“Ghassan post-Ghassan” was the title of Professor Irfan Shahid’s essay about what happened with the Ghassanid Dynasty after the fall of the first Kingdom in the VII Century. The essay is in the Festschrift “The Islamic World”, for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, pp.323=336.
However, we’ll go a little beyond Professor Shahid’s account using not only his essay but also information from other sources. The Ghassanids had, over history, tremendous achievements in several areas but we’ll concentrate our essay on the ruling families that claimed to be part of the Ghassanid Dynasty.
One might think that the subject is part of some obscure section of the past Arab history. However, the subject’s relevancy is amazingly current. In a recent Time Magazine article (April 16 2012, pg.24 – “A Region at War with Its History – Democracy struggles to survive in the Middle East for old and economic reasons”), journalist Fareed Zakaria, citing the paper written by Harvard Professor Erich Chaney, states that the lack of democracy experienced in the Arab world today is a direct consequence of the Muslim conquest initiated in the VII Century:
“He (Professor Chaney) NOTES THAT THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT TODAY EXISTS IN LANDS THAT WERE CONQUERED BY ARAB ARMIES AFTER THE DEATH IN A.D. 632 OF THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD. Lands that the Arabs controlled in the 12th century remain economically stunted today. THIS CORRELATION IS NOT SIMPLY A COINCIDENCE. Scholars from Montesquieu to Bernard Lewis suggest that there was something in the political development of the Arab imperial system that seemed to poison the ground against economic pluralism. ARAB IMPERIAL CONTROL TENDED TO MEAN CENTRALIZED POLITICAL AUTHORITY, WEAK CIVIL SOCIETY, a dependent merchant class, and a large role for the state in the economy. Chaney documents the latter, showing that the government’s share of GDP is 7% higher on average in countries that were conquered by Arab armies than in those that were not.”
Important to mention again, that over five million Christian Ghassanids live today whithersoever dispersed around the globe. They are almost exactly the same people as their ancestors were fourteen centuries ago due to their interbreed relations.
“While Ghassanid Christians clung to their identity as a minority and were interbreed [keeping the blood pure] because of the prohibition of marriage with non-Christians..” (Professor Doctor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected”, 2006, p.149)
Bias, Ignorance, or Laziness?
After the Islamic conquest of the Arabic peninsula and the constitution of the Islamic regime called the “Caliphate”, every historian seems to overlook the minutiae of what actually was happening in the region after the “Levant”. Looking to any map of the region from the VII Century on, in any history book, we’ll see an inaccurate image of the Islamic control over the peninsula.
The maps above give the impression that the Caliphates had a very cohesive control over the area which was absolutely NOT true.
“After the disappearance of the Ghassanid state, isolated Ghassanian Princes continued to reign in some oases and castles, along with Salihids and some other phylae.” (“Late Antiquity” – Bowesock/Brown/Grabar, Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 469)
Historians support not only this assertion but the fact that this practice was very common during all of the extension of the Islamic dominion over the region.
“935[AD]… From this point, the caliphs no longer wield temporal power but retain merely a symbolic authority. Real power now resides with the local rulers, who establish dynasties in various parts of the empire.” (“Islam – A short history”- Karen Armstrong – 2002, p.xix)
“1118-1258[AD] Small dynasties now function independently, acknowledging the suzerainty of the Abbasid caliphate, BUT IN PRACTICE BOWING ONLY TO THE SUPERIOR POWER OF A NEIGHBOURING DYNASTY.” (Ibid. p. xxii)
So, it’s clear that all of these maps do not reflect the truth. If we know that the caliphate no longer had temporal power, the suzerainty proclaimed by the small sovereignties (however short-lived) was merely an honorific courtesy.
It’s also clear that the Ghassanid Dynasty didn’t die after the battle of Yarmuk or the fall of the first Kingdom. The Dynasty would play a higher role in the highest throne on earth at the time: the Byzantine imperial purple.
Solidus with Byzantine Emperors Nikephoros and Staurakios from Royal Ghassanid origin
The Byzantine Empire
Since the elevation of the Ghassanid King Arethas (Al-Harith) V (reigned 528-569 AD), to many titles by Emperor Justinian I in 529 AD, like “King of all Arabs”, the Imperial address (Axioma Basileus) and the “Archyphilarchia” of the Oriens (the Commander-in-chief of all Arab Armies of the Byzantine Federation), the Ghassanid Kings were elevated to the rank of “Patricians” of the Byzantine Empire, in other words, the highest rank of nobility or the ruling class within the Empire.
