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Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 47, verse 25.
45 See Jubouri,
al-Malābis, 318; quoting al-Jāḥi
Al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, ed. ʿA. Hārūn (Cairo,
1960), III, 107. The importance that Arabs accorded shoes is reflected in the many pages devoted to them
by Jubouri (317–35).
46 Translated in Nicholson,
A Literary History of the Arabs, 53.
al-Jaʿdi also enumerated various gifts from the Ghassānid dynast:
inter alia, robes
from Ḥaḍramawt, linen from Iraq, and
rayṭ from Oriens.47
The Ghassānid kings were also
patricii, as is attested in inscriptions for both Arethas
and Mundir.48 The garb of
patricii during the ceremony of investiture is described
in two chapters of
De Ceremoniis by Constantine VII Prophyrogenitus, the first of
which is devoted to the promotion of the military to that status.49 During the cer-
red robe, σαγίον ῥοῆς.50
Those who were promoted to the rank of
patricius received the acclamations
of the demes. After describing these acclamations, Constantine mentions those
who dine with the
called ἀβδία—which may be the Arab
ʿabāʾa.51 Supporting that provenance is the
renown of Arabian textiles, which Byzantium imported.52 In a.d. 580, as noted
above, the Ghassānid Mundir brought with him to Constantinople some gifts for
the emperor, Tiberius, including some garments from Arabia, or “barbaria.” Could
one of these have been an
Ghassānids were almost certainly dressed like the Byzantine troops. They were
trained to fight in the Roman manner, as shown by the short obituary notice on
Jabala,53 the father of the famous Arethas, who died fighting for Byzantium against
the Persians at the battle of Thannūris in a.d. 528.
The Ghassānid contingent in the army of the Orient was mainly composed of
47 See al-Nābigha al-Jaʿdi,
Dīwān, 61–62, verses 13–14.
BASIC I.1, 260, 490, 495.
49 For the Greek text and its French rendition, see Constantine VII,
Le livre des cérémonies, ed. and
trans. A. Vogt (Paris, 1939), II, chapters 56, 57 (in Reiske’s numbering 47, 48), pp. 44–50, 51–60.
50 Ibid., chapter 56, pp. 48, 49. The color red, which figures prominently in federate Ghassānid
dress, is considered the most striking of all colors; see A. B. Greenfield,
A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage,
and the Quest for the Color of Desire (New York, 2005).
51 Constantine VII,
Le livre des cérémonies, chapter 57, p. 60 and note 1. Errors of transcription are
common, particularly in reproducing faithfully the ʿ
ayn and the hamza; hence ʿabāʾa could easily have
52 On the vogue of Oriental garments at court, see Ševčenko, “Costume,” 537, quoting N. P.
Kondakov, “Les costumes orientaux à la cour byzantine,”
Byzantion 1 (1924), 7–49.
53 “Armis Romanorum multum exercitatus erat”; see Zacharia Scholasticus,
ed. E. W. Brooks, CSCO, Scriptores Syri, ser. 3 (Paris, 1924), VI, 64. The
sayf, “sword,” the weapon of
which the Arabs were proud and which elicited from them so many complimentary tributes, was a Greek
loanword, ξίϕος. And the tactical unit in the army,
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
cavalry. The military uniform and armor of the supreme phylarch and king, as well
as those of the rank and file, may be visualized from contemporary illustrations of
Byzantine uniforms in works on military history in the sixth century.54 The bat-
tle dress of the Ghassānid troops may not have been an exact replica of what the
Byzantines wore, but it could have been similar to it.
Just as the contemporary sources, especially poetry on the Ghassānids, have
preserved some evidence for civilian costume, so has contemporary poetry pre-
served some verses on their military outfits. They have survived in two odes: one by
al-Nābigha and the other by ʿAlqama, a poet from northeast Arabia, who belonged
to the group Tamīm and who traveled to the Ghassānid court to plead for the
release of his brother, who had been captured by the Ghassānids in battle.55
Al-Nābigha’s ode simply describes the swords and spears of the Ghassānids,56
but the verses have attained celebrity in the annals of Arabic poetry owing to the
portrayal of their swords: its most celebrated verse was quoted by none other than
the Ḥamdānid Sayf al-Dawla, after a great victory scored by his troops during the
epic Arab-Byzantine conflict in the tenth century.57
ʿAlqama’s ode is unique among all panegyrics on the Ghassānids, as a fairly
ekphrasis of the celebrated Arethas leading his troops at the battle of Chalcis,
or Yawm Ḥalīma, in a.d. 554.58 The most relevant portion is a sextet of verses
describing the king, mounted on the famed
1. Verse 25 of the ode describes Arethas as a horseman. In giving the name
of his famous horse, al-Jawn, it provides another way to name him: he is
al-Jawn, “the Rider of al-Jawn.”
