Hospitality of the Arab

In 1804, Osman Bardissy was the most influential of the Mameluke Beys, and virtually governed Egypt. Mehemet Ali, then rising into power, succeeded in embroiling this powerful old chief with Elfy Bey, another of the Mamelukes. The latter escaped to England, where he was favourably received, and promised assistance by our government against Osman, who was in the French interests. At this time a Sheikh of Bedouin stood high in Osman's confidence, and brought him intelligence that Elfy had landed at Alexandria. "Go, then," said the old Bey, "surprise his boat, and slay him on his way up the river; his spoil shall be your reward." The Sheikh lay in wait upon the banks of the Delta, and slew all the companions of the rival Bey: Elfy himself escaped in the darkness, and made his way to an Arab encampment before sunrise. Going straight to the Sheikh's tent, which is known by a spear standing in front of it, he entered, and hastily devoured some bread that he found there. The Sheikh was absent; but his wife exclaimed, on seeing the fugitive, "I know you, Elfy Bey, and my husband's life, perhaps at his moment, depends upon his taking yours. Rest now and refresh yourself, then take the best horse you can find, and fly. The moment you are out of our horizon, the tribe will be in pursuit of you." The Bey escaped to the Thebaid, and the disappointed Sheikh presented himself to his employer. Osman passionately demanded of him if it was true that his wife had saved the life of his deadliest enemy, when in her power. "Most true, praised be Allah!" replied the Sheikh, drawing himself proudly up, and presenting a jewel-hilted dagger to the old Bey; "this weapon," he continued, "was your gift to me in the hour of your favour; had I met Elfy Bey, it should have freed you from your enemy. Had my wife betrayed the hospitality of the tent, it should have drank her blood; and now, you may use it against myself," he added, as he flung it at the Mameluke's feet. This reverence for hospitality is one of the wild virtues that has survived from the days of the patriarchs, and it is singularly contrasted, yet interwoven with other and apparently opposite tendencies. The Arab will rob you, if he is able; he will even murder you, if it suits his purpose; but, once under the shelter of his tribe's black tents, or having eaten of his salt by the wayside, you have as much safety in his company as his heart's blood can purchase for you. The Bedouins are extortionate to strangers, dishonest to each other, and reckless of human life. On the other hand, they are faithful to their trust, brave after their fashion, temperate, and patient of hardship and privation beyond belief. Their sense of right and wrong is not founded on the Decalogue, as may be well imagined, yet, from such principles as they profess they rarely swerve. Though they will freely risk their lives to steal, they will not contravene the wild rule of the desert. If a wayfarer's camel sinks and dies beneath its burden, the owner draws a circle round the animal in the sand, and follows the caravan. No Arab will presume to touch that lading, however tempting. Dr. Robinson mentions that he saw a tent hanging from a tree near Mount Sinai, which his Arabs said had then been there a twelvemonth, and never would be touched until its owner returned in search of it.

The Arabs

The Arabian peninsula is a repetition of Africa on a smaller scale and in more moderate proportions, without a river-valley like that of the Nile. The centre is occupied by a table-land, which presents a few well-watered depressions lying under a burning sky between naked deserts, plains of sand, cliffs, and bald peaks. Thus, in spite of the great extent of the country (more than 1,000,000 square miles), there are few districts in the interior of Arabia suitable for agriculture. But towards the south, on the Indian Ocean, the plateau sinks down to the sea in broad mountain terraces. Here are extremely fertile valleys, and the most valuable fruits grow on the terraces in the tropic atmosphere, which is cooled by the elevation of the mountains and the winds blowing from the ocean. This is the land of frankincense, of the sugarcane and coffee-tree, of pomegranates, figs, and dates, of wheat and maize.

Herodotus, who follows all antiquity in extending the name Arabia to the deserts of Syria and Sinai, gives us but few notices of the inhabitants of this wide district. "The Arabs," he tells us, "wear long garments, and on the right side carry large bows, which can be strung on either side, and travel on swift camels. They have only two gods—Dionysus, whom they call Urotal; and Urania, whom they call Alilat. Urania is known to the Babylonians as Mylitta, to the Arabs as Alilat. Bargains are struck in the following manner. A third person makes an incision in the hand near the thumb of each of the two persons who wish to enter into the compact, and with the blood he smears seven stones lying between them; calling at the same time on Urotal and Alilat. These compacts are observed with a sanctity unknown to any other nation."[428] Eratosthenes tells us that the Arab tribes lying next to the Syrians and Jews were agricultural, but beyond them lay a sandy and poor soil, with nothing but a few palms, acacias, tamarisks, and wells of water. This district, as far as the Euphrates, was inhabited by the Nabatæans, Agræans, and Chaulotæans, tribes who kept camels and lived in tents.[429] Artemidorus of Ephesus calls Arabia rich in cattle, lions, panthers, wolves, wild asses, and camels; the inhabitants were wandering herdmen, who gained a subsistence from their camels; on them they rode, from them they fought, and on their milk and flesh they lived. The names of the Arabian tribes he is unwilling to mention, because of their insignificance and harsh sound.[430] Diodorus also tells us that the inhabitants of the part of Arabia towards Syria lived by agriculture and trade, but with the Nabatæans the land began to be arid and barren; and they led the life of robbers, plundering their neighbours far and wide; no one had succeeded in conquering them.[431] The interior of Arabia, and the western side, were occupied by plains of sand of enormous extent. On these it was only possible to travel as on the sea, by taking the Great Bear as a guide. In the whole of the interior there were no cities, but only dwellers in tents, and the most part of the Arabian tribes led a nomadic life, for Arabia was very rich in animals of various kinds, so that the Arabs could easily live on them without cultivating corn. They had large herds of cattle, and with these they wandered over immeasurable plains. In conclusion, Diodorus praises the fertility and beauty of a well-watered palm-grove in the peninsula between the northern bays of the Arabian Sea, which the barbarians had very justly consecrated to the gods, as it lay in the midst of a very hot and desert land, surrounded by a wilderness. There was an old altar there of hard stone inscribed with very ancient letters, which no one could read. A man and woman presided for life as priests over this holy palm-grove, and every four years the neighbouring Arab tribes sacrificed hecatombs of goodly camels there.[432] Pliny observes: "Strange to say, the Arabs live about equally on plunder and on trade; what they get from their forests (by which is meant the products of the date-palms and the fruit-trees of South Arabia) and from the sea they sell; but they purchase nothing in return."[433] "The Arabs," says Ammianus Marcellinus, "extend from the Euphrates to Egypt. They are half-naked, with only a coloured apron round the body reaching to the middle. Every man is a warrior. On their swift fine-limbed horses and their camels they ride in every direction. They do not continue long in any one place: without settled abodes they wander to and fro, and their whole life is nothing but a flight. Of bread and wine the most part of them know nothing whatever."[434]

