600: Pope Gregory the Great Intervenes in Favour of the Exiled Ǧafnid Prince al-Munḏir b. al-Ḥāriṯ

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Author: Daniel G. König

Source

Gregorius Magnus, Registrum Epistularum, ed. Ludwig Hartmann (MGH Epp. in Quart 2: Gregorii papae registrum epistolarum, libri VIII-XIV), Berlin: Weidmann, 1899, lib. X, cap. 16 (a. 600), p. 251, trans. Daniel G. König.
De Anamundaro autem quae scripsistis fecimus, sed voluntatem utinam sequatur effectus, quia, quantum ad nos pertinet, afflictis intercessionis nostrae solacium non negamus. With regard to al-Munḏir, we have done what you have written. If only this wish would be brought to execution. For as far as we are concerned, we have not denied the comfort of our intercession to the afflicted.

The Author & his/her Work

[§1] Gregory I (sed. 590-604) came from a wealthy Roman senatorial family, probably assumed the office of Roman city prefect in 573 and founded seven monasteries with the help of his father's inheritance, six of them in Sicily. Ordained deacon by Pope Pelagius in 579, he was sent to Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Tiberios (r. 574-578 as co-regent, 578-582 as sole ruler), where he asked first Tiberios, then Maurikios (r. 582-602) for help against the Lombards, before he was recalled in 586 and elected Pope in 590.[1] The letter to Innocentius, praefectus Africae, written in July 600, is part of Gregory’s huge collection of letters.

Content & Context

[§2] Gregory congratulates Innocentius on assuming the prefecture and expresses his certainty that, thanks to his activity, roses will sprout from thorns. He gratefully acknowledges that the prefect has equipped a fleet to support the pope. He also reports that he has negotiated a peace treaty with the Lombard king [Agilulf (r. 590-615)] until March of the coming fourth fiscal cycle, but now does not know whether the king has died and whether the treaty is now void. In response to the prefect’s request that Gregory’s “Commentary on the Book of Job” be sent to him, he recommends the writings of Augustine. He also thanks the prefect for his support of the pauperes beati Petri, which Gregory’s secretary Hilarius had informed him about.[2] A short passage in the letter is also dedicated to a certain Anamundarus, who can be equated with the Ǧafnid prince al-Munḏir (r. ca. 569-582), who is also mentioned by John of Biclaro.[3] The letter reveals that an exchange concerning this person had already taken place between the pope and the prefect. In this context, the prefect had given the pope advice on how he could intercede for al-Munḏir, described here as part of a group of “afflicted” (afflictis). Gregory confirms that he has been working on their behalf and has given them moral support through his efforts, but does not yet see that this has borne any fruit.

Contextualization, Analysis & Interpretation

[§3] The context of this letter can only be deduced from Greek and Syriac sources. The Ǧafnid prince al-Munḏir had been exiled to Sicily in 582 by Emperor Maurikios (r. 582-602).[4] Al-Munḏir, whose grandfather and father had already been in the service of the Byzantine Empire as phylarchs, had built up a powerful position for himself under Emperor Tiberios in the border zone between the Byzantine Empire on the one hand, and Sassanid Persia as well as the Persia-associated Naṣrīds of al-Ḥīra on the other.[5] Unlike his predecessor Justin II, who had taken action against al-Munḏir in 572, Emperor Tiberios supported the Ǧafnīd, e.g. in the context of the latter’s honourable reception in Constantinople in 575 or 580 described by John of Biclaro.[6] The occasion for al-Munḏir’s banishment seems to have been his campaign against the Persians conducted in 580-81 together with the comes excubitorum and later emperor Maurikios.[7] During this campaign, the Byzantine and Ǧafnid troops came across a destroyed bridge over the Euphrates, which was supposed to lead them into Persian territory to Ctesiphon. Maurikios blamed the destruction of the bridge on al-Munḏir and thus voiced the accusation that the latter had cooperated with the Persians and consequently committed high treason.[8] An additional factor that seems to have contributed to the estrangement of the two individuals was that al-Munḏir undertook a successful campaign against the Naṣrīds associated with the Persians in 581, which had not been agreed upon with the imperial centre.[9]

