Section 1

Yemen, and the Himyarite Dynasty.



Yemen and the Himyarite Dynasty.

The history of Yemen, in consequence or inscriptions, ascends higher than that of the rest of Arabia

In the first chapter I have referred to the national tradition and poetry of the Arabs, and have admitted that with respect to genealogical and phylarchical events, their reminiscences have peculiar claims upon our belief1. In the case of the Himyar empire in the south of Arabia there is, besides these sources, ground for believing that national events were chronicled by inscriptions, and thence incorporated in the traditional accounts of the Arab historians. It is thus possible for the history of the Himyar dynasty to ascend far above that of the Abrahamic tribes, which was dependent solely on oral tradition.

These inscriptions not now decypherable, but known to the early Mahometan historians and traditionists

The reader has probably followed with interest and curiosity the successive discoveries of Himyar writing at Sana, Hisn al Ghorab, Khariba, and Mareb. These were ancient seats of Himyarite rule; and as we are assured that the nation was acquainted with letters and far advanced in civilization and opulence, it corresponds certainly with our natural expectation that we should find in the neighbourhood permanent memorials of ancient greatness, "graven in the rock with a pen of steel." Notwithstanding many learned and ingenious attempts to unravel these inscriptions no certain clue has yet been found. In a few words, indeed, resemblance may be traced to ancient names in the Himyar dynasty2; but the foundation is far from being broad enough to build any sure theory upon.

Still there remains the indisputable fact that events of some description, and most likely the names of the ancient kings of Yemen, were thus recorded. It is also certain that, at the time of the Mahometan conquest, there were alive upon the spot inhabitants versed in the Himyar alphabet, and able to communicate the meaning of the inscriptions to the curious inquirer. Wherefore, although the knowledge of the Musnad character became rapidly extinct, and we nowhere read of any native history of Yemen3, it is yet highly probable that the early Mahometan writers had the ready means of decyphering the numerous inscriptions, and with the aid of local tradition of framing therefrom a chronicle of the names and of some of the acts of the kings of the Himyarite line.

Confused and discrepant narrative compiled by Mahometan historians from such sources
These sources of information must however at the best have been very imperfect. The materials presented to us by the Arab historians are so doubtflil and discrepant that Perceval, after extraordinary pains to reduce them to an uniform narrative, admits that they are involved in "a profound uncertainty."4

Cahtan 800 to 500 B.C.

The first of the Yemen dynasty is the great CAHTAN5. To calculate the era at which he lived, we must note the number of generations between him and Dzu Nowas, the last of the Himyar race. As adjusted by M.C. de Perceval, they amount to thirty nine; which, at thirty-three years to a generation6, gives an interval of 1,287 years. Now the birth of Dzu Nowas may be placed approximatively at 460 AD.; so that the era of Cahtan would by this calculation be carried back to 827 B.C.

Calculation by the lines of Cahlan and Codhaa

When, however, the descent is followed by another line, that of Cahlan the brother of Himyar, and also by the separate Himyarite stem of Codhaa, we find only from thirty-three to thirty-six generations between Cahtan and Mahomet7; and this would bring closer to us the era of Cahtan by two or three centuries. In favour of the more modern era there are the uncertainties and discrepancies in the Yemen succession; for it is possible that different and contemporaneous branches have been confused and represented as one continuous line8. Tbis is the more likely from the yearning of the Mahometan writers after extreme antiquity, and their desire, by protracting the genealogies, to connect them with the Mosaical record.

The identification of Cahtan with Joktan is an extravagant fiction

Whichever line be adopted, we may, with tolerable confidence place the age of Cahtan between the years 800 B.C. and 500 B.C. It is this Cahtan whom Mahometan writers have identified with Joktan (Yectan), the sixth from Noah; but the identification is one of those extravagant fictions which the followers of Islam, in their zeal to accommodate Arab legend to Jewish scripture, have made in defiance of the most violent improbability, and the grossest anachronisms9.

