Sixth century

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of Bostra and Petra were both accessible to the Ghassānids. 


2. Another must have come from the Graeco-Roman communities living in 

the Decapolis, which geographically was within the two Ghassānid provinces of 

Arabia and Palaestina Secunda.


3. After the introduction of the silkworm, mulberry trees proliferated 

in Oriens and sericulture flourished, as did silk production in centers such as 

Tyre and Berytus, not far from the Ghassānids. It is natural to think that the 

    The Arab groups who moved in the orbit of Sasanid Persia were naturally influenced by the domi-

nant culture of their overlords. That this influence included Persian clothing can be inferred from a verse 

by Ḥassān addressing a delegation of Tamīm, which came to the Prophet in Medina and accepted Islam. 

He accused them of dressing like the 

Aʿājim, “the non-Arabs”—in this case, the Persians; see Dīwān 

Ḥassān ibn Thābit, ed. W. ʿArafāt, Gibb Memorial New Series 25 (London, 1971), I, 110, verse 12. The 

relevance of this pattern of influence to Byzantium’s influence on its own allies, the Ghassānids, in mat-

ters of dress is obvious. 


12  On the 

manbijāniyya worn by the Prophet, see Stillman, Arab Dress, 13, and Jubouri, al-Malābis, 



13  See al-Nābigha al-Jaʿdi, 

Dīwān, ed. A. Rabbāḥ (Damascus, 1964), 61, verse 13.


14  Quoted by Bakri in his 

Muʿ jam (Cairo, 1951), IV, 1134.


15  On Byzantine dress, see Ph. Koukoules, 

Byzantinon bios kai politismos (Athens, 1948–57), II, 

2, 5–59; VI, 267–94; and N. Ševčenko, “Costume,” 

ODB, I, 538–40. The excellence of Byzantine tex-

tiles was proverbial, according to the Arabic sources; see ʿAbd al-Malik al-Thaʿālibi, 

Thimār al-Qulūb,  

ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1965), 525, 535. Because of their high prestige, Byzantine garments sometimes 

functioned as imperial gifts to promote diplomatic ties with foreign potentates.



Ghassānids were beneficiaries of this proximity to the silks and other textiles of 

the diocese.16


4. Finally came influence from Constantinople, resulting from gifts presented 

to the supreme Ghassānid phylarchs and kings by the Byzantine emperor on their 

visits to the capital.17

II. The Ghassānid Vestimentary System

The scanty evidence on Ghassānid dress is set within three venues: the court, the 

battlefield, and the tavern, with its songstresses and waiters. The tavern has already 

been discussed above, in Chapter 5, “Drink.” Most of the discussion will there-

fore focus on the Ghassānid king Arethas and his son Mundir of the sixth century, 

especially the former. Contemporary poetry, the principal source, will be assessed 

in light of the relevant Byzantine sources, which are informative on certain aspects 

of the Ghassānid vestimentary system that have never been examined before. The 

Ghassānid leader will be discussed in various contexts: as king at Jābiya, as 


in Constantinople, and as phylarch, commander in chief, on the battlefield. His 

garb on each occasion and in each venue reflects identities that sum up the com-

plex personality of the Ghassānid as a federate of the new Christian Roman Empire, 


The King

In documenting the conferment of the 

basileia on the Ghassānid Arethas in 

a.d.  529, Procopius omits any description of the attendant ceremony.18 Some 

details can be recovered, however, from his two accounts of similar ceremonies, 

in Constantinople and in the provinces, in which he describes the insignia and 

the costumes worn by the “barbarian” kings on whom the 

basileia was conferred; 

another account is provided by Malalas. Nevertheless, precisely what garb was pre-

sented to the Ghassānid kings Arethas and Mundir remains unclear. 


After Justinian’s suspension of the Armenian pentarchy, Procopius gives the 

following description of the insignia of the Armenian king:

It is worthwhile to describe these insignia, for they will never again be seen 

by man. There is a cloak made of wool, not such as is produced by sheep, but 

gathered from the sea. 

