For lack of comprehensive knowledge of the Byzantine and Ghassanid history some historians create confusion about the actual role of the Ghassanids and their alliance with Byzantium. They pejoratively call Ghassan “client-state” or “vassal” without even explaining what that really meant in the context of 6th and 7th century.
The scholar Irfan Shahid made a very interesting statement:
“He [Arethas] was a king (rex) without a kingdom (regnum), that is, his Basileia carried with it no real territorial jurisdiction since he and his federates were settled on Roman soil. He was the king of the Ghassanids or Saracens in Oriens (and beyond Byzantine limits).” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, 1995, p. 107)
The “Basileia” (Byzantine kingship) that Professor Shahid refers to, is the bestowal of a second kingship by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I to King Al-Harith (Arethas) in 529 AD. That second kingship was not accompanied by a territorial grant of the part of Syria (Al-Sham) which was “de jure” Byzantine territory but “de facto” Ghassanid, or as per several Muslim scholars (see reference below), Syria was a “shared sovereignty” by Byzantines and Ghassanids. As far as the Ghassanid role within the Byzantine boarders it may be accurate, but, as proven below, the Ghassanid jurisdiction did not depend on the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, as the Kingdom was founded in 220 AD ( hundreds of years before their allegiance to the Byzantine Empire ) on land that did not belong either to the western or to the eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empire.
To assume that is a very common mistake made even by scholars due to several facts, specially the prejudice of several historians past and present. The worst fact is that the great majority of them even admitted their prejudice and open dislike of the Ghassanids.
We have to separate the role of “Archphylarc” (Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Arab Tribes) of the Byzantine Federation and the title “Basileus Araves” (Emperor or High King of All Arabs) given by Emperor Justinian in 529 CE from the actual Kingship over the people of Ghassan, which the majority of scholars have agreed, were not Roman (Byzantine) citizens.
“The dignity of King in Procopius had been sharply differentiated from the “Supreme Phylarchate” (archyphilarchia), with which Arethas was endowed“ (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, 1995, p. 103).
“The title awarded to the Ghassanid Ruler or Chief BY HIS OWN PEOPLE was neither Patricius nor Phylarch but KING (AL-MALIK). The title , established BEYOND DOUBT by Procopius is confirmed by the contemporary poetry of Hassan and of later poets who continued this authentic tradition,. But the strongest evidence is supplied by contemporary epigraphy — the Usays Inscription carved by one of [King] Arethas commanders, Ibn Al-Mughira, who refers to him around A.D. 530 as Al-Malik, the King. There is also no doubt that the Ghassanid Arethas was dressed as a King on important occasions in Ghassanland, since the poet laureate of later times underscores his own eminent position among his Ghassanid patrons by nothing that he used to sit not far from their crowned head.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 2 part 2 pg.164)
“The (Usays) inscription is considered to be the most important Arabic inscription of the sixth century, the second most important of all the pre-Islamic Arab inscriptions as a historical document. (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, 1995, p. 117)
The significance of the term “vassal” is broad:
“Vassal is a term used as part of feudalism in medieval Europe, where one enters into mutual obligations to a monarch, usually in the form of military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually to include land held as a fiefdom. This system can be applied to similar systems in other feudal societies. Although related, a fidelity, or fidelitas, is somewhat different as it is a sworn loyalty, subject to the king.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vassal
The concept of sovereignty is very debatable and until today has no unanimity or general agreement on:
“The concept has been discussed, debated and questioned throughout history, from the time of the Romans through to the present day, although it has changed in its definition, concept, and application throughout, especially during the Age of Enlightenment.”
According to Professor Lassa Oppenheim, one of the highest authorities on international law (International Law 66 (Sir Arnold D. McNair ed., 4th ed. 1928) :
“There exists perhaps no conception the meaning of which is more controversial than that of Sovereignty. It is an indisputable fact that this conception, from the moment when it was introduced into political science until the present day, has never had a meaning which was universally agreed upon. “
The simple namesake of “Vassal” does not mean “without Sovereignty”:
“Feudal vassalage . So, also, tributary states, and those subject to a kind of feudal dependence or vassalage, are still considered as sovereign, unless their sovereignty is destroyed by their relation to other states. Tribute does not necessarily affect sovereignty, nor does the acknowledgment of a nominal vassalage or feudal dependency.” (Henry Wager Halleck, Elements of international law and laws of war p.44)
“… the mere fact of dependence or feudal vassalage and payment of tribute, or of occasional obedience, or of habitual influence, does not destroy, although it may greatly impair, the sovereignty of the state so situated.”(Ibid. p. 188)
It’s ludicrous to try to diminish the role of the Ghassanids by saying that their military alliance to Byzantium and occasional “honorific homages” represented any loss of sovereignty. If the payment of any tribute, financial or honorary, is an indicative of the lack of sovereignty, so also the Byzantine emperors were not sovereign since they’ve had, for many times, paid tributes to barbarian kings to prevent invasions and other neighboring dynasties like the Persian emperor or the Arab Caliph.
