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Home » History » Mavia’s Revolt: An Arab Warrior Queen and the Roman Desert Frontier during the Late Fourth Century

Mavia’s Revolt: An Arab Warrior Queen and the Roman Desert Frontier during the Late Fourth Century

This short piece follows from my previous post about the Limes Arabicus in Late Antiquity (https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/limes-arabicus-and-saracen-foederati-the-roman-byzantine-desert-frontier-in-late-antiquity/) and seeks to revisit the sources for Mavia’s revolt in order to explore the various dimensions of the Arab-Roman relationship in the Limes Arabicus during the fourth century. Although the existing textual sources are quite limited in what they can tell us, they can still shed light on several aspects of the role of the Arab tribal confederations on the south-eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.

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Mavia’s Revolt Revisited

In late 377 or early 378, at the height of the crisis during the reign of Valens (r. 364-378), who had to deal with rebellions of Goths in Thrace and Isaurians in Anatolia throughout the 370s, the Arab tribes of the Tanūkhid confederation, probably capitalizing upon the preoccupation of the Empire elsewhere, erupted in revolt and devastated the regions of Syria, Palestine, and Sinai.[1] Even settled communities in the provinces of Egypt and Mesopotamia were affected by this unrest. Despite their efforts, the Roman military authorities, led by the dux Phoenicie and the magister equitum et peditum per Orientem, were unable to subdue the revolt and were even defeated by the nomadic tribesmen, who were led by their queen, Mavia, who had assumed leadership of the tribal confederation following the death of her husband, the deceased “king” (βασιλεύς) of the Arabs.[2] The Romans were forced to seek a peaceful accommodation on the terms set by Mavia.[3] It appears that the sole condition that Mavia put forth for the end of the revolt was the ordination of a monk named Moses, who was of Arab origin, as bishop over her tribe; in order to reinforce the treaty Mavia also gave her daughter in marriage to Victor, the magister militum who was of barbarian origin.[4] Moreover, in some of the literary sources there is reference to “Saracens” affiliated with Mavia serving the Romans several months later in the defense of Constantinople against the Goths following the disastrous defeat at Adrianople.[5] It is certainly possible that these “Saracens” were sent as auxiliaries to Constantinople as part of a renewed foederati treaty between Mavia and Rome. In any case, this treaty appears to have been short-lived and by 383, another Tanūkhid revolt took place only to be crushed by the Romans, who also took the opportunity to abandon their treaty relations with the Tanūkhids in favor of another tribal confederation, the Salihids.[6]

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Unsurprisingly, the details of Mavia’s revolt as well as its causes have been a matter of dispute and disagreement among modern scholars. The major controversy which has dominated scholarly discussion of the revolt has been whether or not the uprising was rooted in religious causes. Several scholars have interpreted Mavia’s revolt in light of an orthodox Christian response to the emperor Valens’ Arian policy.[7] Irfan Shahid has been the most notable defender of this view. Other scholars, responding to this perspective, have sought to identify other causes for the revolt, rooted in political causes, such as the disaffection of the Tanūkhids with the Roman administration; most scholars advocating this perspective insist that the Christianization of Mavia and her Arab confederation occurred only in the aftermath of the revolt.[8] In order to more fully appreciate the role of Christianity (or, more importantly, Christianization) in relation with Mavia’s revolt, the remainder of this piece will be devoted to revisiting the various literary sources which describe the rebellion and attempt to discern what they reveal about the reality of the Roman-Arab relationship along the Limes Arabicus in the fourth century.

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Rufinus of Aquileia (d. 410) is perhaps the main, contemporary source for Mavia’s rebellion. Many later accounts of Mavia draw upon his narrative, which is the earliest surviving account of the revolt and its aftermath.[9] His work is an ecclesiastical history that strongly critiques the Arian policy of the emperor Valens, and continually seeks to emphasize the persecutions of orthodox Christians during the reign of this emperor.[10] It is very likely that Rufinus was present in the eastern provinces (most likely in Palestine) when Mavia’s revolt broke out in 378.[11] This fact greatly increases the significance of his testimony. He begins his section on Mavia’s revolt by first asserting how during the 370s, “the church shone with a purer light than gold in the fire of persecution,” and explains how it was exactly at the time when the Arian bishop Lucius “was behaving with arrogance and cruelty” that Mavia “the queen of the Saracens” began her revolt.[12] Already, at this point in the narrative, there is an association between Arian iniquity on one hand and the revolt of Mavia on the other. Rufinus describes how Mavia and her tribesmen “laid waste [the cities of Palestine and Arabia] and the neighboring provinces” and how “she also wore down the Roman army in frequent battles, killed many, and put the rest to flight.”[13] He then explains how the Romans were forced to sue for peace, and how Mavia agreed on condition that Moses, a desert ascetic (not to be confused with St. Moses the Black), was ordained as bishop for her people.[14]