Pinnos the creature is called on which this wool grows. 

And the part where the purple should have been, that is, where the insertion 


16  If the textiles of Manbij reached the Prophet Muḥammad in Medina, they certainly reached the 

Ghassānids in Oriens (see note 12).


17  The garments received by the Ghassānid king Mundir in Constantinople, a gift of the emperor 

Tiberius, are discussed later in this chapter. 


18 Procopius, 

History, I.xvii.47.


byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

of purple cloth is usually made, is overlaid with gold. The cloak was fastened 

by a golden brooch in the middle of which was a precious stone from which 

hung three sapphires by loose golden chains. There was a tunic of silk adorned 

in every part with decorations of gold which they are wont to call 

plumia. The 

boots were of red color and reached to the knee, of the sort which only the 

Roman emperor and the Persian king are permitted to wear.19


Elsewhere, he describes the royal “wardrobe” presented to the Mauri chiefs:

Now these symbols are a stuff of silver covered with gold, and a silver cap—

not covering the whole head, but like a crown and held in place on all sides 

by bands of silver—a kind of white cloak gathered by a golden brooch on 

the right shoulder in the form of a Thessalian cape, and a white tunic with 

embroidery, and a gilded boot.20


Malalas gives the following description of the coronation of the king of  

the Laz:

As soon as his father Damnazes died, he immediately traveled to the emperor 

Justin in Byzantion, put himself at his disposal and asked to be proclaimed 

emperor of the Laz. He was received by the emperor, baptized, and having 

become a Christian, married a Roman wife named Valeriana, the grand-

daughter of Nomos the patrician, and he took her back with him to his own 

country. He had been crowned by Justin, the emperor of the Romans, and 

had put on a Roman imperial crown and a white cloak of pure silk. Instead 

of the purple border it had the gold imperial border; in its middle was a true 

purple portrait medallion with a likeness of the emperor Justin. He also 

wore a white tunic, a 

paragaudion, with gold imperial embroideries, equally 

including the likeness of the emperor. The shoes that he wore he had brought 

from his own country, and they were studded with pearls in Persian fashion. 

Likewise his belt was decorated with pearls. He received many gifts from the 

emperor Justin, as did his wife Valeriana.21


The title awarded to the Ghassānid ruler or chief by his own people was nei-


patricius nor phylarch but king, malik. This title, established beyond doubt 


19 Idem, 

Buildings, III.i.17–23.


20 Idem, 

History, III.xxv.4–8.


21 John Malalas, 

Chronographia, ed. L. Dindorf (Bonn, 1835), 412–13; here translated by  

E. Jeffreys, M. Jeffreys, and R. Scott as 

The Chronicle of John Malalas (Melbourne [and Sydney], 1986), 




by Procopius,22 is confirmed by the contemporary poetry of Ḥassān and of later 

poets who continued this authentic tradition, but the strongest evidence is sup-

plied by contemporary epigraphy—the Usays inscription carved by one of Arethas’ 

commanders, Ibn al-Mughīra, who refers to him around a.d. 530 as 

al-malik, the 

king.23 There is also no doubt that the Ghassānid Arethas was dressed as a king on 

important occasions in Ghassānland, since the poet laureate of later times under-

scores his own eminent position among his Ghassānid patrons by noting that he 

used to sit not far from their crowned head.24


Only the headgear of the Ghassānid king is explicitly mentioned in non-

Byzantine contemporary sources on the Ghassānids. In the first three-quarters of 

the century, he wore not the royal crown of the Byzantine 

autokrator, the diadem 

(διάδημα), but the circlet, possibly the equivalent of Greek στεϕάνιον (a diminu-

tive of στέϕανος) assumed by Tzath, the king of the Laz. The Ghassānids may have 

worn something that resembled the royal headgear of a contemporary Semitic 

ruler, the Negus of Ethiopia; his was called both a στέμμα and a ϕακιόλιον.25 The 