“The term patrician (Latin: patricius, Greek: πατρίκιος) originally referred to a group of elite families in ancient Rome, including both their natural and adopted members. In the late Roman Empire, the class was broadened to include high council officials, and after the fall of the Western Empire it remained a high honorary title in the Byzantine Empire.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrician_(ancient_Rome)
After the fall of the first Kingdom in the VII Century, King Jabalah VI (reigned 628-638 AD) established a Government-in-exile in Constantinople, later moving to Anatolia.
” Heraclius [Byzantine Emperor] received him [King Jabalah] with honor and bestowed upon him estates and palaces.” (Professor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected” p. 13)
“Although little is known of Jabala’s activities after his emigration to Anatolia, his place in the history of the Ghassanids in the Middle Byzantine period is important, since it was he who established a strong Ghassanid presence in Byzantine Anatolia, one which lasted for many centuries. The climax of this presence was the elevation of one of his descendants to the purple and his establishment of a short-lived dynasty which might be described as the House of Nicephorus.” (“Ghassan post Ghassan” by Prof. Irfan Shahid, Festschrift “The Islamic World – From classical to modern times”, for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, pg. 325)
“Nicephorus (A.D. 802-11) was a descendant of the Ghassanid [King] Jabala.” (Ibid.)
This assertion was even stronger not merely citing King Jabala as an ancestor, but the eponym of the Royal Ghassanid Dynasty using the name of King Jafna, the founder of the Ghassanid Kingdom. Therefore, we can conclude that Emperor Nicephorus (or Nikephoros) was not only citing his ascendancy but by using the term “Jafna” he was claiming to be the head of the Ghassanid Dynasty.
“…This valuable information comes from Tabari; see Tarik (Cairo, 1966), VIII, 307, when he speaks of [King] Jafna, the eponym of the Ghassanids, rather than [King] Jabala.” (Ibid. pg.334)
In spite of his short reign, he is considered a great Byzantine Emperor.
“He had been a high official in the previous reign (logothete, or minister of finance), and yet, in spite of his background in imperial finance, he played an important and vigorous role in the military and ecclesiastical history of Byzantium throughout the nine years of his reign.” (“Ghassan post Ghassan” by Prof. Irfan Shahid, Festschrift “The Islamic World – From classical to modern times”, for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, pg. 325)
Like Roman Emperor Philip the Arab, according to many scholars a Ghassanid Sheikh himself and the first Christian Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Nikephoros was a pioneer:
“… the first Arab Emperor to rule in Constantinople.” (Ibid.)
He was bold and obstinate like his other ascendant, Ghassanid King Al-Harith Bin Abu Chemor Al-Ghassani, who in the VII Century rebuffed the Prophet Mohammad after receiving his letter demanding his conversion to Islam. Right at the beginning of his reign, Emperor Nikephoros refused to recognize Charlemagne’s imperial title, assumed in 800 A.D.
“In 803 Nikephoros concluded a treaty, called the Pax Nicephori, with Charlemagne, but refused to recognize the latter’s imperial dignity.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikephoros_I
Unfortunately, as his reign, his Dynasty was also succinct. Nikephoros’ son Stauracius (also Staurakios) was crowned co-emperor in 803 AD, but after his father’s death, he reigned only for two months as sole emperor. The power then went to his brother-in-law, Emperor Michael I Rangabe who ruled from 811 until 813 AD with his wife, Nikephoros’ daughter Empress Procopia (later Saint Procopia). Procopia’s eldest son Theophylactos reigned as co-emperor with his father from 811 AD.
“The House of Nicephorus in the ninth century was represented both in the imperium (Empire) and in the ecclesia (Church). Another grandson of Nicephorus through Procopia, Nicetas (also Niketas), finally became Patriarch of Constantinople. As Ignatius (later Saint Ignatius), he twice became Patriarch, the first time from 847 until he was deposed in 858, and the second time, after being reinstated, for the period 867-77.” (“Ghassan post Ghassan” by Prof. Irfan Shahid, Festschrift “The Islamic World – From classical to modern times”, for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, pg. 327)
“It was thus given to a grandson of Nicephorus the highest rank of the Byzantine ecclesia (later to be the highest rank of the whole Orthodox Church)…” (Ibid.)
St. Ignatius or Ignatios (Greek: Ιγνάτιος), (c. 797–877) Patriarch of Constantinople from July 4, 847 to October 23, 858 and from November 23, 867 to his death on October 23, 877.
