Thursday, July 29, 2004

Syrian Buffalo Herds

While continuing to read al-Baladhuri's Futuh al-Buldan, I ran across a tradition that in the early 8th century, Syria developed a lion problem, so the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I sent 4000 buffalo to the area to drive them away.

Buffalo? Clearly, I thought, the meaning of this Arabic word has changed with time. However, from Encyclopedia Britannica, I learned that there were in fact buffalo in Southeast Asia and the jungles of sub-Saharan Africa. The tradition in the text went on to state that the Muslims gained thousands of buffalo from the conquest of Sind, and that those who were not sent to Syria were left in some place called Kaskar. Furthermore, during the reign of Yazid II, another 4000 buffalo were confiscated from the Bani al-Muhallab and sent to join the others in Syria, along with a bunch of South Asians. They were there at least until the Abbasid period.

So I guess thousands of buffalo used to roam Syria. Who knew?


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