Ghassānid circlet was in Arabic an 

iklīl, in Syriac a klīla.26 The Arab Labīd, one of 

the pre-Islamic poets of the Suspended Odes, referred to the 

kharazāt, the beads or 

jewels, with which the Ghassānid crown was studded.27


Thus, during the long reign of Arethas from 529 to 569, the Ghassānid 

headgear was a circlet. After his death, during the reign of his son al-Mundir, the 

Ghassānid crown became more impressive: in the words of the contemporary 

source John of Ephesus, the 

klīla was replaced by a tāgā, a crown (Arabic tāj), to 

express the appreciation of the emperor Tiberius of the Ghassānid king on the lat-

ter’s visit to Constantinople.28 This was the crown seen by the later poets of the 

Ghassānids, such as Ḥassān; hence he hailed the Ghassānid king as 

du al-tāj, 

“the crown holder,” a term employed by later Islamic poets such as Abū Nuwās to 

describe the Ghassānid rulers.29


The importance of the insignia of the Ghassānid king is reflected in the 

events that followed the abduction of their king Mundir by Magnus, and Mundir’s 

dispatch to Constantinople. His sons revolted and successfully demanded that the 


22 Procopius, 

History, I.xvii.48.


23  That his father, Jabala, was also officially king is vouched for by the conclusion of the 

Letter of 

Simeon of Bēth-Arshām, who visited King Jabala around a.d. 520, when he invoked his aid for the mar-

tyrs of Najrān; see 

Martyrs, 63; on the Usays inscription, see BASIC I.1, 117–24. 


24 Ḥassān, 

Dīwān, I, 255, verse 10.


25  For these four Greek terms, see 

BASIC I.1, 105 –6 note 221.


26  On the 

klīla, iklīl, see ibid., 105, 402, 518.


27  Labīd ibn Rabīʿah, 

Die Gedichte des Labîd, ed. C. Brockelmann (Leiden, 1891), 42, verse 50. See 

BASIC I.1, 106 note 222.



BASIC I.1, 399–400.


29 See 

Dīwān Abū Nūwās, ed. A. al-Ghazālī (Beirut, 1982), 160, a poem written ca. a.d. 800. 


byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

symbols of their father’s 

basileia be surrendered by the governor of the Provincia 

Arabia, at whose capital, Bostra, these symbols were deposited.30 


Two other items of the royal “wardrobe” are indirectly referred to in the con-

temporary Arabic sources: their robes and their shoes or boots. Briefly touched 

upon in the Arabic poetry that eulogized the Ghassānids, these are depicted 

in detail in the Byzantine sources that report on the kings and chiefs of the 

Armenians, the Mauri, and the Laz, as well as in the sources that describe the dress 

of the 

patricius, the title conferred on Arethas and his son Mundir.


A triplet of verses in the most famous of all panegyrics on the Ghassānids is a mine 

of information on the royal wardrobe, despite its brevity.31 


In this panegyric on the Ghassānid king ʿAmr (ca. a.d.  600), al-Nābigha 

speaks of the “robes of 

iḍrīj,”  aksiyat al-iḍrīj,32 which were hung on trestles 


al-mashājib) when the Ghassānid kings would receive visitors on Palm Sunday. 

The term 

iḍrīj, according to the lexicographers, meant expensive red silk. This is 

consonant with the popularity of the color red for royal dress and with the descrip-

tion of the 

sagion, the red robe of the official promoted to the patriciate. Another 

term for red silk, 

khazz, is also used in this connection. In his description of the 

robes of the Lazic king quoted above, Malalas speaks of his 

paragaudion as a white 

tunic—possibly a mistake, since both the Greek lexicon and the lexicographers 

who glossed pre-Islamic Arabic poetry (where the term appears in the form 


interpret it as a purple-colored garment.33 


White robes were part of the royal wardrobe. Most descriptions of the dress 

of the client kings or chiefs in Procopius and Malalas emphasize the white tunic. 

