Friday, 26 July 2013

The Poem of Imru al-Qays- The Nasib

Firstly, an introduction and a summary: This poem, written by Imru al-Qays, is one of the Mu'allaqat poems which was hung on the inside of the Ka'aba in Makkah.  Arabian poetry had a strong tradition, going right back to the Nabataeans.  Though Imru al-Qays was the first of the Mu'allaqat poets, he took influence from those who had come before him.  There were three in particular who may have been an influence over the young Arab prince.  One was Zuhayr ibn Janab al-Kalbi, a well-known poet and a drinking companion of his father's.  Another was Amr ibn Qami'ah, a member of his father's retinue and possibly the tribe's poet (sha'ir).  He later joined Imru al-Qays and accompanied him until his death.  A third possible influence was Abu Du'ah al-Iyadi, to whom Imru al-Qays was a reciter (a poet's disciple who would learn all of his poems).  The poem begins with Imru al-Qays finding the ruins of his lover's camp in the desert.  They have long since moved on to find greener pastures, and the poet is left grieving.  He then begins to remember what went on in the past.  He was once in love with a girl named Unaizah, who came from a rival tribe, and sought in vain to marry her.  One day, he was watching from afar as her tribe was passing in a camel caravan.  Watching from a distance, Imru al-Qays saw Unaizah and the women go off to a pool, and remove their clothes and begin bathing naked.  He then ran up to them, sat on their clothes, and so demanded that they had to come out of the pool naked to get them.  The other girls obliged, but Unaizah remained in the water.  Many hours passed, and soon the girls began to complain of cold and hunger.  Imru al-Qays immediately displayed the famed Arabian hospitality, and slaughtered his own riding camel, roasting it on a fire.  After having a cheerful conversation, Imru al-Qays found himself without a camel.  Unaizah agreed to let him use hers.  He next describes his relationship with Fatima, who was from a tribe at war with his own; and from here goes on to describe hunting and a chase in the forest, and eating the game which had been pierced with javelins.  Suddenly, he returns to the present as a thunderstorm and violent rain causes his companions to seek shelter.  The poem then ends.

The Nasib- or first part of the poem

The poem begins like this:

"Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved.
Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal.

The traces of her encampment are not wholly obliterated even now.
For when the South Wind blows the sand over them the North Wind sweeps it away.

The courtyards and enclosures of the old home have become desolate;
The dung of the wild deer lies there thick as the seeds of pepper.

On the morning of our separation it was as if I stood in the gardens of our tribe,
Amid the acacia-shrubs where my eyes were blinded with tears by the smart from the bursting pods of colocynth."

The poem, like many of the other examples from Arabian poetry, is called the qasida (sometimes translated as 'ode'). It begins with a part called the nasib. The nasib is the prelude to Arabic poetry, and is often erotic in nature (similar examples can be found in Canaanite and in Akkadian poetry). The poem itself is very song-like, recalling the typical rhythm found in Arabian and other Middle Eastern music. This poem too begins with a nasib, and it contains a motif called the atlal, which is where the poet describes his sense of loss as he comes across the abandoned camp of his love in the desert.

The nasib is also a kind of invocation. The divide between sacred and secular poetry can sometimes be blurred. While most of this poem is speaking about Imru al-Qays' earthly love (a mortal woman), in the nasib he invokes a kind of heavenly beauty. This is a goddess, namely the goddess of beauty, Al-Uzzah. She is invoked in the beginning of the poem as a form of reverence or incantation to the divine before beginning the qasida. In this nasib, he mentions the acacia groves where he stood, and the acacia is associated with Al-Uzzah. Therefore, he is invoking the goddess of beauty for beginning his long poem about his earthly love.

He halts, and asks his companions to look at the camp. He uses natural imagery, speaking of how the South Wind and the North Wind (both considered deities) are working to preserve the memory of the camp. He compares and contrasts things the way he remembers them to the way they are now. The imagery of desert animals and of wilderness brings to mind desolation and ruin, which was brought upon the fertile love which once existed between the poet and his lover.

