Ghassanids: The only Imperial Arab Dynasty in history

Several interesting facts about the Ghassanid Dynasty show the importance of the only Imperial Arab dynasty in history.

To a 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 the 6th and 7th centuries.

“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)

His Majesty, King Al-Harith VI (Arethas in Greek sources) started a tradition for Ghassanid rulers with several imperial titles in addition to the Royal one awarded by his own people:

Basileus” – Emperor/High King of All Arabs,

Patrician – Highest Byzantine honor in the 6th century, given only to 3 foreign rulers, King Al-Harith VI being one of them,

Archphylarch”- Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Foederati (Federate Arab Armies)

We have to separate the role of “Archphylarc” 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 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 patriciate, not an office, but a dignity, and the highest that Byzantium could bestow, was conferred on the Ghassanid Arethas. “ Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, 1995, p. 293)

“This highest Byzantine dignity (Patriciate) was conferred on a number of Romans.  Its attribution to non-Romans – barbarians, princes and kings – was rare, and most of these cases belonged to the Roman West, occupied by the Germanic princes.  In the East it was much rarer; only three are named, and Arethas is one of them.  So the patriciate of Arethas was indeed a rare honor, the bestowal of which was also eloquent of the relationship existing between Justinian and Arethas.  This is especially so because the patrician was often referred to as “the emperor’s father” (pater augusti) and the emperor often addressed the patrician as “my father”.  Thus, if one dignity or title of the many that Arethas held, reflects the special relationship between Justinian and Arethas, it is the patriciate.  Its conferment reflects the Byzantium’s absolute confidence in the loyalty and worth of the Arab king, just as its assumption of the imperial gentilicium, Flavius, reflected its own sense of loyalty to the imperial family that carried the nomen gentile of the Second Flavians.” (Ibid p.294)

Ghassanid Kings had a plethora of other imperial titles like: “Clarissimus”, “Philochristos” (“Christ loving”), “Pius” and the imperial gentiliciumFlavius”. (See Ibid. p.295)

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