Sixth century


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daughter of Jabalah ibn-al-Ayham, Yazīd was spurred to extraordinary activity in 

order to seize the Ghassānid king’s daughter.”146

 

Hitti makes clear the legendary element in the account.147 But there might be 



a modicum of truth in it as well: the historicity of the siege conducted by the Arab 

crown prince is beyond doubt, while descendants of Jabala were in evidence in 

Anatolia and in Constantinople after the battle of the Yarmūk. It is not altogether 

impossible that those Ghassānids who were still smarting after the debacle at the 

Yarmūk did take part in the defense of the capital,148 especially as it was besieged 

by congeners who had defeated them in 636. Nor is the reference to the tent occu-

pied by the princess alien to Arab practice on such occasions, as has been shown 

above in the case of Maysūn. The Byzantine tent of “the king of the Rūm” may 

have been a later embroidery, but the participation of Byzantine women in military 

expeditions is not unknown, as mentioned above in the case of the empress Irene 

Doukaina, who likewise was canopied.

mourning the death of his father, and he remembered her in the final verse of a five-line poem he com-

posed on the occasion; see Iṣfahānī, 

al-Aghānī, XVII, 143.

  146  See P. Hitti, 



History of the Arabs, 10th ed. (New York, 1981), 201.  

  147  The truly legendary element in the account, not quoted here, ascribes to Yazīd some exploits 

against the gates of Constantinople and a plaque that was nailed there to commemorate them. These 

details (clearly a later embroidery) rather than the presence of Jabala’s daughter inclined not only Hitti 

but also Marius Canard to reject this account. Much more is now known about the Ghassānids than 

when these distinguished scholars wrote; as this chapter has shown, the women of Ghassān did take part 

in warfare, as sometimes did their Byzantine counterparts as well. The later accretions that have grown 

over the original kernel of truth in some of the Islamic sources on the pre-Islamic period have long cre-

ated a prejudice against using those sources, but the task of 

Quellenkritik is to get hold of that kernel of 

truth. For Canard’s views on this episode, see “Les expéditions des Arabes contre Constantinople dans 

l’histoire et dans la légende,” 

Journal Asiatique 208 (1926), 69–70.

  148  As Constantinople had been defended successfully in a.d. 378 by the troops of the federate Arab 

queen Mavia against the Goths after another debacle, the battle of Adrianople; see 

BAFOC, 175–83.


110

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

Appendix I

Elizabeth of Najrān

Elizabeth was not a Ghassānid; but as a martyress of Najrān, she was very inti-

mately related to the women of Ghassān, her relatives, who looked at the martyrs 

of Najrān ca. 520 as their role models. Elizabeth is significant as well to under-

standing the problem of the female diaconate in the early church, for she represents 

its Arab profile in late antiquity. 

 The 


Book of the Ḥimyarites is the most detailed account of the martyrdoms 

at Najrān, but only the rubric of the chapter on Elizabeth has survived.1 



The 

Second Letter of Simeon of Bēth-Arshām, however, gives an account of her mar-

tyrdom, which was a most grievous one.2 The 



Letter has also preserved important 

data on her as a deaconess of the church of Najrān and the sister of Paul II, the 

bishop of Najrān who was also martyred. Elizabeth became venerated as a saint 

together with the rest of the martyrs of Najrān, and their feast is celebrated on  

24 October.

 

1. The martyress. One of the remarkable features of the martyrdoms of 



Najrān was the number of women who died for their faith, together with the range 

of social classes to which they belonged;3 the most famous of them was the “First 

Lady” of Najrān, Ruhm. Elizabeth had the ecclesiastical rank of deaconess and so 

belonged to the hierarchy of the church of Najrān, which was also unique, as the 

only pre-Islamic Arab Christian Church for which the hierarchy, together with 

the names of the various clerics, is precisely known.4 Elizabeth was the only female 

among them. 

