Banu Kilab

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Banu Kilab
Adnanite/Qaysi Arab tribe
Nisba Kilābī
Location6th century CE–9th century: Central Arabia
7th century–13th century: Northern Syria
Descended fromKilab ibn Rabi'a ibn Amir
Parent tribe Banu Amir ibn Sa'sa'
  • Abd Allah
  • Abu Bakr
  • Al-Adbat
  • Wahid
  • Amr
  • Ja'far
  • Ka'b
  • Mu'awiya al-Dibab
  • Rabi'a
  • Ru'as
Religion Polytheism (pre-630)
Islam (post 630)
Shia Islam (10th-11th centuries)

The Banu Kilab (Arabic : بنو كِلاب, romanized: Banū Kilāb) was an Arab tribe that dominated central Arabia during the late pre-Islamic era. It was a major branch of the Banu Amir ibn Sa'sa' tribe and was thus of Qaysi (north Arabian) lineage. During and after the Muslim conquest of Syria, Kilabi tribesmen migrated to northern Syria. Their chieftain Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi led the Qaysi revolt against the Umayyad Caliphate until he secured peace with the latter in 691.


Two more mass migrations of Kilabi tribesmen to northern Syria occurred in the 9th and 10th centuries, the last wave being associated with the rebellious Qarmatian movement. By their numerical strength, skilled swordsmanship and Bedouin mobility, the Banu Kilab emerged as the dominant military force in the desert steppe north of Palmyra and around Aleppo at the expense of well-established, semi-sedentary tribes. They were involved in the rise of the Hamdanid dynasty in the late 10th century, but often rebelled and participated in intra-dynastic disputes. In the early 11th century, the Kilabi chief Salih ibn Mirdas assumed leadership of the tribe and by 1025 established an emirate (principality) based in Aleppo that spanned much of western Upper Mesopotamia and northern Syria. His Mirdasid dynasty ruled Aleppo more or less continuously until 1080, after which the tribe gradually declined in importance.


Genealogical map of the Banu Kilab Genealogy of Kilab.png
Genealogical map of the Banu Kilab

There were at least ten first-tier divisions of the Banu Kilab, each named after a son of Kilab ibn Rabi'a. They were the following: Abd Allah, Abu Bakr, al-Adbat, Amr, Ja'far, Ka'b, Mu'awiya al-Dibab, Rabi'a, Ru'as, and Wahid. [1] According to the historian Werner Caskel, the major divisions were Abd Allah, Abu Bakr, Amr, Ja'far and Mu'awiya, the last best known by its nickname "al-Dibab". [1] [2] In the pre-Islamic period (pre-630s), the preeminent chieftains of the Banu Kilab hailed from the Ja'far, [1] but the largest and strongest division of the tribe was the Abu Bakr, [1] [2] whose eponymous progenitor's given name was Ubayd. [3] The Amr were the second largest, according to the historian Suheil Zakkar. [2] According to Caskel, the Wahid appeared larger than the Amr in the genealogical record, but were weaker in reality. [4] About half of the Dibab lived a settled life, while the other half remained nomadic like the rest of the Banu Kilab. [4] The Rabi'a, Ru'as, Ka'b, and al-Adbat were the least prominent. The Abd Allah became prominent after their conversion to Islam. [4]

Each of the ten divisions were composed of several branches and sub-tribes. [2] Of the Abu Bakr were Abd, Abd Allah and Ka'b; [5] the latter's largest sub-tribes were the Arar (or Amr), Awf and Rabi'a, all sons of Ka'b. [6] The Mirdasid dynasty belonged to the Rabi'a ibn Ka'b sub-tribe. The Ja'far's branches were al-Ahwas, Khalid, Malik and Utba. [5] The well-known Arab poet, Labīd, was a member of the Malik branch. [7]


Pre-Islamic period

Origins and abode

The Banu Kilab were a major branch of the Banu Amir ibn Sa'sa', a large Bedouin (nomadic Arab) tribe, which first appear in the historical record in the mid-6th century. [1] The Banu Amir were the most powerful branch of the Hawazin confederation. The Kilab's progenitor was a son of Rabi'a ibn Amir and the latter's wife Majd, the daughter of Taym ibn Murrah of the Quraysh, the mercantile tribe in charge of the Ka'aba, a major sanctuary in Mecca for Arab tribes in the pre-Islamic period. Another major branch of the Banu Amir descended from Kilab's brother Ka'b. [8]

