Arabia, and some of the Bedouins from The Arab Horse Chapter II

Articles of History: Voices from the Past

See Also:                                   Maidan                                  CHAPTER VI – SOME LAST WORDS   From: The Arab Horse Chapter II Arabia, And Some of the Bedouins by Spencer BordenNew York, 1906 from the Khamsat VolumeFoun Number Three August 1987           At the northeastern courner of the Mediterranean Sea, just below the point where the southern coast of Asia minor joins the western coast of Syria, lies the town of Scanderoon, the ancient city of Alexandretta. This is the seaport for Aleppo, ancient Haleb, about one hundred miles to the east and a little south, for centuries a trading centre whence go caravans of merchandise to the towns far down the Euphrates, and where are brought the grains and wool that come in return. Almost due east of Scanderoon, about five hundred miles distant, is Mosul, on the River Tigris, which from this point flows south and a little easterly about four hundred miles till it joins the Euphrates near Bussorah, the two rivers thus joined flowing into the Persian Gulf. About two hundred miles below Mosul is Bagdad, also on theit gris River. The Euphrates and Tigris nearly unite at this point, but again separate to join farther down, as already noted. Still farther east, nearly parallel with the tigris is the western frontier of Persia.

The line from Scanderoon to Mosul may be taken as the northern boundary of Arabia. The western frontier of Persia, then the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, mark its eastern boundary. On the south lies the Indian Ocean. On the west are the red Sea, Palestine, and Syria. From this rapid sketch one can get an idea of the great areas of the country. Coming in at the northwestern corner from the mountains of Asia Minor, the Euphrates River crosses the upper end of Arabia at a slant from northwest to southeast, and the valley of the euphrates ha for thousands of years been a most important route of Communication between the Orient and western nations. Indeed, until the discovery of the way around the Cap of Good Hope, and later the construction of the Suez Canal, it was the only route and its cities were the great centres of commerce for the world.

When we speak of Arabia we are apt to forget what the country once stood for. Between the Tigris and Euphrates is the land of Mesopotamia. Here was believed to have been the Garden of Eden – whatever that may mean – the place whence the human race spread abroad to populate the earth. Mosul, already mentioned, is the site of Nineveh, capital of the great Assyrian Empire. Fifty miles south of Bagdad are the ruins of Babylon, where the children of Israel were in captivity, and within ten miles of Babylon are still to be seen the remains of the Tower of Babel. El Uz, below Bagdad, on the Euphrates, was the home of Job; and from Chaldea, east of the Euphrates, came Abraham, father of the Hebrew race.

Through this land Alexander the Great marched to the conquest of India, after having overthrown the Babylonian Empire. In a straight line west of Deyr on the Euphrates, and half way between that point and Damascus, is Tadmur, the ancient Palmyra, capital city of Zenobia, that Queen who was conquered by Aurelian, and carried away to Rome to grace his triumphal entry.

Later in the Christian Era Mohammed established his religion at Mecca and Medina, far down in the Arabian peninsula. The Mohammedan chaliphs afterward made Bagdad their capital, and held a court there that was glittering in riches, the home of art, science, poetry; the scene of the Arabian Nights Entertainments until Timour the Tartar with his hordes of barbarians poured down from the North and drowned the country in blood. In ancient days this country was the home of science. Some of the earliest astronomers were Arabs of Chaldea, and our present system of numerals, which makes modern mathematical calculations possible, the decimal system, was an Arabian invention of Palestine, upper Africa, and Europe, which was an Arabian overrunning.

What is most germane to our present investigation, however, is the fact that this country is the place where the horse has attained his highest perfection; where he has been bred pure by a careful system of selection and adhered to for hundreds of years, a system, not departed from in the slightest degree. It has come to be acknowledged by the most intelligent breeders that thorough breeding in horses is chiefly a calculation of the amount of Arab blood they posses, just as gold stands as a measure of value in the currency of a country the value of a coin consisting of the amount of gold it contains.

The oldest and most exclusive registry in the world – the one at the foundation of all more recent works of the kind is “Weatherby’s General Stud Book of Thoroughbred Horses,” the only recognized organ of the English Jockey Club. The makers of that Stud Book recognized in the beginning, and today make the specific statement in writing that “Native Arabs, with the Barbs, are the source from whence the race horse springs.”

The history of the Arab horse is not merely the romantic tale of imaginative writers, though poets have sung his praises, artists have painted his graceful form on canvas, and sculptors have made use of him as their model. Job describes him in words that could apply to no other horse and the horses from the frieze of the Parthenon at Athens, the Elgin marbles now in the British Museum, could have been modelled from none but Arabians.

