Sixth century


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to their treatment in works on Arab dress. One such work allocates eighteen pages 

to the discussion of footwear, and no less than fifty-seven to the turban, 



ʿimāma.11 

The Ghassānid king must have worn a turban when he dealt with his people in 

Oriens and with others in the Arabian Peninsula, and perhaps when he visited 

Constantinople. As a headdress, and when elaborately folded, the 



ʿimāma  was 

striking and it imparted dignity to the wearer. In the case of Arethas, the 



ʿimama 

would have enhanced the remarkable impression he made on those who saw him, 

as noted by John of Ephesus when Arethas visited the capital.12 

 

Headgear has remained the distinctive feature of Arab dress, whether in the 



form of the 

kūfiyya and the ʿiqāl, the scarf and the ringed cord that goes around 

it,13 or the 



ʿimāma. The latter has become associated with the ʿUlamāʾ, Muslim 

scholars and “clerics.” For Muslims it was considered “the badge of Islam,” 



sīmā 

al-Islam, and a “divider between unbelief and belief,” ḥājiz bayna al-kufr wa 

al-īmān.14 In medieval times, the ʿimāma was also worn by secular Arabs, who 

took pride in making a distinction between it and the crown of the non-Muslim 

rulers, which they despised. This sentiment was well expressed in one of the verses 

of Mutanabbi, which praised Sayf al-Dawla, who wore an 



ʿimāma, and scorned his 

Byzantine adversary, who wore a crown.15

 

Their headgear has also remained a distinctive feature of the vestimentary sys-



tem of the Arab Muslim women. As has been explained in the chapter on clothes

Arab aristocratic women in pre-Islamic times wore veils that covered their hair 

and often their faces. With its conservative attitude toward dress, especially for 

women, Islam favored the veil, though veiling the face is not explicitly prescribed 

in the Koran. The practice remains widespread to the present day and, as noted in 

Chapter 2, has become a source of tension in Western secular societies.

 

11  Y. Jubouri, 



al-Malābis al-Arabiyya fi al-Aṣr al-Jāhili (Beirut, 1989), 317–35, 196–253.

 

12  On the impression Arethas made, see 



BASIC I.1, 287–88. 

 

13  A new lease on life has been given to the 



kūfiyya and the ʿiqāl by the sudden emergence into prom-

inence—driven by oil wealth—of the states of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf; those living in the 

West have therefore become familiar with the distinctively Arab headgear that the rulers and citizens of 

all these states still wear. 

 

14  See Y. K. Stillman, 



Arab Dress: A Short History; From the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times, ed.  

N. A. Stillman (Leiden, 2003), 138.

 

15  See al-Mutanabbi, 



Dīwān, ed. ʿA. al-Barqūqī (Cairo, 1930), II, 239, verse 3. 

VII

Medicine


B

ecause of their constant engagement in warfare, the Ghassānids necessarily had 

to deal with wounds not only to their soldiers but also to the horses that they 

rode into battle, which were often hurt by the spears of their foes.1 They also had 

to cope with the bubonic plague, an outbreak of which in the sixth century caused 

many fatalities everywhere. It did not spare Oriens or the army of the Ghassānids. 

Secular medicine must have been known among the pre-Islamic federates. Greek 

medical terms that became Arabic loanwords documented during this period—

such as 

diryāq  (“antidote”), Greek θηριακή, in the poetry of their panegyrist 

Ḥassān, and 



bayṭār, Greek ἱππιατρός, for veterinarian2—attest to this knowledge.

 

The birth of the Byzantine hospital has been dated to the sixth century, which 



also witnessed the 

floruit of the cult of the Anargyroi, the “silverless” doctors in 

whose cult the grace of God was glorified as more efficacious than the skill of the 

physicians. The emperor himself was cured from what seemed like a fatal illness 

by two of the most famous Anargyroi, Cosmas and Damian.3 They received impe-

rial patronage in Constantinople; churches dedicated to them proliferated every-

where; and the plague that broke out only enhanced their prestige and popularity. 

