Pre-Islamic Arabia refers to the Arabian Peninsula prior to the rise of Islam in the 630s.
Some of the settled communities developed into distinctive civilizations, and are limited to archaeological evidence, accounts written outside of Arabia and Arab oral traditions later recorded by Islamic scholars. Among the most prominent civilizations were the Thamud which arose around 3000 BCE and lasted to about 300 CE and Dilmun which arose around the end of the fourth millennium and lasted to about 600 CE. Additionally, from the beginning of the first millennium BCE, Southern Arabia was the home to a number of kingdoms such as the Sabaeans and Eastern Arabia was inhabited by Semitic speakers who presumably migrated from the southwest, such as the so-called Samad population. A few nodal points were controlled by Iranian Parthian and Sassanian colonists.
Pre-Islamic religion in Arabia consisted of indigenous polytheistic beliefs, Ancient Arabian Christianity, Nestorian Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. It is called the period of Jahilliyyah that is the age of ignorance.
Scientific studies of Pre-Islamic Arabs starts with the Arabists of the early 19th century when they managed to decipher epigraphic Old South Arabian (10th century BCE), Ancient North Arabian (6th century BCE) and other writings of pre-Islamic Arabia. Thus, studies are no longer limited to the written traditions, which are not local due to the lack of surviving Arab historians' accounts of that era; the paucity of material is compensated for by written sources from other cultures (such as Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, etc.), so it was not known in great detail. From the 3rd century CE, Arabian history becomes more tangible with the rise of the Ḥimyarite, and with the appearance of the Qaḥṭānites in the Levant and the gradual assimilation of the Nabataeans by the Qaḥṭānites in the early centuries CE, a pattern of expansion exceeded in the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. Sources of history include archaeological evidence, foreign accounts and oral traditions later recorded by Islamic scholars—especially in the pre-Islamic poems—and the Ḥadīth, plus a number of ancient Arab documents that survived into medieval times when portions of them were cited or recorded. Archaeological exploration in the Arabian Peninsula has been sparse but fruitful; and many ancient sites have been identified by modern excavations. The most recent detailed study of pre-Islamic Arabia is Arabs and Empires Before Islam, published by Oxford University Press in 2015. This book collects a diverse range of ancient texts and inscriptions for the history especially of the norther region during this time period.
Prehistoric to Iron Age
Magan, Midian, and ʿĀd
Further information: ʿĀd, Midian, and Majan (Civilization)
- Magan is attested as the name of a trading partner of the Sumerians. It is often assumed to have been located in Oman.
- The A'adids established themselves in South Arabia (modern-day Yemen), settling to the east of the Qahtan tribe. They established the Kingdom of ʿĀd around the 10th century BCE to the 3rd century CE.
The ʿĀd nation were known to the Greeks and Egyptians. Claudius Ptolemy's Geographos (2nd century CE) refers to the area as the "land of the Iobaritae" a region which legend later referred to as Ubar.
The origin of the Midianites has not been established. Because of the Mycenaean motifs on what is referred to as Midianite pottery, some scholars including George Mendenhall, Peter Parr, and Beno Rothenberg have suggested that the Midianites were originally Sea Peoples who migrated from the Aegean region and imposed themselves on a pre-existing Semitic stratum. The question of the origin of the Midianites still remains open.
Main articles: Eastern Arabia and Christians in the Persian Gulf
The sedentary people of pre-Islamic Eastern Arabia were mainly Aramaic speakers and to some degree Persian speakers while Syriac functioned as a liturgical language. In pre-Islamic times, the population of Eastern Arabia consisted of Christianized Arabs (including Abd al-Qays), Aramean Christians, Persian-speaking Zoroastrians and Jewish agriculturalists. According to Robert Bertram Serjeant, the Baharna may be the Arabized "descendants of converts from the original population of Christians (Aramaeans), Jews and ancient Persians (Majus) inhabiting the island and cultivated coastal provinces of Eastern Arabia at the time of the Arab conquest".. Other archaeological assemblages cannot be clearly brought clearly into larger context, such as the préislamique récente and Samad Late Iron Age.
Zoroastrianism was also present in Eastern Arabia. The Zoroastrians of Eastern Arabia were known as "Majoos" in pre-Islamic times. The sedentary dialects of Eastern Arabia, including Bahrani Arabic, were influenced by Akkadian, Aramaic and Syriac languages.