It is fortunate, however, that before it was too late, careful travellers, scholars and horsemen, such as Major Roger Upton and the Blunts, have visited the land of the Arab horse and written in books what they learned from original sources of this interesting subject.

Upton and the Blunts both made two journeys to Arabia in the years between 1870 and 1880. In both of Upton’s journeys he had the company and assistance of H.M.Consul General at Aleppo, Mr. Skene. His wanderings were extended both in distance and in time. Hon. Henry Chaplin, former Minister of Agriculture in Great Britain, breeder and owner of the famous Derby winner Hermit, tells us that Upton went a thousand miles into the desert south of Tadmur to get the horses procured for him, and he was gone two years. Both Chaplin and the Weatherbys are sponsors for the truth of every statement made by Upton.

After Upton went Mr. Wilfred Scawen Blunt and his wife, Lady Anne Blunt, a granddaughter of Lord Byron. Their first journey was in the winter of 1877-78, three years after Upton, and they covered much of the same ground as he, meeting many of the same people, thought they went also further east than Upton. Leaving Aleppo in January, 1878, they reached the valley of the Euphrates as soon as possible, then followed the river as far as Bagdad. From Aleppo to Deyr they had the company of Mr. Skene, who went with Upton. Then he turned back to Aleppo as his consular prerogatives went no further in that direction, the Blunts proceeding to Bagdad alone. From that point, after crossing the Tigris River they went north and east to Shergat, nearly up to Mosul, traversing a quite new country for Western voyagers. At Shergat they turned west to again come to Deyr, where Mr. Skene had agreed to meet them on a fixed day. This he was unable to do. He was old, infirm, and, while waiting, his successor came from England, so he was detained. The Blunts were most anxious to go among the Anazah Bedouins, with whom Upton spent the greater part of his time, and to meet such of his friends as they might, being especially anxious to see Jedaan, their War Sheik – known as the “Rob Roy of the Desert”. After great difficulties they got away from Deyr, and in due time reached Tadmur, about half way in the direct line between Deyr and Damascus. Near this point Mr. Skene overtook them, went with them among the Anazah, helped them to buy horses and continued with them to Damascus. From that point the Blunts returned to England via Beirut, Mr. Skene went back to Aleppo. The next winter found the Blunts again at Damascus, from which point they made a journey across the southern desert to Nejd, a part of the world not reached by Upton; in fact a place that no more than half a dozen Europeans are known to have ever seen.

The results of Upton’s visit were written in two books, “Newmarket and Arabia,” a sketchy statement of early impressions, and a more serious work, “Gleanings from the Desert of Arabia,” published after his death; now, unfortunately, out of print, and copies extremely difficult to obtain.

Lady Anne Blunt, also wrote two books of absorbing interest, “The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates,” a journal of her first journey, and the “Pilgrimage to Nejd,” the story of the second. No one can read these books without being impressed with the veracity and intelligence of the writers. Weatherbey & Sons, publishers of the “General Stud Book,” say that they consider Mr. Wilfrid S. Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt the foremost living authorities on Arab horses. On these sources of information the present writing in large measure depends, wherever they touch the matter in hand.

Some of the individuals met by Upton and the Blunts were most interesting personages. Their introduction to the reader will help him to appreciate the sources of information, and the surroundings whence came many very great mares and stallions.

The Anazah Bedouins have always been the greatest horse breeders. Each tribe of the Anazah has its individual leader or Sheik, and at the time of Upton’s visit all the tribes of Anazah were united under one very remarkable man named Suleiman ibn Mirshid, who was called the Sheik of Sheiks. He was not only a great warrior, but also a wise administrator of te the internal affairs of the tribes.

Some years before the time of Upton’s visit the Shammar tribes had been united also under a great leader named Abd-ul-Kerim. The Shammar were Bedouins who came originally from Nejd, one thousand or fifteen hundred miles lower down in the Arabian peninsula. Something more than two hundred years ago, under the guidance of a Sheik named Faris, they had come north with their flocks and camels, invading the pasture lands always occupied by the Anazeh. These latter did not hesitate to wage war on the Shammar, and drove them across the Euphrates into Mesopotamia, to a point near Mosul. Abd-ul-Kerim was the descendant of that Faris in the sixth generation, and inherited the feud that always existed between the Shammar and the Anazah, periodical raids across the river being the consequence, in both directions; the land between the Tigris and Euphrates being considered the home of the Shammar, that between the Euphrates and Damascus, and reaching from the neighborhood of Aleppo far south toward Jebel Shammar, being the pasture lands conceded to the Anazah. The vital importance of protecting these pastures and the necessity for extensive ranges will be understood as we read from Lady Anne Blunt’s first book, that she saw together in one place a hundred and fifty thousand camels, besides thousands of sheep and many horses, all the property of a single tribe of Anazeh, the Roala, whose tents covered an area of 12 square miles. These great encampments had to be moved every few days because the pasturage was eaten down to the bare ground in very short order by the thousands of animals feeding thereon.

