The Kingdom of Saba: Rise and Decline

It is known that the Yemeni region was home to the kingdom of Saba. By the year 1000 BC, camel caravan trains were traveling from Oman in the southeast of Arabia to the Mediterranean. Many of the camel drivers, according to experts, would have stopped at Marib as they traveled through the Yemeni desert.

Marib was a lush oasis teeming with palm trees and exotic plants at one time, at least dating from 1050 BC, when it was now dry and barren. It had a unique dam of enormous proportions and was perfectly situated on trade routes. Saba had a virtual monopoly on frankincense because it was one of only two main sources (the other being East Africa). Marib's wealth grew to such an extent that the Arab world came to associate the city with unbelievable wealth.


The Kingdom of Saba: Rise and Decline

The Kingdom of Saba: Rise and Decline

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Between the tenth and sixth centuries BC, the Sabeans, a group whose name derives from the same etymological root as Saba, lived in southern Arabia. Their main temple, the Mahram Bilqis, or temple of the moon god, was so well-known that it remained sacred even after the Sabean civilization collapsed in the sixth century BC due to the rerouting of the spice trail. It was about three miles from Marib, the capital city. At that point, the dam, which was in bad shape, was finally broken.

The water system framework was lost, individuals deserted the site and the sanctuary fell into disrepair and was at the end covered by sand. The Hebrews referred to Saba as Sheba, and it continues to be known as Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom of Saba: Rise and Decline 2
Ruins of Ma'rib (or Marib), Yemen


History of the Kingdom

Saba (also known as Sheba)was a thriving kingdom in southern Arabia (the area that is now Yemen), Between the 8th century BCE and 275 CE, it was captured by the nearby Himyarites. Although these are the most widely accepted dates, several academics have argued for a chronology that goes back as far as 1200 BCE; most experts agree that the terminus is around 275 CE, though.

The tale of the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon is described in the Bible's Book of Kings 10:1–13 and II Chronicles 9:1–12; it is also related, but with considerable modifications, in the Aramaic Targum Sheni, the Quran (Sura: al-Naml), and the Ethiopian Kebra Negast (though this last places Sheba in African Ethiopia, not southern Arabia). The Christian New Testament books of Matthew (12:42) and Luke (11:31) also make reference to the Queen of Sheba, and the Quran and various Old Testament texts (such as Job 1:13–15, Isaiah 45:14, and Joel 3:4–8) mention Saba.

Saba, on the other hand, was once known as a wealthy kingdom that flourished wealthy through trading activities along the Incense Routes connecting southern Arabia to the port of Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea. Saba's richness and success in trade are mentioned in the majority of biblical and Quranic texts, including the story of the renowned queen.

Trade in the region appears to have been governed by the Mineans of the kingdom of Ma'in before the 8th century BCE, but after 950 BCE the Sabeans took control of the area and taxed goods coming from their southern neighbors Hadramawt, Qataban, and the port of Qani. When the Ptolemies favored sea travel overland travel (323–30 BCE), Sabean trade declined, and Saba's status dwindled until they were conquered by the neighboring Himyarites.


The Saba Queen

Saba, often known as Sheba, is the nation of the queen who journeys to Jerusalem to receive first-hand the knowledge of Israel's King Solomon (c. 965–931 BCE). In the biblical story, she presents him with gifts including 120 gold talents (unit of currency: around $3,600,000 today) and other gifts (I Kings 10:10). The lavish gifts of the queen would be in keeping with the legendary wealth of the Sabean monarchy, but there is no evidence that she ever existed outside of the Bible and the later works mentioned.

The account of her visit is greatly extended in the Targum Sheni, an Aramaic translation of the Book of Esther with commentary, and this version is repeated in the Quran, which is assumed to have been written later. The tale then makes an appearance in the Ethiopian Kebra Negast, which adds to it by describing how Solomon seduced the queen, who later gave birth to a son who would eventually transport the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Ethiopia.

Some have concluded that the Queen of Sheba was an Ethiopian queen from central Africa, Since there existed a Saba in Africa that seemed linguistically, or at least culturally, related to the kingdom in the Arabian area. It is unknown whether she existed or not, but if she did, she most likely came from southern Arabia, which at the time was becoming very affluent due to its dominance over the Incense Routes.


Saba and the Incense Routes 

Merchants traveled via the Incense Routes, often called the Spice Routes, from southern Arabia to the Mediterranean port of Gaza. Although they were formed earlier and were still in use afterward, these trade routes were most valuable between the 8th and 7th centuries BCE and the second century CE. The Incense Routes took 65 days to complete one route and covered 1,200 miles. After each day, caravans would halt in a different city to trade products and rest their camels before moving on the next day.

Although a variety of products traveled these channels, shipments of frankincense and myrrh were the most desired. These aromatics were grown around the southern Arabian coast from tree sap, but it appears that the port of Qani (also spelled Qana and Qade, modern-day Bi'r 'Ali, eastern Yemen) also provided access to others from India. From the coastal kingdoms' northern border to Ma'in, goods were then shipped to Gaza.

The Sabeans of Saba were already in the Ma'in region at this time and most likely engaged in trade, but it isn't until around 950 BCE that the Kingdom of Saba takes the trade lead, and it was not until the 8th century BCE that they are completely in control.


