"Ghassan" redirects here. For people with the given name Ghassan, see Ghassan (given name).

The Ghassanids (Arabic: الغساسنة) (al-Ghasāsinah, also Banū Ghassān "Sons of Ghassān") were a group of Hellenized and later Romanized South Arabian Christian tribes that emigrated in the early 3rd century from Yemen to Southern Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Holy Land where they eventually merged with Greek-speaking Early Christian communities.

The term Ghassān refers to the kingdom of the Ghassanids, an ancient Arab Christian kingdom in the Levant. After the fall of the first kingdom, the Ghassanid Dynasty ruled other realms, both Christian and Muslim, until 1747 AD in Mount Lebanon.[1]

Many Christian families in the Levant are descendants of the Ghassanids. To name a few: Nimri, Nasir, Emeish, Kawar, Karadsheh, Ma'ayeh, Zureikat, Haddad, Haddadin, Azeizat, Insheiwat, Sha'ir, Muasher, Gussous, Dababneh, Halaseh and Sayegh.

Migration from Yemen

The Ghassanid emigration has been passed down in the rich oral tradition of Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. It is said that the Ghassanids came from the city of Ma'rib in Yemen. There was a dam in this city, however one year there was so much rain that the dam was carried away by the ensuing flood. Thus the people there had to leave. The inhabitants emigrated seeking to live in less arid lands and became scattered far and wide. The proverb “They were scattered like the people of Saba” refers to that exodus in history. The emigrants were from the southern Arab tribe of Azd of the Kahlan branch of Qahtani tribes.

Another version of the story refers also to the persecution of the Christian tribes in Ancient Yemen by its rulers and the powerful Jewish tribes. A reference to that is mentioned in the Quran about "As-haab al-ukhdood" where many Christians were buried alive in mass graves. Those who were able to flee headed north settling in what is today south of The Levant.

The date of the migration to Syria is unclear; their earliest appearance in records is dated to AD 473, when their chief Amorkesos signed a treaty with the Eastern Roman Empire acknowledging their status as Foederati controlling parts of Palestine. He apparently became a Christian at this time; by ca. 510, the Ghassanids were no longer Chalcedonian, but Monophysite.[2]


The king Jafna bin ‘Amr emigrated with his family and retinue north and settled in Hauran, where the Ghassanid state was founded. From him the Ghassanid line are also sometimes known as the Jafnids. It is assumed that the Ghassanids adopted the religion of Christianity after they reached their new home.

The Ghassanid Kingdom in the Roman era

The Romans found a powerful ally in the new coming Arabs. The Ghassanids were the buffer zone against the Lakhmids penetrating Roman territory. In addition, as kings of their own people, they were also phylarchs, native rulers of client frontier states.[3][4] The capital was at Jabiyah in the Golan Heights. Geographically, it occupied much of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and its authority extended via tribal alliances with other Azdi tribes all the way to the northern Hijaz as far south as Yathrib (Medina).[5]

The Ghassanid kingdom in the Byzantine era

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.[6][7] In addition to that, was given the rule over all the Arab allies of the Byzantine Empire.[8] 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 Iraq and Northern Arabia), prospered economically and engaged in much religious and public building; they also patronized the arts and at one time entertained the 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11][12]

The Ghassanids and Islam

The Ghassanids remained a Byzantine vassal state until its rulers were overthrown by the Muslims in the 7th century, following the Battle of Yarmuk in 636 AD.

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).[13]

Ghassanid Kings

Earlier kings are traditional, actual dates highly uncertain.

