8th century B.C. But the great contribution of the century to the early history of Arabia was the collecting and translating of numerous early Arabian inscriptions (cf. section Antiquities above), which have done service both by their own indication of a great civilization in Arabia for nearly (or more than) a thousand years before the Christian era, and by the new stimulus which they gave to the study and appreciation of the materials in the Assyrian inscriptions, the Old Testament, and the Greek and Roman writers. At the same time the facts that the inscriptions are undated until a late period, that few are historical in their contents, and for the most part yield only names of gods and rulers and domestic and religious details, and that our collection is still very incomplete, have led to much serious disagreement among scholars as to the reconstruction of the history of Arabia in the pre-Christian centuries.
All scholars, however, are agreed that the inscriptions reach as far back as the 9th century B.C. (some say to the 16th) and prove the existence of at least four civilized kingdoms during these centuries. These are the kingdoms of Ma‛īn (Minaean), of Saba (Sabaean), of Hadramaut (Hadramut) and of Katabania (Katabanū). Of the two latter little is known. That of Hadramut had kings from the time of the Minaeans to about A.D. 300, when it was conquered by Ethiopia. The limits of the kingdom of Katabania are not known, but it has its own inscriptions.
As to the Sabaean kingdom there is fair agreement among scholars. The inscriptions go back to 800 B.C. or earlier, and the same applies to the kingdom. A queen of this people (the “Queen of Sheba”) is said (1 Kings x.) to have visited Solomon about 950 B.C. There is, however, no mention of such a queen in the inscriptions. An Assyrian inscription mentions Ith‛amara the Sabaean who paid tribute to Sargon in 715 B.C. At this time the Sabaeans must have been in north Arabia unless the inscription refers to a northern colony of the southern Sabaeans. The former opinion is held by E. Glaser, who thinks that in the 9th and 8th centuries they moved down along the west coast to the south, where they conquered the Minaeans (see below). The Sabaean rule is generally divided into periods indicated by the titles given to their rulers. In the first of these ruled the Makārib, who seem to have been priest-kings. Their first capital was at Ṣirwāḥ. Ten such rulers are mentioned in the inscriptions. Their rule extended from the 9th to the 6th century. The second period begins about 550 B.C. The rulers are known as “kings of Saba.” Their capital was Ma’rib. The names of seventeen of these kings are known from the inscriptions. Their sway lasted until about 115 B.C., when they were succeeded by the Himyarites. During this period they were engaged in constant strife with the neighbouring kingdoms of Hadramut and Katabania. The great prosperity of south-west Arabia at this time was due in large measure to the fact that the trade from India with Egypt came there by sea and then went by land up the west coast. This trade, however, was lost during this period, as the Ptolemies established an overland route from India to Alexandria. The connexion of Saba with the north, where the Nabataeans (q.v.) had existed from about 200 B.C., was now broken. The decay that followed caused a number of Sabaeans to migrate to other parts of Arabia.
The Minaean kingdom extended over the south Arabian Jauf, its chief cities being Karnau, Ma‛īn and Yathil. Some twenty-five kings are known from the inscriptions; of these twenty are known to be related to one another. Their history must thus cover several centuries. As inscriptions in the Minaean language are found in al-’Ulā in north Arabia, it is probable that they had colonies in that district. With regard to their date opinion is very much divided; some, with E. Glaser and F. Hommel, maintaining that their kingdom existed prior to that of Saba, probably from about 1500 B.C. or earlier until the Sabaeans came from their home in the north and conquered them in the 9th century. Other scholars think, with D. H. Müller, partly on palaeographical grounds (cf. M. Lidzbarski’s Ephemeris, vol. i. pp. 109 seq., Giessen, 1902), that none of the inscriptions are earlier than about 800 B.C. and that the Minaean kingdom existed side by side with the Sabaean. It is curious that the Sabaean inscriptions contain no mention of the Minaeans, though this may be due to the fact that very few of the inscriptions are historical in content.