Rufinus underscores how Moses’ miracle-working and solitary lifestyle had appealed to the Arabs and won him great fame among them.[15] The account continues by following Moses’ journey to Alexandria where he confronts the Arian bishop Lucius, refusing to be ordained by him since he asserts that “his hands were defiled and stained by the blood of saints,” a reference to the persecutions described earlier by Rufinus.[16] The account ends by explaining how Moses withdrew to the desert to seek ordination from the bishops who had been driven into exile by Lucius, and is then praised by Rufinus as “having preserved peace with that fiercest of peoples and maintained unimpaired the heritage of the Orthodox faith.”[17]

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Rufinus’ account of Mavia’s rebellion is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, he provides a first-hand account of its occurrence and provides a vaguely accurate description of its location (the border towns of Palestine and Arabia) and chronology. His description of Mavia as “queen of the Saracens” is also quite telling, since it may allude to her status as a phylarch. The account provided by Rufinus is perhaps most important because of the light it sheds upon the role of ascetics or holy men in the Christianization of the Arabs along Rome’s desert frontier. It can be inferred that Moses played an important role in mediating the renewal of peaceful relations between Mavia’s confederation and the Roman state, while simultaneously facilitating the Christianization of these same Arab tribes. Based on this text, it is unclear whether Christianization occurred before or after the revolt, although if Mavia’s rebellion had been rooted in religious causes (especially if she perceived herself, as Shahid has asserted, as fidei defensor), this most certainly would have appeared within the account considering Rufinus’ staunch anti-Arian stance. The fact that he had very little to say about the religion of Mavia and her nomadic confederation before he discusses the career of Moses implies that the former were either not yet Christian or that their Christianity played little, if any, role in the revolt. Although Rufinus is silent on many aspects of the revolt, such as the pre-history of Mavia’s relations with Rome, the aftermath of the rebellion, and the marriage alliance (mentioned by other sources) which was contracted between Mavia’s daughter and the Roman general Victor, Rufinus’ account is nevertheless valuable primarily because of its shedding important light on an important moment in the history of the Limes Arabicus, namely the Christianization of Arab tribes through the intermediary efforts of ascetics.[18] This process bound the Arab confederations more closely with their Roman allies and, in some ways, provided the cultural glue which played an important role in incorporating the nomadic tribes more closely into the Roman world.

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Another important source for Mavia’s revolt is the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, who wrote in Constantinople in the early fifth century. Socrates’ account is particularly useful because it provides the Constantinopolitan perspective on the revolt. His narrative also differs in several respects from that of Rufinus. Socrates begins his description of Mavia’s rebellion by explaining that the Saracens in question had been confederates (or allies) of the Romans before breaking from their allegiance and revolting.[19] He describes Mavia as a queen who assumed leadership (presumably of the tribal confederation) following the death of her husband.[20] The narrative continues by explaining how the “fury” of the Saracens was tempered by Moses, a certain ascetic, who convinced Mavia to establish peace with the Romans.[21] Socrates then reiterates the series of events described by Rufinus in which Moses was sent to Alexandria for ordination, only to confront Lucius and be ordained by the exiled bishops instead.[22] However, he adds one additional detail, namely that the “Saracen war was not terminated until Moses was ordained” suggesting that this condition was of paramount importance for Mavia and her nomadic Arabs.[23] He ends his account by explaining that so scrupulously did the Arabs observe the peace agreement that Mavia gave her daughter in marriage to Victor, the commander of the Roman army.[24] Later, in another chapter of the same Ecclesiastical History, Socrates adds yet another detail which is relevant to his representation of Mavia’s revolt. He explains how, during the defense of Constantinople against the Goths following the defeat at Adrianople, Mavia had sent several “Saracen confederates” to assist in defending the city.[25]

