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Early Christianity in Arabia/Section 2


Of the original inhabitants of Yaman there were, we are told, several tribes, of whom some, such as those of Tasm and Hodais, became extinct by war and other causes.[1] The tribes of Ad and Thamoud, which were settled, the former in Hadramaut and the latter in the province of Petra, were said to have been visited with the divine wrath for their impiety.[2] Those who had first occupied the boundaries of Syria, the Tahites, Chasdites, Bahrites, Giahites, and Salehites, were afterwards extirpated by other settlers from the south, who took possession of the districts of Ghassan and Hirah.[3] The Arabians are divided by the native historians into two distinct races: the posterity of Kâhtan, or Joktan, the son of Heber, who were termed Al Arab al Ariba, the pure Arabs, and the race of Adnân, the lineal descendants of Ishmael, who were called mixed Arabs, Al Arab al Mostareba. From the latter, who were intermixed with the descendants of Jorham,one of the sons of Kâhtan, and occupied the district of Hedjaz, were descended the tribe of Koreish. Kâhtan was the first that wore a diadem in the land of Yaman.[4] Kâhtan was succeeded by his son Yârab, who is celebrated as the first who spoke the language and introduced the ceremonials of Arabia.[5] Yeshab، the son of Yârab, was succeeded by Abd-Shems, or Saba, the founder of the city of Mariaba, and of the great reservoir in its neighbourhood, which collected the streams as they flowed from the mountains, and distributed them over the plains.[6] He was the first of the Arabian kings who undertook warlike expeditions, and enriched his country with the spoils of his enemies, and is said to have received the name of Saba from the numerous captives which he brought into Yaman.[7] Amongst his sons were Hamyar, Amru, Cahlân, and Ashaar.[8]

Hamyar was the first of the descendants of Kâhtan, who, by his own and his father's wars, reigned over the whole of Yaman.[9] He drove the remains of the tribe of Thamoud out of Yaman into Hedjaz,[10] and was one of the bravest, most skilful, and handsomest men of his time. He is said to have received the name of Hamyar, which signifies red, from the colour of the garments which he constantly wore, and to have been the first king of Arabia who had a crown of gold.[11]

Hamyar was succeeded by Wathil, Al Secsac, and Yâfar, during whose reigns the kingdom seems to have lost much of its power, being divided between two sovereigns, one of whom reigned in Hamyar, the other in Hadramaut.[12] After Yâfar reigned the usurper Dzu Ryash, or Amir, who was deposed by Noman Al Moâphir, the son of Yâfar. Asmach, the son of Nôman, was succeeded by Shaddâd, who was descended from Matata, a son of Abd Shems; he was a great warrior, and carried his victorious arms into Africa.[13] After him reigned his brothers Lokmân and Dzu Sedad, and under the son of the latter, Hareth, or Al Rayish, the fifteenth king of Hamyar, the two parts into which the kingdom had been divided were reunited. This prince first took the title of tobbaa, which was afterwards given to all the Hamyaritic kings.[14] Hareth, who was a great warrior, carried his arms into India, and fought many battles in Azerbijan.[15] The sixteenth and seventeenth kings were Dzulcarnain Assuab,[16] and Dzulmenâr Abrahah, who invaded Africa, and penetrated as far as Soudan.[17] The son of Abrahah was Africcus, who also entered Africa, subdued Barbaria, and built a city to which he gave his name, and thence continued his career to the western coast. He is also said to have driven the remains of the people who had been expelled from their country by Joshua, and who had settled about Egypt and the maritime parts of Africa, to the farthest boundaries of the west, "the place which they now occupy."[18] His brother, Dzuladhaar Amru, the nineteenth king, was called the lord of the terrible, because he had invaded the land of the pigmies, and at the sight of some of them, whom he had brought captives to Yaman, his people were "greatly terrified."[19] He was afterwards deposed by his people, and Sjerabîl, a descendant of Secsac, ascended the throne in his place.[20] Hadad, the son of Sjerabîl, was the father of Balkis, who, after reigning in Hamyar twenty years, went to Palestine, and was married, they tell us, to Solomon.[21] Yasasin, the brother and successor of Balkis, by his unbounded liberality gained the title of Nasher ’al Neam,[22] and in his warlike expeditions he penetrated into Africa as far as the great sandy desert; in attempting to cross which part of his army was buried in the sand, and he was compelled to relinquish the enterprise. He erected a brazen statue on the border of the desert, with an inscription on its breast in the Hamyaritic characters, warning future adventurers of the dangers and almost inevitable destruction they must encounter, should they proceed beyond it.

