The Bedouinization of ArabiaWerner Caskel
F o r t h e p u r p o s e of this lecture, the mere definition of the term “Bedouins" as “wandering tribes of shepherds, camel breeders of the deserts and steppes, cattle breeders of the mountains," would not be sufficient, since I do not propose to deal with the Bedouins in general but with a definite social situation in northern Arabia in which the Bedouin form of society and ideology prevailed. This was the situation in the sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries. I t must be contrasted with the pre-Bedouinized condition of Arabia, and, finally, the reasons for this thoroughgoing change must be examined.The conditions of water and pastures in the various seasons force the Bedouin to live according to a definite cycle of migrations. In the spring they move to extensive pastures, where the animals need no water wells, and in autumn (if there is no rainfall) and in winter to the oases; for the Bedouin economy is not self-contained but presupposes an economy of oases. The same conditions force the Bedouin in spring (and possibly in autumn) to split up into small units of fifteen to twenty tents, while the other seasons permit a larger concentration. However, the need for security also forces these small units to remain within a distance of a few hours from one another in the spring, so that they can meet a hostile raid with a strength of about five hundred tents.This natural association of the Bedouins cuts across their sociopolitical organization, the tribal system. This depends on real or fictitious blood relationship; for individuals or units can enter into a tribe by an alliance founded on an oath, at first as “clients," until in the course of time they are completely absorbed into the tribe. The ties of blood relationship are connected with the so-called “blood revenge," or talio, and its substitute, the blood money (paid in cattle). For, in contrast to Islamic law, not only the murderer but every member of his blood community is subject to talio, and the blood money is also to be paid by his blood relatives,
as is also the case in oldest Islamic law. The interference of natural association with the tribal system shows in the fact that only the smallest units, which constantly migrate and camp together, and the next larger group, i.e., the clans and their branches, form solidary groups. Since the raids usually take place in spring, the talio extends mostly only to the branches, a fact which explains the origin of the hamsa customary with the modern Bedouins. On the other hand, the raising of blood money, especially at the conclusion of peace, may extend further and include the tribe. The solidarity does not go further than the clans, as evidenced by the frequent “ fratricidal wars,“ which are, however, looked upon as an outrage. Any combinations beyond the tribe and such groups as, e.g., Ghatafan and Tamim, wrongly called “tribes“ by us and thelater Arabs, are fictitious formations, as are the intermediate stages between them and the tribes. Most of these are geographical units, though not distinctly delineated, a fact to be explained by the continuous process of tribal formation. These imaginary units used to be real tribes in the past, which grew by displacing and absorbing weaker ones.In this tribal organism there was no official leader, let alone ahierarchy. A leader can acquire a position of any official character only by being appointed to, or confirmed in, his office by a non-Bedouin power; otherwise he is only 'primus inter pares. His authority is usually inherited, but it is sometimes won by his own efforts. Even in the former case, however, it depends either on military prowess or on his ability to contribute toward peace by paying the blood debts. Only such a chieftain is able to offer effective protection in all cases. Frequently he creates, thereby, warlike conflicts for his community, which, incidentally, rarely includes more than a branch or section of a so-called “tribe.“An ideological superstructure has been erected on this base of natural and politico-social conditions. This comprises, first, poetry, which is either Vart pour Vart or bound up with the interests of the tribes and the poets. This poetry is intertribal, its language is distinguished from classical Arabic essentially by the fact that diptota and triptota are not yet strictly distinguished. Secondly, it includes a prose literature, which, interspersed with verses and speeches, describes heroic deeds in war and peace and tells legends of the ancestors and of the tribal migrations. The language of this prose is likewise not too distinct from classical Arabic.This tribal organization and its ideological superstructure are