Of the southern coasts of Arabia the accounts are different. It is a remark of Herodotus that the fairest blessings are allotted to the extreme limits of the earth; and among other places to Arabia, the southern extremity of the inhabited world. Here only, in all the earth, grow frankincense, myrrh, cassia, and ladanum; here are sheep with such thick tails, that carriages have to be fastened behind them. But the frankincense trees are watched by winged serpents, and the cassia by bats. Cinnamon does not grow in Arabia, but large carnivorous birds of prey brought branches of cinnamon for their nests,—from which direction the Arabs could not tell.[435] Heraclides of Cyme gave an account of the wealth of the king of the land of frankincense. He pretended to know that the expenses for the king, his wife, and friends, amounted each day to the sum of fifteen Babylonian talents. Living an effeminate and luxurious life, he always remained in the palace; he did nothing, and was never seen by the people; but if anyone went into the palace to complain of a decision at law, the king himself passed sentence.[436] Through the trade connection of Alexandria Eratosthenes obtained better information on these districts, and was enabled to mention the tribes who possessed the south. "In the extreme end of Arabia next the sea dwell the Minæans, whose metropolis is Karna; after these come the Sabæans, whose metropolis is Mariaba; further to the west, as far as the corner of the Arabian Gulf, are the Cattabani, whose kings dwell at Thamna; finally, the Chatramites are furthest to the east, and their city is Sabbatha. Each of these four districts is larger than the Delta of Egypt; they have rain in the summer, and rivers which lose themselves in the plains and lakes. Hence the land is so fruitful that seed is sown twice in the year. The land of the Cattabani supplies incense, the Chatramites produce myrrh; but elsewhere also fruits of every kind are plentiful and cattle abundant. From the Chatramites it is a journey of forty days to the Sabæans; from the Minæans the merchants go in seventy days to Aela (Elath). The cities of the Chatramites, Cattabani, Sabæans, and Minæans are rich, and adorned with temples and royal palaces."[437] The Sabæans, the most numerous tribe of Arabia, according to Agatharchides, who wrote in the second half of the second century B.C., inhabited the so-called Arabia Felix. Here grew the most beautiful fruits without number; here was an inexhaustible abundance of animals of every kind. In the strips of land by the sea grew balsam and cassia, and another plant most beautiful to the eye. In the interior were thick forests of tall frankincense and myrrh-trees, and also cinnamon-trees, palm and calmus, and trees of a similar kind, which, like the others, send forth the sweetest odour. Owing to the innumerable multitude, it is not possible to name and describe every species. The perfume is divine and beyond all words. Even those who go past on the coast, at a distance from the land, enjoy this perfume, if the wind is blowing off shore. For there the spices are not cut and old and stored up, but in fresh vigour and bloom, so that those who sail along the coast believe that they are enjoying ambrosia, since no other word can express the extraordinary power and strength of the odour. The monarchy among the Sabæans is hereditary. Their chief city, Mariaba, lies on a mountain; here lives the king, who pronounces justice for the people, but he is never allowed to leave his palace. If he acts otherwise, he is stoned by the people, in obedience to an ancient oracle. The Sabæans are the richest people in the world. For a few goods silver and gold are brought in quantities, and flow in from every side; while, owing to their remote situation, they have never been conquered by any one. Hence, especially in the metropolis, they have a number of vessels of silver and gold and couches, and porticoes, the pillars of which are gilded in the shaft, and the capitals are adorned with silver ornaments, while the architraves and doors are finished with gold and precious stones. On these structures they bestow great care and industry.[438] Artemidorus of Ephesus, who wrote somewhat later than Agatharchides of Cnidus, represents the king of the Sabæans and his court as living at Mariaba, which lay on a wooded mountain, in effeminate luxury. Owing to the abundance of fruit the people were lazy and inactive, and reclined on the roots of the spice-trees. For fire-wood they used cinnamon and cassia. The occupation of the people was partly agriculture, and partly trade in spices, both native and imported from the opposite coast of Æthiopia (Africa), whither the Sabæans passed over the inlet of the sea in boats of skins. The neighbouring tribes received the wares from the Sabæans, and then passed them on to their neighbours, till they reached Syria and Mesopotamia.[439] Pliny tells us that the Sabæans were the most famous of the Arabians, owing to their frankincense, and their land reached from sea to sea. Their cities lay on the sea and in the interior, the chief city being Mariaba. One portion of the Sabæans were called the Chatramites, and their chief city, Sabbatha, had sixty temples within its walls; further to the east were the Cattabani, whose city, Thamna, could enumerate sixty-five temples. The Minæans lay in the interior beyond the Chatramites. The frankincense was collected and brought to Sabbatha, and could not be purchased and taken away by strangers till the priests had set apart a tenth for the god of Sabbatha. The only passage for exportation was through the land of the Cattabani, to the king of which imposts had to be paid. The priests also and the scribes of the king received presents, and the doorkeepers, bodyguard, and escort. Thamna, the chief city of the Cattabani, was distant seventy-five days' journey from Gaza. And as payments had to be made, at one place for pasturage, at another for water, at a third for the stage, and again for the convoy, the cost for each camel as far as the Syrian desert amounted to 688 denarii.[440]

