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Le cheval dans la péninsule Arabique

The Role of Horses in the Politics of Late Medieval South Arabia

Daniel Mahoney

Abstracts

Horses played a significant role in the social life, economy, and politics of the Rasulid court in late medieval South Arabia. The care and concern for horses as revealed through various administrative documents and chronicle reports, the celebration of great horsemen and the qualities associated with them, and the prominent appearance of horses in public and more private ceremonies all demonstrate the great extent to which they were valued. While previous research has focused upon the breeding and sale of horses by the Rasulids, this paper more deeply explores the ways in which they were used in the political machinations of the sultans. In this way, both the bestowal of horses as gifts in exchanges with foreign and local parties, as well as the confiscation and redistribution of horses among various groups within South Arabia, served as powerful means of mediation for the sultans to negotiate their political relations.

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1The research and writing of this article was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): F42 Visions of Community. I would like to thank G. Rex Smith, Andre Gingrich, Johann Heiss, Lorenz Nigst, and Magdalena Kloss, as well as the anonymous peer‑reviewers, for their advice and comments during the preparation of this article.

Introduction

  • 1 Al‑Hamdānī, 1990, p. 320‑321.
  • 2 al‑ʿAbbāsī, 1981, p. 66‑67.
  • 3 Ibid, p. 223‑224. For an English translation of the entire poem, see Eagle, 1990, p. 9. For further (...)

2Horses and horsemen were highly valued in South Arabia since at least the early Islamic period. On the one hand, in the 4th/10th century geographical text Ṣifat Jazīrat al‑ʿArab, al‑Hamdānī praises the ʿAnsiyya, Jawfiyya, and Hujayjiyya horses for both their patience and beauty as well as their whole‑heartedness, strength, and endurance in battle.1 He then goes on to describe the luxurious furnishings lavished upon the Shuwāfiyya horses, including black and white leopard skins, saddles, and colorful saddle‑bags. On the other hand, mastery of furūsiyya, that is activities associated with equestrianism and other skills involving weaponry such as a lance or bow, as well as related attributes of courage in battle are also explicitly celebrated in the 4th/10th century sīra of the first Zaydi imam in South Arabia. In one passage in which Imam Yaḥyā b. al‑Ḥusayn al‑Ḥādī instructs local tribesmen on how to utilize a lance and sword in combat, statements are provided from two other men that specifically laud the imam’s own skills in furūsiyya.2 Additionally, in another passage, a poem written by Imam al‑Ḥādī further stresses his abilities in battle including his endurance (ṣabr), prowess (iblā’), and audacity (iqdām).3

  • 4 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 616. He was among the al‑Ashāʿir who died in a conflict against other tribes (...)
  • 5 Ibid, p. 645. He was among the members of the Qurayshiyya tribe who was killed in an attack by the (...)
  • 6 Ibid, p. 711.
  • 7 Ibid, p. 589. Incidentally, in contrast to the other horsemen, this Rasulid amir did not die in bat (...)

3Some semblance of continuity of this appreciation and esteem of furūsiyya is found in the Rasulid obituary notices of distinguished horsemen from the chronicle Al‑ʿUqūd al‑Lu’lu’iyya fī Tārīkh al‑Dawla al‑Rasūliyya. These include, for example, local Arabs who fell in battle against the Rasulids, such as Abū Bakr b. al‑Dabr who is stated to have been the best horseman (afras) of the people of his time and the most courageous of them (ashjaʿuhum),4 and ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad b. ʿAmr b. Ghurāb who was one of the renowned horsemen (al‑fursān al‑mashhūrīn) in his time for horsemanship (al‑farāsa) and bravery (al‑shajāʿa).5 Also, a Zaydi imam, killed in a siege of Aden in Dhū al‑Qaʿda 789/November 1387, is referred to as a courageous (shujāʿ) and audacious (miqdām) horseman,6 and the Rasulid Amir Asad al‑Dīn Muḥammad b. al‑Malik al‑Wāthiq Ibrāhīm b. Yūsuf b. ʿAmr b. ʿAlī b. Rasūl, is described as a wise (ʿāqil), chivalrous (shahm), and audacious (miqdām) horseman.7

  • 8 Ibid, p. 35‑36.
  • 9 Ibid, p. 62‑63. This phrase can be translated literally, and perhaps poetically, as, “they were fiv (...)

4The arrival of the Rasulids to Yemen in the early 7th/13th century, however, seems to have brought an increase in the overall role that horses played in the economy and politics. This quickly becomes clear in the origin narrative that the Rasulid historian al‑Khazrajī writes for the development of political order in South Arabia which gives horses an important role in its preservation.8 Alongside his brother Ḥimyar who is given the sword, whip, and pen from their father Sabā’, Kahlān receives the shield, bow, and reins to guide horses to defend the kingdom (al‑mamlaka) and fortify its frontiers. Furthermore, when he later on narrates the entrance of the Rasulids into Yemen, he succinctly but specifically describes them as five horsemen from one family,9 hence further emphasizing the importance of horses for the creation and preservation of their authority in South Arabia.

  • 10 Examples can be found in Al‑Khazrajī in various years over the course of the reigns of the Sultan a (...)
  • 11 For further discussion of the stables, see Smith, 2005, p. 235‑6.
  • 12 Smith, 2006, p. 24, folio 9a.
  • 13 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 390‑393.
  • 14 Al‑Malik al‑Mujāhid, 1987. For further analysis of this book, see Shehada, 2013, p. 148‑155.

