam al-Shuʿarāʾ, 

86, verses 2, 6, 9. It provides important historical data on the Ghassānids, such as the name of their 

standard in battle, al-ʿUqāb, “the Falcon” (a favorite name for battle standards; it was also the name of 

Khalid’s standard during the Muslim conquest of Bilād al-Shām).



99

The Women of  Ghassān

Hind, a Princess

A quatrain of verses on Yawm Ḥalīma, attributed to an anonymous Ghassānid 

poet,82 refers to a certain Hind, who had with her the 

khalūq (perfume composed 

of saffron) with which she scented the warriors, as Ḥalīma was said to have done. 

The poem thus both documents the participation of women in Ghassānid military 

operations and alludes to their perfuming the warriors, supporting the evidence 

of prose accounts (considered less reliable). This Hind apparently was a Ghassānid 

princess of around a.d. 554, not one of the Hinds who belonged to the later period. 

Those mentioned in al-Nābigha’s fragment were two important queens of the later 

period (see below),83 and so they may be ruled out. Whoever she was, her name is a 

welcome addition to the Hind class of names, which apparently was popular in the 

female Ghassānid onomasticon.

 

This quatrain both contains the two toponyms mentioned above—Wādī 



Ḥalīma and Marj Ḥalīma, the valley and meadow near which the battle took 

place—and suggests that Ghassānid women fed as well as perfumed the warriors.84 

The verse that describes platters of food being laid out does not make clear who 

did the feeding, a function that naturally fell to women. Moreover, the verse as it 

stands does not scan correctly; a logical emendation both corrects the scansion and 

definitely allocates this function to women.85 

Two Hinds, Two Queens

One of the extant fragments of pre-Islamic poetry ascribed to al-Nābigha, pan-

egyrist of the Ghassānids, is almost a genealogical list of the Ghassānid dynasts of 

the second half of the sixth century.86 Two of the generations of Ghassānid rulers 

enumerated are related not to the kings but to two queens, each called Hind.87 This 

attestation of the queens is confirmed by the reference to the Ghassānid kings in 

encomia by their matronymic “son of Hind,” Ibn Hind,88 which also clearly indi-

cates the significance of these Ghassānid queen mothers.

 

82  See Ibn al-Athīr, 



al-Kāmil, I, 544, verses 1–4.

 

83  For this quatrain, see al-Nābigha, 



Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 166, discussed above in Chapter 1, in the 

section “Childhood and Children in Federate Oriens,” and by Nöldeke, 



GF, 33–35. 

 

84  Ibn al-Athīr, 



al-Kāmil, I, 544, verse 4.

 

85  As written, the verb 



naṣabnā (“we set up”) ends in a long final a and thus has an epicene referent; 

if emended to 



naṣabna, with a short final a (“and they set up”), “they” must be women, since the verb is a 

third-person feminine plural.

 

86  The fragment and the list have been analyzed most competently by Nöldeke, in 



GF, 33–36.

 

87  At least one of these two Hinds has to be distinguished from the Hind who was the princess of 



the previous discussion. For the Arabic version of the fragment, see al-Nābigha, 

Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 

166, verses 1–4. 

 

88  For instances of this matronymic, see, 



inter alia, ibid., 196, verse 1; 206, verses 5, 6. The last of 

these is erroneously thought by the editor to be that of the Lakhmid.



100

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

 

In his important list of structures built by the Ghassānid rulers, the historian 



Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī mentions a monastery by the name of Dayr Hunād.89 It has been 

argued that Hunād is either a plural of Hind or a corrupt reading of the name Hind, 

and that the monastery was built by the Ghassānid queen of that name, mentioned in 

al-Nābigha’s fragment. Moreover, it has been argued that the 



dayr (monastery, plural 

adyār) built by the Ghassānid queen is likely to have been a nunnery.90 Her patron-

age may have been inspired by the Byzantine empress, Theodora, who had built 

homes for fallen women and a monastery in Constantinople. But closer to Oriens 

was the Lakhmid queen Hind of Ḥīra, who commissioned the celebrated inscription 

engraved at the door of the chapel in her famous

 dayr in Ḥīra. She was a model for 

those Ghassānid queens, her namesakes and possibly her blood relations, since the 