Cahtan and his descendants

Cahtan was succeeded by his son YAROB, who expelled or destroyed the Adites, consolidated the empire of Yemen, and gave to his brothers Oman and Hadhrarnaut (the story is perhaps a myth) the government of the two countries thenceforward called by their names. Yarab begot Yashjob; and Yashjob, Abd Shams Saba the Great.

Abd Shami builds Mareb or Saba, and the famous dam

ABD SHAMS SABA is said to have been the founder of the city of Mareb or Saba, represented by classical writers, under the name of Mariaba, as the capital of the Sabeans, and situated upon a mountain. He also constructed or repaired the famous lake-embankment (Sadd Mareb) in the vicinity of that city ; - remains of it being traceable at the present day10.

Himyar and Cahlan, 700 to 400 B.C.

Among the sons of Abd Shams Saba are the two famous patriarchs, HIMYAR and CAHLAN; the sires (as tradition has it) of the whole Arab progeny. Their birth, according to the variety of opinion above expressed, occurred from 400 to 700 B.C.

Mutdriba and Mustdriba

The pure races from this descent are termed Mutariba; those mixed with supposed Ishmaelite blood, Mustariba11.

The children of Himyar urban, those of Cahlan nomad in their habits

The children of Himyar are marked by their comparatively settled habits. They lived chiefly in cities, and acquired the civilized manners and tastes of an urban life. But the descendants of Cahlan, scorning the restrictions of place and the self-imposed wants of a sedentary residence, betook themselves to the free and wandering occupations of the Bedouin.

Himyarite and Arabic languages

A different speech distinginislied the two races. The Himyarite was spoken in the towns of Yemen, and was early provided with an alphabet. The Arabic of the Cahlanite tribes (acquired by their intermixture with the Abrahamic tribes of the north) did not possess the advantage of writing, apparently, till near the time of Mahomet12. The Bedouins alone cultivated poetry, and that only in the Arabic language. We meet with no tradition mentioning a single couplet composed in the Himyar tongue13.

The Tobbas

From Himyar, fifteen or twenty reigns, vaguely and dimly described, and some even of doubtful existence, may be passed over14. We then come to that portion of the Himyarite line known as the illustrious dynasty of the TOBBAS15, and enter on a period where historical probability rests upon progressively improving grounds16.

Harith, "the philosopher" born 150 B.C.

HARITH AL RAISH, or AL FILSUF "the philosopher;" supposed have flourished about a century before Christ, is termed the first of the Tobbas. He re-invigorated the empire, and restored to his single sceptre several kingdoms which had fallen under princes of the Cahlan stock.

Essab, "the horned," Identified with Alexander the Great

His successor was ESSAB Dzu-al-Carnain, or the Horned." The surname is that which the Arabs accord to Alexander the Great; it is connected in the Coran with some strange legends, especially with the construction in the north of the prodigious rampart of Yajaj and Maja 17. The marvel-loving historians of Arabia have not been slow to follow up the clue. Some have identified Essab at once as the hero of the Coran, and as the great Alexander; while others hold that he was a monarch contemporary with Abraham18.

Africus, 50 B.C.

The third from Essab, styled by the foreign name of AFRICUS or AFRIKAN, flourished probably about half a century before our era. The name, as usual, has suggested a variety or wild stories. Some allege that he located in Africa the Amalekites who escaped from Joshua, and who there grew up into the Berber nation; others, that his exploits against the Berbers procured him the distinctive title. The reigning prince of his day in Africa was Jirjir, or Gregory 19 - a strange contemporary indeed for Joshua!

Dzu-al-Adzar, identified by Perceval with Ihsare of the Roman expedition

Africus was followed by his brother DZU-L-ADZAR, to whose reign attach a tissue of imbecile legends. Caycaus king of Persia, having attacked him, was taken prisoner; but was subsequently liberated by the famous Rustam, and returned to his kingdom, after marrying the daughter Dzu-l-Adzar20. Perceval ingeniously surmises that these facts bear traces of the Roman, rather than of a Persian, invasion; for it was somewhere about this period that AElius Gallus, after having taken Negranes or Negra (Najran), besieged and was repulsed from Marsyaba (Muriaba or Mareb), a city belonging to the Yemenites21, who were then governed by Hasare. The Chief, Hasare, he recognizes in the name of Dzu-l-Adzar.

