Section 5

Sketch of the Chief Nomad Tribes in the Centre of the Peninsula.


Section 5

Sketch of the Chief Nomad Tribes in the Centre of the Peninsula.

A rapid glance at the chief tribes in central Arabia, and their relation. at the rise of Mahomet, will furnish information which may be of use in the course of this history.

Position of the central tribes in the 4th century, A.D.

The earliest historical traditions regarding these vast tribes date only from the middle of the fourth century1. Two great parties were then arrayed one against the other ; -- the Maaddite tribes2 (of Meccan or semi-abrahamic origin) on the one hand, and invading tribes from Yemen of the stock of Cahlan on the other. The Bani Madhij3 of the latter class, issued at this period from amongst the teeming population of the south, made an incursion upon the Tihama, and were repulsed by the Maaddite tribes under the command of Amir son of Tzarib. They retired to Najran, where they finally settled.

Amir ruler of the Maaddite tribes

Amir was elected Ruler (Hakam) of the combined Maaddite tribes. He belonged to the branch of ADWAN which held the Maaddite office of heading the pilgrim procession in the vale of Muzdalifa tribe. This tribe was powerful and very numerous, but it soon fell into decay4.

Himyarite kings exercised influence over Central Arabia, 5th century, A.D.

The next notices are about a century later, when the Himyar dynasty is found exercising a species of feudal supremacy over the central tribes. A king of Yemen visited Najd, and received the formal homage of the people5. Ever and anon the wild Bedouins rebelled; but having no head around whom to rally, they always relapsed into vassalage again to Yemen.

Hojr Akil al Morar chief of the Kinda and Maaddite, 460 or 470 AD.

A few years afterwards we find Hassan, a Himyar king, giving the command of all the Maaddite tribes into the hand of his uterine brother HOJR Akil al Mordr, chief of the Bani Kinda, a powerful tribe of Cahlanite descent, which had migrated northwards and settled in Central Arabia.

The most distinguished of the Maaddite tribes were the descendants of BAKR6 and TAGHLIB sons of Wail, who with their numerous subdivisions, were located in Yemama, Bahrein, Najd, and the Tihana. Hojr waged a successful war with Hira, and conquered from it a part of Bahrein claimed by the Bani Bakr. He enjoyed the title of king, and ruled from 460 to 480 A.D.

AMR al Macsur: 480-495

To him succeeded his son AMR AL MACSUR, but he failed in retaining the Maaddite tribes under his authority, which was recognized only by his own race, the Bani Kinda. The claims of Yemen to a feudal tax were pressed by Amr with too great harshness, and twice, upon the plains of Sullan7, 481 A.D., and Khazaz, 492 A.D., though supported by the troops of Yemen, he was repulsed by the Arabs8. Amr al Macsur was killed in a battle fought against Harith V9 . of the Ghassan dynasty.

Koleib chief of the Bani Bakr and Taghlib, 490-494

The Bakr and Taghlib tribes, rejoicing in the independence asserted in these battles by their victorious arms, chose KOLEIB, chief of the Bani Taghlib, to be their ruler10. But Koleib was haughty and overbearing, and he wantonly killed the milch camel of Basus, a female relative of his wife of Bani Bakr lineage. This and other acts of indignity roused the vengeance of the Bani Bakr, who slew Koleib. The Bani Bakr and Bard Taghlib were now marshalled one against the other; and the struggle, famous in Arab history under the name

War of Basus

of the War of Basus (so called after the injured female), long wasted both tribes, and was not finally extinguished for forty years.

HARITH, prince over both the Kinda and Maaddite tribes, 595-524

Meanwhile, weary of the prevailing anarchy, the Maaddite tribes again returned to Himyarite allegiance, and placed themselves under the rule of HARITH, son of Amr al Macsur. This is the Harith whose invasion of Syria, and temporary conquest of Hira, have been recounted before11. His strange career was closed by defeat and death about 524 A.D. His sons succeeded him but, by imprudence and disunion, soon divested themselves of their hereditary influence. The Bani Taghlib, as partisans of one brother, vanquished the Bani Bakr, the supporters of another, in the celebrated action of Kulab the First, 526 A.D. To these fatal factions was added the enmity of a foreign foe.