Main article: Dilmun
The Dilmun civilization was an important trading centre which at the height of its power controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes. The Sumerians regarded Dilmun as holy land. Dilmun is regarded as one of the oldest ancient civilizations in the Middle East. The Sumerians described Dilmun as a paradise garden in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Sumerian tale of the garden paradise of Dilmun may have been an inspiration for the Garden of Eden story. Dilmun appears first in Sumeriancuneiform clay tablets dated to the end of fourth millennium BCE, found in the temple of goddess Inanna, in the city of Uruk. The adjective "Dilmun" is used to describe a type of axe and one specific official; in addition there are lists of rations of wool issued to people connected with Dilmun.
Dilmun was an important trading center from the late fourth millennium to 1800 BCE. At the height of Dilmun's power, Dilmun controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes. Dilmun was very prosperous during the first 300 years of the second millennium. Dilmun's commercial power began to decline between 2000 BCE and 1800 BCE because piracy flourished in the Persian Gulf. In 600 BCE, the Babylonians and later the Persians added Dilmun to their empires.
The Dilmun civilization was the centre of commercial activities linking traditional agriculture of the land with maritime trade between diverse regions as the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia in the early period and China and the Mediterranean in the later period (from the 3rd to the 16th century CE).
Dilmun was mentioned in two letters dated to the reign of Burna-Buriash II (c. 1370 BCE) recovered from Nippur, during the Kassite dynasty of Babylon. These letters were from a provincial official, Ilī-ippašra, in Dilmun to his friend Enlil-kidinni in Mesopotamia. The names referred to are Akkadian. These letters and other documents, hint at an administrative relationship between Dilmun and Babylon at that time. Following the collapse of the Kassite dynasty, Mesopotamian documents make no mention of Dilmun with the exception of Assyrian inscriptions dated to 1250 BCE which proclaimed the Assyrian king to be king of Dilmun and Meluhha. Assyrian inscriptions recorded tribute from Dilmun. There are other Assyrian inscriptions during the first millennium BCE indicating Assyrian sovereignty over Dilmun. Dilmun was also later on controlled by the Kassite dynasty in Mesopotamia.
Dilmun, sometimes described as "the place where the sun rises" and "the Land of the Living", is the scene of some versions of the Sumerian creation myth, and the place where the deified Sumerian hero of the flood, Utnapishtim (Ziusudra), was taken by the gods to live forever. Thorkild Jacobsen's translation of the Eridu Genesis calls it "Mount Dilmun" which he locates as a "faraway, half-mythical place".
Dilmun is also described in the epic story of Enki and Ninhursag as the site at which the Creation occurred. The promise of Enki to Ninhursag, the Earth Mother:
For Dilmun, the land of my lady's heart, I will create long waterways, rivers and canals, whereby water will flow to quench the thirst of all beings and bring abundance to all that lives.
Ninlil, the Sumerian goddess of air and south wind had her home in Dilmun. It is also featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
However, in the early epic "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta", the main events, which center on Enmerkar's construction of the ziggurats in Uruk and Eridu, are described as taking place in a world "before Dilmun had yet been settled".
Main article: Gerrha
Gerrha (Arabic جرهاء), was an ancient city of Eastern Arabia, on the west side of the Persian Gulf. More accurately, the ancient city of Gerrha has been determined to have existed near or under the present fort of Uqair. This fort is 50 miles northeast of Al-Hasa in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. This site was first proposed by R E Cheesman in 1924.
Gerrha and Uqair are archaeological sites on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Prior to Gerrha, the area belonged to the Dilmun civilization, which was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 709 BCE. Gerrha was the center of an Arab kingdom from approximately 650 BCE to circa 300 CE. The kingdom was attacked by Antiochus III the Great in 205-204 BCE, though it seems to have survived. It is currently unknown exactly when Gerrha fell, but the area was under Sassanid Persian control after 300 CE.
Gerrha was described by Strabo as inhabited by Chaldean exiles from Babylon, who built their houses of salt and repaired them by the application of salt water. Pliny the Elder (lust. Nat. vi. 32) says it was 5 miles in circumference with towers built of square blocks of salt.
Gerrha was destroyed by the Qarmatians in the end of the 9th century where all inhabitants were massacred (300,000). It was 2 miles from the Persian Gulf near current day Hofuf. The researcher Abdulkhaliq Al Janbi argued in his book that Gerrha was most likely the ancient city of Hajar, located in modern-day Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. Al Janbi's theory is the most widely accepted one by modern scholars, although there are some difficulties with this argument given that Al Ahsa is 60 km inland and thus less likely to be the starting point for a trader's route, making the location within the archipelago of islands comprising the modern Kingdom of Bahrain, particularly the main island of Bahrain itself, another possibility.
