Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Banu Kilab

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Nisba  Kilābī
Parent tribe  Banu 'Amir ibn Sa'sa'
Banu Kilab
Location  6th century CE–9th century: Central Arabia 7th century–13th century: Northern Syria
Descended from  Kilab ibn Rabi'ah ibn 'Amir
Branches  'Abd Allah Abu Bakr Mirdasid dynasty Al-Adbat 'Amir 'Amr Ja'far Ka'b Mu'awiyah al-Dibab Rabi'ah Ru'as
Religion  Polytheism (pre-630) Islam (post 630) Shia Islam (10th-11th centuries)

Banu Kilab (/ALA-LC: Banū Kilāb) was an Arab tribe that dominated central Arabia during the late pre-Islamic era. It was a major branch of the Banu 'Amir ibn Sa'sa' tribe and was thus of north Arabian or Qaysi lineage. During and after the Muslim conquest of Syria, Kilabi tribesmen migrated to northern Syria. Their chieftain Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi led the Qaysi revolt against the Umayyad Caliphate until he secured peace with the latter in 691.


Two more mass migrations of Kilabi tribesmen to northern Syria occurred in the 9th and 10th centuries, the last wave being associated with the rebellious Qarmatian movement. By their numerical strength, skilled swordsmanship and Bedouin mobility, the Banu Kilab emerged as the dominant military force in the desert steppe north of Palmyra and around Aleppo at the expense of well-established, semi-sedentary tribes. They were involved in the rise of the Hamdanid dynasty in the late 10th century, but often rebelled and participated in intra-dynastic disputes. In the early 11th century, the Kilabi chief Salih ibn Mirdas assumed leadership of the tribe and by 1025 established an emirate (principality) based in Aleppo that included much of western Upper Mesopotamia and northern Syria. His Mirdasid dynasty ruled Aleppo more or less continuously until 1080.


The Banu Kilab were a major branch of the Banu 'Amir ibn Sa'sa', a large Bedouin (nomadic Arab) tribal confederation, which was first mentioned in the mid-6th century. The Banu Kilab's progenitor was a certain Kilab ibn Rabi'ah ibn 'Amir. The Banu Kilab's original homeland was in central Najd, in a large area that would become known as the Ḥima Ḍarīyya. A ḥima (pl. aḥmāʾ; protected or forbidden place) was an area with some vegetation in the desert reserved for the breeding of Arabian horses, that unlike camels, required water and herbaceous vegetation daily. The zone was controlled by a certain tribe and access to the ḥima was restricted to members of the tribe. The aḥmāʾ first emerged in Najd in the 5th or 6th centuries, and the most famous ḥima was the Ḥima Ḍarīyya, according to historian Irfan Shahid. At one point in the pre-Islamic era (pre-630s), the Banu Kilab controlled nine-tenths of the Ḥima Ḍarīyya.


There were at least ten first-tier divisions of the Banu Kilab, each named after a son of Kilab ibn Rabi'ah. They were the following: 'Abd Allah, Abu Bakr, al-Adbat, 'Amir, 'Amr, Ja'far, Ka'b, Mu'awiyah al-Dibab, Rabi'ah and Ru'as. According to historian Werner Caskel, the major divisions were 'Abd Allah, Abu Bakr, 'Amr, Ja'far and Mu'awiyah al-Dibab. In the pre-Islamic era, the preeminent chieftains of the Banu Kilab came from the Ja'far division, but the largest and strongest division of the Banu Kilab was the Abu Bakr. The 'Amr were the second largest and the other divisions were somewhat smaller.

Each division was composed of several branches and sub-tribes. Of the Abu Bakr were 'Abd, 'Abd Allah and Ka'b; the latter's largest sub-tribes were the 'Arar, Awf and Rabi'ah, all descended from Ka'b ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Abu Bakr. The Mirdasid dynasty belonged to the Rabi'ah sub-tribe. The Ja'far's branches were al-Ahwas, Khalid, Malik and 'Utba. The well-known Arab poet, Labīd, was a member of the Malik branch.

Pre-Islamic era

The Banu Amir's original homeland was the area between the Turubah and Ranyah oases and the area north of these. The Kilab migrated from this region northward and northwestward into the greater vicinity of Diriyah and eventually, its sub-tribes occupied the stretch of territory between Diriyah and Turubah. The internal unity of the Kilab in the pre-Islamic era was known to be particularly strong. Kilab territory was bordered to the east by the Tamim and Ribab tribes, to the northeast by Banu Asad, to the north and northwest by the Ghatafan, to the southwest by Sulaym and Hawazin, and to the south by the Khath'am and various Yemeni tribes. Other than the Sulaym and Hawazin, with whom the Kilab had cordial relations, the Kilab was in a constant state of hostilities with the rest of the neighboring tribes.