  1. Jafnah I ibn `Amr (220-265)
  2. `Amr I ibn Jafnah (265-270)
  3. Tha'labah ibn Amr (270-287)
  4. al-Harith I ibn Th`alabah (287-307)
  5. Jabalah I ibn al-Harith I (307-317)
  6. al-Harith II ibn Jabalah "ibn Maria" (317-327)
  7. al-Mundhir I Senior ibn al-Harith II (327-330) with...
  8. al-Aiham ibn al-Harith II (327-330) and...
  9. al-Mundhir II Junior ibn al-Harith II (327-340) and...
  10. al-Nu'man I ibn al-Harith II (327-342) and...
  11. `Amr II ibn al-Harith II (330-356) and...
  12. Jabalah II ibn al-Harith II (327-361)
  13. Jafnah II ibn al-Mundhir I (361-391) with...
  14. al-Nu'man II ibn al-Mundhir I (361-362)
  15. al-Nu'man III ibn 'Amr ibn al-Mundhir I (391-418)
  16. Jabalah III ibn al-Nu'man (418-434)
  17. al-Nu'man IV ibn al-Aiham (434-455) with...
  18. al-Harith III ibn al-Aiham (434-456) and...
  19. al-Nu'man V ibn al-Harith (434-453)
  20. al-Mundhir II ibn al-Nu'man (453-472) with...
  21. `Amr III ibn al-Nu'man (453-486) and...
  22. Hijr ibn al-Nu'man (453-465)
  23. al-Harith IV ibn Hijr (486-512)
  24. Jabalah IV ibn al-Harith (512-529)
  25. al- Amr IV ibn Machi (Mah’shee) (529)
  26. al-Harith V ibn Jabalah (529-569)
  27. al-Mundhir III ibn al-Harith (569-581) with...
  28. Abu Kirab al-Nu'man ibn al-Harith (570-582)
  29. al-Nu'man VI ibn al-Mundhir (581-583)
  30. al-Harith VI ibn al-Harith (583)
  31. al-Nu'man VII ibn al-Harith Abu Kirab (583- ?)
  32. al-Aiham ibn Jabalah (? -614)
  33. al-Mundhir IV ibn Jabalah (614- ?)
  34. Sharahil ibn Jabalah (61 -618)
  35. Amr IV ibn Jabalah (628)
  36. Jabalah V ibn al-Harith (628-632)
  37. Jabalah VI ibn al-Aiham (632-638)
  38. Ghassan Al-Hourani (638-712)

Ghassanid families

Aldababneh tribe,Abdallah, Aranki, Ayoub, Ammari, Batarseh, Barakat, Bassit, Bayouth, Chakar, Dmour, Fallouh (فلّوح), Farah, Farhat, Dababneh,Farhoud, Gharios, Ghanem ,Ghanma, Ghannoum, Ghulmiyyah, Haber, Habib, Haddad, Hamra, Hattar, Howayek, Haddadin, Ishaq, Jabara (Jebara or Gebara, Gibara), Kandil, Karadsheh, [Khazen], Kawar, Khleif, Khoury, Lahd, Layoun, Ltaif, Maalouf, Ma'ayeh, Madanat, Madi, Makhlouf ,Matar, Moghabghab, Mokdad, Mubaydeen, Naber, Nasir, Nayfeh, Nimri, Obeid, Outayeck, Oweis, Ozaizi, Rached, Rahhal, Razook, Saab, Saad, Saadi, Saah, Salama, Saliba, Samandar, Samar, Sfeir, Sayegh, Shdid, Sheiks Chemor, Smeirat, Sweis, Sweidan, Suheimat, Theeba, Touma, Tyan, Zahran.

In an Arabic article by the historian Habib Gamati, in al-Mossawer Magazine, Dar al-Hilal, Cairo, Egypt, dated February 19, 1954, and titled: "Tarikh Ma Ahmalahu Al-Tarikh Fi Galaat Al-Showbak" or "History Of What Was Abandoned By History At The Fortres Of Showbak [south of Jordan]", it is affirmed that the Rihani or Rayahin family is a Ghassanid clan or tribe. This is in contrast to what Frederick G. Peake writes in his book "A History Of Jordan And Its Tribes", Coral Cables, 1958, who inaccurately refers to the Rihani's as crusader settlers.


The Ghassanids reached their peak under al-Harith V and al-Mundhir III. Both were militarily successful allies of the Byzantines, especially against their fellow Arabs, the Lakhmid tribesmen, 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] And the Burji Mamluk Sultans in Egypt from the 14th until the 16th century.[19] 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.[20] They are considered [by who?] the authentic lawful successors once there was a legal prohibition of the 5th century regarding Royal Ghassanids converting to other religions or even marrying non-Christians.[21]

Notes and references


Primary Sources

  • Almaqhafi, Awwad: Qabayl Wa Biton Al-Arab
  • Almsaodi, Abdulaziz; Tarikh Qabayl Al-Arab
  • Bosra of the Ghassanids in the

Secondary Literature

  • 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.

External links

  • Barry Hoberman, 1983, The King of Ghassan, Saudi Aramco World
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