The twenty-fourth king of Hamyar was Shamar, the son of Africcus, or according to others of Yasasin, surnamed Abu Karb, or the father of affliction, from his victories and cruelties. He is celebrated as one of the greatest warriors that ever bore the crown of Yaman. Since the time of Al Hareth the eastern boundaries of the Hamyaritic expeditions were Azerbijan and the frontiers of India; it was left for Shamar to extend his conquests far beyond those ancient limits. He first defeated the Tahtars in Azerbijan, which he had invaded by way of Mousul. On his return from this expedition he received an embassy from one of the kings of Hindûstan, who was desirous of forming an alliance with him, and from the Indian ambassador the tobbaa first heard of the distant regions of China. The rare and valuable articles from that country which were brought with the embassy as presents, excited his cupidity, and induced him to undertake an expedition against that distant empire.[23] He began by subduing Khorasan, and from thence he passed by Balk, through the beautiful regions of Sogd, to its capital, which he destroyed, and which, when rebuilt, was from this circumstance called Samarcand or Shamarchand, i. e. Shamar destroyed it. He afterwards proceeded through Turkistan, to the frontier of Hindûstan, and through Thibet, where he left twelve thousand Arabs as a body of reserve to retire upon in case of defeat. When he approached to the borders of China, the monarch of that empire, trusting more to stratagem than arms, dispatched one of his ministers to meet the tobbaa, whom he found on the point of crossing the desert, at the distance of about ten days from the Chinese territory. The minister had cut off his own nose, and pretended to be flying from the cruelty of the emperor as a deserter to the king of Hamyar. When Shamar questioned him as to the road, the distance, and the water, he answered, "between thee and water there are but three stations." The king, therefore, deceived by this answer, carried with him provisions only for three days, and entered the desert. After the three days were passed, the Arabian army ran short of water, and perished among the sand.[24] This expedition is placed by the generality of Arabian historians in the reign of Ghustasp king of Persia, though some make it contemporary with Bahman.

Shamar was succeeded by his son Abu Malêc, who, delaying to seek revenge for his father's death, perished in a useless expedition into Africa.[25] After his death the crown passed from that branch of the family of Saba who traced their descent from Hamyar, to the descendants of Cahlân. The successor of Abu Malêc, and the first of this dynasty, was Amran, who had the reputation of being a great diviner or prophet.[26] He was succeeded by his brother Amrou, who was surnamed Mozaikia, or the tearer, because he every evening tore in pieces the clothes which he had worn during the day, that they might not be used a second time;[27] he died in the reign of Ali, between Yaman and Hedjaz.[28] The sceptre then again reverted to the descendants of Hamyar, in the person of Al Akran, the son of Al Malêc, who was contemporary with the Persian king Bahman, about a.a.c. 465.[29] This tobbaa immediately undertook to revenge the death of his grandfather Shamar. He marched to Samarcand, part of which he is said to have rebuilt, and proceeding perhaps in the steps of Shamar's army, of which remains might, it is suggested, still be found on the road, entered China, destroyed its capital, and founded there a city, in which he left a colony of thirty thousand Arabians, whose descendants still remained, preserving the dress and manners of Arabia, and noted for their strength and bravery, in the time at which Hamedoun wrote, which was about the five hundred and fifty-third year of the Hegira.[30] It was this tobbaa, who, after a seven years absence, returned to Hamyar, laden with the spoils of China.[31]

Dzu Abshan, the son of Akran, was contemporary with the second Darius, and with Alexander the Great, He destroyed the remains of the two tribes of the Tasmites and Gjadasites which still remained in Yaman.[32] Between the death of Dzu Abshan, and the accession of Kolaicarb, a period of a hundred and sixty years transpired, during which a series of tobbaas must have reigned. Kolaicarb reigned thirty years, and was succeeded by Assaad Abu Carb.[33] During the period since the reign of Dzu Abshan, the kingdom of Hamyar appears to have been divided, and was governed, like Persia after Alexander's death, by numerous petty princes.[34] These were one by one defeated and killed by Assaad, and the dominions of Hamyar restored to their former extent. One of the first acts of this king was the invasion of Hedjaz. The territory about Yatreb, or Latrippa, the modern Medina, was at this time occupied by a colony of Jews, who are said to have been descended from those who fled from Palestine and Syria, before the armies of Baktunusser, or Nebuchodonassur. Having reduced the greater part of Hedjaz, Assaad left his son Algabtoun as governor at Yatreb, and is said to have been pursuing his march towards Syria, when he was overtaken by messengers who informed him that the Jews of Yatreb had rebelled, and had put his son to death. Assaad returned, vowing that he would not leave a Jew alive in Hedjaz, but he was met by some of the tribes from about Yatreb, who came to expostulate with him, justifying their conduct by representing to him the injuries and oppression which they had suffered from his son. By these excuses the anger of the tobbaa was appeased, he being, according to Arabian writers, no lover of injustice. He was also met by the tribe of the Hudeilites, who urged him to attack Mecca, and plunder the Caabah, tempting him with their account of the unbounded riches it contained. But the people of Mecca also succeeded in diverting his hostility by the accounts they gave him of the sanctity of the place, persuading him that it was under the peculiar protection of the Deity, and that those who had incited him to this sacrilegious action only aimed at his destruction. He remained several months at Mecca, offered every day magnificent sacrifices in the Caabah, and adorned it with tapestry, affixing to it also a door of gold.[35] It was at this time that the Jews were first introduced into Hamyar.