Muhammad's era

They were involved in many military conflicts with him. The first was heard the news of this massacre during the Expedition of Bir Maona reached Muhammad, he was greatly grieved and sent Amr bin Umayyah al-Damri and an Ansar to investigate the whole matter. On his way back to Qarqara, Amr bin Umayyah rested in the shade of a tree, and there two men of Banu Kilab joined him. When they slept, Amr killed them both, thinking that by doing that he would avenge some of his killed companions. The Kilab were also the target of the Expedition of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq in December 628. Muhammad ordered this expedition to attack the Banu Kilab tribe Many people were killed
(at least 7 families killed according to Sunan Abu Dawud) by Muslims

Muhammad also ordered an attack against them during the Expedition of Dahhak al-Kilabi in June 630. With the purpose of calling the Banu Kilab tribe to embrace Islam Fighting broke out and the Muslim killed one person.

Muhammad also ordered the Expedition of Khalid ibn al-Walid (2nd Dumatul Jandal) in April 631 to demolish an idol called Wadd, worshipped by the Banu Kilab tribe

Early migrations and leadership of Qays

Clans from the Kilabi divisions of Abu Bakr, 'Amr, 'Abd Allah, Mu'awiyah and possibly Ja'far, migrated to Syria during and soon after the Muslim conquest of that region in the 630s. This represented the first major wave of Kilabi migration to Syria. While the Abu Bakr division was the largest Kilabi unit in Arabia, the 'Amr were apparently the largest and strongest unit in Syria at least until the 9th century. The Kilab first established themselves in the area west of the northern Euphrates Valley in Jund Qinnasrin (District of Chalcis). Many of the Kilab newcomers were brought in as troops by the governor of Syria, Mu'awiyah I, during Caliph Uthman's reign (644–656). Mu'awiyah (r. 661–680) later established the Umayyad Caliphate and appointed a leading chieftain of the Kilab, Zufar ibn al-Harith, as governor of Qinnasrin. Zufar hailed from the 'Amr division, which according to historian Suhayl Zakkar, "was always distinguished by its militant and warlike attitude".

When the Umayyad caliph Yazid I and his successor Mu'awiyah II died in quick succession in 683–684, Syria was in disarray. Amid these circumstances, Zufar revolted and gave his allegiance to the rebel leader Abdullah ibn Zubayr. He then dispatched Arab troops from Qinnasrin to assist the Qaysi general al-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fihri against an Umayyad–Kalb force at the Battle of Marj Rahit near Damascus in 684, during which al-Dahhak was killed and the Qays routed. Consequently, Zufar fled to the Euphrates town of al-Qarqisiyah, expelled the Umayyad governor, fortified the town and established it as a center of Qaysi resistance to the Umayyad state. In 691, Caliph Abd al-Malik made a peace agreement with Zufar whereby the latter defected from Ibn Zubayr in exchange for a prominent position in the Umayyad court and military. Zufar's sons Hudhayl and Kawthar, who were particularly active during the reigns of caliphs Sulayman (715–717) and Umar II (717–720), were regarded as preeminent chiefs of the Qays and were highly respected by the caliphs.

Dominance of northern Syria

The Abbasids succeeded the Umayyads in 750. A century later, during the reign of Caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861), law and order throughout Syria began to break down and this process accelerated in the years following his death. The political vacuum and frequent revolts paved the way for the Kilab to strengthen their influence in northern Syria. Sometime during the 9th century, a second major wave of Kilabi tribesmen, likely from the 'Amr division, migrated to the area from Arabia. By the time Ahmad ibn Tulun, the nominal Abbasid governor of Egypt, conquered Syria in 878, the "Kilab ... established themselves as a force to be reckoned with", according to historian Kamal Salibi. In 882, the Kilab provided critical assistance to Ibn Tulun in his suppression of two uprisings, the first led by an Abbasid prince and the second by the rebel Tulunid governor of northern Syria. Both rebellions were apparently backed by older-established Arab tribes and peasant clans whose lands were being encroached upon by the Kilab.

The Kilab firmly established themselves as the predominant tribe in the region north of the Palmyrene steppe and west of the Euphrates in the early to mid-10th century. At that time, a third major wave of Kilabi migration, principally from the Abu Bakr division, invaded northern Syria; the medieval Aleppine chronicler Ibn al-Adim puts the date of the Kilabi invasion at 932 and states the tribesmen largely came from the Abu Bakr clans of Subaya and Dhu'ayba. As a result, the Abu Bakr came to outnumber the 'Amr division. Zakkar writes that the entry of new Kilabi tribesmen "no doubt had some considerable effect on the life and organization of the whole body of Kilab" in Syria, but "it is very difficult, if not impossible, to find any reliable information concerning this".