Various other identifications of the site have been attempted, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville choosing Qatif, Carsten Niebuhr preferring Kuwait and C Forster suggesting the ruins at the head of the bay behind the islands of Bahrain.
Main article: Tylos
Bahrain was referred to by the Greeks as Tylos, the centre of pearl trading, when Nearchus came to discover it serving under Alexander the Great. From the 6th to 3rd century BCE Bahrain was included in Persian Empire by Achaemenians, an Iranian dynasty. The Greek admiral Nearchus is believed to have been the first of Alexander's commanders to visit this islands, and he found a verdant land that was part of a wide trading network; he recorded: “That in the island of Tylos, situated in the Persian Gulf, are large plantations of cotton tree, from which are manufactured clothes called sindones, a very different degrees of value, some being costly, others less expensive. The use of these is not confined to India, but extends to Arabia.” The Greek historian, Theophrastus, states that much of the islands were covered in these cotton trees and that Tylos was famous for exporting walking canes engraved with emblems that were customarily carried in Babylon.Ares was also worshipped by the ancient Baharna and the Greek colonists.
It is not known whether Bahrain was part of the Seleucid Empire, although the archaeological site at Qalat Al Bahrain has been proposed as a Seleucid base in the Persian Gulf. Alexander had planned to settle the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf with Greek colonists, and although it is not clear that this happened on the scale he envisaged, Tylos was very much part of the Hellenised world: the language of the upper classes was Greek (although Aramaic was in everyday use), while Zeus was worshipped in the form of the Arabian sun-god Shams. Tylos even became the site of Greek athletic contests.
The name Tylos is thought to be a Hellenisation of the Semitic, Tilmun (from Dilmun). The term Tylos was commonly used for the islands until Ptolemy’sGeographia when the inhabitants are referred to as 'Thilouanoi'. Some place names in Bahrain go back to the Tylos era, for instance, the residential suburb of Arad in Muharraq, is believed to originate from "Arados", the ancient Greek name for Muharraq island.
Herodotus's account (written c. 440 BCE) refers to the Io and Europa myths. (History, I:1).
According to the Persians best informed in history, the Phoenicians began the quarrel. These people, who had formerly dwelt on the shores of the Erythraean Sea (the eastern part of the Arabia peninsula), having migrated to the Mediterranean and settled in the parts which they now inhabit, began at once, they say, to adventure on long voyages, freighting their vessels with the wares of Egypt and Assyria...
The Greek historian Strabo believed the Phoenicians originated from Eastern Arabia.Herodotus also believed that the homeland of the Phoenicians was Eastern Arabia. This theory was accepted by the 19th-century German classicist Arnold Heeren who said that: "In the Greek geographers, for instance, we read of two islands, named Tyrus or Tylos, and Arad, Bahrain, which boasted that they were the mother country of the Phoenicians, and exhibited relics of Phoenician temples." The people of Tyre in particular have long maintained Persian Gulf origins, and the similarity in the words "Tylos" and "Tyre" has been commented upon. However, there is little evidence of occupation at all in Bahrain during the time when such migration had supposedly taken place.
With the waning of Seleucid Greek power, Tylos was incorporated into Characene or Mesenian, the state founded in what today is Kuwait by Hyspaosines in 127 BCE. A building inscriptions found in Bahrain indicate that Hyspoasines occupied the islands, (and it also mention his wife, Thalassia).
Parthian and Sassanid
From the 3rd century BCE to arrival of Islam in the 7th century CE, Eastern Arabia was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties of the Parthians and Sassanids.
By about 250 BCE, the Seleucids lost their territories to Parthians, an Iranian tribe from Central Asia. The Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in the southern coast of Persian Gulf.
In the 3rd century CE, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam four centuries later.Ardashir, the first ruler of the Iranian Sassanians dynasty marched down the Persian Gulf to Oman and Bahrain and defeated Sanatruq  (or Satiran), probably the Parthian governor of Eastern Arabia. He appointed his son Shapur I as governor of Eastern Arabia. Shapur constructed a new city there and named it Batan Ardashir after his father. At this time, Eastern Arabia incorporated the southern Sassanid province covering the Persian Gulf's southern shore plus the archipelago of Bahrain. The southern province of the Sassanids was subdivided into three districts of Haggar (Hofuf, Saudi Arabia), Batan Ardashir (al-Qatif province, Saudi Arabia), and Mishmahig (Muharraq, Bahrain; also referred to as Samahij) (In Middle-Persian/Pahlavi means "ewe-fish".) which included the Bahrain archipelago that was earlier called Aval. The name, meaning 'ewe-fish' would appear to suggest that the name /Tulos/ is related to Hebrew /ṭāleh/ 'lamb' (Strong's 2924).