Interesting to mention, that the actual recipients of a financial compensation from Byzantium were the Ghassanids and not the opposite since Byzantium used to pay a “munera” (directly to the kings), a “salaria” (to be given to the soldiers) and also the “annona foederatica” (a subsidy given to allies) to the Ghassanid kings in exchange of the military support. By simple logic, if Byzantium had the legal ownership of the Ghassanid sovereignty, they could simply demand the support without paying a single dime.
Remember that a sovereign don’t “ask”, but “command”.
Also, by saying that the Ghassanids had no sovereignty because the Ghassanid king had to have the support of the Byzantine emperor to be accepted is also nonsensical since every single king in Europe had to have the support of the Pope and sometimes even his physical presence in the coronation in order to be accepted. That didn’t make the European kings any less sovereign.
According to one of the Forefathers of International Law, Emmerich de Vattel in his book, “Law of Nations“:
Book I – Chap. I. Of Nations or Sovereign States
§ 5. States bound by unequal alliance.
We ought, therefore, to account as sovereign states those which have united themselves to another more powerful, by an unequal alliance, in which, as Aristotle says, to the more powerful is given more honour, and to the weaker, more assistance. The conditions of those unequal alliances may be infinitely varied, but whatever they are, provided the inferior ally reserve to itself the sovereignty, or the right of governing its own body, it ought to be considered as an independent state, that keeps up an intercourse with others under the authority of the Law of Nations.
§ 6. Or by treaties of protection.
Consequently a weak state, which, in order to provide for its safety, places itself under the protection of a more powerful one, and engages, in return, to perform several offices equivalent to that protection, without however divesting itself of the right of government and sovereignty, – that state, I say, does not, on this account, cease to rank among the sovereigns who acknowledge no other law than that of Nations.
§ 8. Of feudatory states.
The Germanic nations introduced another custom – that of requiring homage from a state either vanquished, or too weak to make resistance. Sometimes even, a prince has given sovereignties in fee, and sovereigns have voluntarily rendered themselves feudatories to others.
When the homage leaves independency and sovereign authority in the administration of the state, and only means certain duties to the lord of the fee, or even a mere honorary acknowledgment, it does not prevent the state or the feudatory prince being strictly sovereign. The King of Naples pays homage for his kingdom to the Pope, and is nevertheless reckoned among the principal Sovereigns of Europe.”
It is Important to mention again that several historians in the past had vested interests in diminishing the role and sovereignty of the Ghassanids. The Byzantine historians like Procopius and later some of the Muslim authors did the same once the Ghassanids were their declared historical enemies. On the one hand, the Greco-Roman historians had high prejudice against the Ghassanids, firstly, because they were Arabs, and secondly, because they were Monophysite Christians, a faith that was against the “mainstream” Christianity, officially adopted by the Byzantine Empire.
“Menander (Protector, the Byzantine historian) was a Christian, presumably a Chalcedonian. If so it’s not impossible that he saw in the strongly monophysite Ghassanids a schismatic group that was disrupting the Ecclesiastical unity of the empire with political implications as a centrifugal force. Hence, his dislike of the Ghassanids Arethas and Mundir who were the pillars of the movement both politically and militarily.” (Ibid. p. 335)
On the other hand, the great majority of Muslim historians (past and present) have considered the Ghassanids as traitors and infidels, after the fall of the Kingdom in 638 CE when the last King arguably briefly converted to Islam by force and then apostatized.
“In the capital [Constantinople] he [King Jabalah, the last King of Ghassan] reverted back to Christianity. Heraclius [Byzantine Emperor] received him with honour and bestowed upon him estates and palaces.” (Professor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected” p. 13)
According to the reputed and greatest scholar in the world regarding Ghassanids, the UNESCO Professor Yasmine Zahran on her book “Ghassan Resurrected” p. xii:
““Ghassan’s strong sense of identity and its fierce Arab Asabiyay* sustained throughout its domination for it remained as an integral part of the Arab tribal world with close relations with their relatives the Uzd (Azd), scattered over the peninsula in Yemen, Hejaz and Iraq and with major tribes outside the Ghassanid Federation and beyond the Roman Limes (Boundary).
