Sixth century

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addressed in the preceding volume, where two of these terms, 

limitrophe and 

Ghassānland, were explained. To these were added urbanization and ruralization, 

two terms that, though not limited in their application to the Arab 

foederati, were 

also highly significant.5 


A term not explicitly discussed in the previous volume, 

foederati, is the one 

most frequently applied to the Ghassānids in this series of six volumes, especially in 

this one. The publication, after the completion of 

BASIC II.1, of a monograph spe-

cifically devoted to the 

foederati has also made it appropriate to consider this term 

at some length here. 


In the course of the three centuries that preceded the rise of Islam and the Arab 

Conquests in the seventh century, Byzantium availed itself of the services of three 

Arab groups in succession: the Tanūkhids in the fourth century, the Salīḥids in 

the fifth, and the Ghassānids in the sixth. And the five volumes devoted to them in 

this series have correctly described them as 

foederati. Recently, in his monograph 

Foederati, Ralf Scharf has raised questions on the application of the term to groups 

in the Orient.6 Hence the following clarifications are called for.


I have applied the term 

foederati to these three Arab groups because the Byzantine 

sources did so, using both the Latin and Greek forms, 

foederati and ὑποσπόνδοι.


1. In the fourth century, the forms of the term in Greek, such as σπονδαί, were 


à propos of Mavia, the Arab queen, and her group, who fought the emperor 

Valens.7 After her victory over Valens and the conclusion of peace, Mavia observed 

the terms of the σπονδή.8 Early in the reign of Theodosius, relations soured between 

the emperor and these Arab 

foederati, which led to their revolt. This entailed the 

dissolution of the σπονδή, referred to in its Latin form

foedus, by Pacatus in his 

Panegyricus, addressed to Theodosius in a.d. 389.9


2. In the fifth century the Arab 

foederati of Byzantium are expressly referred 


5 See 

BASIC II.1, xxxiii–xxxv.


6  R. Scharf, 

Foederati, Tyche, Supplementband No. 4 (Vienna, 2001); see the chapter “Foederati im 

Osten,” 45–48.


7 See 

BAFOC, 140.


8  Ibid., 159 note 83.


9  Ibid., 204.



to as such in the well-known Novella 24 of Theodosius II, where their 

annona or 

food allotment is also mentioned.10 The Novella as it related to the Arabs is also 

discussed by Scharf.11 


3. The sixth-century Arab allies, the Ghassānids, are referred to as 


by the early ninth-century chronicler Theophanes, who employed the term’s 

Greek form: in a.d. 502, Emperor Anastasius concluded a treaty, σπένδεται, with 

two groups, the Arabs of Kinda and Ghassān.12 A quarter of a century later, the 

Ghassānids are described in a crucial passage in Procopius’ 

History as ἔνσπoνδοι.13


In view of such consistent references in the Byzantine sources themselves to the 

Arab allies as 

foederati, it is clearly correct to apply the term to them. These Arab 

foederati received the annona and they were settled within the Byzantine Diocese 

of Oriens, not outside it. 


The Arab 

foederati of the Orient, especially the Ghassānids, were well inte-

grated in the Byzantine army of the Orient. Epigraphy reveals that the Ghassānid 

Nuʿmān, the chief phylarch late in the sixth century, had the title στρατηλάτης,14 

which made him at least the titular counterpart of the 

magister militum, even if 

his title was mostly honorary. It has also been cogently argued, on the strength of 

the Greek inscription at Qaṣr al-Ḥayr al-Gharbī, that before Nuʿmān, the famous 

Arethas of the reign of Justinian was endowed with the same title.15 One of the 

principal duties of the Arab 

foederati was the protection of the Byzantine fron-

tier from the inroads of the nomads, a task that explains their frequent association 

with the 

limitanei, the frontier troops who watched over the limes; another impor-

tant duty was participation in the wars against Persia, the enemy of Byzantium, to 

which they contributed an important contingent. The three groups of Arab 


derati, in three successive centuries, joined the exercitus comitatensis in its cam-

paigns far away from their headquarters in the Provincia Arabia. Even Procopius, 

no friend of the Ghassānids, described the Ghassānid participation at the battle of 

Callinicum (a.d. 531) as the contribution of an army, στράτευμα (

History, I.xvii.7).


In the fourth century, the Arab 

foederati took part in Byzantium’s Persian 

and Gothic wars. They fought in the Persian wars with the House of Constantine 

and even more conspicuously in the Gothic wars of the reign of Valens, when they 

marched to faraway Thrace. After participating in engagements that culminated 



BAFIC 49–50, 480–481. 


