Witnessed in Stone: Epigraphic Evidence of Addressees of the Prophet’s Missives in Ḥaḍramawt

русская версия

DOI https://doi.org/10.31696/2618-7043-2021-4-3-571-577
Affiliation: Институт восточных рукописей РАН; НИУ Высшая школа экономики; Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет
член редакционной коллегии
Sections HISTORY OF THE EAST. General history
Pages 571 - 577

The present article deals with the authenticity of early Islamic historical tradition. The sceptical approach of some Western scholars is balanced by an attempt to substantiate the data available in the Arab Muslim sources with the information from the inscriptions from South Arabia. The author was fortunate to discover an Islamic source, which dates back to the first half of 9th century AD, the Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt alkabīr by Ibn Sa‘d, which comprises the missives of the Prophet Muhammad to two noble clans of Ḥaḍramawt: dhū Marḥab and al-Bassī. These clans are also mentioned in two late Sabaean inscriptions, which originate from the territory of Ḥaḍramawt: Beeston – Wādī Sanā’ and MM (al-Mukalla’ Museum) 157. Therefore, the existence of at least two addressees of the missives of the prophet Muḥammad is confirmed in the epigraphic documents from Ancient Yemen.

Download PDF Download JATS

В случае возникновения разночтений в тексте или расхождений в форматировании между pdf-версией статьи и её html-версией приоритет отдаётся pdf-версии.

In case of any discrepancies in a text or the differences in its layout between the pdf-version of an article and its html-version the priority is given to the pdf-version.

The problem of the authenticity of early Muslim historical tradition remains crucial for the scholars of Arabic and Islamic history, who deal with the emergence of Islam and the formation of the Caliphate. In Western Islamic studies there is a strong tendency: the scholars almost completely deny the reliability of the early Arab Islamic historical works or, at least, their parts. Two prominent scholars, viz. Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, became the “symbols” of this trend1. Their strongest argument is the lack of independent sources, which confirm the data taken from the Prophet’s biography (al-Sīra), such as his military campaigns (al-Maghāzī), the accounts on the great Arab conquests (al-Futūḥāt), etc. However, new discoveries in the field of South Arabian epigraphy have confirmed some data found in the early Islamic historical works.

Of significant interest are missives sent by the prophet Muḥammad2 to the nobility of ancient Yemen on the occasion of their conversion to Islam. In several cases, the names of addressees’ clans are also found in the South Arabian inscriptions. For example, the Messenger of Allah sent a missive written down by his official secretary Mu‘āwiya b. Abī Sufyān to Rabī‘a b. dhī Marḥab (of the clan dhū Marḥab) al-Ḥaḍramī, his brothers and his paternal uncles (wa-ikhwati-hi wa-a‘māmi-hi). In this document the prophet Muḥammad confirmed their rights on their property, such as bees,3 slaves, wells, trees, waters, irrigation channels (sawāqiya-hum),4 plants, long-bodied female camels (sharādji‘a-hum)5 in Ḥaḍramawt as well as on any property, which had belonged to the clan dhū Marḥab (wa-kull māl li-āl dhī Marḥab) [5, S. 21.7-9]. It should be noted that according to the Sabaic inscription Ir 31 in the early twenties of the 4th century AD a member of this ancient Sabaean clan Laḥay‘athat Yasha‘, who bore the title wz‘/š‘b-n/Sb’ (commander of the commune of Saba’), was at the head of a military campaign undertaken by the Ḥimyarite kingdom against Ḥaḍramawt [6, c. 252–253, 258]. Besides, in 1962 the renowned British Arabist and specialist in South Arabian Studies Alfred F. L. Beeston published a fragmentary Sabaic construction inscription discovered by Captain A. D. I. Fuller and Captain J. Johnson at a site in Wādī Sanā’ located at the eastern extremity of the region of Ḥaḍramawt [7, p. 41]. The edition by A. F. L. Beeston and his translation of it [7, p. 42, tav. X.1] are quoted below with some additions to his comments.

Beeston – Wādī Sanā’


1. …/w-n‘]mgd/bnw/Wrw’l/’…

2. …/’]lht/Mrḥb-m/[w-]ḏ-Šms-n/w-Bṯ’-/…

3. …/]w-Tḡm’/w-Shb/w-Mšḥṭ-n/w-rkb/by…

4. …w-]br’/mṣn‘t-hmw/[ḏ-’sl]m-n/b-ḫlf-n/b-sr-n/…

5. …yn/m……hw[/’l]y/y‘qby/sr/’slm-n


1. …and N‘]mgd, sons of Wrw’l…

2. …clans Mrḥb-m [and] ḏ-Šms-n and Bṯ’-n6

3. …and Tḡm’ and Shb and Mšḥṭ-n and Rkb of the family…

4. …and] constructed their fortress /[ḏ-’sl]m-n at the frontier-post in the valley…

5. … …[who b]oth hold the local magistracy over the valley of ’slm-n

Additions to Commentary

No doubt, the proper noun Tḡm’ (l. 3) corresponds to the Arabic ethnonym Tughmā, i.e. a large subdivision of the tribal confederation of Mahra [9, I, Taf. 328, II, S. 545]. Therefore, a parallel can be drawn between ḏ-Šms-n and the Arabic name of another subdivision of Mahra – Ashmūs [9, I, Taf. 328, II, S. 201]7.