The Banu Amir's original homeland was the area between the Turubah and Ranyah oases in Najd (central Arabia) and the area north of these oases. The Kilab migrated from this region northward and northwestward into the greater vicinity of Diriyah and eventually its sub-tribes occupied the stretch of territory between Diriyah and Turubah. The Banu Kilab's eponymous progenitor was Kilab ibn Rabi'a ibn Amir. [1] The Kilab's central Arabian homeland was a large area that became known as the Ḥima Ḍarīyya. [5] A ḥima (pl. aḥmāʾ; protected or forbidden place) was an area with some vegetation in the desert reserved for the breeding of Arabian horses, that unlike camels, required water and herbaceous vegetation daily. A ḥima was controlled by a certain tribe and access to it was restricted to members of the tribe. The aḥmāʾ first emerged in Najd in the 5th or 6th centuries, and the best known ḥima was the Ḥima Ḍarīyya, according to the historian Irfan Shahid. [9] At one point in the pre-Islamic period, the Banu Kilab controlled nine-tenths of the Ḥima Ḍarīyya. [5]

Approximate locations of some of the important tribes of the Arabian Peninsula in the late 6th century. The Banu Kilab are denoted in the southwestern quadrant of the peninsula. Map of Arabia 600 AD.svg
Approximate locations of some of the important tribes of the Arabian Peninsula in the late 6th century. The Banu Kilab are denoted in the southwestern quadrant of the peninsula.

Kilabi territory was bordered to the east by the Tamim and Ribab tribes, to the northeast by Banu Asad, to the north and northwest by the Ghatafan, to the southwest by Sulaym and Hawazin, and to the south by the Khath'am and various Yemeni tribes. Other than the Sulaym and Hawazin, with whom the Kilab had cordial relations, the Kilab was in a constant state of hostilities with the rest of the neighboring tribes. [1]

Preeminence of the Ja'far

Between 550 and 630, the Ja'far exceeded all other divisions of the Kilab, and the Banu Amir in general, in military prowess and energy. [4] They were the leading house of the Banu Amir for most of the late 6th century and early 7th century. [10] The Kilab, along with their brother tribes, the Banu Ka'b ibn Rab'ia and Banu Amir ibn Rabi'a, belonged to the Ḥums, a social, economic and religious pact involving the Quraysh and other tribes living in the area around Mecca considered sacred by the Arabs. [11] [12] The Kilab and its brother tribes owed their membership to their maternal Qurayshite descent. [12]

In the battle of Shi'b Jabala, an isolated mountain pass 150 kilometers (93 mi) south of Unaizah in the Najd, [13] the chief of the Ja'far, al-Ahwas ibn Ja'far, led the Banu Amir, [14] which was allied with the Banu Abs led by Qays, the son of Zuhayr ibn Jadhima, to a decisive victory. [13] Their opponents were the Banu Tamim, the Banu Dhubyan, the Banu Asad, and contingents from the Kinda led by the Jawna rulers of Bahrayn and from the Lakhmid king al-Mundhir IV (r. 575–580) of al-Hirah or his successor al-Nu'man III (r. 582–602). [13] [15] The battle was precipitated by the Tamim's move to avenge the slaying of their chief's brother by the Banu Amir at the Battle of al-Rahrahan in the preceding year. [15] Shi'b Jabala was one of three most famous ayyām ('battle days') of the pre-Islamic Arabs and contributed to the weakening of Kinda power in northern Arabia and their eventual migration to the Hadramawt. [15] The date of the battle is dated by the Islamic traditional sources to 551, 553 or 570, though the historian Clifford Edmund Bosworth held that it likely did not predate al-Nu'man III's reign in 580. [13]

Al-Ahwas was succeeded as the preeminent chief of the Banu Amir by his nephew Abu Bara Amir ibn Malik. [14] The cohesion of the Kilab in the pre-Islamic period was known to be particularly strong. [1] Although the internal unity of the Kilab generally held in the face of external challenges, there was a rivalry between the Ja'far and the Abu Bakr for leadership of the tribe. Following Shi'b Jabala, the alliance between Ja'far and Abs frayed, with the latter leaving the former's and entering the protection of the Abu Bakr. [14] Tensions between the two Kilabi houses ensued, resulting in the Ja'far abandoning the tribe and allying with the Balharith of South Arabia. As such, the Ja'far were not present at the battle of al-Nisar, occurring shortly after Shi'b Jabala, in which the tribes of Banu Asad and Ribab routed the Banu Amir, capturing many of their women and livestock. [16]