Some scholars defend that Emperor Michael I and Prokopia could be ancestors to the later Byzantine Emperors of the Macedonian Dynasty. For example, David Hughes has theorized such a descent by which Prokopia’s son, Theophylaktos was father to a daughter, named Melissena. Melissena married Inger Martinakios. Inger was the father of Eudokia Ingerina.
“Eudokia (or Eudocia) Ingerina (Greek: Ευδοκία Ιγγερίνα) (c. 840 – c. 882) was the wife of the Byzantine emperor Basil I, the mistress of his predecessor Michael III, and the mother to both the Emperors Leo VI and Alexander and Patriarch Stephen I of Constantinople.”
That being true, would put Ghassanid Imperial and Royal blood on the purple throne again for almost another two hundred years.
The Nasrid Dynasty
After the fall of the first Kingdom, many Ghassanids migrated to Spain and founded a small city, a “Principality” there also called “Ghassan”.
“Other Ghassanids emigrated to Umayyad Spain as part of the Jund of Damascus and settled in Andalusia in a qarya (village) near Granada that they called ‘Ghassan’, Cacin of today.” (Professor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected” p. 146)
“Cacín is a Spanish municipality belonging to the province of Granada in the autonomous community of Andalusia.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cac%C3%ADn
City of Cacin (Ghassan) in Spain
“Most theories suggest that the name “Cacín” comes from an anthroponym since the eighth century there was an Arab tribe, “Gassin” (Ghassan), in Elvira influential in times of Abd al-Khaliq al-Gassani that was appointed qadi [Magistrate] of the kora (one of the territorial demarcations which were divided al-Andalus, the Arab Spain).” http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cac%C3%ADn
So, it’s clear that, by many different tentatives, the Ghassanid Princes tried to preserve their Kingdom in different places.
The Rasulid Dynasty
Several Ghassanids ceded to the pressure of being forced to convert to Islam. The Rasulid was a Muslim dynasty that ruled Yemen and Hadhramaut from 1229 to 1454 AD. The Ghassanids always were symbols of Christianity and resistance to the Muslim regime.
“Descent from the Royal Ghassanids was an honour to be claimed by many Christians as was the honour for Muslims in claiming descent from Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet [Muhammad].” (Professor Doctor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected”, 2006, p.149)
So, as far as prestige, the Ghassanids were to the Arab world the equivalents of the Habsburgs were to Europe. Today, both of Royal Houses of Hashemite (Jordan) and Alouite (Morocco) claim descendency from the Quraysh.
So, it’s very ironic that the Rasulids so proudly invoked their descent claiming to be the heirs of the Ghassanid Dynasty. However, it’s known (and cited at the beginning of this essay) that there was a prohibition to any Ghassanid citizen to be from any other religion but Christianity and also to marry someone outside the Christian faith. So legally, the Rasulids Sultans, although legitimate descendants, couldn’t be the lawful heirs of the Ghassanid Dynasty.
“…the Rasulids themselves were aware of their Ghassanid descent and were proud of it. The natural question arises: why would they have concocted such a lineage if they had not truly been descended from the Ghassanids of old? Furthermore, why would they, as Muslims, have chosen a descent from those Christian Ghassanids, whose last king had had that well-known encounter with Caliph ‘Umar, and who had gone over to ally himself with the chief enemy of Islam, the Byzantine Empire?” (“Ghassan post Ghassan” by Prof. Irfan Shahid, Festschrift “The Islamic World – From classical to modern times”, for Bernard Lewis, Darwin Press l989, pg. 332)
The Sultans from the Burji Dynasty also claimed Ghassanid descent
The Burji Mamluks
The Burji dynasty المماليك البرجية ruled Egypt from 1382 until 1517. Although mainly of Circassian origin (not Arab), they claimed to be of Ghassanid Royal blood. Many Islamic scholars agreed with this assertion like Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Yas. Also P. Holt in his book “The Exalted Lineage of Ridwan Bey”, BSOAS (1959) pp. 221-30.
The Burj Mamluk Sultans were, obviously, Muslims. For them, as for the Rasulids, the claim of being Ghassanid (the most famous Christian Arab Dynasty) would be a matter of shame, not pride.
At the beginning of the XVI Century, they lost their throne to the Ottomans. However, they kept their prestige becoming an elite inside the Ottoman empire, like their ancestors in the Byzantine.