5While numerous mentions are made of the sultan’s movements as “the sublime cavalcade” (al‑rikāb al‑ʿālī) travelled between the two capitals of Zabīd and Ta’izz from at least the beginning of the eighth century,10 the central court institution for the horses of the sultan were the state stables (al‑iṣṭabilāt al‑saʿīda).11 Government officials were appointed to each stable, including its head (amīr akhūr) and a veterinary surgeon (sar ākhūrī) who was responsible for treating ailing horses.12 An administrative report dating to the reign of Sultan al‑Muẓaffar on the state stables in Ta’izz further provides information on the various types of horses housed there and an inventory of the expenditures associated with them.13 Additionally, Sultan al‑Mujāhid himself wrote a treatise on hippiatrics (al‑Aqwāl al‑Kāfiya wa‑l‑Fuṣūl al‑Shāfiya fī al‑Khayl), which also includes, among many topics, chapters on the virtues and names of important horses in Arab history, as well as specific horses that were bred at the Rasulid court.14

  • 15 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 609. This event must have been even more troubling for Qaḍi Jalāl al‑Dīn ʿAlī (...)
  • 16 Ibid, p. 622. The precise name for this disease is uncertain.
  • 17 For an overview of the types of exercises involving a lance, see Al‑Sarraf, 2004, p. 172‑175.
  • 18 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 548. A second possible reference to a more informal joust or another type of (...)

6Further insight on the stables and the related saddlery office (al‑rakabkhāna) comes from chronicle reports. For example, during the reign of Sultan al‑Mujāhid in Jumādā I 754/June 1353, the saddlery office in Ta’izz containing riding equipment was burnt down.15 The luxury associated with this office and hence the splendor bestowed upon these horses is revealed in the destroyed contents found therein, mainly gold, silver, jewels, saddles, and other items amounting to 300 thousand dinars. Sadly, two other reports from the time of Sultan al‑Mujāhid reveal more tragic incidents involving the horses of the court that resulted in bodily harm to both animal and human. First, in 760/1359, a disease, designated as “mishfirā” or “mushayfir”, spread so rapidly among the sultan’s horses and a large number of his soldiers that it nearly killed all of them.16 A second report from 726/1325–1326 reveals that some sort of jousting, one of the main furūsiyya games described in its treatises,17 was also played in South Arabia.18 After travelling with the sultan to Ta’izz, a leader (zaʿīm) stayed with him at the Shajara palace. During his stay, the leader’s joust with another horseman led to a collision, which knocked him from his horse, rendering him unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he was carried to his house on a mule. In what was possibly an attempt at humor, al‑Khazrajī goes on to point out that the sultan was not always fully focused on the well‑being of his horsemen. Despite the severity of the horseman’s injury, the sultan came close to visiting him the next day, but hesitated for an untold reason and instead turned back without doing so. It is said, however, he did visit him another time, “God knows best” (wa‑Allāh āʿlam).

  • 19 Ibid, p. 699.
  • 20 Ibid, p. 762.
  • 21 Ibid, p. 795‑796. The horses, in fact, were housed alongside other animals such as mules, asses, an (...)
  • 22 Ibid, p. 820.

7There are also reports from the reign of Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl that demonstrate the great and, in one case intimate, importance of horses to him. Firstly, he clearly valued their participation in ceremonial parades. For example, at the end of Ramaḍān 787/May 1385, because his sons had not yet appeared in public, in order to introduce them in a formal manner he ordered them to ride their horses to the parade ground in Ta’izz during Eid al‑Fitr.19 Similarly, but in a much more extravagant manner, in Ṣafar 795/December 1392, a parade celebrating his sons’ recovery after their circumcision involved various parts of the military and administration, including the military commanders (al‑mulūk) of the sultan who rode upon their horses in their best dress and most beautiful appearance.20 Two other reports indicate the special care of the horses that he undertook in regards to housing and death. First, in Jumādā II 797/April 1395, the sultan began to construct his so‑called “Palace of Gold” (dār al‑dhahab) in Zabīd, which involved in part the construction of enclosures that included a saddlery and a stable for the horses.21 Secondly, in Rabīʿ I 800/December 1397, one of the sultan’s horses named Suʿūd died, which he mourned to the extent that he ordered it to be shrouded (takfīn) and buried in the area of the residence at Zabīd.22

  • 23 For more detailed summaries of the networks and workings of the horse economy in Rasulid South Arab (...)
  • 24 For example, in the 7th/13th century Ibn al‑Mujāwir describes the Banū Majīd of the region of Taran (...)
  • 25 The administrative documents containing information about the Rasulid horse economy include a colle (...)
  • 26 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 505.
  • 27 Ibid, p. 504‑5; Irtifāʿ al‑Dawla al‑Mu’ayyadiyya, 2006, 113.
  • 28 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 506.

8Previous research focusing on horses in Rasulid Yemen has mainly addressed their economic value through investigation of their breeding and sale.23 While there is more limited evidence of how these activities occurred in South Arabia before this period,24 researchers have been able to reconstruct the horse economy piece‑meal through various detailed albeit sometimes disjointed administrative documents.25 The breeding of horses mainly took place in the central highland plains of Sanaa and Dhamar as well as the eastern region of Ḥāsī.26 The horses were then brought down to the market in Aden that exclusively took place in August each year, where local merchants and foreign buyers (Indian nawākhīdh) were permitted to bid in auctions for them.27 The sultan or rather his representative, however, always was able to place the final bid on whichever horses he desired, causing consternation for the other buyers. On top of this the Rasulid court also collected taxes (ʿushūr) on these transactions, providing further income via the horses for it.28

  • 29 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 504.
  • 30 Smith, 2006, p. 59, folio 4b.
  • 31 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 715. Unfortunately, Ḥanika is the name of several villages in Yemen so it can (...)
  • 32 Ibid, p. 615‑616. Vallet also emphasizes that this report is the first time the Tihāma is mentioned (...)
  • 33 Fishāl is a town in the Tihāma north of Zabīd along the Wādī Rimaʿ. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 634‑635.