According to the Hebrew Scriptures the Sheba, i. e. the Sabæans, "a distant people, rich in frankincense, spices, gold, and precious stones," were to be sought in the south of Arabia.[441] The tribe or locality of Uzal, which Genesis and Ezekiel mention beside the Sabæans, is the older name of the later Sanaa. The chief city of the Sabæans, which Western writers call Mariaba, is the Maryab of the inscriptions. To the east of the Sabæans, on the south coast, were situated the Hazarmaweth of the Hebrews, the Chatramites of the Western nations, in the district of Hadramaut, which still preserves the name. The Rhegmæans of the Western nations, the sons of Rama among the Hebrews, are to be sought in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, in Oman, the south-east of Arabia. Further to the north-east, on the shore of this Gulf, were the Dedanites; and yet further to the north-east the Havila appear to have dwelt, who are perhaps the Chaulotæans, whom Eratosthenes places towards the Lower Euphrates. The Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly mention the Hagarites, the Nebajoth (the Agræans and Nabatæans of Eratosthenes), and further towards the interior of Arabia the Kedarites and Temanites; and lastly, on the peninsula of Sinai, and on the borders of Canaan, the Amalekites, Edomites, and Midianites. The Hebrews mention two chiefs of the Midianites, whose names were "Wolf" and "Raven," the leather tents of this people, the number of their dromedaries, and the moons which their camels carried as ornaments. Next are mentioned the flocks of the Nebajoth, the black tents of the Kedarites, their wealth in cattle (large and small), and their brave bowmen.[442]

The inscriptions of Egypt from the time of the Tuthmosis and the first Ramses celebrate achievements performed, as it is said, by these Pharaohs against the Punt, i. e. against the Arabs; but with one exception, they do not supply any information of the land and the tribes of this people. A daughter of Tuthmosis I., queen Misphra (Hatasu, Ramake), who was regent first for her brother Tuthmosis II., and during a considerable time for Tuthmosis III. (1625-1591 B.C.), wished to become acquainted with "the land of Punt, as far as the uttermost end of To-Neter." She equipped a fleet on the Red Sea, and led it in person to the coast of Arabia. The inhabitants of the coast on which she landed submitted, and she returned to Egypt with rich spoil, in which were thirty-two spice-trees.[443] The inscriptions of the kings of Asshur supply further information: among the tribes of the Arabians they mention in the first place the Pekod, the Hagarites, whom they place in the neighbourhood of the lands of Hauran, Moab and Zoba, the Kedarites, Thamudenes, Nabatæans, and finally the Sabæans. The Hebrew Scriptures bring the queen of Sheba to Solomon at Jerusalem, and represent her as offering rich presents in gold and frankincense, and similarly Tiglath-Pilesar II., king of Assyria, tells us that in the year 738 B.C. he had received tribute from Zabibieh, the queen of Arabia (Aribi), and in the year 734 B.C. he had taken from Samsieh, queen of the Arabs, 30,000 camels and 20,000 oxen, and further, that he had subjugated the people of Saba, the city of the Sabæans. Sargon boasts that he had subdued the people of Thammud (the Thamudenes), Tasid, Ibadid, Marsiman, Chayapa, the distant Arbæans, and the inhabitants of the land of Bari, "which was unknown to the learned and to the scribes," and that he received the tribute of Samsieh, queen of the Arabs, and of Yathamir, the Sabæan (Sabahi) in gold, spices, and camels (in the year 715 B.C.). He mentions the land of Agag, "on the borders of the Arabs toward the rising sun," i. e. the Eastern Arabs.[444] King Sennacherib took from the Pekod, the Hagarites, Nabatæans, and some other tribes, 5,330 camels and 800,600 head of small cattle (703 B.C.), and in the time of Assurbanipal (about 645 B.C.) Adiya, the queen of the Arabs, and Ammuladin, the king of the Kedarites, were brought in chains to Nineveh; the "innumerable troops" of another prince, Uaiti, were defeated and his tents burnt. Abiyateh also, who was leagued against Assyria, first with Uaiti, and then with Nadnu (Nathan), the king of the Nabatæans, was conquered, together with these allies, and the worshippers of Atar Samain (Istar). Assurbanipal tells us that out of the booty of this campaign he distributed camels like sheep, and that at the gate of Nineveh camels had been sold for half a silver shekel (from 1 s. 6 d. to 2 s.).[445]

The position of Arabia, between the valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates and Tigris, where agriculture and civilisation came into bloom at an early period, and which were the oldest seats of trade and industry, brought the Arab tribes who wandered along the borders of these river valleys into connection with Egypt and Babylon. Barter had to supply all that could not be obtained by freebooting. The nomads required corn, implements, and weapons; Egypt and Babylon were in need of horses, sheep, goats, and camels. The Arabians, therefore, could exchange their animals for corn, weapons, and implements, and supply the industry of Babylon and Egypt with a part of the necessary raw products, more especially skins and wool. The tradition of the Hebrews represents Abraham as going to Egypt, and the sons of Jacob buy corn in Egypt when "there was a famine in the land." On the other hand, Egypt, as has been already remarked, had already, under Snefru, the predecessor of Chufu, i. e. about the year 3000 B.C., fixed herself in the peninsula of Sinai, and when, a thousand years later, nomad tribes of the north-west of Arabia obtained the supremacy in the valley of the Nile, and maintained it for centuries, their supremacy could only develop further the trade between Egypt and the Arabs, between the ruling tribe in Egypt and their kinsmen at home, and thus the contact with the civilisation of Egypt and Babylonia was not without effect on the Arabs. This contact increased their wants, and therefore increased their trading intercourse. The Arabs could offer not merely the products of their herds, they could exchange the costly spices and perfumes from the southern coast of their land with each other, and so convey them to the Egyptians and Babylonians. The Hebrew Scriptures make Keturah, i. e. "Incense," the wife of Abraham, and from this connection spring the Midianites and the Dedanites; to Esau, the son of Isaac, the progenitor of the Edomites, they give a wife of the name of Basmath, i. e. "Perfume,"[446] and in the twentieth century B.C., according to their reckoning, we find a caravan of Ishmaelites, with camels, carrying spices, balsam, and ladanum, and Midianites going for purposes of trade to Egypt.