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Socrates’ account is one of the most significant historical records of Mavia’s revolt for a number of reasons. Socrates, unlike Rufinus, makes it absolutely clear that Mavia and her nomadic allies were formerly foederati who had a treaty with Rome, but for reasons that remain unclear decided to withdraw their allegiance and revolt following Valens’ departure from Antioch to Thrace. It can be inferred that the revolt capitalized on the weakness of the preoccupation of the Romans in dealing with the Goths in order to raid the eastern provinces. It is also possible that, considering the circumstances, Mavia’s revolt was rooted in vengeance, since it may be plausible to assume that her husband (the anonymous βασιλεύς) had been assassinated by the Romans (not an uncommon practice) leaving her alone as the sole legitimate authority over the tribe. It is also plausible that the revolt was an attempt to consolidate her authority within the tribe following her husband’s death by demonstrating her ability to defeat the Romans in battle and secure a more favorable treaty agreement. In any case, the role of religion as a casus belli seems rather unlikely, since Socrates, a staunch orthodox Christian, would surely have mentioned it. As with Rufinus, Socrates also highlights the central importance of Moses as an intermediary between Rome and the Saracens. However, Socrates’ account is even more emphatic about the role of Moses.

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Not only is the ascetic represented as an important intermediary between Mavia and the Romans, but he is described as a “Saracen”, whose importance to Mavia is such that his ordination as a bishop over her tribe seems paramount. Indeed, Socrates seems intent on emphasizing this point since he states that the revolt did not formally end until after the ordination of Moses. That Mavia herself (and perhaps her tribe) were Christianized in the aftermath of the revolt is reinforced by the fact that Socrates describes the peace treaty being cemented by a marriage between Mavia’s own daughter and the magister militum Victor. Socrates appears intent on representing the course of events as a victory for Roman diplomacy because he is silent about the subsequent abrogation of the treaty following the Arab revolt in 383. In fact, Socrates is not only silent on this point, he purposely emphasizes the participation of “Saracens, sent by Mavia” in the defense of Constantinople against the Goths. Socrates’ account provides key evidence about the central role played by ascetics and holy men on the desert frontier in integrating the Arab tribes into the Roman-Byzantine cultural and political sphere. Christianization was the key means by which this was accomplished, although—as the dissolution of the treaty with the Tanukhids demonstrates—this was certainly no guarantee of the elimination of tensions between Rome and its Arab foederati.

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It would be instructive to turn momentarily to two other sources which discuss the Saracen cavalry at Constantinople in 378.[26] Zosimus, another Constantinopolitan historian, who lived in the sixth century and wrote from a non-Christian rather than an ecclesiastical perspective, also emphasizes the role of the Saracens in defending Constantinople against the Goths. In his Nova Historia, Zosimus speaks of the Arab cavalry defending Constantinople in glowing terms, emphasizing their superior skill, and explaining how their mobility and agile tactics were instrumental in fighting back the Goths.[27] It appears, therefore, that even after a century the role of the Arabs in the defense of Constantinople was still memorialized, although it appears that their association with Mavia was less important for Zosimus than it had been for Socrates. In fact, Zosimus is entirely silent about Mavia and her rebellion. An important point which should be raised regarding Zosimus’ account, however, is his chronology whereby he explains that the Saracens who took part in the battle against the Goths were those “the emperor had brought with him from the east”, a detail which is notably absent from the account provided by Socrates. Could this reference be an allusion to Valens’ policy of ordering Arab foederati from the desert frontier to serve in the wars against the Goths? And, if so, could this have possibly provided the justification for Mavia’s revolt? Considering that Socrates states in no uncertain terms that Mavia revolted shortly after the Emperor Valens’ departure from Antioch (along with a sizeable contingent of Arab cavalry which played a key role in fighting back the Goths from Constantinople, if we are to believe the account provided by Zosimus), this possibility cannot be ruled out.