Fijar War

Al-Nu'man III commissioned a leader of the Ja'far, Urwa al-Rahhal, to lead his caravan to the market of Ukaz in western Arabia. An outlawed member of the Kinana tribe, al-Barrad ibn Qays, had requested the commission, but Urwa, [17] who frequented the king's court, [1] mocked al-Barrad for being an outlaw and persuaded al-Nu'man to appoint him instead. As he led the caravan to Ukaz, Urwa was ambushed and slain by al-Barrad, who proceeded to seize the caravan's goods. [17] In response, another leader of the Ja'far, Abu Bara, called the Hawazin confederation to arms; the Hawazin included the Banu Amir, Banu Jusham, Banu Nasr and Banu Thaqif. Four battles over four years ensued ensued between the Hawazin on one side and the Kinana and Quraysh, the latter of which were allied to al-Barrad, which became known as the Fijar War. Abu Bara's and the Kilab's participation was restricted to the first battle, during which they defeated the Quraysh. [18]

Modern historians generally assessed that the Fijar War was related to the Quraysh's attempts to close the caravan route between al-Hira and Yemen through Ta'if, a town which commercially rivaled Mecca, or to redirect the route through Mecca. This assessment was questioned by Ella Landau-Tasseron, who posited that the Banu Amir in general and the Quraysh had been mutually interested in gaining greater, joint control of the annual Lakhmid caravans to Yemen. Moreover, the Ja'far and the Quraysh were both seen as enemies by the Bakr, the branch of Kinana to which al-Barrad belonged. The animosity of the Bakr toward the Ja'far stemmed from the canceling of a covenant by the Ja'far chief, Abu Bara's brother al-Tufayl, protecting the Bakr; the Bakr had entered al-Tufayl's protection in Najd after the Quraysh had expelled them from Mecca. In the years preceding the Fijar War the Bakr attempted to obtain commissions from the Lakhmids to guard their caravans. Although al-Barrad's killing of Urwa had been against the interests of the Kilab and the Quraysh, the latter were compelled to fight due to the Kilab's intent on blood revenge against al-Barrad's Qurayshite confederates. [19] The Kilab's limited participation in the ensuing war may have reflected their desire not to further their breaching of the Khums pact. [20]

Muhammad's era

They were involved in many military conflicts with him. The first was heard the news of this massacre during the Expedition of Bir Maona reached Muhammad, he was greatly grieved and sent Amr bin Umayyah al-Damri and an Ansar to investigate the whole matter. [21] On his way back to Qarqara, Amr bin Umayyah rested in the shade of a tree, and there two men of Banu Kilab joined him. When they slept, Amr killed them both, thinking that by doing that he would avenge some of his killed companions. [21] The Kilab were also the target of the Expedition of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq in December 628. [22] Muhammad ordered this expedition to attack the Banu Kilab tribe [23] Many people were killed [23]
(at least 7 families killed according to Sunan Abu Dawud [24] ) by Muslims

Muhammad also ordered an attack against them during the Expedition of Dahhak al-Kilabi in June 630. [25] With the purpose of calling the Banu Kilab tribe to embrace Islam [26] Fighting broke out and the Muslim killed one person. [26] [27]

Muhammad also ordered the Expedition of Khalid ibn al-Walid (2nd Dumatul Jandal) in April 631 [28] [29] to demolish an idol called Wadd, [29] [30] worshipped by the Banu Kilab tribe [31]


Early migrations and leadership of Qays

Clans from the Kilabi divisions of Abu Bakr, Amr, Abd Allah, Mu'awiya and possibly Ja'far, migrated to Syria during and soon after the Muslim conquest of that region in the 630s. [32] The first major wave of Kilabi migration to Syria occurred during and soon after the Muslim conquest. [6] [32] The Kilab first established themselves in the area west of the northern Euphrates Valley in Jund Qinnasrin (military district of Chalcis). [32] Many of the Kilab newcomers were brought in as troops by the governor of Syria, Mu'awiya I, during Caliph Uthman's reign (644–656). [33] Mu'awiya (r. 661–680) later established the Umayyad Caliphate and appointed a leading chieftain of the Kilab, Zufar ibn al-Harith, as governor of Qinnasrin. [34] Zufar hailed from the Amr division, which according to the historian Suhayl Zakkar, "was always distinguished by its militant and warlike attitude". [2]

The deaths of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I and his successor Mu'awiya II in quick succession in 683–684, Syria was in left Syria in political disarray. [35] Zufar revolted against the Umayyads and gave his allegiance to the rival caliph Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. [36] He then dispatched Arab troops from Qinnasrin to assist the Qaysi-backed commander Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fihri against an Umayyad–Kalb force at the Battle of Marj Rahit near Damascus in 684, during which Dahhak was killed and the Qays routed. [34] Consequently, Zufar fled to the middle Euphrates town of Qarqisiya, [37] expelled its Umayyad governor, and fortified and established it as a center of Qaysi resistance to the Umayyad state. [37] [38] [39] In 691, Caliph Abd al-Malik made a peace agreement with Zufar whereby the latter defected from Ibn al-Zubayr in exchange for a prominent position in the Umayyad court and military. [40] Zufar's sons Hudhayl and Kawthar, who were particularly active during the reigns of caliphs Sulayman (r. 715–717) and Umar II (r. 717–720), were regarded as preeminent chiefs of the Qays and were highly respected by the caliphs. [41]

