Dhu Nuwas

Dhu Nuwas

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Yūsuf Dhū Nuwas, (also Yūsuf Asar Dhū Nuwas or Dunaan; ruled Circa 517–525) was the last king of the Himyarite kingdom of Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

 and a convert to Judaism.

Some sources state that he was the successor of Rabia ibn Mudhar, a member of the same dynasty; the archeologist Alessandro de Maigret believes he was a usurper.Nashwad bin Sa'id al-Himyari stated that he killed his predecessor with a stiletto hidden in his sandal while his predecessor was seducing the handsome Yusuf in his chambers. According to a number of medieval historians, who depend on the account of John of Ephesus
John of Ephesus
John of Ephesus was a leader of the non-Chalcedonian Syriac-speaking Church in the sixth century, and one of the earliest and most important of historians who wrote in Syriac.-Life:...

, Dhū Nuwas, who was a convert to Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, announced that he would persecute the Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

s living in his kingdom because Christian states persecuted his fellow co-religionists in their realms; a letter survives written by Simon, the bishop of Beth Arsham in 524 AD, recounts Dhū Nuwas' (where he is called Dimnon) persecution in Najran
Najran
Najran , formerly known as Aba as Sa'ud, is a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen. It is the capital of Najran Province. Designated a New town, Najran is one of the fastest-growing cities in the kingdom; its population has risen from 47,500 in 1974 and 90,983 in 1992 to...

 (modern al-Ukhdud in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

). The persecution is apparently described and condemned in the Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

 (al-Buruj:4).

According to the contemporary sources, after seizing the throne of the Himyarites, in ca. 518 or 523 Dhū Nuwas attacked the Aksumite (mainly Christian Ethiopians) garrison at Zafar
Zafar, Yemen
Ẓafār or Dhafar is an ancient Himyarite site situated in the Yemen, some 130 km south-south-east of the capital Sana'a. Given mention in different ancient texts, there is little doubt about the pronunciation of the name...

, capturing them and burning their churches. He then moved against Najran
Najran
Najran , formerly known as Aba as Sa'ud, is a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen. It is the capital of Najran Province. Designated a New town, Najran is one of the fastest-growing cities in the kingdom; its population has risen from 47,500 in 1974 and 90,983 in 1992 to...

, a Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 and Aksumite stronghold. After accepting the city's capitulation, he massacred those inhabitants who would not renounce Christianity. Estimates of the death toll from this event range up to 20,000 in some sources.

Dhū Nuwas then proceeded to write a letter to the Lakhmid king Mundhir
Al-Mundhir of Hira
Al-Mundhir of Hira can refer to either of four Lakhmid rulers of al-Hira:* al-Mundhir I ibn al-Nu'man * al-Mundhir II ibn al-Mundhir * al-Mundhir III ibn al-Nu'man * al-Mundhir IV ibn al-Mundhir...

 of al-Ħīra
Al-Hirah
Al Hīra was an ancient city located south of al-Kufah in south-central Iraq.- Middle Ages:Al Hīra was a significant city in pre-Islamic Arab history. Originally a military encampment, in the 5th and 6th centuries CE it became the capital of the Lakhmids.The Arabs were migrating into the Near East...

 and King Kavadh I
Kavadh I
Kavad or Kavadh I was the son of Peroz I and the nineteenth Sassanid king of Persia, reigning from 488 to 531...

 of Persia, informing them of his deed and encouraging them to do likewise to the Christians under their dominion. Al-Mundhir received this letter in January 519 as he was receiving an embassy from Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 seeking to forge a peace between the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 and Hira. He revealed the contents of the letter to the Roman ambassadors who were horrified at its contents. Word of the slaughter quickly spread throughout the Roman and Persian realms, and refugees from Najran even reached the court of the Roman emperor Justin I
Justin I
Justin I was Byzantine Emperor from 518 to 527. He rose through the ranks of the army and ultimately became its Emperor, in spite of the fact he was illiterate and almost 70 years old at the time of accession...

 himself, begging him to avenge the martyred Christians.

The slaughter of the Axumite garrison in Zafar
Zafar, Yemen
Ẓafār or Dhafar is an ancient Himyarite site situated in the Yemen, some 130 km south-south-east of the capital Sana'a. Given mention in different ancient texts, there is little doubt about the pronunciation of the name...

 also provoked a response from Kaleb
Kaleb of Axum
Kaleb is perhaps the best-documented, if not best-known, king of Axum. Procopius of Caesarea calls him "Hellestheaeus", a variant of his throne name Ella Atsbeha or Ella Asbeha...

, King of Axum. Procopius
Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

 reports that Kaleb (whom he calls Hellesthaeus) with the help of Justin, the Roman Emperor, collected a fleet and crossed from Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 to Yemen, where he defeated Dhū Nuwas about the year 520 or 525 (1.20). Kaleb then appointed his Christian South Arabian follower Sumuafa' Ashawa' to rule Yemen as his viceroy
Viceroy
A viceroy is a royal official who runs a country, colony, or province in the name of and as representative of the monarch. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roi, meaning king. A viceroy's province or larger territory is called a viceroyalty...

.

Arab tradition states that Dhū Nuwas committed suicide by riding his horse into the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

. De Maigret reports that another South Arabian inscription from Husn al-Ghurab may indicate that he was killed in battle fighting against Kaleb's army.
De Maigret also reports that in 1951, three inscriptions were found just north of al-Ukhdud
Najran
Najran , formerly known as Aba as Sa'ud, is a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen. It is the capital of Najran Province. Designated a New town, Najran is one of the fastest-growing cities in the kingdom; its population has risen from 47,500 in 1974 and 90,983 in 1992 to...

, which refer to a military campaign led by Dhū Nuwas (where he is called Yūsuf Asar Yathar), and are dated to the year 633 of the Himyarite era, equivalent to AD 518 or 523.

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