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First, that Dūma was Dūmat al-Jandal is supported by the sharing of the
command by al-Jūdī, the Ghassānid commander, and the Kindite Ukaydir. The
Ghassān and Kinda were allies; and as
foederati of Byzantium, they would not
have been fighting in the Dūma of Iraq. Furthermore, Ṭabarī states that a number
of other Arab
defense of Dūma, including the Kalb, Tanūkhids, and Zokomids (Salīḥids). They
likewise would not have been fighting in Iraq; conversely, they naturally would
have been defending Dūma, an important fortress in Byzantium’s Outer Shield,
against the nomads of the Arabian Peninsula.3
Second, that two men with the same uncommon name would both have
beautiful daughters who became the wives of prominent Muslims seems highly
unlikely.4 As explained in Chapter 2, Layla could easily have been the wife first of
Khālid ibn al-Walīd and later of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, son of Abū Bakir.
3 The Dūma near Damascus is out of the question, since its region (Oriens, Bilād al-Shām) came
under attack by Muslims later, when this impressive number of federate contingents could not have been
assembled for its defense. For the Outer Shield, see
BAFOC, 478–79; BAFIC, 478–79.
4 The only other person known to me who had this name is the Arab Spanish grammarian of
Granada, Jūdī al-Mawrūri, on whom see Ḥ. Monés, “Jūdī al-Mawrūri,”
EI2, II, 574–75. Judi is also the
Koranic name of the mountain on which Noah’s ark rested; see M. Streck, “Djūdi,”
EI2, II, 573–74.
jūd means generosity, a virtue for which the Ghassānids were celebrated, it could have been a nick-
name he had earned, just as another Ghassānid was called Qātil al-Jūʿ, “the Killer of Famine” (see below
Chapter 4, with notes 5–6).
Yawm al-Furāt, “the Battle-day of the Euphrates”
There is some confusion in the sources concerning this encounter, Yawm al-Furāt,
in which the Ghassānid princess Fākhita was involved. The best account is the one
al-Aghānī, which has Fākhita compose the couplet of verses, as recognized by the
able editor of Jāḥi
al-Ḥayawān.1 But according to Ibn al-Athīr, Yawm al-Furāt
was an encounter between Shaybān and Taghlib, and a Shaybāni recited a triplet
of verses.2 The confusion may be resolved by Ibn Habīb, who says in
that Rabīʿa ibn Hidhar of the Asad tribe led his group for the Ghassānid ʿAdī,3 pre-
sumably as ʿAdī’s allies. This action is confirmed by the triplet cited by Ibn al-Athīr.
Though he attributed the lines to a Shaybāni, they are more likely to have been said
by someone else (perhaps Rabīʿa, leader of the Asad). The third verse in the triplet
probably refers to the death of ʿAdī, lamented by his daughter Fākhita: there the
1 Namely, ʿAbd al-Salām Hārūn; see his edition of al-Jāḥiz,
Kitāb al-Ḥayawān (Cairo, 1963), VI,
218 note 6.
2 Ibn al-Athīr,
al-Kāmil fī al-tārīkh (Beirut, 1965), I, 647–48. A variant of al-Furāt is al-Qurāt.
3 Ibn Ḥabīb,
Kitab al-Muḥabbar, ed. I. Lichtenstädter (1942; reprint, Beirut, n.d.), 247.
The Women of Ghassān
the second hemistich, which emphasizes that his relatives lived far away,
verse also mentions the dead man’s liberation of prisoners of war, implying that he
was a man of influence, as the Ghassānid prince ʿAdī would have been.
Difficulties remain in reconciling the various traditions of the prose accounts.
But in obedience to Nöldeke’s Law, the definitive evidence is provided by contem-
porary Arabic poetry, represented in the triplet just analyzed, which surely refers
to a Ghassānid, ʿAdī. The triplet must have been composed by someone in a group
who fought for the Ghassānids under ʿĀdī. And, as explained in Chapter 2, the
author must have been someone with a strong emotional bond to the dead man,
such as his daughter, Fākhita.
Prose Accounts on the Ghassānids
phylarchy undertaken in this volume, contemporary Arabic poetry has been the
principal source;1 among the poets, Ḥassān—specifically, his
to be the most helpful. The Arabic sources of later times, however, include a num-
ber of prose accounts that treat Ghassānid social life.2 These later sources have to be
used with great care, since in the process of transmission they have suffered inter-
polations, exaggerations, and embroideries. The goal is to reach the kernel of truth
that they undoubtedly contain, after they are stripped of their later accretions.
The authorship of these prose accounts is ascribed to Ḥassān himself, or
involves him, as is natural, since he frequented the Ghassānid court every year
and was intimately familiar with their life and history. This is true of none of the
other poets who visited the Ghassānids and eulogized them, with the exception of
al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, who is also a major source for their social life though less
important than Ḥassān.