9The Rasulid sultans thus seem to have successfully taken control of the horse economy for their own gain as much as was possible. The 7th/13th‑century Nūr al‑Maʿārif directly states that the merchants of Aden and the Indian nawākhīdh were not permitted to purchase horses in the Tihāma, Sanaa, Ta’izz or any other place outside of Aden,29 and the Mulakhkhaṣ al‑Fiṭan demonstrates that taxation on these transactions continued to occur into the 9th/15th century.30 But there is less information, and thereby clarity, about the nature and possible limitations of the horse trade for other individuals in Yemen. Instead there are only a couple of reports from the later part of the 8th/14th century demonstrating that there were strong Rasulid efforts to keep the focus of the horse trade in Aden. In Shaʿbān 790/August 1388, a Zaydi sharif from the eastern part of Yemen (baʿḍ ashrāf al‑Mashriq) attempted to sell horses to the inhabitants of Ḥanika, but the Rasulid Amir Badr al‑Dīn Ḥasan b. al‑Khurāsānī learned of this plan and raided the village.31 In the end, he sent the sharif to the sultan and killed a number of the people of Ḥanika. Interestingly, nothing further is said about what happened to the horses in this report, so its main point seems to focus more on what occurred to those who do not adhere to the Rasulid control of their sale rather than the animals themselves. Furthermore, another example of retribution against interference with the horse trade appears in a report from the reign of Sultan al‑Mujāhid.32 In 758/1357, when traders from the northern parts of Yemen (al‑jihāt al‑shāmiyya) were passing through Fishāl in the Tihāma on their way to the Aden market, their horses were stolen by al‑Ashāʿir tribesmen.33 Although the local governor (wālī) had agreed to this, the sultan initiated a reprisal against them that took place over the course of the next two months but was largely undertaken by other local tribes as led by the Maʿāziba. The local governor Badr al‑Dīn Ḥasan b. Yāsāk also notably did not escape punishment, but rather was arrested and sent to the sultan who subsequently ordered his death by hanging.

10While the persistent and careful control over the trade and transportation of horses clearly demonstrates how highly the economy surrounding them was valued by the Rasulids, the remainder of this paper will further explore ways in which horses played an integral part of Rasulid politics through their bestowal as gifts as well as their confiscation and occasional redistribution as a means of punishment and reward. In these ways the Rasulid sultans not only profited from the economic value of the horses, but also were able to create, negotiate, and transform political relationships with them.

The sultan giveth

  • 34 See Vallet, 2010, p. 400‑616; Vallet, 2011; al‑Shamrookh, 1996, 164‑166.
  • 35 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 504.
  • 36 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 418‑419.
  • 37 Ibid, p. 822.

11The exchange of various types of gifts was a central part of Rasulid diplomacy with other foreign courts.34 These included extravagant craft goods, precious materials, foodstuffs, servants, as well as animals, including horses. In the Nūr al‑Maʿārif, it is stated that the court of the sultan would purchase horses in the Aden market, specifically to be used for gifts to Indian merchants.35 But more precisely, there is a report from Shawwāl 704/April 1305, in which Sultan al‑Mu’ayyad sent Ibn Būz to Egypt with two ships full of gifts comprising various precious objects, foodstuffs, Abyssinian eunuchs, and wild animals, as well as horses of Arabian origin befitting those to whom they were sent.36 Similarly, in Shaʿbān 800/April 1398, an envoy from Ceylon from across the Indian Ocean arrived to the court of Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl bearing precious gifts, to whom in return the sultan presented five stallions from his stables and fine clothing.37

  • 38 Ibid, p. 716. For further background of the role of Karimi merchants in Egyptian‑Yemeni political r (...)
  • 39 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, 819. Vallet provides further reports from Egyptian sources of horses being given (...)
  • 40 Smith, 2006, p. 40, folio 17a. There is a footnote (No. 314) to this passage in the Smith translati (...)
  • 41 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 331.

12The sultan also received horses in these diplomatic exchanges. For example, in Ramaḍān 790/September 1388 the Karimi merchant al‑Qāḍī Burhān al‑Dīn Ibrāhīm b. ʿUmar al‑Maḥallī arrived from Egypt to Zabīd with lavish gifts to the court of Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl of which included horses along with mules, hunting dogs, and birds in addition to various foods, drinks, clothing, and scents.38 Then again ten years later in Ṣafar 800/October 1397 even more extravagant presents arrived from Egypt for the sultan, but this time accompanied by the son of al‑Qāḍī Shihāb al‑Dīn Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm al‑Maḥallī. Among these gifts were not only twelve horses with saddles but also slaves of diverse origins and a Jewish doctor.39 Finally, there is also a note in the Mulakhkhaṣ al‑Fiṭan that the gifts that came through the Port of Dahlak consisted of thoroughbred (biḥār) and mediocre quality (hujun) horses alongside other “choice rarities, wild animals and Nubian slaves”.40 Perhaps the most unique Rasulid gift involving horses is found in a report mentioned near the end of al‑Khazrajī’s obituary of Sultan al‑Muẓaffar.41 He states the sultan had 500 horsemen fighting the Franks in Egypt (presumably alongside the Mamluk Sultanate) to whom he sent payment (jawāmik) as well as other gifts. Although this cannot be pinpointed to any particular date and is not explicitly a gift, it demonstrates the Rasulid dynasty’s commitment to support the Mamluks in this conflict through the sponsorship of horsemen.

  • 42 Ibid, p. 801. The Sultan may have been especially pleased because attached to the bird was a silk c (...)
  • 43 Ibid, p. 819. Similar to the Egyptian gift from the same year, this one also included ten slave gir (...)

