Ahmad Al-Jallad Profile picture
Aug 15, 2018 14 tweets 4 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
What is the earliest mention of #Damascus in Arabic? In 1995, Alulu discovered a fascinating #Safaitic inscription from southern Syria containing the name of the city. The enigmatic text is known only from a crude hand copy. Photo: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roma…
The inscription is dated as to ‘the year lʾk qṣr ʾn myt ʿm rm w f t w qd dms²q; the original editor did not provide a convincing interpretation of its difficult language. The text is filled with hapax legomena (words attested only once) and Safaitic has no word dividers.
But let’s have a try anyway. There are multiple ways to understand this text; here is option 1: ‘the year (word) was sent to Caesar that the people of Rome died and Damascus burned = loʾeka qaysara ʾan mayeta ʿamm rūm wa-fa tawaqqada demaśq.
lʾk = loʾeka, a passive verb, ‘it was sent’. While it is very rare in later Arabic, known only in form IV ʾalʾaka, the root is found in the word for ‘angel’ malak, ultimately from Hebrew malʾāk or Aramaic malʾakā via Ethiopic. It is the normal verb meaning ‘to send’ in Ugaritic.
ʿamm is the Old Arabic word for grandfather/ancestral kinsman (it means paternal uncle in modern Arabic), and can refer to a ‘people’, as in Hebrew עם ישראל ‘the people of Israel’. The combination of wa ‘and’ and fa ‘then’ is difficult to interpret, perhaps a writing error.
The final sentence wqd dms²q ‘Damascus burned’; wqd is equivalent to the Classical Arabic waqada ‘to take fire, to burn’. While Damascus is feminine in later forms of Arabic, gender agreement in Safaitic seems to have been more flexible.
This is only one possible interpretation. Another is: word was sent to Caesar that the people of Rome died and passed away (wa fātū) and Damascus surrendered (wa qīda demaśq). More interpretations are possible and there is no way to know for certain without more context.
What unfortunate chapter in Damascus’ history does this text attest? It seems too early for the Persian conquest of Damascus in 613 CE. The reference to the Romans seems to rule out a connection with Aretas III, king of the Nabataean’s, taking of the city in 85 BCE.
Perhaps the text refers to an unknown and brief siege during the Perso-Roman wars of the 3rd/4th c. CE or an attack related to the sack of Bostra by the Palmyrene Empire in 270 CE. Perhaps the text simply refers to a great fire unrelated to warfare? All of this is speculation.
This text highlights what is so exciting and so frustrating about the Safaitic inscriptions. They are eyewitnesses to important events that have been lost in other sources, but because their writers were carving on stone, they often have the same word limits as twitter.
The rest of the inscription is fully intelligible. It states:
wallada haḍ-ḍaʾna fa-hā-llāt salāma w ġaneyyata le- ḏī daʿaya has- sefra wa-wagama ʿal-ʾaḫaway-h ʿal-ṣaʿd wa ʿal-qadam ḏī- ʾāl naġbār
Translation: ‘and he helped the sheep to give birth so, O Allāt, may he who reads this writing have security and abundance; and he grieved for his two brothers, for Saʿd and for Qadam, of the lineage of Naghbar’.
The txt remains in situ, AFAIK, and will hopefully be re-discovered one day so that it can be properly studied from photographs. Luckily the hand is clear and I do not suspect that there are significant copy errors. What historical event do you think this text could refer to?
ʿAlūlū [Alulu], Ġ.M.Y. Dirāsat nuqūš ṣafawīyyah jadīdah min wādī al-sūʿ ǧanūb sūrīyyah. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Yarmouk University. 1996.