“In 1517 the Ottoman Turks and their sultan Selim I defeated the Mamluks with the capture of Cairo on January 20. The center of power transferred from Cairo to Istanbul. However, the Ottoman Empire retained the Mamluks as an Egyptian ruling class, and the Mamluks and the Burji family succeeded in regaining much of their influence, but remained technical vassals of the Ottomans.”
The Sovereign Christian Sheiks El Chemor
Concomitant with both the Rasulids and the Mamluks, we see several sovereign Christian Sheikhs ruling small Sheikhdoms in the region we know as Lebanon today.
It’s known and documented that the El Chemor Sheikhs descended directly from Ghassanid King El Chemor Jablah Ibn Aiham (ruled 632-638 CE), the last King of Ghassan:
“It is a reputed deep-rooted allegation that the heads of Al-Chemor tribe are rooted from Bani Chemor, who are the Christian Kings of Ghassan which belong to [King] Al Jafna.” Father Ignatios Tannos El-Khoury, Historical Scientific Research: “Sheikh El Chemor Rulers of Al-Aqoura (1211-1633) and Rulers of Al-Zawiye (1641-1747)” Beirut, Lebanon, 1948, p.38
The Sheikhs El Chemor are known to rule Al-Akoura (Byblos District, presently Lebanon) from 1211 to 1633A.D. and ruled as sovereigns the region of Zawiya from 1641 to 1747 A.D.
The Encyclopedia of the Maronite families of Lebanon, published by the prestigious Catholic Notre Dame University, in volume 4, mentions the El Chemor family
The text is very concise but confirms the chronicles of Maronite historian Patriarch Stephen Duaihy (1630-1704 CE) and the 1948’s book of historian Ignatios Tannos El Khoury, mentioning both sources as some of the many references.
Based on the reputation of the greatest Arab historian of the 17th Century, the Patriarch Estephan El Douaihy (1630-1704), the Sheiks El Chemor were related by marriage to the Hashemites (El-Hashem) of Al-Akoura. Therefore, they are related to the Royal Family of Jordan, who claims to be linked directly by blood with the Prophet Mohammad, the founder of Islam. In 1757, Sheik Antoun Chemor took his father’s (Sheik Gharios Chemor) first name as his family name, so, changing from “Chemor” to “Gharios”.
Suffering from persecution from the Muslims since the 7th Century, the Family found it impossible to bear the situation in the 19th Century with the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire forcing many members to escape to other continents.
“… in modern times, thirteen centuries later were claimants of Ghassanid descent emigrated from Palestine and Lebanon to the new world.” (Professor Doctor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected”, 2006, p.143)
The Gharios family was established in Brazil and registered as “Guerios”. After decades of struggle settling in a new continent, one branch of the family was able to restore the Imperial and Royal House of Ghassan being accredited internationally by the United Nations and legally recognized by the Government of the Lebanese Republic by Presidential decree number 5800/2019. More HERE
Important: Please, note in the document below, that a full investigation was conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior culminating with the approval by the Council of Ministers. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fully aware of the Royal Houses’ international activities and goals having to issue a formal report (No.865/5 of March 6th, 2018) also, HRH Prince Gharios El Chemor was formally invited by the Lebanese Government to several official events (see certificate below signed by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs)
Sworn English Legal Translation of the Council of Ministers’ decision that has culminated with the Presidential Decree Download
The certificate above signed by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs stating the official participation of HRH Prince Gharios El Chemor at the Lebanese Diaspora Conference, an official governmental event
The Emirate of Jabal Shammar (Chemor)
“The Emirate of Jabal Shammar (Arabic: إمارةجبلشمر), also known as the Emirate of Haʾil (إمارةحائل) or the Emirate of The House of Rashīd (إمارةآلرشيد), was a state in the Nejd region of Arabia, existing from the mid-nineteenth century to 1921. Jabal Shammar in English is translated as the “Mountain of the Shammar“. Jabal Shammar’s capital was Ha’il. It was led by a monarchy of the House of Rashīd. It included parts of modern-day Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emirate_of_Jabal_Shammar
The Maronite Encyclopedia of Families confirms the chronicles of Maronite historian Patriarch Stephen Duaihy (1630-1704 CE) and the 1948’s book of historian Ignatios Tannos El Khoury, mentioning both sources as some of the many references (see p. 2236, Encyclopedia of the Maronite Families, v.4, Notre Dame University) also stating that the El Chemor family and the El Shammar family of Saudi Arabia are the same. The way of writing the family name in Arabic is identical and there is absolutely no other family with this name in the whole Arab world. If that fact is true, there’s no harm to the Ghassanid Royal Claim since the El Shammar family is Muslim and there was a prohibition of Ghassanids to even marry non-Christians. (See Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected”, p. 150).
