Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times (Arab Background Series)

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A different reconstruction of this episode was proposed in by A. Musil, who suggested that Te'elhunu may have been in league with Babylonia against Assyria, conducting raids in Central Babylonia from the Euphrates valley, and that Sennacherib therefore approached Adummatu from the East, crossing the desert-steppe known as Al-Widyan, as Butler and Aylmer did in Al Jawf lies km southwest of Baghdad, and between Nagaf and Al Jawf there has been, in more recent times, a direct line of communication and wells Butler But Leachman, who covered this ground, was doubtful of the importance of a Al Jawf-Nagaf route in antiquity Leachman : , and it is certainly true that the Nagaf-Ha'il route, forming part of the Darb Zubayda, has generally been more important in history.

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More to the point, however, it is doubtful whether travel accross this expanse would have been possible for an Assyrian army using horses. All of the travellers who have made this journey have travelled by camel, and this would seem to be a necessity. As the Assyrian army did not regularly employ camels see below , I am inclined to rule out the possibility that they could have approached Adummatu, whether from Assyria or Babylonia, from the east.

The Annals of Sennacherib, written in B.

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The campaigns of Assurbanipal against the Arabs can be ignored here, as these took place exclusively in the Syrian desert Weippert Lidzbarski suggested that this toponym was to be identified with the station mentioned by Yaqut as the first on the Basra-Mecca pilgrim route outside of Basra Lidzbarski Another possibility, however, is Hafr al-Batn in northeastern Saudi Arabia. If the AsSur letter indeed refers to Hafr, then we have the earliest attestation of the second great wadi which gives access to northern Arabia along with the Wadi Sirhan, namely the Wadi al-Batn.

The Neo-Babylonian Period. We can ignore Nebuchadnezzar's campaign against the Arabs in his 6th year, as this, following his campaign in Hatti-land, took place almost certainly in Syria Eph'al : We come thus to the reign of Nabonidus and his famous stay in northwestern Arabia. Eph'al , probably marching via Ma'an and Tabuk. Unfortunately, the course of two related journeys is less easy to chart. In , R. There has occasionally been suspicion that this toponym is not the same as the city of Tayma in northwestern Arabia, but this appears highly unlikely.

If it is accepted, one must ask how such a journey was accomplished. Unfortunately, here we can only speculate. It seems unthinkable that a lone man could or would set off across the desert, either via what was later to become the Darb Zubayda, travelling via Ha'il around the southwestern rim of the Nefud, or across Al Widyan and Al Jawf, approaching Tayma from the north. An analogy to this long journey from Babylonia to northwestern Arabia, however, is provided by W. Obviously, travel such as this was done by camel caravan, but this account at least demonstrates that the overland transport of foodstuffs from the Euphrates to an oasis in the northern Nefud was practicable, and as such, journeys from Uruk to Tayma become perhaps more comprehensible.

We come now to a period fraught with geographical problems. Let us consider some of these in turn. To begin with, there is the longstanding issue of a trans-Arabian routhe linking up with Egypt. Strabo, Geog. He says concerning the northerly, or desert, part of Arabia Discussing this passage, B. Neither statement is particularly specific.

He gives the distance as slightly more than 10 marches, but these are delul marches, some of which are very long, c. Berthelot : 7 has identified a similar route between Uruk and Bostra on Ptolemy's map of Arabia. Interest in such a route was sparked in when D.

Carruthers found a ruined caravanserai at Ba'ir, northeast of Ma'an, which he took to be an ancient stop on the Egyptian-Babylonian route Carruthers Contemporary commentators signalled the great importance of this discovery, which was particularly timely given the plans which were then being considered for the construction of a Suez-Basra railway along the 30th parallel Butler : ; cf. Thus, Col.

Subsequently, enthusiasm waned as its antiquity was challenged. Lawrence visited the site several times during the war and considered it Ghassanid, while Gertrude Bell pronounced it to be early Islamic Hogarth : 6. I will speak only briefly here about two of the other main routes, Gerrha- Petra and Gerrha- Hadhramaut, and reserve most of my remarks for the following section on the Parthian period, in which Ptolemy's map of Arabia will be discussed. Es scheint, dass solche urgent reasons Stammverbindungen? Assuming that they followed a route between al-Hasa, Dariya, Qasim Anayza-Burayda and Ha'il, it would certainly make more sense, in view of the fact that their ultimate goal was Gaza or Petra, for them to have proceeded around the Nafud, via Jaharan and Tayma, to Tabuk and Ma'an, rather than across it to Dumatha.

