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The Ghassanids (Arabic: الغساسنة) (al-Ghasāsinah, also Banū Ghassān "Sons of Ghassān") were a group of Arabs descended from the Azd tribes, that emigrated in the early 3rd century from the Southern Arabian Peninsula to the Levant region, where some merged with Greek-speaking Christians communities. They originally followed Polytheism in Arabia, most later converting to Christianity, and then some converted to Islam.
After settling in the Levant, the Ghassanids became a client state to the Eastern Roman and Byzantine Empire. They fought alongside the Byzantine Empire against the Persian Sassanids and Arabian Lakhmids. The lands of the Ghassanids also acted as a buffer zone, protecting lands annexed by the Romans against raids by Bedouin tribes. After the fall of the first kingdom, the Ghassanid Dynasty ruled other realms, both Christian and Muslim, until 1747 AD in Mount Lebanon.
Migration from Yemen
Oral tradition holds that the Ghassanids came from the city of Ma'rib in South Arabia, modern day Yemen. Tradition holds that their exodus from the area was due to the destruction of the famous Marib Dam, the story of which is detailed in the eponymous 34th chapter of the Quran. The famous Arabic proverb “They were scattered like the people of Saba” refers to that exodus in history. The date of the migration to the Levant is unclear, but they are believed to have arrived in the region of Syria between 250-300 AD. Their earliest appearance in records is dated to 473 AD, when their chief Amorkesos signed a treaty with the Eastern Roman Empire acknowledging their status as Foederati controlling parts of Palestine. He apparently became Chalcedonian at this time. By the year 510, the Ghassanids were no longer Monophysite, but Chalcedonian.
The Ghassanid Kingdom in the Roman era
After originally settling in the Levant, the Ghassanids became a client state to the Eastern Roman Empire. The Romans found a powerful ally in the Ghassanids who acted as a buffer zone against the Lakhmids. In addition, as kings of their own people, they were also phylarchs, native rulers of client frontier states. The capital was at Jabiyah in the Golan Heights. Geographically, it occupied much of the eastern Levant, and its authority extended via tribal alliances with other Azdi tribes all the way to the northern Hijaz as far south as Yathrib (Medina).
The Ghassanid kingdom in the Byzantine era
The Ghassanids fought alongside the Byzantine Empire against the Persian Sassanids and Arab Lakhmids. The lands of the Ghassanids also continually acted as a buffer zone, protecting Byzantine lands against raids by Bedouin tribes.
The Byzantine Empire was focused more on the East and a long war with the Persians was always their main concern. The Ghassanids maintained their rule as the guardian of trade routes, policed Lakhmid tribes and was a source of troops for the Byzantine army. The Ghassanid king al-Harith ibn Jabalah (reigned 529–569) supported the Byzantines against Sassanid Persia and was given in 529 by the emperor Justinian I, the highest imperial title that was ever bestowed upon a foreign ruler; also the status of patricians. In addition to that, al-Harith ibn Jabalah was given the rule over all the Arab allies of the Byzantine Empire. Al-Harith was a Miaphysite Christian; he helped to revive the Syrian Miaphysite (Jacobite) Church and supported Miaphysite development despite Orthodox Byzantium regarding it as heretical. Later Byzantine mistrust and persecution of such religious unorthodoxy brought down his successors, al-Mundhir (reigned 569-582) and Nu'man.
The Ghassanids, who had successfully opposed the Persian allied Lakhmids of al-Hirah (Southern modern-day Iraq), prospered economically and engaged in much religious and public building; they also patronized the arts and at one time entertained the famous Arabian poets Nabighah adh-Dhubyani and Hassan ibn Thabit at their courts.
After the fall of the first kingdom of Ghassan, King Jabalah ibn-al-Aiham established a Government-in-exile in Byzantium. Ghassanid influence on the empire lasted centuries; the climax of this presence was the elevation of one of his descendants, Nikephoros I (ruled 802-811) to the throne and his establishment of a short-lived dynasty that can be described as the Nikephorian or Phocid Dynasty in the 9th century. But Nikephoros was not only a mere Ghassanid descendant, he claimed the headship of the Ghassanid Dynasty using the eponym of King Jafna, the founder of the Dynasty, rather than merely express himself descendant of King Jabalah.