Conjecture that it may rather have been his son Aleishra, 668 B.C.

The title, however, of this princes son and successor, ALEISHRA or LEISHRA; has a more close resemblance to that of Strabo's Yemenite Governor. His era also is more appropriate; for according to C. de Perceval's genealogical table, Aleishra (who was also called SHURAHBIL, and YAHSAB) was born 68 B.C., or forty-four years before the Roman inroad; so that he could hardly have failed to take a part in the Arab defence.

Strange oblivion of the Arabs as to the Roman Expedition

It will not escape observation that the Arab histories contain no farther date to this memorable incursion of the Romans; yet it was a circumstance, which from its unprecedented novelty, from the lasting marks of devastation, and from the glory acquired in the repulse, was likely above all other events to have lodged itself in the national mind and tradition. Foolish and unmeaning stories are, after a lapse of two thonasand years, told with all freshness of detail and circumstance; while this, which is perhaps the most salient and striking incident in the history or Arabia, and which occurred within five or six centuries of the Moslem era, is unnoticed and unknown!

Balkis, 1st century, A.D.

The grand-daughter of Aleishra, the famous Queen BALKIS, who must have flourished during the first century of the Christian era, furnishes a still more remarkable example of the illusory nature of remote Mahometan tradition.

Confounded by tradition with the Queen of Sheba

She is held to have been no less a personage than the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon the son of David a thousand years before! Her mother is said to with the have been one of the genii. It would be unprofitable to enter into a detail of the extravagant legends related of this personage, some of which have received countenance even in the Coran. It is remarkable that Mahomet there represents her people as addicted to the worship of the Sun22.

Tobba al Akran, beginning of second century, A.D.

Two more successions bring us to TOBBA AL AKRAN, in whose reign occurred the celebrated exodus of the Azdites, a people descended from the stock of Calhan.

Amr Mozaikia

This tribe, under the command of two brothers, Omran and AMR MOZAJKIA23 became independent of the Himyarites, and made themselves masters of Mareb. Omran died, but not (so goes the legend) without giving his brother intimation of the dire calamity impending over the land. The wife of Amr Mozajkia followed up the monition by on ominous vision. She bade him go to the embankment of the lake formed by the Saad Mareb near the city; and, if he should see a rat scraping the mound and detaching from it huge stones, she prognosticated a speedy and inevitable ruin.

Migration of the Azdites: and destruction of the Lake of Mareb, 120 A.D.

He went and saw the fatal sign. Thus warned, Amr Mozaikia made immediate preparations to emigrate, and set out northward with the greater portion of his tribe. Shortly after their departure, the embankment rent asunder, and the flood, escaping with devastating fury, spread destruction in its wake.

True cause of the exodus of the Azdites

At the close of the preceding chapter, I have shown grounds for the belief that a cause of far greater depth and extent than the destruction of this dam had long been at work paving the way for emigration. The drying up of the Yemen commerce, and stoppage of the carrying trade, had disorganized society and led perhaps to the rebellion of the Azdites and their seizure of Mareb. The threatened breach of the dam accelerated the crisis, and gave the last impulse to an over-burdened and necessitous population, already eager to go forth in quest of a livelihood to some less straightened country. The emigration took place about the year 120 A.D.24

Yemen soon recovers its prosperity

Yemen, thus relieved or part of its surplus inhabitants, regained rapidly its prosperity, notwithstanding the ravages of the flood. Tobba al Akran recovered his authority. He is renowned as a great warrior; and is said to have carried his arms to the borders of China.

Tibban Asad, Abn Karib; beginning of third century, A.D.