The trade of Egypt and Babylonia with the south of Arabia, through the medium of the Arab tribes, certainly goes back to the year 2000 B.C., if the attempt was made in Egypt about the year 1600 B.C. to reduce Southern Arabia. Not long after his campaigns in Syria and Mesopotamia, Tuthmosis III. imposed on the Syrians a tribute of 828 minæ, and on the Naharina a tribute of 81 minæ of spices;[447] hence such spices must not only have found their way into these districts at this time, but must have been already known as ordinary articles of trade. How strongly Egypt felt her need of the products of South Arabia is most strikingly shown by the fact that the Egyptians were very anxious to obtain these products by the direct route over the Arabian Gulf; the canal which Ramses II. began to make towards the gulf could have no other object in view than to facilitate the communication between the Nile and the coast of South Arabia and East Africa, by the Red Sea. Under Ramses III. (1269-1244 B.C.) a great fleet is said to have sailed for a second time to To-Neter, and to have returned to Coptus with the tribute of these lands and a rich freight.[448] The need of incense was not less in Babylon than in Egypt. We saw that the preparation of ointments was a main branch of Babylonian industry, and Herodotus tells us that at the feast of Belus, at Babylon, a thousand talents of incense, which according to the light Babylonian weight is more than 60,000 pounds, was burnt on the altar of the great temple. As the Temanites, Kedarites, Nebajoth, and Midianites formed the medium of trade between South Arabia and Egypt, so were the Rhegmæans and Dedanites the communicating link between South Arabia and Babylonia. Among the Sabæans the Babylonian talent was current.[449]

This carrying trade between South Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia must have increased when the cities of the Phenicians on the Syrian coast became centres of trade which carried the manufactures of Babylonia, as well as the products of their own industry, over the sea to the West, and when the tribes of Greece and Italy began to desire the incense and spices of Arabia. And it was not only the products of South Arabia which the Arabs brought to Syria, Egypt, and Babylonia, but also those of the south coast of Africa, and even of India. Artemidorus told us that the Sabæans crossed the Arabian Gulf on boats of skins in order to bring back the products of Ethiopia. Though it was possible to cross the narrow basin by these means of transit, the mouths of the Indus and the coasts of Malabar were beyond the reach of such skiffs. If in the course of time Indian wares reached Syria through the Sabæans, they must have been brought by the Indians themselves to the coasts of the Sabæans. At the beginning of the second century B.C. the island Dioscoridis, off the coast of Somali, which was known to the West as the Land of Cinnamon, formed the centre of the trade between Egypt, South Arabia, and India. To this island the ships of the Indians brought the products of their land.

In the first instance the Arabs transported the goods from South Arabia to the Euphrates and the Nile on their camels, and afterwards it lay with them to permit or refuse a passage for the caravans of the Babylonians and Phenicians. First one tribe and then another lay in wait for the caravans, plundered them, or allowed them to buy a passage, convoy, or guide.[450] Eratosthenes has already told us that the merchants took seventy days in going from the Minæans to Aela, i. e. to Elath, on the north-east point of the Arabian Gulf, and Pliny fixes the distance from Gaza to Thamna, the chief city of the Cattabani, at seventy-five days' journey. Of the caravan road which led from the Sabæans, i. e. in all probability from Maryab to Elath, we only know that it ran along the coast, then passed from Elath by Sela and Bosra into the mountains of the Edomites, then divided the land of the Moabites and Ammonites, passed by Kir Moab (Charak Moab) and Rabbat Ammon, Edrei and Ashtaroth Karnaim, through the land of the Jeturites, to Damascus, and finally, from this place reached the cities of the Phenicians. A second road led apparently past the Oasis of Duma (Dumætha of Ptolemy, Dumat-el-Dshandal) straight to Damascus. In the east the Dedanites brought the products of South Arabia through the desert, by the land of the Temanites and Kedarites, to the Lower Euphrates.[451] The goods not required for Babylonia then passed up the Euphrates to Harran (Charræ). From this point the caravans turned to the west, and in twenty days arrived through the desert at the coasts of the Phenicians.[452]

How active the trade with the land of frankincense was is shown by the words of the Hebrew prophet, who proclaims to the new Jerusalem: "A multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah (see below); all they from Shebah shall come; they shall bring gold and incense. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee; the rams of Nebajoth shall minister unto thee."[453] The Arabs, when conquered by the Persians, were compelled to pay a yearly tribute of 1,000 talents of incense,[454] i. least 60,000 pounds. This they could only obtain from South Arabia, and to Western nations the connection between Damascus and South Arabia appeared so close, that they represented the Sabæans as colonists of the Egyptians, Ninus and Semiramis having sent colonies from Damascus to Arabia Felix.

Though the Phenicians could receive the products of South Arabia and the Somali coast by the high road of Elath, and from the Euphrates by Harran, they were nevertheless eager to have a connection by sea with these regions. They availed themselves of the relations in which they stood to Solomon, king of Israel, in order to send ships from Eziongeber down the Arabian Gulf, to Ophir, as far as the mouth of the Indus. These ships brought back sandalwood, apes, peacocks, and gold. This trade fell with the decline of the kingdom of Judah, after the time of Jehoshaphat. But when Amaziah of Judah again subjugated the Edomites, about the year 790 B.C., and after him his son Uzziah again advanced the borders of Judah to the Red Sea, the Phenicians also resumed their connection with the kings of Judah and the trade to Ophir.[455]Afterwards Pharaoh Necho gave them an opportunity for a short time to set out upon their voyages in the Arabian Gulf, not, indeed, from the north-east, but from the north-west corner of the Red Sea. But immediately afterwards Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, by subduing the Dedanites and planting Babylonian centres of trade on the coast of Dedan and at the mouth of the Euphrates, succeeded in transplanting the marine trade with South Arabia to the Persian Gulf, while the conquest of the Kedarites also put him in a position to strike a road across the desert from Babylon to Sela (in the land of the Edomites, see below). Darius or the Ptolemies were the first to succeed in the attempt made by Rameses II. and Necho, and concentrated in the Bay of Heroonpolis the trade of Egypt and Syria with South Arabia.