2. Verse 26 describes him spurring his horse forward until the white patches
on the horse’s knees vanish, obscured either by the blood of the enemy or by the
press of their ranks. He takes this action while striking his opponent hard with his
sword. His adversaries wore helmets (
chests and backs.
3. Verse 27 supplies evidence for the armor of the commander in chief of the
foederati, as a cataphract. As is well known, cataphracts were deployed
54 E.g., see G. Ravegnani,
Soldati di Bisanzio in età guistinianea (Rome, 1988), Figures I, III, and IV,
which respectively represent a Byzantine general, a
magister militum, a rank Arethas held de facto; a cav-
alryman with his lance, such as constituted most of the Ghassānid contingent in the army of the Orient;
and a rank-and-file soldier in the Byzantine army.
55 On the two poets, see Sezgin,
GAS, II, 110–13, 120–22.
56 See al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī,
Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 43, verse 14; 44, verses 17, 22.
57 Ibid., 44, verse 19; for its citation by Sayf al-Dawla, see al-Mutanabbi,
Dīwān, ed. ‘A. al-Barqūqī
(Cairo, 1930), II, 286 and note 4. This incident is discussed further in “Poetry,” Chapter 7 in Part III.
58 On the battle, see
BASIC I.1, 240–51.
59 See al-Aʿlam al-Shantamarī,
Dīwān ʿAlqama al-Faḥl, ed. D. al-Khaṭīb and I. Ṣaqqāl (Aleppo,
1969), 43–45, verses 25–30.
in the Roman/Byzantine army in response to the rise of the Sasanids and the threat
that their cataphracts posed. Rome had to adopt body armor to counter its eastern
adversary more effectively. This verse mentions two
of mail, that the Ghassānid commander wore while he was fighting. This immedi-
ately suggests the cataphract, who wore a protective coat of varied length and a sur-
coat that protected him from the blows or thrusts of lances. The sixth verse in this
sextet, discussed below, addresses the material of which the coats were made.
After describing Arethas’ two layers of protective armor, the coat and the sur-
coat of mail, the poet says that the king carried two choice swords,
which he names
Mikhdam and Rasūb, indicating that both were very sharp. Just as
the horse had a name, so did the two swords, reflecting the importance which the
fighters attached to their armor, especially the sword. For Arabs the swordsman
was braver than the spearman, because his weapon is shorter; hence the sword’s
wielder proved his courage in coming close to his adversary.61 Just as the swords
of the Ghassānids in the ode of al-Nābigha resonated in later Islamic times, in the
tenth century, so did these two swords in ʿAlqama’s poem. The life of one of them
was much longer, since the Prophet Muḥammad gave it to his son-in-law ʿAli and
it came to be known, because of its proverbial efficacy, as
of the Vertebrae.”62
4. Verse 30 describes the coats of mail of the rank and file of the Ghassānid
army, who are said to be wearing
abdān al-hadīd, “coats of iron,” which emit a
sound like the rustling of dry leaves when the south wind blows on them. The term
for the sound is almost onomatopoetic,
clearly indicates that their coats were made of iron rings or chains.
Queens and Princesses
As is true of male Ghassānids, the sources are interested mainly in members of the
royal house. The queens and the princesses are mentioned sporadically, and very
60 A Persian loanword, which appears even in the Koran; see Jeffery,
Foreign Vocabulary of the
Qurʾan, 168–69, and E. Yarshater, “The Persian Presence in the Islamic World,” in The Persian Presence
in the Islamic World, ed. R. G. Hovannisian and G. Sabagh (Cambridge, 1991), 53. Naturally, the
allies of Persia whom the Ghassānids fought also wore two coats of mail; in his ode on the Ghassānids,
al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī called the double-breastplate
46, verse 21.
61 In one of his epinician odes on Sayf al-Dawla, Mutanabbi said that the Muslim hero so despised
spears that he threw them away; see
Dīwān, II, 275, verse 4.