Ghassānid Māriya was a Kindite princess before she became a Ghassānid queen, and 

other Ghassānid kings may have married Kindite princesses. Just as the Ghassānids 

had two Hinds so too did the Lakhmids, Hind al-Kubrā and Hind al-Sughrā, the 

Elder and the Younger, and to each of the two a 



dayr, well described in the sources, 

has been attributed.91 The Ghassānid queens may well have built more than one



 dayr: 

Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī was a selective author, giving only specimens to illustrate what 

each Ghassānid ruler had done.92 Another inspiration for the Ghassānids to build 

adyār, possibly nunneries, must have come from Najrān, where Sons and Daughters 

of the Covenant were martyred by their South Arabian persecutor, Yūsuf.93

 

The location of the Ghassānid Dayr Hind has long been placed in the region 



of Damascus called Bayt al-Ābār by Yāqūt; more recently it has been pinpointed to 

the south of Damascus, a 



tall (hillock) east of Germana.94 

Salmā


The name of this queen appears in the matronymic of a Ghassānid king in Ḥassān’s 

poem on the Day of Uḥud, in a.d. 625.95 The Jewish mother of the Lakhmid 

Mundir IV was also called Salmā, but Ḥassān’s Ibn Salmā was surely Ghassānid, 

 

89  This monastery and its name are discussed in 



BASIC II.1, 324–25.

 

90  On Ghassānid nunneries, see ibid., 198–200.



 

91  On the two Lakhmid Hinds and their two monasteries, see Yāqūt, 



Muʿ jam, II, 541–43.

 

92  On Ḥamza, see 



BASIC II.1, 306–41.

 

93  For these Sons and Daughters of the Covenant in Najrān, see 



Martyrs, 250–55, 63, 49.

 

94  See M. Kurd ʿAli, 



Ghūṭat Dimashq (Damascus, 1984), on Bayt al-Ābār (197) and Germana (164). 

For further discussion of the monasteries of the Ghassānids, see the appendix to Chapter 3 in Part III 

titled “The Monasteries of the Ghassānids.”

 

95  The battle lost by the Prophet Muḥammad to the pagan Meccans; for the poem, see Ḥassān, 



Dīwān, I, 40, verse 10. Note the use of bāb (door) for the Royal Court, used again in the plural, abwāb 

(75, verse 30). The term acquired its royal acceptation in Ottoman times, when the Sultan’s palace/court 

was called 

al-Bāb al-ʿĀli, “The Sublime Porte.”


101

The Women of  Ghassān

since verse 7 of the same poem refers to Jābiya, the Ghassānid capital in the Golan, 

where his maternal uncle was an orator. In the verse in which the matronymic 

appears, Ḥassān prides himself on his own intercession on behalf of two individu-

als, who consequently were liberated. Because Ḥassān was influential at the court 

of the Ghassānids, his relatives, but not at that of the Lakhmids, Salmā and her son 

must be Ghassānid. Her name appears again in the matronymic Ibn Salmā, “the 

son of Salmā,” in another poem similarly composed in the context of liberating 

captives through his intercession.96 

 

This son must be one of the later Ghassānid kings whom Ḥassān eulogized;97 



nothing else is known about his mother, the Ghassānid queen.98 She does appear 

in Ḥassān’s nostalgic ode on the Ghassānids, in the conventional opening lament 

over the deserted abodes and mansions of the Ghassānids.99 There, she is remem-

bered in her own right as Salmā, and not as the mother of a king.

 

A late Islamic source refers to a Salmā the Ghassānid, to whom is attributed a 



triplet of verses and a hemistich in which she laments the death of her father after 

the loss of her brother.100 If authentic, and if this Salmā is the Ghassānid queen 

mentioned above, then the triplet suggests that she was also a poetess. The possibil-

ity brings to mind the daughter of the fifth-century federate Salīḥid king, Dāwūd; 

she, too, lamented the death of her father (at the battle of al-Qurnatayn).101

Maysūn


Maysūn appears in one of the verses of the 

Muʿallaqa, the so-called Suspended Ode 

of the poet al-Ḥārith (fl. a.d. 556–569).102 The verse, according to the medieval 

commentator Bakri, involved a campaign by a Lakhmid who succeeded in cap-

turing the Ghassānid Maysūn. She had been installed in a royal canopy, a 



qubba, 

which the Lakhmid also captured and fixed in a place called al ʿAlāt.103 

 

96 The 


dāliyya, or rhyme in D; Ḥassān, Dīwān, I, 49, verse 9. 

