their principal wealth consisted in their camels, horses, and male and female slaves.
They were a nomad race, changing their residence to the various places within their own territory, which afforded the best pasturage as the seasons came round.
Brave and chivalrous, the Arab was always ready to defend the stranger who claimed his protection, while he would stand by a member of his own clan and defend him with his life, whether he were right or wrong. This devotion to the tribe was one of the strongest characteristics of the Arabs, and must be borne in mind if we would understand aright the early history of Islâm.
They were generous and hospitable to a fault, and many a tale is told of a chief who gave away his last camel, or slew his favourite horse to feed a guest, while he and his family were well-nigh left to starve.
Pride of birth was their passion, and poetry their greatest delight; their bards recited the noble pedigrees and doughty deeds of their tribes, — as their own proverb has it, ‘ the registers of the Arabs are the verses of their bards,’ — and in the numerous ancient poems still extant we have invaluable materials for the history of the race.
But their vices were as conspicuous as their virtues, and drunkenness, gambling, and the grossest immorality were very prevalent amongst them; Robbery and murder were their ordinary occupations, for an Arab looked on work or agriculture as beneath his dignity, and thought that he had a prescriptive right to the property of those who condescended to such mean offices. The death of an Arab, however, was revenged with such rigour and vindictiveness by the fierce laws of the blood feud, that a certain check was placed upon their bloodthirsty propensities even in their wars; and these were still further tempered by the institution of certain sacred months, during which it was unlawful to fight or pillage. Cruel, and superstitious too, they were, and amongst the inhuman customs which Mohammed swept away, none is more revolting than that, commonly practised by them, of burying their female children alive.