History of Yemen: Ancient Civilisations

History of Yemen: Ancient Civilisations Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010

The history of Yemen stretches back over 3,000 years, and its unique culture is still in evidence today in the architecture of its towns and villages.

From about 1000 BC this region of the Southern Arabian Peninsula was ruled by three successive civilisations -- Minean, Sabaean and Himyarite. These three kingdoms all depended for their wealth on the spice trade. Aromatics such as myrrh and frankincense were greatly prized in the ancient civilised world and were used as part of various rituals in many cultures, including Egyptian, Greek and Roman.

In the 11th century BC, land routes through Arabia were greatly improved by using the camel as a beast of burden, and frankincense was carried from its production centre at Qana (now known as Bir 'Ali) to Gaza in Egypt. The camel caravans also carried gold and other precious goods which arrived in Qana by sea from India.

The chief incense traders were the Minaeans, who established their capital at Karna (now known as Sadah), before they were superseded by the Sabaeans in 950 BC. The Sabaean capital was Ma'rib, where a large temple was built. The mighty Sabaean civilisation endured for about 14 centuries and was based not only on the spice trade, but also on agriculture. The impressive dam, built at Ma'rib in the 8th century, provided irrigation for farmland and stood for over a millennium. Some Sabaean carved inscriptions from this period are still extant.

The Himyarites established their capital at Dhafar (now just a small village in the Ibb region) and gradually absorbed the Sabaean kingdom. They were culturally inferior to the Sabaeans and traded from the port of al-Muza on the Red Sea. By the first century BC, the area had been conquered by the Romans.

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