Soon after the year 2000 B.C.—so we must conclude—the tribes of South Arabia delivered their spices to the Egyptians, Syrians, and Babylonians, and their incense, which Eastern nations, and in time Western nations also, burned upon the altars of their gods. Then they imported the products of the opposite shore of Africa, a region no less fruitful than South Arabia, and at length the ships of the Indians brought to them the products of the Indus and the Ganges. Thus South Arabia not only exported her own fruits, she became the central mart of East African and Indian products, the point of connection between Eastern and Western Asia. Owing to the fertility of their valleys and terraces, and their old and extensive trade, the tribes of the South soon acquired a more fixed form of constitution and a more advanced civilisation. Numerous remains of magnificent stone structures, ruins of aqueducts, canals, basins, and dams, built with the object of preserving and collecting the water which streamed down the terraces of the mountains and in the valleys, still excite the astonishment of our travellers for the excellence of the plan as well as for the strength of the masonry. The ruins of Nedshran, Sirwah, Ghorab, Nakb-el-Hadshar, and Misenat, and those of Maryab, the old metropolis of the Sabæans, confirm what Western writers and Arab tradition tell us of the glorious palaces of the ancient time and the mighty dams built in the valley of Maryab.[456] The remains of the dams prove that South Arabia, like Egypt and Babylonia, was far better cultivated in those distant times than now; that there also the greatest importance was attached to irrigation, and the inhabitants understood how to preserve and use the water from the mountain-streams on the terraces. The natural assumption that at one time the cultivation of valuable fruits was far more extensive in South Arabia than at present can hardly be incorrect. The inscriptions found in those ruins and elsewhere in the south-west of Yemen, though they do not, so far as is at present ascertained, go back beyond the year 120 B.C.,[457] give us some insight into the nature of the civilisation of these tribes and the ancient form of the South Arabian language and alphabet, which must have grown out of the Phenician at an early date, and then have developed independently beside it.[458] Of a still more recent date, from the first century A.D., we find in the opposite north-west corner of Arabia numerous inscriptions on the rocks in the region of Sinai, written in the North Arabian language and alphabet.[459]

The Hebrew Scriptures divide the tribes of the Arabs into four groups—the Joktanites, among whom tribes of the south and east take the lead; the Keturites, among whom are tribes of Western and Eastern Arabia; the Ishmaelites, including tribes of the table-land of the interior and North Arabia; and finally, the group of tribes who settled and wandered on the eastern borders of Canaan—the Amalekites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. The Hebrews derive the origin of the Arabs from the progenitors from whom they were themselves sprung. To Shem, the son of Noha, so Genesis tells us, Arphaxad was born, and "Arphaxad begat Salah, and Salah begat Eber, and Eber begat Peleg and Joktan. And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth (the Chatramites, in Hadramaut), and Jerah, and Hadoram, and Uzal (Sanaa), and Diklah, and Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba (the Sabæans), and Ophir and Havilah (the Chaulotæans), and Jobab (the Jobarites of Ptolemy, on the south coast), and their dwelling was from Mesha (Maishan, Mesene on the Euphrates) towards Sephar (Dshafar, to the south of Sanaa and Maryab), a mount of the East." Peleg, the elder brother of Joktan, was the father of Reu, Reu, of Serug; then followed Nahor and Terah. Terah's sons were Abraham, Nahor, and Haran. To Abraham Hagar, his Egyptian bond-servant, bore Ishmael. Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael into the deserts of Beersheba, but "God was with the lad, and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness of Paran, and was an archer, and his mother took him a wife from the land of Egypt, and his first-born was Nebajoth (the Nabatæans), and his sons were Kedar (the Kedarites) and Adbeel, and Mibsam, and Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa (the Masanians of Ptolemy), and Hadar, and Thema (the Themanites), and Jetur (the Jeturites, near Damascus), and Naphish, and Kedemiah, twelve princes; and the descendants of Ishmael dwelt from Shur, which is before Egypt, and from Havilah to Asshur." "And again Abraham took a wife, whose name was Keturah, and she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian (the Midianites) and Ishbak, and Shuah. And Joksham begat Dedan, and the sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher. And Abraham gave them gifts and sent them away into the east country."[460] Abraham's son was Isaac, Isaac's oldest son was Esau, the father of the Edomites, and Esau's grandson, Amalek, was the progenitor of the Amalekites.[461] Haran, the brother of Abraham, begat Lot, and Lot's sons were Moab and Ammon (the Moabites and Ammonites). From these genealogies it is clear that the Hebrews looked on the Arabs almost without exception as kinsmen of their own,[462] and as kinsmen of a more ancient branch, for the Hebrews were descended from the second son of Isaac. The place nearest to themselves they give to the Ishmaelites, who were divided into twelve tribes, the descendants of the twelve princes, the sons of Ishmael—and next in order came the Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites.

The native tradition of the Arabs is without historical value. Their recollections hardly go back as far as the beginning of the Christian era, and all that their historians who began to write after Mohammed knew of the older fortunes of their race is either borrowed from the Hebrews or mere imagination. The Amalekites, whom they found in the Hebrew Scriptures, they took for their original stock, and represented them as dwelling in Canaan and Damascus, as well as in the land of Mecca and Oman, and even as ruling over Egypt. These Amalekites—the Tasmites and Dshadi, the A'adites and Dshorhomites—they consider as the genuine Arabs; to whom God had taught Arabic after the confusion of speech. But the Tasmites and Dshadi are as little historic as Amalek in the Arabian tradition; their names signify "the extinct" and "the lost;" the A'adites are a purely fabulous nation, and the Dshorhomites (near Mecca) are a tribe of no great antiquity.[463] The progenitor of the southern tribes of Yemen is, in the Arabian tradition, Kachtan, the son of Eber, and great-grandson of Noah. This is the Joktan of Genesis. Kachtan's son, J'arab, founded the monarchy of the Kachtanids, in South Arabia; Abd-Shams-Sabah, the grandson of J'arab, built the city of Mareb, the chief city of the Sabæans, according to the Greeks. This founder of the monarchy of the Sabæans left two sons, Himyar and Kachlan. The first was the progenitor of the Himyarites, who are mentioned even by Western writers, but not till the first century A.D., and then on the south coast between Mareb and Hadramaut. The name Himyarites includes the tribes of the Chatramites, the Codaa, the Kinana, the Dshoheina, &c. Kachlan founded Dshafar, and was the progenitor of the Kachlanids, i. e. the Hamdanids, the Badshila, the Odthan, the Chozaa, and other tribes. To the kingdom of Mareb, founded by Abd-Shams-Sabah, the Arab tradition ascribes a long list of princes. But even if we ascribe a period of more than thirty years to every name in this series, the date of Kachtan is not carried back beyond 700 B.C.[464]Abd-Shams-Sabah is said to have built not only Mareb, but also a great dam for the irrigation of the country. The excellent dams, canals, and sluices at Sanaa (the Uzal of the Hebrews, westward of Mareb) are said to have been built by Asad.[465] The castles of Sahlin and Bainun (at Sanaa) are said to have been built by demons at the bidding of Solomon for Belkis, queen of Shebah. Besides these the Arabs talk of numerous castles and fortresses in the south. Towards the year 100 B.C. Harith, a descendant of Himyar, obtained the throne of the Sabæans; and the place of the Sabæans is taken by the Himyarites, the Homerites of Western nations, who henceforth are the ruling nation in Yemen, a change for which Arab tradition prepares the way by making Himyar the son and successor of Abd-Shams-Sabah. Harith's successors fixed their residence first at Dshafar (Dhu Raidan), then at Mareb, and finally at Sanaa.[466]