 

As has been repeatedly noted in this volume, the martyrdoms of Najrān had 



enormous spiritual resonance for the pre-Islamic Christian Arabs, especially those 

related to them—the Ghassānids. Those martyrs, male and female, became role 

models for the Ghassānids. Elizabeth was distinguished by being the only Arab 

woman of the pre-Islamic period who held an ecclesiastical rank and whose name 

has survived. The queens and princesses of the royal house were, like their husbands 

and fathers, interested in institutionalizing Arab Christianity through the endow-

ment and foundation of churches and monasteries, and the church of Najrān—

specifically, the concrete example of Elizabeth—must have been a model. 

 

2. The deaconess. In the latter part of the twentieth century, questions of 



women’s roles in the church became pressing. Relevant here is the problem of 

the diaconate.5 In one work on the subject, Phyllis Zagamo has contended that 

 

1 See 


The Book of the Himyarites, ed. A. Moberg (Lund, 1924), cii, no. XVII. 

 

2 See 



Martyrs, 47–48.

 

3 See 



The Book of the Himyarites, cxxi.

 

4 See 



Martyrs, 64.

 

5  See R. Gryson, 



The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, Minn., 1976); P. Zagano, 

111

The Women of  Ghassān

Appendix II

Yawm al-Khurūj: The Day of the Exodus

The striking phrase “Yawm al-Khurūj,” “The Day of the Exodus,” in Hassān’s love 

poem on al-Naḍīra repays careful analysis. As has already been noted above, it was 

probably used in celebration of a religious occasion.

 

The Islamic Arabic sources speak of the procession that al-Nuʿmān, the 



Lakhmid king of Ḥīra, used to organize together with his household. They would 

go out on Sundays and feast days, dressed in festive clothes and carrying the cross, 

to the monastery of Dayr al-Lujj, where they would celebrate the feast. They would 

then go to a beauty spot in the vicinity of Ḥīra, where they would relax for the rest 

of the day.1

 

 



1  See Abu al-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, 

Kitāb al-Diyārāt, ed. J. al-ʿAtiyya (London, 1991), 139–40; on the 

Ghassānids, the Lakhmids, and the Ḥārithids of Najrān, and their building of monasteries in beautiful 

spots, see 163. As a member of the Ghassānid royal house, whose Christianity was of longer standing 

and more deeply rooted than that of the Lakhmids, al-Naḍīra would surely have participated in similar 

proceedings on religious occasions. 

nothing in scripture, ecclesiastical history, or Christian theology argues against the 

female diaconate, and therefore has concluded that the ordination of women for 

the ministry of the diaconate is desirable, defensible, and necessary. The example of 

Elizabeth of Najrān supports her case in two ways.

 

First, Elizabeth concretely illustrates the employment of women in the church 



in late antiquity. Najrān was an Arab city, and Arab society was conservative in its 

view of women and of relations between the sexes. Ruhm of Najrān prided herself 

on wearing a veil to cover her face and prevent unwelcome attention and gazes.6 

Church services and ceremonies involved activities, such as baptism by immersion, 

that for women could not be performed by male clerics with propriety. On such 

occasions a female deaconess could officiate more appropriately.

 

In addition, Elizabeth was likely ordained. According to the 



Second Letter of 

Simeon of Bēth-Arshām, Elizabeth’s brother Paul was consecrated bishop of Najrān 

by Philoxenos of Mabboug (Hierapolis).7 If Philoxenos consecrated her brother for 

the church of Najrān, the chances are that he also ordained Elizabeth as deaconess of 

Najrān. Both that ordination and the consecration of Paul would have had particu-

lar significance, for the first bishop of Najrān (also consecrated by Philoxenos) had 

been martyred in a persecution that preceded that of 520; it thus was important to 

emphasize the legitimacy of the church of Najrān and reestablish it on a firm basis.



Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church (New York, 

2000); and V. Karras, “Female Deacons in the Byzantine Church,” 



Church History 73 (2004), 272–316.

 

6 See 


Martyrs, 57.