At the same time, care of the sick and injured was an important aspect of Christian 

philanthropia—perhaps inspired by the ministry of Christ, whose miracles made 

him a physician.4 

 

1  Noted by their panegyrist al-Nābigha; see 



Dīwān al-Nābigha al-Dhubyānī, ed. M. Ibrāhīm 

(Cairo, 1977), 43, 15. The Ghassānids were mainly horsemen and the Ghassānid cavalry was a valuable 

asset to the Byzantine army of the Orient. Hence the condition of their horses was as important as that 

of their riders. The verse of al-Nābigha states that some of their horses during the encounter were bleed-

ing (

dami) and others had wounds that already were being attended to (jālib), and the latter implies the 

work of veterinarians.

 

2  For Greek loanwords in Arabic, see D. Gutas, “Greek Loanwords,” in 



Encyclopedia of Arabic 

Language and Linguistics, ed. K. Versteegh (Leiden, 2005), I, 198–202. On diryāq, see Chapter 5, 

note 28; on ἱππιατρός as a Greek loanword in Arabic, 



bayṭār, see Chapter 12, especially note 6. 

 

3  See Procopius, 



Buildings, I.vi.5–8.

 

4  As was one of the four evangelists, Luke. Of course, another aspect of their 



philanthropia con-

nected with waging war was the need to look after the many widows and orphans left in the wake of battle.



177

Medicine


Theology and Medicine

The sixth century witnessed the impingement of theology on the theory and practice 

of medicine, evinced in the hostility of Christian medicine to its secular counter-

part, as expressed in hagiography.5 In this development the Monophysite move-

ment, to which the Ghassānids belonged, was heavily involved. The Monophysites 

sponsored the 



spoudaioi (also called philoponoi)6 who worked in diakoniai, chari-

table institutions that emphasized Christian 



philanthropia; in contrast, the hos-

pitals, 


xenones, sponsored by their opponents, the Chalcedonians, relied on the 

ancient Greek medical authorities, Galen and Hippocrates, and stressed medical 

treatment and care. The support of the Monophysites found its outstanding expres-

sion during the patriarchate of the Monophysite Paul of Antioch (a.d. 564–581),7 

who became one of the leaders of those 

spoudaioi and supported the movement in 

Antioch and in Constantinople, founding new 



diakoniai. The tensions between 

diakoniai and xenones were exaggerated in hagiography; in practice, however, the 

two were not so starkly opposed. “The relationship between the hospitals and  

the 

Anargyroi shrines was so close that the miracle-tale writers often pictured the 

doctor-saints as though they were 



xenon physicians”;8 and Justinian himself, who 

according to one source was cured by the two saints, Cosmas and Damian, also 

introduced the followers of the ancient pagan physicians, the 

archiatroi, into the 

Christian 



xenones.9

 

The Ghassānids were involved in this tension between the two camps of 



Christian and secular physicians, especially since their king was not only a fervent 

Monophysite but also a staunch supporter of the patriarch Paul, who founded the 



diakoniai. Besides, the two outstanding saints among the Anargyroi were Arabs, 

like the Ghassānids, and their tombs were not far away, in Cyrrhos.10

 

But the sources are silent on the Ghassānid attitude toward the question of 



medical care, with the exception of one revelatory passage in a hagiographic work 

of the late sixth century. According to the Syriac 



Life of James (the Monophysite 

Jacob Baradaeus), the Ghassānid troops were plagued by some ailment, described 

by the hagiographer as insanity; Arethas crossed the Euphrates to consult a holy 

 

5  See T. S. Miller, 



The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire (1985; reprint, Baltimore, 

1997), 56, 63, 65.

 

6  Ibid., 131.



 

7  On Paul, see 



BASIC I.2, 802–5.

 

8 Miller, 



Birth of the Hospital, p. 65

 

9  On Justinian and the 



archiatroi, see the many pages cited in the index of ibid., s.v. Justinian and 

the 


archiatroi. 

 

10  It was in Palaestina Secunda—where the capital of the Ghassānids, Jābiya, was located—that 



Christ miraculously cured the woman who had an issue of blood. There, too, the Old Testament patri-

arch Job, one of the heroes of the Ghassānids, was afflicted with boils; he sought no secular medicine but 

trusted in God, who cured him.


