Sixth century

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Verse 13 refers to the Ghassānid custom of offering wine mixed with water. 

The toponym al-Barīṣ appears in this verse, and possibly Barada, the river of 

Damascus (the Abana of the Bible).27 Barada has also been read not as a proper 

noun but as ice, 



Significantly, in verse 14 wine is considered a 

diryāq, an antidote, that coun-

teracts poison or disease. Here, the reference is to the medicinal use of wine; this is 

one of the earliest appearances of the Greek loanword θηριακή in Arabic.28


In verse 16 Ḥassān describes his journey from the area of Barīṣ to his 

Ghassānid host, with whom he reclines in a 

manzil, either a tavern or a banquet 

hall, surrounded by pleasant companions. So here is a reference to a symposium of 

some sort.


Verse 17 provides more detail on the drinking party: there was a songstress, 


musmiʿa, who both sang and played an instrument, as well as a nājūd,29 a goblet 

or the beaker of wine. 

Kurūm in this verse may be either a toponym or a common 

noun, meaning “vineyards.”


In the quintet on wine in the tavern, Ḥassān refers to wine as 

khamr, in the 

ḥānūt; it is pure and ṣahbāʾ, reddish, in color. Wine is brought to him in a cup 


kaʾs) by a server who is wearing either an earring or a girdle around the waist, 



In verse 23, he asks the server to give him wine that has not been mixed with 



In verse 24, he goes on to say that the two varieties of wine, mixed and pure, 

have been well pressed but asks the server to give him a glass

zujāja,30 full of the 

wine that is better at loosening his joints.31 


26  A Syriac/Aramaic term; see Fraenkel, 

Die aramäischen Fremdwörter, 172.


27  Cf. Richard Lovelace’s reference to a river in a similar context in “To Althea, from Prison” (1649): 

“When flowing cups run swiftly round / with no allaying Thames.”


28  The term is attested again in Ḥassān as 

diryāqa; see Dīwān, I, 106, verse 13. The Greek medi-

cal term thus entered Arabic in pre-Islamic times, either through Syriac in Bilād al-Shām or through 

Aramaic in Mesopotamia, since the poet al-Aʿshā of Bakr uses it, probably transliterated directly from 

Greek, at the medical school of Jundīshāpūr in Sasanid territory. The entire corpus of Greek medical 

literature was translated into Arabic in Baghdad and Samarra in Abbasid times; see the present writer 

in “Islam and Byzantium in the IXth Century: The Baghdad-Constantinople Dialogue,” in 


Contacts in Building a Universal Civilisation: Islamic Contributions, ed. E. Ihsanoğlu (Istanbul, 2005), 



29 Another Syriac/Aramaic term in Ḥassān’s lexicon of wine; see Fraenkel, 

Die aramäischen 

Fremdwörter, 167.


30  A Syriac/Aramaic term; ibid., 64.


31  Ḥassān’s partiality for the variety of wine that loosens his joints is repeated in 

Dīwān, I, 106, 


byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century


In verse 25, he further describes the glass he desires—one in which the wine 

“dances” in its bottom with whatever had been thrown into it, such as saffron, to 

enhance its taste.


In the last verse (33) of this poem Ḥassān says that he drank wine with his 

Ghassānid host in the morning (

bākartu) in a glass cup, zujāja, and that the wine 

came from the best of vineyards, where the vines were possibly trellised, 



3. Poem 18 is a septet in which the poet describes a 

convivium that he attended 

in Ḥijāz as a guest of a certain Ṣāliḥ ibn ʿIlāṭ from the group Sulaym.32


Verse 5 describes the wine party, composed of attractive ladies, fair com-

plexioned and luxuriating in 

riyāṭ (plural of rayṭa), literally a precious robe of  

one piece.33


Verse 6 describes boon companions, 

nadāma, also fair-complexioned and 



Verse 7 describes the wine as 

kumayt; it was vintage wine that had been kept in 

its cask for a long time (

ʿuttiqat) and it came from the country of the Nabataeans—

in Byzantine terms, the Provincia Arabia. It is described as 

sulāfa, that is, “the best 

and purest.”


In verse 8 the poet lauds the host, Ṣāliḥ ibn ʿIlāṭ,34 for spending money to buy 

good wine.


Verse 9 returns to the songstresses (

qiyān) who remained around him, playing 

on their instruments (



Verse 10 describes these songstresses circling to offer the cup (

kaʾs) of wine to 

the drinking party (

sharb); carpets, anmāṭ (plural of namaṭ), covered the floor of 

the room.


Finally, in verse 11, the host gives these songstresses away to Ḥassān and his 

boon companions.


It is possible that the Ghassānids had similar 

convivia, models for those in 

Arabian Ḥijāz.


