Section 3

The Ghassanide Dynasty


The Ghassanide Dynasty.

We now turn to the kingdom of the GHASSANITE Arabs, situated on the western side of the Syrian desert.

Kings or phylarchs of the Syrian Arabs recognized by the Romans

The fortunes of Odenathus and Zenobia, who belonged to the Ghassanide tribes, have been already traced. Alter their fall the Romans recognized as kings or phylarchs of the Syrian Arabs the chiefs of the Bani Salih 1, or of the Tonukhites who came westward from Hira 2.

The Axdites asume the name of Ghassan in their northward journey from Yemen

It has been related above 3 how about 120 A.D. a great body of the Ardites emigrated from Yemen. They halted in the Hejaz in their northward progress; but, after a lengthened residence in the valley of Batn Marr not far from Mecca, they found the country too confined for them; and again, in the beginning of the third century pursued their northern journey.

They settle in Syria in the 3rd century

About this time they received the appellation of Ghassan from their long residence by the way, near a fountain of that name. At last, during the dynasty of Odenath, they emerged on the plains of Bosra, and the country of Balcin. The Bani Salih, who inhabited the vicinity, allowed them by dfrection of the Roman authorities to settle, but demanded a tribute, which after an unsuccessful struggle the proud Ghassinites consented to pay. But they paid unwillingly, and watched for an opportunity to throw off the yoke.

Contest with the Bani Salih

About the close of the third century, during an altercation between one of the chiefs and the tax-gatherer of the Bani Salih, the latter was killed; both tribes took up arms, and the Ghassanide party were completely victorious. The Roman authorities were little interested in the struggle. They needed a barrier between Syria and the Persian frontier; but they were indifferent whether it consisted of the Bani Salih, or of the Bani Ghassan. When therefore the latter agreed to be their faithful allies, the Romans made no difficulty in acknowledging their chief

Their chief Thalaba, recognizedd as phylarch by the Romans, end of the 3rd century

THALABA son of Amr, as the phylarch or king of the Ghassanides. It was stipulated that, in case of need, the Arab should aid the Emperor with 20,000 men; while the Emperor guaranteed to succour his ally by an army 40,000 strong 4.

Thalaba, A.D. 500 the first of the Ghassinide dynasty

About the year 800 A.D., the Government passed into the hands of another THALABA 5, the fifth in descent from Amr Mozaikia 6, and of the famous Ghassanide Dynasty. The history of this line is not so certain as that of Hira. There was here no fixed seat or Government; each prince made choice or one for himself, or spent his life in the camp. The continuous evidence arising out of a settled capital is therefore wanting, and we find much confusion in the number, succession, and names of the kings.

Comparative uncertainty of its history

The presence of several subordinate or independent dynasties on the borders of Arabia, which it is not always easy to distinguish from the Ghassanides, introduces another element of uncertainty.

The two tribes of Awa and Khazraj return south and settle at Medina early in the 4th century

The elevation of Thalaba excited such jealousy and discontent throughout the rest of the Ghassan tribe, that two branches, descended from Aws and Khazraj (grandsons of Amr Mozaikia), separated from their brethren, and returned southwards. They settled at Yathreb or Medina, where they will be found at a subsquent part of our story. On the first rise of Islam, we know that their descendants were still Pagans, and worshipped idols; a fact which seems to disprove the Arab account that the Bani Ghassan professed Christianity, and built monasteries, in the middle of the second century.

The Bani Ghassan converted to Christianity after their departure

It is indeed possible that the Awe and Khazraj may have relapsed into idolatry after quitting Syria; but it is more probable that the whole Ghassan tribe were then Pagan, and did not embrace Christianity till the era of Constantine, when many political inducements were brought to bear upon their conversion.

Harith I and Jabala, 303-360 A.D.

The discontent of the Ghassanides was speedily quelled by the success of HARITH, the son of Thalaba, in his predatory excursions, and by the rich plunder he was able to divide among his followers. It is supposed that Christianity was adopted by the tribe under JABALA, the successor of Harith, about the middle of the fourth century 7.

Harith II. 360-363 A.D.