13Within South Arabia animals were similarly involved in gift exchanges as symbolic acts of political goodwill and maneuvering. For example, in Dhū al‑Ḥijja 797/April 1395, the governor of Ḥays ʿImād Yaḥyā b. ʿAlī Suqaym brought to Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl a bird that had been caught on the Red Sea shore.42 In return he was given honorific clothing by the sultan out of gratitude. Even more extravagantly, in Muḥarram 800/September 1397, Shaykh ʿAlī b. Abī Bakr b. Zayd brought to the sultan two elephants, an ostrich, two giraffes, a young lion, a wild ass, and ten camels.43 In return he received not only the economic profit of 3,000 dinars, fine clothing, and a reduction in taxes, but also significant political currency from this gesture. He was both dubbed as shaykh of his region by the sultan as well as able to intercede on the behalf of several Arab shaykhs that were imprisoned, which resulted in their release.

  • 44 Ibid, p. 160. Amir Shams al‑Dīn was the son of Imam ʿAbd Allāh b. Ḥamza – Zaydi, but earlier that y (...)
  • 45 Ibid, p. 802.
  • 46 Ibid, p. 794.
  • 47 Ibid, p. 800‑801.
  • 48 Ibid, p. 557.

14Horses naturally were involved in similar gift exchanges involving political stakes. In Shawwāl 652/November 1254, in reward for his military service, Sultan al‑Muẓaffar gave to Zaydi Amir Shams al‑Dīn presents of horses, property (amwāl), clothing, and other valuable items.44 In addition, he also granted him the iqṭāʿ of Qaḥma and supplied with it 100 horsemen. Clearly, this manifold package has political significance, most especially because Shams al‑Dīn now was inserted into the sultan’s personal political network. Likewise, in 798/1395–1396, Ibn al‑Sīrī, arrived to the court of Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl, where he was clothed and blessed by the sultan, as well as given a dark (akhḍar) horse and mule.45 Ibn al‑Sīrī, however, continued to cause problems for the sultan, resulting in further military conflicts between the two. Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl also received horses, for example, from Qaḍi Shihāb al‑Dīn who brought 40 horses in Jumādā I 797/March 1395,46 and 28 horses among other gifts in Dhū al‑Ḥijja 797/September 1395.47 On the second occasion, the qadi was received by multiple amirs and the sultan’s son al‑Malik al‑Nāṣir in addition to the sultan, and he was given regal clothing, a mule with a sash (zinār), and 2,000 dinars. Finally, there is also a report in Shaʿbān 728/June‑July 1328, in which Sultan al‑Mujāhid receives horses, one of which was unparalleled at eight spans (ashbār) in height, from Ḥasan b. al‑Asad from Dhamar.48 The political significance and motivations of this act, however, remain unclear because there is no further indication of neither the identity of the giver nor if he received anything in return from the sultan.

  • 49 Ibid, p. 760.
  • 50 Ibid, p. 828.

15Horses were also used as signs of political goodwill from both sides in more public ceremonies. For example, after the circumcision of his sons, Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl’s in Dhū al‑Qaʿda 794/September 1392, celebrated by sending Sharīf Fakhr al‑Dīn ʿAbd Allāh b. Idrīs b. Muḥammad b. Idrīs b. ʿAlī b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Ḥasan b. Ḥamza money, clothing, and horses.49 Likewise, in Jumādā II 801/February 1399, for the wedding between Amir Badr al‑Dīn Muḥammad b. Ziyād al‑Kāmilī and the daughter of Amir Sayf al‑Dīn Sinjar, the sultan both dressed the groom and gave him two stallions for the occasion.50

The sultan taketh away

  • 51 Smith, 2006, p. 32‑33, folio 31a. It is important to recognize, however, that at the time the Mulak (...)
  • 52 Smith, 2006, p. 40, folio 17a. In Smith’s translation, in the previous passage al‑khayl is translat (...)
  • 53 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 153.
  • 54 Ibid, p. 445‑446.
  • 55 Ibid, p. 781.

16Much like their involvement in gift exchange, the confiscation or removal of horses or horsemen from different parts of South Arabia was not an uncommon activity for the Rasulid sultans, whether it was done through force or with consent. For example, the Mulakhkhaṣ al‑Fiṭan lists a type of tax for the highland and coastal Tihāma regions that consisted of a demand for horsemen. The former region, including such areas as Radāʿ al‑ʿArsh and al‑Jawf in the East and Ṣaʿda in the North, is stated to owe a total of 950 horsemen through a table listing the collected revenue.51 The latter region, however, is supposed to pay annually 50 horsemen with coats of Ḥasanī armor to wherever they are required for service.52 The motivation and context for the sultan to take away horses, however, seems to have been manifold, ranging from the collection of war booty to the punishment for rebellious actions by the local population to the apparent increasing scarcity of horses for the Rasulids amid their shrinking territory over the course of the 8th/14th century. An early incident of this first type took place during a wider conflict between the Rasulids and Zaydis in the course of the 7th/13th century, and therefore seems to be more of a military tactic to harm, if only temporarily, their contending enemies. For example, in 652/1254, after the successful siege of Ṣaʿda by Rasulid Asad al‑Dīn and Shams al‑Dīn, seventy horses were taken.53 In a similar manner, this tactic was performed against the Rasulids during the first Kurdish revolt in Dhamar in 709/1309‑1310, when the Kurds ransacked the Rasulid military camp, including its horses, after their troops had been driven away.54 A further example, involving a conflict between two tribes, appears in a report from Jumādā I 796/March 1394, in which a failed raid by the Qurashī against the Maʿāziba resulted in the latter seizing four of their horses and four camels.55

  • 56 Ibid, p. 578.
  • 57 Ibid, p. 382. In this case the people of Minqadha were among the tribes that were in the Sayd pass (...)

