Hadjar in the 2nd to the 7th Century

Title (other)Hadjar in the 2nd to the 7th Century
Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Affiliation: Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameVostok. Afro-Aziatskie obshchestva: istoriia i sovremennost
EditionIssue 6

This study is an attempt to re-construct the history of the town of Hadjar, probably identical with antique Gerra / Gerrha, in Sasanid times. The history of ancient Gerra / Gerrha ended in the second half of the 2nd century, when its inhabitants were driven away by the Arabic tribes of Tanūkh. Sasanids established their rule over Hadjar in the 1st half of the 3rd century and kept it till the late 5th century. The advance of King Abkarib As‘ad of Himyar and Saba to the north in the mid-5th century affected Hadjar and probably resulted in a clash with Sasanid forces, which was reflected in Arabic legends as his victory over Iran. However, Hadjar seems to have remained under the Sasanid power. Then, from the late 5th through the end of the 6th century Hadjar passed from Sasanids and their vassals, the Lakhmid kings of al-Ḥīra, to Banū Kinda and back. It was finally recovered by the Sasanids at the end of the 6th century, following the migration of Banū Kinda from the Baḥrayn region. The Sasanids re-constructed and fortified Hadjar. By the beginning of the 7th century Hadjar was an enough strong fortress to be selected as the place of the attack on Banū Tamīm. Like al-Ḥīra, Hadjar hosted then two governors, one Persian and one Arab. Economically, in the late 6th through the early 7th century Hadjar was an important centre of trade. In the 6th century and later on, a Christian community headed by a bishop was present in Hadjar.

KeywordsHadjar, pre-Islamic Arabia, Sasanids, Banū Kinda
Keywords list (other)Hadjar, pre-Islamic Arabia, Sasanids, Banū Kinda
AcknowledgmentOwn monies
Publication date11.12.2020
Number of characters32414
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1 In an article entitled Banū Kinda in Hadjar in the Second Half of the 6th Century and published in No. 1 of Vostok (Oriens) of 2019, I ventured to present a short history of the Banū Kinda rule in Hadjar, North-Eastern Arabia [Mishin, Banū Kinda, 2019]. That study only covered a part of the long history of Hadjar. To follow it, one would need a larger study.
2 A geographical localization of Hadjar has recently been suggested by ʻA. ʻA. al-Djanabī, who in 2004 published a book entitled ‘Hadjar, Its Three Fortresses (al-Mushaḳḳar–al-Ṣafā–al-Shabʻān) and Its River Muḥallim’. It undoubtedly goes to the author’s credit that he successfully combines written evidence with his own observations made on the spot. With no possibility to made an alternative investigation, I have to rely upon Mr. al-Djanabī’s conclusions. Those are that Hadjar was situated below the mountain of al-Shabʻān (present-day al-Ḳāra), to the north-west of it. The fortress of al-Mushaḳḳar is identified with a hill standing in the centre of the Ḳaryat al-Ḳāra village and bearing the name of Djabal Raʼs al-Ḳāra. The fortress of al-Ṣafā is a hill situated a little to the south-west of the Djabal Abī-l-Ḥaṣīṣ mountain [al-Djanabī, 2004, p. 238].1 1.  This identification would agree with the following idea which, however, should rather be regarded as a guess. Strabo (ca. 64/63 B.C.–23/24 A.D.) states that inhabitants of Gerrha lived in houses made of salt and sprinkled them with water to keep them firm [Strabo, 1930, p. 302–303 (Strab., 16, 3)]. Pliny the Elder (22-24–79) mentions towers made of squared blocks of salt in Gerra [Pliny, 1941, p. 448–449 (Plin. Nat., VI, XXXII, 147)]. It seems that by ‘salt’ both of them mean a mass of small granular pieces. H. Burchardt, who visited Ḳaryat al-Ḳāra in 1903, quotes, as the first of its curiosities, blocks of sandstone (Sandsteinformationen). Such blocks are shown on a photograph [Burchardt, 1906, p. 311 and Abbildung 34]. In a modern work on geology one reads that ‘the Hofuf Formation hosting the Jabal Al Qarah caves consists of an alternation of red and grey intervals of dominantly calcareous sandstone’ [Hussain, 2006, p. 20]. Such sandstone is used in construction for making blocks and solutions. Perhaps, sandstone is the ‘salt’ which Strabo and Pliny refer to.
3 Another study which must be mentioned here belongs to Chr.-J. Robin, who suggests that Hadjar is to be identified with the town named Gerra or Gerrha of antique writers, situated in present-day oasis of a-Hufūf [Robin, Prioletta, 2013, p. 137–139; Robin, 2016, p. 226–227],2 which in practice agrees with Mr. al-Djanabī’s conclusions above.3 2.  Ḳaryat al-Ḳāra is only a few kilometres away from al-Hufūf.

