Banu Kalb

The Banu Kalb (Arabic: بنو كلب, lit. 'Sons of Kalb') or Kalb ibn Wabara (كلب بن وبرة) was an Arab tribe. Prior to the Muslim conquest of Syria in the 630s, the Kalb's territory spanned much of northwestern Arabia, the Palmyrene steppe, the Samawah (desert between Palmyra and the Euphrates), the Hawran plain and the Golan Heights. One of their main centers was the desert town of Dumat al-Jandal. The Kalb were involved in the tribal affairs of the eastern frontiers of the Byzantine Empire from the 4th century and were likely the tribe of Mavia, the Bedouin queen of southern Syria. By the 6th century, the Kalb had largely become Monophysite Christians and came under the military authority of the Ghassanids, Arab vassals of the Byzantines.

Banu Kalb
LocationHejaz, Syrian Desert, Wadi Sirhan, Dumat al-Jandal, Palmyra, Homs
Descended fromKalb ibn Wabara
ReligionMonophysite Christianity (up to late 7th century)
Islam (post 630s)

During the lifetime of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a number of his close companions were Kalb tribesmen, such as Zayd ibn Harithah and Dihya al-Kalbi, but the bulk of the tribe remained Christian at the time of Muhammad's death in 632. The Kalb formed political and marital ties with the Umayyad family, and were the main source of military and political power during the reigns of the Umayyad caliphs Mu'awiya I, Yazid I, Mu'awiya II and Marwan I. During early Umayyad rule the Kalb became a chief belligerent in the long-running Qays–Yaman feud as the leading tribe of the Yaman tribal confederation. Under their leadership, the Yaman dealt a heavy blow to the Qays at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 684. By then the Kalb were largely concentrated in the steppe around Homs and Palmyra and were driven out of the Samawah in the late 680s by the Qays.


The Kalb were traditionally held to be from Quda'a.[1] Kalb, whose name means "dog" in Arabic, was the tribe's progenitor.[1] The latter's father was a certain Wabara and his mother was known as Umm al-Asbuʿ because all of her children were named after wild animals.[1][note 1] According to traditional Arab genealogy, Kalb was descended from the semi-legendary patriarch of the southern Arabs, Ḥimyar, via the Kalb's ancestral tribe, Quda'ah;[3][note 2] the latter was a large confederation with numerous branches whose tribesmen lived as far north as Syria,[3] possibly as early as the 4th century CE.[4]

Pre-Islamic era

The Kalb were a Bedouin (nomadic) tribe well known for camel raising.[1] In the centuries prior to the advent of Islam (pre-7th century), the tribe's grazing grounds were in northwestern Arabia,[5] and the vast desert steppe between Syria and Mesopotamia,[1] known as Samāwa[6] or Samāwat Kalb.[1] That region essentially consisted of the larger, southern part of the Syrian Desert.[7] The Kalb's principal centers were the oases in the low-lying region formed by the Wadi Sirhan in the west and al-Jawf in the east.[1] The Kalb long dominated al-Jawf prior to the Muslim conquest.[8] The Kalb's tribal territory was bordered on the north by the powerful Tayy tribe, close allies of the Kalb, and to the southeast, west and east were the tribes of Ghatafan, Banu al-Qayn and Annazah, respectively.[8] The Kalb's domination of Wadi Sirhan and al-Jawf allowed for many of their tribesmen's migration northward into Syria.[1] The Kalb may have arrived in Syria by the 4th century CE, though "precise and certain information on its role" in Syria "in the fourth century is not available", according to historian Irfan Shahid.[4] However, Shahid asserts that it was likely that Mavia, a warrior queen of Arab tribesmen in southern Syria, was a member of the Kalb.[9] This indicates that the Kalb were allies of Mavia's principal force, the Tanukhids.[4] The latter, like the Kalb, also traced their descent to Quda'ah.[10] By then, the Kalb's encampments spanned the steppes between the Palmyrena and Tabuk in the northern Hejaz.[6]