Main article: Christians in the Persian Gulf
The Christian name used for the region encompassing north-eastern Arabia was Beth Qatraye, or "the Isles". The name translates to 'region of the Qataris' in Syriac. It included Bahrain, Tarout Island, Al-Khatt, Al-Hasa, and Qatar.
By the 5th century, Beth Qatraye was a major centre for Nestorian Christianity, which had come to dominate the southern shores of the Persian Gulf. As a sect, the Nestorians were often persecuted as heretics by the Byzantine Empire, but eastern Arabia was outside the Empire's control offering some safety. Several notable Nestorian writers originated from Beth Qatraye, including Isaac of Nineveh, Dadisho Qatraya, Gabriel of Qatar and Ahob of Qatar. Christianity's significance was diminished by the arrival of Islam in Eastern Arabia by 628. In 676, the bishops of Beth Qatraye stopped attending synods; although the practice of Christianity persisted in the region until the late 9th century.
The dioceses of Beth Qatraye did not form an ecclesiastical province, except for a short period during the mid-to-late seventh century. They were instead subject to the Metropolitan of Fars.
Main article: Christians in the Persian Gulf
Oman and the United Arab Emirates comprised the ecclesiastical province known as Beth Mazunaye. The name was derived from 'Mazun', the Persian name for Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
South Arabian kingdoms
Main articles: Ancient history of Yemen; South Arabia; and Zafar, Yemen
Kingdom of Ma'īn (7th century BCE – 1st century BCE)
Main article: Minaeans
During Minaean rule, the capital was at Karna (now known as Sa'dah). Their other important city was Yathill (now known as Baraqish). The Minaean Kingdom was centered in northwestern Yemen, with most of its cities lying along WādīMadhab. Minaean inscriptions have been found far afield of the Kingdom of Maīin, as far away as al-Ūlā in northwestern Saudi Arabia and even on the island of Delos and Egypt. It was the first of the Yemeni kingdoms to end, and the Minaean language died around 100 CE .
Kingdom of Saba (9th century BCE – 275 CE)
Main articles: Sabaeans and Sheba
During Sabaean rule, trade and agriculture flourished, generating much wealth and prosperity. The Sabaean kingdom was located in Yemen, and its capital, Ma'rib, is located near what is now Yemen's modern capital, Sana'a. According to South Arabian tradition, the eldest son of Noah, Shem, founded the city of Ma'rib.
During Sabaean rule, Yemen was called "Arabia Felix" by the Romans, who were impressed by its wealth and prosperity. The Roman emperor Augustus sent a military expedition to conquer the "Arabia Felix", under the command of Aelius Gallus. After an unsuccessful siege of Ma'rib, the Roman general retreated to Egypt, while his fleet destroyed the port of Aden in order to guarantee the Roman merchant route to India.
The success of the kingdom was based on the cultivation and trade of spices and aromatics including frankincense and myrrh. These were exported to the Mediterranean, India, and Abyssinia, where they were greatly prized by many cultures, using camels on routes through Arabia, and to India by sea.
During the 8th and 7th century BCE, there was a close contact of cultures between the Kingdom of Dʿmt in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea and Saba. Though the civilization was indigenous and the royal inscriptions were written in a sort of proto-Ethiosemitic, there were also some Sabaean immigrants in the kingdom as evidenced by a few of the Dʿmt inscriptions.
Agriculture in Yemen thrived during this time due to an advanced irrigation system which consisted of large water tunnels in mountains, and dams. The most impressive of these earthworks, known as the Marib Dam, was built ca. 700 BCE and provided irrigation for about 25,000 acres (101 km2) of land and stood for over a millennium, finally collapsing in 570 CE after centuries of neglect.