“Some of them [Chemor/Shammar family] migrated to the north of the Arabian Peninsula, and they founded in year 905 A.D the capital of the Emirate of the Shammar. It remained with the takeover of [king] Abdul-Aziz Al Saud forces on all parts of the region in 2/11/1921 A.D, and the announcement of the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 23/9/1932 …” p. 2236, Encyclopedia of the Maronite Families, v.4, Notre Dame University
But such a statement makes the El Chemor family even more prestigious and Royal since that would make the Lebanese El Chemors cousins of the Emirs of Jabal Shammar (1836-1921 CE). The family has ruled virtually almost all of the Arabian Peninsula: the Christian Family has ruled the whole Levant (today Syria, Jordan, part of Iraq, and Lebanon) and the Muslim family has ruled the majority of today Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq. Important to note that the El Chemor family of Lebanon (the heirs of all the Christian titles) doesn’t claim the Muslim titles and vice-versa.
“The Emirate of Jabal Shammar (Arabic: إمارةجبلشمر), also known as the Emirate of Haʾil (إمارةحائل) or the Emirate of The House of Rashīd (إمارةآلرشيد), was a state in the Nejd region of Arabia, existing from the mid-nineteenth century to 1921. Jabal Shammar in English is translated as the “Mountain of the Shammar“. Jabal Shammar’s capital was Ha’il. It was led by a monarchy of the House of Rashīd. It included parts of modern day Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emirate_of_Jabal_Shammar
Above: Map of the Emirate of Jabal Shammar
Above: Flags of the Emirate of Jabal Shammar
The emirate of Jabal Shammar (or Ha’il) is portrayed in the movie “Queen of the desert“(2017) by the acclaimed director Werner Herzog and starring the academy award winner Nicole Kidman.
Also, by that statement, the Sheikhs El Chemor of Lebanon are cousins of several Saudi Princes that descend from Princess Fahda bint Asi Al Shammar (El Chemor) wife of the founder of the Saudi Kingdom, King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud. Amongst them, is the late King Abdullah (1924-2015) of Saudi Arabia, the son of Princess Fahda and King Ibn Saud.
Above: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (1924-2015), according to the Maronite Encyclopedia, cousin of the El Chemors of Lebanon
Watch the documentary about the Ghassanid Dynasty from biblical times until the present days
So, when we talk about Ghassan, we’re not talking about a Dynasty and a people that only lived 14 Centuries ago, but a Dynasty that reigned from biblical times until 1921; and a people that kept its heritage by intermarrying, kept its religion and keep claiming its descent today, even under persecution. But above all, even not currently reigning, the Ghassanid Royal Family never stop respecting its duty and being relevant in the contemporary world as it was back then.
According to HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor, the current head of the dynasty:
“Titles, as a personal honor, are completely useless in the twenty-first century. The only real value of a title is if you can make it relevant today. A prince, even losing his rights, his duties remain. Royalty is service, the glamour and prestige are only a byproduct.”
This essay is dedicated to Professor Irfan Shahid
Irfan Shahid, also written Shahîd (born 1926 in Nazareth) in Arabic: عرفان شهيد, is Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University. Since 1982 he has been the Oman Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Irfan Shahid was born to a Christian Arab family in Palestine. He received his B.A. from Oxford University in Classics and Graeco-Roman History and his Ph. D. from Princeton University in Arabic and Islamic Studies. He mainly published on the Arabs and the Greco-Roman world in the late antique and medieval times, classical and medieval Arabic poetry, and the Koran.
On March 20, 2010, Irfan Shahid was inducted as a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America. Fellows are the most distinguished scholars of medieval studies and are elected for advancing the field.
The professor passed away in 2016 at 90 years old.
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 1, 2002
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 1, 1995
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fifth Century, 1989
Byzantium and the Semitic Orient Before the Rise of Islam (Collected Studies Series: No.Cs270), 1988
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, 1984
Rome and the Arabs: A Prolegomenon to the Study of Byzantium and the Arabs, 1984
Omar Khayyam, the philosopher-poet of medieval Islam, 1982
2 thoughts on ““Ghassan post-Ghassan” and its current relevancy in the 21st century”