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Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 5, by Edward Gibbon, [1788], at

Chapter LI: Conquests By The Arabs. Part IV.

Another expedition of the conquerors of Damascus will equally display their avidity and their contempt for the riches of the present world. They were informed that the produce and manufactures of the country were annually collected in the fair of Abyla,  64 about thirty miles from the city; that the cell of a devout hermit was visited at the same time by a multitude of pilgrims; and that the festival of trade and superstition would be ennobled by the nuptials of the daughter of the governor of Tripoli. Abdallah, the son of Jaafar, a glorious and holy martyr, undertook, with a banner of five hundred horse, the pious and profitable commission of despoiling the infidels. As he approached the fair of Abyla, he was astonished by the report of this mighty concourse of Jews and Christians, Greeks, and Armenians, of natives of Syria and of strangers of Egypt, to the number of ten thousand, besides a guard of five thousand horse that attended the person of the bride. The Saracens paused: "For my own part," said Abdallah, "I dare not go back: our foes are many, our danger is great, but our reward is splendid and secure, either in this life or in the life to come. Let every man, according to his inclination, advance or retire." Not a Mussulman deserted his standard. "Lead the way," said Abdallah to his Christian guide, "and you shall see what the companions of the prophet can perform." They charged in five squadrons; but after the first advantage of the surprise, they were encompassed and almost overwhelmed by the multitude of their enemies; and their valiant band is fancifully compared to a white spot in the skin of a black camel.  65 About the hour of sunset, when their weapons dropped from their hands, when they panted on the verge of eternity, they discovered an approaching cloud of dust; they heard the welcome sound of the tecbir,  66 and they soon perceived the standard of Caled, who flew to their relief with the utmost speed of his cavalry. The Christians were broken by his attack, and slaughtered in their flight, as far as the river of Tripoli. They left behind them the various riches of the fair; the merchandises that were exposed for sale, the money that was brought for purchase, the gay decorations of the nuptials, and the governor's daughter, with forty of her female attendants. The fruits, provisions, and furniture, the money, plate, and jewels, were diligently laden on the backs of horses, asses, and mules; and the holy robbers returned in triumph to Damascus. The hermit, after a short and angry controversy with Caled, declined the crown of martyrdom, and was left alive in the solitary scene of blood and devastation.


64 Dair Abil Kodos. After retrenching the last word, the epithet, holy, I discover the Abila of Lysanias between Damascus and Heliopolis: the name (Abil signifies a vineyard) concurs with the situation to justify my conjecture, (Reland, Palestin. tom. i. p 317, tom. ii. p. 526, 527.)

65 I am bolder than Mr. Ockley, (vol. i. p. 164,) who dares not insert this figurative expression in the text, though he observes in a marginal note, that the Arabians often borrow their similes from that useful and familiar animal. The reindeer may be equally famous in the songs of the Laplanders.

66 We hear the tecbir; so the Arabs call Their shout of onset, when with loud appeal They challenge heaven, as if demanding conquest. This word, so formidable in their holy wars, is a verb active, (says Ockley in his index,) of the second conjugation, from Kabbara, which signifies saying Alla Acbar, God is most mighty!

Next: Chapter LI: Conquests By The Arabs. Part V.