Saudi Arabia: The junction of ancient civilizations

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If Herodotus, the great history scholar of ancient Greece, said that “Egypt is the gift of the Nile” due to the importance of the Nile to life in Egypt, as well as its impact on Egyptian civilization, then the Arabian Peninsula is the “gift of its strategic location”, which made it a bridge of communication among the nations of the world, with its important role in the history of the Middle East.

In ancient history, five trade routes shaped this history and played an important role in it: the Silk Road, the Incense Road or the Way of Frankincense, the Amber Road, the Way of Horses and Tea, and the Trans-Saharan Highway. The Incense Road was regarded as one of the most important routes for trade convoys, and an international commercial crossroads between East and West. The Arabian Peninsula played a vital role in this route by linking the south and southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, which produced the most important incense commodities, with neighboring civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Nile and the Levant (Al-Sham countries). Incense was one of the most expensive commodities in the ancient world and the trade of incense and frankincense, in which Yemen and Oman were dominant, was one of the most important economic activities during that period; it was as important as oil is today.

The ancient caravans followed five key paths on the peninsula. The path of Al-Ola started from the Port of Aden and Qena in Yemen in the south of the Arabian Peninsula and then it headed to Najran, Taif, Makkah, Yathrib, Khaybar, Al-Ola (Daydan) and Mada’in Saleh (Hijr). The road then divided; one branch extended to the oasis of Taima and then headed to Mesopotamia, while the other one continued northward to Petra and Gaza in the land of Palestine heading to the Levant (Al-Sham countries) and the Nile.

The path of the village of Faw started from the Port of Marib in Yemen, and headed toward Najran and then extended northeast in the valley of Dawaser and passed the village of Fao, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandah. It moved toward Aflaj and then Yamamah to the Oasis of Perrin southwest of Al-Hofuf and then to Gerrha to the coast of the Arabian Gulf.

The path of Al-Qassim started from Gerrha in the direction of Al-Hofuf, then headed to the north of Al-Yamamah in Najd; it proceeded to the northwest parallel to the Tuwaiq mountain range, then headed west to the province of Qassim, and then to Hail and then Taima, heading to Petra toward the Levant (Al-Sham).

The path of Najd started from Hadramout along the coast of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, then the Gulf, heading north along the eastern border of the Plateau of Najd and out of it. It then headed north to the direction of Mesopotamia or toward the Levant (Al-Sham).

The path of the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al Khali) started from the Hadramout and Amman region, headed to the province of Yamamah, and passed through the eastern end of the Empty Quarter, ascending north to the Levant (Al-Sham countries) or Mesopotamia.

These routes and paths helped to establish many cities, kingdoms and commercial markets along these roads. Moreover, they were also an important source of income for these kingdoms. According to Dr. Ali Ghaban, an archaeologist, what was imposed on these convoys to provide protection, shelter, etc., was equivalent to 16 percent of the total trade. Also, these roads had an important impact on the revival of cultural centers and poetry forums such as the market of Okaz and Domat Al-Jandal and others.

Therefore, the Arabian Peninsula, of which Saudi Arabia occupies a great part, was a real crossroads of ancient civilizations. It played an important civilized, economic and political role in the periods preceding the emergence of Islam and developed greatly after its advent.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.othaimin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin


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