The tribes of the high land of the interior, whom the Arabs call Neshd, i. e. "the high people," and certain tribes of Hidyaz, are derived by tradition from Adnan, a grandson of Ishmael. When Ibrahim (Abraham) had sent away Hagar and her son, and Hagar was about to perish in the desert, the child Ishmael struck the earth with his foot, and from it sprang the fountain of Zamzam, close to Mecca. Amalekites, in search of their lost camels, found the spring, settled down beside it, and worshipped Ishmael as the lord of the spring. Then came tribes from the South, the Dshorhomites and Katura, to the fountain; and Ishmael married the daughter of the chief of the Dshorhomites and begot Nabit (the Nebajoth) and Kaidar (the Kedarites). The Amalekites and Katura were then driven away, and the Dshorhomites remained alone in possession of the fountain of Zamzam. Kaidar's son was Adnan. From Adnan sprang the Benu Bekr, the Taghlib, the Temim, the Takif, the Gatafan, &c. If we ascend the genealogies which Arab tradition gives to the princes of the tribes sprung from Ishmael, in twenty generations, ending with Adnan, the grandson of Ishmael, we only arrive at the end of the second century B.C., even if we allow thirty years for each generation.[467]

The few facts which we can make out about the religious worship of the southern Arabs (they belong almost exclusively to the period in which the Himyarites obtained the supremacy in South Arabia) exhibit a certain connection with the worship of the Babylonians; but we cannot ascertain whether this coincidence, like the close relationship of the South Arabian and Babylonian languages, is due to original unity or later intercourse. The Byzantines tell us that the Himyarites worshipped the sun, the moon, and certain demons of the land. The tradition of the Arabs mentions Abd-Shams-Sabah as the founder of the kingdom of the Sabæans, and the name Abd-Shams signifies the servant of the sun-god, and hence in the eyes of the Arabs the worship of the sun-god must have occupied a very prominent place in the religion of the Sabæans—a fact which is confirmed by the inscriptions. They mention the sun-god (Shams, Shamas), the moon-god Al-makak, and the gods Aththor, Haubas, and Dhu Samavi.[468] The Himyarites are said to have worshipped the sun under the form of an eagle (Nasr), and the Hamdanids (who dwelt to the north of Sanaa and Mareb) under the form of a horse; a third tribe in Yemen are said to have worshipped him in the form of a lion.[469]

The accounts which we have of the religion of the tribes who in the second century of our era, in consequence of the bursting of a great dam at Mareb, according to Arab tradition, migrated to the North, and by this migration destroyed or drove out or amalgamated with the new-comers a considerable number of the old tribes of this region, prove that the immigrants worshipped certain stars as their protecting deities. The Tadshi immigrants from the South, who pastured their flocks on the oasis of Duma, worshipped Canopus; the Lachmites, who were driven towards Hira, on the lower Euphrates, worshipped the fortunate star Jupiter; and the Chozaa, who settled to the north of Mecca, worshipped Sirius.[470]

With regard to the religious rites of the tribes derived by the Arabs from Adnan, we learn that the Benu Bekr, who forced their way from Neshd towards the Euphrates, worshipped the god Audh, i. e. the burning one; an ancient form of oath used by this tribe runs as follows—"I swear by the blood streams round Audh and the stones set up beside Suair." The Kinana and the Benu Gatafan in Hidyaz worshipped the goddess Uzza, a name which is said to signify "the mighty one" in a sacred tree.[471] The tribe of the Takif (near Taif, southward of Mecca) worshipped the goddess Allat, in whose name we can, without difficulty, recognise the Alilat of Herodotus: Alilahat means "the goddess." Among the palms of the valley of Nachlah rose the mighty tree of the goddess, "presented with sacred offerings;" but the Takif also prayed to this goddess under the form of a white stone. A third goddess, of the name of Manat, held sway in the district of Medinah; she was worshipped in a black shapeless stone. The Kuraish swore by Allat, Uzza, and Manat.[472] Among other tribes of the desert the goddess Halasah, or Venus, was worshipped. According to the Western writers the Nabatæans are said to have worshipped the sun and the war-god Dusares.[473] "His image is a black, undressed, rectangular stone, four feet high and two feet broad, on a pedestal of beaten gold. To this stone they offer sacrifice and pour libations with the blood of the victims; such are their libations; the whole temple is filled with gold and votive offerings." Modern scholars identify this god Dusares with the Du'sharah of Arabian writers.[474] Herodotus has already told us that on the conclusion of agreements the stones between the two parties were smeared with blood; and, as according to this evidence, the idols also were sprinkled with the blood of the victims, we can explain the oath of Benu Bekr by the bloodstreams round Audh. The statement of Herodotus that the Arabs worshipped Urotal and Alilat only, and the statements of Strabo and Arrian that they worshipped Zeus, and Dionysus, and the sky, must apparently be limited to the migratory tribes of the north.

Of the gods worshipped by the tribes bordering on Syria we have more definite knowledge. The Midianites and Amalekites who possessed the sandstone plateau of Sinai, and the deserts of Shur in the north, and Sin in the south, worshipped on the highest peaks of that district which the Hebrews called Horeb and Sinai (i. e.the Sinian), the god Baal, who was also worshipped by the Syrians. At the foot of Sinai there still remains the well-watered palm grove, with its rich black earth, of which Agatharchides and Diodorus told us above. It is the oasis of Firan, and from the palms the mountain above it is still called Serbal, i. e. "the palm forest of Baal."[475] The Moabites invoked Baal on Mount Peor, and in times of distress appeased his wrath by human sacrifices. In the same way the Ammonites worshipped their god Milkom; the female deity of the Moabites was Astor, the Astarte of the Syrians, who was also worshipped by the Kedarites.[476] That the Baal of Sinai was a god who gave fruits and water in the desert is clear from the fact that Herodotus could compare the god of the Arabs with Dionysus, and Strabo and Arrian could ascribe the worship of Dionysus to the Arabs.