With Rome, they kept their imperial connection but they did not adopt or ape Roman customs nor take Greco-Roman names. Their pride kept them from the status of clients or vassals and their integrity made them withdraw twice from Roman (Byzantine) service, but like their predecessors Philip the Arab (Roman Emperor) and Zenobia (Palmyrene Empress), they did not escape Greco-Roman prejudice as authors such as, Agathias, Menander, Evagrius, Theophylact Simocatta, gave them only a marginal role. Theophylact described them as “the Saracen tribe known to be unreliable and fickle, their mind is not steadfast” . Procopius blackened the Ghassanids whom he despised as barbarians to protect Belisarius and to criticize Justinian and Theodora. Theophanes called them wild and rude invaders.”
** `Asabiyya or asabiyah refers to social solidarity with an emphasis on unity, group consciousness, and social cohesion, originally in a context of “tribalism” and “Clanism”, but sometimes used for modern nationalism as well, resembling also Communitarianism . It was a familiar term in the pre-Islamic era, but became popularized in Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah where it is described as the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motive force of history.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asabiyyah
This ancient prejudice is echoed by some modern historians who wrote:
“ ‘The lack of information in Greek historians about Arab affairs in the late six and seventh centuries accurately reflects their lack of any importance in contemporary wars and diplomacy, fact that the Arabs appear marginal is because they were.’ (Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected” p. xii)
By the same token, Professor Evangelos Chrysos’ arguments and his prejudice against the Ghassanids, have been “bashed ” by Professor Shahid:
“It does not, however, justify [Professor Evangelos] Chrysos’ conclusion in rejecting on this basis the title of King for Arethas and the appellation regis” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, 1995, p. 112)
“Chrysos is still in the embrace of the Lakhmid theory of Procopius and suggesting the utterly incomprehensibe view that Arethas had been given the insignia of Kingship but without the title – and this in spite of the explicit statement that Justinian gave the title to him (Arethas).” (Ibid. 113)
“It is easy to argue, as Chrysos did, from the erroneous premise of a nomadic life for the Ghassanids to the conclusion that their ruler was a tribal shaykh (chief) not a byzantine basileus (king).” (Ibid. 110)
“Chrysos does not do justice to the Kaiserkritik expressed and implied in the passage in Procopius.” (Ibid. 111)
According to Stein, King Arethas was a complete sovereign and independent King:
“He [Professor Ernst Stein] continued to think that Mundir and Arethas were two absolutely sovereign Kings allied to the Persians and the Romans by treaty-relationships, and that in matters of foreign policy. The two client-kings were free to act as they pleased.” (The Arabs in the peace treaty of A.D. 561, Irfan Kawar, 1956, p. 204-20
All this matches with the recent archeological findings.
About Theodor Noldeke, his works are completely and absolutely outdated. His writings about the Ghassanids (Die Ghassanischen Fursten aus dem Hause Gafna’s) dated 1887, have ignored the recent archeological findings:
“When Noldeke wrote his monograph about the Ghassanids , [King] Jabala was a name associated with events around 500, thereafter disappearing from the sources then known. Subsequently, further sources, especially the new letter of Simeon of Beth-Arsham, have placed him around 520, leading to the identification of Arfar, who died in the battle of Thannuris in 528, with the Ghassanid federate King Jabala.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, p.48)
“Though the explicit of Simeon’s letter is short, it contains much information. First, Jabala is specifically referred to as King, as is confirmed by the Arabic sources and by Zacharia in Syriac. He inerited the title from his father Harith/Arethas [IV Ibn Hijr], and Byzantium confirmed it. Second, he is referred as ‘King of the Ghassanids’ . This phrase indicates clearly that Jabala was King only of the Ghassanids, not of the other Foederati (Arabs Allies of Byzantium) as well, as his son Arethas [V Ibn Jabala] was to become in 530 when Justinian conferred the extraordinary Basileia (Kingship) on him.” (Ibid.)
Finally, both the Usays Inscription and the Bishop Simeon’s letter, “pulverize” any of the ideas developed by Noeldeke, Chrysos or anyone trying to discredit the might of the Ghassanid Dynasty.
The Ghassanids Kings were sovereign because:
– They were Kings before they founded the Kingdom of Ghassan as they came from the Sabean Royal Family. So, they were not ennobled solely by the Byzantine Empire. There is a great difference between the “Basileia” (Byzantine Kingship) given by Justinian I in 529 CE, the “Supreme Phylarchate” given in the same occasion and the original Kingship (Arab) that the Ghassanids had since more than 300 years before:
“The dignity of King was not new to the Ghassanids, they had brought it with them from the Arabian where its assumption by a Ghassanid ruler is attested in a Sabaic inscription. When the Ghassanids appeared on the stage of Byzantine history, their chiefs, such as Tha’laba and Harith had already been Kings to their subjects. ” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, p.104)
– They’ve founded the Kingdom of Ghassan in 220 AD, exactly 110 years before the establishment of the Byzantine Empire,
– The original settlement of the Kingdom of Ghassan, although not very clear in terms of boundaries (as every ancient Asian Kingdom), didn’t belong to and wasn’t granted by the Byzantine Empire which considered the area outside their “limes” (boundaries).