During the next reign, that of Harith II., occurred the ill-fated expedition of Julian against Persia. We learn from Roman

Perfidy towards the Romans on the defeat of Julian

history that the Ghassanide allies, discontented with the stoppage of the accustomed subsidies, took advantage of the reverses of the imperial army, harassed its retreat, and cut up its rear guard 8.

Mavia, 373-380 A.D. supports the Romans

Harith was succeeded by his widow MAVIA, who also turned her arms against the Romans, and devastated Phoenicia and Palestine. She defeated the troops sent against her, but consented to peace on condition that Moses, a holy man renowned for his miracles, should be sent as the Bishop of her nation. Having been drawn from his solitude, Moses was consecrated to the charge, and destroyed the remains of idolatry still lurking amongst the Bani Ghassan. Mavia gave her daughter in marriage to the Count Victor; and by her subsidy of Arab horse contributed

essentially to the defence of Constantinople against the Goths 9. During the succeeding century little is known of the Ghassanides besides an imperfect and sometimes confused list of names, and a few warlike encounters with the Kings of Hira.

Jabala III. (Harith IV.) 495-529 A.D.

We pass on to JABALA III., who is also styled HARITH IV. He belonged to another branch of the house of Thalaba, and many historians date from him the commencement of the Ghassanide lineage. He is styled Al Akbar the Great, as the first of three

Relations with the tribes of Central Arabia

famous Hariths who illustrated the fortunes of the dynasty. His wife Maria Dzat al Curtain, " Mary of the ear-rings," belonged to the Yemen tribe of Kinda; and the sister of Mary was married to the chief of the same tribe, Hojr Akil at Morar. It is not certain how this alliance was contracted; for we find Harith at war with the Bani Kinda, whose chief Amr al Macsur son of Hojr, he killed in battle. Harith at last perished in an encounter with Mundzir III., of Hira. Strange stories are related of the earrings

The famous earrings of his wife Maria

of his wife, which are proverbial as significant of inestimable value 10. According to some, she presented them either before or upon her adoption of Christianity to the temple at Mecca: according to others, they remained in possession of her descendants, and were worn by Jabala VI, when in 637 A.D., he visited Mecca to do homage to Omar.

Two Arab chiefs mentioned by Roman historians: - Abu Carib, and Cays

The Roman historians notice, abont this time, two phylarchs who must have been distinct from the Bani Ghassan. One called Abo-Charib, (Aba Karib) received the chieftainship of the Arabs of Palestine, in exchange for "a country washed by the Red Sea." 11 He assisted the Romans against the rebel Samaritans, and received in return 20,000 prisoners, whom he sold into Persia and Abyssinia. The other, Cays a prince of the Kinda, is also mentioned as having received an Arab principality from Justinian, about the year 536 12.

Harith V. 530-572 A.D.

HARITH V., surnamed the Lame, is styled with satisfactory accuracy by Procopius, "Arethas, son of Gabala," i.e. of Jabala III. He is celebrated for the honors showered upon him by Justinian who, in consideration of his doubtful aid against the Persians, conferred upon him the title of King 13, and the rank of Patrician.

Treacherous assistance rendered to the Romans

In 531 A.D. he contributed to the defeat of Belisarius, by his "treacherous or cowardly desertion" at the battle of Callinicus 14. Ten years later, he assisted Belisarius in an inroad upon Mesopotamia, and by creating a diversion foiled the ambitious plans of Chosroes: but again he acted treacherously, and secured for himself the solo booty of a rich tract of country, while by false advices he beguiled the Romans, who long waited under a pestilential sun in the vain expectation of his return 15. The Arab historians are silent upon these exploits, but they relate an expedition against the Jews of Tayma and Khaibar.

His visit to Constantinople 562 A.D.

The wars of Harith V., with Hira have already been related, under the reigns of Mundzir III. and Amr III 16. Harith visited Constantinople A.D. 562, to complain of the hostilities of Amr after the conclusion of peace, and to procure the recognition of his son Harith as his successor. It was towards the end of the reign of Harith the Lame that Mahomet was born.

Harith the Less, 572-587 A.D.

Of HARITH THE LESS little is related, but that he obtained a victory oter Mundzir III., at Ayn Obugh; and indeed the kingdom of the Ghassanides does not henceforth occupy any distinguished place in the pages of history.