From a general view of these scanty notices it becomes clear that the basis of the religious conceptions current among the Semitic tribes of Arabia was not widely different from that of the Semitic tribes by the Euphrates and Tigris, or in Syria, which will be found to be connected with each other. It is easy to understand that the rites of the tribes bordering on Syria were nearer to the rites of the Syrians, and it has been already remarked that the worship of the southern tribes appears to be most closely allied to the rites of the Babylonians. Here, as there, we find the worship of Astarte; Herodotus expressly calls the goddess of the Arabs by the name of Mylitta, the Bilit of the Babylonians, whom, as we shall see, the Canaanites also worshipped with much zeal. We saw that in Babylon her power was recognized in the evening gleam of the planet Venus, that all young things, fountains, and pools, belonged to this goddess; and we shall find her worshipped in Syria on the shady heights of Lebanon. The tribes of the Arabian deserts also consecrated lofty trees to this goddess, their Allat, or Halasah; and just as they believed that the power of this, as of other deities, was present in stones, so shall we find a similar custom prevailing among the Syrians. That the tribes of the deserts should pay especial reverence to the deities of the stars—we have seen how systematised was the worship of stars in Babylon—cannot surprise us. With the refreshing dew of evening not Venus only or the moon, but the whole glory of the starry heaven met the eye and touched the spirit of the Arabs. High above the tents and resting flocks, above the nocturnal ride and waiting ambuscade, and all the doings of men the stars passed along on their glittering courses. They guided the Arabs on their way through the deserts; certain constellations announced the wished-for rain, others the wild storms, the changes of the seasons, the time for breeding in their herds and flocks. As these stars at one time brought abundance and good pastures for their flocks, and at another dried up the springs and scorched the meadows, so could they also bring joy and happiness or trouble and pain to men. Hence to the tribes of the desert especially brilliant stars appeared as living spirits, as rulers over nature and the fortunes of mankind.

The life of the roving tribes in the interior whom the Arabs denote by the general name of Badawi (Bedouins), i. e. "sons of the desert," has undergone few changes; at the present day but slight deviations have been made from the customs and conditions of the ancient time. Their life was regulated according to their descent in patriarchal forms, and the basis of it was the natural affection of the family. At the head of the tribe stood the chief of the oldest family, from which the rest derived their origin. All descendants of the patriarch who had given the name to the tribe gave a willing obedience to his nearest descendants, for the claims of primogeniture were sacred. The wealth in horses of excellent breed, camels, and cattle is the pride of these tribal chiefs and the symbol of their supremacy. Surrounded by the council of the elders, the heads of the other families, the chiefs maintained peace in the tribe, settled quarrels, led out the youth of the tribe on plundering expeditions and in feuds, and divided the spoil. They alone had the right to assemble the tribe, to carry the standards under which the tribe fought, and give the command in battle. In rare instances the remembrance of a common origin keeps several tribes together in a kind of union under the chief of the oldest tribe, from which the others have branched off, but as a rule the tribes hold proudly aloof and are hostile to each other. They attack each other, plunder the tents, carry off the women, children, and servants, and drive away the flocks. When a feud has once broken out and members of a tribe have been slain, it is incumbent on the family and tribe to which the dead belonged to revenge the fallen, and kill at least as many members of the hostile tribe. This duty of revenge is hereditary on either side, and descends from generation to generation until the chief of a third tribe is chosen to decide the quarrel and become a peace-maker by fixing a fine of cattle or other property.

In such a mode of life, which, in its general features, has remained unchanged for thousands of years, the Arabs of the desert exercised the virtues of reverence, piety, and attachment to their tribal chiefs; thus there grew up among them a steadfast, manly character; they were true to their promise when once given, and displayed a noble hospitality. If any one came in peace to their tents, drink was given to him by the daughters of the tribe from the fountains, the men took him as a friend into their tents and shared their store of dates with him, or entertained him with a sheep from the flock. When the stranger had once set his foot in the tent, the host guaranteed his safety with his own life. When the night came on with her refreshing coolness, the stranger was required to sit in the starlight in the circle of the tribesmen. He was expected to tell of his origin, his race, and tribe; and then the hosts also told the fame of their ancestors and sang the deeds of their fathers and themselves, the feuds and encounters in which their tribe had been victorious, the virtues of their favourite horses, and the swiftness of their camels.

Poetry was the only form of intellectual life known to the tribes of the desert. The Bedouins had a lively sense of the incidents which broke the simple loneliness of their lives, and gave them a vigorous and even a fiery expression. The artless song was the expression of feelings deeply stirred by sorrow or joy. Such songs were equally adapted for calling to mind their own deeds and fortunes or those of the tribe, and for moral exhortation. They were "occasional" pieces. Lament for the dead, praise of the noblest warrior, the battles and exaltation of the tribe, the generosity and courage of their own tribe or hatred of the hostile tribe, derision of the enemy, hunting, weapons, rides through the desert, horses and camels, are the subjects of this poetry, which is expressed in short iambic verses. Tradition mentions Lokman as the oldest poet. He is supposed to be a contemporary of David; and round his name is gathered a number of proverbs, gnomes, and fables. The short poems lived on in the tribe, they were sung again and again, extended and recast. At a later time there were also rhapsodes who could repeat a store of such poems.

The Arabs have developed in the most healthy and marked manner the characteristic features of the Semitic race. Their roving life in the deserts under the burning sun and amid tempests and whirlwinds of sand has strengthened and hardened them. Surrounded in pathless isolation by beasts of prey and hostile tribes, every one was dependent on his own watchfulness and keenness, on his courage and resolution, on his horse and his lance. On a frugal and scanty sustenance the body became lean and thin, but supple, muscular, and capable of endurance; and in these hardy bodies dwelt a resolute spirit. Thus the Arabs display a freer attitude, a more steadfast repose, a more haughty pride, a greater love of independence, and a more adventurous boldness than their kinsmen. Their land and their mode of life have saved them from the greedy avarice, from the luxury and debauchery, into which the Semitic nations on the Euphrates and Tigris, as on the Mediterranean, often fell, though they share in the cruelty and bloodthirstiness common to their race. It was the Arabs on whose virgin strength a new Semitic empire and civilization was able to be founded in the Middle Ages, when Babel and Asshur, Tyre and Carthage, Jerusalem and Palmyra had long passed away.