Dominance of northern Syria

The Abbasids succeeded the Umayyads in 750. A century later, during the reign of Caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861), law and order throughout Syria began to break down and this process accelerated in the years following his death. [42] The political vacuum and frequent revolts paved the way for the Kilab to strengthen their influence in northern Syria. [42] Sometime during the 9th century, a second major wave of Kilabi tribesmen, likely from the Amr division, migrated to the area from Arabia. [43] By the time Ahmad ibn Tulun, the nominal Abbasid governor of Egypt, conquered Syria in 878, the "Kilab ... established themselves as a force to be reckoned with", according to the historian Kamal Salibi. [44] In 882, the Kilab provided critical assistance to Ibn Tulun in his suppression of two uprisings, the first led by an Abbasid prince and the second by the rebel Tulunid governor of northern Syria. [44] Both rebellions were apparently backed by older-established Arab tribes and peasant clans whose lands were being encroached upon by the Kilab. [44]

The Kilab firmly established themselves as the predominant tribe in the region north of the Palmyrene steppe and west of the Euphrates in the early to mid-10th century. [44] At that time, a third major wave of Kilabi migrants, principally from the Abu Bakr division, invaded northern Syria; [6] the medieval Aleppine chronicler Ibn al-Adim puts the date of the Kilabi invasion at 932 and states the tribesmen largely came from the Abu Bakr clans of Subaya and Dhu'ayba. [45] The 10th-century Kilabi invasion may have been encouraged or directly supported by the Qarmatian movement based in eastern Arabia. [46] The Qarmatians, whose troops largely consisted of Bedouin tribes, launched a series of invasions against Syria in the 10th century, the first occurring in 902. [47] The Kilab and other branches of the Banu Amir provided the bulk of the Qarmatians' military personnel. [48] At the time, the Arab tribes of Syria and Mesopotamia experienced marked population growth, which coincided with rising grain prices. [49] This, according to historian Thierry Bianquis, made the tribes "susceptible to Qarmatian [sic] propaganda denouncing the wealth of the urban Sunni population and the luxury of the pilgrimage caravans". [49] The tribes frequently raided the agricultural lands of Hama, Maarrat al-Nu'man and Salamiyah, but nonetheless integrated well with the rural population due to their shared Shia Muslim faith; [49] the Qarmatians too were Shia, following a version of Ismailism.

In 937, the Kilabi newcomers captured Maarat al-Nu'man, plundered the surrounding countryside and took captive its governor and local garrison after the latter put up resistance. [50] The dominance of the Kilabi Bedouins prevented Muhammad ibn Tughj al-Ikhshid (r. 935–946), the ruler of Egypt and southern Syria, from effectively governing northern Syria, which he conquered in the late 930s. [46] He formed an alliance with part of the Kilab, appointing Ahmad ibn Sa'id al-Kilabi, [49] from the 'Amr division, [43] as governor of Aleppo in 939. [49] In the months after, the Ikshidids were driven out of northern Syria by the Abbasids. Between 941 and 944, the political situation in northern Syria was fluid, and at one point, al-Ikhshid reoccupied northern Syria. [46] Al-Ikhshid appointed Ahmad ibn Sa'id governor of Antioch and the latter's brother Uthman governor of Aleppo. [49]

Emirate of Aleppo

Involvement with the Hamdanids

Depiction of Sayf al-Dawla and his court. Sayf al-Dawla was able to take control of Aleppo from its Kilabi governor, Uthman ibn Sa'id, with the assistance of resentful Kilabi chieftains. The Kilab were a major element of Sayf al-Dawla's military and often rebelled and reconciled with Sayf. Sayf al-Dawla at his court.png
Depiction of Sayf al-Dawla and his court. Sayf al-Dawla was able to take control of Aleppo from its Kilabi governor, Uthman ibn Sa'id, with the assistance of resentful Kilabi chieftains. The Kilab were a major element of Sayf al-Dawla's military and often rebelled and reconciled with Sayf.