The Kinda dynasty wasted by faction and the enmity of Mundzir,' 424 - 530

The Kinda dynasty was pursued with relentless hate by Mundzir III of Hira, in whose breast the injuries inflicted by the invasion of Harith still rankled. Crushed by misfortune, the illustrious house of Akil al Morar was soon all but exterminated; and there survived only an insignificant branch, which continued to rule for half a century over a part of Bahrein.

Imrul Cays

The history of this period is enlivened by the romantic tale of IMRUL CAYS, the brother of Harith, who united in his person the two princely accomplishments of an Arab chieftain, poetry and heroism. In the noble attempt of raising troops to avenge the death of his father Amr al Macsur, he repaired as a suppliant to every friendly tribe in Arabia; and his checquered career, - now received with distinction, and heading a victorious band,-again routed, and hunted as a wild beast over the deserts by the enmity of Hira, - ends at the last in his seeking for succour at the Court of Constantinople. He died on his way back, 540 A.D.; and his touching poem, ranked among the Moallacat, contains many beautiful allusions to his melancholy history12.

Sequel of the Bani Kinda

The chieftainship of the Kinda tribe devolved on a junior branch of the family, which resided in Hadhramaut, and assisted towards the expulsion of the Abyssinians and restoration of the house of Himyar. On the first appearance of Islam, CAYS was chief of the Bard Kinda there, and his son Al Ashath, with the whole clan, joined Mahomet, A.D. 63113.

The Bani Taghlib and Bakr transfer their allegiance from Yemen to Hira, 526-530

After their defeat, in 526 A.D., the Bani Bakr sought protection under the supremacy of the kings of Hira. The dynasty of Himyar had now sunk under the invading force of the Abyssinians, (525 AD.); and the African viceroys, failing to command the respect or obedience which prescriptive right had accorded to the time-honored lineage of Himyar, the tribes of Central Arabia one by one transferred their allegiance to the Court of Hira. The Bani Taghlib soon followed the example of the Bani Bakr (534 A.D.). Peace was at last enforced between the two tribes by Mundzir III., of Hira. The amnesty was proclaimed at Mecca; a treaty was recorded and signed; and eighty youths of either tribe, to be yearly changed, were sent as hostages to Hira. The Bani Bakr continued to live about Yamama and the shores of the Persian Gulph, but the Bani Taghlib migrated to Mesopotamia. It was subsequent to this that Amr III of Hira, as before related, was slain by a Taghlibite warrior-poet, Amr ibn Colthum14, for a supposed insult offered to his mother. Thenceforward the Bani Taghlib were the enemies of Hira, and to escape the vengeance of Amr's successor, they removed to Syria. But on the first spread of Islam, we find them again in Mesopotamia, professing the Christian faith15. In 632 A.D. they attached themselves to the false prophetess Seja, and, after a prolonged struggle, submitted to the Moslem yoke. The Bani Bakr, as we have seen 16, continued faithful to Hira to the last; and, in 511 A.D., they gloriously avenged the murder by the Persian king of Noman V. in the battle of Dzu Car, and achieved independence for themselves. A branch of the Bani Bakr, the Bani Hanifa, had already embraced Christianity, but the whole tribe seems voluntarily to have submitted to Islam during the lifetime of Mahomet17.

Another set of tribes, also descended from Cays Aylan18 of the

The Bani Ghatafan and Khasafa, with their sub-divisions

Meccan stock, now demands our attention. They are divided into two great branches, the GHATAFAN and the KHASAFA, connected, but at some distance, with the Coreish. The chief families of the Ghatafan were the Bani Dzobian,a and the Bani Abs: of the Khasafa, the Bani Sulaim (who lived near Mecca, and with whom the infant Mahomet was placed) and the Huwazin : the latter again were subdivided into the Thackif who inhabited Taif, and the Bani Amir ibn Sassaa. Excepting the Bani Thackif, they were all of Nomad habits. Their range of pasturage extended over the portions of Najd and its mountain chain adjoining the Hejaz, from Kheibar and Wadi al Cora to the parallel of Mecca.

