Origin & History

The rise of the Ghassanids
By: Raymond Faris Gebara

The Kingdom of Saba, a Yemenite state, enjoyed sovereignty from 850 BC to 37 AD
It was according to historians one of the richest kingdoms on account of its location.
Richly laden caravans passed through it on their way to and from India, the Persian Gulf,and Egypt. The sea routes were very dangerous.
Caravans arriving in Ma'rib, capital of Saba, continued on their way to Mecca, Petra, Gaza, Damascus and other places. The famous dam of Ma'rib by its very presence made life,and even a flourishing civilization possible.

But one year there was so much rain that the dam was carried away by the ensuing flood.
There are many legends about this great Catastrophe. The country was then exposed ,to drought and starvation.

The inhabitants emigrated seeking their living in less arid lands and so became scattered far and wide.
The proverb :"They were scattered like the people of Saba" refers to that exodus in history.

The king A'mre, son of A'mer, emigrated with his family and retinue and many of his faithful followers north and settled in Houran near Damascus where they founded the Ghassanid State.

Another group of emigrants settled in Hira where they established the kingdom of Lakham, Yathreb, the city of Prophet Mohammed and where he was born, Amman, and others were also places of haven.

Since Houran was the first home of the Ghassanids after their departure from Saba, let us pause a moment and present a brief historical sketch about it.
The word Houran is derived from the Hebrew word of "Hour" which means a "Cave".
The land of Houran lies about twenty miles to the south of Damascus.
It is the vast region where mountains, valleys and plains abound.

Before the coming of the Ghassanids, houran was inhabited by Nomadic tribes.
Many of the Europeans interested in history and archaeology have since studied it past and made excavations here and there. The climate is mild and its soil is very fertile.
The highest mountain is "Mount Kuleib" and its famous town was "Azra", where the Gebara family originated and developed.
In the past the town of "Azra" was known as "Azra'i" which means a fortress.
It is about seventy five miles away from Bosra Eskj Sham, it is also about 612 Meters above sea level and it lies in the center of the district of "Al-Lija". "Azra'" was an old town that boasted of an ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, relics of which can still be found.

Those of special interest in the ruins of the two churches of St. Georges and St. Elias.
Its mill-stone sold to all parts of the Middle East made it very famous. Caves, towers, reservoirs and old churches ruins dot its landscape.
Bishop Uranius who was one of those present in the first Nicean Council was born in it.

Many of the battles between the crusaders and the Moslems were fought on its grounds and streets, it also was a city of learning. Of its great men we can mention the following:
Ibn-Jeyyan Nasre Ul-Wehhab, Ishaq Ibn Ibrahim, Abu El-Rabi' and judge Sahref Eddine.

History of Houran up to the time of the Ghassanids:
The following peoples settled in Houran successively:
1- Some Semitics tribes.
2- The descendants of Rafa' El-Jabbar.
3- The Garghashites - Descendants of Ghargash, son of
Kena'an son of Ham, son of Noah.
4- The Amorites - Descendants of Amoury, fourth son of Kena'an.
5- The Itorians - Descendants of Itor, son of Ismail, son of Abraham.
6- The Hebrews.
7- The Assyrians.
8- The Scythians.
9- The Nabateans.
10- The Greeks.
11- The Mecabeans.
12- The Romans.
13- The Dajaghamites - Descendants of Dajgham, son of Saad.

Houran during the Ghassanids period:
Ben Khaldoun once said, "All the Yemenites were the descendants of Kohtanm also Joktan."
The most famous Yeminite King was Ya'rib, son of Kohtan.
He was the first one, we knew of who spoke Arabic.
One of the descendants of Ya'rib was A'mre, son of A'mre, King of Saba, who was the direct ancestor of the Ghassanids.
A'mer was nicknamed "Mazzikieh" which means one who tears his clothes.
He was given this name because he used to tear his clothes at a rate of two gold-embroidered garments a day in order to give them to the Needy.
The Ghassanids were named after the well near which they first settled when they cae to Houran.
A'mer El-Ghatreef who was known by the name of "Ma'ussma" which means "Water of Heaven" because of his great generosity, was the first Ghassanid king. He lived at about the beginning of the third century A.D.

It was after that time that the tribe became to be known by the name of "Ghassnids".
They were different from the other tribes because they were progressive and open to new ideas.