The appointments of Ahmad and Uthman aroused the jealousy of other Kilabi chieftains who, [49] seeking to replace their kinsmen, invited Nasir al-Dawla, the Hamdanid ruler of Mosul, to invade Aleppo with their assistance. [46] Nasir al-Dawla's brother, Sayf al-Dawla entered Aleppo in October 944 and was greeted by Uthman, who took Sayf on a tour of each of the villages in Aleppo's domain. [49] [51] Ibn al-Adim asserts it was the internal divisions among the Kilab that enabled Sayf al-Dawla to successfully establish himself in Aleppo. [43] Sayf al-Dawla later enlisted Kilabi tribesmen in his failed attempt to conquer Ikhshidid-controlled southern Syria in 946. [49] [52] However, due to incessant Bedouin raids against his subjects, Sayf al-Dawla evicted most of the tribes from northern Syria and into Upper Mesopotamia. [49] An apparent exception to these expulsions was the Kilab, who were the only tribe authorized to inhabit northern Syria. [49] Nonetheless, they were in conflict with Sayf at some point, but by the time he died in 967, he granted the Kilab amān (pardon). [49]

Throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, the Kilab "represented an organised military force with powerful cavalry trained in mounted swordsmanship and not fearing to confront a government army on the field of battle", according to Bianquis. [49] Salibi notes the northern Syrian Kilab's main military assets were their "Bedouin swiftness of movement" and their kinship connections with the Kilab in Upper Mesopotamia. [53] The tribe "served those who paid most and often, at a time of crisis, would sell their employer to the highest bidder", according to Zakkar. [54] And so it was with the Hamdanids and their opponents; [49] Kilabi tribes were involved in every Hamdanid struggle with the Byzantine Empire, every uprising against them and in intra-dynastic conflicts over the emirate of Aleppo. [48] [49] According to Bianquis, "in the event of victory", the Kilab expected their employer to grant them iqtaʿat (income-producing properties; sing. iqtaʿ). [49] Sayf al-Dawla's successor, Sa'd al-Dawla (r. 967–991), had five hundred Bedouin warriors from the Amr in his army in 983, [2] [49] indicating the large size of that Kilabi division. [2] Meanwhile, Bakjur, Sa'd al-Dawla's rebellious ghulam (slave soldier), had his own contingent of Kilabi warriors when he fought Sa'd al-Dawla in 991. [49]

In 1008/09, the Kilab were employed by a Byzantine-Marwanid alliance to help install Sa'd al-Dawla's son, Abu'l Hayja, as the emir of Aleppo to replace Mansur ibn Lu'lu', the Fatimid-allied ruler of the emirate. [55] However, the Kilab collaborated with the Fatimids and betrayed the Marwanids. [55] When the Fatimids turned against Mansur in 1011/12 and gained promises of Kilabi support to restore Hamdanid rule in Aleppo, the Kilab betrayed the Fatimids. [55] Thus, the tribe "saved Mansur b. Lu'lu' on two occasions by their inaction", according to Bianquis. [55] In return, the Kilab demanded from Mansur iqtaʿat in the emirate, villages to supply them with grain, and fertile pastures and rangelands around Aleppo to raise graze their sheep and horses. [56] To relieve his obligations to the Kilab, Mansur employed a ruse whereby he invited 1,000 Kilabi tribesmen to a feast at his palace in Aleppo on 27 May 1012, only to trap and assault the tribesmen. [57] [58] Those among the Kilabi invitees who were not massacred were imprisoned in the dungeons of the Citadel of Aleppo. [55] [58]

Takeover of emirate under Salih ibn Mirdas

Hundreds of Kilabi tribesmen and chieftains were imprisoned in the dungeons of Aleppo's citadel (pictured) by Mansur ibn Lu'lu' in 1012. Two years later, Salih ibn Mirdas escaped the citadel, captured Mansur and exchanged him for the remaining Kilabi prisoners. In 1025, Salih captured Aleppo and made it the capital of his Mirdasid emirate. Aleppo. Citadel (1265963614).jpg
Hundreds of Kilabi tribesmen and chieftains were imprisoned in the dungeons of Aleppo's citadel (pictured) by Mansur ibn Lu'lu' in 1012. Two years later, Salih ibn Mirdas escaped the citadel, captured Mansur and exchanged him for the remaining Kilabi prisoners. In 1025, Salih captured Aleppo and made it the capital of his Mirdasid emirate.