[§4] The conflict of al-Munḏir with Maurikios must also be seen against the backdrop of fundamental religious-confessional tensions of the Ǧafnids with the Byzantine imperial centre and its civil and ecclesiastical administration. The Ǧafnids and Ġassānids represented by al-Munḏir followed and supported a form of mono- or miaphysite Christianity classified as heretical by Constantinople at the latest from 542 onwards.[10] This variant of Christianity had been condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (451) and had alienated numerous Christians in the Egyptian and Syrian regions from the Byzantine imperial church.[11] Maurikios’s accusations, situated in the political-military sphere, were possibly supported by other actors. Among these we find the Patriarch Gregorios of Antioch, who endorsed the Chalcedonian creed and took exception both to the Ǧafnids’ miaphysite Christian denomination as to their involvement in spreading this form of Christianity among more southern Arab groups, including in Naǧrān.[12] The confessional opposition may have played a role for Maurikios as well, since he himself tried to impose the Chalcedonian creed on the Armenians after his accession to power.[13] However, in view of the complexity of the relations between imperially supported representatives of the Chalcedonenian creed and miaphysite groups, the confessional opposition should not be overemphasized.[14] While it seems wrong to negate the relevance of religious issues, the opposition between Maurikios and al-Munḏir is likely to have been of a political rather than a religious nature.

[§5] Shortly before the death of Tiberius, al-Munḏir was taken prisoner in Constantinople and sent from there into exile in Sicily immediately after Maurikios came to power in 582. He seems to have been accompanied by his wife, a daughter and a son, as well as several other people.[15] Pope Gregory’s letter was probably written in the later period of the latter’s exile. In his function as apocrisiarius sent by Pope Pelagius II to Constantinople, Gregory may have been a witness to al-Munḏir’s “coronation” reported by John of Biclaro for the year 575 or 580,[16] but also to the accusations, imprisonment and exile of al-Munḏir that followed later on.[17] It is clear in any case that he took up the cause of the exiled prince after his return to Italy and his election as pope.[18]

[§6] Irfan Shahîd explains the pope’s commitment with the latter’s critical attitude towards the Emperor Maurikios, which was related, among other things, to the emperor’s lack of support against the Lombards.[19] Shahîd justifies the fact that the Pope took a stand for a Monophysite Arab ruler with Gregory’s desire to win over al-Munḏir for the Chalcedonenian creed and the dogmatic compromise position advocated by Rome.[20] In the cited letter, al-Munḏir appears as a person known to the pope, who had already previously corresponded about the latter’s case with the prefect from North Africa. The letter shows that Gregory had empathy for the fate of the afflicted (afflictis) and also supported them, but that his efforts with the imperial leadership had so far been unsuccessful. A turning point was reached with the deposition of Maurikios and the usurpation of Phocas (r. 602-610). Phocas had the already ageing Ǧafnid prince return immediately from exile in 602, possibly in order to find allies in the Ǧafnids after his usurpation, which he could also use in the subsequent conflict with Sassanid Persia.[21]

[§7] Gregory's letter is relevant for the history of Latin- Arabic entanglement and trans-Mediterranean relations: thanks to its intensive connections to Constantinople, the Roman Church of the late sixth and early seventh centuries was well aware of the Arab world, observed its Christianization and was also informed about the political relations between the Eastern Roman imperial government and the Arab periphery. In this context, it should be noted that Gregory maintained relations with, among others, Bishop Marianus of Arabia, to whom he sent relics in 601.[22]

Editions & Translations

Gregorius Magnus, Registrum Epistularum, ed. Ludwig Hartmann (MGH Epp. in Quart 2: Gregorii papae registrum epistolarum, tomus II, libri VIII-XIV), Berlin: Weidmann, 1899, lib. X, cap. 16 (a. 600), pp. 250-252.

Gregorius Magnus, Registrum Epistularum, ed. Dag Norberg (CCL 140A), Turnhout: Brepols, 1982, pp. 844-845.

Cited & Additional Literature

The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, Volume 1: General Introduction, Documents Before the Council, Session 1, trans. Richard Price, Michael Gaddis, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007.

The Armenian History attributed to Sebeos, trans. R. W. Thomson, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999.

Dal Santo, Matthew: Gregory the Great, the Empire and the Emperor, in: Bronwen Neil, Matthew J. Dal Santo (eds), A Companion to Gregory the Great, Leiden: Brill, 2013, pp. 57-82.

Dallmayr, Horst: Die großen vier Konzilien: Nicaea, Konstantinopel, Ephesus, Chalcedon, München: Kösel, 1961.

Jaffé, Philipp: Regesta pontificum Romanorum: ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum MCXCVIII, vol. 1, second revised edition, Leipzig: Veit, 1885.

