Sixth century


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foederati, Theodosiani libri XVI cum constitutionibus 

Sirmondianis et leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes, ed. T. Mommsen and P. M. Meyer, 2nd ed. 

(Berlin, 1954), II, 61–64. Sometimes they are referred to as ἔνσπoνδοι, as in Procopius, 



History, I.xvii.46. 

See also the discussion of terminology in the Preface, above.

 

4  On Florentinus and his poem on the Vandal king Tharasamund, see F. Clover, “Felix Karthago,” 



in 

Tradition and Innovation in Late Antiquity, ed. F. M. Clover and R. S. Humphreys (Madison, Wis., 

1989), 151–54.

 

5  Vandals are not often associated with praise, for their image has been tarnished by the term 



“vandalism,” but they also contributed the attractive name al-Andalus/Andalusia! For a defense of the 

Vandals against their identification as vandals, see George, “Vandal Poets in Their Context,” 142–43.



VIII

The Poets

T

he previous chapter has examined the importance of poetry to the Ghassānids 



and their own services to it, notably through mediating the influence of 

Byzantinism in Oriens, which enhanced Ghassānid urbanism. As the principal 

poets who visited the Ghassānids in Oriens have already been discussed at some 

length in a previous volume in this series,1 a brief enumeration of them will be 

given in this section to demonstrate both the power of that court’s gravitational 

pull and the extent of its influence on the verse of the poets who visited it. Because 

this volume treats the poetry only within the general concept of culture, its purely 

literary value will not be discussed.

 

Some fourteen poets wended their way to the Ghassānid court in Jābiya and 



Jalliq.2 These can be divided and categorized, so as to reflect their own importance 

as well as that of their Ghassānid patrons.

 

1. Five of them—Imruʾ al-Qays, al-Nābigha, ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm, Labīd, and 



Maymūn al-Aʿshā—are among the foremost poets of Arabia; their poems were 

included in the so-called Suspended Odes of pre-Islamic poetry.3

 

2. Some of these poets, such as ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm and al-Mutalammis, 



chose to leave the Lakhmids for their rivals, the Ghassānids. Such desertions were 

 

1 See 



BASIC II.1, 220–80; there, the discussion focused on the toponyms that the odes of these 

poets provided, which are crucial for understanding the urban character of the Ghassānid phylarchate. 

 

2  The number becomes fifteen if al-Ranq, the poet of Medina who composed the sextet on Jabala, 



is included. Cf. the fifteen poets of the Vandals, discussed in J. George, “Vandal Poets in their Context,” 

in 


Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique Africa, ed. A. H. Merrills (Aldershot, 

Eng., 2004), 138–39. A sixteenth poet may now be added, a Ghassānid of the Royal House, namely, 

al-Shay

˙

zam Ibn al-Ḥarith. A poem of eleven verses in the 



rajaz metre is attributed to him. The poem is 

very informative on the Ghassānids: it contains military terms in Arabic which evidence their advanced 

military techniques; it refers to the Ghassānid king relaxing during his retirement in the countryside, 

and uses the terms for Arabic 



villeggiatura, such as mutabaddiyan and tabadā, which the extant sources 

on the Ghassānids have hardly ever preserved. For the poet and his verses, see Abū-ʿAli al-Qāli, 



Dhayl 

al-Amāli wa al-Nawādir (Cairo, 2000), 179–80.

 

3  This was a collection of seven or ten odes, gathered together in the Umayyad period; see J. A. 



Arberry, 

The Seven Odes: The First Chapter in Arabic Literature (London and New York, 1957).

327

The Poets

both flattering to the Ghassānids and indicative of the great drawing power of  

their court.

 

3. Some were Christians, and their arrival at Oriens suggests that the Christ-



ian ity of the Ghassānids, not only their affluence and liberality, was an attraction. 

 

4. Some were relatives of the Ghassānids, such as Ḥassān ibn Thābit and 



Yazīd ibn Abd al-Madān, the 

sayyid (chief) of Najrān and a descendant of its 

martyrs. Both poets came from well-established urban groups in western Arabia, 

and their visits to the Ghassānids to pay homage and compose eulogies reflect 

the great prestige of the Ghassānids among their congeners in the Arabian 

Peninsula.