As for the caravans travelling between Gerrha and the Hadhramaut, Strabo, Geog. Nine years later, it had been done by Philby Philby a , but Hogarth : , in reviewing Philby's journey of , expressed disappointment at the apparently small scale of caravan. In , however, W. This revived an old suggestion by Sprenger, based on his study of Ptolemy's map of Arabia, as we shall see below, but if von Wissmann 's analysis of Pliny, NH VI, is correct, it can hardly be supported any longer.

Casaubon , Jomard had questioned it as early as , and more recently A. The question is surely worthy of further investigation. We turn briefly now to northwestern Arabia. Coins of the 3rd century B. Moreover, the route from Aqaba to Petra and west to Gaza is indicated by a whole series of birkas, forts and settlements Negev : ; : On the basis of various internal references, von Wissmann dated these itineraries to just prior to the expedition of Aelius Gallus, or roughly B. As I have noted already, von Wissmann's interpretation of the second route, combined with the distribution of ceramic indices gathered during the survey of southern Na d in , suggests to me that the scepticism of scholars such as Sprenger and Brice concerning the use of the NagVan-Hofuf route in antiquity, is insupportable cf.

We turn now to Ptolemy's map of Arabia. As is well known, Ptolemy's catalogue of toponyms is organized according to latitudes, i. It is assumed, however, that Ptolemy had itineraries at his disposal, and it is further assumed that his enumeration of place-names was not merely a sterile academic exercise, but rather a basis from which to draft actual maps. The maps of Arabia which began appearing in Europe in the 1 5th century following the invention of the printing press did not contain any indications of routes.

Sprenger's radical and now standard treatment of Ptolemy's geography of Arabia, however, was based explicitly on the postulation of a number of trans-Arabian routes, most. Thus, Berthelot believed that some of Ptolemy's positions described a route down Wadi al-Batn leading from Babylonia to Kuwait and on to the area of Anayza and Burayda. In Appendix C I have extracted those routes of most concern here, ignoring only the shorter ones which are located exclusively in southern Arabia.

The routes which are of interest are as follows. Next we have a route from Mecca to Spasinou Charax. Sprenger assumed that this route probably follow the Mecca-Basra route, known from al-Muqaddisi, as far as al-Qasim ; from here he suggested that it curved more to the east, arriving in Kuwait, rather than heading straight up the Wadi al-Batn. This is considered impassable without the wells known to have been dug in the Islamic era, an incorrect assumption in view of the abundance of ground water here at shallow depths.

This is followed by the route from Mecca to Ha'il. Sprenger refers to it as the route from Kama to Arre, but as Kama was only a village one station north of Mecca, it seeems more appropriate to call it the Mecca-Ha'il route. We come again to the route linking Gerrha and Petra. Sprenger based his identifications of the first part of the route on Sadleir's journey across Arabia.

As mentioned above, I am baffled as to why Sprenger proposed that this route ran from Ha'il to Jubba, and across the great Nefud to Dumaitha, an unlikely course when Petra and Gaza were the ultimate goals. Finally, we come to the route from Gerrha to the frankincense region.

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Discounting the use of the Nagran-Basra route in antiquity, Sprenger suggested an unlikely, almost impossible route from al-Hasa to Yabrin, across the sand and sabkha of what is now western Abu Dhabi, to the interior of Oman, stopping at Nizwa or Rustaq, and down the length of the sultanate of Dhofar.

I consider this, frankly, out of the question.

If such is the case, I can hardly imagine that Sprenger's Gerrha-Babylonia route was ever used as he reconstructs it. We may mention in passing here the paper read by W. Glueck's view that the Wadi Sirhan constituted an important route for the Nabataeans. The isolated finds of Nabataean pottery at sites such as Failaka, Thaj, and Qaryat al-Fau can do no more than suggest the routes by which these goods may have travelled. Negev Bowersock : , suggests that the stretch of road, from Petra to Gaza via Moyet 'Awad, Mezad Neqarot, 'Avdat and Eluza had lost a great deal of its importance by the 1st century A.

