The Ghassanids:  Origin & History.

 

The Ghassanids, originally came from the Kingdom of Saba, a Yemenite state, which went through sovereignty from 850 BC to 37 AD.

According to historians, Saba was one of the richest kingdoms on account of its location; richly-laden caravans passed through it on their way to and from India, the Persian Gulf, and Egypt. The sea routes around the area were very dangerous. Caravans arriving in Ma'rib, the capital of Saba, continued on their way to Mecca, Petra, Gaza, Damascus and other places. The presence of the famous dam of Ma'rib made life and a flourishing civilization possible.

 

However, one year there was so much rain in the area that the dam was carried away by an ensuing flood, causing a great catastrophe. The country was as a result exposed to drought and starvation. Its inhabitants emigrated seeking their living in less arid lands and so became scattered far and wide. The proverb: "They were scattered like the people of Saba" refers to specifically that exodus in history.

 

King A'mre, son of A'mer, king of Saba, emigrated north with his family and retinue, and many of his faithful followers and settled in Houran, about 20 miles south of Damascus, where they founded the Ghassanid State.

 

A'mre was nicknamed "Mazzikieh", which means one who tears his clothes. He was given this name because he used to tear his gold-embroidered garments twice a day in order to give them to the needy. This anecdote demonstrates the Ghassanids’ generosity.

 

The Ghassanids were named after the well near which they first settled when they came to Houran. They were also known by another name, Banu Jephnet. Jephnet, the son of A'mer, was the first king of the Ghassanids. He was also the first to lead his tribe in their conquest of Damascus. Jephnet was known by the name of "Ma'ussma" (which means "Water of Heaven") because of his great generosity. He lived around the beginning of the third century A.D.

 

It was after that time that the tribe came to be known as "the Ghassanids". Unlike other tribes, the Ghassanids were progressive and open to new ideas.

 

As soon as they had settled in Houran, the Ghassanids were attacked by the Dajghamites, a Bedouin tribe in service of Rome. The Dajghamites demanded tributes from the Ghassanids. However, the Ghassanids refused to pay the imposed taxes and war broke out. At first, the Dajghamites got victory, which the Ghassanids could not swallow. One day, Juzu', son of A'mer and brother of Tha'labet, who was very well-known for his valour and ability to fight, attacked the king of his enemies and killed him. The Ghassanid tribe then worked up enough courage to rise against their enemies. Halima, the daughter of El-Harith, a famous Ghassanid king, enticed other girls of the tribe to accompany the warriors on the battlefield where they cheered and motivated them to fight exceptionally. By doing this, the tribe got their victory and that memorable day came to be knows as “the Day of Halima”.

The Ghassanids became known as the undisputed masters.

 

In years to come, the Ghassanids allied themselves with Rome against Persia. The Emperors of Rome gave them the privilege to become the leaders of all Arab tribes in Syria. Even the city of Damascus came under their rule. Eventually, the Ghassanids gained control of the country now known as Transjordan. Their kingdom extended as far as the Red Sea to the South and the Euphrates to the North. The Jordan and Yarmuke valleys were included in their realm. Joulan, known nowadays by the name of Balka'a, was also administered by them.

Noeldeke, the great orientalist, once said that the town of Jabieh in the district of Balka'a was the capital of the Ghassanids. The town was small but its location was important. It served as a centre of trade for all of the surrounding countries.

 

The Ghassanids were not only conquerors, but also promoters of education and the arts. Ruins of palaces, churches, castles, public baths, aqueducts, etc. in Houran are good proof of the high level their civilization had reached.

Banu Ghassan, the inhabitants of the Ghassanid dynasty, were also very much interested in literature, especially poetry. Poets used to crowd the doors of the Ghassanid palaces to recite verses of praise and acclaim. Generous rewards were distributed among these poets. They recited thousands of verses praising the Ghassanids for their generosity, chivalrous spirit, benevolence and bravery in battle:

 

"Not only generous but nobility old

Their dignity and honour rare to behold."

 

The Ghassanids would not have appreciated and honoured the poets and men of literature had there not been men of literary ability among them. Of the most notable poets of that dynasty were the great Jaza', son of Sinan El-Ghassany, El-Harith Abu Shammar El-Ghassany, famous for his keen mind and literary works, Abu Boujailet, reputed for his wit, El-Sumow'al, whose name became proverbial among the Arabs for loyalty and fealty, and Abu El-Hassan El-Ghassany El-Bosary, who was both a poet and physician.

There were other poets who lived away from Houran in Morocco, Egypt, Andalusia and Arabia, all of whom we must be proud though we do not mention their names here.

 

Ghasanid Kings also became so famous for their generosity that other leaders tried to follow in their example.

During their reign, the Ghassanids were among the first Christians. They built and manned early churches and monasteries, and helped promote Christianity in the Middle East and throughout the Roman Empire. A son of one of the Ghassani kings, Marcus Feyrus Philippus, became a Roman Emperor (245 – 249 AD) and was known as Phillip, the Arab. He was the first emperor to promote Christianity in the Roman Empire. The Ghassanids continued to serve as the forefront extension of the Romans and the Greeks in their wars against the Persians and the barbarian Mongols. The Ghassanid lands formed the buffer zone and Eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire.

 

All in all there were thirty-two kings who reigned from 37 - 636 AD. The last one to succeed the throne was Jablet IV, son of El-Ayham who built the town of Jablet that lies between Latakieh and Tripoli. His strength and righteousness as king of the Ghassanids made his name, even decades after his death, a symbol of strength and glory. In 636 AD, Jablet fled to Byzantium with 500 of his people because of the Islamic conquest. With his eventual death and the coming of the Moslem conquerors, the Ghassanids were scattered far and wide.