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Another relevant source for the period is the well-known historian Ammianus Marcellinus (d. 391), another non-Christian who was very familiar with the East, having campaigned there under the Emperor Julian (r. 361–363). He also happens to be one of the very few contemporary of the events in question, but, like Zosimus, is completely silent on Mavia’s rebellion, even though he does mention the presence of the Arab defenders (cuneus Saracenorum) of Constantinople in 378 who he begrudgingly attributes a role in the victory against the Goths.[28] David Woods and Irfan Shahid suggest that Ammianus’ intense dislike for Arabs/Saracens, in addition to the fact that he was probably disgusted that Mavia and her nomadic tribesmen were negotiated with, Christianized and granted treaty status (foedus) rather than crushed, led him to silently pass over the entire series of events.[29]

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In addition, Woods adds, it is likely that Ammianus felt it to be demeaning to Roman honor that the Arabs played an important role in the defense of Constantinople against the Goths shortly after having rebelled against Roman authority.[30] However, while this explanation has its merits, it seems rather unconvincing, in light of the fact that the treaty between the Arabs and the Romans broke down once again in 383, as Woods mentioned in his article, which would have provided Ammianus with ample material with which to paint the “Saracens” as a pernicious, untrustworthy people. The most plausible explanation seems to be that Ammianus sought to emphasize the events in Thrace and the subsequent defense of Constantinople (where he does make mention of the Arab participants), rather than dwell upon Mavia’s rebellion, which probably seemed to him a minor, embarrassing episode in Roman military history. However, even in his description of the Arab contingent’s role in defending Constantinople, Ammianus seeks to represent the Saracens in the most unflattering way possible, ascribing their effective defense against the Goths to barbarous acts of violence:

Saracenorum cuneus super quorum origine moribusque diversis in locis rettulimus plura ad furta magis expeditionalium rerum quam ad concursatorias habilis pugnas, recens illuc accersitus, congressurus barbarum globo repente conspecto a civitate fidenter erupit, diuque extento certamine pertinaci, aequis partes discessere momentis. Sed orientalis turma novo neque ante viso superavit eventu. Ex ea enim crinitus quidam, nudus omnia praeter pubem, subraucum et lugubre strepens, educto pugione agmini se medio Gothorurn inservit et interfecti hostis iugulo labra admovit effusumque cruorem exuxit. Quo monstroso miraculo barbari territi, postea non ferocientes ex more, cum agendum adpeterent aliquid, sed ambiguis gressibus incedebant.

Translation:

A troop of Saracens (of whose origin and customs I have discussed at length in various places), who are more adapted to stealthy raiding expeditions than to pitched battles, and had recently been summoned to the city, desiring to attack the horde of barbarians of which they had suddenly caught sight, rushed forth boldly from the city to attack them. The contest was long and obstinate, and both sides separated on equal terms. But the eastern troop had the advantage from a strange event, never witnessed before. For one of their number, a man with long hair and naked except for a loin-cloth, uttering hoarse and dismal cries, with drawn dagger rushed into the thick of the Gothic army, and after killing a man applied his lips to his throat and sucked the blood that poured out. The barbarians, terrified by this strange and monstrous sight, after that did not show their usual self-confidence when they attempted any action, but advanced with hesitating steps.

[Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum libri qui supersunt, Book XXXI.16]

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Sozomen (d. 450), writing from an ecclesiastical perspective in southern Palestine, also provides an important narrative of Mavia’s rebellion. Considering that he was from Gaza, his account augments Socrates’ by providing scholar with an insightful provincial perspective of the events in question.[31]