Kingdom of Hadhramaut (8th century BCE – 3rd century CE)
Main article: Hadhramaut
The first known inscriptions of Hadramaut are known from the 8th century BCE. It was first referenced by an outside civilization in an Old Sabaic inscription of Karab'il Watar from the early 7th century BCE, in which the King of Hadramaut, Yada`'il, is mentioned as being one of his allies. When the Minaeans took control of the caravanroutes in the 4th century BCE, however, Hadramaut became one of its confederates, probably because of commercial interests. It later became independent and was invaded by the growing Yemeni kingdom of Himyar toward the end of the 1st century BCE, but it was able to repel the attack. Hadramaut annexed Qataban in the second half of the 2nd century CE, reaching its greatest size. The kingdom of Hadramaut was eventually conquered by the Himyarite king Shammar Yahri'sh around 300 CE, unifying all of the South Arabian kingdoms.
Kingdom of Awsān (8th century BCE – 6th century BCE)
Main article: Kingdom of Awsan
The ancient Kingdom of Awsān in South Arabia (modern Yemen), with a capital at Ḥagar Yaḥirr in the wadi Markhah, to the south of the Wādī Bayḥān, is now marked by a tell or artificial mound, which is locally named Ḥajar Asfal.
Kingdom of Qataban (4th century BCE – 3rd century CE)
Main article: Qataban
Qataban was one of the ancient Yemeni kingdoms which thrived in the Beihan valley. Like the other Southern Arabian kingdoms, it gained great wealth from the trade of frankincense and myrrh incense, which were burned at altars. The capital of Qataban was named Timna and was located on the trade route which passed through the other kingdoms of Hadramaut, Saba and Ma'in. The chief deity of the Qatabanians was Amm, or "Uncle" and the people called themselves the "children of Amm".
Kingdom of Himyar (late 2nd century BCE – 525 CE)
Main article: Himyarite Kingdom
The Himyarites rebelled against Qataban and eventually united Southwestern Arabia (Hejaz and Yemen), controlling the Red Sea as well as the coasts of the Gulf of Aden. From their capital city, Ẓafār, the Himyarite kings launched successful military campaigns, and had stretched its domain at times as far east as eastern Yemen and as far north as Najran Together with their Kindite allies, it extended maximally as far north as Riyadh and as far east as Yabrīn.
During the 3rd century CE, the South Arabian kingdoms were in continuous conflict with one another. Gadarat (GDRT) of Aksum began to interfere in South Arabian affairs, signing an alliance with Saba, and a Himyarite text notes that Hadramaut and Qataban were also allied against the kingdom. As a result of this, the Aksumite Empire was able to capture the Himyarite capital of Thifar in the first quarter of the 3rd century. However, the alliances did not last, and Sha`ir Awtar of Saba unexpectedly turned on Hadramaut, allying again with Aksum and taking its capital in 225. Himyar then allied with Saba and invaded the newly taken Aksumite territories, retaking Thifar, which had been under the control of Gadarat's son Beygat, and pushing Aksum back into the Tihama. The standing relief image of a crowned man, is taken to be a representation possibly of the Jewish king Malkīkarib Yuhaʾmin or more likely the Christian Sumuyafa Ashwa.
Aksumite occupation of Yemen (525 – 570 CE)
Main article: Kingdom of Aksum
The Aksumite intervention is connected with Dhu Nuwas, a Himyarite king who changed the state religion to Judaism and began to persecute the Christians in Yemen. Outraged, Kaleb, the Christian King of Aksum with the encouragement of the Byzantine EmperorJustin I invaded and annexed Yemen. The Aksumites controlled Himyar and attempted to invade Mecca in the year 570 CE. Eastern Yemen remained allied to the Sassanids via tribal alliances with the Lakhmids, which later brought the Sassanid army into Yemen, ending the Aksumite period.
Sassanid period (570 – 630 CE)
Main article: Sassanid Empire
The Persian king Khosrau I sent troops under the command of Vahriz (Persian: اسپهبد وهرز), who helped the semi-legendary Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan to drive the Ethiopian Aksumites out of Yemen. Southern Arabia became a Persian dominion under a Yemenite vassal and thus came within the sphere of influence of the Sassanid Empire. After the demise of the Lakhmids, another army was sent to Yemen, making it a province of the Sassanid Empire under a Persian satrap. Following the death of Khosrau II in 628, the Persian governor in Southern Arabia, Badhan, converted to Islam and Yemen followed the new religion.
Further information: Hejaz
Further information: Thamud
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The Thamud (Arabic: ثمود) was an ancient civilization in Hejaz, which flourished from 3000 BCE to 200 BCE. Recent archaeological work has revealed numerous Thamudic rock writings and pictures.