11 Scharf, 

Foederati, 44–45 and note 115.


12 Theophanes, 

Chronographia, ed. C. de Boor (Leipzig, 1883–85), I, 144; see BASIC I.1, 3–6.


13 Procopius, 

History, I.xvii.46; see BASIC I.1, 95–96.



BASIC I.1, 505–6.


15  See L. MacCoull, “Notes on Arab Allies as 

foederati in Inscriptions,” Tyche 11 (1996), 157–58. 



in the battle of Adrianople in a.d. 378, the 

cuneus or “wedge” of cavalry sent by 

the federate queen Mavia saved Constantinople itself from the Goths, as Zosimus 

described in striking detail.16


In the fifth century, the Salīḥids took part in the two Persian wars of 

Theodosius II (a.d. 420–422, 440–442), and one historian commented on their 

creditable performance in those wars.17 Even more remarkable was their partici-

pation in the Vandal Wars of Emperor Leo I (468 and 470). And as has been 

argued, their participation in the battle of Cape Bon, in present-day Tunisia, may 

have contributed to their downfall later in the century, since the battle was a 

disaster for the imperial army and its Salīḥid contingent.18 


In the sixth century, the Arab 

foederati performed and even more impressive 

function, as described in 

BASIC I.1. Indeed, the famous Ghassānid warrior king, 

Arethas, not only participated with his contingent in all the wars of Byzantium but 

also on one occasion in the Assyrian campaign of a.d. 541 commanded Byzantine 

troops, when Belisarius sent twelve hundred troops of his own guards and, in the 

words of Procopius, directed them “to obey Arethas in everything they did.”19


Finally, in connection with the 

limitanei and the associations of the Arab 

foederati with them in the latter’s garrison duties, it may also be mentioned that 

the Ghassānid 

foederati were given the duties of the limitanei when Justinian dis-

banded the latter. This shift in responsibility was reflected in the Ghassānid phy-

larchs’ assumption of the title of ὁρικός, Greek for 

limitaneus. 20


It has always been clear to me that the terms of the 

foedus with the Arabs of 

the Orient were not identical with those of the 

foedus with the Germans in the 

Occident. But despite those differences, 

foederati is a term capacious enough to be 

applied to both sets of allies, those of the Orient as well as those of the Occident. 

Irfan Shahîd

Dumbarton Oaks

July 2009 


16 See 

BAFOC, 175–83.


17  See Sozomen below, p. 211 and n. 26. 


18  See ibid., 25–40; on the Persian and Vandal wars, see 91–96.


19 Procopius, 

History, II.xix.15; see BASIC I.1, 220–25. 



BASIC II.1, 35–51, especially 45.



his volume would not have been ready for publication, had it not been for 

the contribution of the following institutions and individuals who have given 

generously of their time and expertise.


Institutionally, all my publications that have the term “Byzantine” in the title 

must first and foremost be related to the great center of Byzantine studies in the 

United States, indeed in the world, namely, Dumbarton Oaks. As an associate fel-

low, it is there that I have researched and written my articles and six volumes, availing 

myself of its wonderful library with its unrivalled collection of books and journals, 

and enjoying the support of those who run and administer Dumbarton Oaks. Its 

director, Professor Jan Ziolkowski, has helped in expediting the publication of this 

volume. Alice-Mary Talbot, as director of Byzantine studies, has been the one most 

intimately connected with it. Her accipitral eye has scanned the long manuscript 

and has contributed much to the elimination of certain repetitious passages and the 

rearrangement of certain sections and chapters. Joel Kalvesmaki, editor in Byzantine 

studies, has gone through the manuscript and gathered together all that still needed 

to be attended to, 

inter alia, precise citations, orthography, and Greek accents. I am 

grateful to him for all this as I am to Alice Falk, who so very competently copy-

edited the manuscript, and also to Kathy Sparkes, our publications manager, who in 

the final stage supervised and expedited its composition and production.


The library staff has extended to me the assistance for which they are known 

to all who have used the library. Deborah Stewart, Bridget Gazzo, Emily Gulick, 

Kim North, and Sandra Parker Provenzano have been helpful in locating biblio-

graphical items which were difficult to locate or were not at Dumbarton Oaks. 

This was especially helpful since my participation in the technological revolution 

was and still is not above reproach, and in this area Polly Evans was most helpful.