What happened was that his lover's clan had to leave in search of greener pastures, and the women went along with the men. He now doesn't see her anymore since she has moved elsewhere in the vast expanse of Arabia.

Finally, comes the za'n, or fade-away. This is a dramatic end to the nasib. Imru al-Qays uses the metaphor of a bursting pod of colocynth which made his eyes blinded with tears. Colocynth or bitter apple was used by the Arabs to induce abortions. This is contrasting with fertile and sexual imagery, and shows the poet's bitterness and sorrow.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Poem of Imru al-Qays 'the Vagabond Prince'

Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved.
Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal.

The traces of her encampment are not wholly obliterated even now.
For when the South Wind blows the sand over them the North Wind sweeps it away.

The courtyards and enclosures of the old home have become desolate;
The dung of the wild deer lies there thick as the seeds of pepper.

On the morning of our separation it was as if I stood in the gardens of our tribe,
Amid the acacia-shrubs where my eyes were blinded with tears by the smart from the bursting pods of colocynth.

As I lament thus in the place made desolate, my friends stop their camels;
They cry to me 'Do not die of grief; bear this sorrow patiently.'

Nay, the cure of my sorrow must come from gushing tears.
Yet, is there any hope that this desolation can bring me solace?

So before ever I met Unaizah, did I mourn for two others;
My fate had been the same with Ummul-Huwairith and her neighbor Ummul-Rahab in Masal.

Fair were they also, diffusing the odor of musk as they moved,
Like the soft zephyr bringing with it the scent of the clove.

Thus the tears flowed down on my breast, remembering days of love;
The tears wetted even my sword-belt, so tender was my love.

Behold how many pleasant days have I spent with fair women;
Especially do I remember the day at the pool of Darat-i-Juljul.

On that day I killed my riding camel for food for the maidens:
How merry was their dividing my camel's trappings to be carried on their camels.

It is a wonder, a riddle, that the camel being saddled was yet unsaddled!
A wonder also was the slaughterer, so heedless of self in his costly gift!

Then the maidens commenced throwing the camel's flesh into the kettle;
The fat was woven with the lean like loose fringes of white twisted silk.

On that day I entered the howdah, the camel's howdah of Unaizah!
And she protested, saying, 'Woe to you, you will force me to travel on foot.'

She repulsed me, while the howdah was swaying with us;
She said, 'You are galling my camel, Oh Imru-ul-Quais, so dismount.'

Then I said, 'Drive him on! Let his reins go loose, while you turn to me.
Think not of the camel and our weight on him. Let us be happy.

'Many a beautiful woman like you, Oh Unaizah, have I visited at night;
I have won her thought to me, even from her children have I won her.'

There was another day when I walked with her behind the sandhills,
But she put aside my entreaties and swore an oath of virginity.

Oh, Unaizah, gently, put aside some of this coquetry.
If you have, indeed, made up your mind to cut off friendship with me, then do it kindly or gently.

Has anything deceived you about me, that your love is killing me,
And that verily as often as you order my heart, it will do what you order?

And if any one of my habits has caused you annoyance,
Then put away my heart from your heart, and it will be put away.

And your two eyes do not flow with tears, except to strike me with arrows in my broken heart.
Many a fair one, whose tent can not be sought by others, have I enjoyed playing with.

I passed by the sentries on watch near her, and a people desirous of killing me;
If they could conceal my murder, being unable to assail me openly.

I passed by these people at a time, when Al-Thurayya appeared in the heavens,
As the appearance of the gems in the spaces in the ornamented girdle, set with pearls and gems.

Then she said to me, 'I swear by Allah, you have no excuse for your wild life;
I can not expect that your erring habits will ever be removed from your nature.'

I went out with her; she walking, and drawing behind us, over our footmarks,
The skirts of an embroidered woolen garment, to erase the footprints.