[428]Herod. 3, 7; 1, 131; 7, 69, 86.

[429]Eratosthenes in Strabo, p. 767.

[430]Strabo, p. 777.

[431]Diod. 2, 48; 3, 44.

[432]Diod. 2, 48, 50, 54; 3, 42, 43. The accounts of the grove are taken from Agatharchides.—Strabo, p. 777.

[433]"Hist. Nat." 6, 32.

[434]Amm. Marcell. 14, 4.

[435]Herod. 3, 107-113.

[436]Heracl. Cuman. Fragm. 4. ed. Müller.

[437]Apud Strabon. p. 768 ff.

[438]Agatharch. "De Mari Erythr.;" apud Diod. 3, 45-48, and the excerpt of Photius in Müller, "Geogr. Gr. Min." 1, 111 ff.; cf. Strabo, p. 778.

[439]Strabo, p. 778.

[440]"Hist. Nat." 12, 32; 6, 32 seq.

[441]The queen of Sheba, who brings such large gifts of gold and spices to Solomon, must in any case be regarded as the queen of the rich spice land, and with this account agree other passages in which Sheba is mentioned. To the Seba, who are mentioned in Psalm lxxii. 10, 15, as rich in gold along with the Sheba, and are described in Isaiah as people of great stature (xlv. 15; cf. xliii. 3), and are placed in Genesis x. 7 among the children of Cush, I cannot assign any place. Prideaux assumes that the two nations became amalgamated; "Trans. Bibl. Arch." 2, 2.

[442]Isaiah xxi. 13, 14, 17.

[443]Dümichen, "Die Flotte einer ægyptischen Königin."

[444]G. Smith, "Assyr. Discov." p. 286; Schrader, "Keilschriften und Alt. Test." s. 56, 143, 163.

[445]G. Smith, "Assurbanipal," pp. 264, 265, 275.

[446]Gen. xxv. 1-11; xxvi. 34; xxxvi. 11.

[447]Birch, "The Annals of Tutmes III.;" "Archæolog." vol. xlv.

[448]Papyrus Harris in Chabas, "Recherches sur la Dynastie 19," p. 59.

[449]Movers, "Phœnizier," 2, 3, 302.

[450]Strabo, p. 756; Pliny, "Hist. Nat." 12, 32.

[451]Isaiah xxi. 13, 14.

[452]Movers, "Phœnizier," 2, 3, 293.

[453]Isaiah lx. 6.

[454]Herod. 3, 97.

[455]1 Kings xxii. 49; 2, xiv. 7, 22; 2 Chronicles xvii.; 2, xxvi. 6, 7. Under Ahaz, the grandson of Uzziah, Elath was again lost.—2 Kings xvi. 6.

[456]Caussin de Percival, "Histoire des Arabes," 1, 16, 17; Wellsted, "Reisen in Arabien, von E. Rödiger," 1, 307.

[457]Prideaux, "Trans. Bibl. Arch." 2, 19.

[458]D. H. Müller, "Zeit. d. d. M. Gesellschaft," 1876, s. 522 ff.

[459]Osiander in the "Zeit. d. d. M. Gesellschaft," 10, 17-73; Praetorius, loc. cit. 26, 417 ff; Gildemeister and Levy, loc. cit. 24, 188.

[460]Genesis xxv. 1-6.

[461]Genesis xxxvi. 12-16.

[462]The table in Genesis x. 7, places Ramah, Shebah, Dedan, Havilah, among the sons of Cush, but in the genealogy of the Arabs (c. xxv.) Shebah and Dedan are given to Joktan and Midian.

[463]Nöldeke. "Ueber die Amalekiter," s. 23 ff.

[464]Caussin, "Histoire des Arabes," 1, 49, arrives at the year 794 for the birth of J'arab, by allotting thirty-three years to each generation. Wüstenfeld, in his genealogical tables, gives from thirty to thirty-four generations between Kachtan and Mohammed, and thus, though he allows forty years for each generation, cannot reach beyond the year 700 B.C. for Kachtan.

[465]Osiander, in "Zeitschr. d. d. Morgen. Gesellschaft," 10, 27.

[466]Caussin, "Histoire des Arabes," 1, 49-60; Prideaux, "Trans. Bibl. Arch." 2, 10.

[467]Caussin, "Hist. des Arabes," 1, 166 ff. Wüstenfeld ("Genealogische Tabellen") reaches higher, because, as already remarked, he allows forty years for a generation.

[468]Krehl, "Religion der Araber," s. 41, 30; Lenormant, "Lett. Assyr." 2, 10.

[469]Osiander, "Zeitschr. d. d. M. G." 7, 474; 10, 63; 11, 472; Lenormant, loc. cit. 279; Caussin, loc. cit. 1, 113; Prideaux, "Trans. Bibl. Arch." 2, 18.

[470]Krehl, "Religion der Araber," 8, 24; Osiander, "Zeitschr. d. d. M. G." 7, 473 ff.

[471]Osiander, loc. cit. 7, 487. On a stone image we find a cow and a calf with the inscription "Uzza."

[472]Krehl, "Religion der Araber," s. 73, 78. On the seven black stones of the planets at Erech.—"W. A. J." 2, 50. On the stones of the Kaabah, Lenormant, "Lettres Assyr." 2, 120 ff.; Caussin, "Hist. des Arabes," 1, 165, 176 ff.

[473]Strabo, p. 784; Suid. Θεὸς Ἄρης; Steph. Byz. Δουσαρή.

[474]Krehl, loc. cit. s. 49. See ibid. on the worship of Alful, Sahd, and Sahid.

[475]Lepsius, "Briefe," s. 330 ff.

[476]Nöldeke, "Inschrift. des Mesa," s. 6. The amalgamation of Astarte with Camus, like the amalgamation with Melkarth among the Phenicians presupposes the separate worship of the goddess.—G. Smith, "Assurbanipal," p. 283.