4. Poem 23 is an octet that describes a drinking party in a tavern, 



Verse 8 describes the wine as 

ṣahbāʾ, “reddish.” Its provenance is Bayt Rās 

(Capitolias), and it was old wine that had been left for a long time, 

ʿuttiqat, in 

sealed casks (


verse 13. The relaxation induced by wine recalls the epithet Lyaeus, Greek Λυαῖος, sometimes used of the 

Greek god of wine, Dionysus, in Greek and Latin poetry—so Horace describes Teucer’s temples as 


Lyaeo, “moist with wine”; see Odes, I.vii.22. 


32 Ḥassān, 

Dīwān, I, 91, verses 5–11.


33  These presumably were the songstresses/hostesses at the 

convivium, referred to again in verses 10 

and 11. 


34  On Ṣāliḥ ibn ʿIlāṭ, see Ḥassān, 

Dīwān, II, 87. 


35  Ibid., I, 106–7, verses 8–15.




Verse 9 refers to the tavern where the wine had been kept year after year, 



Verse 10 refers to the custom of drinking wine two ways: sometimes undi-

luted and sometimes mixed with other beverages. The ambiance is also described

the poet drinks in marble houses, 

buyūt al-rukhām, in which wine-bibbers could 

hear singing. 


Verse 11 describes wine’s effect on the body.


Verse 12 refers to the cup, 

kaʾs; if an old man drank from it five times, he 

would feel like a young man.


Verse 13 mentions the wine’s provenance from Baysān, Bēth-Shān (Skytho- 

polis), the city of Dionysus himself, known for its vines and wines. Furthermore, 

the poet chose it for its medicinal value as an antidote, 

diryāqa—its good effect on 

his bones.36


Verses 14 and 15 return to the tavern. The waiter is described as a blond who 

dons a 

burnus (a robe) and a long hat (qalansuwa), and whose belt is tightly tied 

around his waist. He is also attentive to the needs of the guests, and quick to serve 

them wine. He is the 

sāqi, a familiar figure in later Islamic wine lyrics.


5. Poem 40 is also ascribed to the Umayyad poet al-Akhṭal, who is more 

likely than Ḥassān to be its author. The custom of drinking wine in the morning 


al-sabūḥ) is referred to in verses 3 and 5.37


6. Poem 41 is a triplet in which the poet advises one who, as a result of exces-

sive drinking, is suffering from a headache.38 He facetiously tells him to drink 

again, in view of the fact that transience is the fate of every good thing.


7. Poem 150 is a triplet embedded in a poem, definitely pre-Islamic, in which 

the poet takes pride in his clan and in himself.39


Verse 9 relates how he went to the tavern for his morning drink (

ṣabūḥ), in 

order to quaff mixed wine.


Verse 10 describes the morning spent in the tavern together with boon com-

panions (

nadmān): reclining on a pillow (mirfaqa), having fun (lahw), listening to 

music and song (



Verse 11 declares that the waiter would pour him wine from a full wineskin. 


8. Poem 154 is a short poem describing his journey in Ḥijāz, which contains a 

couplet on wine.40


The first line of the couplet (verse 7) refers to the 

ziq (the wineskin), the nuṭfa 


36  Dionysus, Bacchus, was the patron of Baysān/Bēth-shān, one of the cities of the Decapolis. For 

the term 

diryāq/diryāqa in the poetry of Ḥassān, see note 28, above.


37 Ḥassān, 

Dīwān, I, 139, verses 1–7.


38  Ibid., 141, verses 1–3.


39  Ibid., 302–3, verses 9–11.


40  Ibid., 310, verses 7–8. 


byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

(the small quantity of wine that remained in it), and the 

qaʿb (another term for 

cup), all of which were ready for the poet. 


The more significant second line says that he approached the wine in the 

ziq; the verb used is shanantuha, which means either that he poured the wine and 

drank it straight or that he mixed it with water before drinking it. All these terms 

are of interest for the lexicon of wine lyrics in this pre-Islamic period. 


Ḥassān also refers to wine as 

qahwa, the term also used in later Islamic times 

for wine, and much later for coffee. The term is fairly rare in pre-Islamic poetry.41 

It raises questions of whether coffee was really known to the Arabs in pre-Islamic 

times, and whether the term is the Ethiopic 

kaffa or—less likely—an Arabic word, 

which lexicographers relate to the verb 



9. Poem 156 is a sextet, an independent wine lyric.42 According to the scho-

liast, the occasion was an encounter with the poet Aʿshā, who accused Ḥassān of 

being stingy, whereupon Ḥassān bought all the wine in the tavern and emptied it on 

the floor.43 The sextet describes in detail the drinking party, the 

sharb, at the tavern.


Verse 1 introduces the drinking party at the tavern and lauds their generosity.


