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larger tribes in Saudi Arabia

Deriyah, the old capital of the Ibn Saud dynasty

The following page deal with those tribes in Nejd where the famous and mysterious Nejd-horses came from. Because only few people from the west did travel to this distant and dangerous area we do not have many eye-witness accounts of those animals. Nevertheless most of Abbas Pasha´s horses have their origin here and also the horses bred in the north by Anaza and Shammar go back to those animals the tribes had brought north with them from Nejd in the past. Count Rzewuski therefore refers to both of these horse groups as Koheilan al Bedawi al Nejdi. Burckhardt estimated the number of horses in Nejd, Jebel Shammar and Gassim at the beginning 19th century as not above 10 thousand. In the light of other accounts this number seems too high. Palgrave states that the horses in Nejd were not common there and only owned by chiefs and considerably wealthy persons. The numbers of horsemen in the army of the house of Saud is given in various sources as: 7 in 1746, 3,000 in 1774 and 500 in 1819. 



The Mutair (also Muteyr, Mutayr, Muter) is today´s largest Bedouin tribe in Saudi Arabia with an estimated number of 1,2 million members in Nejd. Also many small families of the Mutair tribe live in the Gulf states. In the 14th to 16th century the Mutair became a strong tribe in the Hejas and started to move to Nejd where they had battles with such tribes as Anaza, Dhafeer, Al-Fodool and Qahtan. In the 17th and 18th century they became the dominant tribe in Nejd. In 1818 the Mutair beat Beni Khalid, the ruling tribe of the eastern part of Arabia, and as a result moved north-east from Nejd, so that they can be found between Riyadh and Kuwait until today (Oppenheim). Palgrave gives a population of 6,000 for 1863. The Mutair are divided in three major groups: Elwa, Beni Abdellah and Buraih. The leading family was Al Duwish/ Al Dewish/Al Dauwish or in the plural Al-Dushan/Al-Ddwshan/Doshan and belongs to the Elwa. They were famous as breeders of the Krush horses. They also bred Dahman horses, some of them found their way to Abbas Pasha. According to Lady Anne Blunt the Mutair were in the most repute as breeders of horses. They could turn out 400 horsemen and their best breeds have been Koheilan Ajuz, Koheilan Krush, Abayan Sherrak, Muniqi Hadruji and Rabda Keshylen, but they did not have any Saqlawis at all. The Krushiahs of Ibn Rasheed originally came from the Mutair and also Faisal al Iman had bought them from the tribe. The Mutair have also been famous for their black camels. The Mutair had a special habit: they let some of those black camels loose to run ahead of the main troops in battle (Glubb).


The Mutair accompanied Tussun in 1815 on his fruitless march into Gassim against the Wahhabites, who were allied with the Anaza of Nejd, their hereditary enemies. Later the Mutair were conquered by the Bedouin tribes Ibn Rasheeds. In the conflict between Abdulaziz Al Saud and Ibn Rasheed, Faisal al Duwish, the leader of al Mutair, in the beginning 20th century was first constantly changing sides. But he joined the Ikhwan (brotherhood) of Al Saud and led the Ikhwan movement with great enthusiasm, providing Ibn Saud with crucial military support and conquered Hejas for Ibn Saud in 1924. Later he led a rebellion against Ibn Saud and was defeated by Ibn Saud in the battle of Sbilla in 1929. Faisal fled to the British in Kuwait, but was handed over to Abdulaziz, thrown into prison and died there. Lady Anne Blunt received some horses from the Mutair with the assistance of Mutlak Ibn Batal, her stud master at Sheikh Obeyd, unfortunately, none of them has progency carrying on until today.

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Watering  camels in the desert near Tor al Tubayk, Gertrude Bell 1916, and black camel foals in Saudi Arabia in 2011.



The Utaybah/Otaiba/Atayban are a large Sunni tribe. In past times they lived around Taif in Hejas and had been in war with the Harb in the 18th century. So during that time they extended to central Nejd, taking over the grazing lands of the Qahtan tribe in western Nejd, pushing the Qahtan east and south. They are one of the largest Bedouin tribes in Arabia with branches even to Northern Africa (up to 5 million persons today).