3.  It should be observed, however, that it is not granted that all rulers whose coins Mr. Robin suggests to connect to Gerra [Robin, 2016, p. 229–238] ruled over Hadjar in question. It has been suggested that one of those rulers stayed in South-Eastern Arabia [Haerinck, 1999, p. 236], and another one governed a state of which it is only known that it was situated in the north-east of the Arabian peninsula [Callot, 1990, p. 233].
4 The extant evidence coming from the times of Antiquity shows Gerrha as a town whose inhabitants were engaged in a long-distance trade along the Euphrates and across the Arabian Peninsula [Geographi ... 1882, p. 189; Polybius, 1925, p. 424–425 (Plb., XIII, 9); Strabo, 1930, p. 302–303 (Strab., 16, 3)]. The last, in terms of chronology, reference belongs to Claudius Ptolemy (wrote ca. 150 A.D.). He almost never goes beyond specifying the geographical position of a place and at this instance only states that the inhabitants of Gerra possessed, besides Gerra itself, two more towns [Klaudios Ptolemaios, 2017, p. 626–627 (Ptol., 6, 7, 16)].
5 At that point begins the history which is the subject matter hereof. The chronologically closest evidence is supplied by Muslim writers, Abū-l-Faradj al-Iṣfahānī (897/98–967) and Abū ʻUbayd al-Bakrī (ca. 1010–after 1090/1091). Their accounts show an obvious affinity and probably go back to one and the same source, which seems to be the account on settlement of Arabic tribes by famous mediaeval expert on antiquities Hishām al-Kalbī (ca. 737/38–819/20 or 821/22), found in the geography of al-Bakrī [al-Bakrī, 1983, p. 17]. The narration runs so that the tribe of Banū Taym Allāt Ibn Asad Ibn Wabara belonging to the tribal confederation of Ḳuḍāʻa, as well as some of Banū Rufayda Ibn Thawr Ibn Kalb Ibn Wabara (a branch of the Ḳuḍāʻā too) and of al-Ashʻariyyūn marched to the region of Baḥrayn4 and reached Hadjar. The latter was inhabited by ‘Nabataeans’ (nabaṭ). The Arabs prevailed over them by force and drove them out. Following that the Arabs created a tribal confederation of Tanūkh [Abū-l-Faradj al-Iṣfahānī, 1905, 11, p. 155; al-Bakrī, 1983, p. 21]. Later on they were joined by other Arabs, from the tribal confederation of al-Azd, who, according to al-Yaʻḳūbī (872/73–beginning of the 10th century, but not earlier than 905), arrived from Oman [al-Ya‘ḳūbī, 1883, p. 233]. 4.  The mediaeval region of Baḥrayn was not identical with present-day Bahrain and was thought to comprise the coastal lands between Basra and Oman [al-Bakrī, 1983, p. 228; Yāḳūt, 1977, 1, p. 347].
6 In the mediaeval Islamic literature the word ‘Nabataeans’ applied to Semites who were neither Arabs, nor Jews [Mishin, 2017, p. 47, note 36]. Such a description would fit well to the inhabitants of Gerra/Gerrha, who, as Strabo states, were Chaldaeans expelled from Babylon [Strabo, 1930, p. 302–303 (Strab., 16, 3)]. In the struggle against them nomad Arabs were in a better position from the start, since they could cut trade routes with their raids and thus deal a blow on Gerra/Gerrha’s commerce. The reference to the driving-out of the Nabateans means that the antique Gerra/Gerrha in fact ceased to exist.
7 It is possible to ascertain the chronological borders of that Arabic migration. The earliest point in time is around 150 A.D., where Claudius Ptolemy wrote his geographical treatise. It contains a mention of Thanouitai, doubtlessly identical with the Tanūkh yet located not in the North-East of the Arabian peninsula but in its southern part, near Katanitai, i.e., Banū Ḳaḥṭān [Klaudios Ptolemaios, 2017, p. 628–629 (Ptol., 6, 7, 23); Mishin, 2014, p. 273, note 396]. The latest point may be set up on the basis of statements by al-Ṭabarī (839–922/23) and Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī (ca. 893/94–between 961/62 and 970/71) that the Tanūkh confederation was formed in the region of Baḥrayn in the time of ‘petty kings’ (mulūk al-ṭawāʼif) [Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī, 1921/22, p. 63; al-Ṭabarī, 1881-1882, p. 747]. That term is used by Muslim writers to denote the Arsacid epoch, which they normally consider as the time of weak central power and actual dismemberment of the Iranian empire. Another 10th century author, Muṭahhar al-Maḳdisī, who wrote around 966, states that Tanūkh chieftains controlled a number of regions in Southern Iraq during the rule of Ardashir I (225–240), the founder of the Sasanid dynasty, or shortly afterwards [Muṭahhar al-Maḳdisī, 1903, p. 196]. This means that the Tanūkh migration to the Baḥrayn region is to be put into the second half of the 2nd century or, at the latest, to the beginning of the 3rd century A.D.

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