Above: Maps: The Ghassanid Kingdom not only controlled their own land but also the Byzantine land (Oriens) , Hejaz, Yemen and all the areas relating to the Azd tribes.
– Although the exact actual boundaries are disputed, the original Ghassanid settlement from the 3rd Century (northern Arabia and Hejaz) was recognized to be Ghassanid jurisdiction, as it was depicted on the map of the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century that it was not part of the Roman Empire at that date.
Above: Maps: The areas relating to the original Ghassanid settlement (Northern Arabia, Hejaz and Yemen never belonged to either the Western or the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empires.
By that, we can conclude that although it might have some debate about the sovereignty of the part of Syria that was Roman (Byzantine) territory, there’s absolutely NO debate about the sovereignty of the Ghassanids beyond the Byzantine borders.
“The only region over which he may have territorial jurisdiction must have been extra limitem (beyond the Byzantine borders) either in Northern Arabia or Hijaz, the original homeland of the Ghassanids.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, p.107)
Irfan Shahid, based only on Procopius, admits that the Ghassanids had territorial jurisdiction over their homeland which tallies with the original Kingship existing prior to the relationship with the Byzantine Empire and recognized by Emperor Justinian l in 529 AD. Please note that Procopius is the only ancient source of these facts (on the Ghassanid Kingship) and he was openly biased against the Ghassanids.
“Procopius, our only source” (Ibid p. 108)
“Though often he [Procopius] is the only source for what he says .” (Ibid. p.301)
Clearly, as Procopius was both biased against the Ghassanids and the only source of the historical records on the Ghassanids’ Sovereignty, his statements or text cannot be completely fair and true due to his vested interests in diminishing the Ghassanid role in the Byzantine History.
“It is possible that Procopius had a brush with one or both of the Ghassanid figures [Kings Jabala and Arethas]and that this ill-disposed him toward them and their dynasty.” (Ibid. p.303)
“It was noted in the earlier studies that Procopius indulged in a series of ‘suppressio veri”‘ [suppressions of the truth] and ‘suggestio falsi’ [false suggestions] involving [King] Arethas and that this encompassed his military in two Persian wars, his Roman connections and his religious affiliation. This series comprises not only [King] ARETHAS but also his father, [King]JABALA” (Ibid. p.299)
“all of which enables Procopius to present [King] Arethas as ‘incompetent’ and ‘treacherous’, springing ‘ex nihilo’ [out of nothing], rather than someone descended from a distinguished Federate in the service of Rome – [King] Jabala.” (Ibid.)
“Most serious in Procopius’ garbled account is his suppression of the fact that [King] Arethas won a great victory over [Lakhmid King] Mundir in 554 of which Procopius certainly knew.” (Ibid.)
“this week was a sector that had been entrusted in large measure to the Ghassandis, and Procopius is completely silent on their watch over this segment of the ‘limes orientalis‘ [Oriental borders].” (Ibid. p.300)
“The complete silence of Procopius on both these areas [King Arethas’ titles, patriciate and Christian affiliation] becomes even more noticeable.” (Ibid. p. 301)
“The scope of Procopius silence and misinterpretation should have become clear in the course of this book, as it involved not only [King] Arethas but the entire Ghassanid Dynasty, from its inception as Federate ally of Byzantium at the opening of the sixth century. [King] Jabala as a figure in Arab-Byzantine relations is completely ignored. ” (Ibid.)
The prejudice against Arabs was open and notorious and was extended to other nations:
“it is well known that Procopius was not sympathetic to the barbarians to which Arabs in his arithmetic belonged..” (Ibid.p.303)
“Kinda [Arab Kingdom] also suffered from Pocopius’ account in much the same way that Ghassan [Ghassanid Kingdom] did, and so the two principal allies of [Byzantine Emperor] Justinian were denigrated.” (Ibid.)
“Thus, although [Ghassanid King] Arethas was the man target of Procopiius’ criticism, the Arabs in general are object of his disapproving comments, both federates living in the Oriens and non-federate pastoralists living in the Peninsula. ” (Ibid.)