62 For the fateful history of the two swords, see the discussion below in Chapter 11, “Votive and
63 On female dress in this period, see M. Harlow, “Female Dress, Third–Sixth Century: The
Messages in the Media?” in Carrié, ed.,
Tissus et vêtements dans l’antiquité tardive, 203–15.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
1. The queens. The wife of the Ghassānid king was certainly a queen. Her
Christian counterpart, Hind, the wife of the Lakhmid Mundir, was called queen,
malaka, in a famous inscription.64 The clothes worn by these federate queens are
nowhere described in the scant extant sources. The only article that can be safely
inferred from other solid sources is the veil,
queen al-Mutajarrida, the wife of the last Lakhmid king, al-Nuʿmān, was described
by al-Nābigha in an ode entirely devoted to her. But of the ode’s thirty-four verses,
only two refer to dress items, namely, her veil (
naṣīf) and her necklace.65
These items were consonant with the Byzantine style of female dress, which
included the wearing of the
maphorion as a head covering. It was also consonant
with the mores of a Bible-centric society like the Christian Roman Empire of
Byzantium, which followed St. Paul’s recommendation that women should wear
a veil during church services.66 The queens of so strongly Monophysite a confes-
sion as the Ghassānids would also have obeyed Paul’s injunction. Although his rec-
ommendations involve only the hair, the Ghassānid queens most likely also veiled
their face. This can be inferred from the practice at the Lakhmid court, reflected
in a verse of al-Nābigha where the context makes clear that the queen had her face
covered before her veil fell off.67 Apparently aristocratic Arab women normally
covered their faces with the
khimār or naṣīf or burquʿ, a practice evident in the
speech that Ruhm, the chief female martyr of Najrān, delivered before her death.68
The Ghassānid queens were the relatives of Ruhm who shared her devotion to
Monophysite Christianity, and they must have looked to her as a role model.
2. The princesses. The sources do provide information on the dress of the
Ghassānid princesses. In one of his odes, when he was in a nostalgic mood remem-
bering his Ghassānid patrons, Ḥassān refers to the young Ghassānid maidens
weaving coral wreaths for the celebration of Easter; in a single verse he describes
them as draped in
rayṭ (plural of rayṭa), “white garments,” and also in majāsid
kattān, “linen robes.”69
64 See the present writer in “The Authenticity of Pre-Islamic Poetry: The Linguistic Dimension,”
al-Abḥāth 44 (1996), 11.
65 See al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī,
Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 91, verse 10; 93, verse 17.
66 I Corinthians 11:5–6, 13.
67 See al-Nābigha al-Dubyānī,
Dīwān, ed. Ibrāhīm, 9, verses 17–18.
Martyrs, 57–58. The practice among Arab women of wearing veils that covered the face is
confirmed by another verse that mentions the
qināʿ of a ḥurra, a free Arab woman (not a slave); see
Dīwān, 72, verse 15.
Dīwān, I, 255, verse 7. This verse, which has already been discussed in various con-
texts, undoubtedly involves Ghassānid princesses. They are referred to as
walāʾid (the plural of walīda),
“daughters,” in verse 6, and the use of the term
majāsid for “robes” confirms their royal character. A cou-
plet of verses by a pre-Islamic poet makes clear that they were robes worn by affluent women, luxuriating
in fine clothes; see Jubouri,
The Vestimentary System: Further Observations
1. The first dynasty in Islamic history, the Umayyad, had for its metropolitan
province the Oriens of Byzantium and of the Ghassānids. Before the inception
of his caliphate in a.d. 661, the founder, Muʿāwiya, had made Jābiya, the capi-
tal of the Ghassānids, his own capital for some twenty years. And during his
forty years of rule in Bilād al-Shām as
Furthermore, Muʿāwiya was the first Arab ruler to openly depart from the old
modest and conservative dress recommended in Islam, assuming the more luxu-
rious dress he found available in the ex-Byzantine Diocese of Oriens, now Bilād
al-Shām. Consequently, the sources for Umayyad history are rich in data on the
pre-Umayyad period of Bilād al-Shām, including its dress and textiles. Particularly
useful is Arabic poetry composed for the Umayyads, such as the verses of al-Akhṭal
and ʿUbayd Allah ibn Qays al-Ruqayyāt, in which such terms as
sariq (Gr. σηρική)
for silk occurs. The
dīwāns of Arabic poetry are indeed a mine of information for
the history of the dynasty,2 including the history of pre-Islamic Arab dress, which
