The Ghassanid emigration has been passed down in the rich oral tradition of southern Syria. 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.
The king Jafna bin ‘Amr emigrated with his family and retinue north and settled in Hauran (south of Damascus), where the Ghassanid state was founded. From him the Ghassanid line arealso 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 of Southern Syria. The Ghassanids were the buffer zone against the other Bedouins penetrating Roman territory. More accurately the kings can be described as phylarchs, native rulers of subject frontier states. The capital was at Jabiyah in the Golan Heights. Geographically, it occupied much of Syria, Mount Hermon ( Lebanon), Jordan and Israel, and its authority extended via tribal alliances with other Azdi tribes all the way to the northern Hijaz as far south as Yathrib (Medina).
Phillip the Arab
Precise Arab ancestry of the Roman Emperor Philip the Arab is not known, since all sources give only the Latin names of him and his family members. However, having originated from the general area in which the Ghassanids settled, many historians consider he may have been of that origin. His being mentioned either as a Christian himself or at least tolerant of Christians would fit with his originating from a people which was in the process of Christianization at the time of his rule.
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 Bedouin 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 the title patricius in 529 by the emperor Justinian I. 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 patronised the arts and at one time entertained the poets Nabighah adh-Dhubyani and Hassan ibn Thabit at their courts.
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. It is believed by the Christian historians of that era that it was at this battle that some 12,000 Ghassanid Arabs defected to the Muslim side, a fact which is mentioned in Muslim history as well. 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 the famous story of Jabalah return to the Byzantine’s land.
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.
The Ghassanids After Jabalah
In the Levant
In the city of Karak in Jordan, some tribes who are Muslim are descendants of the Ghassanids. These tribes are the Suheimat, Dmour, Adaileh, Imbaydeen, Bawaleez, Karakieen, Soub. These families are now known as the Ghassasinah, they live in Karak, mainly in the villages: Ma’mooniyah, Adnaniyyah, Ghweir, Zhoum, Thaniyyah. They have formed a single tribe called the Ghassasinah which is considered the largest tribe in the city of Karak.
Many Christian as well as Muslim families of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine trace their roots to the Ghassanid dynasty, including the Kawar, Abla, Abou Haidar, Al Ashkar, Al-Khazen sheikhs, Aranki, Atiyah, Ayoub, Ammari, Aridah, Azar, Babun, Batarseh, Barsa, Barakat, Baqaeen, Bayouth, Chakar, Chalhoub, Dibh, Fares, Farah, Farhat, Farhoud, Gharios, Ghanem, Ghanma, Ghannoum, Gholmia, Ghulmiyyah, Habib, Hazboun, Hanna, Hamra, Howayek,Haddad, Hattar, Haddadin, Hbeish, Hellou, Hilweh, Ishaq, Jabara (Jebara or Gebara, Gibara), Kakish, Kandil, Karadsheh, Khazens, Khoury, Lahd, Maalouf, Madi, Madanat, Makhlouf, Matar, Moghabghab, Mokdad,Nasir, Nawfal (of Tripoli), Nayfeh, Naber, Nimri, Obeid, Oweis, Rached, Rafeedie/Rafidi, Rahhal, Razook, Rebeiz/Rbeiz/Rubeiz, Rihani/Rayahin, Saab, Saah, Salama, Saliba, Samara, Sawalha, Samawi, Sarkis,Sayegh,Saig, Shammas, Sheiks Chemor, Semaan (of Kaftoun), Sfeir, Shdid, Smeirat, Sweiss, Sweidan, Theeba, Tyan and Qumsieh. The religious backgrounds of these families tend to be either Greek Orthodox or Greek Catholic and Maronite Catholic, despite the Ghassanids’ initial affiliation to Non-Chalcedonian Syriac Orthodox Christianity. They are identified by being Christian families with South Arabian names.
The Palestinian city of Ramallah was historically an Arab Christian city for many centuries until the 1960s. The historical residents of Ramallah (the vast majority have immigrated to America and Canada due to the Israeli occupation) are direct descendants of the Ghassasinah Arab tribe.
One of the seven clans of Bethlehem and the largest by number of families, al-Farahiyya, are also descendants of the Ghassanids, after Farah and his 3 brothers fled the Wadi Mousa in face of the advancing Sassanid army, in the early sixth century. Another clan is the al-najajreh, who were not ghassanids, but very closely related, being from the ancient yemeni city of Najran.
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”/”History Of What Was Abandoned By History At The Fortres Of Showbak [south Jordan]”, it is affirmed the Rihani/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. In the Byzantine empire
Jabalah and about 30,000 Ghassanids left Syria North and settled the new Byzantine borders they were never able to build another kingdom. However, they maintained a high status within the Byzantine empire and even produced the Nikephoros Byzantine dynasty that ruled the Byzantine empire from 802AD to 813AD.
Nikephoros was credited for his efforts to revive the greatness of the Byzantine empire in the 9th century. He was the first Byzantine emperor to refuse paying the Tribute to the Caliph in Baghdad. However, he was betrayed by his own officers and later defeated in Phrygia, forcing him to make peace and focus on the Balkans; during his era he settled Byzantine loyal tribes from Anatolia in what is today northern Greece to prevent Bulgar incursions.
In the rest of the World
Ghassanid Christian families are found in Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon. Many native Christians in these countries are Ghassanid Christians. Many have since emigrated to the Americas, Europe and the rest of the world due to persecution during the Ottoman period in the 19th century, the creation of Israel in 1948, with the Palestinian Nakba as a result and following the Lebanese civil war. Ghassanid Kings
Al-Harith the Ghassanid king of the Arab in Arab folktales and Sagas
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 – ?)