17Another motivation for the confiscation of horses was as a direct punishment for a specific act of wrongdoing against the wishes of the sultan. A unique example of this occurred in 739/1338–1339 after the failure of his newly appointed governor of Dhamar, Ibn al‑Ḥijāzī, to quell its unruly Kurdish population, leading to the loss of the town altogether.56 As a result, in extreme anger Sultan al‑Mujāhid took away from him not only 100,000 dinars but also 40 stallions and 60 camels. A more common occurrence of the sultan taking away horses as punishment was, however, aimed directly at specific rebellious tribes or inhabitants of a town or region. For example, a report from Rajab 700/March 1301 directly states that the son of Sultan al‑Mu’ayyad (Malik Ẓāfir) focused in particular on the people of Minqadha and took their horses on account of what they had done.57 Similar motivations and tactics were practiced by subsequent sultans.

  • 58 Ibid, p. 646.
  • 59 Ibid, p. 646.
  • 60 Ibid, p. 645.
  • 61 Ibid, p. 695.
  • 62 Ibid, p. 697.

18At times these reports of the seizure of horses lack details of precisely what happened, such as the succinct description that, in Shawwāl 766/June–July 1365, Sultan al‑Afḍal seized horses from Arabs in the northern regions (al‑jihāt al‑shāmiyya),58 200 of which he is stated to have brought to Ta’izz the next year.59 Other times, though, reports contain details that reveal more complex political dynamics, such as the attack on the village of al‑Qurashiyya in Dhū al‑Ḥijja 765/September 1364.60 After Rasulid forces had already plundered the village once, massacring its population including 100 of their best and most notable horsemen, they again returned led by Amir Bahā’ al‑Dīn Bahādir al‑Sunbulī. Out of anguish the inhabitants of al‑Qurashiyya requested protection (dhimma) while also giving up half of their horses and pledging several of their children as hostages. In response, Sultan al‑Afḍal granted them protection. In this case, instead of a simple item of booty, the horses alongside the children became a type of political bargaining chip in a negotiation, although undoubtedly in the sultan’s favor. Similar reports of negotiation for protection ostensibly appear a couple decades later during the reign of Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl. At the end of Ramadan 786/November 1384, the eunuch Jamāl al‑Dīn Marjān arrived to the court with horses of the Maʿāziba, requesting protection for them, which the sultan granted completely.61 Then in 787/1385, after an attack against the Banū Yaʿqūb by the Rasulids, in which the village of Qāhira was burnt down and their property plundered, the inhabitants asked for safety (amān) for themselves and delivered horses to the court. When the shaykhs of Banū Yaʿqūb arrived to the court, the sultan granted them protection and dressed them (kasāhum).62

  • 63 Ibid, p. 766.
  • 64 Ibid, p. 795.
  • 65 Ibid, p. 798. In this case, the report does not mention his delivery of the horses, but does state (...)
  • 66 Ibid, p. 702‑3.
  • 67 Ibid, p. 753.
  • 68 Ibid, p. 732.
  • 69 Ibid, p. 821.

19Another aspect of this practice of confiscating horses involves those who undertook these seizures for Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl. Various names are given for the men that brought horses, such as Amir Sayf al‑Dīn al‑Qataliyya in Jumādā II 795/April 1393,63 Amir Sayf al‑Dīn Sinjar in Rajab 797/April 1395,64 and Amir Badr al‑Dīn Muḥammad b. Ziyād in Shawwāl 797/August 1395.65 But by far the most successful in this endeavor was Bahā’ al‑Dīn Bahādir al‑Shamsī who is stated to have brought horses to the sultan in multiple reports, such as 34 horses confiscated and delivered in Ṣafar 788–Rabīʿ II 788 /April–May 1386 66 and 90 stallions brought in Jumādā II 794/May 1392.67 The most vivid report comes from Ṣafar 792/January 1390,68 in which he arrived accompanied by his horse named Thalj in a victory parade to the court of the sultan in Zabīd, consisting of the vanquished heads of the slain enemy as well as their seized horses. In return for this great success, the sultan granted him six of the horses. This redistribution of confiscated horses also appears in a report from Jumādā II 800/March 1398, in which the sultan arrives to Zabīd with 200 horses taken during his trip to the northern regions, and then the next day redistributes 100 of them to members of the tribes of the Qurashī and Ashāʿir.69 Although the exact meaning of this redistribution is not stated, this act again demonstrates that the horses are not simply gathered as a means of economic wealth for the sultans, but also serve as a means for mediating political relations.

  • 70 Ibid, p. 779‑788.
  • 71 The sultan wrote the decree for tax alleviation later that year (Ibid, p. 782). This place name ref (...)
  • 72 This group is presumably referring to Arabs who lived along the Wādī Surdud in the northern Tihāma.
  • 73 Al‑Ḥajrī situates the Banī Ḥafīs in the region of Jaʿfur in Wuṣāb al‑ʿAlī, located in the mountaino (...)
  • 74 Al‑Ḥajrī describes this group as a confederation of tribes with geographical associations from Ma’r (...)
  • 75 Al Ghunaym is among the tribes of Radāʿ. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 626.
  • 76 Ibid, p. 780.
  • 77 Ibid, p. 788.
  • 78 Jāzān is a town on the northern Red Sea coast. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 171.
  • 79 Ibid, p. 782.