About 115 B.C. the power over south Arabia passed from the Sabaeans to the Himyarites, a people from the extreme south-west of Arabia; and about this time the kingdom of Katabania came to an end. The title taken by the new rulers was “king of Saba and Raidān.” Twenty-six kings of this period are known from the inscriptions, some of which are dated. In this period the Romans made their one attempt at direct interference in the affairs of Arabia. The invasion under Aelius Gallus was an absolute failure, the expedition being betrayed by the guides and lost in the sands of the desert. During the latter part of this time the Abyssinians, who had earlier migrated from Arabia to the opposite coast of Africa, began to flow back to the south of Arabia, where they seem to have settled gradually and increased in importance until about A.D. 300, when they became strong enough to overturn the Himyarite kings and establish a dynasty of their own. The title assumed by them was “king of Saba, Raidān, Hadramut and Yemen.” The Himyarites were, however, still active, and after a struggle succeeded in establishing a Jewish Sabaean kingdom, having previously accepted Judaism as their religion. Their best-known king was Dhu Nuwās. The struggle between them and the Abyssinians now became one of Judaism against Christianity. The persecution of the Christians was very severe (see E. Glaser’s Die Abyssinier in Arabien und Afrika, Munich, 1895, and F. M. E. Pereira’s Historia dos Martyres de Nagran, Lisbon, 1899). Apparently for this reason Christian Abyssinia was supported from Byzantium in its attempts to regain power. These attempts were crowned with success in 525. Of the Christian Abyssinian kings in Arabia tradition tells of four, one only of whom is mentioned in inscriptions. The famous expedition of Abraha, the Abyssinian viceroy, against Mecca, took place in 570. Five years later the Persians, who had been called in by the opponents of Christianity, succeeded in taking over the rule and in appointing governors over Yemen. (See further Ethiopia: The Axumite Kingdom.)
Hīra, Ghassān and Kinda.—Before passing to the time of Mahomet it is necessary to take account of three other Arabian powers, those of Hīra, Ghassān and Kinda.
The kingdom of Hira (Ḥīra) was established in the boundary land between the Euphrates and the Arabian desert, a district renowned for its good air and extraordinary fertility. The chief town was Hīra, a few miles south of the site Hīra. of the later town of Kufa. The inhabitants of this land are said in Ṭabari’s history to have been of three classes:—(1) The Tanukh (Tnuhs), who lived in tents and were made up of Arabs from the Tehama and Nejd, who had united in Bahrein to form a new tribe, and who migrated from there to Hīra, probably at the beginning or middle of the 3rd century A.D., when the Arsacid power was growing weak. The Arabian historians relate their conflict with Zenobia. (2) The ‛Ibād or ‛Ibādites, who dwelt in the town of Hīra in houses and so led a settled life. These were Christians, whose ecclesiastical language was Syriac, though the language of intercourse was Arabic. A Christian bishop of Hīra is known to have attended a synod in 410. In the 5th century they became Nestorians. (3) Refugees of various tribes, who came into the land but did not belong to the Tanukh or the ‛Ibād. There is no trustworthy information as to the earlier chiefs of this people. The dynasty of the Lakhmids, famed in Arabian history and literature, arose towards the end of the 3rd century and lasted until about 602. The names of twenty kings are given by Hishām al-Kalbī in Ṭabari’s history. Although so many of their subjects were Christian, the Lakhmids remained heathen until Nu’mān, the last of the dynasty. The kingdom of Hīra was never really independent, but always stood in a relation of dependence on Persia, probably receiving pay from it and employing Persian soldiers. At the height of its power it was able to render valuable aid to its suzerain. Much of its time was spent in wars with Rome and Ghassān. Its revenues were derived from the Bedouins of the surrounding lands as well as from its own subjects at home. About 602 the Lakhmid dynasty fell, and the Persian Chosroes (Khosrau) II. appointed as governor an Arab of the tribe of Tāi. Shortly after it came into relation with Islam.