Then when we had crossed the enclosure of the tribe,
The middle of the open plain, with its sandy undulations and sandhills, we sought.

I drew the tow side-locks of her head toward me; and she leant toward me;
She was slender of waist, and full in the ankle.

Thin-waisted, white-skinned, slender of body,
Her breast shining polished like a mirror.

In complexion she is like the first egg of the ostrich-white, mixed with yellow.
Pure water, unsullied by the descent of many people in it, has nourished her.

She turns away, and shows her smooth cheek, forbidding with a glancing eye,
Like that of a wild animal, with young, in the desert of Wajrah.

And she shows a neck like the neck of a white deer;
It is neither disproportionate when she raises it, nor unornamented.

And a perfect head of hair which, when loosened, adorns her back
Black, very dark-colored, thick like a date-cluster on a heavily-laden date-tree.

Her curls creep upward to the top of her head;
And the plaits are lost in the twisted hair, and the hair falling loose.

And she meets me with a slender waist, thin as the twisted leathern nose-rein of a camel.
Her form is like the stem of a palm-tree bending over from the weight of its fruit.

In the morning, when she wakes, the particles of musk are lying over her bed.
She sleeps much in the morning; she does not need to gird her waist with a working dress.

She gives with thin fingers, not thick, as if they were the worms of the desert of Zabi,
In the evening she brightens the darkness, as if she were the light-tower of a monk.

Toward one like her, the wise man gazes incessantly, lovingly
She is well proportioned in height between the wearer of a long dress and of a short frock.

The follies of men cease with youth, but my heart does not cease to love you.
Many bitter counselors have warned me of the disaster of your love, but I turned away from them.

Many a night has let down its curtains around me amid deep grief,
It has whelmed me as a wave of the sea to try me with sorrow.

Then I said to the night, as slowly his huge bulk passed over me,
As his breast, his loins, his buttocks weighed on me and then passed afar,

'Oh long night, dawn will come, but will be no brighter without my love.
You are a wonder, with stars held up as by ropes of hemp to a solid rock.'

At other times, I have filled a leather water-bag of my people and entered the desert,
And trod its empty wastes while the wolf howled like a gambler whose family starves.

I said to the wolf, 'You gather as little wealth, as little prosperity as I.
What either of us gains he gives away. So do we remain thin.'

Early in the morning, while the birds were still nesting, I mounted my steed.
Well-bred was he, long-bodied, outstripping the wild beasts in speed,

Swift to attack, to flee, to turn, yet firm as a rock swept down by the torrent,
Bay-colored, and so smooth the saddle slips from him, as the rain from a smooth stone,

Thin but full of life, fire boils within him like the snorting of a boiling kettle;
He continues at full gallop when other horses are dragging their feet in the dust for weariness.

A boy would be blown from his back, and even the strong rider loses his garments.
Fast is my steed as a top when a child has spun it well.

He has the flanks of a buck, the legs of an ostrich, and the gallop of a wolf.
From behind, his thick tail hides the space between his thighs, and almost sweeps the ground.

When he stands before the house, his back looks like the huge grinding-stone there.
The blood of many leaders of herds is in him, thick as the juice of henna in combed white hair.

As I rode him we saw a flock of wild sheep, the ewes like maidens in long-trailing robes;
They turned for flight, but already he had passed the leaders before they could scatter.

He outran a bull and a cow and killed them both, and they were made ready for cooking;
Yet he did not even sweat so as to need washing.

We returned at evening, and the eye could scarcely realize his beauty
For, when gazing at one part, the eye was drawn away by the perfection of another part.

He stood all night with his saddle and bridle on him,
He stood all night while I gazed at him admiring, and did not rest in his stable.

But come, my friends, as we stand here mourning, do you see the lightning?
See its glittering, like the flash of two moving hands, amid the thick gathering clouds.

