- Inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and Syrian desert since long before the rise of Islam (q.v.). Before the fourth century, the caravan trade to Syria (q.v.) gave rise to the Nabataean kingdom with its capital at Petra (q.v.), succeeded by the kingdom of Palmyra (q.v.), whose Arab queen Zenobia was conquered by the emperor Aurelian in 273. Roman policy focused on protecting the empire's Syrian border against raids of nomadic Bedouins (Arabic for "desert dwellers"). To this end, frontier fortifications (limes [q.v.]) were erected in Syria, and Arab client states were cultivated as allies of the empire. In the sixth century, the Ghassanids (q.v.) of Syria were the most important Arab foederati (q.v.). Under the banner of Islam (q.v.) in the seventh century, the Bedouin tribes burst through the Syrian frontier, conquering most of Byzantium's eastern possessions, including Egypt (q.v.) and North Africa. In Asia Minor (q.v.) the Byzantine-Arab struggle began in 646 and went on for centuries. In the process the Arabs created a world civilization under the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs (qq.v.), and they transmitted ancient Greek science, medicine and philosophy (qq.v.) to the West.
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .
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