Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mavia, (ماوية‎, Māwiyya) an Arab warrior-queen

Mavia was a Tanukh ( تنوخ‎), An Arab tribe that had migrated northwards from the Arabian peninsula because of the growing influence in Iran in the area. She married al-Hawari, the last king of the semi-nomadic Tanukh confederation in southern Syria in the latter half of the fourth century. When he died in 375 CE Mavia rose to rule the confederation.

After al-Hawari's death, death in 375 AD, the Roman emperor Valens, disregarded the requests of the Arabs and appointed them an Arian bishop. This sparked an uprising, and Mavia withdrew her people from Aleppo and moved into the desert, were she formed alliances with desert Arabs, and gained support throughout much of Arabia and Syria. 


In the spring of 378 CE Mavia began to fight a guerrilla style war against the Romans, moving about the desert on horseback and striking Roman forces whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was during her military exploits that she met an ascetic monk who so impressed her that she converted to Orthodox Christianity, and her conditions for any truce with Rome, was this monk's appointment as bishop over her people.

Her forces were difficult for Rome to deal with. The Tanuhk had fought side by side with Roman soldiers for over a century, since they assisted in quelling the uprising by Zenobia a century earlier.  The Tanuhk cavalry was faster, and their lances longer, and they had the advantage of their knowledge of the terrain.   Furthermore, the Tanuhk had no home base, giving the Romans no target to aim at.  

The Arab Warrior Leading a Charge, Adolf Schreyer (1828-1899) German

Rome had to call on it’s finest soldiers; lead by the Commander in Chief of the Eastern Roman military himself.  But that didn't stop Mavia or her men, who defeated the reinforcements, killing their commander in the process.  Without additional troops to call upon for assistance the emperor was forced to sue for peace, allowing Mavia to choose the bishop of her people; a man named Moses, of Saracen birth who had lead an especially pious life in the desert, earning their respect as a people.

As part of the truce agreement, Mavia sent her forces to Thrace to help the Romans fight the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople. Her forces proved less effective outside of their native territory and the Goths pushed the Romans back to Constantinople, even killing the emperor. 

Mavia's forces returned home, badly bruised and depleted in number. The new emperor, Theodosius I, favored the Goths, giving them many positions within the Roman establishment, at the expense of the Arabs. After having demonstrated their loyalty to Rome, the Arabs felt increasingly betrayed and mounted another revolt in 383 CE. This revolt was quickly put down and the Tanukh-Roman alliance ended for good, as Rome courted another Arab tribe, the Salih.

To solidify the peace, Mavia married her daughter to Victor, a prominent military official under Valens. Marriage to Victor was a was a big plus, because that suddenly put her in the center of the Roman-Byzantine administration.

Mavia died in Anasartha, east of Aleppo in the heart of the Tanukh tribal territory, where there is an inscription recording her death there in 425 CE.

More at:  Wikipedia INSCMedia, Archaeology Magazine