Robert Hoyland - Insider and Outsider Sources: Historiographical Reflections on Late Antique Arabiahttp://www.almuslih.com/Library/Hoyland,%20R%20-%20Historiographical%20reflections.pdf
In the introduction to my 2001 book on Arabia and the Arabs I made a distinction between writings by insiders and writings by outsiders, on the subject of the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and its northern extension, the Syrian desert- and steppe-lands. The former are rare and consist primarily of inscriptions and, from the sixth century, poetry, whereas the latter, though fragmentary and hailing from many different sources in diverse languages, are relatively numerous. But do all the relevant texts fit neatly into one of these two categories, or should we accept that there may be degrees of insider-ness/outsider-ness and that the lines between the two categories may be blurred? And even where the distinction is clear, should we always prefer the testimony of an insider to that of an outsider? Finally, what value should we assign to Muslim sources, which, in their extant form, date no earlier than the ninth century? Do we assume that they tap directly into pre-Islamic Arab traditions and so deserve insider status, or must we posit some rupture in Arab history (occasioned, for instance, by the seventh-century Arab conquests or the eighth-century ʿAbbāsid revolution), which consigns the Muslim tradition to outsider status? In the course of this paper I will select a few pertinent examples and offer some reflections on these questions.
In an important recent publication on the Arab allies of the empires of the Late Antique Near East C.J. Robin raised the question of the nature of the relationship between the so-called kingdoms of Ghassān, Lakhm, and Kinda and the tribes that go by these names. His own preference was to assume very little relationship: ‘Les soi-disant royaumes de Kinda, de Ghassān et de Lakhm ne sont pas des principautés assises sur les tribus de Kinda, Ghassān et de Lakhm, comme on l’affirme fréquemment’. Rather, he says, we should distinguish between the tribes and the princely dynasties to which the empires of Rome, Persia, and Ḥimyar had delegated certain powers and awarded certain subsidies and titles. The most famous of these dynasties were the Ḥujrids of Kinda, the Jafnids of Ghassān, and the Naṣrids of Lakhm. But though they may have originated from the tribes of Kinda, Ghassān, and Lakhm, these Arab dynasts were appointed by the empires to keep control of other tribes and to provide military support from whatever tribes would join them; they were not appointed over their own tribes of origin and did not act as, or derive their support from being, leaders of a single tribe.
F. Millar has accepted this hypothesis, but points out that the surviving contemporary documentation does not support the use of either of the two terms, the tribe or the dynasty. Thus of Ghassān he observes:
The modern historiography of the most important group allied with Rome in the sixth century begins with a work published by the great Theodor Nöldeke in 1887, Die ghassānischen Fürsten aus dem Hause Jafna’s—hence the common use ever since of the terms ‘Ghassanids’ and (more recently) ‘Jafnids’, to denote this dynasty. But the entire contemporary evidence discussed here, literary and documentary, in Latin, Greek, Syriac, and Arabic, from within the [Roman] empire does not contain a single expression which equates to, or could properly be translated as, either ‘Ghassanid’ or ‘Jafnid’ ... Our capacity to define either a people or a dynasty by these names derives from Arabic sources written several centuries later.