It is worth mentioning that A. F. L. Beeston dated that inscription based on palaeographic criteria from “the end of the fifth or the sixth century A.D.” [7, p. 41]. This is a piece of evidence that the Sabaean clan Marḥab mentioned in a missive of the Prophet, did exist in pre-Islamic Ḥaḍramawt. One more name of a clan, viz. Bṯ’-n, is also found in Sabaean epigraphy from the Ḥaḍramawt as well as in early Islamic historical tradition. However, in the historical writings, it has another spelling with the sīn instead of the ṯā’. The replacement of the ṯ with the so-called third sibilant ś8, which does not occur in Arabic, but is rather close to the Arabic sīn, in the proper noun Bṯ’-n is found in an unpublished fragmentary inscription kept in the Mukalla’ Museum (MM 157). According to the Museum documentation, it originates from the site Qāra Ḥabashiyya situated in one of the tributaries of Wādī Sanā’ mentioned above9. Its first edition with translation and comments is given below.

Fig. Photograph of the late Sabaean inscription MM 157. Courtesy of the Mukalla’ Museum

MM 157


1. ……‘t/’ymn/w-…

2. …hmw/M‘dkrb/Ymgd[/…

3. …Ḏmnkrm/’qwl/w-m[r’s…

4. …Bś’y-n/hyf‘w/w-h…

5. …………y/’y


1. … …‘at Ayman and…

2. …their … Ma‘dīkarib Yamgud…

3. …Ḏamankarim the qayls and h[eads of…

4. …Baśa’iyyān announced and…

5. ……………


l. 1, ’ymn: wide-spread “epithet” (second personal name) in the Sabaic onomasticon [12, p. 89][13, p. 155–156]. It is also attested in Qatabanic [14, S. 91, 305].

l. 2, M‘dkrb: this personal name occurs not only in Sabaic but also in Minaic, Qatabanic and Hadramitic inscriptions [12, p. 553]. Ymgd: one more Sabaic “epithet”, although of rather rare use [12, p. 683][13, p. 419].

l. 3, Ḏmnkrm: first occurrence of this personal name in the South Arabian epigraphy. ’qwl: a plural form of the term qayl borrowed from Sabaic into Arabic which designated a member of a leading clan in an agricultural commune (š‘b) [15, p. 110].

l. 4, Bś’y-n: that form, which represents a relative proper noun derived from B(ṯ/ś)’-n, could be used to denote the clan. If we accept the reading Bṯ’y-n,10 the similarity between these two forms of the clan name will become much greater. hyf‘w: 3 pers. m. pl. The causative stem of the Sabaic verb yf‘ is interpreted as “announce, make known” [15, p. 168].

According to the palaeographic features, this inscription should be dated from the 5th–6th century AD. As to the relative proper noun Bś’y-n, it is to be compared with the nisba al-Bassī found among a half-dozen “qayls and nobleman (‘uẓamā’) of Ḥaḍramawt” to whom the prophet Muḥammad sent his missives [5, S. 33]. The loss of the hamza in that nisba can be explained by the tendency towards the disappearance of this sound in the Ḥidjāzī dialect of Old Arabic. As a result, at least two names of South Arabian clans attested in Hadramitic epigraphy prove to occur among the addressees’ of the Prophet’s missives to the traditional nobility of Ḥaḍramawt.

The recent discovery of a late Sabaean rock inscription in the area of Sawṭ Bā Tays plateau in Ḥaḍramawt allowed a suggestion that its author Batha’, son of Shāfsī (Bṯ’/bn/Šfsy), appeared to be the founder of the clan Bṯ’(y)-n / Bś’y-n [8, p. 181]. Moreover, it is possible to identify him with a certain Bś’-m mentioned in the Sabaic inscription Ja 665, who was a commander of a cavalry detachment guarding wagon train of troops of Ḥaḍramawt during a Ḥimyarite campaign against this kingdom, which took place around AD 316–320 [6, c. 250, n. 212, 251, n. 213].

1. See, first of all, the following monographs of them: [1][2].

2. The majority of them is found in an Islamic source dated from the first half of 9th century AD, Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr by Muḥammad b. Sa‘d (168–230 AH / 784–845 AD).