They are mentioned in sources such as the Qur'an, old Arabian poetry, Assyrian annals (Tamudi), in a Greek temple inscription from the northwest Hejaz of 169 CE, in a 5th-century Byzantine source and in Old North Arabian graffiti within Tayma.
They are mentioned in the victory annals of the Neo-Assyrian King, Sargon II (8th century BCE), who defeated these people in a campaign in northern Arabia. The Greeks also refer to these people as "Tamudaei", i.e. "Thamud", in the writings of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Pliny. Before the rise of Islam, approximately between 400–600 CE, the Thamud totally disappeared.
North Arabian Kingdoms
See also: Ancient North Arabian
Kingdom of Qedar (8th century BCE – ?)
Main article: Qedarite
The most organized of the Northern Arabian tribes, at the height of their rule in the 6th century BCE, the Kingdom of Qedar spanned a large area between the Persian Gulf and the Sinai. An influential force between the 8th and 4th centuries BCE, Qedarite monarchs are first mentioned in inscriptions from the Assyrian Empire. Some early Qedarite rulers were vassals of that empire, with revolts against Assyria becoming more common in the 7th century BCE. It is thought that the Qedarites were eventually subsumed into the Nabataean state after their rise to prominence in the 2nd century CE.
The Achaemenids in Northern Arabia
Main article: Arabia (satrapy)
Achaemenid Arabia corresponded to the lands between Egypt and Mesopotamia, later known as Arabia Petraea. According to Herodotus, Cambyses did not subdue the Arabs when he attacked Egypt in 525 BCE. His successor Darius the Great does not mention the Arabs in the Behistun Inscription from the first years of his reign, but mentions them in later texts. This suggests that Darius conquered this part of Arabia.
Main article: Nabataeans
The Nabataeans are not to be found among the tribes that are listed in Arab genealogies because the Nabatean kingdom ended a long time before the coming of Islam. They settled east of the Syro-African rift between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, that is, in the land that had once been Edom. And although the first sure reference to them dates from 312 BCE, it is possible that they were present much earlier.
Petra (from the Greekpetra, meaning 'of rock') lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, east of Wadi `Araba in Jordan about 80 km (50 mi) south of the Dead Sea. It came into prominence in the late 1st century BCE through the success of the spice trade. The city was the principal city of ancient Nabataea and was famous above all for two things: its trade and its hydraulic engineering systems. It was locally autonomous until the reign of Trajan, but it flourished under Roman rule. The town grew up around its Colonnaded Street in the 1st century and by the middle of the 1st century had witnessed rapid urbanization. The quarries were probably opened in this period, and there followed virtually continuous building through the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.
Main articles: Arabia Petraea and Romans in Arabia
There is evidence of Roman rule in northern Arabia dating to the reign of Caesar Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE). During the reign of Tiberius (14–37 CE), the already wealthy and elegant north Arabian city of Palmyra, located along the caravan routes linking Persia with the Mediterranean ports of Roman Syria and Phoenicia, was made part of the Roman province of Syria. The area steadily grew further in importance as a trade route linking Persia, India, China, and the Roman Empire. During the following period of great prosperity, the Arab citizens of Palmyra adopted customs and modes of dress from both the IranianParthian world to the east and the Graeco-Roman west. In 129, Hadrian visited the city and was so enthralled by it that he proclaimed it a free city and renamed it Palmyra Hadriana.
The Roman province of Arabia Petraea was created at the beginning of the 2nd century by emperor Trajan. It was centered on Petra, but included even areas of northern Arabia under Nabatean control.
Recently has been discovered evidence that Roman legions occupied Mada'in Saleh in the Hijaz mountains area of northwestern Arabia, increasing the extension of the "Arabia Petraea" province.
The desert frontier of Arabia Petraea was called by the Romans the Limes Arabicus. As a frontier province, it included a desert area of northeastern Arabia populated by the nomadic Saraceni.
Further information: Lakhmids, Ghassanids, Kahlan, Syria (Roman province), and Arabia Petraea
In Sassanid times, Arabia Petraea was a border province between the Roman and Persian empires, and from the early centuries CE was increasingly affected by South Arabian influence, notably with the Ghassanids migrating north from the 3rd century.
- The Ghassanids revived the Semitic presence in the then Hellenized Syria. They mainly settled the Hauran region and spread to modern Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The Ghassanids held Syria until engulfed by the expansion of Islam.
