This paper is about the control of the desert frontier of Syria. Diocletian organized frontier defenses of the traditional Roman kind manned by units of the Roman army stationed in forts strung out along the edge of the desert, but this frontier was permeable because it was regularly crossed by nomads in the course of their annual transhumance. This resulted in a great deal of immigration, some with permission of the imperial authorities, some no doubt without. What had been largely empty steppe became dotted with villages. Eventually the government handed over much of frontier control to sedentarized nomads, under phylarchs appointed, or at least recognised, by the Roman authorities. Among the latter the dynasty that contemporary scholars prefer to describe as Jafnids became extremely powerful. After the Islamic conquest of Syria they were celebrated by Arabic poets and historians, who associate them with the Arabian tribe of Ghassān, though this association is not found in either Greek or Syriac sources. It is argued in this paper that Ghassanid identity was indeed claimed by the Jafnid phylarchs themselves, and that their followers, whatever their origin, also came to accept this identity.


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pp. 62-96
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