Banu Kilab

The Banu Kilab (Arabic: بنو كِلاب, romanized: Banū Kilāb) was a Bedouin (nomadic Arab) tribe in the western Najd (central Arabia) where they controlled the horse-breeding pastures of Dariyya from the mid-6th century until at least the mid-9th century. The tribe was divided into ten branches, the most prominent being the Ja'far, Abu Bakr, Amr, Dibab and Abd Allah. The Ja'far led the Kilab and its parent tribe of Banu Amir, and, at times, the larger Hawazin tribal confederation from the time of the Kilab's entry into the historical record, c.550, until the advent of Islam, c.630, except for two occasions when the larger Abu Bakr was at the helm. Under the Ja'far's leadership the Kilab defeated the Banu Tamim, the Lakhmid kings of al-Hira, and the Kindite kings of Bahrayn, at the Battle of Shi'b Jabala, c.570–580. The Ja'far guarded Lakhmid caravans from al-Hira to the annual Ukaz fair in the Hejaz (western Arabia), and the killing of the Ja'far chief Urwa al-Rahhal as he escorted one such caravan led to the four-year Fijar War between the Hawazin and Quraysh of Mecca. Although the Hawazin had originally been called to arms by the Ja'far chief Abu Bara, the Kilab's participation in the war was limited.

Banu Kilab
Qaysi Arab tribe
Location6th century CE–9th century: Central Arabia
7th century–13th century: Northern Syria
Descended fromKilab ibn Rabi'a ibn Amir
Parent tribeBanu Amir ibn Sa'sa'
  • Abd Allah
  • Abu Bakr
  • Al-Adbat
  • Amr
    • Banu Zufar
  • Amir
    • Wahid
  • Ja'far
  • Ka'b
  • Mu'awiya al-Dibab
    • Banu Bayhas
  • Rabi'a
  • Ru'as
ReligionPolytheism (pre-630)
Islam (post 630)
Shia Islam (10th-11th centuries)

The Kilab, or at least the Ja'far chief Amir ibn al-Tufayl, was involved in the massacre of Muslims at Bir Ma'una in 626 after they were dispatched on a mission by the Islamic prophet Muhammad under Abu Bara's protection. Amir ibn al-Tufayl's successor Alqama ibn Ulatha converted to Islam, followed by other tribesmen, including the prominent poet Labid and al-Dahhak ibn Sufyan, who was dispatched by Muhammad on an expedition against a recalcitrant Kilabi clan. The Banu Amir played a minor role in the early Muslim conquests, but members of the Kilab later established themselves in the Arab garrison towns of Kufa and Basra in Iraq and several, including Aslam ibn Zur'a of the especially warlike Amr and his family, were governors of Basra, Khurasan, and other eastern provinces under the Umayyad caliphs in 661–750.

A chief of the Amr, Zufar ibn al-Harith, led the rebel Qays nomads of the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) and Jund Qinnasrin (northern Syria) after their rout by the Umayyads and the rival tribe of Banu Kalb at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 684. Zufar reconciled with the Umayyads in 691, obtaining courtly and military privileges later inherited by his family, who were generally recognized as the preeminent leaders of the Qays. Zufar's grandson Abu al-Ward led an abortive Qaysi revolt against the Umayyads' Abbasid successors in 750. In 813 a chief of the Dibab and the Qays in Damascus, Ibn Bayhas, crushed a Kalb-backed Umayyad revolt against the Abbasids, after which he ruled Damascus for ten years. The Kilab in Arabia were assaulted by the Abbasids in the 840s and there were two more mass migrations of Kilabi tribesmen from Arabia to northern Syria in the 9th and 10th centuries, the last associated with the rebellious Qarmatian movement. Through their numerical strength, skilled swordsmanship, and Bedouin mobility, the Kilab became the dominant military force in northern Syria. Two brothers from the Amr were appointed governors of Aleppo under the Ikshidids of Egypt in 939 and the 940s until they handed over power under pressure from rival Kilabi chiefs to the Hamdanid emir Sayf al-Dawla in 944. The Kilab often rebelled against the Hamdanids and participated in their intra-dynastic disputes.

In the early 11th century, Salih ibn Mirdas, a chief from the Abu Bakr assumed leadership of the Kilab and defeated the Hamdanids' successor Mansur ibn Lu'lu', who had massacred or imprisoned numerous Kilabi chiefs. By 1025 Salih established an Aleppo-based emirate (principality) that spanned much of the western Jazira and northern Syria. His Mirdasid dynasty ruled Aleppo more or less continuously until 1080. The tribe formed the core of the Mirdasid army and defended their Aleppine realm, defeating the Byzantine emperor Romanos III at the Battle of Azaz in 1030 and fending off several Fatimid assaults in later years. Recurring internal divisions had sapped the tribe's strength by the reign of the last Mirdasid emir. Although they retained scattered fortresses and remained a major source of military recruitment for the Mirdasids' successors, Muslim ibn Quraysh of the Arab Uqaylid dynasty (1080–1086) and the Turkish Seljuks (1086–12th century), they lost their paramountcy to Turkmen groups which had begun entering northern Syria in significant numbers from the late 11th century. The Ayyubid emir of Aleppo az-Zahir Ghazi (r. 1186–1210) confiscated the Kilab's last holdings in the region and put the tribe under the authority of the amir al-arab (state-sponsored commander of the Bedouin), an office held by the Al Fadl house of the rival Banu Tayy. Part of the Kilab migrated to Anatolia, reappearing in 1262 as auxiliaries of the Armenians in a raid against the Mamluks at Ayn Tab. In 1277 the tribe submitted to the Mamluk sultan Baybars in northern Syria.

The way of life of the Kilab in Syria resembled their pre-Islamic existence in Arabia. There were raids and counter-raids against neighboring tribes and between the tribe itself, characterized by individual duels and boasts of valor, and motivated by booty or revenge. Young tribesmen spent the springtime horse-racing and wine-drinking. Mass banquets were held for special occasions, such as weddings and circumcisions, where guests feasted on madira, a dish of meat cooked in yogurt and chunks of bread. The women of the Kilab in Syria generally enjoyed equality with the men of the tribe and a number of Kilabi women played prominent roles in Mirdasid politics. The Kilab in Syria were Twelver Shia Muslims, though the extent of their adherence to the faith was unclear.