The fourth in succession from Tobba al Akran, was Tinsiw TIBAN ASAD, ABU KARIB, who flourished about the beginning of the third century of our era, one of the most illustrious of the Trobbas25. His name is connected with Yathreb or Medina. Being on an expedition to Persia, he left his son under the care of the people of Medina. They murdered the boy; and in revenge Tibban Asad besieged their city and threatened it with destruction.

His attack upon Medina, and conversion to Judaism

But two Jewish doctors of the Beni Coreitza, then resident at Medina, having brought him over to Judaism, diverted him from his designs by foretelling (as is pretended) that Yathreb would become the refuge of a great prophet to arise in Arabia. At their instance he visited and enriched the Kaaba as the shrine of Abraham, and was the first to adorn it with a covering of cloth. On returning to Yemen, he introduced there the Jewish religion. The idolaters contested the change, and appealed to the trial by fire; but they were miraculously confuted by the two Jewish doctors26. Judaism did not, however, gain any important extension in Yemen till the reign of Dzu Nowas, and even to the era of Islam it had to contend against idolatry.

Circumstances tending to confuse the history of this attack

The details of the Median expedition are much complicated by two circumstances. For the same adventure is attributed by various writers to Hassan Tobba the Less, who flourisined about a century after Tibban Asad; while, in many important particulars, it is confounded with another attack made upon Medina by a sovereign of Yemen, at least three centuries after Tibban Asad, the memory of which was yet recent in the time of Mahomet27.


After Tibban Asad there is a break in the Himyar line; for a prince called RABIA, of the Cahanite stock and Bani Lakhm tribe28. succeeded to him. The following characteristic legend of Rabia is cherished by Mahometan writers. He was affrighted by a portentous dream; the diviners were summoned; but, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, they could not tell the interpretation unless the dream were made known to them. At last two diviners were introduced, each of whom separately narrated to the king both the dream mind its signification :

His dream and the Lakhmite emigration to Iraq, 205 A.D.

- Thou sawest a flame burst forth from the darkness; it fell upon the land of Tihama, and devoured every living thing. The flame prefigured the Abyssinians, who would overrun Yemen from Aden to Najran, and rule for above seventy years. After that, proceeded the diviners, these invaders would be overthrown, and would be succeeded by an inspired prophet of the Coreishite stock, to whose rule all Arabia would submit, and whose law would prevail until the day of judgment. The prince, terrified by the threat of Abyssinian invasion, immediately sent off his family and adherents to Irac. This emigration took place early in the third century. It will be seen below that from Adi, one of Rabia's sons sprang the Lakhmite dynasty of Hira29.

Hassan Tobba, 236-250, A.D.

On Rabia's death the kingdom reverted to the son of Tibban Asad, HASSAN TOBBA, during whose reign, in the first half of the third century, a farther emigration took place from Yemen.

Emigration northwards of the Bani Tay

The Bani Tay, a great Cahlanite family, isolated since the departure of their neighbours the Azdites, and like them suffering from the of the effects of the great commercial change, moved northwards and finally took up their position in the mountains of Aja and Salma to the north of Najd and the Hejaz.

Abd Kelal, a Christian king, 275 A.D.

After four successions we find, towards the close of the third century, a Christian king of Yemen called ABD KELAL. He is said to have been convened by a Syrian stranger whom the Himyarites, enraged at their prince's defection, murdered. This is the first intimation we meet with of Christianity in Yemen; and,

as it is attributed to a foreign source, there would appear to have been no indigenous or hereditary profession or it there.

Hassan Tobba the Less, 300 A.D.

The next prince was HASSAN TOBBA, AL ASGHAR, or the Less, styled the last of the Tobbas, to whom is attributed by Hishami and other writers, the attack upon Medina just mentioned. He reigned about 300 A.D.; and Arab historians speak of a treaty concluded between him and the Meccan tribe.

Dependence of the central tribes on the Himyar kings

From this time forward we have frequent proof that the central tribes of the peninsula acknowledged a general allegiance to the Himyar kingdom. The relation was ever and anon interrupted by hostilities, and as often after short intervals renewed.