178

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

man, Jacob, who gave him some advice that involved the release of another holy 

man whom the phylarch had captured. On his return, Arethas found that his 

troops had already recovered, and so he fulfilled Jacob’s request: he freed the holy 

man from his captivity.11

 

The elucidation of the tension between the two groups involved in medi-



cal care and the position of the Monophysites and the Ghassānids in this tension 

can shed much light on this passage in 



The Life of James, about whose authenticity 

doubts have been raised. The visit of the phylarch, Arethas, to the holy man, Jacob, 

no longer seems to be an embroidery or a later accretion, since it is perfectly conso-

nant with what has been established as the Monophysite attitude toward medical 

treatment. Furthermore, the insanity of the Ghassānid troops can be easily related 

to a symptom of the plague described in detail by Procopius.12 Far from being an 

unreliable account of what happened to some of the Ghassānid 

foederati in the 

sixth century, the passage becomes a valuable piece of evidence for the incidence of 

the plague among the 

foederati and the Monophysite reaction to its treatment.

 

Faithful as Arethas was to the Monophysite position on medical care, it is 



likely that he also sought help for his troops from those with medical training.13 

This leads back to the general question of the Ghassānids and their involvement in 

medical practice. They must have had recourse to physicians both as 

foederati, who 

were subject to wounds and ailments, and as devout Christians who would have 

been involved in medical care as an expression of their Christian 

philanthropia

Their involvement may be presented as follows.

 

1. The Ghassānids inherited pre-Islamic Arab knowledge, demonstrated in 



the appearance of the word for doctor, 

ṭabīb, in the poetry of this period.14

 

2. Their rivals, the Lakhmids, availed themselves of the medical skill 



emanating from the school of Jundīshāpūr in Persia, which relied heavily on 

Hellenistic medicine.15 The Ghassānids would have not lagged behind their rivals 

in this respect.

 

11  PO 19, pp. 233–34. On this passage in 



Life of James, called The Spurious Life of James, see  

BASIC I.2, 769–70. Nöldeke has argued that it was written by John of Ephesus himself but was later 

reworked by another author sometime after his death (see 



GF, 20 note 2). 

 

12 Procopius, 



History, II.xxii.20–21; see BASIC I.2, 770 note 120.

 

13  The Ghassānid phylarch would have availed himself of the services not only of Ghassānid women 



but also of the 

depotatoi in the Byzantine army, who helped unhorsed or wounded soldiers, and possi-

bly also the physicians, the 



therapeutai, who accompanied the army; see E. McGeer, “Medical Services, 

Military,” 



ODB, II, 1327. 

 

14  The term 



ṭabīb appears in an ode of ʿAlqama, a panegyrist of the Ghassānids, in the sense of one 

who is knowledgeable, but the references to the ailments of women and how he can cure them as 



ṭabīb 

suggests a medical connotation; see al-Aʿlam al-Shantamarī, 



Dīwān ʿAlqama al-Faḥl, ed. D. al-Khaṭīb 

and I. Ṣaqqāl (Aleppo, 1969), 35, verse 8. The plural 



aṭibbāʾ appears in the poetry of the Ḥiran poet ʿAdī 

ibn Zayd; see his 



Dīwān, ed. M. al-Muʿaybid (Baghdad, 1965), 122, verse 6.

 

15  For Jundīshāpūr, see C. Huart and A. Sayılı, “Gondeshāpūr,” 



EI2, II, 119–20. 

179

Medicine


 

3. Even in Ḥijāz, the sources attest the existence of two doctors, al-Ḥārith 

ibn Kalada and his son, al-Naḍr ibn al-Ḥārith. The latter was related to the 

Prophet Muḥammad, and the former is said to have attended the Persian school in 

Jundīshāpūr. These two may not have qualified exactly as doctors, but they appar-

ently had some scientific knowledge that they applied in Ḥijāz.16

 

4. Living in Oriens, the Ghassānids were close to the Hellenistic centers of 



Greek medicine, the most important of which was Alexandria. So it is quite pos-

sible that they also availed themselves of what the medical profession in Byzantine 

Oriens had to offer. 

 

As faithful Monophysites, they must also have had faith in the Anargyroi. 