Greeks and Romans referred to all the nomadic population of the desert in the Near East as Arabi. The Greeks called Yemen "Arabia Felix" (Happy Arabia). The Romans called the vassal nomadic states within the Roman Empire "Arabia Petraea" after the city of Petra, and called unconquered deserts bordering the empire to the south and east Arabia Magna (Larger Arabia) or Arabia Deserta (Deserted Arabia).
- The Lakhmids settled the mid Tigris region around their capital Al-Hirah they ended up allying with the Sassanid against the Ghassanids and the Byzantine Empire. The Lakhmids contested control of the central Arabian tribes with the Kindites, eventually destroying Kindah in 540 after the fall of Kindah's main ally at the time, Himyar. The Sassanids dissolved the Lakhmid kingdom in 602.
- The Kindites migrated from Yemen along with the Ghassanids and Lakhmids, but were turned back in Bahrain by the Abdul Qais Rabi'a tribe. They returned to Yemen and allied themselves with the Himyarites who installed them as a vassal kingdom that ruled Central Arabia from Qaryah dhat Kahl (the present-day Qaryat al-Fāw) in Central Arabia. They ruled much of the Northern/Central Arabian Peninsula until the fall of the Himyarites in 525 CE.
Further information: Najd
Kingdom of Kindah
Further information: Kindah
Kindah was an Arab kingdom by the Kindah tribe, the tribe's existence dates back to the second century BCE. The Kindites established a kingdom in Najd in central Arabia unlike the organized states of Yemen; its kings exercised an influence over a number of associated tribes more by personal prestige than by coercive settled authority. Their first capital was Qaryat Dhāt Kāhil, today known as Qaryat Al-Fāw.
The Kindites were polytheistic until the 6th century CE, with evidence of rituals dedicated to the idols Athtar and Kāhil found in their ancient capital in south-central Arabia (present day Saudi Arabia). It is not clear whether they converted to Judaism or remained pagan, but there is a strong archaeological evidence that they were among the tribes in Dhū Nuwās' forces during the Jewish king's attempt to suppress Christianity in Yemen. They converted to Islam in mid 7th century CE and played a crucial role during the Arab conquest of their surroundings, although some sub-tribes declared apostasy during the ridda after the death of Muḥammad.
Ancient South Arabian inscriptions mention a tribe settling in Najd called kdt, who had a king called rbˁt (Rabi’ah) from ḏw ṯwr-m (the people of Thawr), who had sworn allegiance to the king of Saba’ and Dhū Raydān. Since later Arab genealogists trace Kindah back to a person called Thawr ibn ‘Uqayr, modern historians have concluded that this rbˁt ḏw ṯwrm (Rabī’ah of the People of Thawr) must have been a king of Kindah (kdt); the Musnad inscriptions mention that he was king both of kdt (Kindah) and qhtn (Qaḥṭān). They played a major role in the Himyarite-Ḥaḑramite war. Following the Himyarite victory, a branch of Kindah established themselves in the Marib region, while the majority of Kindah remained in their lands in central Arabia.
The first Classical author to mention Kindah was the Byzantine ambassador Nonnosos, who was sent by the Emperor Justinian to the area. He refers to the people in Greek as Khindynoi (Greek Χινδηνοι, Arabic Kindah), and mentions that they and the tribe of Maadynoi (Greek: Μααδηνοι, Arabic: Ma'ad) were the two most important tribes in the area in terms of territory and number. He calls the king of Kindah Kaïsos (Greek: Καισος, Arabic: Qays), the nephew of Aretha (Greek: Άρεθα, Arabic: Ḥārith).
Sedentary Arabs who inhabited cities or rural areas (towns, villages or oases). In pre-Islamic Arabia, most sedentary Arabs were of Arabian origin.
Consisted many of major clans and the tribes were nomadic. The lineage followed through males, since the tribes were named after the males ancestors.
Main article: Solluba
The Solluba were a Ḥutaymi tribal group in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula who were clearly distinguishable from the Arabs. The Solubba maintained a distinctive lifestyle as isolated nomads. The origin of the Solluba is obscure. They have been identified with the Selappayu in Akkadian records, and a clue to their origin is their use of desert kites and game traps, first attested to in around 7,000 BCE, which makes them the pre-Semitic inhabitants of Arabia.