Verse 2 describes the effect of wine on Ḥassān and his group; when they 

drank they felt like kings and sons of kings,44 a sentiment he had expressed before 

(in Poem 1, verse 10). He refers to the 

ṣabūḥ, the morning drink, in a context of 



Verse 3 refers to himself and his group, and to the scent of musk and saffron 

in the tavern.


Verse 4 mentions the appointments and furniture of the tavern: on its car-

pets (

zarābi) were to be found shoes (niʿāl), slippers (qassūb), and expensive cloth 




In verse 5, he amusingly describes the party that had drunk to satiety and 

fallen asleep, as if they had died on the field of Yawm Ḥalīma, the famous Ghassānid 

victory over the Lakhmids.46 But he hastens to say that those who approach them 

on the morrow and consort with them will praise their camaraderie.


41  The attestation of the term 

qahwa in Arabic pre-Islamic poetry has passed unnoticed in the litera-

ture on coffee; see C. van Arendonk, “



EI2, IV, 449. The term appears in other pre-Islamic poets 

such as Aʿshā and Muraqqish al-Aṣghar.


42 Ḥassān, 

Dīwān, I, 312–13, verses 1–6.


43  The tavern at which the two poets met was either in Oriens or in Iraq, which al-Aʿshā used to visit 

more frequently because it was closer to the homeland of his group, Bakr. 


44  Perhaps an echo of his connection with the royal Ghassānid house, who were his relatives through 

their affiliation with the Azd group, to which Ḥassān belonged.


45 The 

rayṭ is described as muʿaddad, having aʿḍud, which means “upper arms.” The epithet is vari-

ously explained by the lexicographers, not very satisfactorily. See 

An Arabic-English Lexicon, ed. E. W. 

Lane (London, 1874), Book I, part 5, 2073. 


46  Another echo of the Ghassānid connections of Ḥassān.




Verse 6 describes the waiter, who wore an earring, 

naṭaf, and carried a dībaja,47 

handkerchief—evidence of the tavern keeper’s or owner’s concern that the waiter 

be correctly attired.


10. This last cluster, in Poem 266, consists of two couplets; each, according 

to Ibn ʿĀsākir, was related to the Ghassānid context.48 Jabala, the last Ghassānid 

king, asks Ḥassān to vilify wine so that he might be weaned from his addiction to 

it. So, Ḥassān composes a couplet in which he inveighs against its vices. He says 

it would be priceless were it not for three evils consequent on inebriation. Then 

Jabala asks him to compose verses in praise of wine. Ḥassān comes to its defense, 

saying that it chases away cares and griefs.


If accurate, this dialogue between Ḥassān and the last Ghassānid king could 

provide some evidence for the authenticity of the picture of Jabala given in the 

Arabic sources, as one fond of wine, and of his glittering court in which wine and 

songstresses figure.

The Individual Verses

Individual verses in Ḥassān’s 

Dīwān are also informative on wine in Ghassānland 

and on the circles in which the poet moved. The following data may be gleaned 

from these verses.


1. That good wine is old wine is expressed in a verse in which the terms 



mudām appear;49 the latter, after being attributively used, became a substan-

tive for wine.


2. Some names of the various wines—

ūqār, sulāf, and khurtūm50—may be 

added to the legion known from Islamic times.


3. Wine may be drunk pure and straight, 

ṣirf, or mixed with other liquids, 

mizāj.51 Though their employment in the verse is metaphorical, the two terms are a 

useful addition to the Arabic lexicon of wine in pre-Islamic times. 


4. Containers—

akwāb and akwās (plurals of kūb and kaʾs, respectively)—are 

used at the Ghassānid court, where mixed wine was drunk.52 The plural 

akwās is 

unusual, and the verse suggests that in the Ghassānid 

symposion the cups were car-

ried around (

ṭīfa fīhimū) by a sāqi, the serving waiter.


47  Explained in this context as a 

mandīl/mindīl; Ḥassān, Dīwān, II, 229. Dībāj usually means “silk 

brocade,” a Persian loanword in Arabic already used in pre-Islamic times. In this context it is explained 

as a kerchief, a 

mandīl/mindīl, used by the waiter to cover his mouth or nose and protect the wine he was 

pouring. For the function of the 

mandīl at drinking parties, see F. Rosenthal, “A Note on the Mandīl,” 


Four Essays on Art and Literature in Islam (Leiden, 1971), especially 78–83.


48 Ḥassān, 

Dīwān, I, 442.