Upon hearing of Mansur's actions, Muqallid ibn Za'ida, a Kilabi emir from Aleppo's outskirts, launched an assault against Kafartab to pressure Mansur; the latter responded by relocating his Kilabi prisoners to facilities with better conditions and paying favorable treatment to Muqallid's brothers, Abu Hamid and Jami'. [59] However, after Muqallid was killed and the Kilab aborted their siege against Kafartab, Mansur returned the prisoners to the dungeons, where many Kilabi chieftains were tortured, executed or died of poor conditions. [60]

Among the Kilabi prisoners was Salih ibn Mirdas, [55] an emir from a princely family belonging to the Abu Bakr division who had captured al-Rahba in 1008/09. [61] Salih was subjected to particularly brutal torture and humiliation by Mansur. [55] [60] Mansur forced a few Kilabi chieftains to accept his terms and had them released in 1013, but most Kilabi prisoners remained incarcerated, including Salih, whose "boldness and resentment increased", according to Zakkar. [60] Salih escaped from the citadel in 1014 and rallied his surviving tribesmen at their encampments in Marj Dabiq. [62] The Kilab united behind Salih, who soon after led them in their siege against Aleppo. [62]

The Kilab and Mansur's army of ghilman clashed several times, and Mansur was able to inflict losses on the Kilab and plunder part of their camp. [62] Encouraged by this, Mansur recruited local toughs, including many Aleppine Jews and Christians, and confronted Salih's Kilabi warriors at the outskirts of Aleppo on 13 August 1014. [63] The Kilab routed Mansur's army, killing some 2,000 Aleppine irregulars and capturing Mansur and his senior commanders. [64] Nonetheless, the Kilab were unable to capture Aleppo, which was defended by Mansur's brothers and mother. [64] Negotiations for Mansur's release concluded with the release of the Kilabi prisoners and a promise to assign the Kilab half of the emirate of Aleppo's revenues. [64] Moreover, Salih was recognized by Mansur as the supreme emir of the Kilab. [64]

In the following years, Salih consolidated his authority over the Kilab and expanded his emirate to include the important Euphrates fortress towns of Manbij and Balis. [64] Mansur did not comply with his assignment to the Kilab of their share of Aleppo's revenues, provoking Kilabi raids against Aleppo's countryside. [55] In 1016, Mansur fled Aleppo after the commander of its citadel, Fath al-Qal'i, revolted. [55] Salih persuaded Fath to abide by Mansur's promises to the Kilab, but Fath also ceded Aleppo to the Fatimids to Salih's chagrin. The Kilab were not strong enough to challenge the Fatimids, but friendly relations were established between Salih and the Fatimid governor, Aziz al-Dawla. [55] By the time the latter was assassinated in 1022, Salih had added the towns of Rafaniyah and Raqqa to his emirate. [55] In 1024, an alliance was formed between the Kilab and the Banu Kalb and Banu Tayy, the strongest Arab tribes in central Syria and Transjordan, respectively. [55] Salih's forces captured Aleppo and its emirate that year, along with Homs, Baalbek, Sidon and Hisn Akkar, while the Fatimids' hold on the rest of Syria was considerably weakened. [55] Salih "brought to success the plan which had guided his [Kilabi] forebears for a century" with his capture of Aleppo, according to Bianquis. [65]

In 1028, the Fatimid governor of Syria, Anushtakin al-Dizbari, moved against the Kilab and the Tayy, having secured the defection of the Kalb to the Fatimids. [65] Opposed to Tayyi/Jarrahid domination of Palestine and Mirdasid control of central Syria, Anushtakin confronted Salih and the Jarrahid emir Hassan ibn Mufarrij at the Battle of al-Uqhuwana near Tiberias in 1029. [65] Salih was slain, and Anushtakin seized the Mirdasids' central Syrian domains. [65]

Reigns of Nasr and Thimal

Salih had designated his son Thimal as his successor, but his eldest son Nasr, a survivor of al-Uqhuwana, sought the emirate. [66] The two brothers faced an imminent offensive by the Byzantine emperor Romanos III in 1030. Thimal remained in Aleppo with the bulk of their forces, while Nasr led the rest of his Kilabi horsemen to confront the Byzantines. The Mirdasids landed a decisive victory against Romanos III at the Battle of Azaz. [67] Afterward, Nasr seized the citadel of Aleppo when his brother was away. Thimal mobilized his Kilabi partisans to oust Nasr, but ultimately the chiefs of the tribe mediated a power-sharing agreement between the brothers, whereby Nasr ruled the northern Syrian part of the emirate from Aleppo and Thimal ruled the Upper Mesopotamian part from al-Rahba. [68]

Nasr entered Byzantine vassalage soon after Azaz to protect himself from threats from his own tribesmen, the relocation of 20,000 rival tribesmen from Tayy and Kalb to Byzantine territory in northern Syria close to Aleppo, and Fatimid attempts to control Aleppo. [69] After the Byzantines and Fatimids made peace in 1036, Nasr reconciled with the Fatimid caliph, who granted his request for the governorship of Homs. The Fatimid governor of Damascus, Anushtakin al-Dizbari, sought to control all of Syria and opposed Nasr's acquisition of Homs. He recruited Tayyi and Kalbi tribesmen, and a Kilabi faction opposed to the Mirdasids, secured Byzantine approval, and marched against Nasr. The latter was defeated and killed outside Hama in 1038. [70]