Its glory shines like the lamps of a monk when he has dipped their wicks thick in oil.
I sat down with my companions and watched the lightning and the coming storm.

So wide-spread was the rain that its right end seemed over Quatan,
Yet we could see its left end pouring down on Satar, and beyond that over Yazbul.

So mighty was the storm that it hurled upon their faces the huge kanahbul trees,
The spray of it drove the wild goats down from the hills of Quanan.

In the gardens of Tayma not a date-tree was left standing,
Nor a building, except those strengthened with heavy stones.

The mountain, at the first downpour of the rain, looked like a giant of our people draped in a striped cloak.
The peak of Mujaimir in the flood and rush of debris looked like a whirling spindle.

The clouds poured forth their gift on the desert of Ghabeet, till it blossomed
As though a Yamnati merchant were spreading out all the rich clothes from his trunks,

As though the little birds of the valley of Jiwaa awakened in the morning
And burst forth in song after a morning draught of old, pure, spiced wine.

As though all the wild beasts had been covered with sand and mud, like the onion's root-bulbs.
They were drowned and lost in the depths of the desert at evening.

The Seven Great Poets: Imru al-Qays

Imru al-Qays was an ancient Arabian poet of the Kindah tribe. He was the son of King Hujr al-Kindi, who was among the last of the Kindite kings. His father the king was regent over the tribes of Asad and Ghatfan. At the time, his whole tribe worshiped chiefly the gods Athtar and Kahil, though some of them followed the Zoroastrian heresy of Mazdakism which had been introduced by the Persian King Kavadh I.

King Hujr had many sons, and Imru al-Qays was the youngest of them all. Hujr had many wives and concubines aside from Fatimah, the boy's mother, and as such had many more sons. Imru al-Qays received little attention from his father as a child.

As a child, Imru al-Qays discovered that he had a talent for poetry, and began composing it from an early age. As he grew older he became fond for drunken parties and having sex with many girls- including the wives of other men. The debauchery combined with his love for poetry led his father to scorn him. Hujr told him that he behaved completely inappropriately for a prince. Poetry was for the tribe's sha'ir- and not for the son of a king. Still, Hujr was prepared to give his son a chance.

The king first put his son in charge of a herd of camels, but this quickly ended in disaster. To make matters worse, Imru al-Qays then went on to announce publicly that he desired to marry his cousin Uzayzah, and began having relations with her in secret. This brought great shame upon the royal family of Kindah, and the king became furious. When the young prince composed lewd verses about his father's wives, Hujr finally disowned him and exiled him from the kingdom.

Banished to the wilderness, the prince quickly befriended a group of rebels, and they began to travel from oasis to oasis. They stopped to drink wine and recite poetry to the various tribes, enjoying the company and performance of the singing-girls that they met along the way.

It would be a mistake, however, to say that Imru al-Qays' early life was all merriment and joy. He married many women, and desired many others- but all his relationships with them ended tragically. In some cases, his lovers' tribes were at war with his, and so by law he was forbidden to marry them. In his poetry, he lamented the fact that Allah had formed him as a member of a different tribe. He felt a longing for his lovers to return to him, and in many cases never saw them again after their tribe left the area. Imru al-Qays composed a long poem (qasida) called 'Let us stop and weep'. This poem would later become one of the Mu'allaqat, or hanged poems, which were later inscribed in gold upon Egyptian linen and hung up on the curtain inside of the Ka'aba in Makkah.

It was not long before the angry tribe of Asad rose up in rebellion against the Kindites who had conquered them. King Hujr's army prepared to fight against them, but in the battle the Asadites killed Hujr. News of his father's death reached Imru al-Qays while he was in the midst of a party with his friends. Upon hearing the messenger's words, he said: "May Allah be merciful to my father. He let me stray when I was small, and now that I am grown he has burdened me with his blood. There will be no alertness today, and no drunkenness tomorrow. Today is for drink, and tomorrow for serious matters."