 

As indicated in the previous chapter, some of these poets were themselves 



Ghassānids, hailing from Oriens; among them were ʿAdī ibn al-Raʿlāʾ. Although 

the Ghassānids apparently did not produce an especially distinguished poet, some 

of them could compose tolerable verse. More important than the aesthetic value of 

their poetry is its influence in making the Ghassānids connoisseurs and promoters 

of poetry. But the significance of poetry at the Ghassānid court is that it attracted 

poets from all parts of the vast Peninsula: western Arabia (Ḥassān and, from 

Najrān, Yazīd ibn ʿAbd al-Madān), midcentral Arabia (Ḥātim and al-Nābigha, 

the foremost poet of his generation), and eastern Arabia (ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm and  

al-Mutalammis); hence it might justly be said that in the sixth century practically 

everybody who was anybody in Arabic poetry in the Peninsula paid homage to the 

Ghassānids and experienced their liberality.

 

The Ghassānid poets are shadowy figures, from whose poetry only a verse or a 



couplet has survived; the exception, ʿAdī ibn al-Raʿlāʾ, has two surviving fragments. 

One of those poets is Arethas, the Ghassānid king during the reign of Justinian; 

another is Qātil al-Jūʿ; a third is Salmā, a woman; and two anonymous poets are 

also attested. The poetry ascribed to the Ghassānid Jidhʿ is still 



sub judice, but if it 

is proved authentic, Jidhʿ will emerge as the earliest Ghassānid poet (ca. a.d. 500).4

 

These poets raise the question of whether the dynasty, like the Lakhmids, had 





dīwān of the poetry composed in their honor; no such collection is extant.5

 

4  For Ibn al-Raʿlā, see Muhammad al-Marzubāni, 



Muʿ jam al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. ʿA. al-Sattār Farrāj 

(Cairo, 1960), 86; and Ibn Durayd, 



al-Ishtiqāq, ed. ʿA. al-Salām Hārūn (Cairo, 1958), 486, with 

note 3 for more sources on the poet. For Arethas/Ḥārith, see Abū al-Baqāʾ Hibat Allah, 



al-Manāqib  

al-Mazyadiyya, ed. S. Daradka and M. Khuraysāt (Amman, 1984), II, 377; for Qātil al-Jūʿ, see Hishām 

al-Kalbī, 



Jamharat al-Nasab, ed. N. Hasan (Beirut, 1986), 618–19; for Salmā al-Ghassāniyya, to whom 

is ascribed a heptad of 



rajaz verses in a bukāʾiyya, a threnody, see al-Manāqib al-Mazyadiyya, I, 351. For 

anonymous Ghassānid poets, see, for instance, Jāḥi

˙

z, 


Rasāʾil al-Jāḥi

˙

z, ed. ʿA. al-Salām Hārūn (Cairo, 

1964), I, 209. For Jidhʿ as possibly the earliest of all Ghassānid poets, see Chapter 7, above. 

 

5  On the Lakhmid 



dīwān, see Ibn Sallām, Ṭabaqāt Fuḥūl al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. M. M. Shākir (Cairo, 

1974), I, 25. 



328

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

The Fourteen Poets

The fourteen poets who converged on the Ghassānid court from all parts of the 

Arabian Peninsula may be listed as follows.6

 

1. Imruʾ al-Qays, the foremost poet of pre-Islamic Arabia, was related to the 



Ghassānids, whom he refers to as his maternal uncles. One of his two best poems, 

the Caesar Ode, was inspired by Oriens, and according to one source was associ-

ated with his involvement with the Ghassānids; so was the 

Muʿallaqa, the most 

famous of all the Suspended Odes.7

 

2. Ḥassān ibn Thābit was the Ghassānids’ relative and poet laureate, the 



source of much information about Ghassānid social life. Most of his extant poems 

on the Ghassānids were written in the Islamic period, after the fall of the dynasty; 

he composed them as a 

laudator temporis acti.8

 

3. Al-Nābigha, the foremost poet of the last phase in the development of 



Arabic pre-Islamic poetry around a.d. 600, was so close to the Ghassānids that 

he was in effect a second poet laureate. To him is owed precious references to their 

Christianity and to their campaigns. And as argued in the previous chapter, a 

unique ode in his 



Dīwān may be an ekphrasis on a statue of Aphrodite, which he 

would have seen in Palmyra or some other urban center in Oriens.9

 