 

97  Two of them are mentioned by name posthumously, ʿAmr and Ḥujr; see ibid., 308, verse 8.



 

98  Unless ʿAyn Salma, “the Spring of Salma,” in Ḥawrān was also named after her; the possibility is 

overlooked by R. Dussaud, 

Topographie historique de la Syrie antique et médiévale (Paris, 1927). 

 

99  See Ḥassān, 



Dīwān, I, 74, verse 2.

  100  See Abū al-Baqāʾ Hibat Allah, 



al-Manāqib al-Mazyadiyya, ed. S. Darādka and M. Khuraysāt 

(Amman, 1984), I, 351. 

  101  See the manuscript 

Kitāb al-Nasab al-Kabīr, British Library Add. 22376, fol. 91v, discussed in 

BAFIC, 308 and note 369, 434.

  102  For the verse, see A. Tibrīzī, 



Sharh al-Qaṣāʾid al-Ashr, ed. C. J. Lyall (1894; reprint, Ridgewood, 

N.J., 1965), 137, verse 60. For a translation of the 



Muʿallaqa into English, see Arberry, The Seven Odes, 

222–27; for the relevant verse on Maysūn, see 225.

  103  On this 

Muʿallaqa, see T. Nöldeke’s brilliant analysis in Fünf Moʿallaqat (Vienna, 1899–1901), 

52–84. He translates the relevant verse “Als er die Zelte der Maisūn auf Alāh aufschlagen liess; da war die 

nächste Stelle ihres Gebiets ʿAuṣā” (63, verse 42; see also his comments, 77 note 42). The identification 


102

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

 

This episode is noteworthy for various reasons. That Maysūn was captured in a 



qubba suggests that she was a woman of distinction, probably a Ghassānid princess. 

Her presence in the Ghassānid army during the encounter confirms that Ghassānid 

women accompanied the Ghassānid troops to provide moral support in war. 

 

The name Maysūn is attractive semantically and by association. It may be 



related to 

māsa, yamīsu, “to move gracefully,” and so her name would evoke a 

woman who walks gracefully. It also brings to mind the name of one of the women 

of the Severan dynasty, the Arab Julia Maesa—sister of Julia Domna, wife of 

Septimius Severus, and grandmother of the emperor Elagabalus (a.d. 218–222); 

Maesa is derived from the same verb, 

māsa.104 More closely related to this Maysūn 

in the federate context was another Maysūn, from the tribe of federate Kalb, who 

was married to Muʿāwiya, the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, and became the 

mother of his son and successor, Yazīd. She, too, composed poetry; in well-known 

verses, she jilted the caliph and returned to her people, Kalb, in the vicinity of 

Palmyra, rejecting the stifling air of Damascus to live closer to nature.105

Fākhita

A Ghassānid princess named Fākhita was the daughter of the Ghassānid ʿAdī, 



whose maternal uncle was the famous Arethas (ibn Abī-Shamir).106 Her name 

means “the dove whose color is that of the moonlight.” To her is attributed a cou-

plet of verses on her father’s death in an encounter with the Asad tribe, two of 

whom killed him: “I have not feared for ʿAdī the spears of the one who ties a don-

key; / Rather, I feared for him the spears of the Jinn and you! O Ḥārith!”107 In 

light of the anxiety and concern expressed by the first-person verbs in the couplet

the speaker must have been someone emotionally close to ʿAdī, such as his daugh-

ter, Fākhita. The encounter took place near the Euphrates; hence its name, Yawm 

al-Furāt, “the Battle-day of the Euphrates.”108 

of Maysūn as Ghassānid by Bakri must now be accepted: Nöldeke’s uncertainty about her identity has 

been dispelled by new research on the women of Ghassān. Nöldeke mistranslated 

qubba as Zelte, which 

is an appropriate rendering of the Arabic 



khayma, “tent,” but not of qubba, a royal canopy. For Bakri see 

A. Bakri, 



Muʿ jam ma Istaʿ jam, ed. M. Saqqā (Cairo, 1949), III, 908.

  104  On Julia Maesa, see 



RA, 33–36.

  105  On Maysūn, wife of Muʿāwiya, see Nicholson, 



Literary History of the Arabs, 195; for her verses, 

see Chapter 15, below.

  106  Her mother’s name remains unknown, but the account of her relationship to the famous Arethas 

implies that the latter had a sister, married endogamously to another Ghassānid. This confirms the poet’s 



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