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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,
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
striking and it imparted dignity to the wearer. In the case of Arethas, the
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,”
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.
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—
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
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-
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,
4 As was one of the four evangelists, Luke. Of course, another aspect of their
nected with waging war was the need to look after the many widows and orphans left in the wake of battle.
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
spoudaioi (also called philoponoi)6 who worked in diakoniai, chari-
table institutions that emphasized Christian
philanthropia; in contrast, the hos-
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
sixth century, the passage becomes a valuable piece of evidence for the incidence of
the plague among the
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
were subject to wounds and ailments, and as devout Christians who would have
been involved in medical care as an expression of their Christian
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).
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,
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
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.
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
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
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.
BASIC II.1, 149–56, 183–200, 306–31.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Music and Song
I. The Sources
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
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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