The 10th-century Kilabi invasion may have been encouraged or directly supported by the Qarmatian movement based in eastern Arabia. The Qarmatians, whose troops largely consisted of Bedouin tribes, launched a series of invasions against Syria in the 10th century, the first occurring in 902. The Kilab and other branches of the Banu 'Amir provided the bulk of Qarmatians' military personnel. At the time, the Arab tribes of Syria and Mesopotamia experienced marked population growth, which coincided with rising grain prices. This, according to historian Thierry Bianquis, made the tribes "susceptible to Qarmatian [sic] propaganda denouncing the wealth of the urban Sunni population and the luxury of the pilgrimage caravans". The tribes frequently raided the agricultural lands of Hama, Maarrat al-Nu'man and Salamiyah, but nonetheless integrated well with the rural population due to their shared Shia Muslim faith; the Qarmatians too were Shia, following a version of Ismailism.

In 937, the Kilabi newcomers captured Maarat al-Nu'man, plundered the surrounding countryside and took captive its governor and local garrison after the latter put up resistance. The dominance of the Kilabi Bedouins prevented Muhammad ibn Tughj al-Ikhshid (r. 935–946), the ruler of Egypt and southern Syria, from effectively governing northern Syria, which he conquered in the late 930s. He formed an alliance with part of the Kilab, appointing Ahmad ibn Sa'id al-Kilabi, from the 'Amr division, as governor of Aleppo in 939. In the months after, the Ikshidids were driven out of northern Syria by the Abbasids. Between 941 and 944, the political situation in northern Syria was fluid, and at one point, al-Ikhshid reoccupied northern Syria. Al-Ikhshid appointed Ahmad ibn Sa'id governor of Antioch and the latter's brother Uthman governor of Aleppo.

Involvement with the Hamdanids

The appointments of Ahmad and Uthman aroused the jealousy of other Kilabi chieftains who, seeking to replace their kinsmen, invited Nasir al-Dawla, the Hamdanid ruler of Mosul, to invade Aleppo with their assistance. Nasir al-Dawla's brother, Sayf al-Dawla entered Aleppo in October 944 and was greeted by Uthman, who took Sayf on a tour of each of the villages in Aleppo's domain. Ibn al-Adim asserts it was the internal divisions among the Kilab that enabled Sayf to successfully establish himself in Aleppo. Sayf later enlisted Kilabi tribesmen in his failed attempt to conquer Ikhshidid-controlled southern Syria in 946. However, due to incessant Bedouin raids against his subjects, Sayf evicted most of the tribes from northern Syria and into Upper Mesopotamia. An apparent exception to these expulsions was the Kilab, who were the only tribe authorized to inhabit northern Syria. Nonetheless, they were in conflict with Sayf at some point, but by the time he died in 967, he granted the Kilab amān (pardon).

Throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, the Kilab "represented an organised military force with powerful cavalry trained in mounted swordsmanship and not fearing to confront a government army on the field of battle", according to Bianquis. Salibi notes the northern Syrian Kilab's main military assets were their "Bedouin swiftness of movement" and their kinship connections with the Kilab in Upper Mesopotamia. The tribe "served those who paid most and often, at a time of crisis, would sell their employer to the highest bidder", according to Zakkar. And so it was with the Hamdanids and their opponents; Kilabi tribes were involved in every Hamdanid struggle with the Byzantine Empire, every uprising against them and in intra-dynastic conflicts over the emirate of Aleppo. According to Bianquis, "in the event of victory", the Kilab expected their employer to grant them iqtaʿat (income-producing properties; sing. iqtaʿ). Sayf's successor, Sa'd al-Dawla (r. 967–991), had five hundred Bedouin warriors from the 'Amr in his army in 983, indicating the large size of that Kilabi division. Meanwhile, Bakjur, Sa'd al-Dawla's rebellious ghulam (slave soldier), had his own contingent of Kilabi warriors when he fought Sa'd al-Dawla in 991.