Especially popular were the two saints, Cosmas and Damian—Arabs who were 

buried in Cyrrhos, one of the cities of their diocese, Oriens. 

 

The sources also note that women helped attend to the sick during mili-



tary encounters.17 The lack of information on what women did during peacetime 

does not militate against the conclusion that they acted similarly then. Women in 

Byzantium took part in looking after patients, and sometimes all the nurses were 

women.18 So it is safe to assume that Ghassānid women did participate in nursing, 

possibly supervised by the princesses or the queen.

 

The question arises whether the Ghassānids constructed any building for 



medical care. The sources are also silent on this; but in view of the Ghassānids’ hav-

ing been avid builders of a variety of structures,19 they probably constructed build-

ings designed for the sick, perhaps dispensaries rather than hospitals. Nor do the 

sources supply any names of pre-Islamic figures in medicine in the diocese, although 

in later Abbasid and Andalusian times Arabs were to make substantial advances on 

the medical knowledge that they had inherited from Galen and Hippocrates. But 

in early Umayyad times one Arab physician stands out: Ibn Uthāl, the private and 

personal physician of Muʿāwiya, caliph in Oriens (661–680). 

 

16  For both doctors, see C. Pellat, “al-Ḥārith B. Kalada,” 



EI2, supplement (1980), 354–55, and 

“al-


˙

Naḍr ibn-al-Ḥārith,” 



EI2, VII, 872–73. The doubts cast on Ḥārith’s visit to Persia and his attendance 

at the medical school in Jundīshāpūr are unjustified; see A. Sayili, “Ṭibb,” 



EI2, II, 1119–20. Both came 

from Ṭāʾif, which had close relations with Ḥīra in Iraq, as did Mecca (with which both were associ-

ated as physicians). Arabs from these two Ḥijāzi cities were to be found in Ḥīra, in Persian territory. 

Ḥārith thus could easily have gone to Jundīshāpūr and acquired some scientific knowledge of medicine. 

Accounts of al-Naḍr, who used to tell the Meccans that stories of Rustam and Isfandiyār are more attrac-

tive than the Koran, clearly imply some knowledge of 



Persica, derived from Ḥīra and Sasanid Persia. 

Questions about his relationship to al-Ḥārith are irrelevant to his ties to Ḥīra and to the Sasanid Persian 

influence on his medical knowledge; see M. A. ibn Abi-Uṣaybiʿa, ʿ

Uyūn al-Anbāʾ fi Ṭabaqāt al-Aṭibbāʾ, 

ed. ʿĀ. al-Najjār (Cairo, 2001), I, 395 (and on al-Ḥārith ibn Kalada, see 386–95).

 

17  See Jawād ʿAli, 



al-Mufaṣṣal fi Tārīkh al-ʿArab qabl al-Islam (Beirut, 1970), IV, 620.

 

18  See Miller, 



Birth of the Hospital, 214.

 

19 See 



BASIC II.1, 149–56, 183–200, 306–31.

180

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

Ibn Uthāl, an Early Umayyad Physician

Ibn Uthāl was the most distinguished of the medical practitioners of the early 

Umayyad period, and it can be argued that he continued whatever medical tradi-

tion existed among the federates in pre-Islamic Oriens. The foremost medieval his-

torian of Arab and Islamic medicine, Ibn Abi-Uṣaybiʿa, is relatively expansive on 

him and his expertise, and from the notice on him the following may be deduced.20

 

1. He was undoubtedly an Arab. His name, whether vocalized Uthāl or 



Athāl, is definitely Arab, with various significations (Arabian tree, utensil); when 

vocalized 



Uthāl, it means “honor, glory.”21 A Muslim by that name, Abū-Athāl, 

fought at the battle of the Yarmūk.22

 

2. The chances are that Ibn Uthāl was not a Rhomaic Arab but belonged 



to the federates. The former were assimilated into the Graeco-Roman society in 

Oriens, and they would have assumed other names, without the patronymic that 

Ibn Uthāl adopted.