Thimal gained control of Aleppo after Nasr's death, but withdrew in the face of the Dizbari's army. Thimal left his cousin Muqallid ibn Kamil ibn Mirdas in charge of the citadel and the Kilabi Khalifa ibn Jabir in charge of the city. They surrendered to Dizbari in June, and Fatimid rule was restored in Aleppo. [71] Dizbari consecrated ties with the Kilab by marrying the daughter of the Kilabi chieftain Mansur ibn Zughayb. [72] Thimal continued to control the Mesopotamian part of the emirate. [73] After Dizbari died in 1042, Thimal regained control of Aleppo with Fatimid approval. [74]

Size and structure

The Kilabi clans which migrated to Syria hailed from the Abu Bakr, Amr, Abd Allah, Mu'awiya, and Ja'far divisions. [32] The Abu Bakr had been the largest Kilabi unit in Arabia, but in Syria the Amr were the largest and strongest unit, at least until the 9th century. [2] As a result of their mass migration from Arabia to Syria in 932, the Abu Bakr came to outnumber the Amr in Syria. [6] Most of the Abu Bakr tribesmen hailed from its Awf, Rabi'a and Amr branches. [75] There is scant information about the size of the Banu Kilab at the height of its power in Syria in the 10th and 11th centuries. On two occasions, under Salih in 1014 and under Nasr in 1038 the sources note the Kilab numbered 2,000 horsemen. It is likely that the Kilabi warriors on the two occasions represented only part of the tribe's manpower. In 1075 Ibn al-Adim noted that the Kilab "had never assembled in such great numbers before ... they were about 70,000 horsemen and infantry". [76] Although Zakkar notes that the figure may be exaggerated it reflects the "immensity" of the tribe. [76]

The contemporary poets al-Ma'arri and Ibn Hayyus do not mention any other tribes in northern Syria except for the Kilab, indicating the tribe's predominance over other Arab nomads in the region. [77] Among the tribes living alongside the Kilab in the emirate were the Banu Abs based mainly in Wadi Butnan and Hiyar Bani Qa'qa' near Manbij, the Banu Asad in Wadi Butnan, Nuqrat Bani Asad between Khanasir and Hass Mountain, Jabal al-Summaq, and Ma'arrat Misrin, and the Tanukh of Ma'arrat al-Nu'man. [78] The bulk of these tribes had largely abandoned nomadic life for urban living, but retained their tribal traditions and organization. [79]

The historian Andrew Cappel notes that the Kilabi clans which entered Syria in the 10th century came with independent leaderships and were not subject to a higher tribal authority. [75] Zakkar writes that the entry of the new Kilabi tribesmen "no doubt had some considerable effect on the life and organization of the whole body of Kilab" in Syria, but "it is very difficult, if not impossible, to find any reliable information concerning this". [80] After their settlement there and the increasing socio-economic stratification among the tribesmen, a new political structure developed, which Cappel calls the "conical clan". [75] The structure was marked by a series of elite households which governed their own clans and the Kilab as a whole. [75]

Salih and his descendants of the Mirdasid house provided the preeminent leadership over the Kilab, with lesser Kilabi chieftains and their descendants presiding over their respective clans. Little is known about the lesser chieftains, except for some of their names. [75] [lower-alpha 1] The succession of the Mirdasid emirs was at times determined internally by primogeniture or the designation of a wali al-ahd (chosen successor, crown prince). Disputes over succession were settled by a consensus among the Kilabi chieftains for the worthiest Mirdasid or, more often, by the outcome of infighting between the Mirdasids and their respective partisans within the Kilab. The emirs' principal claims to loyalty rested on direct kinship ties with a particular clan or bribery. On occasion lesser Kilabi clans took advantage of divisions within the Mirdasid house for financial gain. Factionalism was intensified due to the near constant rivalry between most of the Kilabi clans, which was only mitigated when the tribe felt compelled to unify in the face of a shared external threat. [75] According to Zakkar, the Kilab "exercised greater authority over the [Mirdasid] dynasty, than the dynasty over [it]". [81]

Although Salih established his Aleppo-based government along the lines of a traditional medieval Islamic state, with a qadi to oversee the judiciary, a fiscal administration, and a vizier to oversee state affairs, [65] the Mirdasid emirate represented a "hybrid of bedouin and sedentary policies and traditions", according to Cappel. Under Salih the center of power shifted from the city to the neighboring Kilabi tribal camps. [82] A new office was established, known as shaykh al-dawla (chieftain of the state), which was reserved for Salih's trusted Kilabi confidant. Each Kilabi chieftain was assigned an iqtaʿ by Salih. [65]