4. ʿAlqama was a major poet of the Tamīm group in eastern Arabia. He wrote 



a celebrated epinician in praise of the Ghassānid Arethas, whom he eulogized in 

order to set free his brother. It has the only detailed description in Arabic verse of 

a Ghassānid king directing a battle—in this case, the decisive battle of Chalcis, in 

which Arethas fought as a Byzantine cataphract.10

 

5. Ḥātim was the chief of the Christian group Ṭayyiʾ, which had close rela-



tions with the Lakhmids. He too came to liberate some of his people whom the 

Ghassānid king had captured. The Syriac writers used the name of his group as 

the generic name of the Arabs, Ṭayāyē, thereby demonstrating the importance of  

the Ṭayyiʾ in pre-Islamic times.11

 

6. ʿAmr ibn Kulthūm was the 



sayyid of Taghlib, the powerful tribal group 

in northeastern Arabia, famous as a warrior and as the composer of one of the 

Suspended Odes. He left the Lakhmids and joined the Ghassānids in Oriens.12

 

7. Al-Aʿshā was the surname of Maymūn ibn Qays, who belonged to a 



 

6  Eight of these poets are discussed in detail in the companion to this volume, 



BASIC  II.1;  

documentation to them will be given by cross-reference to it. 

 

7 See 


BASIC II.1, 259–65.

 

8  See ibid., 232–46.



 

9  See ibid., 221–32.

 

10  See ʿAlqama, 



Dīwān, ed. D. al-Khaṭīb and I. Ṣaqqāl (Aleppo, 1969), 33–49; see also Sezgin, GAS, 

II, 120–22 who has argued persuasively for the contemporaneity of ʿAlqama and Imruʾ al-Qays.

 

11 See 


BASIC II.1, 246–59.

 

12  See ibid., 268–72.



329

The Poets

subdivision of the powerful tribe of Bakr, which moved in the orbit of Ḥīra. A 

major itinerant poet of pre-Islamic Arabia, he was called 



Sannajat al-ʿArab, “the 

Cymbalist of the Arabs and Arabia.” He too was one of the poets of the 



Muʿallaqāt 

or Suspended Odes, and visited the Ghassānids not only in the Provincia Arabia 

but also in Palestine.13

 

Those named above are some of the foremost poets of Arabia. Others, less 



highly esteemed by the Arab literary critics,14 may be listed as follows.

 

8. Al-Muraqqish the Elder belonged to a subdivision of the large and power-



ful group Bakr, which moved in the orbit of Ḥīra and its Lakhmids. He, too, came 

over to the Ghassānid Arethas and, according to one source, became the king’s 

secretary. He was a warrior who fought in the Basūs War, and was considered one 

of the 


ushshāq, the famous lovers in Arabic poetry who died of love (welche sterben 

wenn sie lieben).15

 

9. Al-Mutalammis also belonged to a subdivision of Bakr, left the Lakhmids 



of Ḥīra, and joined the Ghassānids together with his son, ʿAbd al-Mannān, who 

likewise was a poet. He and his son are associated with Bostra, a circumstance that 

strengthens the view that the metropolis of the Provincia Arabia was accessible to 

the Ghassānids.16

 

10. Like the two previous poets, al-Musayyab ibn ʿAlas came from northeast-



ern Arabia. Al-Aʿshā was his maternal uncle. He came over to the Ghassānids, and 

his poetry was reminiscent of al-Nābigha’s in its reference to their morals.17

 

11. Abū-Zubayd from the tribe of Ṭayyiʾ is explicitly described by the sources 



as a Christian, who retained his faith even after the rise of Islam. The caliph Omar 

employed him to collect the taxes, 



ṣadaqāt, of his group, but references in the 

sources suggest that he was a contemporary of Arethas.18

 

12. Labīd is one of two poets of the group ʿĀmir associated with the 



Ghassānids. One of his poems recorded the death of Arethas in specific terms, sug-

gesting that he witnessed it. So he must be viewed as one of the poets who visited 

the Ghassānids.19

 

13  See ibid., 272–78.



 

14  In Arabic literary criticism, poets were often evaluated by layers, 



ṭabaqat; see Ibn Sallām, Ṭabaqāt 

Fuḥūl al-Shuʿarāʾ, a work that emphasizes the concept of layers in its very title. 