The Kalb's territory on the Byzantine Empire's Limes Arabicus frontier straddled the Oriens, a collective term for the empire's eastern provinces.[11] In Syria, the Kalb were settled in Palmyra, Salamiyah, the Ghuta and Mezzeh hinterlands of Damascus, the Golan Heights, the Hawran plain and the hills of as-Suwayda, and to a lesser extent in the neighborhood of Homs, Aleppo, Hama and Manbij.[1] In northern Arabia, they were present in the towns of Dumat al-Jandal, Tayma, al-Hirah and Fadak.[1] The Kalb may have been the unnamed tribe that launched a massive invasion of Byzantine-held Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine and Egypt in 410, according to Shahid.[11] Shahid argues that the Kalbid invasion was possibly related to the fall of the Kalb's Tanukhid allies and the latter's replacement as the Byzantine's main foederati with the Salihids,[11] which also descended from the Quda'ah.[12] In the closing years of the 5th century,[13] tensions between the Kalb and the Salihids culminated in a day-long battle in which the Salihid phylarch, Dawud, was killed by Tha'laba ibn 'Amir of Kalb and his ally Mu'awiya ibn Hujayr of Namir in the Golan region.[14][note 3] It is not clear if the conflict between Tha'laba ibn 'Amir and Dawud was a personal feud or part of a tribal conflict between the Kalb and the Salihids.[15]

Though the Kalb's role in 5th-century Arab tribal politics in the Byzantine Empire is clear, contemporary sources do not indicate how early the Kalb made contact with the Byzantines.[16] By the early 6th century, the Salihids were supplanted by the Ghassanids as the supreme phylarchs of the Arab tribes in Byzantine territory. Like the Ghassanids, the Kalb embraced Monophysite Christianity.[1][17] The Kalb were put under the Ghassanids' authority and were charged with guarding the Byzantines' eastern frontier against Sassanian Persia and the latter's Arab vassals in al-Hirah, the Lakhmids.[1] As a result of their firm incorporation in the Byzantine foederati system, the Kalb "became accustomed to military discipline and to law and order", according to historian Johann Fück.[1]

The most well-known early chieftain of the Kalb was Zuhayr ibn Janab al-Kalbi, who wielded significant influence among the Bedouin tribes of northern Arabia.[1] On behalf of Abraha, the mid-6th-century Ethiopian viceroy of south Arabia, Zuhayr led an expedition against the north Arabian tribes of Taghlib and Bakr.[1] In the mid-6th century, the Kalb led by Zuhayr fought against the Banu Baghid clan of the Ghatafan tribe over the latter's construction of a haram (sacred place) at a place called "Buss"; the Ghatafan's haram emulated the Ka'aba of Mecca, at the time a widely honored edifice containing pagan Arabian idols, which offended the powerful tribes of the area, including the Kalb.[18] Zuhayr decisively defeated the Ghatafan and had their haram destroyed.[18]

Islamic era

Early Muslim campaigns

During the early years of Islam's advent in Arabia, a number of individual Kalbid tribesmen in Mecca converted to the religion, including Zayd ibn Dihyah al-Kalbi, Muhammad's emissary to the Byzantine emperor, Heraclius.[1] According to historian Fred Donner, while there were notable individual converts to Islam among the Kalb, there are scarce details about contacts between Muhammad and the Kalb in general.[19] As Byzantine foederati, the Kalb fought against Muslim advances in northern Arabia and Syria. The first confrontation was the 626/27 Expedition of 'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Awf in which the Muslims led by Iyad ibn Ghanm defeated the Kalb.[20] In general, the Muslim accounts agree that after the battle, the Christian Kalb tribesmen of Dumat al-Jandal led by al-Asbagh ibn Amr, converted to Islam and made an alliance with the Muhammad.[1][21][22] However, Donner writes that Muslim accounts regarding the Dumat al-Jandal expeditions and the alliance with its leader "have been criticized as unreliable".[23] It is apparent, however, there were contacts between Muhammad and some clans of the Kalb.[23] Moreover, at least part of the Kalb of the Syrian steppe came under a Muslim agent during the campaign against Dhat al-Salasil in southern Mesopotamia.[23] Nonetheless, the majority of the Kalb remained outside the emerging Muslim state's authority at the time of Muhammad's death in 632.[23] Kalbid tribesmen who may have embraced Islam do not appear to have participated in the Muslim conquest of Syria.[1] During the conquest, in 634, the Kalb were among the Arab Christian tribes that were defeated by Khalid ibn al-Walid at Ziza in Transjordan.[20][24]