White robes were well known at the Ghassānid court, worn by their princesses34 

and presented by Ghassānid kings as gifts to distinguished visitors and poets who 

eulogized them. Sometimes, these white robes were perfumed, 

rayṭan rādiʿan.35 


30 See 

BASIC I.1, 469. This episode indicates clearly that the Ghassānids had a residence in Bostra, 

in which they deposited these symbols of their 

basileia, perhaps to be assumed on important occasions 

held in the capital of the 

provincia of which Arethas and later Mundir were phylarchs.


31 See 

Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1977), 47, verses 25–27. 


32  Ibid., verse 26.


33  See LSJ, s.v. 

paragaudion; on barjad in the poetry of the pre-Islamic poet Tarafa, see Jubouri, 

al-Malābis, 79. The significance of the color red in Byzantium and among the foederati is not clear. The 


autokrator wore red boots, but his robes were purple. The Ghassānid client-kings and phy-

larchs may have wanted to avoid purple lest they seem to be inappropriately encroaching on the imperial 

dignity, as expressed in that color.


34 On 

rayṭ, white robes, used by Ghassānid princesses, see Ḥassān, Dīwān, I, 255, verse 7; they are 

discussed later in this chapter.


35  Although it was Ḥātim, the 

sayyid of the group Ṭayyiʾ, who visited the court of the Ghassānids 

and composed poetry on them, it was another member of the Ṭayyiʾ that remembered their royal gifts to 



These presents clearly resemble the imperial gifts that were showered on client-kings 

such as the Lazic Tzath and his wife Valeriana, as well as on federates in Oriens, 

such as those given the Ghassānid Mundir in a.d. 580 by the emperor Tiberius, 

described in detail by John of Ephesus.36 The Gothic historian John of Biclar is 

likewise informative on the gifts of “barbaria” that Mundir brought with him from 

Oriens for Tiberius.37 He does not name these gifts, but they may have included 

expensive garments or cloth from Najrān that were accessible to the Ghassānids. 

In return, Tiberius gave him a number of gifts, including “magnificent garments” 

for which Byzantium was known; perhaps Mundir had brought with him a simi-

lar kind of gift,38 deluxe garments, and the emperor wanted to reciprocate in kind. 


A further note on the royal federate clothing comes from al-Nābigha. In the 

third verse of the triplet devoted to the Ghassānids’ clothes, mentioned above, he 

refers to the sleeves, 

ardān, of their robes. They were pure white, khāliṣat al-ardān, but 

the upper extremity of the sleeve near the shoulder was green, 

khudr al-manākib.39 

The color green attained great significance for Muslims; it became and still remains 

the distinctive color of Shiʿite Islam. It already had received scriptural authority in 

the Koran itself. In three suras, the blessed are described as clothed in green gar-

ments of fine silk and brocade, and as reclining on green cushions.40 The appeal of 

the color green to the Arabs, dwellers in an arid area, is readily understandable, as 

it suggests well-watered oases. The Ghassānids, Arabs living in a mostly arid area of 

Oriens, would naturally have responded positively to the color green; it is not clear 

whether the color had any religious symbolism for them as Christians.41


Among the descriptions of life of the Ghassānids at court is an account by 

Ḥassān of how they changed their robes seasonally: “During winter aloes-wood 

those who came to their court. He was Thurmula ibn Shuʿath, who in the third verse of a triplet remarked 

on the Ghassānids’ gold (certainly gold coins, 

denarii, solidi); platters, jifān; and expensive clothrayṭ, 

further described as fragrant, 

rādiʿ; see Dīwān Shiʿr Ḥātim at-Ṭāʾi, ed. ʿĀ. S. Jamāl (Cairo, 1980), 325. 

  36  John of Ephesus, Ioannis Ephesini Historiae Ecclesiasticae Pars Tertia, Latin trans. E. W. Brooks, 

CSCO, Scriptores Syri 106, ser. 3, III (Louvain, 1936), 164; see 

BASIC I.1, 399–400.