3. Even nowadays Ḥaḍramawt is known as a centre of apiculture [3, p. 107–110].

4. On that meaning of the term sāqiya in Ḥaḍramawt see: [3, p. 155].

5. See shardja‘ “chamelle au corps long” [4, I, p. 1212].

6. According to the photograph [7, tav. 10.1] the reading Bṯ’- is not excluded and even seems preferable [8, p. 181, n. 5].

7. Both tribal names derive from the same root, while the pattern af‘ūl is a wide-spread form of the broken plural in Epigraphic South Arabian languages.

8. This orthographic phenomenon is typical to the Hadramitic epigraphic language as a result of the fusion of the ṯ and the ś into a single phoneme [10, p. 14: § 8:7][11, p. 68: § H 2:2].

9. The location of Qāra Ḥabashiyya is clarified by my colleague ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Dja‘far Bin ‘Aqīl, Director of the Mukalla’ Branch of the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums of Yemen, in his electronic message to me of 08.07.2020.

10. Cf. n. 6 above.

  1. Cook M., Crone P. Hagarism. The Making of the Islamic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1977. IX + 268 p.
  2. Crone P. Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 1987. VII + 300 p.
  3. Rodionov M. A. The Western Ḥaḍramawt: Ethnographic Field Research, 1983–91. Halle (Saale): Druckhaus Schütze GmbH; 2007 (Orientwissenschaftliche Hefte, Heft 24/2007). X + 307 p.
  4. de Biberstein Kazimirski A. Dictionnaire arabe-français. Vol. I–II. Paris: chez Théophile Barrois, éditeur; 1846. 1392 p.; 1638 p.
  5. Ibn Saad. Biographien Muhammeds, seiner Gefährten und der späteren Träger des Islams bis zum Jahre 230 der Flucht. Bd. I. Theil II: Biographie Muhammed’s. Hrsg. von E. Mittwoch und E. Sachau. Leiden: E. J. Brill; 1917. 16 + ١٨٦ S. (In Arabic)
  6. Frantsouzoff S.A. History of Ḥaḍramawt in Antiquity. St. Petersburg: Linguistic Society of St. Petersburg; 2014 (History of Ḥaḍramawt from the Earliest Time up to the End of the British Rule. Vol. I). 336 p. (In Russ.)
  7. Beeston A. F. L. Epigraphic and Archaeologicla Gleanings from South Arabia. Oriens antiquus. 1962;I:41–52, tav. X.
  8. Frantsouzoff S. A., Rodionov M. A. Sawṭ Bā Tays: Land, water and memory at a South Arabian Plateau. In: Zaytsev I. V. (ed.) Arabian Antiquities. Studies Dedicated to Alexander Sedov on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Moscow: Oriental Literature Publisher; 2020, pp. 175–185.
  9. Caskel W. Ğamharat an-nasab. Das genealogische Werk des Hišām ibn Muḥammad al-Kalbī. Bd I–II. Leiden: E. J. Brill; 1966. XIII + 132 S. + 334 Taf.; VII + 614 S.
  10. Beeston A. F. L. A Descriptive Grammar of Epigraphic South Arabian. London: Luzac & Company Ltd.; 1962. VII + 80 p.
  11. Beeston A. F. L. Sabaic Grammar. [Manchester]: University of Manchester; 1984 (Journal of Semitic Studies Monograph No. 6). VIII + 77 p.
  12. Harding G. L. An Index and Concordance of Pre-Islamic Arabian Names and Inscriptions. Toronto & Buffalo: University of Toronto Press; 1971 (Near and Middle Eastern Series, 8). XLII + 943 p.
  13. Arbach M. Les noms propres du Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, Pars IV Inscriptiones ḥimyariticas et sabæas continens. Paris: Diffusion de Boccard; Rome: Diffusion Herder; 2002 (Inventaire des inscriptions sudarabiques, 7). 464 p.
  14. Hayajneh H. Die Personennamen in den qatabanischen Inschriften. Lexikalische und grammatische Analyse im Kontext der semitischen Anthroponomastik. Hildesheim; Zürich; New York: Georg Olms Verlag; 1998 (Texte und Studien zur Orientalistik, Bd. 10). VIII + 416 S.
  15. Beeston A. F. L., Ghul M. A., Müller W. W., Ryckmans J. Sabaic Dictionary (En- glish-French-Arabic) / Dictionnaire sabéen (anglais-français-arabe). Louvain-la-Neuve: Édition Peeters; Beyrouth: Librarie du Liban; 1982 (Publication of the University of Sanaa, YAR). XLI + 173 + ١٧ p.
Благодарности: The article was prepared within the RFBR project no. 19-09- 00309 “Hadramawt: a History of its Self-Identification (the 6th century AD – AD 1967)”
For citations: Французов С.А. Засвидетельствовано в камне: эпиграфические данные об адресатах Посланий Пророка в Хадрамауте. Ориенталистика. 2021; т. 4, 3: 571-577