According to Dame Averil Millicent Cameron, DBE, FBA , Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine History in the University of Oxford:
“For a writer of the sixth century Procopius is as remarkable for what he leaves out , as for what he has to say.” (Ibid.)
For his prestige and being the only source, it is obvious that Procopius’ prejudice would echo from the majority of scholars.
– The Ghassanids were “Foederati” or “symmacos”, in other words “fighting allies” that marked the limit of their vassalage. They did not pay any tributes to the Byzantine Empire; on the contrary, the Empire used to pay a “Salaria” (or salary) for their services to defend the Byzantine borders.
“In their military aspects, Byzantium established a relation with the limitrophe Arabs which made of them symmachoi, allies who received from the Empire the annona [tribute or payment] and in return watched the limes against the raids of the nomads, as well as participating effectively in the campaigns of the Army of the Orient against the Sasanids.” (The relations between Byzantium and the Arabs, Report on the Dumbarton Oaks Symposium of 1963, Hamiltona R. Gibb, p. 363)
“Whether the Ghassanid takeover from the limitanei (frontier districts), which made them de facto, if not, de jure, entailed corresponding changes in term of the foedus (Treaty )is not clear.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 2, part , p.xxxiv)
It is clear that the Ghassanids had a Treaty with the Empire. Only sovereign states can enter into a treaty in accordance with International Law. That defines completely the term “Foederati”:
“Early in the history of the Roman Republic, a foederatus identified one of the tribes bound by Treaty (Foedus), who were neither Roman colonies nor had they been granted Roman citizenship (Civitas) but were expected to provide a contingent of fighting men when trouble arose, thus were allies.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foedus
“It is also worth remembering that this was consonant with the tone and character of these two client-kingdoms (Ghassanids and Lakhmids); they were essentially military and not commercial organizations as the Nabataeans of Petra had been.” (The Arabs in the peace treaty of A.D. 561, Irfan Kawar, Arabica, T. 3, Fasc. 2 (May, 1956), p. 187)
– This is very important and corroborates with where the forefathers of international law defined the line of having or not having sovereignty: the Byzantine empire did not interfere with the internal affairs of the Ghassanid rule – a very important issue regarding sovereignty. Even in the Byzantine areas governed by the Ghassanids, they were considered to be the “de facto” rulers in full capacity:
“And though the Ghassanid King was the head of what we would today call a client state, he and the [Byzantine] Emperor met on EQUAL FOOTING – as comrades in arms – discussing matters of earthshaking and less-than-earthshaking importance.” (Gene Gurney, “Kingdoms of Asia, the Middle east and Africa”, 1986, p.70)
– Because of the abovementioned , some Muslim authors defer to the Ghassanids sharing the sovereignty of present Syria (besides the aforementioned area of the original settlement of Northern Arabia and Hejaz),
” The lands of Ash-Sham (present Syria) were under the sovereignty of the Roman [Byzantine] Empire AND THE GHASSANIDS who had influence over the Arab tribes there who were their representatives in the south of Ash-Sham.” (Child companions around the Prophet, by Darussalam, p.147)
– The titles and styles given to the Ghassanid Kings increased (not diminished) to recognize their prior territorial sovereignty and power:
“These were included in the phrase in Procopius that spoke of the elevation of Arethas to the Archyphilarchia and the Basileia: as many tribes as possible placed under his command‘.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, 1995, p. 51)
“…the Ghassanid Mundir (King Arethas V’s son), as his father before him, was a crowned King, a dignity inherited from his father, who belonged to an Arab royal house, and which was CONFIRMED (NOT BESTOWED) by the Byzantine autocrator [Emperor] . ” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, Part 1 p.497)
“[Ghassanid King] Mundir represented the highest summit that the Ghassandi Kings reached in the ladder of the imperial administration, and so the title used to describe him must have been the highest . Besides, it is used together with Patricius, which was the highest dignitas [dignitas] Byzantium could bestow.” (Ibid.p.496)
No other sovereignty could compare with the great powers and honors relating to the new Kingship, suggesting a high degree of sovereignty as related by the historian Procopius, who was, in fact, often biased against the Ghassanids:
“The Basileia (Kingship) conferred by Justinian on Arethas takes a new meaning, one which Procopius’ comment that is something that ‘among the Romans (both Western and Eastern – Byzantine) HAD NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE‘ …” (Ibid)
– The fact that the Ghassanid Kings were “Archphylarcs” and “Basileus” (Kingly Byzantine title) of the Byzantine Empire did not conflict with their titles and prerogatives as Arab Kings (Maliks and Sheiks) as aforementioned.
