CHAP. wilderness in which Ismael and his sons must have

pitched their tents in the face of their brethren. Yet these exceptions are temporary or local; the body of the nation has escaped the yoke of the most powerful monarchies: the arms of Sesostris and Cyrus, of Pompey and Trajan, could never achieve the conquest of Arabia; the present sovereign of the Turks' may exercise a shadow of jurisdiction, but his pride is reduced to solicit the friendship of a people, whom it is dangerous to provoke, and fruitless to attack. The obvious causes of their freedom are inscribed on the character and country of the Arabs. Many ages before Mahomet,” their intrepid valour had been severely felt by their neighbours in offensive and defensive war. The patient and active virtues of a soldier are insensibly nursed in the habits and discipline of a pastoral life. The care of the sheep and camels is abandoned to the women of the tribe; but the martial youth, under the banner of the emir, is ever on horseback, and in the field, to practise the exercise of the bow, the javelin, and the scimetar. The long memory of their independence is the firmest pledge of its perpetuity, and succeeding generations are animated to prove their descent, and to maintain their inheritance. Their domestic feuds are suspended on the approach of a common enemy; and in their last hostilities against the Turks, the caravan of Mecca was attacked and pillaged by fourscore thousand of the confederates. When they advance to battle, the hope of victory is in the front; in the rear, the assurance of a retreat. Their horses and camels, who in eight or ten days can perform a march of four or five hundred miles, disappear before the conqueror; the secret waters of the desert elude his search; and his victorious troops char.

y Niebuhr (Description de l'Arabie, p. 302, 303, 329–331) affords the most recent and authentic intelligence of the Turkish empire in Arabia.

* Diodorus Siculus (tom. ii. 1. xix. p. 390–393. edit. Wesseling) has clearly exposed the freedom of the Nabatha'an Arabs, who resisted the arms of Antigonus and his son.

are consumed with thirst, hunger, and fatigue, in the pursuit of an invisible foe, who scorns his efforts, and safely reposes in the heart of the burning solitude.

The arms and deserts of the Bedoweens are not only

the safeguards of their own freedom, but the barriers also of the happy Arabia, whose inhabitants, remote from war, are enervated by the luxury of the soil and climate. The legions of Augustus melted away in disease and lassitude;" and it is only by a naval power that the reduction of Yemen has been successfully attempted. When Mahomet erected his holy standard," that kingdom was a province of the Persian empire; yet seven princes of the Homerites still reigned in the mountains; and the vicegerent of Chosroes was tempted to forget his distant country and his unfortunate master. The historians of the age of Justinian represent the state of the independent Arabs, who were divided by interest or affection in the long quarrel of the East: the tribe of Gassan was allowed to encamp on the Syrian territory: the princes of Hira were permitted to form a city about forty miles to the southward of the ruins of Babylon. Their service in the field was speedy and vigorous; but their friendship was venal, their faith inconstant, their enmity capricious: it was an easier task to excite than to disarm these roving barbarians; and, in the familiar intercourse of war, they learned to see, and to despise, the splendid weakness both of Rome and of Persia. From Mecca to the Euphrates, the Arabian tribes"

* Strabo, l. xvi. p. 1127—1129. Plin. Hist. Natur. vi. 32. AFlius Gallus landed near Medina, and marched near a thousand miles into the part of Yemen between Mareb and the ocean. The non ante devictis Sabeas regibus (Od. i. 29) and the intacti Arabum thesauri (Od. iii. 24) of Horace attest the virgin purity of Arabia.

* See the imperfect history of Yemen in Pocock, Specimen, p. 55–66. of Hira, p. 66–74. of Gassan, p. 75–78, as far as it could be known or preserved in the time of ignorance. -

* The Szézznvizz ovaz, avetzos Tzvra, zz, ro ratia row avrov tenuovogoi, zz,

were confounded by the Greeks and Latins, under the general appellation of SARACENs," a name which every Christian mouth has been taught to pronounce with terror and abhorrence. The slaves of domestic tyranny may vainly exult in their national independence; but the Arab is personally free; and he enjoys, in some degree, the benefits of society, without forfeiting the prerogatives of nature. In every tribe, superstition, or gratitude, or fortune, has exalted a particular family above the heads of their equals. The dignities of sheich and emir invariably descend in this chosen race; but the order of succession is loose and precarious; and the most worthy or aged of the noble kinsmen are preferred to the simple, though important, office of composing disputes by their advice, and guiding valour by their example. Even a female of sense and spirit has been permitted to command the countrymen of Zenobia." The momentary junction of several tribes produces an army; their more lasting union constitutes a nation; and the supreme chief, the emir of emirs, whose banner is displayed at their head, may deserve, in the eyes of strangers, the honours of the kingly name. If the Arabian princes abuse their CHAP.


Their domestic freedom and character.