Ḥassān was the poet laureate not only of the Ghassānids but also of the
Prophet Muḥammad during the last ten years of his life. Ḥassān survived the
death of the Prophet, in a.d. 632, living for another thirty years or so, until the
beginning of the caliphate of Muʿāwiya. The death of the Prophet was a disaster
for the fortunes of Ḥassān, not recognized by those who have written on the poet.3
This fact is relevant to the authenticity of these prose accounts attributed to him
for the following reasons.
1. Ḥassān ceased to be the only poet of Islam after the conquest of Mecca in 630
1 In compliance with what I have elsewhere called Nöldeke’s Law for writing the history of the
Arabs and of Arab-Byzantine relations before the rise of Islam; see
2 The two principal sources are Abu al-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī’s
al-Aghānī and Ibn ʿAsākir’s Tārīkh
Madīnat Dimashq. Both belonged to Bilād al-Shām, and naturally paid particular attention to the
region and to the Ghassānids, who lived there for so long as
foederati of Byzantium.
3 With the exception of M. T. Darwīsh in
Ḥassān ibn Thābit, Maktabat al-Dirāsāt al-Adabiyya 43
(Cairo, n.d.), 205–8.
Prose Accounts on the Ghassānids
and the eventual conversion to Islam of all the Meccan poets who had been his rivals,
at the head of whom was his archenemy and competitor ʿAbdullāh ibn al-Zibaʿrā.4
Thus Ḥassān lost his paramountcy as defender of Islam and poet laureate.
2. Ḥassān’s position would not have been so serious if the Prophet had not
died just two years after the conquest of Mecca. Muḥammad’s death deprived
Ḥassān of his patron and protector, leaving him isolated and marginalized.
3. After the decisive battle of the Yarmūk in 636, the Oriens of the Ghassānids
and Byzantium became Arab Muslim territory. With the establishment of the
first Arab Muslim dynasty in Oriens (now Bilād al-Shām) in Damascus in 661,
the region and Ghassānland were open to Ḥassān; he visited the founder of the
Umayyad state, Muʿāwiya, who had made the Ghassānid capital, Jābiya, his own
capital for twenty years,5 and whose son and crown prince, Yazīd, had married a
Ghassānid princess, Umm Ramla. So when Ḥassān visited Muʿāwiya, he surely
must have felt he was visiting the familiar Ghassānland of his previous patrons,
especially now that he was patronless.
4. Although Ḥassān converted to Islam and became its eloquent spokesman,
he never forgot his affiliation with his Ghassānid relatives. He often remembered
them in the most laudatory terms and took pride in his consanguinity with them.
In fact, in one verse he combined secular pride in the Ghassānids with religious
pride in Islam.6
The preceding four points have made clear how and why Ḥassān poured
forth his sentiments on the Ghassānids, providing examples of “emotion recol-
lected in tranquility” and acting as a
laudator temporis acti. And most of his surviv-
ing poetry on the Ghassānids was written during this period, not before their fall.
These are the odes that elicited the admiration of the classical critics, who thought
them better than his Islamic odes. They were set to music in later Islamic times
and some of them are still judged to be in the front rank of Arabic classical poetry.
Perhaps the rhyme in
N, the nūniyya, is the best of his poems that illustrates this
poetry of reminiscence. It is the only poem in which he mentioned the Yarmūk,
the river by the fateful battle. After the prelude, he depicts the attractive scene
at the Ghassānid court, where the young Ghassānid maidens were weaving coral
wreaths in preparation for Palm Sunday.7
Most of his extant poems on the Ghassānids were written intermittently in
4 For Ḥassān’s nine rivals, see Ibn Sallām,
Tabaqāt al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. M. M. Shākir (Cairo, 1974),
5 When Muʿāwiya became caliph in 661, he moved the capital to Damascus. Ḥassān had been
pro-Umayyad since the days of the Umayyad caliphate of ʿUthmān (646–656), whom he elegized;
Dīwān Ḥassān ibn Thābit, ed. W. ʿArafāt, Gibb Memorial New Series 25 (London, 1971), I, 96.
6 See Ḥassān,
Dīwān, I, 109, verse 8.
7 See ibid., 255, verse 6.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
the course of the thirty years or so after the death of the Prophet, when Ḥassān
was getting old and was possibly neglected. Then he was afflicted with blindness,
which made him reluctant to socialize. It was during this time that his own son,
also a poet, looked after him. As a poet looking after a father who was a poet,
ʿAbd al-Raḥmān understood that the best therapy for his father’s many ailments,
physical and psychological, was to create situations that encouraged the old man
to remember his good old Ghassānid days. The most effective were occasions that
involved the recitation of his Ghassānid odes, set to music and sung by women. It
was then that Ḥassān described his life at the Ghassānid court in prose pieces, such
as the one involving Jabala.