Umayyad era

Family tree of the Banu Kalb's princely household in Syria. Members of this household, known as the Banu Haritha in Janab, included Bahdal ibn Unayf, Maysun bint Bahdal and Hassan ibn Malik

The Muslim conquest of Syria was concluded by 638; by then, the Kalb inhabited the steppes around Homs and Palmyra and were the leaders and most powerful component of the Quda'ah tribal confederation.[25] The Kalb had relations with the Umayyads, a clan of Quraysh, since the reign of Caliph Uthman (r. 644–656),[26] who married a Kalbid woman, Na'ilah bint al-Farafisah,[25] with whom he had a daughter, Maryam (Umm al-Banin).[27] During the conflict between Muawiyah I, the Muslim governor of Syria who belonged to the Umayyads, and Caliph Ali (r. 656–661), the Kalb provided critical support for Mu'awiyah.[26] The latter married two Kalbid women, including Maysun, the daughter of Bahdal ibn Unayf, the Kalb's preeminent chieftain,[25] who remained Christian until his death sometime before 657.[28] Bahdal's sons and grandsons served as commanders on the Umayyad side against Ali's partisans during the Battle of Siffin in 657.[25] Ali was ultimately defeated and Mu'awiyah came to rely on the Kalb,[26] one of the principal sources of military power in Syria,[25] for maintaining his foothold in Syria.[26] With this, the Kalb specifically, and the Yamani tribal coalition in general, became the most influential group during the Sufyanid period (661–684) of the Umayyad Caliphate.[26]

Mu'awiyah's son and successor, Yazid I (r. 680–683), who was born to Maysun, also married a Kalbid woman.[26] The accession of Yazid's son Mu'awiyah II (r. 683–684) was largely due to the machinations of the Kalbid chieftain, Hassan ibn Malik ibn Bahdal.[29] However, Mu'awiyah II soon died, leaving the caliphate in political disarray.[29] Ibn Bahdal favored anointing one of Yazid's young sons to succeed Mu'awiyah, while the governor of Kufa, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, favored an Umayyad from a different branch of the ruling family, Marwan ibn al-Hakam.[29] Meanwhile, the rebel Abdullah ibn Zubayr from Hejaz challenged Umayyad leadership and was gaining support in Syria.[29] Dedicated to preserving the political and economic privileges the Kalb acquired under the Sufyanids, Ibn Bahdal firmly backed the continuation of Umayyad rule.[29] Ibn Bahdal threw his support behind Marwan, while al-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fihri, a chieftain of the Yaman's Qaysi rivals, backed Ibn Zubayr.[30] Ibn Bahdal mobilized the Kalb and their Yamani partners and routed the Qays in the Battle of Marj Rahit in August 684.[30] In the battle's aftermath, the Qays–Yaman feud intensified, while Marwan became completely dependent on the Yaman to maintain his rule;[30] just prior to Marj Rahit, Marwan agreed to the Kalb's conditions, including that 2,000 of their chiefs would receive an annual, hereditary salary of 2,000 silver dirhams for military service, priority in Marwan's court, and consultation in all major government decisions.[26]

Qaysi revenge against the Kalb and Umayyads took place during the 686 Battle of al-Khazir, during which the Qaysi general, Umayr ibn al-Hubab of Sulaym abandoned the Umayyad army, which was then defeated by the Zubayrids.[26] Umayr took refuge with the Qaysi chief Zufar ibn al-Harith of Kilab in al-Qarqisiyah, and afterward a series of raids and counter-raids took place between the Kalb and the Qays.[26] The Kalb, led by Humayd ibn Hurayth ibn Bahdal, were frequently attacked by the Qays at their dwelling places in the Samawah desert.[26] Despite making retaliatory raids, the Kalb of Samawah were forced to flee for the Jordan Valley.[26] Humayd attacked the Qays in al-Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia), but was ultimately defeated during the battle of Banat Qayn in Samawah, the last of the major Qaysi–Yamani day-long clashes (ayyam).[26]