The way of life of the Kilab in late 10th-century Syria was reminiscent of nomadic life in pre-Islamic Arabia. There were frequent cycles of raids and counter-raids between the Kilabi clans or neighboring tribes, mostly for booty, wantonness or revenge. Initial engagements usually involved combat between a single horseman from either side, while the main body of the tribe spectated. Each opposing horseman would recite a rajaz boasting of his valor and the merits of his tribe, and challenging any opposing tribesmen to fight. Clashes typically ended with the death of a prominent warrior or leader of a tribe, without the engagement of the main bodies. In many cases when the Kilab successfully ambushed a rival tribe, they would seize opposing tribesmen and their property; captive tribesmen would be enslaved or released for a heavy ransom. [83]

In springtime Kilabi youth spent their time horse-racing or drinking wine. Most drinking was done in the many taverns, called ḥānah in Arabic, located in the tribe's encampments or villages, or along the banks of small streams, called ghadīr in Arabic. [84] The Mirdasid emirs held mass feasts for their tribesmen in the spring, on the occasion of lambing season, a circumcision, or a wedding. The local poet Ibn Abi Hasina (d. 1065) mentioned that 50,000 attended a banquet hosted by Thimal for the circumcision of his nephew Mahmud. The main dish served during the feasts was called madira, which consisted meat cooked in yoghurt mixed with pieces of bread. [85]

Kilabi love poems of the time period resembled those of pre-Islamic Arabia. Love poems could result in a conflict between Kilabi clans or other tribes when one of their women was the subject of the poem. The woman's clan or tribe would initially prohibit her suitor from communicating with her and would force her into marriage with someone else after denying her suitor's permission to marry on account of the poem having dishonored her clan. [86]

According to Zakkar, "Kilabi women, in the main, enjoyed equality with the men and on the whole their life was untrammeled". [84] A number of important personalities of the Mirdasid house were women. Among them was Salih's mother al-Rabab who is reported to have given her son reliable political advice and was invited by the Fatimid governor Aziz al-Dawla to live in Aleppo to consecrate his ties with Salih. [87] The Numayrid princess Alawiyya bint Waththab, who was a wife to Nasr, then Thimal after Nasr's death, and mother to Mahmud, was known in the sources as al-Sayyida (the Lady). In her frequent role as envoy or mediator she was instrumental in establishing Thimal's rule in Aleppo, reconciling Thimal with the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir in 1050, reconciling the Mirdasids and Numayr in 1061, and saving Mahmud's rule in Aleppo from Alp Arslan's siege in 1071. [87]

The Kilab of Syria, like most Aleppines, were Twelver Shia Muslims. It is not clear to what extent they adhered to the religion. Many of their tribesmen bore names associated with Shia Islam, such as Ali, Ulwan, Hasan and Ja'far, though the vast majority had non-Islamic, Arabic tribal names. [88]


According to the historian Hugh N. Kennedy, after the fall of the Mirdasids and the increasing encroachment of their pastures by Turkmen groups, the Kilab "soon disappeared entirely as a Bedouin tribe". [89] The 13th-century chronicler Ibn al-Adim notes that clans of the Kilab continued to control remnants of the Mirdasid emirate, albeit unofficially, following the Mirdasids' fall. [90] The Kilab continued to be the strongest and most numerous tribe in northern Syria, but were politically weak as a result of their internal divisions and unwillingness to unite under a supreme emir. [91]

The Ayyubid dynasty conquered Syria toward the end of the 12th century, and the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, al-Adil, established the office of amir al-arab (commander of the Bedouin) to govern the Bedouin tribes of Syria and incorporate them into the state. [90] The Kilab were left out of the jurisdiction of the amir al-arab until the Ayyubid ruler of Aleppo, az-Zahir (r. 1186–1210), confiscated their iqtaʿat in the Emirate of Aleppo and passed them over to the Tayy. [90] Az-Zahir's measure prompted some Kilabi clans to migrate northward into Anatolia, [90] while those which remained in northern Syria allied with the Al Fadl, the ruling house of the Tayy and the holders of the amir al-arab post. [91] The Mamluks took over most of the Ayyubid domains in Syria by 1260. In 1262/63, about 1,000 Kilabi cavalrymen collaborated with the Armenian king in a raid against Mamluk-held Ayn Tab. [92] Later, in 1277, the Kilab gave their allegiance to the Mamluk sultan Baybars at Harim in northern Syria. [92]

See also


  1. Among the names of the lesser Kilabi emirs referenced in the sources were Muqallid ibn Za'ida, Husayn ibn Kamil ibn Husayn ibn Sulayman ibn al-Duh and Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn Zughayb. [75]

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