Amr IV., Abu Shammir, 587-597 ; his patronage of Arab poets

The successor of this prince, Amr IV., surnamed ABU SHAMMIR, has been rendered illustrious by his patronage of the poets of Arabia. It was in his reign that Hassan ibn Thabit, the famous poet of Islam and friend of Mahomet, first appeared at the Ghassanide court, where he met his fellow poets Nabigha and Aleama, and began to enjoy the favor of a dynasty several of whom distinguished him by peculiar honors.

Harith VII. 600-630 A.D.

From 600 to 630 A.D., the chief ruler of the Ghassanides was HARITH VII., son of Abu Shammir, whose residence appears to have been sometimes at Jabia, sometimes at Amman (Philadelphia), the capital of Balcua 17. In 629 A.D., Mahomet addressed to him a summons to embrace the cause of Islam, which he contemptuously refused, and shortly after died 18. Contemporaneously with Harith, and probably subordinate to him,

The inferior governments of Ayham and Shurahbil

there reigned at Palmyra AYHAM son of Jabala; and there also existed other inferior governments, such as that of SHURAHBIL son of Jabala IV. at Maab and Muta, in Arabia Petrea 19.

Wane of the Ghassanide kingdom prepares the way for Islam

Meanwhile the glory of the Ghassanide rule was departing. The inroads of the Persians, in the reign of Phocas and in the early years of Heraclius, bad given a shock from which it never recovered. It is remarked, even by a Mahometan writer, that the decadence of the race of Ghassan was preparing the way for the glories of the Arabian Prophet 20.

Jabala VI. 630-637 A.D.

The last king of the race was JABALA VI., son of Ayham. Hassan the poet always spoke of this prince with a grateful affection; and although, on embracing Islam, he discontinued his visits to the Ghassanide court, he was stilt honoured by Jabala with special marks of friendship. During Abu Bakr's Caliphate, this prince took an active, but always unfortunate, part in opposing the inroads of the Moslem armies, and he shared in the

Goes over to Islam, but subsequently recants

humiliation of the mournful day of Yarmuk. When Heraclius abandoned Syria, he joined Omar and professed to believe in Mahomet; but his faith in the new Prophet was neither deep nor lasting. On a fancied insult he recanted, and retired to Constantinople, where his name and his family long survived 21.

The special influence exercised by Hira and the Ghassanide kingdom upon Central Arabia

The Arab race, secluded from the rest of the word by pathless deserts, a peninsular position, and the peculiarities of nomad life, has in all ages maintained an extraordinary freedom from the contamination either of foreign blood or foreign manners, and a singular independence both of mind and institutions. Egypt, Syria, Persia, and the Abyssinian kingdom of Axum, bordered closely upon Arabia, or were separated from it only by narrow inlets of the ocean; yet their inhabitants exercised little influence on its social and political fortunes. They had no sympathy with the manners, and little acquaintance with the language of the people; while the inhospitable and barren steppes of the peninsula never permitted the successful encroachment of their arms. But the dynasties of Hira and of the Ghassanides were native to Arabia, and composed of elements which blended with the Arab mind, or at least left their impression upon it. Both in warlike and social relations there was with them a close connection. it was through them that the Arabs communicated with the external world, and received their ideas of Europe as well as of Asia. Hira, moreover, since the fall in Yemen of the Himyar line, became the paramount power in Central Arabia, - a power whose supremacy was acknowledged by all. To this cause, and to the permanence and prosperity of its capital, it was

The Hejaz chiefly by Ghassanide Court

owing that Hira enjoyed a larger political influence than the Ghassanide kingdom. But the latter, though inferior to the court of Hira in magnificence and stability, possessed, especially over the Western Arabs, a more important social power. It lay closer to the Hejaz, and in the direct line of its commerce. There was, therefore, with its prince and people a frequent interchange of civility both in casual visits at the court, and in the regular passage of the mercantile caravans through the country. It is to this quarter, therefore, that we must chiefly look for the external influences which moulded the opinions of Mecca and Medina 22.

The Life of Mahomet, Volume I [Table of Contents]