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Sozomen’s first-hand knowledge of the relations between nomadic tribesmen and settled populations no doubt gave him an acute insight into the rebellion, as did his probable direct experience of the violence of the nomads, which continually plagued the region around Gaza during this period. However, his narrative is not entirely unique, since he adopted much of what Socrates had to say on the subject. Sozomen begins his narrative by explaining that following the death of the “king of the Saracens” the peace which had existed between the Romans and the nomadic tribesmen dissolved and Mavia , the widow of the late king found herself as head of the nomadic confederation.[32] He describes how Mavia then led her nomadic followers to undertake several destructive raids into Phoenicia, Palestine, and “as far as the regions of Egypt…which are generally denominated Arabia.”[33] He underscores the seriousness of the rebellion by explaining that the general of the Phoenician troops appealed for aid to the magister militum and the magister equitum et peditum per Orientem, who foolishly underestimated the Saracens, led in person by Mavia, and suffered a major defeat.[34] Apparently, the battle was saved from being a complete rout by the actions of the general of the Phoenician troops who covered the retreat of the Roman army; either way, Sozomen highlights the fact that the Arabs viewed this as a major victory over the Roman Empire and still (in his own time) commemorated it within their odes and chants.[35] The remainder of the narrative, discussing how the Romans were forced to sue for peace with Mavia, the confrontation between Moses and Lucius, culminating in Moses’ ordination, and finally the termination of hostilities follows that provided by Rufinus and Socrates, described above.[36] Sozomen adds a unique detail, however. He explains how after his ordination, Moses went to exercise the functions of his office (bishop) among the Saracens and concluded peace with the Romans, and emphasizes how, due to his efforts, many Saracens were converted to the Christian faith.[37] Although it is difficult to confirm the veracity of such a statement, this part of Sozomen’s account provides invaluable insight into the process of the Christianization of the Arab tribes of the desert frontier during the late fourth century by suggesting that their lands were recognized as a bishopric or dioecese, thereby integrating them culturally and administratively into the late Roman world.

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The narrative of Mavia’s revolt and its aftermath provides unique insight into the particular dynamics of the relationship between the Arab confederation, led by Mavia, and the Roman Empire in the late fourth century. Sozomen’s reliability as a source derives from his residence within the province of Palestine during the events of the revolt (or its immediate aftermath) and the accurate details he provides about the extent of the revolt and its chronology. Sozomen provides modern scholars with an understanding of the rebellion as one rooted in the collapse of a foederati agreement which had existed between Rome and the Arab confederation along the desert frontier. There is very little by way of a casus belli, but it seems plausible that Sozomen was implying that the death of the king of the Arabs was sufficient grounds, in the eyes of Mavia and her followers, to dissolve the terms of the previous pact which they had with the Roman state. This may be an early indication that the foedus was perceived by the Arabs as merely a pact between their ruler and the Romans, rather than as a contractual bond which would outlive the king. It is likely that the tribesmen, following Mavia’s lead, therefore took the opportunity following the death of their king to raid the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire to secure a certain amount of wealth and resources.

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Moreover, it becomes clear that the military advantage which Mavia had over the Romans granted her the opportunity to reestablish the foedus agreement and renegotiate its terms so that they were more favorable to her tribe. This explanation, however, leaves many questions unanswered. In particular, it fails to explain why the only term stipulated was that of the ordination of Moses as bishop. Two possible solutions to this problem may be suggested. Firstly, it must be kept in mind that all the literary sources which speak about the peace terms between the Romans and the Saracens are written from an ecclesiastical perspective, and as such are concerned more with the career of Moses than they are with Mavia per se. Additionally, it seems that Moses himself was the arbiter between the Romans and the Saracens, as is evident from Sozomen’s statement that “he concluded peace with the Romans” implying that he was the intermediary during peace talks and possibly even served as the emissary to the Romans on behalf of Mavia. Under such circumstances, it would not be unlikely that he would have added the condition of his ordination as a key part of the treaty, especially since he probably viewed Christianization of the Arab tribes as a means of securing their allegiance to Rome, as well as having the privilege of being appointed as bishop over a large, newly-Christianized population. This latter point, in which Moses is ordained as a bishop over Mavia’s tribe (or the Saracens in general?) is also prominent in the narrative provided by Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457) in his Ecclesiastical History.[38]