At first, the exiled prince was confused as to what to do. He decided to seek divine guidance from the gods. He traveled north to Tahalah, between Makkah and San'a, and approached the shrine of the god Dhu-al-Khalasah. He stood before the god and asked if he should avenge his father's death, and then shuffled divination arrows. The message he got was negative, telling him not to seek revenge. At this, he replied: "O Dhu-al-Khalasah, were you the one wronged, your father the one murdered and buried, you would not have forbidden the killing of the enemy."

None of Hujr's other sons was willing to avenge their father's death. Out of all of his sons, only Imru al-Qays took responsibility to avenge his death. The Asadites sent a messenger offering him three options: that he kill one of their nobles of equal rank to his father, that he accept a payment of thousands of sheep and camels, or that he go to war against Asad. Imru al-Qays chose the third option, and the messenger told him to give the tribe of Asad one month to prepare for battle. The tribal custom of tha'ir demanded that he take revenge, and he allowed the Asadites their time to prepare. In the meanwhile, he allied with the tribes of Taghlib and Bakr.

It was not long before the month was over and the battle began. Imru al-Qays fought as a powerful warrior, and together with his allies killed many Asad tribesmen. Eventually, the Bakr and Taghlib withdrew their support when they judged that enough of the enemy tribe had been killed to avenge the death of King Hujr.

After exacting his revenge, Imru al-Qays sought to have kingship over the Kindah tribe, and longed to return from his exile. He traveled around Arabia with several tribes, and eventually went north to Anatolia. He arrived in the city of Constantinople to seek support from Emperor Justinian I. The Byzantine emperor was persuaded by the north Arabian vassal Ghassanid Prince Al-Harith to give the poet kingship over the Kindah and a contingent of troops. Justinian told the King of Aksum to support the appeal, but he refused due to a feud between the Aksumites and the Kindites.

After leaving Constantinople, Imru al-Qays arrived in the old Mushki town of Ankara, where he fell ill (most likely from chronic skin disease), and eventually died.

Long after his death, Imru al-Qays was remembered as the greatest and first of the Mu'allaqat poets. He wished for freedom, to be able to stay with his lovers, and to keep the tribes united and loyal to Kindah. His life was often tragic and brutal, as were many lives in ancient Arabia, but through his poetry he became immortalized.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Queen Bat-Zabbai of Tadmor

Queen Bat-Zabbai was probably the most famous ruler of Tadmor, and very well-known as a great enemy and threat to the Romans. She was possibly an Amalekite, like her husband, as the Amalekites were one of the more famous tribes of Tadmor. She was the daughter of Zabbai bar Selim, an important tribal chieftain. Zabbai was a Roman citizen, known by the name of Julius Aurelius Zenobius, or else as Antiochus. Bat-Zabbai's entire family was a noble one. She was descended from Queen Shamiramat of the Assyrians, and thus from the goddess Atar'atah, her mother. She was also a descendant of Queen Dido of Qart-Hadasht, through her descendant Hannobaal's sister and her descendants King Juba II of Moritanya and Drusilla. Her family was also descended from the royal family of Homs, through King Shams'alkeram. Finally, she was descended from Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Like her ancestor, she spoke Egyptian language and knew of many Egyptian customs.

Bat-Zabbai herself was a beautiful and intelligent woman. She had a dark complexion, pearly white teeth, bright sparkling eyes, and a strong and melodic voice. She spoke her native tongue Aramaic, along with Egyptian, Greek, and Latin. She was very well-versed in Homer, Platon, and other Greek writers, along with the works of Paul of Shamishat, the Christian Bishop of Antioch. She also was friendly with the Jewish Rabbis of Syria and was familiar with Jewish teachings. However, it is known that her mother Karteria at least was not a Jew or a Christian, as her tomb's inscription calls her pious in the eyes of mortals (rather than in the eyes of God) and denies the resurrection. Unlike her ancestor Cleopatra, she was chaste and devoted. She was used to a very tribal lifestyle, enjoying drinking, feasting, and hunting with the men.