The Rise of Saba 

The Sabeans swiftly overtook the Mineans as the most prosperous kingdom in southern Arabia and took over the role of coordinating commerce from them. From Saba, goods were transported to Babylon and Uruk in Mesopotamia, Memphis in Egypt, Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre in the Levant, as well as farther afield from Gaza's port. Their trade routes cross Assyrian territory by the time of King Sargon II of Assyria (722–705 BCE). Additionally, the Egyptians started trading with southern Arabia. Gold from Nubia was transported overland in the north to Memphis, the capital of Egypt, and then in the east and south all the way to Saba.

From their capital at Ma'rib (today's Sana'a, Yemen), the Sabean rulers, also known as mukarribs, rose to prominence and ordered impressive construction projects. The Ma'rib Dam, the oldest known dam in the world that prevents access to the Dhana ravine, is the most well-known of these initiatives (the Wadi Adanah). The dam was constructed to manage and direct the water to the low-lying fields in the valley because the hilly ravine would flood during the rainy season.

Ancient authors like Pliny the Elder frequently referred to Saba as a "green nation" due to the successful irrigation of these farmlands (c. 23-79 CE). Built under the rule of the Sabean mukarrib Yatha' Amar Watta I, the dam is regarded as one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of antiquity (c. 760-740 BCE).

From at least the 7th century BCE, if not earlier, Saba appears to have experienced a high degree of prosperity. Stone temples were built both inside and outside the great cities that grew across the terrain. Temples within the city walls were only for usage by residents, while those outside the walls were utilized by traders and nomadic tribes. The king appears to have served as a high priest who oversaw the management of the temple and presided over religious celebrations.


The Religion of Sabean

The people's religion resembled Mesopotamian religion in many aspects. It was believed that the gods had made the planet and its inhabitants, as well as given them all of life's blessings. The Mesopotamian moon god Nanna (also known as Sin, Nannar, or Nanna-Suen), one of the earliest gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon, and the Sabean moon god Almakah were both kings of the gods.

Almakah was referred to as Sin in the neighboring kingdom of Hadramawt. Long after the Sabean Kingdom itself had vanished, the grandest temple in Saba, known as Mahram Bilqis, close to the capital of Ma'rib, was respected as a holy place in the area and devoted to Almakah.

Almakah's consort (or daughter) was Shamsh, goddess of the sun, who bears many of the traits of the Mesopotamian sun god Utu-Shamash, another of the oldest gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon dating to c. 3500 BCE. Other Sabean deities appear to be variations of Almakah and Shamsh or Almakah alone, although nothing is known about them. As in other parts of the ancient world, these Sabean deities each had a specialty, and supplicants would make gifts to them of incense, animals, and plots of land. This technique probably produced an extremely affluent priestly class, similar to what happened in ancient Egypt.

The Sabeans shared other cultures' beliefs that the gods were their continuous companions throughout life and into the world after death. Then, people would have developed their private relationships with their gods and probably limited their public worship to certain occasions. People in those times believed in divination and that spirits of the dead and possibly the gods could communicate with the living. Beyond that, little is known about the Sabean religion. The dead were embalmed and buried with grave goods after being anointed with myrrh, and frankincense was burned in the temples.


Decline and Fall of the Kingdom 

Saba remained prosperous up until the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt started preferring maritime channels for trade over land ones. Movement by sea and rivers was nothing new, and ancient civilizations preferred it because it allowed for faster travel than on land. Trading had been taking place throughout the height of the Incense Routes for millennia, up and down the Nile, and across the Red Sea. Egypt's choice to skip the middleman and conduct business directly with the seaside city of Qani was what quickly changed the situation for Saba.

An Egyptian barge could leave port down the Red Sea, around the southern coast of Arabia between Punt in Africa and Qataban in Arabia, and turn up at Qani to trade directly with traders from the Far East; Saba was no longer required. Previously, goods would flow into and out of Egypt via Alexandria-Gaza. Egyptian colonies were established on the western Red Sea coast during the reign of Ptolemy II (285-246 BCE), allowing them to trade with Qataban, Hadramawt, and Qani on the southern Arabian coast without ever having to worry about the kingdoms inland. Along with the Incense Routes, which had brought Saba prosperity, things started to go worse.

The end of Saba, however, was not due to economic decline, but rather to military conquest. The Himyarites of the Arabian Peninsula's region around Raidan began to gain power, possibly through trade, around c.200 CE. They conquered their neighbors in Qataban in 200 CE. Once they had established their rule, they turned their attention to Saba, which fell c. 275 CE, and then Hadramawt was captured around c. 300 CE.

The Himyarite monarchs adopted the title "King of Saba and Raidan", rejected polytheism, and converted to Judaism. As Christian missionaries gained more converts in the region, the Himyarite kings instituted a policy of persecution, killing thousands of Christians. In c. The Himyarites were conquered by the Christian kingdom of Aksum in Africa in 525 CE and established Christianity.

The Ma'rib dam broke in 575 CE and flooded Saba. As a result of this failure, villages and cities were abandoned because the local population was compelled to emigrate or face starvation. Secular tales state that the dam's collapse was caused by rats weakening the supports by nibbling on them, however, that the dam was old and neglected is a more sensible explanation.



Saba as a kingdom had long since vanished by the time the dam failed, but the flood ensured that any coherent history of the culture would be lost to future generations. In the nineteenth century CE, scholars and archaeologists became interested in Sabean history. Saba, on the other hand, was one of the greatest kingdoms in antiquity and ruled over a land that many considered to be blessed by the gods.



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