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More from @Safaitic

Oct 6, 2018
"Life is worthless", write Diomedes the Lyrist and Abchoros the barber in a Greek inscription found far out in the desert of eastern Jordan (at Jathum). The two went out into the desert with a Roman military unit, stationed at a place called Σιο(α) Αβγαρ 'the cairn of Abgar'.
Coming from the bright lights of the Decapolis, the Basalt desert must have seemed like the end of the world. This text comes to mind as I complete edits on 2 pprs on new Greek-Safaitic inscriptions from Jordan. Teaser: we have a small new example of Old Arabic in Greek letters!
The editio princeps of the cited inscription can be found here: A Greek Inscription at Jathum in Transjordan. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 132 (Dec., 1953), pp. 34-41 (8 pages). Here is Mowry's translation of the entire text.
Read 4 tweets
Oct 5, 2018
< Part 1 – the Fals, of Tweet Mini-Series: The archaeology of the Book of Idols> Let us begin with the more obscure deities. The idol called al-Fals was associated with the well-known N. Arabian tribe of Ṭayyiʾ. Their territory was located near 2 mountains, Agaʾ and Salmā.
According to al-Kalbi, al-Fals was a red rock in the shape of a man located on the black mountain of Agaʾ. Its sanctuary offered immunity to men and beasts. What do we learn about Al-Fals from the epigraphic record? answering-islam.org/Books/Al-Kalbi…
Tribespeople of Ṭayyiʾ left few inscriptions. Only one text in Safaitic was clearly composed by a man of Ṭayyiʾ. BS 767 is by a man named Wāʾil son of Wammām, who calls himself haṭ-ṭāʾiyy ‘the Tayyite’. The text does not contain an invocation to a deity.
Read 19 tweets
Oct 5, 2018
<Tweet Mini-Series: The archaeology of the Book of Idols-Introduction>: Hisham ibn al-Kalbi was an Arab antiquarian born in Kufa (737–819 CE), interested in folklore re: the ancient Arabs, genealogies, and pre-Islamic Arabian religion. Pic: Nabataea.net
His work kitāb al-Aṣnām ‘the book of idols’ is one of the earliest Islamic-period sources on pre-Islamic Arabian religion. Relying on folklore and quotations from poetry, Ibn Al-Kalbi lists the gods of the ancient Arabs and associated rites.
While some of these gods, such as Allāt, are known from the Qur’ān and other ancient sources, others are far more obscure, such as Yaʾbūb and Nuhm. You can read the English translation of this book here: answering-islam.org/Books/Al-Kalbi/
Read 6 tweets
Oct 1, 2018
On the topic of inscriptions of mourning, I've reached the S's and here is one of the saddest Safaitic inscriptions I know. It is by a man mourning the senseless murder of his brother by Nabataeans while he was working as a hired man, pasturing the animals of two great tribes.
I translate the text as follows:
'he grieved for his brother Nūr whom the Nabataeans killed while pasturing the livestock of ʿwḏ and Ḍf so, O Allat of Mʿmn and goddess of Deṯan and Gaddoʿawīḏ and Gaddoḍayf...
...may he have vengeance against him who has committed this act, and he was continuously distraught with a broken heart for his brother, his beloved forever'. The Old Arabic reads as follows:
Read 4 tweets
Sep 30, 2018
#Safaitic dictionary edit updates. At the N's, and this text it worth tweeting: Author of MAHB 2 states: wagada ʾaṯra ʾaśyāʿ-oh fa-naganna 'he found the traces of his companions and went mad (from grief)'. #Safaitic naganna <ngn> is the equivalent of #Levantine inžann...
The sense is of course to be Jinn possessed. There is no direct evidence for a belief in #Jinn among the pre-Islamic nomads, but this word could suggests that insanity was associated with being possessed by the supernatural creatures. There's more: related to this lemma is ...
the word <ʾtgnn> =ʾatgannana, is attested in an identical context: BS 880: wagada ʾaṯra ʾaśyāʿ-oh fa-ʾatgannana 'he found the traces of his companions and went mad (from grief)', this one similar to Classical Arabic taǧannana, same meaning.
Read 5 tweets
Sep 27, 2018
Hikma History asks whether there is historical evidence for #Mecca in the 6th CE or earlier. A fantastic question. Outside historical sources don't seem to mention the town. @iandavidmorris examines this material masterfully in this blog: iandavidmorris.com/mecca-before-i…
But what about pre-Islamic Arabian sources? Do they give evidence for Mecca as a pilgrimage center? Most pre-Islamic texts from central Arabia are short, undated inscriptions containing personal names and enigmatic phrases. No toponyms are attested in these and therefore,..
They are not very useful for answering our question. The long and detailed texts from Ancient Yemen, however, do not mention any place called Mecca. Although numerous pilgrimage sites are attested, they all seem to be located in South Arabia.
Read 11 tweets

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