Kalbid relations with the Umayyad state deteriorated under Caliph Marwan II (r. 744–750) as the latter relied almost entirely on the Qays for military and administrative support at the expense of Yamani interests.[26] In June 745, a Kalbid chieftain of Palmyra, al-Asbagh ibn Dhu'alah al-Kalbi, led a revolt against Marwan II in Homs.[31] His tribesmen and their Yamani allies fought the caliph's force in the streets of Homs, but were forced to retreat.[31] Al-Asbagh's sons Dhu'alah and Furafisah were captured and executed, along with thirty other Kalbid and Yamani soldiers.[31] With the advent of the Abbasid Revolution in 750, the Kalb may have realized Umayyad rule was close to collapse.[26] Likely as a result of the aforementioned circumstances, 2,000 Kalbid tribesmen dispatched by Marwan II to reinforce the Umayyad governor of Basrah, defected to the Abbasid Caliphate instead.[26] However, that same year, the Yaman, including the Kalb, grew frustrated with Abbasid rule in Syria and joined the revolt of Umayyad prince Abu Muhammad al-Sufyani and Qaysi general Abu al-Ward.[26] Abu Muhammad was a descendant of the Kalb's former patron, Mu'awiyah I, and he presented himself as a messianic figure known as the "Sufyani", who many from Homs believed would restore the Umayyad Caliphate.[32] Abu al-Ward was killed by an Abbasid army while Abu Muhammad and the Kalb barricaded themselves in Palmyra,[33] though Abu Muhammad later fled for Arabia.[34]

Abbasid era

The Kalb's role in Syria declined under the Baghdad-based Abbasids.[26] In the 860s, as Abbasid central control waned in the provinces, including Syria, the Kalb allied with Isa ibn al-Shaykh al-Shaybani, the Arab strongman of Palestine.[35] In 884, the Kalb under Utayf ibn Ni'ma joined an anti-Abbasid revolt in Homs and killed that city's governor, al-Fadl ibn Karim.[26] However, the Abbasids defeated the rebels and recaptured Homs.[26]

By the 10th century, the Kalb were one of the three largest Arab confederations of Syria and were largely concentrated in the central part of the region; the other two confederations were the Tayy in southern Syria and the Kilab in northern Syria.[36] However, unlike the Tayy and Kilab, who were relative newcomers to Syria, most of the long-established Kalb tribesmen were settled peasants who lost their traditional nomadic mobility by this time.[36] Because of their inclination toward sedentarism, the Kalb gradually lost their dominant position in the al-Jawf and Wadi Sirhan regions to their Tayy allies, while those who remained nomadic either migrated to join their kinsmen in central Syria or kept a low profile in their traditional dwelling places.[37] Also unlike the Tayy and Kilab, the Kalb in central Syria had lost their tribal connections in the neighboring regions.[36]

However certain Kalb clans, particularly in the Samawah, found a strong patron in the Qarmatian movement.[26] The Banu Ulays and Banu al-Asbagh branches of the Kalb embraced the Qarmatian leader Yahya ibn Zikrawayh, and together, they ambushed an Abbasid army and killed its commander, Sabuk al-Daylami in 901.[26] Afterward, they raided several villages on their way to Damascus, where they burned down the al-Rusafa Mosque.[26] Yahya was killed by the Tulunids, after which the Kalb joined Yahya's brother, al-Husayn ibn Zikrawayh.[26] Under al-Husayn, the Kalb–Qarmatian alliance defeated Tulunid armies until al-Husayn was captured and executed in 903 by order of Caliph al-Muqtafi.[26]