No one has ever cast doubt on these Ghassānid
poems, and the same stamp
of authenticity could easily attach to the
prose compositions attributed to Ḥassān,
but only after later accretions added to them by storytellers (
quṣṣās) and other
literary embroiderers have been eliminated. Just as there is no doubt about the
authorship or authenticity of the poem about the Yarmūk, so must the prose piece
involving Jabala be treated as genuine. Indeed, the prose pieces are background for
some of the verses of Ḥassān that describe the
In addition to these prose compositions from the Islamic period, and others
attributed to him about the Ghassānid court before the fall of the dynasty, some
artistic prose compositions of Ḥassān on the Ghassānids before their fall also need
to be seriously entertained as genuine.8 That a poet of Ḥassān’s caliber should have
left behind some prose composition of an artistic nature should not be surprising.
Literary history provides examples of poets who were also distinguished prose writ-
ers; in Arabic letters the figures of Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarri in the Orient and Lisān
al-Dīn ibn al-Khatīb in Andalusia are splendid examples. This is a kind of Arabic
early Islamic prose, of which only a few fragments have survived. It is noteworthy
that these prose pieces addressed to the Ghassānid kings are rhymed, a distinctive
feature of Arabic verse. Rhymed prose was one of the transitional stages between
prose and metered verse.9
Ḥassān’s status as the poet laureate of the Prophet Muḥammad and the
8 One example is the attractive long piece of rhyming prose, addressed to Jabala, in which Ḥassān
expresses why the Ghassānids were superior to their enemies, the Lakhmids; see Iṣfahānī,
(Beirut, 1958), XV, 124–25, where the piece is popularly attributed to al-Nābigha but the author of
al-Aghānī favors its attribution to Ḥassān. The question of attribution is not as important as authenticity
or genuineness, which may be predicated of this composition. On sources that attribute prose composi-
tions to Ḥassān, see Darwīsh,
9 The rhyming prose of the soothsayers,
kuhhān, is considered such a stage by historians of pre-
Islamic poetry. The foremost neoclassical poet of modern Arabic poetry, Ahmad Shawqi, wrote in praise
of rhyme and commended its use in prose by poets, and he followed his own advice.
Prose Accounts on the Ghassānids
defender of Islam in his post-Ghassānid poetry must be remembered when one
employs his prose as a source for Ghassānid social history. Sometimes this Islamic
ambience provides the framework within which his prose pieces are presented by
later Islamic authors. Hence the writings are given a certain twist, even as they
convey a kernel of the truth provided by Ḥassān. In one of the best-constructed of
these accounts, Jabala, his Ghassānid patron, is presented as one who had adopted
Islam but renounced it because he would not consent to being treated as the equal
of the simple Arab pastoralist who had trodden on his robe. Such twists in the
accounts are the product of later Islamic piety, and they cannot be taken seriously.
Even more important is the statement of a Muslim in Medina who heard Ḥassān
praising the Ghassānids and their hospitality; surprised at Ḥassān’s loyalty and
admiration for the Ghassānids, he exclaims: “Why do you praise kings who were
infidels, and whom God has caused to perish?”10 As has been noted in the preced-
ing volume, only a small amount of Ḥassān’s poetry on the Ghassānids in the pre-
Islamic period has survived.11 This outraged exclamation on the part of the pious
Muslim indicates how perceptions of Ḥassān, as the poet laureate of the Prophet
of Islam, were distorted in later times, when relations with Christians soured. The
bad feeling aroused by the Muslim-Byzantine conflict lasting so many centuries
disinclined later anthologists and collectors of his poetry to preserve his compo-
sitions on the “infidels,” and so they ignored most of them. However, the poems
were still extant when authors such as al-Jāḥi
z and al-Hamadānī expressed their
admiration for Ḥassān’s poetry on the Ghassānids.12 They could have made that
judgment only on the basis of an
extensive corpus of poems still available to them,
not on the basis of the few poems that have survived in Ḥassān’s
must have been the situation when the well-known critic Aṣmaʿī (d. 828) said that
Ḥassān’s pre-Islamic poetry on the Ghassānids was much better than that written
in the Islamic period.13
Of an entirely different nature is a work on the history of the Arabs and the
Persians before the rise of Islam that also involved an attempt at a synchronization
of the history of the two peoples: hence its title,
Nihāyat al-Arab fi Akhbār al-Furs
The work is said to have been compiled by the famous philologist al-Aṣmaʿī
10 The account is preserved by Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih in
al-ʿIqd al-Farid, ed. A. Amīn, I. Abyārī, and
A. Hārūn (Beirut, 1982), II, 62, verse 4.
BASIC II.1, 287.