Cambridge linguist and anthropologist Roger Blench sees the Solubba as the last survivors of Palaeolithic hunters and salt-traders who once dominated Arabia. Those were assimilated in the next wave of humans consisted of cattle herders in the 6th millennium BCE who introduced cows, wild donkeys, sheep and dogs, wild camels and goats. Those peoples may have engaged in trade across the Red Sea with speakers of Cushitic or Nilo-Saharan. In the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE speakers of Semitic languages arrived from the Near East and marginalised and absorbed the rest.
Western travelers reported that the Bedouin did not consider the Solluba to be descendants of Qaḥṭān. One legend mentions that they originated from ancient Christian groups, possibly Crusaders who were taken into slavery by the Bedouin.Werner Caskel criticizes the Crusader origin theory and instead proposes that the term "Solluba" describes a host of groups hailing from different backgrounds: those of al-Ḥasā being of 12th- to 13th-century CE migrants from southern Persia, and the group to the west being composed of communities emerging after their defeat by the Wahhabis. Another theory sees the Solubba as a former Bedouin group that lost their herds and fell in the eyes of other Bedouin.
The most important reference work for all aspects of the study of Islam, including pre-Islamic Arabia and the Jahiliyya, is the second edition of Encyclopaedia of Islam (Bearman, et al. 1954–2006). Following Islamic historical tradition, most works on Islamic history begin with a discussion of the Jahiliyya, although they often go beyond the Islamic treatment of it. These are often good entryways into the subject for the beginner. Donner 1981 is notable for its comparative and anthropological awareness. Some more recent works on Islamic history (notably Berkey 2003), while still treating pre-Islamic Arabia, reflect an understanding that the rise of Islam needs to be considered in a wider historical and geographical context. There are many works devoted entirely to discussions of the history of the Arabs and Arabia before Islam, ranging much more widely than the traditional understanding of the Jahiliyya. Hoyland 2001 is approachable for English readers, although Retsö 2003 goes into greater detail. Volumes that collect various studies that first appeared in scholarly journals or other specialist publications, such as Peters 1999 and Kister 1980, are useful not merely for the studies they contain but sometimes for the editor’s introduction and consolidated bibliography. Shahid 1984 argues that the role of the Arabs in late Antiquity and the importance of the spread of Christianity among them has been undervalued.
Bearman, P., et al., eds. Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. 12 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1954–2006.
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Contains numerous articles on the history, geography, culture, and personalities of pre-Islamic Arabia. For introductory surveys, see the articles “Djahiliyya,” “al-ʿArab,” and “ʿArab (Djazirat al-).” But because these articles appear in the early volumes, they are now inevitably dated, and “Djahiliyya” is somewhat limited.
Berkey, Jonathan P. The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
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Part 1 contains a chapter “Arabia before Islam” in the broader context of “The Near East before Islam.” Excellent textbook that reflects informed scholarship on the rise of Islam.
Donner, Fred McGraw. “State and Society in Pre-Islamic Arabia.” In The Early Islamic Conquests. By Fred McGraw Donner, 11–50. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.
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A thoughtful interpretative survey of geography, tribal life, economic and political conditions.
Hoyland, Robert G. Arabia and the Arabs from the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam. London: Routledge, 2001.
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Extending from prehistory to the coming of Islam, this covers all areas inhabited by Arabs before Islam. Also has chapters devoted to economy, society, religion, and other aspects of culture and discusses the issue of Arab identity. Extensive bibliography of sources and secondary literature. Readable and judicious.
Kister, Meir J. Studies in Jahiliyya and Early Islam. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1980.
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From the Variorum Collected Studies Series, along with Society and Religion from Jahiliyya to Islam (1980) and Concepts and Ideas at the Dawn of Islam (1997), this contains all the important articles devoted to the Jahiliyya and early Islam by a leading scholar in the field, renowned above all for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Islamic source material.
Peters, F. E., ed. The Arabs and Arabia on the Eve of Islam. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.
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A selection of studies by different authors on various aspects of pre-Islamic Arabia with a useful orientation and bibliography by the editor.
Retsö, Jan. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.
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Covers much the same ground as Hoyland 2001. Although it is much more detailed than Hoyland, its controversial general thesis has generally been rejected by scholars and Retsö’s scholarship, philologically driven, has been widely criticized. Useful, but use with caution.
Shahid, Irfan. Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1984.
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Subsequent works with the same general title treat the 5th and 6th centuries. The author’s scholarly method has been criticized and his conclusions seen as exaggerated, but the works are valuable as an indication of the amount of possible evidence available on the Arabs in the centuries before the rise of Islam.