The Banu al-Asbagh and Banu Ulays remained loyal to the Qarmatians and were joined by another branch of the Kalb, the Banu Ziyad.[26] Under the Qarmatian leader Abu Ghanim Nasr, they raided Damascus, Bosra, Adhri'at and Tiberias, and killed the deputy governor of Jund al-Urdunn.[26] This prompted al-Muqtafi to dispatch a punitive expedition led by Husayn ibn Hamdan against the Kalb, but the Kalb and the Asad, defeated Hamdan, forcing him to flee to Aleppo. Later that year, Ibn Hamdan defeated the Kalb and their Tayy allies.[26] The Kalb then raided places in the Samawah and attacked Hit.[26] Al-Muqtafi responded by sending an army led by Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Kundaj, which compelled the Kalb to betray the Qarmatians and kill Nasr, thereby avoiding punitive action by the authorities.[26] Nonetheless, with the decisive defeat of the Qarmatians by the Abbasids in the 970s, the Kalb's newfound strength had largely diminished.[36]

During the reign of Caliph al-Mustarshid (1118–1135), the Kalb betrayed the Mazyadid leader, Dubays ibn Sadaqa, to the governor of Damascus.[26]


  1. The names of Wabara's sons were as follows: Kalb ("dog"), Asad ("lion"), Namir ("tiger"), Dhi'b ("wolf"), Tha'lab ("fox"), Fahd ("lynx"), Dabu' ("hyena"), Dubb ("bear"), Sid ("coyote") and Sirhan ("jackal").[2]
  2. Kalb's genealogy was as follows: Kalb ibn Wabarah ibn Taghlib ibn Ḥalwān ibn ʿImrān ibn al-Ḥāf ibn Quḍāʿah (real name ʿAmr) ibn Mālik ibn ʿAmr ibn Murrah ibn Mālik ibn Ḥimyar ibn Sabaʾ ibn Yashjub ibn Yaʿrub ibn Qaḥṭān.[3]
  3. The Namir tribe was related to Kalb through their common ancestor Wabara.[14]


  1. Fück 1997, p. 492.
  2. Ibn Abd Rabbih, transl. Boullata 2011, p. 275.
  3. Landau-Tasseron, ed. Yar-Shater 1998, p. 6.
  4. Shahid 1986, p. 388.
  5. Shahid 1986, p. 146.
  6. Shahid 1986, p. 197.
  7. Grant, Christina Phelps (2003). The Syrian Desert: Caravans, Travel and Exploration. Kegan Paul International. pp. 11–12.
  8. Sudayri 1995, p. 81.
  9. Shahid 1986, p. 196.
  10. Bosworth, ed. Yar-Shater 1999, p. 20.
  11. Shahid 1989, p. 24.
  12. Shahid 1989, p. 235.
  13. Shahid 1989, p. 86.
  14. Shahid 1989, pp. 258–259.
  15. Shahid, p. 260.
  16. Shahid 1989, p. 272.
  17. Shahid 1989, p. 314.
  18. Munt, Harry (2014). The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9781107042131.
  19. Donner 1981, p. 106.
  20. Shahid, p. 304.
  21. Homoud 1994, p. 179.
  22. Donner 1981, pp. 106–107.
  23. Donner 1981, p. 107.
  24. Blankinship, ed. Yar-Shater 1993, p. 76.
  25. Marsham, Andrew (2003). "The Architecture of Allegiance in Early Islamic Late Antiquity: The Accession of Mu'awiya in Jerusalem, ca. 661 CE". In Beihammer, Alexander; Constaninou, Stavroula; Parani, Maria (eds.). Court Ceremonies and Rituals of Power in Byzantium and the Medieval Mediterranean: Comparative Perspectives. Leiden: Brill. p. 104.
  26. Dixon 1978, pp. 493–494.
  27. Humphreys, ed. Yar-Shater 1990, p. 254.
  28. Kennedy, p. 80.
  29. Kennedy, p. 78.
  30. Kennedy, p. 79.
  31. Williams, pp. 4–5.
  32. Cobb, p. 47.
  33. Williams, p. 178.
  34. Cobb, p. 48.
  35. Cobb, p. 39.
  36. Salibi, p. 85.
  37. Sudairi, p. 83.


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