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Early Christianity in Arabia/Section 12


Of the reign of Yecsoum, the son and successor of Abrahah, the page of history has not preserved a single particular. His mother was of the ancient royal family of Hamyar. Arabian writers declaim against his cruelties and tyrannic oppressions of the people, which drove many to seek protection from the tribe of Koreish, whose victory over his predecessor had raised them to importance among the Arabian tribes.[1] The only Greek writer who mentions him, and whose authority may be doubted, calls him Serdius, and informs us that he resembled his father in justice and piety.[2]

When the chiefs of Hamyar saw that the dominion of the Abyssinian conquerors continued, and that the crown of their country descended in regular succession through a family whom they considered as usurpers, and whose treatment of their subjects caused them now to be regarded as tyrants, they began to conspire for their expulsion. The last of the old royal race of Hamyar was Seif, the son of Dzu Jezen. At the instigation of the Arabian nobles, who furnished him with money and other necessaries for his journey, Seif repaired to Constantinople to implore the assistance of the emperor in delivering his country from the Abyssinian yoke. He was liberally received by Maurice,[3] and is reported to have waited in patient expectation at the Byzantine court for some time,[4] but he was at length told that unity of faith prevented the emperor of the Romans from being hostile to the Abyssinian nadjash. Disappointed in his hopes, the Arabian prince left Constantinople and went to Hirah, where he was kindly received by Noman ibn Mondar, who offered to introduce him to the Persian monarch. Accordingly, Seif accompanied the king of Hirah soon after to the court of the Khosroës.

When Seif had obtained an audience of Noushirwan, after having gone through the accustomed ceremonies of adoration to the great king,[5] he declared the purpose of his embassy, represented the state of his country, which was suffering under the tyranny of the Abyssinians, shewed the advantage which the Persians would derive by the recovery of Yaman from the Christians, and called on their relationship, the relationship that always exists between people of the same colour and of much the same religion, in opposition to a race of dark Ethiopian Christians, as a sufficient claim on his assistance. But the king, deterred by the distance of Hamyar from Persia, and having his attention occupied by a series of continual wars in other parts, expressed his unwillingness to undertake any enterprise of which the resulting advantages might be doubtful. He declared that he would not risk a Persian army for a barren country, whose only riches were sheep and camels, and dismissed the Arabian prince with a present of ten thousand pieces of gold. No sooner had Seif left the royal presence, than he distributed the whole of the king's present among the crowd of slaves and other people whom he met in the street. The Khosroës, when informed of this transaction, ordered Seif to be brought before him, and demanded the reason of his strange conduct. The answer was at once calculated to excite the cupidity and compassion of Noushirwan. "What need," said he, "have I of the riches of Khosroës, when the very mountains of my own country are nothing but silver and gold? I came to the king not for wealth, but for deliverance from oppression and insult." The king was moved by his words and appearance, and promised to take his affairs into consideration.

By the advice of his ministers, Noushirwan, we are told, armed all the malefactors who filled his prisons, amounting to three thousand and six hundred men. These were placed under the command of Wehraz, a Persian noble. They landed, accompanied by Seif Dzi Jezen, on the coast of Hadramaut, at a place called Maijoun, and their forces were quickly swelled by the partisans of Seif, and by those who had suffered from the oppressions of the Abyssinian king of Hamyar, Mesrouk, the brother of Yecsoum, and son of Abrahah, to twenty thousand men. Intelligence of this formidable host soon reached the ears of Mesrouk, who prepared to oppose the invader with a powerful army. When they were on the point of engaging, Wehraz, we are told, desired Seif to point out to him the king of Hamyar; the latter was then seated on an elephant, and from his crown a red hyacinth was suspended by a golden chain over his forehead, between his eyes. Whilst the Persian was looking at him, he descended from his elephant and mounted a camel; soon afterwards, he changed the camel for a horse, then descended on foot, and last of all mounted a mule. "Thus," said Wehraz, "shall perish his kingdom, it shall be debased as he is debased." Thereupon he seized an arrow, and aimed it at the hyacinth which glittered on the monarch's brow, directing his attendants, when they saw Mesrouk fall, to commence the attack on his army. The arrow of Wehraz reached its destination, the king of Haniyar was slain, and the Abyssinian army, confounded by the death of their leader, made but a feeble resistance. After the defeat and death of the Abyssinian king, Seif was placed on the throne of Hamyar, as the vassal and tributary of Noushirwan, and all the Abyssinians that were found in Yaman were either put to death or reduced to slavery.[6]

On the arrival of Seif at Sanaa, the capital of the kingdom of his forefathers, his return was welcomed by the Arabian chiefs, and the regal hall of the Gamadan, or palace of the kings of Hamyar, resounded with festivity.[7] Then the poet Ommia Ibn Abisselt recited before the nobles his poem in praise of their deliverer, in which he described the long and perilous expedition which he had undertaken in their cause, and the hardships and disappointments he had suffered in soliciting the aid, first of the emperor of the Romans, and afterwards of the king of Persia, and finally he celebrated the invasion of Yaman, and the bravery of Wehraz.[8]