War between the Ghassanids and the Dajghamites:
No sooner had Banu Ghassan settled in Houran than the Dajghamites, a bedouin tribe in service of Rome, attacked then and demanded tribute from them.
The Ghassanids refused to pay the imposed tax and war broke out, the Dajghamites won and the Ghassanids could not swallow it.
One day Juzu', son of A'mer, and brother of Tha'labet, who was very well known for his valour and ability to fight, attacked the king of his enemies and killed him.
The Ghassanids tribe then got courage and rose against their enemies and drove them away.
El-Harith, one of the great Ghassanids Kings, had a daughter called Halima, she enticed other girls of the tribe and accompanied the warriors to the battle field.
The presence of the girls on the battlefield cheered the warriors and motivated them to fight very well. Halima and others girls did a wonderful piece of work for the tribe won a great victory. That day came to be called "Day of Halima".
The Ghassanids became the undisputed masters.

The Ghassanids in the service of Rome:
The Ghassanids soon allied themselves with Rome against Persia
The Emperors of Rome gave them the privilege to become the leaders of all the Arab tribes in Syria. Even the city of Damascus was under their rule. They also controlled the country known now as Transjordan.
They were not conquerors only, but promoters of learning and crafts also.

Their remains and ruins in both Houran and Joulan are evidence of their progressive, prosperity and civilization.
The Ghassanids were also known by another name, Banu Jephnet. Jephnet was the son of A'mer whose nickname was "Mazzikieh", one who tears his clothes. This man was the first one who led his tribe in their conquest of Damascus. The ruins of Palaces churches, castles, public baths, aqueducts, etc. in Houran are good proof of the high level their civilization had reached.
"Though ruins are totally mute Nevertheless they contribute Good proof of authenticity of folks gone to eternity".

The Ghassanids, poets and men of literature:
The Ghassanids Kingdom extended as far as the Red Sea to the South and the Euphrates
to the North. The Jordan and Yarmuke valleys were included in their realms.
Joulan, known nowadays by the name of Balka'a, was also administered by them.
Noeldeke, the great orientalist, said that the town of Jabieh in the district of Balka'a was the capital of the Ghassanids. The town was small but its location was important. It served as a center of trade for all of the surrounding country.

Banu Ghassan lived in the palace in the midst of the town and from it administered their vast domains.
The Greeks gave the Ghassanids Kings the title "El-Harith" and the Kings of Hira the title of "El-Munzer".
These two titles were equivalent to Pharoan in Egypt, Negus in Abyssinia and Caesar in Rome.
The Emperors of Constantinople gave them the title of "Patrik" which of ten times incorporated the meaning of father.

The Ghasanids Kings became so famous for their generosity that others tried to follow their example.
All in all there were thirty two kings who reigned from 37 - 636 AD. Jephnet, son of A'mre, son of Tha'labet, son of Mazzikieh, was the first king, he reigned for forty years.

The last one to succeed the throne was Jeblet son of El-Ayham who built the town of Jeblet that lies between Latakieh and Tripoli. He was such a good and strong king that for decades after his death his name was proverbial and symbolized strength and glory. With his death and the coming of the Moslem conquerors the Ghassanids were scattered far and wide.

Some of the Christian families in Syria and Lebanon and especially the Gebaras are the descendants of the noble Ghassanids as historical evidence shows and indicates.
Banu Ghassan were very much interested in literature and especially poetry. Poets used to crowd at the doors of their palaces to recite verses of praise and acclaim. Generous rewards were distributed among these poets.
Of these great men of verse we can mention the names of El-Nabighet El-Zubiany and Hassan son of Thabit El-Insary. They recited thousands of verses praising the Ghassanids for their generosity, chivalrous spirit, benevolence and bravery in battle.

The following is an Example:
"Not only generous but nobility old
Their dignity and honour rare to behold."
The Ghassanids would not have appreciated and honoured the poets and men of literature had there not been men of literary ability among them.
History is proud of men like the following:
- Jaza' son of Sinan El-Ghassany, who was a great poet.
- El-Harith Abu Shammar El-Ghassany, who was very famous for his keen mind and literary works.
- Abu Boujailet, who was reputed for his wit and quick decision.
- El-Sumow'al, whose name became proverbial among the Arabs for loyalty and fealty.
- Abu El-Hassan El-Ghassany El-Bosary, who was a poet and a physician.
- There were others who lived away from Houran in Morocco, Egypt, Andalusia and Arabia of whom we must be proud though we do not mention their names here.