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Sozomen’s account is particularly valuable to modern historians for the emphasis he places upon the role of Moses in Christianizing the Saracens in the immediate aftermath of the revolt. This issue of Christianization of barbarian peoples was by no means a negligible one in the fourth century, and Sozomen’s narrative greatly enhances our understanding of how it proceeded with regard to the nomadic Arabs on the desert frontier. His work reinforces the idea that it was desert monks and ascetics, who impressed the nomadic tribesmen with their miracle-working, who played an instrumental role in converting many Arabs (often en masse) from paganism to Christianity.[39] Mavia and her tribesmen were not the only example cited by Sozomen in this regard. Shortly following his conclusion of the narrative of Mavia’s revolt and describing the origins of the Saracens, he mentions another anecdote which is quite valuable with regard to understanding this broader question of Christianization of Arab tribes. Sozomen explains that shortly before the reign of Valens many Saracens had already been converted to Christianity “as a result of their relations with the priests that dwelt among them, and with the monks who dwelt in the neighboring deserts, and who were distinguished by their purity of life, and by their miraculous gifts.”[40] He cites, in particular, the case of Zokomos, identified as a “phylarch” of the Arabs, who converted to Christianity along with his entire tribe following a miracle being fulfilled through the holiness of a monk he had engaged.[41] Sozomen underscores how, following the Christianization of Zokomos and his tribe, these Saracens became “formidable to the Persians as well as to the other Saracens,” suggesting that they continued to serve as foederati in the service of the Roman Empire on the desert frontier.[42]

It can be seen, therefore, that Sozomen’s account is particularly useful to the modern historian because, in addition to providing ample detail about Mavia’s rebellion, he utilized his knowledge of the relationship between nomadic Arabs, the Roman Empire, and traveling ascetics in order to provide some important insight into the Christianization of the certain groups of Arabs on the fringes of the Roman world and even suggests that it was this process of religious acculturation which had the possibility of strengthening the nomadic tribesmen as formidable allies of Rome against Persia and hostile Saracens beyond the frontier.

This short blog piece has sought to shed further light upon the nature of the relationship between the nomadic tribesmen of the Limes Arabicus and the Roman Empire in the late fourth century by taking Mavia’s rebellion as a point of departure. Although the revolt is important in its own right, the dearth of sources and the lack of any major archaeological or epigraphic material make it difficult for historians to reconstruct the details surrounding it. As such, the value of the literary sources for the historians in illuminating the dynamics of the revolt becomes increasingly important. A close reading of these texts suggests that Mavia’s revolt should be understood within the context of a transition of the Tanūkhid confederation from the breakdown of their treaty alliance with Rome to a renewed foederati pact. However, as I have attempted to demonstrate, most of the accounts provided in the literary sources are less important for their description of the rebellion itself than they are for illuminating such questions as the nature of the Arab nomadic tribes along the desert frontier, the importance of the foederati agreement in Rome’s relations with these confederations, and the central role assumed by monks and ascetics in effecting the Christianization of several Arab tribes along the desert frontier. Although many controversies remain and will probably not be resolved in the near future unless more convincing evidence comes to light, it is nevertheless clear that the importance of the fourth century for Arab-Roman relations provides the essential long-term background which may contribute to our understanding of the particular forces at play with the rise of the Ghassānid confederation in the sixth century. The essential question alluded to here, but which needs to be addressed by future research remains: to what degree did the Christianization of the Arab nomadic confederations play a role in solidifying the cultural and political ties of these groups with the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity? It is only through a comprehensive study of the literary sources alongside the archaeological evidence that such a question may be addressed.

[1] Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, pp. 144–146; Parker, Romans and Saracens, pp. 145–146; Lenski, Failure of Empire, pp. 196–200, 204–20; Ball, Rome in the East, pp. 98–99; Trimingham, Christianity among the Arabs, p. 96

[2] Glen W. Bowerstock, “Mavia, Queen of the Saracens” in Studien zur Antiken Sozialgeschichte: Festschrift Friedrich Vittinghoff (Cologne: Böhlau, 1980), eds. Werner Hartmut Galsterer and Hartmut Wolff, pp. 483–485; David Woods, “Maurus Mavia, and Ammianus” Mnemosyne 51 (1998), pp. 328–329; Lenski, Failure of Empire, p. 204; Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, pp. 140–142, 150–152; Trimingham, Christianity among the Arabs, p. 98

[3] Lenski, Failure of Empire, p. 206; Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, p. 152; ; Ball, Rome in the East, p. 100; Trimingham, Christianity among the Arabs, p. 98

[4] Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 120; Parker, Romans and Saracens, p. 146; Bowerstock, “Mavia, Queen of the Saracens,” pp. 487–488; Lenski, Failure of Empire, p. 206; ; Ball, Rome in the East, p. 100; Lewin, “Amr ibn ‘Adi, Mavia, the Phylarchs and the Late Roman Army,” p. 248; Trimingham, Christianity among the Arabs, p. 100