In 1008/09, the Kilab were employed by a Byzantine-Marwanid alliance to help install Sa'd al-Dawla's son, Abu'l Hayja, as the emir of Aleppo to replace Mansur ibn Lu'lu', the Fatimid-allied ruler of the emirate. However, the Kilab collaborated with the Fatimids and betrayed the Marwanids. When the Fatimids turned against Mansur in 1011/12 and gained promises of Kilabi support to restore Hamdanid rule in Aleppo, the Kilab betrayed the Fatimids. Thus, the tribe "saved Mansur b. Lu'lu' on two occasions by their inaction", according to Bianquis. In return, the Kilab demanded from Mansur iqtaʿat in the fertile pastures around Aleppo to raise their sheep and horses. To relieve his obligations to the Kilab, Mansur employed a ruse whereby he invited 1,000 Kilabi tribesmen to a feast at his palace in Aleppo on 27 May 1012, only to trap and assault the tribesmen. Those among the Kilabi invitees who were not massacred were imprisoned in the dungeons of the Citadel of Aleppo.

Rise of Salih ibn Mirdas

Upon hearing of Mansur's actions, Muqallid ibn Za'ida, a Kilabi emir from Aleppo's outskirts, launched an assault against Kafartab to pressure Mansur; the latter responded by relocating his Kilabi prisoners to facilities with better conditions and paying favorable treatment to Muqallid's brothers, Hamid and Jami'. However, after Muqallid was killed and the Kilab aborted their siege against Kafartab, Mansur returned the prisoners to the dungeons, where many Kilabi chieftains were tortured, executed or died of poor conditions.

Among the Kilabi prisoners was Salih ibn Mirdas, an emir from a princely family belonging to the Abu Bakr division who had captured al-Rahba in 1008/09. Salih was subjected to particularly brutal torture and humiliation by Mansur. Mansur forced a few Kilabi chieftains to accept his terms and had them released in 1013, but most Kilabi prisoners remained incarcerated, including Salih, whose "boldness and resentment increased", according to Zakkar. Salih escaped from the citadel in 1014 and rallied his surviving tribesmen at their encampments in Marj Dabiq. The Kilab united behind Salih, who soon after led them in their siege against Aleppo.

The Kilab and Mansur's army of ghilman clashed several times, and Mansur was able to inflict losses on the Kilab and plunder part of their camp. Encouraged by this, Mansur recruited local toughs, including many Aleppine Jews and Christians, and confronted Salih's Kilabi warriors at the outskirts of Aleppo on 13 August 1014. The Kilab routed Mansur's army, killing some 2,000 Aleppine irregulars and capturing Mansur and his senior commanders. Nonetheless, the Kilab were unable to capture Aleppo, which was defended by Mansur's brothers and mother. Negotiations for Mansur's release concluded with the release of the Kilabi prisoners and a promise to assign the Kilab half of the emirate of Aleppo's revenues. Moreover, Salih was recognized by Mansur as the supreme emir of the Kilab.

In the following years, Salih consolidated his authority over the Kilab and expanded his emirate to include the important Euphrates fortress towns of Manbij and Balis. Mansur did not comply with his assignment to the Kilab of their share of Aleppo's revenues, provoking Kilabi raids against Aleppo's countryside. In 1016, Mansur fled Aleppo after the commander of its citadel, Fath al-Qal'i, revolted. Salih persuaded Fath to abide by Mansur's promises to the Kilab, but Fath also ceded Aleppo to the Fatimids to Salih's chagrin. The Kilab were not strong enough to challenge the Fatimids, but friendly relations were established between Salih and the Fatimid governor, Aziz al-Dawla. By the time the latter was assassinated in 1022, Salih had added the towns of Rafaniyah and Raqqa to his emirate. In 1024, an alliance was formed between the Kilab and the Banu Kalb and Banu Tayy, the strongest Arab tribes in central Syria and Transjordan, respectively. Salih's forces captured Aleppo and its emirate that year, along with Homs, Baalbek, Sidon and Hisn Akkar, while the Fatimids' hold on the rest of Syria was considerably weakened.

Mirdasid emirate

Salih "brought to success the plan which had guided his [Kilabi] forebears for a century" with his capture of Aleppo, according to Bianquis. With Aleppo as capital, Salih established his Mirdasid emirate along the lines of a traditional medieval Islamic state, with a qadi to oversee the judiciary, a fiscal administration and a vizier to oversee state affairs. In addition, a new post was established, known as shaykh al-dawla (chieftain of the state), which was reserved for Salih's trusted Kilabi confidant, and each Kilabi chieftain was assigned an iqtaʿ. In 1028, the Fatimid governor of Syria, Anushtakin al-Dizbari, moved against the Kilab and the Tayy, having secured the defection of the Kalb to the Fatimids. Opposed to Tayyi/Jarrahid domination of Palestine and Mirdasid control of central Syria, Anushtakin confronted Salih and the Jarrahid emir Hassan ibn Mufarrij at the Battle of al-Uqhuwana near Tiberias in 1029. Salih was slain, and Anushtakin seized the Mirdasids' central Syrian domains.


Banu Kilab Wikipedia