By the time she was old enough, Bat-Zabbai was married to King Odainath of Tadmor, an Aramaean ruler and Roman citizen also known as Lucius Septimius Odaenathus. She was his second wife, and his queen. She too was given Roman citizenship, being known as Julia Aurelia Zenobia. She had two children: a stepson named Hairan (who was the son of King Odainath by his first wife), and a son named Wahballat (Roman name Lucius Julius Aurelius Septimius Vaballathus Athenodorus). Bat-Zabbai was very young when she married.

King Odainath was a brave warrior king, spending much time in the mountains and forests hunting lions, leopards, and other wild beasts. His son Hairan was (in Roman eyes at least) effeminate and a lover of luxury. He lived in golden tents and pavilions, and was granted many Persian concubines from a royal harem when Odainath conquered the Persian capital of Tosfon. He did this so that Hairan would prove himself to be worthy of being called a man, but Hairan had no love for concubines. Odainath's services were greatly valued by the Roman Empire, which ruled over Tadmor at the time.

But all was not well within the royal family. Odainath had a cousin, also named Odainath, who was imprisoned for being disrespectful to the king. When he was free, he killed both his cousin the king, and Prince Hairan in a celebration. Bat-Zabbai then killed the assassin and had herself crowned as queen and sole ruler of Tadmor (her son Wahballat being only a child at the time).

Bat-Zabbai ascended the throne during a troubled time, especially with the death of her husband. Tadmor was part of the Roman Empire, which was in a vicious struggle with the Persian Empire in the east. Recently, a Roman emperor, Valerian, had been captured by King Shapur I of Persia. Her court was filled with poets and philosophers, including the man of Homs, Platonist philosopher Cassius Longinus. He himself studied at Alexandria in Egypt, mother city of Bat-Zabbai, and taught in a school in Athens (one of his students being the famous Melek of Tyre). Tadmor was also where the camel caravans of Arabs would pass through on their way to Mesopotamia. 'The Bride of the Desert' was the name by which Tadmor was known, and she stood near a rich oasis and spring which watered the land. She ruled over a great deal of land in Syria, but she wanted more. She went and conquered areas around Syria owned by the Persian Empire, and began to claim that she was doing it in the name of the Roman Empire. But it soon became apparent that things were very different. She replaced the face of the emperor on coins with that of her son, Wahballat. She adopted the imperial title of 'Augustus' for her son. And she began to conquer other territories within the Roman Empire in the memory of her husband and in the name of her son. This was her declaring independence from the Romans, and founding her own empire. The Romans could not retaliate though, or send their legions into the east, because they were struggling against invasions by Germanic tribes in the north.

Bat-Zabbai and her general, Zabdas, with the aid of their Egyptian ally Timagenes, conquered all of Egypt. They were opposed by the Roman prefect of Egypt, Tenagino Probus, but he was defeated and beheaded by the Tadmorite forces. Once she had taken Egypt, Bat-Zabbai proclaimed herself as Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, like her ancestor Cleopatra. She restored rights of protection to a synagogue in Lower Egypt which had originally been granted by King Ptolemaios III Euergetes, probably due to her connection with the Samaritan Jews due to the Jewish community of Yebu's requests to King Sanballat of Tadmor for protection 400 years earlier.

She then led her armies north and conquered all of Judah, and all of Canaan. In northern Arabia, the land of the Nabtaeans, they captured the city of Bozrah, and famously destroyed the temple of the ram-headed god Ammon that they found there (evidently, they did not compare the cult of this god with the cult of their own Baal Hammon). Everywhere they went they attacked the Roman trade routes, capturing them to make Tadmor wealthy. They then went to Anatolia and captured the Hatti-land, advancing as far as Ankara in Phrygia. During these campaigns, Bat-Zabbai became known as the 'Warrior-Queen' and was a skilled horse rider and fighter. Her empire ruled much of the old Roman provinces in the western part of the Near East.