In 1863 Palgrave gives an estimation of 12,000 persons in Nejd and today in about 50,000 live in Saudi Arabia. From the Hejas they moved to the Gassim and to the southern Harra at the foot of the Tuwaiq, where the best pastures of the Arabian peninsula were located. According to Oppenheim they had a great wealth of camels and horses. Also Burckhardt gives this information as far back as the beginning 19th century: because of the good pasture grounds they had an abundance of camels, sheep and also horses. Guarmani, an Italian traveler and horse buyer in Central Arabia (1863), joined the marching tribe of Utaybah. The Utaybah were at war with Faisal Ibn Saud and Guarmani witnessed a raid of his son Abdulla together with al Qahtan against al Utaybah, who had 200 horsemen and 700 shooters on camel. In this battle the Utaybah lost all their herds, 60 persons were killed and 200 wounded. But war still went on. With 400 horsemen and five thousand archers on dromedary they could win over the enemy only by betrayal and made a slaughter among them. As a result of Guarmani´s help in treating the wounded he was presented with a magnificent horse from the spoil and could buy three more stallions. There are three major branches of al Utaybah: Barga, Rwog (Ruge), Banu Saad (sons of Saad). During the Wahhabite wars they initially fought at the side of the Wahhabites, but later on the side of the Turks and Egyptians. They were enemies of the Ibn Rasheeds and made many forays into the north. After World War I they stood on the side of Ibn Saud. Their enemies in the south were the Qahtan, in the west the Harb. They were allied to the Mutair. The stallion Hadban 1878, a Hadban Enzahi, purchased by the Blunts in India, comes from Jakin Ibn Aghil, sheikh of the Daajini tribe of al Utaybah. Also the mare Shuema c.1850, who gave Shueyman c.1862, one of the stallions of Ali Pasha Sherif in Egypt, strain Shueymah Sabbah, comes from the Utaybah.

In the Nafud desert, Gertrude Bell 1913, left, and stallion Hadban of the Blunt´s Crabbet Park, England.

al Qahtan


The Qahtan/Katan are today a major tribe in the central part of southern Nejd. They are loyal to Ibn Saud since 1903, became Ikhwan and participated in most of Ibn Saud´s military expeditions. The Qahtan are existing since the beginning of the history of the Arabs and are regarded as a very noble tribe, from which many others have derived. The Qahtan had their home in the eastern and southern Asir and are not related to the Kahtan of Southern Arabia. They were one of the strongest tribes in middle Arabia (6,000 persons according to Palgrave) and divided into three groups: Abide, Al Muhammed and Al El Djimel. Although they stood at the side of the Wahhabites they were not directly affected by the Wahhabite wars.


This tribe is the origin of the Dahman Shahwan strain. According to Raswan the most important foundation mare of this strain in Egypt, El Dahmah, came from the Qahtan, from the Banu Hayr (Beni Hadjir) clan. Also the Krush strain originates with the Qahtan (Abbas Pasha Manuscript). Burckhardt writes: "The Beni Kahtan have been famous from the most remote antiquity... They possess a good breed of horses and their camel riders are the best soldiers of the southern plains". They were, like the Mutair, also known for their black camels. Al Dahdah reports of a famous epic, known as “Sirat al-Dayaghim” by ´Arara, son of Shahwan, “lamenting the loss of his entire clan in a flash flood that destroyed their camp while they were asleep at night. The story goes that one night, ´Arar felt that his horse Meshur was stomping the ground and neighing in signs of stress; sensing something unusual, `Arar mounted him and ran upstream of the wadi; there he saw a torrent of water racing towards him at great speed; he turned back to alert his sleeping clan, but the flood waters were faster and overran them and drowned them all; he was the sole survivor, thanks to his stallion´s alertness and sixth sense, and he composed that famous poem in lament… The semi-legendary, semi-factual story of the eventful migration of the Dayaghim under the leadership of `Arar (ibn Shahwan) from their original home in Wadi Tathlith in South West Saudi Arabia to the highlands of Nejd/Najd became a famous epic tale” recited by Bedouins around their camp fires. Meshur is named a “son of a “Dahmeh Kehileh mare” (Lady Blunt from a Bedouin narration of the Tarabin tribe (pronounced Trabin) from Sinai and the Negev, that had come originally from Central Arabia, from Wadi Turabah, pronounced Trabah).