 

3. As early as a.d. 661 or thereabouts, Muʿāwiya took Ibn Uthāl on as his 



private physician, when he became caliph and moved to Damascus. Ibn Uthāl 

thus was clearly born in pre-Islamic Oriens in the last days of the Byzantine and 

Ghassānid presence. 

 

4. The historian stresses that Muʿāwiya had great respect for him. He deferred 



to the physician’s judgment, and used to converse with him during the day and at 

night, a sure sign of his competence. 

 

5. Especially important was Ibn Uthāl’s knowledge and expertise in toxicol-



ogy. Muʿāwiya could not always exercise his proverbial 

ḥilm (control of his emo-

tions), and so he used to resort to disposing of his enemies quietly. He availed 

himself of the expertise of Ibn Uthāl for that purpose. For example, when Muʿāwiya 

decided to change the office of the caliphate to a dynastic succession—grooming 

his own son, Yazīd, for it—ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, the son of the famous general Khālid 

ibn al-Walīd, posed a threat to his plans. He then called on Ibn Uthāl to dispose of 

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, which the physician did.23

 

6. Ibn Uthāl was killed by Khālid ibn al-Muhājir, a relative of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, 



an act that greatly displeased Muʿāwiya, who had Khālid ibn al-Muhājir arrested. 

The caliph would have killed him, if Ibn Uthāl had been a Muslim; instead he 

 

20  See Ibn Abi-Uṣaybiʿa, ʿ



Uyūn al-Anbāʾ fi Tabaqāt al-Aṭibbāʾ, I, 401–4. On the author, see  

I. Vernet, “Ibn Abi-Uṣaybiʿa,” 



EI2, III, 693–94. 

 

21 See 



An Arabic-English Lexicon, ed. E. W. Lane (London, 1863), Book I, part 1, 21. This Arabic 

lexeme in one of its significations, “vessels,” “utensil,” has survived in the world of science to the present 

in the term 

aludel (al-uthāl): the succession of bottle-shaped pots used as condensers in sublimation 

processes.

 

22  See Ibn ʿĀsākir, 



Tārīkh Madīnat Dimashq, ed. ʿU. al-ʿAmrawī (Beirut, 1995), XI, 399–400. 

 

23  See Ibn Abi-Uṣaybiʿa, ʿ



Uyūn al-Anbāʾ, 402.

181

Medicine


fined Khālid’s clan, Makhzūm, 12 thousand dirhams as blood money.24 Ibn Uthāl, 

a Christian, never converted to Islam.

 

It was probably after the death of Ibn Uthāl that Muʿāwiya retained as his 



personal physician Abū Ḥakam, also a Christian Arab, whose son, Ḥakam, and 

grandson, ʿĪsā, were likewise medical practitioners and Damascenes.25 Al-Ḥajjāj 

ibn Yūsuf, the governor of Iraq for the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik, also had a 

personal physician, Tiyādhuq, whose name was an Arabicized form of Theodorus 

or Theodosius.26 They all reflect the strong 

Nachleben of Byzantine medicine of 

pre-Islamic Oriens, both Rhomaic and federate, in the Umayyad state.

 

24  Ibid., 402–3.



 

25  On Abū Ḥakam; his son, Ḥakam; and his grandson, ʿĪsā, see ibid., 405–10.

 

26  Ibid., 410–14.



C. RITUALS, ENTERTAINMENT, AND LEISURE ACTIVITIES

VIII


Music and Song

I. The Sources

T

he history of music and song among the Arabs in pre-Islamic times owes much 



to Henry G. Farmer, who discussed it in his well-known volume 

A History of 

Arabian Music to the XIIIth Century, published in 1929; it has remained a fun-

damental work on the subject.1 In 1960, the pre-Islamic period was given a spe-

cialized, extensive treatment by Nāṣir al-Din al-Asad in 

al-Qiyān wa al-Ghināʾ fi 

al-Shiʿr al-Jāhili, based on primary sources—namely, contemporary pre-Islamic 

poetry.2 This work was continued by Sharbīl Dāghir, who took up the theme from 

a lexicographical perspective and provided new insights on the subject;3 never-

theless, al-Asad’s publication has remained the principal work on music and song 

for the pre-Islamic period. It was, however, too specialized, as it emphasized two 



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