 

7  Ibid., 46.



112

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

In one of the accounts that describes such a “going out” on a religious occasion—

singling out Palm Sunday—the word used for the procession is 



kharaja, the very 

same verb from which 



khurūj is derived.2 The phrase Yawm al-Khurūj thus could 

easily have been technical, used by the Christian Arabs of pre-Islamic times for 

such occasions.3 If so, this poem of Hassān, composed before he became the poet 

of Islam, will have preserved a welcome addition to the Christian Arab vocabulary 

of those times.

 

A sort of Yawm al-Khurūj was still observed until recently in the Holy 



Land by Christian Arabs. Such a “going out” had as its destination Mount Tabor 

and Mount Carmel for the Feast of Transfiguration and of Mar Elias (Elijah), 

respectively. On both occasions the Christians of Nazareth and Haifa would go 

out to these two mountains in Galilee to celebrate the feasts and afterward to 

relax and picnic.4

 

2  See al-ʿUmari, 



Masālik al-Abṣār fi Mamalik al-Amṣār, ed. A. Zaki Pasha (Cairo, 1924), I, 312. 

 

3  It is especially appropriate for Palm Sunday, because that is the one dominical feast associated in 



the Gospels with a procession (the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem from Bethany, followed by a crowd 

crying “Hosanna” and carrying branches; see Mark 11:8–11). Ismāʿīl ibn ʿAmmār, an eighth-century 

poet, uses the term 

Yawm al-Shāʿānīn, Palm Sunday; see Abū al-Faraj Iṣfahānī, al-Aghānī (Beirut, 1959), 

XI, 346, verse 7. 

 

4  Celebration of the Feast of Mar Elias by making 



al-Khurūj from Nazareth to Elijah’s shrine 

is little practiced nowadays, but it has been recorded by Dr. Elias Srouji, a physician whose Christian 

Arab family used to observe the feast annually. For his detailed account of how it was celebrated during 

the British Mandate of Palestine, see E. S. Srouji, 



Cyclamens from Galilee: Memoir of a Physician from 

Nazareth (Lincoln, Neb., 2003), 12–14.

Appendix III

Palm Sunday

Arabic has two terms for Palm Sunday, 



Yawm al-Shaʿānīn and Yawm al-Sabāsib. 

The first, the common term for the feast day, is still used in the Arab Christian 

Orient for Palm Sunday. It is an Arabicization of the Hebrew/Aramaic term 

Hoshaʿna, “Save us,”1 the phrase—rendered in English as “Hosanna”—that the 

crowd shouted during the procession from Bethany to Jerusalem on the Sunday  

before the Crucifixion. The Hebrew/Aramaic verb became a noun, transferred first 

to the branches carried by the crowd in the procession and then to the feast day 

itself. It appears as a plural, the singular of which is 

shaʿnūn or saʿnūn in the Arabic 

lexica, which recognize it as a loanword.2

 

The second term, 



Yawm al-Sabāsib, was used earlier than the first, in pre-

Islamic times. It is the one used by al-Nābigha, the panegyrist of the Ghassānids, in 

 

1 See S. Fraenkel, 



Die aramäischen Fremdwörter im Arabischen (1886; reprint, Hildesheim,  

1962), 277.

 

2  See Ibn Man



˙

zūr, 


Lisān al-ʿArab (Beirut, 1979), III, 291. 

113

The Women of  Ghassān

his most famous ode on them,3 and is the indigenous native Arabic term for Palm 

Sunday. It derives from the plural of 



sabsab, an Arabian tree from whose branches 

arrows used to be made.4 Apparently this was considered an appropriate name for 

the branches carried on Palm Sunday, and so the feast day came to be called Yawm 

al-Sabāsib, the Day of Sabāsib. Al-Nābigha’s use of the phrase in connection with 

the Ghassānids suggests that this was the term in Ghassānland for the feast day. 

The term seems to have been known and used in Ḥijāz, in Mecca or Medina, since 

the Prophet Muḥammad is said to have asked his community to give up celebrat-

ing Palm Sunday in favor of a Muslim feast.5

 

Apparently, after the rise of Islam the first term gained currency, as it is 



attested in the verse of a Muslim poet who lived in the eighth century.6

 

3 See 



Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 47, verse 24. 