Meanwhile, Aurelian was made emperor in Rome, and he quickly defeated the Germanic tribes who were threatening to invade Italy. He now could turn his attention to the Tadmorite Empire in the east. He invaded Anatolia and quickly captured many cities, moving closer to the Hatti-land. He put every city to the sword, but while he was conquering Katpatuka had a vision of the philosopher Apollonius of Tuwanuwa, who told him to be merciful. For this reason, Aurelian spared Tuwanuwa and any cities which submitted to him from then on. His Roman legions advanced towards the Tadmorite army, clearing out their garrisons in every city they captured. General Zabdas of the Tadmorites, leading a mostly cavalry-based army, decided that it would be best to avoid the mountains of Anatolia due to the terrain being unsuited to his army. He withdrew his forces to near Antioch in Syria, and waited for the Romans to arrive.

The Roman troops advanced to Syria during a heatwave. Those who were heavily armed were easily exhausted. Aurelian decided to use this to his advantage. Both sides had their cavalry prepared, but it was Zabdas who took the initiative and sent his heavy cataphracts charging straight towards the lightly-armed Roman cavalry. The Romans fell back and seemed to retreat, while the Syrians followed them, growing more tired and exhausted as they went. It was then that the Romans turned back in a surprise attack, and quickly defeated the exhausted Syrian cavalry. Upon hearing of the defeat of his cavalry, Zabdas ordered the army to retreat back to Antioch. At night, under the cover of darkness, Bat-Zabbai ordered her men to leave the city and reach the city of Homs. The next morning, Aurelian captured Antioch and spared the city.

The Romans continued to advance toward Homs, and met Zabdas' forces again on the plains before the city. Again, Zabdas sent his heavy cavalry to pursue the Roman cavalry, but the Roman cavalry fell back and allowed the infantry to come forward. This caught the Syrians by surprise, and on the Roman side, the Jewish infantry with their heavy clubs massacred the Syrian horsemen. Realizing defeat, the Syrians retreated into the city. Bat-Zabbai's treasury was in Homs, and she attempted to move it back to Tadmor. However, the Romans began to attack the city, and she was forced to flee back to Tadmor without it.

But the Romans continued towards Tadmor, and Bat-Zabbai was forced to leave the city with her men. She traveled with her son Wahballat, the general Zabdas and several officers and courtiers, and the philosopher Cassius Longinus. It is also possible that Paul the bishop was with them. They requested aid from King Shapur of Persia, and he sent a small escort of Persian soldiers along with camels for the Syrians to escape to Mesopotamia on. They rode away swiftly at night towards the Purattu River, which they would cross and safely move towards the Persian capital. But this escort was intercepted by the Romans, who defeated the Persian soldiers and captured the Syrians, bringing them back to Homs to stand trial. The Romans portrayed Bat-Zabbai as a coward who blamed everything on her men and the poor advice they had given her. This though, would seem to fly in the face of the bravery and determination she had shown earlier, and it would be easier for the Romans to regain their former territories if they portrayed her in this way. The Tadmorite Empire had come to an end. After putting down a short revolt in Egypt, the Romans had taken back everything that was once theirs, including the city of Tadmor itself. At Homs, all of those captured were found guilty. Bat-Zabbai and her infant son Wahballat were spared, and were brought back to Rome as prisoners. The rest, including Zabdas and Cassius Longinus the philosopher, were executed. Aurelian chose a Tadmorite council elder called Haddudan, who was also symposiarch of the priests of Bel in Tadmor, to rule Tadmor in place of Bat-Zabbai. On the journey back to Rome, Wahballat died.