The Ghassanids and Islam
Jabalah ibn-al-Aiham ordeal with Islam
There are different opinions why Jabalah and his followers didn't convert to Islam. All the opinions go along the general idea that the Ghassanids were not interested yet in giving up their status as the lords and nobility of Syria. Below is quoted the story of Jabalah's return to the land of the Byzantines as told by 9th-century historian al-Baladhuri.
Jabalah ibn-al-Aiham sided with the Ansar (Azdi Muslims from Medina) saying, "You are our brethren and the sons of our fathers" and professed Islam. After the arrival of 'Umar ibn-al-Khattab in Syria, year 17 (636AD), Jabalah had a dispute with one of the Muzainah (Non-Arab Caste) and knocked out his eye. 'Umar ordered that he be punished, upon which Jabalah said, "Is his eye like mine? Never, by Allah, shall I abide in a town where I am under authority." He then apostatized and went to the land of the Greeks (the Byzantines). This Jabalah was the king of Ghassan and the successor of al-Harith ibn-abi-Shimr (or Chemor).
Earlier kings are traditional, actual dates highly uncertain.
- Jafnah I ibn `Amr (220-265)
- `Amr I ibn Jafnah (265-270)
- Tha'labah ibn Amr (270-287)
- al-Harith I ibn Th`alabah (287-307)
- Jabalah I ibn al-Harith I (307-317)
- al-Harith II ibn Jabalah "ibn Maria" (317-327)
- al-Mundhir I Senior ibn al-Harith II (327-330) with...
- al-Aiham ibn al-Harith II (327-330) and...
- al-Mundhir II Junior ibn al-Harith II (327-340) and...
- al-Nu'man I ibn al-Harith II (327-342) and...
- `Amr II ibn al-Harith II (330-356) and...
- Jabalah II ibn al-Harith II (327-361)
- Jafnah II ibn al-Mundhir I (361-391) with...
- al-Nu'man II ibn al-Mundhir I (361-362)
- al-Nu'man III ibn 'Amr ibn al-Mundhir I (391-418)
- Jabalah III ibn al-Nu'man (418-434)
- al-Nu'man IV ibn al-Aiham (434-455) with...
- al-Harith III ibn al-Aiham (434-456) and...
- al-Nu'man V ibn al-Harith (434-453)
- al-Mundhir II ibn al-Nu'man (453-472) with...
- `Amr III ibn al-Nu'man (453-486) and...
- Hijr ibn al-Nu'man (453-465)
- al-Harith IV ibn Hijr (486-512)
- Jabalah IV ibn al-Harith (512-529)
- al- Amr IV ibn Machi (Mah’shee) (529)
- al-Harith V ibn Jabalah (529-569)
- al-Mundhir III ibn al-Harith (569-581) with...
- Abu Kirab al-Nu'man ibn al-Harith (570-582)
- al-Nu'man VI ibn al-Mundhir (581-583)
- al-Harith VI ibn al-Harith (583)
- al-Nu'man VII ibn al-Harith Abu Kirab (583- ?)
- al-Aiham ibn Jabalah (? -614)
- al-Mundhir IV ibn Jabalah (614- ?)
- Sharahil ibn Jabalah (61 -618)
- Amr IV ibn Jabalah (628)
- Jabalah V ibn al-Harith (628-632)
- Jabalah VI ibn al-Aiham (632-638)
- Ghassan Al-Hourani (638-712)
The Ghassanids reached their peak under al-Harith V and al-Mundhir III. Both were militarily successful allies of the Byzantines, especially against their the Lakhmids, and secured Byzantium's southern flank and its political and commercial interests in Arabia proper. On the other hand, the Ghassanids remained fervently dedicated to Monophysitism, which brought about their break with Byzantium and Mundhir's own downfall and exile, which was followed after 586 by the dissolution of the Ghassanid federation. The Ghassanids' patronage of the Monophysite Syrian Church was crucial for its survival and revival, and even its spread, through missionary activities, south into Arabia. According to the historian Warwick Ball, the Ghassanids' promotion of a simpler and more rigidly monotheistic form of Christianity in a specifically Arab context can be said to have anticipated Islam. Ghassanid rule also brought a period of considerable prosperity for the Arabs on the eastern fringes of Syria, as evidenced by a spread of urbanization and the sponsorship of several churches, monasteries and other buildings. The surviving descriptions of the Ghassanid courts impart an image of luxury and an active cultural life, with patronage of the arts, music and especially Arab-language poetry. In the words of Ball, "the Ghassanid courts were the most important centres for Arabic poetry before the rise of the Caliphal courts under Islam", and their court culture, including their penchant for desert palaces like Qasr ibn Wardan, provided the model for the Umayyad caliphs and their court.