The tolerant reign Of Marthad, 330 A.D.

Hassan was succeeded by MARTHAD son of Abd Kelal, who is famed for wise and moderate views upon religious toleration. He used to say, "I reign over men's bodies, not over their opinions. I exact from my subjects obedience to my government; as to their religious doctrine, the Judge of that is the Great Creator." During this exemplary reign we learn from ecclesiastical history that a Greecian embassage appeared in the capital of Yemen.

The mission sent by Constantius

It was sent by the Emperor Constantinis to strengthen his alliance with the Himyarites, and to attract them to Christianity. At its head was the Indian Bishop Theophilus, who presented to "the prince of the Sabeans or Homerites," among other royal gifts, "two hundred horses of the purest breed of Cappadocia," and sought permission to erect churches for the subjects of the Roman emperor attracted to Yemen by merchandize, and for the natives who might wish to embrace the religion of Jesus. So far the mission was successful: three churches were built, one at Tzafar, the royal residence; another at Aden, the point of traffic with India; a third at the chief maritime town on the Persian Gulph; Theophilus flattered himself that he had even converted the Himyarite monarch; but for conversion he probably mistook what was no more than a latitudinarian and tolerant philosophy 30. It is certain that Arab history makes no mention either of this mission or of its effects.

State of Yemen as described by the embassy

Philostorgius informs us that the inhabitants of Yemen were at that time partly Jewish, partly Pagan. The Pagans, though far the most numerous, practised the rite or circumcision, and like the Jews on the eighth day. They also sacrificed to the sun and the moon, and to other divinities several of whose names we learn from Arab writers.

Disorganization in Yemen, 350 A.D.

After the death of Marthad, the Himyarite empire began to decline, and its subordinate rulers to throw off the yoke of dependence. The disorganization arose, perhaps, from unsuccessful war with the Abyssinian kingdom; for, about the middle of the fourth century the sovereign of Axurn (between the Red Sea and the Nile) joined to his other titles that of King of the Himyarites 31.

Period of uncertainty

To such troubles may be attributed the brevity and frequent uncertainty of the history of Yemen for a long series of years. The Himyar dynasty, however, still maintained its supremacy over the tribes of Najd and the Hedjaz;

A viceroy given to the central tribes, 450 A.D.

and about the middle of the fifth century gave them a king or viceroy, called Hojr Akil al Morar of the Kinda tribe32.

Dru Shenatir assinated by Dzu Nowas 490-525 A.D.

Towards the end of the fifth century the throne was usurped by the dissolute Dzu Shenatir. He was abhorred of the people for his flagitious deeds, which he carried to such an extreme as to dishonour the youths even of the most noble families. One of them, rather than submit to his indignities, put an end to the tyrant's life. This youth, called DZU NOWAS, belonged to the royal stock, and was unanimously called to the throne.

During his reign there were several encounters between the Kinda viceroy supported by Yemen troops, and the tribes of Central Arabia. The latter were repeatedly victorious, but always returned again after a time to their allegiance. The Himyar dynasty thus continued to maintain its Arabian influence, until it was finally overthrown by the Abyssinians, when the feudal authority over the Arabs passed into the hands of the Prince of Hira the vassal of Persia.

Dzu Nowas attacks Najran, and massacres the Christians, 523 A.D.

Dzu Nowas was a votary of Judaism, which he was said to have embraced on a visit to Medina 33. This creed he supported with an intolerant and proselytizing adherence, which at last proved fatal to his kingdom. His bigotry was aroused by the prevalence and success of Christianity in the neighboring province of Najran; and it with a large army. The Christians offered a strenuous resistance, but yielded at length to the treacherous promise that no ill would be done to them. They were offered the choice of Judaism or death, and those who remained constant to the faith of Jesus were cruelly massacred. Deep trenches were dug, and filled with combustible materials; the pile was lighted, and the Christian martyrs cast headlong into the flame. The number thus miserably burned, or slain by the sword, is stated at no less than twenty thousand 34.