[5] Lenski, Failure of Empire, p. 206; ; Ball, Rome in the East, p. 100; Retsö, The Arabs in Antiquity, p. 518; Lewin, “Amr ibn ‘Adi, Mavia, the Phylarchs and the Late Roman Army,” p. 249; Trimingham, Christianity among the Arabs, p. 100; Woods, “The Saracen Defenders of Constantinople in 378,” p. 260

[6] Parker, Romans and Saracens, p. 146; Lenski, Failure of Empire, p. 207; ; Ball, Rome in the East, p. 100

[7] Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, pp. 142–144; ; Ball, Rome in the East, p. 99; Fisher, “New Perspective on Rome’s Desert Frontier,” p. 55.

[8] Lenski, Failure of Empire, pp. 207–208

[9] Bowerstock, “Mavia, Queen of the Saracens,” pp. 478–479

[10] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus of Aquileia (New York: Oxford University Press), trans. Philip R. Amidon, 11.5, pp. 66–67

[11] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus, p. VIII

[12] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus, 11.6 pp. 67–68

[13] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus, 11.6 p. 68

[14] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus, 11.6 p. 68

[15] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus, 11.6 p. 68

[16] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus, 11.6 p. 68

[17] Rufinus, The Church History of Rufinus, 11.6 p. 68

[18] For a skeptical assessment of Rufinus’ reliability as a source for Mavia’s rebellion, see Philip Mayerson, “Mauia, Queen of the Saracens—A Cautionary Note” Israel Exploration Journal 30 (1980), pp. 124–128

[19] Socrates, Histoire Ecclésiastique (Paris: Cerf 2006), 4.36, p. 141

[20] Socrates, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 4.36, p. 141

[21] Socrates, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 4.36, p. 141

[22] Socrates, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 4.36, pp. 141–143

[23] Socrates, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 4.36, p. 143

[24] Socrates, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 4.36, p. 143

[25] Socrates, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 5.1, p. 153. For a detailed discussion of the nature of “Saracen” participation in Constantinople in 378, see Woods, “The Saracen Defenders of Constantinople in 378,” pp. 259–279

[26] In addition to Zosimus and Ammianus Marcellinus, discussed in this section, two other authors—Eunapius (b. 347) and Themistius (d. 390)—also make mention of Saracen auxiliaries in Thrace and Constantinople between 378 and 382 (Lenski, Failure of Empire, p. 206)

[27] Zosimus, New History (Melbourne: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1982), trans. Ronald Ridley, 4.22, pp. 79–80

[28] Ammianus Marcellinus, History, 31.6: 5–6, pp. 500–503; Lenski, Failure of Empire, p. 205

[29] Woods, “Maurus Mavia, and Ammianus,” pp. 330–331; Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, pp. 263–267; Lewin, “Amr ibn ‘Adi, Mavia, the Phylarchs and the Late Roman Army,” p. 249; Woods, “The Saracen Defenders of Constantinople in 378,” pp. 270–271. Woods suggests that this implacable hatred for Saracens stemmed from his own experience in Julian’s army while on campaign against the Persians, at which time the Roman army was ambushed by Saracens and the emperor (himself a pagan) believed to have been killed by them. Woods also adds that many of Ammianus’ acquaintances in the East would have likely been negatively impacted by Mavia’s rebellion, further solidifying his animosity towards them.

[30] Woods, “Maurus Mavia, and Ammianus,” p. 331

[31] Lewin, “Amr ibn ‘Adi, Mavia, the Phylarchs and the Late Roman Army,” p. 247; Woods, “The Saracen Defenders of Constantinople in 378,” p. 268

[32] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique (Paris: Cerf, 2005), 6.38: 1, p. 457

[33] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 1, p. 457

[34] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 2–3, pp. 457–459

[35] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 4, p. 459

[36] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 5–9, pp. 459–463

[37] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 9, p. 463

[38] Theodoret of Cyrus, Ecclesiastical History (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1843), pp. 258–259.