Till the latter part of the fourth century, Christianity seems scarcely to have been known in the southern parts of Arabia. It was not till after the reign of tobbaa Assaad Abu Carb, when the Persians began by their increasing power to threaten the empire, that the Arabians had any connection with their Roman neighbours. Although there is no doubt abundance of exaggeration and fable in the Arabian annals previous to this period, the historical outlines may be correct. The armies of the tobbaas seem to have been both enterprising and brave, and their conquests extensive, but the situation of the country of Hamyar was not favourable for the seat of a mighty empire, and the Arabs took no steps for the preservation of their alleged acquisitions.[36] Their exploits, therefore, must be considered only as plundering expeditions. They were generally conducted towards Irak and Mesopotamia, but the increasing power of Persia had checked their incursions in this direction, and the Arabians would consequently look upon their Persian neighbours as encroachers upon their rights, and would seek every opportunity of revenge. In the invasion of the Persian territory by the Arabs, on the death of Hormuz, the king of Hamyar, tobbaa Hassan, the son of Assaad, raised a numerous army, and proceeded into Irak, where he was meditating still greater conquests, having made preparations, according to the Arabian writers, to follow the footsteps of his ancestors into China. His followers, however, opposed his design, unwilling to be carried so far from their families and possessions, and prevailed upon his brother Amrou to murder the tobbaa, which he effected whilst Hassan was sleeping in his tent. The army thereupon returned to Hamyar, and Amrou ascended the throne.[37]

The latter days of the life of Amrou were troubled by a guilty conscience, and sleep became a stranger to his eyelids. On his return with the army to Hamyar, he endeavoured to atone for the murder of his brother, by the punishment of the chiefs who had urged him to it; but the people conspired against him and put him to death,[38] and gave the crown to his younger brother Abd Alâl. Abd Alâl is said to have embraced the Christian faith, but from political motives, never to have openly professed it.[39]