Hostilities between the Bani Abs and Hawazin, middle of 6th century

The first notice of these tribes belongs to the middle of the sixth century when, after the fall of the Kinda dynasty, we find the "King"of the Bani Abs in command of the whole of the Hawazin, as well as of the Ghatafan. He formed an alliance with Noman IV., of him, wino took his daughter in marriage. His eldest son, returning from the convoy of his sister, was murdered, and the marriage presents of Noman plundered, by a branch of the Hawazin. Hostilities arose between the two tribes, the Absite "King" was assassinated A.D. 567, and thenceforward the Bani Hawazin secured their independence.

New strife between the Bani Abs and Dzobian

The Bani Abs were diverted from revenge by a fresh cause of offence in another quarter. Their chief Cays, in a marauding expedition, had plundered a horse of matchless speed, called Dahis. Hodzeifa, chieftain of the Bani Dzobian, vaunted his horse Ghabra as more swift than Dahis; a wager and match were the result. The Bani Dzobian, by an ignoble stratagem, checked the speed of Dahis, and Ghabra first reached the goal. A fierce dispute arose as to the palm of victory, and the disposal of the stakes.

War of Dahis, 568 - 609

Arab pride and jealousy soon kindled into warfare; and such was the origin, 568 A.D., of the disastrous War of Dahis, which for forty years embroiled and wasted the tribes of Ghatafan and Khasafa19. After hostilities had raged for some years with various success, a truce was concluded, and the Bani Abs delivered a number of their children as hostages into the hands of the Bani Dzobian; but Hodzeifa treacherously slew the innocent pledges, and the war was, A.D. 676, rekindled afresh. In the battle of Habaa the Bani Abs were victorious, and Hodzeifa20 with his brothers expiated the treachery with their lives. But the bloody revenge of the Absites overshot the mark. So extensive was their slaughter of the Dzobian chiefs, that the other Ghatafan clans conspired to crush the sanguinary tribe. The Bani Abs, alarmed at the combination, forsook their usual haunts and wandered forth to seek an asylum, which, after being repulsed by many tribes, they found with the Bani Amir ibn Sassaa.

Bani Abs supported by the Bani Amir; and the Bani Dzobian by the Bani Tamim, 579 A.D.

Meanwhile the Bani Amir had themselves become embroiled in hostilities with an independent tribe, the Bani Tamin, of Meccan origin21, who occupied the northeastern desert of Najd from the the confines of Syria to Yemama; and had vanquished them in the notable battle of Rahrahan (578 A.D.) Seeing the union of the Bani Abs and their enemies, the Bani Tamim formed an alliance with the Bani Dzobian; and with their new allies, instigated by a common hatred, sought to crush at once the Bani Amir and their refugees. Fearful of the issue of so unequal a combat, the latter retired to a strong mountain called Jabala, where concealed behind a steep and narrow gorge, they awaited the attack. The Bani Tamim and Dzobian came blindly forward, their opponents rushed forth, and though inferior in numbers put them completely to rout. Such was the decisive battle of Sheb Jabala, fought in 579 A.D.22.

Peace between the Bani Abs and Dzobian, 609 A.D.

The fortunate connexion of the Bani Abs with the Bani Amir continued for many years. At last they became estranged; the Absites separated from their benefactors, and began to long for peace with their brethren the Bani Dzobian. After many difficulties, and the exhibition by several distinguished chieftains of a magnanimous se1f-denial and devotion to the public good23, a cohesive peace was effected, A.D. 609; and the war of Dahis came to an end.

Original enmity between the Bani Abs and Hawazin revived; eventually crushed by Mahomet

The ancient enmity between the stocks of Ghatafan and Khasafa now revived. The Bani Abs and Dzobian oombined with their

al Tamim

brethren the Bani Ashja against the Hawazin tribes. A standing warfare, marked as usual by assassination and petty engagements, but distinguished by no general action, was kept up between them, and lasted until it was crushed by the rise of Mahomet.