After the fall of the first kingdom in the 7th century, several dynasties, both Christian and Muslim, ruled claiming to be a continuation of the House of Ghassan. Besides the Phocid or Nikephorian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, other rulers claimed to be the heirs of the Royal Ghassanids. The Rasulid Sultans ruled from the 13th until the 15th century in Yemen. And the Burji Mamluk Sultans in Egypt from the 14th until the 16th century. Even both dynasties being Muslim, they claimed to be heirs and successors of Ghassan. The last rulers to bear the titles of Royal Ghassanid successors were the Christian Sheiks Chemor in Mount Lebanon ruling the small sovereign sheikhdom of Zgartha-Zwaiya until 1747 A.D.
Notes and references
- Saudi Aramco World: The Kind of Ghassan. Barry Hoberman. http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/198302/the.king.of.ghassan.htm Accessed 31/01/2014.
- Grabar, Oleg. Late Antiquity: A guide to the Postclassical World. Harvard University Press.
- "Deir Gassaneh".
- bury, john. History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I. to the Death of Justinian, Part 2. courier dover publications.
- Hoberman, Barry. The King of Ghassan.
- Irfan Shahid, 1989, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fifth Century.
- Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, Irfan Shahîd, 1995, p. 103
- Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2 part 2, Irfan Shahîd, pg. 164
- Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, Irfan Shahîd 1995, p. 51
- Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, Irfan Shahîd 1995, p. 51-104
- Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, Irfan Shahîd, 1995, p. 51
- Ghassan Resurrected, Yasmine Zahran 2006, p. 13
- Ghassan post Ghassan, Irfan Shahid, Festschrift "The Islamic World - From classical to modern times", for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, p. 325
- Ghassan post Ghassan, Irfan Shahid, Festschrift "The Islamic World - From classical to modern times", for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, p. 334
- Tarik, Tabari (Cairo, 1966), VIII, p. 307
- The Origins of the Islamic State, being a translation from the Arabic of the Kitab Futuh al-Buldha of Ahmad ibn-Jabir al-Baladhuri, trans. by P. K. Hitti and F. C. Murgotten, Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, LXVIII (1916-1924), I, 208-209
- Ball 2000, pp. 102–103; Shahîd 1991, pp. 1020–1021.
- Ball 2000, p. 105; Shahîd 1991, p. 1021.
- Ball 2000, pp. 103–105; Shahîd 1991, p. 1021.
- Late Antiquity - Bowesock/Brown/Grabar, Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 469
- Ghassan post Ghassan, Irfan Shahid, Festschrift "The Islamic World - From classical to modern times", for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, p. 332
- Ghassan post Ghassan, Irfan Shahid, Festschrift "The Islamic World - From classical to modern times", for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, p. 328
- Dynastic & Nobility Law – The end of a myth, Pr. Gharios of Ghassan-Anna Wang, 2011, p.202
- Almaqhafi, Awwad: Qabayl Wa Biton Al-Arab
- Almsaodi, Abdulaziz; Tarikh Qabayl Al-Arab
- Bosra of the Ghassanids in the Catholic Encyclopedia Newadvent.org
- Fergus Millar: "Rome's 'Arab' Allies in Late Antiquity". In: Henning Börm - Josef Wiesehöfer (eds.), Commutatio et Contentio. Studies in the Late Roman, Sasanian, and Early Islamic Near East. Wellem Verlag, Düsseldorf 2010, pp. 159–186.
- Ball, Warwick (2000). Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-02322-6.
- Fowden, Elizabeth Key (1999). The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius Between Rome and Iran. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21685-7.
- Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2002). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (Part II, 363–630 AD). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-14687-9.
- Kazhdan, Alexander Petrovich, ed. (1991). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6.
- Shahîd, Irfan (1991). "Ghassān". The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume II: C–G. Leiden and New York: Brill. pp. 462–463. ISBN 90-04-07026-5.
- Shahîd, Irfan (1995). Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 1. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks. ISBN 978-0-88402-214-5.