Bat-Zabbai was brought in gold chains and in triumph through the streets of Rome. However, Aurelian did not kill her. Instead, he spared her life and granted her a villa. She married a prominent Roman, and had many descendants. Among them was a man in Rome called L. Septimia Patavinia Balbilla Tyria Nepotilla Odaenathiania. Another descendent of hers is possibly St. Zenobius, the first Christian Bishop of Florentia in Italy.
Queen Bat-Zabbai of Tadmor

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Hamalat al-Arsh

These are a group of eight angels who carry the throne of Allah.  They are giant in size, and it would take 700 years to travel between one of the angel's shoulders to another shoulder.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Bahamut is the greatest creature Allah ever created. He resembles a giant fish with the head of a hippopotamus or an elephant. All of the waters in the world, placed in one of his nostrils, would be like a mustard seed in a desert. It is said that the earth rests upon the waters of the deep, which are held on a crag of a mountain of rock, which rests upon the forehead of a great bull, who stands on a layer of sand, which rests upon the back of Bahamut. Beneath Bahamut is an abyss of air, then fire, and beneath all that a giant serpent called Falak.  Other legends say that upon Bahamut's head is a bull called Kujata, and upon his back is a ruby mountain, and on top of this mountain is an angel, and the angel holds the sea, earth and heavens.  Bahamut himself swims in an endless abyss of waters.  The sight of Bahamut was so great that even Yasu (Jesus) fell unconscious after seeing him.  Kujata, the bull resting upon Bahamut's head is so great that it takes three days to walk from his head to his tail.  Every day, it is sometimes said that Allah creates 40 fish or great beasts the size of Bahamut.  The name 'Bahamut' is obviously the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew 'Behemoth'.

Basically, Bahamut shows the vast size of the universe in Arabian cosmology and mythology.  A philosophical question often put forward by the sages asks whether the cosmos has a creator, a beginning or and end, or whether it is infinite or endless.  Bahamut's legend would seem to show a first cause, or a finite cosmos, since in some versions of the story, there is nothing below him.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Ka'aba in Makkah

The Kaaba in Makkah was one of several cube-shaped temples built in ancient Arabia. The difference is that it was made of stone rather than of wood, like many of the others. Originally, the Kaaba was a tent, set up to preserve idols of the gods. Because people found it hard to make pilgrimages all across Arabia to worship all of the gods, people put idols of all of the gods inside of a Kaaba and encircled the whole structure, and in doing so managed to worship them all at once. A Kaaba also housed a betyl, which was a meteorite stone fallen from heaven (the home of the gods), and contained the spirit of a deity. The one in Makkah had a Black Stone, while the one in Ghaiman housed a Red Stone, and the one in Al-Abalat had a White Stone. Makkah's own Kaaba made the city a popular site of pilgrimage, but only by Byzantine times. In earlier ages, Makkah was not prosperous and was relatively unknown.

It was the Quraysh tribe, the custodians of the holy house, who brought its claim to fame. Powerful merchants and warriors, it was the Quraysh who went traveling the world and the temples of Moab, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Persia, Nubia, India, and China- and they came back with idols of gods to house in the Kaaba. Eventually, the Kaaba contained and was surrounded by 360 idols. The sites around the Kaaba were significant for their ties to ancient myths of gods, demigods, heroes, and jinn. People came and made sacrifices at the shrines of the gods.

The Kaaba was also considered by the Quraysh to be the very naval of the world, and directly above it lay the gates of heaven. This is why witches and prophets alike could communicate with familiar spirits or jinn near Makkah, because these spirits could easily move between earth and heaven- the world of mortals and the world of the gods.

Among the gods noted to have had idols in or near the Kaaba are: Hubal (whose idol is on the roof of the temple), Shams, Yaghuth, Ya'uq, Nasr, Wadd, Suwa, Manat, Allat, Dhu'Shara, Al-Uzzah, Isaf, Na'ilah, and Allah. As well as one of Mary and Jesus, and an image of Abraham with divination arrows.

The temple is dedicated to all 360 gods, but especially to Hubal and Al-Uzzah, the chief gods of the Quraysh tribe.