Children, mare and riders at the National Guard near Riad in 1971, photos Margrit Seidlitz

Al Dhafeer

The Dhafeer/Dhafir tribe is of Southern Arabian origin and is derived from the Tai in the Northern Hejas. They lived in north eastern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and also some in Syria, that is in the desert south of the lower Euphrates. They were a rather heterogenic tribe and were allied with the Shammar and Muntafiq. In 1922 they were made Iraqi citizen by decree, but some of them returned to the Nejd. There are two main groups, the Semede and the Butun (Betun), including the Banu Husayn (Beni Husen) who bred two Egyptian foundation horses of the Dahman Shahwan strain. From the Suwayt ruling clan of al Dhafeer a mare, Kuhaylat al Maryum, came to the sheikh family of Ibn Muwayni of the Sba´a tribe. Thus, the Koheilan Mimrah strain (named after the breeder) came into being, one of the favorite strains of Abbas Pasha (Abbas Pasha Manuscript). The mare Donia in Egyptian breeding, grandmother of Mansour and Ibn Samhan, is from this marbat/family.

Sheikh Hamud of Dhafeer (Gertrude Bell 1913), and mare Almimruhiye 1931, a mare of the Kuhaylan Mimreh strain from Syria, one of Turkey´s foundation mares, bred by the Sba´ah.

Al Ajman


The Ajman (Odjman) came from the eastern Asir mountains bordering on the Hejas mountains in the south. They later moved to eastern Arabia (in modern Saudi Arabia west of the Gulf of Bahrain). Palgrave gives their population as 6,000 in 1863. Several Dahman Shahwan horses bred by the Ibn Hithlayn (Ibn Hethlen) family, who were among the sheikhs of Ajman, were influential in early Egyptian breeding (according to Raswan and The Abbas Pasha Manuscript), for example Talqa/Faras Naqadan c.1838, a Dahmah Shahwaniah of Abdallah Ibn Naqadan.

Al Dawasir


The Dawasir tribe (singular Dossary/Dosari) originated in Wadi Dawasir in southern Nejd. From where they spread in various parts of the Middle East including Bahrain and Kuwait. Also the important city of Dammam was founded by them. Some influential and wealthy families come from the Dawasir. Two branches exist: al-Zaid with the ruling family of Robia bin Zid, and Taghlib. The Beni Dowasar had been famous for their horses in the most remote antiquity together with the Beni Kahtan (Burckhardt). They numbered an estimated 5,000 persons in 1863 (Palgrave). Furtha Dhelall 1966, a stallion bred by Khalid Hamid al-Dawsari from al-Khabur, was exported to the U.S.A., a Hamdani.

Stallion Furtha Dhelall 1966, bred by Khalid Hamid al-Dawsari, exported to USA, a Hamdani.

Harb - the masters of Hejaz


The Harb/Beni Harb are a large tribe from the Hejas around Mekka and Medina. The name Harb means "war". Part of them have been nomads and breeding camels, part of them were settled. According to Burckhardt only those subtribes east of Medina had horses: The Mezeyne could muster 4 to 5 hundred horsemen and the Beni Safar and Beni Ammer 300. They have been feared for many centuries because they made attacks on the pilgrims´caravans, even when the surra had been paid to them. Some of the Harb have moved as far as the extreme north of Syria or north Iraq. The Harb accompanied Tussun´s army against the Wahabbites in 1815 and Ibrahim in 1816. Palgrave gives their population with 14,000 persons (1863). In the revolt of the desert against the Turks in World War I only part of the Harb fought on the side of Sherif Hussein. Most of them stood against Abdulaziz Ibn Saud in 1924, when Ibn Saud took the Hejaz. From the marbat of Muhsin al Farm, Sheikh of the Bani Ali section of the Harb, the strain Suwayti al Firm originates. The foundation stallion of modern Saudi Desert horses was bred by the Harb: Al-Harqan 1948, a gift of al Fadliyah from his famous Koheilan Harqan marbat. From the same strain the stallion Harqan/Harkan c.1865 of Ali Pasha Sherif comes, a son of Zobeyni out of Harka, a mare bred by the Rwala.


Stallion Safeer 1959 by Al Harqan, main stallion at King Abdul Aziz Horse center Dirab. (Photos Margrit Seidlitz and Erika Schiele)

Other principle tribes in Saudi Arabia are:

● Anayza/Anaza (from this tribe the house of al Saud comes, 3,000 persons according to Palgrave, 1863)

● Beni Khalid (3,000 persons according to Palgrave, 1863)

● Al Murrah (living near the Empty Quarter, the Rub al-Khali, where they could retreat and could not be bothered by anybody, supporters of Ibn Saud from the very beginning of his campaign, 4,000 persons according to Palgrave).

● Shammar (the Southern Shammar or Shammar Jebel with the house of al Rasheed in Hajl, see there)


About 15 minor tribes exist in Saudi Arabia, including the predominantly urban Quraysh, from which the prophet Mohamed comes.

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