12 Ibid., 287–91.
13 On Aṣmaʿī and his remark, see Darwīsh,
Ḥassān ibn-Thābit, 503, and Ibn Qutayba, al-Shiʿr wa
al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. A. M. Shākir (Cairo, 1966), I, 305.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
for the Abbasid caliph Harūn al-Rashīd.14 In 1879, Theodor Nöldeke, working
on a manuscript of it in Gotha, dismissed it as
schwindelhafte (bogus).15 In 1900,
Edward G. Browne declared that the Sasanid part in this work “appears to merit
more attention than is implied in the disparaging remarks of Professor Nöldeke.”16
The work was later noticed by Mario Grignaschi and was consulted more fre-
quently by M. J. Kister in 1980.17
There are four manuscripts of this work: one in Gotha, two in London,
and one in Cambridge.18
Nihāyat al-Arab has been published in Iran;19 there is
apparently only one copy of the text in the United States, at Harvard University’s
Widener Library. Its account of a Ghassānid wedding20 contains information not
to be found anywhere else in the sources, and may be briefly summarized as follows.
Al-Nuʿmān ibn Bashīr al-Ansāri21 relates that the caliph Abū Bakr (632–634)
sent him to Heraclius to convert the emperor to Islam. Al-Nuʿmān traveled to
Antioch, where Heraclius was staying. Before he and his party met the emperor,
they lodged in a palace on the roof of which beautiful maidens were dancing; in
their midst was a beautiful woman with a
duff, a tambourine, in her hand, who sang
and recited a couplet of verses. Al-Nuʿmān and his party declined a young man’s
offer to join the wedding celebration and proceeded on their unsuccessful mission.
14 Its authorship is attributed to al-Aṣmaʿī the philologist (d. 828), on whom see B. Lewin,
EI2, I, 717–19.
16 See E. G. Browne,
Hand-list of the Muhammadan Manuscripts, Including All Those Written in the
Arabic Character, Preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1900), 241. I share
Browne’s view. He discussed this work further in “Some Account of the Arabic Work Entitled
l-irab . . .,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1899), 51–53; (1900), 195–209.
17 See M. Grignaschi, “La Nihāyatu-l-Arab fi A
Bulletin des études orientales
22 (1969), 17–67, and “La Nihāyatu-l-ʾArab fi A
hbāri-l-Furs wa-lʿArab et les Siyaru Mulūki-l-ʿAgam du
Ps. Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ,”
Bulletin des études orientales 26 (1973), 83–184; for M. J. Kister’s notice of the
London Manuscript at the British Museum, see “Some Reports Concerning Mecca from Jāhiliyya to
18 Nöldeke refers to the Gotha manuscript as Goth.A 1741 (
PAS, 475). The two manuscripts in
London are British Library, Add. 18,505 and 23,298 (while reading the second, I noted that the leaf
in which the description of the wedding occurs is missing). The Cambridge manuscript number in
Hand-list is No. 1201. Nöldeke (PAS) and Browne (Hand-list) read one word in the title as
Irab; Gringaschi (“La Nihāyatu-l-Arab fi A
hbāri-l-Furs wa-lʿArab”) reads it
Arab, which rhymes better
(and is indeed almost a homophone) with the second word, ʿArab. Each provided a reading of the word,
which was unvocalized, without discussion.
19 Edited by Muḥammad Taqī Dāneshpazhuh, who used only the two MSS in the British Library
(Tehran, a.h. 1375 [1955–56]). In his introduction, he discusses the work’s authorship and refers to its
Tajārub al-Umam fi Akhbār Mulūk al-ʿArab wa al-ʿAjam, ed. R. Anzabinijād and
Y. Kalantari (Tehran, n.d.).
20 On weddings in Byzantium, see W. Treadgold, “The Bride-shows of the Byzantine Emperors,”
Byzantion 49 (1979), 395–413; see also L. Rydén, “The Bride-shows at the Byzantine Court—History
Eranos 83 (1985), 175–91.
21 See K. V. Zettersteen, “al-Nuʿmān Ibn Bashīr,”
EI2, VIII, 118–19.
Prose Accounts on the Ghassānids
Some thirty years later, Muʿāwiya, now the ruler of the region, sent al-Nuʿmān on
a mission to Antioch. He found the spot where he had met Heraclius desolate and
the palace in ruins. He met then a blind old woman whom he asked to identify
herself, which she did in a couplet of verses in which she said she was al-Dalfāʾ, the
daughter of Jarwal, who was a lord among the Ghassānids. Al-Nuʿmān reminisced
on his earlier visit, and the woman told him that the wedding he had witnessed
then was that of her sister, who was being married to her cousin, a Ghassānid, and
that the young man who had offered him hospitality was her own brother.22 If
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