The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Light-eyed Umayyads

Here's a fine Kristina Richardson article (h/t Zeca) on El Zarco. Apparently the creepiness of blue eyes wasn't just from A Swiftly Tilting Planet or, for that matter, Dune but had previously made an appearance in The Tempest. But the Arabs meant by azraq, "sparkly"; like early New Order, the early Arabs couldn't make out the differences.

Mas'udi might have been struggling toward it. His Tanbih states that northern Europeans (that is, not me) were so abyad pale that they approached azraq. De Vaux (tr. 38-9) interpreted this as so translucently white that veins were showing. (H/t Bernard Lewis.) Normally Arabs associated us northerners (and Iranians) with red, ahmar; see Suliman Bashear's Arabs and Others.

Richardson notes that the poetry has strongly associated Umayyads with zarq in the eyes. I can lodge an additional note that so did apocalyptic: David Cook, Muslim Apocalyptic, 43. One of the relevant prophecies (Nu'aym's) had been translated thusly by Wilferd Madelung in "Apocalyptic Prophecies", 148:

When Marwan b. al-Hakam was born, he was presented to the Prophet that he might pray for him, but he declined to do so. Then he said: 'The son of the blue-eyed woman (ibn al-zarqâ'), the perdition of most of my community will be through his hands and the hands of his offspring.'

For the identity of this Zarqâ'î, the Tradition flags Marwan bin Muhammad also-titled al-Ahmar (as aforementioned, the Red), al-'Abbas bin al-Walid and pretty much all the Spanish Umayyads. I'd seen reference to some of this before, but had forgotten it.

The Umayyads came to acquire this phenotype because, as they say, gentlemen prefer blondes. If you attend a Mawsili slave-market (and, why wouldn't you) then you'll see plenty.

I think this was later, though. It really wasn't all that common for the earlier generations of Umayyad princes to be born of slave-girls. In fact that was often part of the Umayyads' problems.

First there were those palace-intrigues. As Marwan the Elder learnt, you weren't able to promote one branch of the family without being (literally) suffocated by the women in the other. His son 'Abd al-Malik had better luck with his suffocatrix's daughter 'Âtika. But then there were those dust-ups over which prince's "turn" it was to take over: 'Abd al-'Aziz, or his son; or al-Walid, or...

And then... well, inbreeding. The same sources which note the later Umayyads' light eyes also note Yazid II, for having buckteeth (Richardson p. 22). His mother 'Âtika was - like 'Abd al-Malik - an Umayyad herself. She was daughter of Yazid I, hence Yazid II's own given name. Yazid himself was remembered as half-mad as well. Yazid II only became caliph in the first place because his brother was sickly as a child.

It was later on that the Umayyads had trouble keeping it in the, er, family. So you got princes like Yazid bin al-Walid - rather walad al-Walîd, wa Shâh-i Âfarîd. If the latter doesn't read to you like an Arab name then congratulations.

So I don't think the Tradition means all the early Umayyads as zarco (and I must interject that Richardson probably knows this and didn't intend otherwise!). Which is not to rule out a later 'Abbasi / Shi'a slur against the dynasty, based on the later Umayyads.


posted by Zimri on 17:49 | link | 0 comments

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