23sororo, are described by Menander (Excerpt. Legation. p. 149), Procopius (de Bell. Persic. l. i. c. 17. 19. l. ii. c. 10); and, in the most lively colours, by Ammianus Marcellinus (l. xiv. c. 4), who had spoken of them as early as the reign of Marcus.

* The name which, used by Ptolemy and Pliny in a more confined, by Ammianus and Procopius in a larger, sense, has been derived, ridiculously, from Sarah, the wife of Abraham, obscurely from the village of Saraka (aira Naţaraiovs. Stephan. de Urbibus), more plausibly from the Arabic words, which signify a thievish character, or oriental situation (Hottinger, Hist. Oriental. l. i. c. i. p.7,8. Pocock, Specimen, p. 33–35. Asseman. Bibliot. Orient. tom. iv. p. 567). Yet the last and most popular of these etymologies is refuted by Ptolemy (Arabia, p. 2. 18. in Hudson, tom. iv), who expressly remarks the western and southern position of the Saracens, then an obscure tribe on the borders of Egypt. The appellation cannot therefore allude to any national character; and, since it was imposed by strangers, it must be found, not in the Arabic, but in a foreign language.

* Saraceni . . . . mulieres aiunt in eos regnare (Expositio totius Mundi, p. 3. in Hudson, tom. iii). The reign of Mavia is famous in ecclesiastical story. Pocock, Specimen, p. 69. 83.

power, they are quickly punished by the desertion of their subjects, who had been accustomed to a mild and parental jurisdiction. Their spirit is free, their steps are unconfined, the desert is open, and the tribes and families are held together by a mutual and voluntary compact. The softer natives of Yemen supported the pomp and majesty of a monarch; but if he could not leave his palace without endangering his life,' the active powers of government must have been devolved on his nobles and magistrates. The cities of Mecca and Medina present, in the heart of Asia, the form, or rather the substance, of a commonwealth. The grandfather of Mahomet, and his lineal ancestors, appear in foreign and domestic transactions as the princes of their country; but they reigned, like Pericles at Athens, or the Medici at Florence, by the opinion of their wisdom and integrity: their influence was divided with their patrimony; and the sceptre was transferred from the uncles of the prophet to a younger branch of the tribe of Koreish. On solemn occasions they convened the assembly of the people; and, since mankind must be either compelled or persuaded to obey, the use and reputation of oratory among the ancient Arabs is the clearest evidence of public freedom." But their simple freedom was of a very different cast from the nice and artificial machinery of the Greek and Roman republics, in which each member possessed an undivided share of the civil and political

f Mn touvai ex ray garixstow, is the report of Agatharcides (de Mari Rubro, p. 63, 64. in Hudson, tom. i.), Diodorus Siculus (tom. i. 1. iii. c. 47. p. 215), and Strabo (l. xvi. p. 1124). But I much suspect that this is one of the popular tales, or extraordinary accidents, which the credulity of travellers so often transforms into a fact, a custom, and a law.

g Non gloriabantur antiquitus Arabes, nisi gladio, hospite, et eloquentiá (Sephadius, apud Pocock, Specimen, p. 161, 162). This gift of speech they shared only with the Persians; and the sententious Arabs would probably have disdained the simple and sublime logic of Demosthenes.

[ocr errors]

rights of the community. In the more simple state of the Arabs, the nation is free, because each of her sons disdains a base submission to the will of a master. His breast is fortified with the austere virtues of courage, patience, and sobriety; the love of independence prompts him to exercise the habits of self-command; and the fear of dishonour guards him from the meaner apprehension of pain, of danger, and of death. The gravity and firmness of the mind is conspicuous in his outward demeanour: his speech is slow, weighty, and concise, he is seldom provoked to laughter, his only gesture is that of stroking his beard, the venerable symbol of manhood; and the sense of his own importance teaches him to accost his equals without levity, and his superiors without awe." The liberty of the Saracens survived their conquests: the first caliphs indulged the bold and familiar language of their subjects: they ascended the pulpit to persuade and edify the congregation: nor was it before the seat of empire was removed to the Tigris, that the Abbassides adopted the proud and pompous ceremonial of the Persian and Byzantine courts. In the study of nations and men, we may observe the causes that render them hostile or friendly to each other, that tend to narrow or enlarge, to mollify or exasperate, the social character. The separation of the Arabs from the rest of mankind has accustomed them to confound the ideas of stranger and enemy; and the poverty of the land has introduced a maxim of jurisprudence, which they believe and practise to the present hour. They pretend, that in the division of the earth, the rich and fertile climates were assigned to the other branches of the human family; and that the posterity of the outlaw Ismael might recover, by


Civil wars and private revenge.

* I must remind the reader that D’Arvieux, D'Herbelot, and Niebuhr, represent, in the most lively colours, the manners and government of the Arabs, which are illustrated by many incidental passages in the life of Mahomet.

« ForrigeFortsett »