20The political nature of horse confiscation is further highlighted in what appears to be its peak year in 796/1393–1394.70 After arriving to the northern Tihāma in order to pillage the village of Ḥanika, the inhabitants of the region, presumably for preventative measures, began to bring their horses directly to the sultan, such as the shaykhs of al‑Rumāt and the shaykhs of the Zaydis. These gestures in turn resulted in the sultan ordering a decree to be written to alleviate taxes for the people of al‑Ḍāḥī region.71 Other inhabitants, who did not receive this treatment, had their horses brought by Bahā’ al‑Dīn Bahādir al‑Shamsī, such the Arabs of al‑Surdudiyya,72 the Banī Ḥafīs,73 the Banī ʿUbayd,74 the people of Dawīra, the Banī Zayd, and the people of al‑Ghunayma.75 Another variation of how horses were collected appears at face value to be a type of gift through its association with hospitality for the sultan. In Jumādā I 796/March 1394, Qadi Wajīh al‑Dīn ʿAbd al‑Raḥmān b. Muḥammad al‑ʿAlawī brought the sultan a gift of hospitality (al‑ḍiyāfa), along with 22 horses (jiyād), 13,000 dinars, and fine cloth worth 2,000 dinars.76 Interpreting this report amongst others describing the direct confiscation of horses by the Rasulids makes this apparent gesture of hospitality to seem more forced rather than voluntary, especially because no information is revealed regarding if the sultan granted anything in return. The seizure of horses, however, did not always go smoothly for the Rasulids. Initially the sultan summoned al‑Qā’id Abū Bakr b. Aḥmad b. ʿAlī with his brother and uncle to his court where he gave them protection (dhimma), and after he returned to his region he sent the sultan 30 horses. But apparently this was not enough because the sultan then went to his region and arrested him, demanding more horses. In response, 112 horses were brought along with 26 sets of armor, and he was sent free. Later that year, however, the sultan seized the remainder of the livestock (dawābb) in al‑Qā’id’s stable for apparently not paying his taxes.77 Most likely as a result of these complications, in that same month of al‑Qā’id’s initial arrest, the sultan issued a command demanding all the horses in the region, resulting in more horses being brought from the Ṣumm, the shaykh of the Wāʿiẓāt, and the governor of Jāzān.78 Nonetheless, despite the diversity and mostly ease of this horse collecting, al‑Khazrajī bluntly summarizes the results of this activity in Jumādā II 796/April 1394 as the sultan returning to Zabīd in spectacle with 296 horses that “he seized from the depraved Arabs” (qabaḍahā min al‑ʿarab al‑mufsidīn).79

Conclusion

21It is clear that horses played an important role in the political life of the Rasulid sultans. Beyond the control over their sale in the annual market in Aden, as symbolic capital they were an integral part of the gifts being exchanged with both foreign courts and local elites, resulting in more cohesive ties among all parties. Furthermore, the variety of motivations and contexts in which horses were confiscated by the sultan demonstrates their manifold use as an important political currency when attempting to sustain order in their diverse territories. Thus, these different strategies for the maintenance of political control alongside the obviously prominent role of the horse in the military allowed for the Rasulid sultans to assert and uphold their authority in the late medieval period not only over Lower Yemen but also alongside other sultanates and kingdoms dispersed around the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

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al‑ʿAbbāsī, ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. ʿUbayd Allāh, Sīrat al‑Ḥādī ilā‑al‑Ḥaqq Yaḥyā b. al‑Ḥusayn, Suhayl Zakkār (ed.), Beirut, Dār al‑Fikr, 1981.

Anonymous, Irtifāʿ al‑Dawla al‑Mu’ayyadiyya, (Le livre des revenus du sultan rasūlide al‑Malik al‑Mu’ayyad Dāwūd b. Yūsuf, m. 721/1321), Muḥammad Jāzim (ed.), Sanaa, CEFAS, 2008.

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Al‑Khazrajī, ʿAlī b. al‑Ḥasan, Al‑ʿUqūd al‑Lu’lu’iyya fī Tārīkh al‑Dawla al‑Rasūliyya, ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad al‑Ḥibshī (ed.), Sanaa, Maktabat al‑Irshād, 2009.

Lane, Ed., An Arabic‑English Lexicon, Beirut, Librairie du Liban, 1893.

Al‑Malik al‑Mujāhid, Al‑Aqwāl al‑Kāfiya wa‑l‑Fuṣūl al‑Shāfiya fī al‑Khayl, Yaḥyā Wahīb al‑Jabbūrī (ed.), Beirut, 1987.

Newton, L. & Zarins, J., “A possible Indian quarter at al‑Baleed in the fourteenth‑seventeenth centuries AD?”, Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies No. 44, 2014, p. 257‑276.

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Al‑Sarraf, Sh., “Mamluk Furūsīyah Literature and Its Antecedents,” Mamluk Studies Review No. 8 (1), 2004, p. 141‑200.

Al‑Shamrookh, N. Abd., The Commerce and Trade of the Rasulids in the Yemen, 630‑858/1231‑1454, PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 1996.

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Smith, G. R., “The Rasulid Administration in Ninth/Fifteenth Century Yemen – Some Government Department and Officials”, Studia Semitica: The Journal of Semitic Studies Jubilee Volume, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 257‑276.

Smith, G. R., A Medieval Administrative and Fiscal Treatise from the Yemen : The Rasulid Mulakhkhaṣ al‑Fiṭan of al‑Ḥasan B. ʿAlī al‑Ḥusaynī : A Facsimile Edition of the Arabic Text together with an Introduction and Annotated Translation, Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement 20, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Smith, R., & Varisco, D., eds., The Manuscript of al‑Malik al‑Afḍal al‑ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī b. Dāʿūd b. Yūsuf b. ʿUmar b. ʿAlī ibn Rasūl: A Medieval Arabic Anthology from the Yemen, Warminster, Aris & Phillips Ltd., 2008.

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Notes

1 Al‑Hamdānī, 1990, p. 320‑321.

2 al‑ʿAbbāsī, 1981, p. 66‑67.

3 Ibid, p. 223‑224. For an English translation of the entire poem, see Eagle, 1990, p. 9. For further analysis of this poem and the previous passage, see Heiss, 1990, p. 200‑202. In general, he interprets them to indicate that the imam needed to prove himself in these skills that were important to the values of the local population.