Warfare with the Bani Bakr. 604-603

The following is the sequel of the story of the Bani Tamim. After the battle of Sheb Jabala, they fell out with their neighbours the Bani Bakr24 who, in a year of famine, trespassed on their pastures. Several battles without any important issue were fought between them in 604 A.D. and the following years. In 609 the Persian governor of a neighbouring fortress, to punish the Bani Tamim for the plunder of a Yemenite caravan, enticed into his castle and slew a great number of their chief men. Thus crippled and disgraced, they retired to Kulab on the confines of Yemen, where they were attacked by the combined forces of the Bani Kinda, the Bani Harith of Najran, and certain Codhaite tribes. Single-handed they repulsed them in a glorious action, called Kulab the Second A.D. 612. Inspirited by this success, they returned to their former country, and renewed hostilities with the Bani Bakr. From 615 to 630 A.D. several battles occurred; but in the latter year both parties sent embassies to Mahomet. The Bani Bakr, meanwhile, foreseeing from the practice of the Prophet that, under the new faith, their mutual enmities would be stilled, resolved upon a last passage of arms with their foes. The battle of Shaitain, fought at the close of 630 A.D. was a bloody and fatal one to the Bani Tamim.

Both tribes submit to Mahomet, 603 A.D.

They repaired to Mahomet, denounced the Bani Bakr, and implored his maledictions against them. The Prophet declined thus to alienate a hopeful suitor, and shortly after redeived the allegiance both of the Bani Bakr and of the Bani Tamim.

Two Christian tribes, Bani Tay and Bani Harith

I have now enumerated the most important bodies of the Bedouins throughout the Peninsula. Two other tribes deserve a separate notice from their profession of Christianity. These are the Bani Tay, and the Bani Harith, both descended from Cahlan, and collateral therefore with the Bani Kinda.

The Bani Tay settle at Tayma in the 3rd century

The BANI TAY emigrated from Yemen into Najd probably in the third century of our era. Still moving northwards they fixed themselves by the mountains of Ajd and Salma, and the town of Tayma. The influence of their Jewish neighbours led some to adopt Judaism; others went over to Christianity. The remainder adhered to their ancient paganism, and erected between the two hills a temple to the divinity Fuls. Little is known of this tribe till the beginning of the seventh century, when we find its two branches Ghauth and Jadila arrayed against each other, on account of the disputed restitution of a camel.

War between the two branches, Ghauth and Jadila

After some engagements termed the War or Fascad, (or discord), the Jadila emigrated to the Bani Kalb at Duma, and thence to Kinnasrin (Chalcis) in Syria. They sojourned long there; but at last, after the dissensions with their sister tribe had continued five-and-twenty years, peace was restored, and they returned to their former seat.

They embrace Islam, 632

In 632 A.D. the whole tribe embraced Islam. The two famous chieftains Hatim Tay, and Zeid al Kheil, belonged to the Bani Ghauth. The former is supposed to have died between 610 and 620 A.D.;

Hatim Tay and Zeid al Kheil

the latter embraced Islam, and his name was changed by Miahomet from Zeid al Kheil (famous for his horses,) to Zeid al Kheir (the beneficent).

The Bani Harith early settle in Najran

The BANI HARITH were a clan descended from the Cahlanite stock of the Bani Madhij25. They must have emigrated from Yemen at a very early date, for they were seated in Najran (between Yemen and Najd), and skirmished with the Azdites, when about 120 A.D. the latter migrated northwards. In the time of Mahomet we find the Bani Harith settled in the profession of Christianity.

Their conversion to Christianity in the 5th century

Baronius refers their conversion, but with little probability, to the mission of Constantius to the Himyar Court already noticed, A.D. 34326. The Arabs themselves attribute it to the unwearied labours, and miraculous powers, of a missionary called Feimiyun, and his convert the martyr Abdallah27. M.C. de Perceval, as well as Assemani, believe that Christianity was generally adopted in Najran about the close of the fifth century. Under the reign of Dzu Nowas, I have recounted how that cruel prince, in his endeavours to impose Judaism upon the people of this district, perpetrated an inhuman and treacherous massacre of the Christians. Nevertheless, the Bani Harith stedfastly held to their faith, and were prosperously and peaceably advancing under Episcopal supervision, when Mahomet summoned them to Islam. One of their bishops, Abul Haritha, was in the deputation which was sent A.D. 630 by this tribe to the Prophet. Coss, the famous orator, whom the youthful Mahomet heard at the fair of Ocatz, was likewise a bishop of Najran28.

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