Houran during the Arab conquest:
Khalid Ben El-Waleed, the Sword of Islam, conquered Houran in 635 AD. The Ghassanids became weak and their power greatly impaired. Some of them adopted Islam, the others who stuck through thick and this to their Christianity began to migrate to Lebanon and other parts of Syria. Many Lebanese families trace their origin back to the Christian Ghassanids.
The competition and rivalry among the two parties Kayseyyeh and Yemeneyyeh helped to accelerate migration. After the Crusades and the coming Tamerlane and Halako it became clear the Christianity in Houran was waning and that its adherents were exposed to suffering and persecution.
Many of them left seeking refuge and shelter in other lands.
The Gebaras were one of these families.

The Gebara Family and its Ghassanids Linage:
The story of the Gebara ancestry as passed down through the ages from father to son, confirms
that they were of the Ghassanid origin and they came to Lebanon from Houran after the Moslem Conquest.
Many historians among whom was Issa Iskander Ma;louf confirm the authenticity of this story.
Here is a quotation from his book "Dawany El-Kutouf":
"The Gebaras were a Ghassanid family of the Greek Orthodox faith from Houran. Some of them still live there, but the majority went to Damascus and Acre and some came to Marjeyoun and Kornet Shahwan."
Furthermore, through the study of physinomy, phrenology, and other associated sciences we observe a great similarity in features between the Ghasanids and the Gebaras.
Of these similarities here are few; high temple, big noses, prominent foreheads, fuzzy hair, small jaws, thin lips, beautifully straight teeth, well proportioned features, dark complexions, black eyes, and beautiful figure.
Other characteristics common between the Gebaras and the Ghassanids are: quick temper,
generosity, contentment, fondness of country life bravery, distinguished looks and benevolence.

The Gebaras in Houran:
We have mentioned before that some of the Gebara family continued to live in Houran even after the Arab conquest. The new masters of the country respected the Gebaras, the majority of whom lived in Azra'.
The head of the family then was Prince Yusuf who was a direct descendant of Musa, son of Ibrahim, son of Abdulmun'im, son of O'dy whose great ancestor was Jubeilet El-Ghassany.
Prince Yusuf lived in Azra', Houran at about 1450 AD. He was very well known, rich, influential, brave, intelligent, and liked by all. He had three sons and three brothers.
The sons were:
- Abraham who went to live in Damascus at about 1519. His name and the names of his descendants appear on the Family tree.
- Elias went to Palestine in 1519 passing through the land known now as Transjordan. We know nothing of the
whereabouts of his descendants.
- Moses (Musa) and his family remained in Houran. In 1613 one of his grandchildren came to Marjeyoun, Lebanon.
A second grandson and his descendants went to Kornet Shahwan. A third one went with his household to Jebbata El-Zeit in Syria. A fourth grandson remained in Azra', Houran.
In 1750 a group of the family remaining in Houran came to Ammatour, Lebanon where their descendants still live.
A look at the Family tree will show us quite clearly how the six branches of the Gebara Family descended from Prince Yusuf El-Ghassany.
In all the ages and epochs the Gebaras went through, there grew up among them men and women who were outstanding in bravery, administrative work, learning, religion and journalism. You could find among them generals, administrators, bishops, priests, monks, physicians, pharmacists, scientists lawyers, merchants, benefactors, etc.

The Gebara family includes both Christians and Moslems. The Moslem Gebaras must have adopted Islam during the time of the Arab conquest or after they migrated to a Moslem community.
Anyhow, the Moslems and Christians are cousins and branched out of the one ancestor.
The places where the Christian Gebaras went to were:
Damascus, Marjeyoun, Kornet Shahwan, Jebbata el-Zeit, Ammatour, Zahleh, Jell el Deeb, A'in Airr, Aleppo, Alexandria, Austria, Greece, Turkey.
The rest remained in Azra'.
The Moslem Gebaras went to El-Medina, Yunbu', As'ffan, Alexandria, Beer Sheba, Jub Jennine, Majdal Balhiss, El-Ker'oun, Tripoli Etc.