  1. See Appendix, A.
  2. Pococke, p. 3G, 37.
  3. Ecchelensis, Hist. Orient, c. iii. On the early Arabian tribes consult Masoudi, in the Notices et Extraits de la Bibliothèque du Roi, tom. i. p. 28, 29.
  4. Abulfeda, p. 3. (in Schultens' Hist. Joct.)— Pococke, Spec. Hist. p. 56.
  5. Hamza, p. 19. Pocock. ibid. He was said to be the first who introduced the formula by which the kings of Hamyar were saluted when crowned. It was ابيت اللعن may you refuse malediction. ان اهل الجاهلية كانوا يحيون الملوك بقولهم ابيت اللعن ولا يخاطيون به غبرهم حتي ان احدهم اذا تولي الامارة والملك قيل له فلان نال التحية٭ "The Arabians formerly saluted their kings with these words, may you refuse malediction: nor did they ever address any one else with this formula: so that when any one was raised to the throne, they said of him, such a one has received the salutation." Almotarazzi, in libro Mogreb. (ap. Pocock) Ebno'l Athir gives the following explanation of it. ابيت اللعن كان هذا في تحايا الملوك في الجاهلية والدعا لهم وصعناه ابيت ان تفعل فعلا تلعن بسببه وتذم٭ "This formula, may you refuse malediction, with which they used to salute their kings, and wish them prosperous, had this meaning—take care you do nothing on account of which people may curse you, and speak ill of you." See Abulfed.
  6. Abulfed. p. 2. Mesoud, p. 167.
  7. Abulfed. ib. Nuweir, p. 48.
  8. Abulfed. p. 4.
  9. Hamza, p. 22.
  10. Abulfed. ib.
  11. Nuweir, p. 50. Al Jannabi and Ahmed Ebn Yusef. ap. Pococke.
  12. Abulfed. p. 6. Hamza, p. 22. According to others Hamyar was succeeded by his brother Cahlân, and he by Abu Malech, the grandson of Saba. Nuweir, p. 50.
  13. Abulfeda, p. 6. Other kings are mentioned by some as succeeding Shaddâd, as Morthed, who was called Dzu Aud, and his son Amrum. Gjanabi, and Firuzabad, ap. Pocock.
  14. Hamza, p. 22. Abulfeda, p. 6.—Tobba’, et Tobbâï. Titre qu'ont porté les anciens rois de l'Iemen, tels qu'ont été ceux de Hadhramout, de Hemiar, etc. Ce titre leur est aussi particulier, que celui de Khosroés aux Sassanides de Perse, celui de Khan et de Khakan aux Turcs, de Fagfour à ceux de la Chine, de Césars à ceux des Romains et des Grecs, et des Faraons et des Bathalmions à ceux d'Egypte. On appelle ces rois au pluriel Arabe Tababéah et Tabbâïah.—D'Herbelot.
  15. Hamza, ib. Nuweir, p. 50. Abulfed. p. 6.
  16. Abulfed. ib.
  17. Abulfed. ib. Hamza, p. 22. Nuweir, p. 52.
  18. Hamza, p. 22, 24. Nuweir, p. 52, 4. Abulfed. p. 6. Gjannabi, Ahmed Ebn Yusef, and the scholiast on the poem of Ebn Abdûni, cited by Pococke. From the similarity between this tradition and that which the Jews and early Christian writers appear to have held, I think we may look on it as of Hebrew origin. The tale of Procopius is well known, of the two columns found in Tingitana, with a Phœnician inscription, which he translates—ἡμεις εσμεν οἱ φυγοντες απο προσωπου Ιησου του ληστου υιου Ναυη. A Moorish author, Ibn el Raquique, states that the inscription was on a stone upon a mountain at Carthage. Marmol. lib. i. c. 25.
  19. Hamza, p. 22. Nuweir, p. 54.
  20. Abulfeda, p. 6.
  21. Abulfeda, p. 8. Nuweir and Hamza, ibid. It is hardly necessary to remark that Balkis was the "queen of Sheba" of Scripture.
  22. Abulfed. ib. Hamza, p. 24. Nuweir, p. 56.
  23. Amongst Arabian writers there are celebrated four pleasant places of the world,—Damasci viridarium, fluvius Obullæ in Basru urbe, rivus Bauvanitarum, et Sogd Samarcandæ وصغد سمرقند. Ezzedin Abdelazir, apud Casiri, Biblioth. Hispan. Arab, tom. i. p. 208. The Oriental geographers dwell with rapture on the beauties of Chorasm and Sogd, covered everywhere with orchards, and fields, and gardens. "Vallis enim Al Sogd," says Abulfeda, "viii dierum itinere, a limitibus Bocharæ ad confinia Al Botom exporrecta, prata viridis, et hortos continuos complectitur. Horti a fluviis perpetuo irriguis terminantur. Ultra prata, ultroque [fluvii] latere arva sunt, et ultra arva, animalium libere vagantium pascua. Nullibi gentium arbores pulchriores, aut amœniores." Chorasmiæ, &c. descript. p. 32. inter Geograph. Minor, tom. iii. See also Golii not. in Alfergan. p. 172, 173. "If a person stand on the قهندز Kohendiz (or ancient castle) of Bokhara," says the Oriental Geographer, translated by Sir W. Ouseley, "and cast his eyes around, he shall not see any thing but beautiful green and luxuriant verdure on every side of the country: so that he would imagine the green of the earth and the azure of the heavens were united." p. 236.
  24. Abulfeda, p. 8. Hamza, p. 26. Nuweir, p. 58. Ouseley's Oriental Geography, Appendix, p. 293. See also Price's Essay towards the history of Arabia, p. 98. Some historians state that Shamar was successful in his invasion of China, and that he returned to Yaman, after an absence of seven years, loaded with the plunder which he had taken from the cities of that distant empire. Nuweir, p. 68-70. This version of the story has most likely originated from confounding Shamar, with his descendant Al Akran, the second invader of China. This seems to be confirmed by the circumstance, that those authors place the expedition of Shamar at the same time as that of Al Akran.
  25. Nuweir, p. 58. Hamza, p. 28. Abulfeda, p. 8.
  26. Abulfeda, ibid.
  27. Abulfeda, ibid.
  28. Eichhorn, Monument. Antiq. Hist. Arab. p. 152.
  29. Abulfed. p. 8. Hamza, p. 28.
  30. Nuweir, p. 58, 60.
  31. Nuweir, p. 72. See Price's Essay.
  32. Abulfeda, p. 8. Hamza, p. 28.
  33. Hamza, p. 30. Abulfeda, p. 8—10. Abulfeda's chronicle appears here somewhat confused.
  34. Hamza, p. 30. Nuweir, p. 60.
  35. Nuweir, p. 60. Nikbi ben Massoud, Notices et Extraits de la Bibl. du Roi, tom. ii. p. 366, et seq.
  36. Les Arabes n'ont jamais conquis que de pays flats,—Ils n'entendent nullement l'art de conserver la culture des pays conquis,—were premises which the Arabian historian has exhausted three chapters to prove. See the summary of his work in the Journal Asiatique, tom. i. p. 267.
  37. Nuweir, p. 66. See there the different account of these reigns which he adduces from another author.
  38. Nuweir, p. 72.
  39. Abulfeda, p. 10.