 

4  See Ibn Man



˙

zūr, 


Lisān al-ʿArab, III, 235.

 

5  See Murtaḍa al-Zabīdī, 



Tāj al-ʿArūs, ed. ʿA. Hārūn (Kuwait, 1970), III, 41. 

 

6  For the attestation of Yawm al-Shaʿānīn in the verse of Ismāʿil ibn ʿAmmār, see Abū al-Faraj 



Iṣfahānī, 

al-Aghānī (Beirut, 1957), XI, 346, verse 7. 

Appendix IV

The Education of a Ghassānid Princess

The federate Germanic kings and 



magistri militum of the Roman Occident did not 

neglect the education of their daughters. Maria, who was the daughter of the Vandal 



magister militum Stilicho and wife of the emperor Honorius, was well versed in 

Greek and Latin literature. Pulcheria, the sister of  Theodosius II and granddaughter 

of the Frankish 

magister militum Bauto, was admired for her knowledge of Greek 

and Latin. The daughter of the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Great, Amalaswintha, 

was trilingual, fluent in Greek, Latin, and Gothic.1 Their example raises the ques-

tion of whether the counterparts of these Germanic federates in the Orient, such as 

the Ghassānids, similarly nurtured the education of their daughters, who perhaps 

were sent elsewhere in Oriens or to Constantinople to be educated. 

 

The question is particularly pertinent in the sixth century, a time when liter-



ary art among the Arabs and at the court of the Ghassānids was at its climax; this 

was the period of Imruʾ al-Qays, the foremost pre-Islamic poet in Arabic,2 and the 

Ghassānids were well integrated into Byzantine society, both as 

foederati and as 

Christians. To serve Byzantium, their phylarchs must have been bilingual or per-

haps trilingual. The federates of the previous century counted among their rank a 

notable woman poet, the daughter of the Salīḥid king Dāwūd, who may have been 

influenced by Eudocia, the ex-empress who herself wrote poetry.3 It is thus possible 

 

1  See A. Goltz, “Gelehrte Barbaren?” in 



Gelehrte in der Antike: Alexander Demandt zum 65. 

Geburtstag, ed. A. Goltz, A. Luther, and H. Schlange-Schöningen (Köln, 2002), 297–316.

 

2  On Imruʾ al-Qays and the Ghassānids, see 



BASIC II.1, 259–65.

 

3 See 



BAFIC, xxvii, 436–38, 518.

114

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

that the Ghassānids, like their German counterparts, devoted considerable atten-

tion to the education of their daughters.

 

The sources confirm the presence of only one young federate Arab in 



Constantinople: Muʿāwiya (a son of the Kindite phylarch Qays, not a Ghassānid), 

who presumably received some “Byzantine” education while spending time in the 

capital.4 Nothing can be inferred from their silence about federate daughters; but 

they make clear the female influence at play in the Byzantine state through the most 

famous of all Byzantine empresses, Theodora, who was a friend of the Ghassānid phy-

larch Arethas and was even in his debt because he helped to revive Monophysitism, 

her confession. Her well-known activities provide a relevant background for specu-

lating on whether young Ghassānid princesses ever visited Constantinople and were 

familiar with the Roman Byzantine educational tradition. 

 

The following data may be recovered from the surviving sources. 



 

1. It seems plausible that the wife of the Ghassānid king Arethas accompa-

nied her husband to Constantinople for the ceremony promoting him to the patri-

ciate. As noted in Chapter 2, she had a role to play in that ceremony. Perhaps, after 

seeing the splendors of the capital, the Ghassānid queen desired her daughter to 

benefit from its cultural opportunities and from acquaintance with an empress 

determined to help women promote Monophysite Christianity. 