4 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 616. He was among the al‑Ashāʿir who died in a conflict against other tribes in the Tihāma near the village of al‑Ghazālīn in 758/1357. The wider context of this conflict is discussed further below. The al‑Ashāʿir was a tribe genealogically extending from Kahlān b. Sabā, and located in the Tihāma along the Wādī Zabīd. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 78‑80.

5 Ibid, p. 645. He was among the members of the Qurayshiyya tribe who was killed in an attack by the Rasulid eunuch Ṣafī al‑Dīn Abū Malʿaq in 765/1364. Despite this vowelization of the name given in the text, this tribe probably was the Qurāshiyya, that al‑Ḥajrī describes as a tribe of the al‑ʿAshāʿir in the area of Zabīd in the Tihāma. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 648.

6 Ibid, p. 711.

7 Ibid, p. 589. Incidentally, in contrast to the other horsemen, this Rasulid amir did not die in battle, but rather after his house in Aden fell on him in 746/1345–1356. Yet, he is the only one of these four to receive a separate obituary report outside of the main narrative of the chronicle.

8 Ibid, p. 35‑36.

9 Ibid, p. 62‑63. This phrase can be translated literally, and perhaps poetically, as, “they were five men who rode from one house” (kānū khamsata rijālin yarkabūna min baytin wāḥidin).

10 Examples can be found in Al‑Khazrajī in various years over the course of the reigns of the Sultan al‑Mu’ayyad, Sultan al‑Afḍal, and Sultan al‑Ashraf Ismāʿīl, such as, p. 381 (700/1300), p. 465 (713/1313), p. 663 (773/1371), p. 665 (774/1372), p. 684 (781/1379), p. 708 (789/1387), p. 836 (792/1390), p. 892 (797/1394).

11 For further discussion of the stables, see Smith, 2005, p. 235‑6.

12 Smith, 2006, p. 24, folio 9a.

13 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 390‑393.

14 Al‑Malik al‑Mujāhid, 1987. For further analysis of this book, see Shehada, 2013, p. 148‑155.

15 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 609. This event must have been even more troubling for Qaḍi Jalāl al‑Dīn ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. ʿUmar who was appointed wazir by the sultan on that same day.

16 Ibid, p. 622. The precise name for this disease is uncertain.

17 For an overview of the types of exercises involving a lance, see Al‑Sarraf, 2004, p. 172‑175.

18 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 548. A second possible reference to a more informal joust or another type of horse game is potentially alluded to in a report from 761/1359–1360, but the phrase only contains the verb yalʿabū (they play) and consequently nothing more is revealed. Ibid, p. 233.

19 Ibid, p. 699.

20 Ibid, p. 762.

21 Ibid, p. 795‑796. The horses, in fact, were housed alongside other animals such as mules, asses, and elephants, which altogether seems to give the impression of some sort of zoo or military livestock arsenal at the Palace of Gold.

22 Ibid, p. 820.

23 For more detailed summaries of the networks and workings of the horse economy in Rasulid South Arabia, see Vallet, 2010, p. 223‑227 and 373‑378, as well as Saʿīd, 1998, p. 306‑308, and al‑Shamrookh, 1996, p. 200‑204.

24 For example, in the 7th/13th century Ibn al‑Mujāwir describes the Banū Majīd of the region of Taran in the Tihāma as horse breeders (1951, p. 101), and an old horse trade route between Baghdad and Ẓafār (Dhofar/al‑Baleed) and Mirbāṭ (Ibid, p. 263‑264). Newton & Zarins also provide a further description of the lucrative horse trade between al‑Baleed and India, among other Arabian ports on the coast of the Indian Ocean (2014, p. 269‑270), stating that it appears to have started as early as the 6th century (AD) and peaked during the Abbasid period despite medieval period evidence extending into the 6th/15th century.

25 The administrative documents containing information about the Rasulid horse economy include a collection of texts thought to be written during the reign of Sultan al‑Muẓaffar in the 7th/13th century and placed under the title Nūr al‑Maʿārif fī Nuẓum wa‑Qawānīn wa‑Aʿrāf al‑Yaman fī al‑ʿahd al‑Muẓaffarī al‑Wārif (Anonymous, 2002–2005), a group of land tax documents suspected to have been written during the reign of Sultan al‑Mu’ayyad and entitled by its modern editor Irtifāʿ al‑Dawla al‑Mu’ayyadiyya (Anonymous, 2006), the Royal Crop Register of Sultan al‑Afḍal from 773/1372 (Smith & Varisco, 2008; Varisco, 1991), and another collection of the tax revenues and expenditures of different regions of Yemen written during the reign of Sultan al‑Naṣir Aḥmad b. Ismāʿīl in the early 9th/15th century by al‑Ḥasan b. ʿAlī al‑Ḥusaynī with the title Mulakhkhaṣ al‑Fiṭan (Smith, 2006).

26 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 505.

27 Ibid, p. 504‑5; Irtifāʿ al‑Dawla al‑Mu’ayyadiyya, 2006, 113.

28 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 506.

29 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 504.

30 Smith, 2006, p. 59, folio 4b.

31 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 715. Unfortunately, Ḥanika is the name of several villages in Yemen so it cannot be geographically pinpointed. Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 715, n. 6.

32 Ibid, p. 615‑616. Vallet also emphasizes that this report is the first time the Tihāma is mentioned in relation to a convoy of horses headed for the Aden market, perhaps due to the loss of political control over the other horse breeding regions by the mid‑8th/14th century (2010, p. 376).

33 Fishāl is a town in the Tihāma north of Zabīd along the Wādī Rimaʿ. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 634‑635.

34 See Vallet, 2010, p. 400‑616; Vallet, 2011; al‑Shamrookh, 1996, 164‑166.

35 Nūr al‑Maʿārif, 2002, I, p. 504.

36 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 418‑419.