 

15  See C. Pellat, “Mura



˙

k

˙



kish,” 

EI2, VII, 603–4; Sezgin, GAS, II, 153–54; BAFIC, 455. For Heine’s 

Asra, see BAFIC, 455–56.

 

16 See 



BASIC II.1, 265–68.

 

17  See Sezgin, 



GAS, II, 176–77, and Ibn Saʿīd al-Andalusi, Nashwat al-Ṭarab, ed. N. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān 

(Amman, 1982), II, 657. 

 

18  For Abū-Zubayd, who is known by this tecnonymic rather than by his name, Ḥarmala, see 



Sezgin, 

GAS, II, 161–62.

 

19 See 



BASIC II.1, 278–82. Some prose sources place Labīd with the Ghassānids at the battle of 

Yawm Ḥalīma. See Ibn Qutayba, 



al-Shiʿr wa al-Shuʿarāʾ, ed. A. M. Shākir (Cairo, 1966), I, 274. 

330

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

 

13. The other poet who belonged to ʿĀmir is al-Nābigha al-Jaʿdi. The refer-



ences to the Ghassānids in his poetry are clear, as he enjoyed their hospitality. He 

was a Mukhadram, a poet who was born before the rise of Islam but lived well into 

the Islamic period. He was considered one of the 

muʿammarūn, those endowed 

with extraordinary longevity.20

 

14. Finally, there was Yazīd ibn ʿAbd al-Madān, the lord of Najrān, who was 



related to the Ghassānids.21 

Epilogue


The Ghassānids may have produced no distinguished pre-Islamic poets, but their 

descendants did, especially in medieval al-Andalus. Even in recent times, in the 

Mamālīk community of Egypt, which claimed descent from the Ghassānids, was 

born the major neoclassical poet al-Bārūdi (d. 1904). More recently still, the Arab 

Christian family of the Maʿloufs of Zaḥle in Lebanon, who similarly claim descent 

from the Ghassānids, produced a number of distinguished poets; the foremost 

of them was Fawzi al-Maʿlūf (d. 1930), whose work has been translated into five 

European languages.22

 

20  See Sezgin, 



GAS, II, 245–47; A. Arazi, “al-Nābigha al-Djaʿdi,” EI2, VII, 842–43. 

 

21  See Abū al-Faraj Iṣfahānī, 



al-Aghānī (Beirut, 1958), XII, 11–14. 

 

22  For the poets of the Maʿlūf family, see R. al-Maʿlūf, 



Shuʿarāʾ al-Maʿālifa (Beirut, 1962). In his 

introduction, the author tries to document the Ghassānid descent of the Maʿlūfs and cites the names of 

distinguished Ghassānid poets in medieval times (9). For the epic poem of Fawzi, ʿ

Alā bisāṭ al-rīḥ, trans-

lated into five European languages, see 40–41. 



IX

Oratory


J

ust as rhetoric was important and central in late antique literature,1 so it was 

among the Arabs before the rise of Islam. Far less of pre-Islamic prose literature 

than poetry has survived; only a few fragments remain, some of which are suspect. 

Oratory represented the artistic arm of that prose. The 

khatīb, or orator, attained a 

very special position in pre-Islamic society, equaling and sometimes even surpass-

ing that of the poet. Public speaking had perhaps an even more important function 

than poetry, since it was needed on various social, political, and military occasions. 

The Arabic sources describe in some detail the ideal orator and the venue of his 

oratory, even noting the staff or bow that he sometimes held in his hand. Certain 

tribes, such as Iyād and Tamīm, attained fame for producing the best orators.2 To 

the former belonged Quss ibn Sāʿida, the most famous orator of pre-Islamic times, 

who was also the bishop of Najrān. He used to come to the fair of ʿUkā

˙

z, near 



Mecca, and preach there; the Prophet Muḥammad admired him and remembered 

his speech, which has been preserved and which is considered authentic.3

I. References to Ghassānid Oratory

As Arabs, the Ghassānids felt oratory to be important in all aspects of their life. 