37 John of Biclar, 

Chronicum, ed. T. Mommsen, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores 

Antiquissimi, XI 1, Chronica Minora 2 (Berlin, 1893), 214; see BASIC I.1, 384.


38 See 

BASIC I.1, 388.


39  The scholiasts explained 

khāliṣat al-ardān as “white,” “pure white”; for their commentary on this 

verse, see 

Dīwān al-Nābigha, ed. S. Fayṣal (Beirut, 1968), 63 note 27.


40  Koran, 76:21; 18:31; 55:76.


41  See A. Cutler, “Color,” 

ODB, I, 482–83. The Islamic veneration of the color green may have been 

Ghassānid in inspiration. Al-Nābigha’s verse mentioning green as favored by the Ghassānids was writ-

ten before the suras of the Koran that extol this color. In addition, in the first hemistich of the verse he 

uses the term 

naʿīm, “worldly bliss”—a word that appears some twenty times in the Koran in the phrase 

Jannat al-Naʿīm, “the Paradise of Bliss”; see al-Muʿ jam al-Mufahras li alfā


z al-Qurʾan al-Karīm, ed.  

M. ʿAbd al-Bāqi (Cairo, n.d.), s.v. Jannāt. Perhaps the Ghassānids similarly associated green with the life 

of the blessed in the other world, in which case the sleeve described by the poet might represent the addi-

tion of green to a color (white) already linked to Christian martyrs. 


byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

was burned in [the king’s] apartments, while in summer he cooled himself with 

snow. Both he and his courtiers wore light robes, arranged with more regard to 

comfort than ceremony, in the hot weather, and white furs, called 

fanak, or the like 

in the cold season.”42 On 

fanak, Reynold Nicholson has the following note: “The 

fanak is properly a kind of white stoat or weasel found in Abyssinia and northern 

Africa, but the name is also applied by Muhammadans to other furs.” He adds that 

although the account may not contain the poet laureate’s 

ipsissima verba, “this does 

not seriously affect its value as evidence.”43 


The shoes or boots of the Ghassānids attracted the attention of the poets who 

eulogized them and the scholiasts who annotated pre-Islamic poetry. They were 

included in the list of items that the “barbarian” kings were given or allowed to 

wear, and they were red, the same color as the boots of Byzantine emperors. The 

Arab poets noted that the boots of the Ghassānids had “thin soles,” 

riqāq al-niʿāl,44 

interpreted by the scholiast as meaning that the shoes were designed for treading 

on soft or smooth floors or ground, not for traversing the hard terrain of desert and 

steppe. What is more, the Ghassānids were prosperous enough to throw away their 

shoes when they needed resoling, a process that would make the soles thick.45


Expensive clothes were not only worn by the Ghassānids but also used as 

gifts for distinguished visitors. They were sometimes referred to as 

athwāb al-riḍā, 

“the robes of satisfaction or pleasure,” though the more common name for a pre-

sentation garment or robe was 

khilʿa (plural khilaʿ). Sometimes they were given to 

express the Ghassānid patron’s extreme satisfaction for a panegyric or some special 

service rendered; in such a case the dynast would throw his own robe on the hon-

orand as a special favor.


Such Ghassānid gifts are attested in the prose account of the poet laureate, 

Ḥassān, which Nicholson cited to illustrate the gaiety of Jabala’s court. The rel-

evant part may be quoted here: “and, by God, I was never in his company but he 

gave me the robe which he was wearing on that day, and many of his friends were 

thus honoured. He treated the rude with forbearance; he laughed without reserve 

and lavished his gifts before they were sought.”46 The verses of the poet al-Nābigha 


42  Translated by R. Nicholson, with comments, in 

A Literary History of the Arabs (1907; reprint, 

London, 1969), 53 and notes 2–4.


43  Ibid., note 3. See also F. Viré, “Fanak,” 

EI2, II, 775. 


44  See al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī, 

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