Amongst the Arabian chiefs who came to congratulate the new king of Hamyar, was Abdolmotalleb ibn Hasjemi, the prince of the Koreish, who expressed the greatest joy on the occasion, addressed him as "the head of all the Arabians, as their spring from whence originated all their prosperity, their leader, and the pillar on which they all depended;"[9] and reminded him of the glory of his ancestors, and of the lofty station to which he had attained. The king embraced him as his kinsman, and in the course of their conversation, Abdolmotalleb informed him of the coming of the prophet, and of the purpose of his mission.[10]

From amongst the captive Abyssinians, Seif had, on his accession, chosen a certain number as his own attendants and guards. These, having determined to revenge the sufferings of their enslaved countrymen, seized an opportunity, when they were attending the king to Sanaa, and suddenly rushing on him put him to death with their spears, after a reign of four years. When they had effected their purpose, the conspirators found refuge in the mountains, and the murder was retaliated on all their countrymen who were so unfortunate as to be found in Sanaa.[11] Seif was the last native king of Hamyar; after his death the kingdom was governed by Persian viceroys, the first of whom was the same Wehraz who had recovered it from the Abyssinians. He was followed in succession by Sigian, Howraz, Nousisjan, Hersjhir, and Bâdsân, who governed Yaman under Khosroës Parviz, at the time when Muhammed was by dint of arms converting the northern tribes to Islam.[12]

  1. Tabeir, p. 126. Mesoud, p. 144. Conf. Abulfeda, Hamza, and Nuweir.
  2. Παρειληφη δε Σερδιος ὁ υἱος αυτου τα σκηπτρα της βασιλειας, και ην κατα παντα ὡς ὁ πατηρ αυτου, τῳ μακαριῳ Γρηγεντιῳ ἑπομενος. Gregent. Taphr. Episc. disputat. cum Herbano Jud., p. 204.
  3. The Arabians say it was Heraclius, but the Greeks are in this respect better authority. See Theophylact. Symocatta, Hist. Byzant. lib. iii. c. 3.
  4. Seven years سبعم سنين according to Mesoud, p. 144.
  5. "The Khosroës was accustomed" says the Arabian historian, "to give audience in a portico, in which his crown, which was as large as a great medimnus, and was composed of hyacinths, emeralds, pearls, gold, and silver, was suspended from the roof by a chain of gold, for the neck of the king was not able to sustain so great a weight. He was covered with a veil until he sat down and placed his head in this crown. Thus when he had ascended, and was sitting on the throne, the veil was removed, but none were allowed to look on him till they had fallen down and worshipped him." Tabeir, p. 128.
  6. Nuweir, p. 96. Mesoud, pp. 146—148. According to the latter it was Maadi-Carb, the son of Seif, who was assisted by Noushirwan; Seif himself having died in Persia. The invasion of Hamyar by the Persians is briefly related by a Greek historian, who calls Wehraz, Mêranês—Διο και ὁ Κοσροης επ’ Αιθιοπας, φιλους οντας Ρωμαιοις, τους παλαι μεν Μακροβιους, νυν δε Ὁμηριτας καλουμενους, εστρατευσε· και τον βασιλεα των Ὁμηριτων Σανατουρκην, δια Μηρανους του Περσων στρατηγου εζωγρητε· την τε πολιν αυτων εξεπορθησε, και το εθνος παρεστησατο. Theophanes Byzant. ap. Phot. Biblioth. no. lxiv. p. 79. The history is also recorded in the Persian historians; see, for example, Ommia Jahhia Ad-Ullatifi fil. Lubb-It Tavarich, Hist. Pers. in Büschings Magazin für die neue Historie und Geographie, band xvii. pp. 40, 41, and Nikbi ben Massoud, in the Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque du Roi, tom. ii. p. 340.
  7. Abulfeda, p. 12.

    وحوينا بالد قحطان قسرا
    ثم سرزا الي ذري غمدن٭
    فنعمنا به بكل سرور
    وبنينا علي نسا قحطان٭

    And having gained by our arms the region of Kehtan,
    We next penetrated into the palace of Gamada;
    And then we indulged in joy and pleasure,
    And we contracted marriages with the Kehtan women.

    Poeta ap. Mesoud, p. 150.

  8. Abulfeda, p. 12, who gives part of the poem. It is also given, with some little variation, by Mesoud (p. 154), who attributes it to Abu Zemaa, of whom Ommia was a descendant.
  9. "Caput es Arabum, eorumque Ver, per quem læta copia abundent: Arabum quoque eminens Vertex, cui se ducendos tradunt; itemque Columna, super quam recumbatur."
  10. Mesoud, pp. 152, 154.
  11. Mesoud, p. 156. Tabeir, p. 134.
  12. Mesoud, ib. Tabeir, p. 136. Hamza, p. 45. Abulefda, p. 16.