“The OLD Basileia (Arab Kingship) was confirmed by the Byzantine Emperor; the NEW ONE (Byzantine Kingship) was bestowed by him”” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, p.104)
“Contemporary documents reflect the contrast between the two Basileia (Kingships). In Simeon, Jabala is termed as ‘King of the Ghassanids’, in Usays inscription Arethas is called simply ‘The King’, possibly indicating the extension of the Basileia (kingship) over non-Ghassanids including the person who sets up the inscription.” (Ibid)
“In the case of the Ghassanids it was a confirmation and an extensions of the royal tradition that the Ghassanids had had and which they hadbrought with them from South Arabia.” (Ibid p.111)
“The more important element in the Lakhmid echo was the creation of the Archphylarchate, which was covered under the umbrella of the Basileia (Kingship). This is where the effect of the Lakhmid echos ends, and this is the extent of the Lakhmid implication in the passage in Procopius.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, 1995, p. 111)
It clearly shows that the previous sovereignty of the Ghassanids existed and was confirmed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian l in 529 independently of the new kingship bestowed upon King Arethas.
– During the 520’s, they did briefly withdrew their services to the Byzantine Empire and at the same time existed as a nation. They did it twice.
– Some historians defend that the Ghassanids had their Sovereignty encroached by the Byzantine-Persian Treaty of A. D. 561.:
“. . . the Byzantine-Persian Treaty of A. D. 561. . . encroach on whatever sovereignty the Ghassanids had. But they do not imply that the Ghassanid were Roman (Byzantne) citizens.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, 1995, p. 226)
First of all, the word “encroach” doesn’t mean “eliminate”, but “negatively affect”. With that citation, an important fact arises: the Ghassanids were not Roman (Byzantine) citizens. By International Law, if you agree that the Ghassanids were active parties of the referred Treaty, you’ve to assume that they were sovereign. To be sovereign, according to International Law, treaties are binding only from the consent of the States:
“Treaties are not necessarily permanently binding upon the signatory parties. As obligations in International Law are traditionally viewed as arising only from the consent of States, many treaties expressly allow a state to withdraw as long as it follows certain procedures of notification.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty#Ending_treaty_obligations
“The Saracen (Arab) allies of both States (Byzantine and Persian) were included in this peace (Treaty).” (J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, I923, II, P. 121.)
The Treaty included the Saracen (Arab) allies of both Empires (Byzantine and Persian), so again, by International Law, they can only be parties of a treaty if they were sovereign states or international organizations. The Ghassanids clearly weren’t an “organization” as even with their vassalage, they were sovereign:
“A Treaty is an express agreement under International Law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty
This treaty was broken and withdrawn by the Byzantine side in 572 AD by Emperor Justin II:
” A struggle over Lazika dragged on until a general treaty, pledging peace for 50 years, was signed in 561. War erupted in 572 [eleven years later] when Justin ll refused tribute to the Persians. [which was a major clause of the treaty]” (John Hutchins Rosser, ‘ Historical dictionary of Byzantium’ p.79)
“Indeed one of the main conditions of the treaty under discussion was the payment by Byzantium of a huge sum of money to Persia, in return for the cession of Lazica.” (The Arabs in the peace treaty of A.D. 561, Irfan Kawar, Arabica, T. 3, Fasc. 2 (May, 1956), p. 193)
– Even in the hypotheses that they didn’t have any previous sovereignty, the fact that the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I bestowed on King Al-Harith (Flavius Arethas) in 529 AD, the highest hereditary title of King “Basileus“, created an “Independent Sovereign entity” , perfectly valid according to Dynastic Law. Even after the deposition in 638 Ce when Byzantine Emperor Heraclius had received Ghassanid King Jablah with “open arms” in Constantinople.
“The Ghassanid Basileia (Kingship) was hereditary, passing from father to son.”(Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, p.104)
Below is an awarded article (the best publication of History of Law and Heraldry by the International Writers Association in 2002) by Professor Mario Silvestre de Meroe:
Above: the certificate given to Professor Dr. Mario Silvestre de Meroe by the International Writers Association in Ohio (USA) as the “Best Publication of History of Law and Heraldry ” in 2002.
“The Dynastic bestowal, institutional in nature, gives rise to an entity, the legal personality of a dynastic right, with representation and leadership positions assigned to an individual, awarded the title corresponding to the virtual domain and, as a rule, with the prerogatives of jus honorum. The dynastic being so raised, through its representative, called the Chief of Name and Arms, may grant titles and awards to those whom he considers worthy of honor, at his discretion, not subject to any limitation in time (several people can be bestowed in the same generation ), or in relation to the amount of titles. Occurs, thus creating a Dynasty, a cycle that will begin their own traditions, a separate institution of the house grantor, whom shall not have power or control over their actions.