The court of Constantinople stirs up the Prince of Abyssinia to avenge the tyranny of Dzu Nowas

However much the account of this melancholy carnage may have been exaggerated, there can be no doubt of the cruel and bloody character of the tyrant's administration in Najran. News of the proceedings reached the emperor Justin I, through his ambassador at Hira, to which court Dzu Nowas had exultingly communicated tidings of his triumph 35. One of the intended victims, Dous dzu Tholaban, also escaped to Constantinople and, holding up a half-burnt Gospel, invoked in the name of outraged Christendom retribution upon the oppressor. The emperor was moved, and indicted a dispatch to the Najashi or prince of the Abyssinians, desiring him to take vengeance upon the barbarous Himyarite. Immediately an armament was set on foot, and in a short time seventy thousand warriors, embarked in thirteen hundred merchant ships or transports 36, crossed the narrow gulph which separates Yemen from Adulis.

Victory of the Abyssinians, and death of Dzu Nowas 525 A.D.

Dzu Nowas was defeated; in despair he urged his horse into the sea, and expiateted in the waves the inhumananities of his career. The Abyssinian victory occurred in 525 A.D. 37.

Abraha the Abyssinian viceroy, attacks Mecca, and perishes in the expedition, 570 A.D.

The African army was commanded by Aryat, who reigned over Yemen as the viceroy of the Najashi. But another Abyssinian chief named ABRAHA, who had accompanied the expedition, rebelled against Aryat and, having slain him in single combat, succeeded to the government. Abraha was a zealous Christian; and the efforts of Gregentius, a bishop deputed by the Patriarch of Alexandria to follow up the secular by a spiritual conquest, were seconded by him with more energy than judgment. He built at Sanna a magnificent cathedral, and professed himself desirous that the worship of the Arab tribes should be diverted from Mecca to this new shrine. With this object it is alleged

that he published a general order, and sent missionaries throughout Arabia, calling upon the Arabs to make the pilgramage. The Meccans were displeased, and killed one of his emissaries; a Coreishite had even the audacity to defile the precincts of the Christian edifice. Enraged at such opposition and contempt, Abraha set out with an army to destroy the Kaaba; but he perished in the expedition. This attack, famous in the annals of Mecca as that of the Elephant, occurred in the year 570 A.D., within two months of the birth of Mahomet.

Aided by Persia, Madicarib overthrows the Abyssinians 575 A.D.

The history of Yemen is now detached from the rest of Arabia. The Abyssinian rule was distasteful to the natives; and a Himyarite of the royal house, named Saif, whether impelled by the tyranny of the invaders, or by the hope of succeeding to the throne of his ancestors, sought for foreign aid first fruitlessly at the court of Constantinople, and then at that of the Persian king. From the latter, Madicarib, son of the original suppliant, at last obtained an order to empty the prisons of the convicts fit for war. With an army drawn front this source, he embarked in eight ships, six of which safely reached the port of Aden. The Persian and Abyssinian armies met, and Wahraz the convict chief decided the struggle by killing Masruk the Abyssinian viceroy. This happened about 575 A.D. 38.

Embassies from the tribes on the revival of the Himyar dynasty

In the person of MADIKARIB, who was installed as the ruler of Yemen and the vassal of the Persian king, the Himyarite dynasty seemed again to re-appear. The Arab tribes sent deputations to congratulate him on the auspicious occasion, and among them is named Abd al Mottalib, the grandfather of Mahomet. But the story is accompanied by so many extravagant anticipations of the Prophet as to involve it altogether in suspicion 39.

The Abyssinians finally expelled, A.D. 597

There is reason to believe that the Abyssinians still maintained a struggle with the resuscitated Himyar government, and were not finally subdued till the year 597. Then, after having maintained themselves for seventy-two years, they were effectually crushed by a second Persian army under the same Wahraz, and Yemen sank into a simple dependency of Persia. Badran, one of the early successors of Wahraz, is said to have given in his adhesion to Islam while Mahomet was yet alive.

The Life of Mahomet, Volume I [Table of Contents]