49  Ibid., 29, verse 2.


50  Ibid., 204, verse 4; 341, verse 2; 439, verse 2.


51  Ibid., 171, verse 1. 


52  Ibid., 204, verse 4.


byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century


5. Moderation in drinking wine is recommended; the term used for alcohol-

ism is 



6. Drinking wine without becoming intoxicated became a virtue, a demon-

stration of affluence and generosity. The label 

sharrāb khamr, being a wine-bibber, 

was a moral tribute as lofty as “courageous in war,” since Ḥassān described the 

chivalrous Ibn Mukaddam as “blessed” with both qualities.54

Four Other Poets on Wine

In addition to Ḥassān, other poets who composed for the Ghassānids should be 

remembered in this context: to al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, al-Aʿshā, and al-Nābigha 

al-Jaʿdi may be added ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm. Although his poem does not specifically 

mention the Ghassānids, it provides information on wine in Oriens, in areas where 

an Arab presence obtained, and implicitly refers to the Ghassānids.

Al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī

The poet was a serious man;55 therefore, his 

Dīwān (unlike Ḥassān’s) contains little 

on wine. But in the famous 

mīmiyya in which he lauds the Ghassānid king and 

his army on the march, there is a valuable sextet of verses describing the wine in an 

amatory context; the first triplet is on wine and the second describes the pure water 

with which it was mixed.56


The first line in the sextet, verse 9, speaks of the wine of Buṣrā/Bostra, the 

casks or vats of which were well sealed and were transported by camels.57 The wine 

is proleptically described as mixed, as was customary among the Arabs.


Verse 10 describes its casks (

qilāl, plural of qulla)58 as transported from 

Capitolias, a city of the Decapolis to which the poet gives its Arabic name, Bayt 

Rās. The casks were transported to Luqmān,59 a word which has been explained as 

either the name of a wine merchant or a toponym in the region. The poet adds that 

the casks were transported to a 

sūq, a fair, market.


In verse 11 the poet says that when the seals of the wine casks (



53  Ibid., 340, verse 6.


54  Ibid., 410, verse 2.


55  A distinguished pre-Islamic poet, who belonged to the tribe of Dubyān and was an older contem-

porary of Ḥassān; see 

BASIC II.1, 220–32, and GAS, II, 110–13.


56 See 

Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 131–32, verses 9–14.


57  The verse is informative on Bostra as a city associated with wine; in these pre-Islamic sources it is 

more often linked to swords, as it apparently contained a 

fabrica where swords were made. 


58 For 

qulla as a Syriac term, see Fraenkel, Die aramäischen Fremdwörter, 170.


59  The reference to Luqmān is tantalizing. It is the name of a sura in the Koran (31), which 

Koranic exegetes have interpreted as the Arabic version of Aḥiqār, the counselor of the Assyrian king 

Sennacherib; see B. Heller and A. Stillman, “Lu



EI2, V, 811–13. Its appearance in the verse does 

not help solve the Koranic exegetical problem, but it does indicate that Luqmān was a familiar term on 

the eve of the rise of Islam. 



are undone, their wine effervesces and is topped by foam (

qummaḥān).60 Further-

more, the wine is good old wine (



Al-Aʿshā, a major pre-Islamic poet who is considered one of the poets of the 

Suspended Odes, visited the Ghassānids and tasted their wines.61 Since he was a 

devotee of the “daughter of the grape,” as wine is described in Arabic poetry, he cer-

tainly enjoyed the wines of Oriens; as an eastern Arabian poet, he was more famil-

iar with the wines of Ḥīra and Iraq,62 which were not as good as those of Oriens.


One of his verses has preserved a reference to a variety of Byzantine wine 

that he calls 

al-khandarīs, which he could have tasted in Oriens.63 It must also 

have been known to the Ghassānids, his hosts, and to Ḥassān, in whose surviv-

ing poetry the term does not appear. Al-Aʿshā’s 

Dīwān attests three toponyms in 

Oriens: Ūrishalim (Jerusalem), Ḥims (Emesa), and Sarkhad (Salkhad).64 If he vis-

ited Salkhad, a place known for its wines, he would have sampled them; he evi-

dently tasted the wines of Palestine during his trip to Jerusalem, since he refers in 

one of his verses to a Palestinian wine, 

filisṭiyyan;65 and he must have also drunk 

wine in Ḥims, a place mentioned by another poet, Imruʾ al-Qays, who was known 

for his drinking bouts.66 While Ḥassān uses the Syriac term 

ḥānūt for tavern, 


60  The term 

qummaḥan, which may be a hapax legomenon (al-Nābigha, Dīwān, 132 note 1), is 

explained as the effervescing foam. On 

khātam as “seal,” see Fraenkel, Die aramäischen Fremdwörter, 252.


61  For al-Aʿshā, see Sezgin, 

GAS, II, 130–32, and BASIC II.1, 272–78. The standard edition of 


Dīwān is Gedichte von Abû Baṣîr Maimûn Ibn Qais al-Aʿšâ, ed. R. Geyer, Gibb Memorial Series 

(London, 1928).


62  Hence his wine lyrics were more influenced by Sasanid Persia and Lakhmid Ḥīra, as his vocabu-

lary shows. Many Persian terms entered Arabic as loanwords, mediated through him and other poets 

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