Yet Abd-ul-Kerim, though bound by hereditary obligation to fight the Anazah whenever and wherever they met, regarded the amenities of life, and his honour became a proverb throughout the length and breadth of the desert. It happened that at one period in his life, in his boyhood, he lived among the Anazah in the tents of Jedaan’s father. So, though when they had grown to manhood these two were bound to be always at war, Abd-ul-Kerin never forgot his affection for his boyhood friend. It happened then that Abd-ul-Kerim, in the course of the civil war, caught Jedaan’s forces in such a position that they were at his mercy. The trap was to be sprung on the morrow and Abd-ul-Kerim meant to push his advantage to the utmost. Yet he wanted to spare Jedaan individually. Therefore, the night preceding the day of the climax, he sent one of his men to Jedaan’s camp with his own white mare, bearing a message to Jedaan that the morrow meant certain defeat for Anazah, and begging him to accept Abd-ul-Kerim’s mare, and to ride her in the battle, as she was swifter than any animal belonging to the Shammar forces and could take him safely away. This Jedaan did and saved himself. Upton saw Abd-ul-Kerim’s mare in his possession when he visited the Anazah in 1875, and describes her.

Shortly afterward Abd-ul-Kerim, who had been successful in defeating the Turks who sought to subdue the Shammar, was betrayed into their hands by his secretary, an Armenian. They hung him from a bridge at Mosul.

His brother Farhan, a reprobate, submitted to the Turks, accepted from them the title of Pasha, and at the time of the visit of the Blunts to Mesopotamia was in receipt from them of a salary of Lb3,000 per annun.

The more noble of the Shammar, however, joined themselves to a younger brother named Faris, who declared unending war on the Turks and all who held to Turks. He was visited by the Blunts, adopted Mr. Blunt as his brother, by solemn rites, and is described by Lady Anne Blunt as a most brave, courteous and intelligent gentleman of distinguished appearance and manners.

It is this policy of “divide and conquer” that has marked the entire intercourse of the Turks and the Bedouins. So long as Suleiman ibn Mirshid lived he kept the Anazah tribes solidly combined. Shortly after Upton’s visit, however, and a little time before that of the Blunts, he allowed himself to accept an invitation from the Turkish Governor at Deyr, to visit the town and make a treaty of commerce between his tribes and the Turks, for exchange of products. At a banquet which was served to mark the close of the agreement, poison was put in the cup of coffee which was handed Suleiman, and he fell back dead as soon as he had drunk it. Confusion followed among his tribesmen.

Then the seeds of discord were sown among the individual tribes of the Anazah. Their herds of camels, their sheep, their horses were so numerous that it required a wise hand to guide them safely, assigning pasturage to each tribe according to its requirements. The Sebaa and Gomussa tribes had always made use of the district between Homs and Hamah, above Damascus, on the western side of the desert. The next year when they came to their usual district they found their brethren, the Roala, there before them. These had been told by the wily Turk that their fellow tribesmen of the Sebaa and Gomussa were not treating them justly. They were advised to take their great flock and herds, whose numbers have been mentioned, to the good pastures before the others could reach them, and were assured that the Turks would help them hold what they seized. In an evil hour they accepted the advice; Suleiman ibn Mirshid having been murdered was not at hand to arrange the difficulty, so when the Blunts were among the Anazah they found a factional war being waged. Sotaam ibn Shallin was leader of the Roala against the combined Sebaa and Gomussa. Suleiman had been succeeded by his two cousins, Beteyan ibn Mirshid and his brother, neither of whom had a tithe of his administrative ability, and as neither was able to wage the war against the Roala, they had made Jedaan their Akil, or War Sheik, to manage that end of the tribal business.

From what has been said it is easy to understand the wretched condition of affairs among the Bedouins for the ten years between 1874 and 1884. Let us remember, also, that during that period the Russo-Turkish war was carried on, so that relief from the usual aggression of the Turks, left the Bedouins free to fight among themselves. It was during the raids and counter-raids of this time that many priceless animals changed hands, to be run hot haste by their captors into the towns bordering the desert for sale to save them from recapture. It is certain that in the decade mentioned more high-caste Arab horses came out of the desert than ever before or since.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR – SPENCER BORDEN: An early American breeder of Arabians, Spencer Borden was at one time the owner of the famed Blunt mare *Rose of Sharon and the noted Ali Pasha Sherif mare *Gazala. Some well known Al Khamsa horses bred by Spencer Borden include the stallion Segario and the mares Ophir, Guemera and Gulnare.