Georgetown University, where I had been the Oman Professor for many 

years, before I retired and became Emeritus in 2007, also contributed much. Its pro-

vost, Dr. James O’Donnell, a classical scholar and ancient historian, gave me every 

administrative and academic support for the successful completion of this volume, 

as did the associate provost Marcia Mintz, and I should like to thank them both 

warmly for their support and contribution. Just as the Dumbarton Oaks library 



and its staff have been invaluable for researching this volume, so has the Lauinger 

Library at Georgetown, with its full collection of Arabic sources, so important 

for this particular volume, 

BASIC II.ii, thus complementing the Byzantine col-

lection at Dumbarton Oaks. Two members of the staff, Brenda Bickett and Mark 

Muelhausler, were especially helpful in locating certain works in Arabic and getting 

some through the interlibrary loan service. I am extremely thankful for their help. 

Outside the confines of the Lauinger Library, I should like to make special men-

tion of Nancy Farley, who skillfully typed some chapters in this manuscript, and 

Kelli Harris and Meriem Tikue, the administrative assistants of the Department 

of Arabic and Islamic Studies, who always responded so to my calls on their gener-

osity for help in various ways.


The scholars who converge on Dumbarton Oaks as annual fellows or visit-

ing scholars or joint-appointees should be remembered in this context. Foremost 

among these for this particular volume have been Stratis Papaioannou and Michael 

McCormick, whose writings and conversations have influenced the course of 

my thought in writing certain chapters in this volume. In addition to these two 

scholars, there are those with whom I have conversed and corresponded, and 

they include: Edmond Bosworth, David Frendo, Kyle Harper, Robert Hoyland, 

Stephen Humphreys, Elizabeth Jeffreys, Walter Kaegi, Apostolos Karpozilos, 

Lorice Malouf, Cyril Mango, Leslie MacCoull, Michael Morony, Polyvia Parara, 

Daniel Potts, Manfred Ullman, Jose van Ess, Jan Geer van Gelder, and Speros 



Publishing books is expensive nowadays, and in this respect the liberality of 

Tawfiq and Abla Kawar has been remarkable. They have contributed funds toward 

the publication of this volume and the research that had been conducted for it in 

various parts of the world. I am deeply in their debt. Within this circle of relatives 

and the list of those to whom this volume owes much is my wife, Mary. She has 

contributed in various ways to the composition of this volume, which sometimes 

necessitated the cancellation of weekend activities and the interruption of vaca-

tions, for technical assistance in the preparation of the long manuscript, such as 

typing and corrections. Of all her substantial contributions, I am very sensible and 

to her I am most grateful.

*  *  *

A debt of an entirely different kind is owed to the two dedicatees, the two Franciscan 

priests, the French P. Francis Demaret and the Italian P. Michele Piccirillo, both 

closely related to my work on Byzantium and the Arabs.


P. Michele Piccirillo, celebrated Christian archaeologist, was the indefati-

gable laborer in the vineyard of Christian archaeology who recovered the strong 

Christian presence in Jordan in Byzantine times. He also gave visibility to the con-

tribution of the Christian Arab community to Byzantine monuments of Jordan, as 



he uncovered and collected the recognizably Arab names of donors and mosaicists 

involved in these monuments, thus complementing archaeologically what my vol-

umes have done through the literary sources. As important was his excavation of 

the Church at Nitil in the Madaba region, with its Greek inscription saluting the 

reigning Ghassānid king, Arethas, and a funereal one remembering the Ghassānid 

officer Thaʿlaba, buried in the hypogeum of the church. He reported on the church 

in the many pages of 

Liber Annuus as an archaeologist and asked me to contribute 

the article on the historical Ghassānid dimension of the church. He kindly sup-

plied me with the plates representing various facets of the church at Nitil, which 

appeared in my volume, 

BASIC II.i (2002) and appear now in the frontispiece of 

this volume, a mosaic in the church of St. George at Mt. Nebo. His tragic death at 

the early age of 64 after he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer was a great loss to 

Christian archaeology, and to me personally, and it has precluded his further exca-

vation of Ghassānid sites, for which 

BASIC II.i has provided a map. Although he 

passed away at his Italian home in Livorno, he chose to be buried at the scene of 

his other “home,” to which he donated many decades of his short life on earth—

Mount Nebo.