 

2. Even more relevant and more certain is the name 



Arabia, which was given 

to the daughter of Justin II, the nephew of Justinian. Nomenclature is significant 

and can reflect attitudes and relationships; I have argued elsewhere that this strik-

ingly un-Byzantine, un-Greek, and un-Christian name was given her as a result of 

the warm relations that obtained between the Arab phylarchate-kingship of the 

Ghassānids and the central government during the reign of Justinian.5 Though 

corroborating texts or inscriptions have yet to be discovered, it is possible that the 

female members of the family of the federate 



patricius Arethas were well-known 

to the imperial family, and that a personal relationship arose based on their shared 

Monophysitism. The name Arabia, given to the daughter of the heir to the throne, 

may reflect the warmth of the friendship between the female members of the two 

families, consequent on a female Ghassānid presence in the capital. 

 

3. A clearer indication of some social contact between the Byzantine impe-



rial family and the royal Ghassānids during Arethas’ visit to Constantinople in the 

540s derives from a statement by John of Ephesus: after Justin II became insane in 

the 570s, his guardians would quiet him by saying, “Arethas is coming for you.”6 

 

4 See 



BASIC I.1, 155, and above, Chapter 1, note 93.

 

5 See 



BASIC I.1, 318–22 (note that her birth, not her marriage, must have occurred in the  

mid-540s; see 319). 

 

6 See 


BASIC I.1, 287–88.

115

The Women of  Ghassān

Justin II must have met and been impressed by Arethas under happier circum-

stances; it was possibly then that his daughter was born or was young enough to 

take on a new name, Arabia.

 

It would be pleasant to think that Ḥalīma, the most celebrated of all Ghassānid 



princesses, or one of the two Hinds of the late sixth century did visit Constantinople, 

but no evidence of such a visit survives. The only princess whose visit was recorded by 

the extant sources is the daughter of the last Ghassānid king, Jabala, who with many 

of his followers followed Heraclius to Anatolia. Though the story cannot be firmly 

confirmed or rejected, it is said that during the Arab siege of Constantinople in 

a.d. 669, which was conducted by Yazīd, who would succeed Muʿāwiya, the crown 

prince strove hard to capture the tent that housed this princess.7

 

7  P. Hitti, 



History of Syria, Including Lebanon and Palestine (London, 1951), 444.

Appendix V

Al-Jūdī, Layla’s Father at Dūma

In his account of the conquest of Dūma, Ṭabarī in his 



Tārīkh refers to al-Jūdī ibn 

Rabīʿa as one of the two commanders of the federates of Byzantium who were 

defending this fortress against Khālid ibn al-Wālid; the other commander was a 

Kindite, Ukaydir ibn ʿAbd al-Malik. Khālid had an encounter with al-Jūdī and 

captured him. After Dūma fell to Muslim arms, Khālid had al-Jūdī executed. 

The women of Dūma were taken captive and were offered for sale as prisoners  

of war. Khālid bought the daughter of al-Jūdi, who was apparently known for 

her beauty.1

 

The account in Ṭabarī presents some problems, one of which is the iden-



tity of Dūma itself.2 Three locations of that name are known: one at the south-

ern end of Wādī Sirḥān in northern Arabia, one in Lower Mesopotamia near 

Ḥīra (suggested by references to Ḥīra and al-Anbār in the rest of the account after 

the fall of Dūma), and a third near Damascus. A more important question con-

cerns the identity of al-Jūdī. Was he the same Ghassānid whose daughter Layla 

became the wife of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, son of the caliph, Abū-Bakr, after Oriens 

was conquered by the Muslims, as discussed in the section in Chapter 2 on Layla?

 

It is practically certain that Dūma was the famous Dūmat al-Jandal, 



which lay at the southern tip of Wādī Sirḥān, and that the al-Jūdī involved in 

this episode was Layla’s father. Two strong pieces of evidence argue for these 

identifications.

 

1 Ṭabarī, 



Tārīkh, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1962), III, 378–79. Note that he erroneously gives al-Jūdī 

the patronymic Ibn Rabīʿa; he is given the good Ghassānid name ʿAdī in Abū al-Faraj Iṣfahānī, 



al-Aghānī 

(Beirut, 1959), III, 273. 

 

2  Another problem is the number of expeditions launched in different years to capture Dūma; see 



L. Veccia Vaglieri, “Dūmat al-Jandal,” 

EI2, II, 624–26.
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