found not only with the Bedouins but also with the settled Arabs, though slightly changed by differing natural conditions. This is due to the fact that all oases, except those in the northwest, were in the possession either of settled divisions of nomadic tribes or of settled tribes.Public opinion was the supreme judge of both Bedouins and settled people: “ . . . for we fear the gossip among the Arabs, 'arab ” An expression of this corisciousness of unity was a cult common to most tribes, the pilgrimage to 'Arafa and, connected with it, the fair at *Uka?, an intertribal meeting place. Even before Islam, the Arabs felt as one people, if not as one nation. This unity is due to Mecca and the Bedouins.To compare this Bedouin Arabia to a non-Bedouin one, we have to go back as far as a .d . 100. We will then get the following picture: In the northwest, the kingdom of the Nabataeans stretched as far as some kilometers south of Higra/Egra/al-Hijr, including Taima in the east. Then followed the kingdom of Lihyan, at that time only a city-state restricted to Dedin and its surroundings. Further a number of similar structures2 extended to the frontiers of the south Arabian kingdom of Saba* and Du Raid an (of the Sabaeans and Homerites/Himyarites, respectively) and, finally, the kingdom of Hadramawt. In the east were the two city-states of Gerrha, present-day Hufhuf, and Hatt/Qatif. In the district of the northern frontier, Palmyra, and in the northeast the petty principalities of the league of the Arsakides extended to Charakene. All these territories were connected by caravan roads, which, in addition to the incense road and its eastern counterpart, passed right through the peninsula. Several more settlements which were more than mere caravan stations lay on these roads. On the route from Najran to Gerrha, the predecessor of present-day Qarya3 was situated in the south and that of ancient Arabian Hajr4in the north. On the road from Gerrha to lower Mesopotamia was a settlement near the well of T&j.BFinally, in the Jabal Shammar, the northern mountain
range of Arabia, was a center attested several times in the “ thamû-denic” inscriptions of the second period (beginning about the middle of the first century b .c .) by the nisba Rahawî and once by the name of the god Il-Rahaw.8 Later it was called “Arrhe” by Ptolemy, and its inhabitants were called “Arreni” by Pliny.There were further nomads, the shepherds near the cities, and others with a larger range of migration, for instance, between al-Mukattaba-Laqat, southeast and southwest of Taimâ, respectively. The “thamûdenic” inscriptions do not refer to any tribal organization. Occasionally booty is mentioned; on the whole, the milieu seems to have been much more peaceful than in later times. These nomads were able to write and to draw and were filled with genuine religiosity; but these gifts were remnants of ancient civilizations. The oldest representatives of “thamûdenic” script come from Taimâ, younger ones from Tebûk. The drawings were influenced by the reliefs of the Minaean colony of Dedân and probably also by those of other cultural centers. Though the religious expressions are original, their gods and rites were borrowed from the city dwellers, a relationship which is exactly the opposite of what prevailed in later, “Bedouinized” Arabia.Searching for the causes of this radical change, we have to ask, above all, when, how, and why the old order collapsed. We have to ask, further, whether the germs of the new order were hidden in the old-for somehow every later culture is based on an earlier one. Finally, we have to find out where the really new factors originated.In a . d . 106 the northern part of the Nabataean kingdom was incorporated into the Roman Empire. The effect of this was not felt immediately, because Roman influence for some decades reached out from the Roman into the free zone. Witness the temple of Ram7-Iram dât al-imâd, the columns of which are still standing-the temple erected by the Thamûd between the end of 166 and the beginning of 169 in honor of the emperors Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Verus in their capital (present-day G/Rawwâfa),8as well as Greek inscriptions by soldiers on the road as far as 10 kilometers from Dedân.9The last lihyânic inscription10 • Van den Branden, Les Inscriptions thamoudéennes (Louvain, 1950), pp. 102, 147,287, 344, 356. 7 Savignac and Horafield, in Revue biblique, XLIX (Paris, 1935), 245-78.» See Mueil, The Northern Hègâz (New York, 1926), pp. 258, 291. 9 Jaussen and Savignac, Mission archéologique en Arabie, Vol. II, Nos. 644-49. 10 Ibid., No. 71.