Trade that formerly passed northward through Petra to Gaza was going more and more to the Egyptian coast and thence north to the Mediterranean. This last statement is supported by a number of facts, outlined by G. The Sasanian Period. The last four centuries before Islam are full of incidental records of travel in Arabia over great distances, but virtually none of these records, with the exception of certain fragments of pre-Islamic poetry, contain anything remotely resembling an itinerary. We are thus forced to bear in mind the patterns of both the preceeding and succeeding periods, but there is very little hope of charting any routes very precisely.

The poetry of pre-Islamic Arabia provides some basic information on travel during this period. References to riding camels are abundant Thilo 25, 36, 65, 85 ; the camel. There are also many allusions to the use of horses by tribes engaged in raiding, suffering under the weight of booty, kept under sun-roofs to protect them, and being forced over rocky ground Thilo 37, , 42; Moritz ; Shahid I have already mentioned a few references to the clear demarcation of tribal territories Thilo : 28, 35, 60 , and we hear of the Arab's intimate familiarity with the land, such that a landmark can be identified even at midnight Thilo : A crossing of Arabia from southwest to northeast is mentioned in a verse of Muzahim al- Uqaili Thilo : 99 , while, in the opposite direction, we hear of a man who keeps his family in Syria but his quarters in Yabrin Thilo : Al-A sa, the Christian poet who died c.

All of this simply serves to illustrate the enormity of travel in Arabia during this period, travel which cannot be reduced to a few main routes. There are, of course, certain diplomatic and military missions which invite study. Trans- Arabian caravan trade during this period is, of course, another factor to be considered. There were, of course, many such famous markets in pre-Islamic Arabia, and no doubt a wide range of routes leading to them. The Basran poet al-Gahiz d. Koran, Sura ], in winter to Yemen, and in summer in the direction of Syria They also travelled to Ethiopia This last point is important, and I.

Shahid has, in part, attributed the rise of Mecca in the 6th century to the successful diversion of caravans to it from Oman and al-Bahrayn, formerly intended for Mesopotamia, with the concomitant and gradual abandonment of the Gulf route for the West Arabian route Shahid , Shahid has pointed to five factors responsible for the shift at this time. First, the intensification of hostilities between Byzantium and Sasanian Persia ; the intensification of hostilities between the Ghassanids and the Lakhmids, making the caravan trade in the eastern corridor unsafe ; the entry of the Abyssinians on the world scene, competing with Persian merchants, particularly in the silk trade ; the fall of the Himyarite state at the hands of the Abyssinians, enabling Mecca to exert more control over the western incense route ; and fifth, the evasion of Byzantine and Sasanian import and export controls.

We have seen that, dark though the picture may be, certain features stand out as we examine the period between Assyrian domination and the rise of Islam. During the Neo- Assyrian period, the dominance of Damascus, and the importance of Adummatu, combined to make the Wadi Sirhan an important locus of movement. A lone letter from the time of Assurbanipal may reflect movement down the Wadi al-Batn as well. In the Neo-Babylonian era, Nabonidus' initial campaign against Tayma must be seen in conjunction with a march from Harran, down the east side of the Jordan River, and along the future bed of the Higaz railway, via Ma'an and Tabuk.

Saudi Arabia's Pre-Islamic History Revealed

Thereafter, it is an open question how communications were maintained with Babylonia. When we come to the Hellenistic era, two main arteries crossed the peninsula, the so-called Gerrha-Petra route and the Shabwa-Gerrha route. In the Sasanian period, travel can hardly be compartmentalized, as all indications are that constant movement throughout the entire peninsula took place. Nevertheless, if the reconstruction of Shahid is admitted, we see the renewal of the prominence of the western route via Mecca. It is hardly likely, however, that the majority of these routes were not always in use to some extent.

In all probability these had connected the outlying areas of civilization, whether in Babylonia, Palmyra, or Nabataea, with points south, from an early date.

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Carsten Niebuhr Institute University of Copenhagen. Only after the proofs of this article had been corrected did I become aware of the following two relevant articles : M. II, Perugia, : Main Transarabian routes.