37 Ibid, p. 822.

38 Ibid, p. 716. For further background of the role of Karimi merchants in Egyptian‑Yemeni political relations at this time, see Vallet, 2010, p. 518‑527. Burhān al‑Dīn al‑Maḥallī was serving under the titles “Head Merchant” (kabīr al‑tujjār) or “Merchant of the Sultan” (al‑tājir al‑sulṭānī) for the Mamluk court, and returned in 797/1395 as an official ambassador for the Mamluk Sultan al‑Ẓāhir Barqūq.

39 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, 819. Vallet provides further reports from Egyptian sources of horses being given to Rasulids in Egypt from the Mamluk court (2010, p. 296‑297).

40 Smith, 2006, p. 40, folio 17a. There is a footnote (No. 314) to this passage in the Smith translation indicating that Serjeant suggested these terms to be interpreted as camels (Ibid, p. 81). Nonetheless, Lane Part 8 states a hajīn to be a half‑blooded horse of mixed parents – a father with pure Arabian descent and a mother that is not (1893, p. 3041‑3042). Lisān al‑ʿArab part 15 quotes al‑Azharī as stating a hajīn to be a horse who was born from a female draft horse but with an Arabian father, while a hijān is a white camel (Ibn Manẓūr, 1999, p.43). Lisān al‑ʿArab part 1 states a baḥr (singular of biḥār) to be a horse who runs a lot or very quickly (kathīr al‑ʿadw) (Ibid, p. 325).

41 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 331.

42 Ibid, p. 801. The Sultan may have been especially pleased because attached to the bird was a silk cloth with a gold plate that stated the bird belonged to the lord of Egypt or one of his amirs. Ḥays is a town in the Tihāma located south of Zabīd. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 301.

43 Ibid, p. 819. Similar to the Egyptian gift from the same year, this one also included ten slave girls and ten slave boys, further possibly giving an indication a type of equivalency between animals and slaves.

44 Ibid, p. 160. Amir Shams al‑Dīn was the son of Imam ʿAbd Allāh b. Ḥamza – Zaydi, but earlier that year he fought alongside Rasulid Amir Asad al‑Dīn to successfully besiege and take over Ṣaʿda, prompting Imam Aḥmad b. Ḥusayn to flee.

45 Ibid, p. 802.

46 Ibid, p. 794.

47 Ibid, p. 800‑801.

48 Ibid, p. 557.

49 Ibid, p. 760.

50 Ibid, p. 828.

51 Smith, 2006, p. 32‑33, folio 31a. It is important to recognize, however, that at the time the Mulakhkhaṣ al‑Fiṭan was written (beginning of the 9th/15th century) the highlands were no longer under the Rasulid control. This document, therefore, may be better understood as a type of idealized or nostalgic vision of taxation of South Arabia, perhaps reflecting a political reality closer to the turn of the 7th/13th century, rather than a precise record of its then current state. This contextualized interpretation of the information found in the Mulakhkhaṣ al‑Fiṭan is also discussed in Smith, 2006, p. 8, and Vallet, 2010, p. 101‑102.

52 Smith, 2006, p. 40, folio 17a. In Smith’s translation, in the previous passage al‑khayl is translated as horsemen, while in this passage it is translated as horses. Due to the content of this latter passage involving armor and being sent for service, it seems as though horsemen may be a more appropriate translation.

53 Al‑Khazrajī, 2009, p. 153.

54 Ibid, p. 445‑446.

55 Ibid, p. 781.

56 Ibid, p. 578.

57 Ibid, p. 382. In this case the people of Minqadha were among the tribes that were in the Sayd pass located in the central highlands that presumably confronted Malik Ẓāfir upon his return to Sanaa from Zabīd. Minqadha is an area in the environs of Dhamar. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 822.

58 Ibid, p. 646.

59 Ibid, p. 646.

60 Ibid, p. 645.

61 Ibid, p. 695.

62 Ibid, p. 697.

63 Ibid, p. 766.

64 Ibid, p. 795.

65 Ibid, p. 798. In this case, the report does not mention his delivery of the horses, but does state that he captured five horses, in addition to four prisoners, from Jaḥāfil tribesmen who had made a raid on Juwwa.

66 Ibid, p. 702‑3.

67 Ibid, p. 753.

68 Ibid, p. 732.

69 Ibid, p. 821.

70 Ibid, p. 779‑788.

71 The sultan wrote the decree for tax alleviation later that year (Ibid, p. 782). This place name refers to a town al‑Ḍiḥi in the northern Tihāma on the Wādī Surdud. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 552.

72 This group is presumably referring to Arabs who lived along the Wādī Surdud in the northern Tihāma.

73 Al‑Ḥajrī situates the Banī Ḥafīs in the region of Jaʿfur in Wuṣāb al‑ʿAlī, located in the mountainous area to the east of Zabid. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 278.

74 Al‑Ḥajrī describes this group as a confederation of tribes with geographical associations from Ma’rib in the east to Ṣaʿda in the north to as far south as Yarīm in the central highlands. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 575.

75 Al Ghunaym is among the tribes of Radāʿ. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 626.

76 Ibid, p. 780.

77 Ibid, p. 788.

78 Jāzān is a town on the northern Red Sea coast. Al‑Ḥajrī, 1984, p. 171.

79 Ibid, p. 782.

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References

Electronic reference

Daniel Mahoney, « The Role of Horses in the Politics of Late Medieval South Arabia », Arabian Humanities [Online], 8 | 2017, Online since 15 June 2017, connection on 17 November 2017. URL : http://cy.revues.org/3287 ; DOI : 10.4000/cy.3287

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About the author

Daniel Mahoney

Post‑Doctoral Researcher, Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences

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