The entity is established dynastic well-endowed in perpetuity, irrevocability, and irreversibility, under the accepted doctrine, historical examples and case nobility law. Once created, being separated from the dynastic heritage of its founder and acquires independent existence, with historical attributes of sovereignty, recognized as the dynastic houses in exile.
The attribute of irrevocability of the dynastic bestowal, along with good doctrine, refers to its historical origins. In another work of mine, we cite the first known event, the translation of dynastic rights, narrated in the Bible (Genesis, chap. 25, 27), evoking the saga of Jacob and Esau.
Does the biblical text quoted in the book, Jacob, prompted by his mother, Rebecca, through a ruse, transacted the birthright to his brother Esau, who was the “heir” of the leadership of the tribe. With cunning, he obtained the blessing, the patriarch Isaac, and became, ipso facto, leader of Israel, father of twelve children, which would lead to the tribes that formed the Hebrew people. “Verbis”:
“The ceremony of blessing described here, although riddled with addiction (fraud), its consummation had irrevocable effect, condoning the translation previously held, probably kept secret by the parties. It was thus solemnly sworn, in fact and law, the new head of the fledgling Israeli nation. The biblical text emphasizes the perplexity and impotence of Isaac before the fait accompli and unmovable.”
We want to emphasize, is the irrevocable nature of the enthronement, in its various forms, indelibly embedded in the person of the recipient, who will forward it unscathed to their heirs and successors There is, reading the above excerpt, the patriarch Isaac is tipped perplexed by the warp of his son, but above all, powerless to undo the act (the blessing) of transmission of the dynastic rights (at the time, absolute) in the form of ceremonial force. By virtue of his succession to power, had lost jurisdiction over the tribe.”
Above: an excerpt of an Italian Newspaper announcing Dr. Mario de Meroe as winner of another award. It says: ” To the Jurist Dr. Mario de Meroe the International Cultural Award of Saint Venceslau 2009 Edition“. Dr. Meroe’s work was entitled “The Byzantine Theocracy in Italy.”
As clearly stated by Dr. Meroe, the enthronement is irrevocable and indelible. If the bestowed King promises to exercise it in any condition of Vassalage, it doesn’t change the fact that, even if his sovereignty was limited, he was incontestably King and Sovereign. The same happens in present Constitutional Monarchies, the King voluntarily accepts to limit his Sovereignty. According with Professor Stephen P. Kerr:
“A monarch is not deprived of the power conferred on him by his Kingship merely because he has promised to exercise it in a certain way..” (“King and Constitution in International Law,” The Augustan, vol. 18, no. 4, 1977, p. 130)
“Sovereignty does not cease to be such even if he who is going to exercise it makes promises – even promises touching matters of government. ” (Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Book I, Chapter 3, number XVI )
“That what I say is true becomes clear from the similarity of the case under consideration to that of the head of a household. If the Head of a household promises that he will do for it something which affects the government of it, he will not on that account cease to have full authority over his household, so far as matters of the household are concerned. A husband, furthermore, is not deprived of the power conferred on him by marriage because he has promised something to his wife..” (Ibid.)
For the ones that question the Ghassanid sovereignty, some questions must be addressed:
* If the Ghassanid Kings were so inferior and so dependent, How could they meet on ‘equal footing ‘ with the Byzantine Emperor?
“And though the Ghassanid King was the head of what we would today call a client state, he and the [Byzantine] Emperor met on equal footing – as comrades in arms – discussing matters of earthshaking and less-than-earthshaking importance.” (Gene Gurney, “Kingdoms of Asia, the Middle east and Africa”, 1986, p.70)
* If the Ghassanid Kingdom was so dependable of the Byzantine Empire, why do the Ghassanid Kings withdrew their alliance with the Byzantine Empire twice?
“The Ghassanids, removed from Byzantine service for a relatively long time ” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, part 1, p.38)
“Their pride kept them from the status of clients or vassals and their integrity made them withdraw twice from Roman (Byzantine) service. ” (Professor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected” p. xii)
* If they were so inferior, how could the Ghassanid King Mundir have so much influence over Pope Gregory, to have him interfere over a dispute with Byzantine Emperor Maurice in the end of the 6th Century?
“The Pope’s [Gregory] sympathy with [Ghassanid King] Mundir, the chief of the Monophysite Ghassanids, is noteworthy” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1, part 1, p.605)
* If they did not have territorial sovereignty outside the Byzantine borders how could the Ghassanid Prince Abu Karib give territory (Phoinikon/Tabuk) as a gift to Byzantium?
Logically, for one to give something, one has to own it.