Fisher, Greg: Between Empires. Arabs, Romans, and Sasanians in Late Antiquity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Fisher, Greg: From Mavia to al-Mundhir. Arab Christians and Arab Tribes in the Late Antique Roman East, in: Kirill Dmitriev, Isabell Toral-Niehoff (eds), Religious Culture in Late Antique Arabia. Selected Studies on the Late Antique Religious Mind, Piscataway: Gorgias Press, pp. 165-218.

Hainthaler, Theresia: Christliche Araber vor dem Islam. Verbreitung und konfessionelle Zugehörigkeit. Eine Hinführung, Paris: Leuven, 2007.

König, Daniel: Arabic-Islamic Views of the Latin West. Tracing the Emergence of Medieval Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Richards, J.: Gregor I. d. Gr., Papst, I. Leben und Wirken, in: Lexikon des Mittelalters, 10 Bde., Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977-99, vol. 4, cols. 1663-64.

Rotter, Ekkehard: Abendland und Sarazenen, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1986.

Shahîd, Irfan: Ghassān, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam 2, vol. 2, Leiden: Brill, 1965, p. 1020.

Shahîd, Irfan: Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume I, Part 1: Political and Military History, Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, 1995.

Shahîd, Irfan: Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume II, Part 2, Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2009.

Recommended Citation

Daniel G. König, "600: Pope Gregory the Great Intervenes in Favour of the Exiled Ǧafnid Prince al-Munḏir b. al-Ḥāriṯ", in: Transmediterranean History. Commented Anthology of Primary Sources, ed. Daniel G. König, Theresa Jäckh, Eric Böhme, URL: https://wiki.uni-konstanz.de/transmed-en/index.php/600:_Pope_Gregory_the_Great_Intervenes_in_Favour_of_the_Exiled_Ǧafnid_Prince_al-Munḏir_b._al-Ḥāriṯ. Last Revision: 20.04.2022, Access: 29.11.2022.

Keywords

al-Munḏir, Arabs as part of the Imperium Romanum, Byzantium, Chalcedonian creed, Christian Arabs, Christianity, confession, dogma, Ǧafnids, Gregory I, images of the Other, Maurikios, Monophysites, Papacy, Phokas, religion, Romans and Latin Christians in the Eastern Mediterranean, Sicily, Tiberios


  1. Richards, Gregor I., col. 1663.
  2. Jaffé, Regesta, § 1785 (1322), p. 201.
  3. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 602-605, 618. See 575: A Hispano-Roman Visitor from the Visigoth Kingdom Observes Arab-Byzantine Relations.
  4. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp . 538-539.
  5. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 339-438.
  6. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, p. 440. See 575: A Hispano-Roman Visitor from the Visigoth Kingdom Observes Arab-Byzantine Relations.
  7. Greg Fisher, Between Empires, pp. 123, 176-183.
  8. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 441-447.
  9. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 420-25.
  10. Irfan Shahîd, Ghassān, p. 1020; Hainthaler, Christliche Araber, pp. 75-80; Fisher, Between Empires, pp. 56-57; Fisher, From Mavia to al-Mundhir, pp. 28-30.
  11. See The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, trans. Price, pp. 51-55.
  12. Irfan Shahîd, Ghassān, p. 1020; Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 21, 445-448.
  13. Armenian History Attributed to Sebeos, trans. R. W. Thomson, cap. 19, p. 37.
  14. Fisher, Between Empires, p. 60: “Both Chalcedonian and miaphysite positions were characterised by numerous rifts and schisms of varying severity in the sixth century; any picture of two well-defined and opposing religious movements would be misleading.”
  15. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 103-104.
  16. See 575: A Hispano-Roman Visitor from the Visigoth Kingdom Observes Arab-Byzantine Relations.
  17. On Gregory’s activities as apocrisiarius, see Dal Santo, Gregory, pp. 63-65.
  18. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 602-605, 618.
  19. See, for example, Gregory's letter to Emperor Maurikios of June 595: Gregorius I papa, Registrum epistolarum, vol. 1 (libri I-VII), ed. Ewald and Hartmann, ep. V,36, pp. 318-320; Dal Santo, Gregory, pp. 73-75.
  20. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, p. 604.
  21. Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. I,1, pp. 619, 622.
  22. Gregorius Magnus, Registrum, ed. Norberg (CCL 140a), lib. XI, cap. 20 (Febr. 601), p. 889; ed. Hartmann, p. 281. Also see Rotter, Abendland und Sarazenen, p. 246; König, Arabic-Islamic Views, p. 231.