1.0 History Of the Semites
Between the giant continents of Asia and Africa lies the Arab Peninsula. Its inhabitants call it "the Island of the Arabs" because it is separated from the rest of the world on all sides by natural barriers. In the west it is separated from Africa by the Red Sea, in the east it is separated by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman from the Asian mainland, in the south it is surrounded by the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, while in the north lies that most impenetrable of barriers, vast tracts of desert.

Arab Peninsula
Arab Peninsula

In pre-historic times the land was green and its mountain peaks were snowcapped, but with the receding of the Ice Age the land began to grow drier and drier and could no longer sustain all its people, so they emigrated from it, in wave after wave, to more fertile climates. The first wave emigrated to Egypt through Bab-Al-Mandab around 4500 BC, mixed with the Hamitic population of that land and gave us the Ancient Egyptians of history .The second wave emigrated around 4000 BC to the land between the two rivers, now modern Iraq, where they found the Akkadians (Acadians). They lived under Akkadian rule for some time and then formed a kingdom of their own, the kingdom of Babylon. Famous among the Babylonian kings was Hammurabi who had his laws engraved on a monument of stone.

The third wave to appear, though in fact closely akin to the Babylonians, was the Assyrians. They made their mark on history later than the Babylonians and created a military state in which science, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics flourished, as well as art and literature.

The fourth wave to emigrate were the people the Greeks called the Phoenicians. They started out around 2000 BC and were the tradesmen and mariners of the ancient world. They built great commercial cities like Sayda, Tyre, and Sidon. These mariners established colonies all along their trade routes, the most famous among them being the civilization of Carthage. They were the first people to write phonetically and carried their writing everywhere they traded in the ancient world. They taught it to the Greeks who in turn transmitted it to the Romans. Actually, the oldest phonetic writing yet found is a script found in Sinai in the North Arabian tongue; it is considered the link between the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and the writing of the Phoenicians and dates from 1850 BC.

There were also other waves of emigrants such as the Aramites who settled near Babylon and established the Chaldean civilization around 2000 BC. In the south emigrants settled in Abyssinia and established the old Abyssinian Kingdom, and there were also the Hebrews who settled in Palestine.

All these people are called Semites. The word Semite is derived from Sam (or Shem), the son of Noah. It has no ethnic origin and is a term used for a group of languages found to have certain characteristics in common and to be derived from the same mother tongue or proto-language. These languages are divided into the northern and southern Semitic tongues. The southern tongues are further divided into North Arabian and South Arabian. North Arabian was the language of the people of Mecca and is the tongue that has superseded other Arabian dialects to become known as Classical Arabic, the language honored by the Koran. South Arabian was the language of the southern peninsular civilizations (Yemen and the lands around it) and the Abyssinian civilization.

We shall not record the wars, triumphs, and defeats of those who left the peninsula, although they were the oldest civilizations in history, because our main concern is those who remained behind. Geographically the Arabian Peninsula may be divided into two parts: north and south. Separating these two broad divisions are vast deserts, difficult to penetrate. The people of the north have remained nomadic, for the poor environment of the north does not encourage settled civilization, but forces the inhabitants to be constantly on the move in search of water and pasture. Those of the south were able to establish a succession of advanced civilizations whose ruins of citadels, dams, monuments, and palaces twenty stories high, bear witness to the prosperity and ability of the people who erected them. It was a purely Arab phenomenon with no external influences and had its own laws, codes, constitution, and customs. They had the knowledge and ability to control the heavy rainfall of those parts and store the water by means of dams, barrages, and reservoirs.

These southern Arabs had trade relations with Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. Their caravans crossed the desert bringing spices, incense, gum, and myrrh from India and returned carrying the goods that these lands produced. The first important South Arabian kingdom was that of the Mainians around 1200 BC. It controlled the trade routes and built caravanserais along these routes for their use.

Arab Peninsula

The Mainians were succeeded by the Sabaeans who continued the on-f1ow of Arab culture and who inherited the trade routes of the Maanians along with their civilization. It was one of the queens of this kingdom, the Queen of Saba (Sheba), who went to visit Solomon. Several causes contributed to the weakening and final ruin of the Sabaean civilization; among them were their luxurious life-style and the neglect of their dams and barrages after they had grown wealthy from trade. In 270 BC Ptolemy the Second built a fleet that could ply the Red Sea which prior to this had been considered un-navigable. This contributed to their decline, since they had previously monopolized trade in the area. Their barrages had been neglected for some time and, when the Dam of Marib broke, the land was flooded and became mostly wasteland,forcing the people to emigrate northwards. Some went to the north of the peninsula in the vicinity of Madina, while others moved right up to the borders of Syria and Iraq where they formed new kingdoms. The Sabaeans deified the heavenly bodies and worshipped a trinity. The moon, which they called Wudd, was their greatest god; the sun was its consort; and a son born of this union, one of the stars, possibly Venus or Jupiter, was the third. It was the Sabaeans, penetrating into the north via their trade routes who introduced the worship of the stars to the Arabs of the north.

During the first century after Christ, Judaism, then Christianity made their appearance in the land and vied for supremacy over it. This conflict brought in the two great powers that dominated the world at that time, the Roman and the Persian Empires. The Himyarite king of Yemen sought the assistance of the Persian Chosroes against his Abyssinian enemies who had overrun his land; In consequence, Yemen remained under Persian influence until the arrival of Islam in the country.

In the north two Arab states emerged. The first was Petra, a city state built by the Nabataeans out of solid rock. This civilization flourished from 300 BC to 106 AD when the Jewish uprising caused the Roman emperor Titus to destroy the city and annex the land to the Roman Empire.

Another Arab civilization arose soon after Petra's demise in the oasis of Palmyra. It was a trade center like Petra, powerful and prosperous, and it took a neutral stance in the wars between the Romans and the Persians. It possessed fertile lands and clear, crystalline waters. In 42 BC, Mark Antony tried to annex it but failed and when in 260 AD the Emperor Gallienus was captured by the Parthian who had invaded Syria, it was the Chieftain of Palmyra who rescued the Emperor, retrieved Syria, and followed the Parthian right up to their capital, AI-Madain.

In the protracted struggle between the Persians and the Romans, the Chieftain sided with the Romans and was granted the title of Dux Orientalis or Emperor of the East. He had power over Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, and North Arabia. After the death of this Chief, his widow ruled on behalf of her son who was a minor. When the Romans saw her generals reach as far as Alexandria and Ankara, they revoked their treaty

with this state, destroyed the city, and carried the proud Arab queen in chains to Rome. Her story has entered into Arabic verse and legend as the story of Al-Zawbae or in Latin Zenobia.

After the destruction of their civilization, the Nabataeans were merged among the Arab tribes of the north. The Arabs tended to build their cities further from the border and from the influence of foreign powers.