[39] Mayerson, “Saracens and Romans,” p. 74

[40] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 14, p. 465

[41] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 14–15, p. 465

[42] Sozomen, Histoire Ecclésiastique, 6.38: 16, p. 465

Further Reading

Primary Sources

Ammianus Marcellinus. History. Translated by John C. Rolfe. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1958

Rufinus. The Church History of Rufinus of Aquileia: Books 10 and 11. Translated by Philip R. Amidon. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997

Socrates. Histoire Ecclésiastique. Translated by Pierre Périchon and Pierre Maraval. Paris: Cerf, 2006

Sozomen. Histoire Ecclésiastique. Translated by André-Jean Festugière and Bernard Grillet. Paris: Cerf, 2006

Theodoret of Cyrus. Ecclesiastical History: A History of the Church in Five Books. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1843.

Zosimus. New History. Translated by Ronald T. Ridley. Melbourne: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies Byzantina Australiensia, 1982

Secondary Literature

Ball, Warwick. Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire. London: Routledge, 2000

Bowerstock, Glen W. “Mavia, Queen of the Saracens.” In Studien zur Antiken Sozialgeschicte: Festschrift Friedrich Vittinghoff (Cologne: Böhlau, 1980), edited by Werner Galsterer and Hartmut Wolff, pp. 477–495

Brown, Peter. Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982

Fisher, Greg. Between Empires: Arabs, Romans, and Sasanians in Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011

_____________. “A New Perspective on Rome’s Desert Frontier.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Research, No. 336 (2004): 49–60

Fowden, Garth. Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003

Hoyland, Robert G. “Arab Kings, Arab Tribes and the Beginnings of Arab Historical Memory in Late Roman Epigraphy.” In From Hellenism to Islam: Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East, edited by Hannah M. Cotton, Robert G. Hoyland, Jonathan J. Price, David J. Wasserstein, pp. 374–400. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009

Lenski, Noel. “Captivity and Slavery among the Saracens in Late Antiquity (ca. 250–630 CE).” AnTard 19 (2011): 237–266

_____________. Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century A.D. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002

Lewin, Ariel S. “Amr ibn ‘Adī, Mavia, the Phylarchs and the Late Roman Army: Peace and War in the Near East.” In The Late Roman Army in the Near East from Diocletian to the Arab Conquest: Proceedings of a colloquium held a Potenza, Acerenza and Mater, Italy (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2007), edited by Ariel S. Lewin and Pietrina Pellegrini, pp. 243–262

Liebeschuetz, Wolf. “Nomads, Phylarchs, and Settlement in Syria and Palestine.” In Settlements and Demography in the Near East in Late Antiquity: Proceedings of the Colloquium, Matera 27–29 October 2005 (Pisa: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazonali, 2006), edited by Ariel S. Lewin and Pietrina Pellegrini, pp. 131–145

Mayerson, Philip. “Mauia, Queen of the Saracens—A Cautionary Note.” Israel Exploration Journal 30 No. 1/2 (1980): 123–131

_____________. “Saracens and Romans: Micro-Macro Relationships.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 274 (1989), pp. 71–79

_____________. “The Saracens and the Limes.” In Monks, Martyrs, Soldiers, and Saracens: Papers on the Near East in Late Antiquity (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), ed. Philip Mayerson, pp. 271–283

_____________. “The Use of the Term ‘Phylarchos’ in the Roman-Byzantine East.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Bd. 88 (1991): 291–295

Parker, S. Thomas. Romans and Saracens: A History of the Arabian Frontier. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1986

Retsö, Jan. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003

Shahid, Irfan. “Byzantium and the Arabs during the Reign of Constantine: The Namāra Inscription, an Arabic Monumentum Ancyranum, A.D. 328.” Byzantinische Forschungen 26 (2000): 73–124

_____________. Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1984

Stevenson, Walter. “Sozomen, Barbarians and Early Byzantine Historiography.” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 43 (2002/2003): 51-75

Trimingam, J. Spencer. Christianity among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times. Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1990

Ward, Walter D. Mirage of the Saracen: Christians and Nomads in the Sinai Peninsula in Late Antiquity. Oakland: University of California Press, 2014

Woods, David. “Maurus, Mavia, and Ammianus.” Mnemosyne 51 Fasc. 3 (1998): 325–336

_____________. “The Saracen Defenders of Constantinople in 378.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 37:3 (1996): 259–279


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