P. Francis Demaret, friar of the convent of Clarté Dieu, France, was another 

indefatigable laborer in the vineyard of Arab Christianity. Completely unknown to 

me, he approached Dumbarton Oaks in 1991 to translate my volumes on Byzantium 

and the Arabs into French, which he continued to do for almost two decades until 

recently, when he was taken seriously ill. But before he was incapacitated, he had 

translated my six volumes published by Dumbarton Oaks in eleven substantial tomes 

and also some of my articles, including a long one, “Byzantium in South Arabia,” 

which appeared in 

DOP 1979. P. Demaret’s twelve volumes have been truly a labor 

of love. Not only did he type the translation himself but he also reproduced the vol-

umes and deposited them in various learned and cultural locales in Paris in order 

to spread knowledge of Arab Christianity, the Cinderella in the circle of Oriens 

Christianus. In addition to keeping his volumes in my library as a monument to his 

zeal and industry, I have kept all his letters since 1991, a dossier of single-minded 

devotion to a theme, the Christian Arab presence in the Byzantine Orient, especially 

in the Holy Land, which goes back to pre-Islamic times. It is a pity that he could 

not read what he had looked forward to, namely, 

this volume, which has recovered 

from oblivion an entire Arab Christian culture that had flourished in the shadow 

of Byzantium in Oriens, Bilād al-Shām, before the rise of Islam. I had hoped against 

hope that his health would be restored to normalcy, but my expectations were dashed 

to the ground when I received from La fraternité d’Orsay, to which he belonged, the 

sad news, couched in simple but touching terms, that “Le Frère Francis Demaret, 

Franciscain-Prêtre est entré dans la Paix de Dieu, le mardi 21 juillet 2009, à Athis-

Mons dans sa 82e année, après 61 ans de vie religieuse et 53 ans de sacerdoce.”


Economic History


The Role of  the Ghassānids


he contribution of the Ghassānids and the other Arab 

foederati of Byzantium 

to the economic life of the empire and to Oriens in particular is 

terra incognita 

to Byzantinists, largely because these Arabs are usually referred to as 

foederati and 

often as 

symmachoi, “fighting allies”; consequently, their military role has been 

emphasized over all others. Procopius’ bias, his 

ira et studium, has further obscured 

their role in the economic history of the region. But as the present volume will 

clearly demonstrate, their role was considerable, especially during the reign of 

Justinian. The nature and extent of their contribution will be examined as it relates 

to Oriens itself and also to international trade, involving the world of the Indian 

Ocean and the Arabian Peninsula on the one hand and that of Mediterranean 

Rome on the other. The investigation of their role must rely on sources that, 

regarding economic and social history, are far from copious. Nevertheless, when set 

against the background of the better-known economic history of the empire and of 

Oriens in particular, the sources become more revealing and shed more light on the 

role of the 

foederati, especially the Ghassānids of the sixth century.


The standard work on the economic history of the empire has recently 

appeared in three massive volumes, which treat the period from the seventh 

through the fifteenth century.1 The editor explains the reason for omitting the pre-

vious three centuries;2 one article, however, gives a general overview of that time, 

providing good background for a future detailed and concentrated account of the 

sixth century in Oriens.3 The seventh century is touched on by other essays.4


For the economic history of this proto-Byzantine period, the monumental 

Late Roman Empire by A. H. M. Jones is still the standard work, although the 


1 See 

The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century, ed.  

A. Laiou et al., 3 vols. (Washington, D.C., 2002). 


2  Ibid., I, 8.


3  See C. Morrisson and J.-P. Sodini, “The Sixth Century Economy,” in ibid., 171–200.


4  See, e.g., A. Muthesius, “Essential Processes, Looms, and Technical Aspects of the Silk Textiles,” 

in ibid., 147–68, and K.-P. Matschke, “Mining,” in ibid., 115–20.


byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

author practically ignored archaeology in discussing rural life.5 To this “great 

synthetic work” may now be added two chapters in the new 

Cambridge Ancient 

History.6 Even more recent are two articles in the first volume of a new collection, 

Le monde byzantin.7


Against the background of these general works, the economic history of 

Oriens and the role of the Ghassānids in the sixth century will be set and will 

become clear. Because the Arabs or the Ghassānids appear in the Byzantine sources 


foederati, soldiers fighting the wars of Byzantium, the studies cited hardly men-

tion them as a force in the economic history of the region and the century. The 

Arabic sources, however, have important relevant data on the Ghassānids. A 1971 

work in Arabic on the economic history of the Arabs and Arabia before the rise of 

Islam contains much useful material, although it does not specifically deal with 

Byzantine involvement in this history.8 A more recent and more accessible work 

is Robert G. Hoyland’s 

Arabia and the Arabs, which devotes a welcome chapter 

to the economic history of the Arabs, although again without focusing specifi-

cally on the Byzantines or Ghassānids.9 Until the manuscript of the lost 

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