“Procopius explicitly documents the Ghassanid character of Phoinikon/Tabuk, a site that belonged to the Ghassanids and was offered to Byzantium by its master, the Ghasanid Phylarch [Prince] Abu KaribP (King Arethas V’s brother).” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 2, part 2, p.23)
“Thus the region of Phoinikon that [Prince] Abu Karib [King Arethas’ brother] presented to Justinian around 530 must have been in that category, then to become technically Roman territory.”
“Procopius states [Prince] Abu Karib [brother of King Arethas V] ruled over Phoinikon in Northern Hijaz (beyond Byzantine borders).” (Ibid. p. 38)
“The Ghassanids must have possessed themselves or Phoinikon, or at least reaffirmed their connection with it, while they were withdrawn from Byzantium.” (Ibid. p. 39)
“The Ghassanid withdrawal to Northern Hijaz was thus a matter of some importance both to Arabian history and to Arab-Byzantine relations.” The Ghassanids reaffirmed their Peninsular connections in Hijaz , which was in a sense the territory of the ‘outer shield’ ‘ for Byzantium.” (Ibid. p. 39)
* Why did the Byzantine Emperor Justinian give to King Arethas so many titles, especially the imperial address?
“The Basileia (Kingship) conferred by Justinian on Arethas takes a new meaning, one which Procopius’ comment that is something that ‘among the Romans (both Western and Eastern – Byzantine) had never been done before…” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 2, part 1, p.51)
* Why did Justin II (Justinian’s nephew and heir) give his daughter the name “Arabia”, so unconventional for the Byzantine customs?
“Even more relevant and more certain is the name ‘Arabia’, which was given to the daughter of Justine ll, the nephew of Justinian. Nomenclature is significant and can reflect attitudes and relationships; I have argued elsewhere that this strikingly un-Byzantine, un-Greek, and un-Christian name was given her as a result of the warm relations that obtained between the Arab Phyarchate-Kingship of the Ghassandis and the Central Government during the reign of.” (Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 2, part 2, p.114)
This last action had sealed the warm relationship between the Ghassanids and the Byzantium.
In closing, as far as Dynastic Law, the Ghassanid Claim of Sovereignty is perfect. To understand its perfection we have to ask the question related to the 4 (four) basic Sovereign Rights:
1. Did the Ghassanids have “Jus Imperii” (the right to rule over a territory and a people)?
Yes they did. It’s clear that they’ve had jurisdiction coming from the Byzantine Empire over the Oriens (the Diocese of the East, composed by provinces of the western Middle East, between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia). They’re “Kings of the Oriens”, even being vassals as far as the territories they’ve had shared sovereignty with the Byzantine empire like greater Syria. They’ve had total control over the area and the Byzantine Empire didn’t interfere in the internal affairs and decisions made by the Kings. Regardless of the Byzantine Vassalage, they’ve had full territorial jurisdiction over the areas of northern (present) Saudi Arabia, Hejaz, Yemen and other areas inhabited by the Azd (Uzd) tribes.
2. Did the Ghassanids have “Jus Gladii” (the right of the sword, the right to command armies and inflict capital penalties)?
Yes they did. Both in the Byzantine Oriens and over the independent jurisdiction of northern (present) Saudi Arabia, Hejaz, Yemen and other areas inhabited by the Azd (Uzd) tribes. Regarding the Oriens, the Byzantine Empire actually didn’t interfere in any decisions regarding capital punishments and the Ghassanid function on the area was the “supreme Phylarchate”, in other words, they were the “commanders-in-chief” of the whole federation armies.
3. Did they have “Jus Majestatis” (the right to be honored and respected according with your title)?
Yes they did. That was recognized even by Byzantine Emperor Justin I before bestowing the another “Basileia” (Kingship) on the (already) King Arethas (Al-Harith). That’s absolutely proven not only by historians but by many archeological evidences.
4. Did they have “Jus Honorum” (the right to award titles, merit and virtue)?
Yes they did. They created Princes and Princesses and also “Sheiks” among other honors.
The above fully satisfies Dynastic and International Law as far as Sovereignty.
Sworn legal statement from world’s leading scholar in Middle Eastern Royal Succession HERE
5 thoughts on “Were the Ghassanids sovereign?”
Earlier this month during my trip to my hometown Batroun , Lebanon. I walked all over town and took many picture. About ten days ago, When I came back to the USA and wanted to publish these pictures on Facebook; there was one picture of a stone on a wall of a very house with some writing on it. To my surprise it says on it that the Sahyoun family started many of the old families in Batroun. Also said that the Sahyoun came from the gassan kingdom
I would like to share this picture and learn more
The house now is owned by the ministry of history
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