Only a few extant oratorical compositions as well as a few significant references to 

that art remain to be examined in this context. The sources refer to the Ghassānids 

 

1  On rhetoric in Byzantium and late antiquity, see G. Kennedy, “The Classical Tradition in 



Rhetoric,” in 

Byzantium and the Classical Tradition: University of Birmingham Thirteenth Spring 

Symposium of Byzantine Studies 1979, ed. M. Mullett and R. Scott (Birmingham, Eng., 1981), 20–34; 

H. Hunger, “The Classical Tradition in Byzantine Literature: The Importance of Rhetoric,” in ibid., 

35–47; and 

Rhetoric in Byzantium, ed. E. Jeffreys, Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies 11 

(Aldershot, Eng., 2003).

 

2 The 


locus classicus for all that pertains to Arabic oratory in pre-Islamic times is the detailed 

account in the ninth-century Abbasid author al-Jāḥi

˙

z, in his 



al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, ed. A. Hārūn 

(Cairo, 1960), I, 306–410; see also J. Pedersen, “Khaṭīb,” 



EI2, IV, 1109–11, especially 1109–10.

 

3  On Quss, see al-Jāḥi



˙

z, 


al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, I, 308–9; C. Pellat, “

˙

Kuss, ibn-Sāʿida,” 



EI2,  

V, 528–29. Because his entry predates basic studies on Najrān and its Christianity, which began with the 

publication of 

The Martyrs of Najrān, Pellat’s conclusion that Quss has no relation to Najrān is based on 

faulty assumptions and should be rejected.



332

byzantium and the arabs in the sixth century

themselves as great orators, and associate them with 

manābir, pulpits,4 but nothing 

has survived of strictly 



Ghassānid oratory. Like its poetry, Ghassānid oratory fol-

lowed the native Arabic tradition, which was strong and very well developed. But 

Byzantine influence on Ghassānid oratory—for example, in speeches delivered on 

the accession of a Ghassānid king or on his death—cannot be entirely ruled out. 

Evidently Arab oratory was known to the Byzantines; thus Choricius of Gaza speaks 

of “the clear-voiced orator of the Arabs,” λιγὺν Ἀράβων ἀγορητήν.5 Moreover, in 

section 25 of his 

Laudatio Summi, Choricius mentions a student who came from 

the Provincia Arabia to study with him and whose father was very well known in  

the province, γνώρισμα μέγιστον ὁ πατήρ. It is tempting to think that the father was the 

famous Ghassānid Arethas, and that the young man was one of his many sons.6 As has 

become clear in this volume, Arethas was not only a doughty warrior but also a prince 

of peace, interested in the humanities: he was a connoisseur of poetry and apparently 

composed some himself. The career of Arethas’ son Mundir, who succeeded him in  

a.d. 569, could reflect an education acquired in Gaza. He probably used Greek, the 

lingua franca of Byzantium, in corresponding with Justinianus, the 

magister militum 

in Oriens,7 and in addressing a large Monophysite gathering, composed of individu-

als from various ethnic groups, in Constantinople in the early 580s.8 

II. Influences on Ghassānid Oratory 

One foreign influence on Ghassānid oratory that must have asserted itself was 

church homilies, inspired by Christianity—specifically, by Syriac Christianity, in 

view of the Ghassānids’ intimate relations with the Monophysite Syriac church. 

But nothing of this religious oratory has survived.

 

Yet though Ghassānid speeches that display the influence of Christianity 



have not survived, speeches of other Christian Arabs have. The oration of Quss, 

the bishop of Najrān, has already been mentioned, but closer to the Ghassānids 

 

4  The term used is 



manābir (plural of minbar); see J. Pedersen, “Minbar,” EI2, VII, 73–76. The asso-

ciation of the Ghassānids with 



manābir is mentioned both by ʿAmr ibn Maʿdi Karib, in a dialogue with 

the orthodox caliph Omar, and in an eighth-century poem by al-Anṣāri, a contemporary of Bashshār 

ibn Burd. Both were proud of the Ghassānids, with whom they shared an ancestral homeland, Yaman. 

Because the two statements come from later Islamic times, their attribution may be called into ques-

tion, but in any case they reflect the late Islamic perception of the Ghassānids. For the two statements,  

see al-Jāḥiz, 



al-Bayān wa al-Tabyīn, I, 371; III, 117.

 



Choricii Gazaei opera, ed. R. Förster and E. Richsteig (Leipzig, 1929), 79; discussed in BASIC I.1, 

189–90.


 

6  See above, Part II, Chapter 1, notes 90–91.



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