Umayyad dress continued in many important ways. Needless to say, the identifica-
tion of the Byzantine element in, and influence on, Arab Ghassānid dress as more
significant than the Persian will revive interest in the argument—presented as
early as 1952 by Ernst Kühnel and Louisa Bellinger—that the Umayyad
textile workshops in the Umayyad period, were related to the Byzantine
2. Of the various kinds of textiles and fabrics, silk,
ḥarīr,4 had a privileged
position, reflected in the many terms that designated it. Some were Greek loan-
known to the pre-Islamic and Umayyad poets. But the fortunes of silk experienced
a setback with the rise of Islam.5 While Byzantine Christianity embraced silk, both
in its ecclesia and its imperium, and emperors used it extensively in their dress and
as imperial gifts, Islam frowned on it and the Muhammadan traditions are replete
1 See A. Shboul and A. Walmsley, “Identity and Self-Image in Syria-Palestine in the Transition
from Byzantine to Early Islamic Rule: Arab Christians and Muslims,”
Mediterranean Archaeology 11
2 See Ṣ. Agha and T. Khālidi, “Poetry and Identity in the Umayyad Age,”
al-Abḥath 50–51 (2003),
3 See E. Kühnel and L. Bellinger,
Catalogue of Dated Ṭirāz Fabrics: Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid
(Washington, D.C., 1952). See also Y. K. Stillman and P. Sanders, “Ṭirāz,”
EI2, X, 534–38.
4 The etymology of the most common word for silk in Arabic,
ḥarīr, is still uncertain.
5 For silk in Islam, see N. Seedengaard, “Ḥarīr,”
EI2, III, 209–21.
byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century
with warnings against its use by Muslims. The blessed in the Koranic paradise are
described as dressed in fine silks, however.6
3. Poetry was important as a means of spreading publicity and propaganda
for the Ghassānids in Oriens and in the Arabian Peninsula. The panegyrics were
probably recited in an odeum specifically constructed for poetry recitation and
other similar functions.7 This practice raises the question of whether the poets
wore a special outfit during their recitations. In the days of al-Jāḥi
z of the ninth
century, the poets used to wear a special kind of dress, such as red silk. He also
describes a poet who dressed in “the style of those who belonged to the past,”
al-māḍīn; he used to don a black robe, burd, both in summer and in winter.8 This
al-māḍīn, “those of the past,” could refer to the pre-Islamic period; thus the
Ghassānid poet may have worn an outfit that was appropriate to the occasion.
4. Another question pertains to Ghassānid identity and the extent to which
Byzantine dress affected it. Although the Ghassānids’ Arab identity remained
strong, they were naturally influenced by Byzantine dress in two important areas
of their Byzantine experience: as
Especially significant was the
sagion draped over them when they received the
Nevertheless, the Ghassānids undoubtedly wore Arab clothes when they dealt
with the Arabs both of Oriens—other
foederati—and of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Arab vestimentary system suited the climate and terrain of the arid region in
Oriens and in Arabia Pastoralis.
5. The various items in the vestimentary system of the pre-Islamic Arabs may
be consulted in works on this subject.10 Here, two distinctively Arab items will be
Because of the hot and dry climate of the Arabian Peninsula, the two most
important items for the Arabs were their headgear, which protected their heads
from the scorching sun, and footwear, which protected their feet from the hot
ground. The two items gave rise to two sayings:
bans are the crowns of the Arabs,” and
al-niʿāl khalākhīl al-rijāl, “shoes are the
anklets of men.” The importance of these two items is reflected in the space given
6 Koran, 76:21; 18:31; 55:76. See also the appendix to Chapter 4, above.
7 On the possibility of an odeum in Jābiya or Jalliq, see the discussion in Part III, Chapter 3,
“Architecture and Decorative Art.”
8 See al-Jāḥi
al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, ed. A. Hārūn (Cairo, 1960), III, 115, describing poets of
his day as dressing
al-muqattaʿāt, which the editor glosses as attire made of red silk material, khazz
(115 note 7).
9 See the section “The
Patricius” in the chapter above.
10 See Y. K. Stillman with N. A. Stillman, “Libās,”
EI2, V, 732–35 (the portion dealing with pre-
Islamic attire); the Ghassānids must have worn some of the items discussed in this entry. The chapter on
clothes in this volume has discussed only evidence in contemporary poetry and in some prose works.
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