ARABIA, the peninsula constituting the southwestern extremity of Asia. The total area is a little more than one million square miles (2.6 million sq km), about one third that of the conterminous United States. It is bounded on the north by the Syrian Desert; on the east by the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman; on the south by the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden; and on the west by the strait of Bab el Mandeb (Bab al Mandab), the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aqaba.

Political Subdivisions.

The Arabian Peninsula is divided into seven independent countries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia occupies about four fifths of the peninsula. The other countries are the Emirate of Kuwait, the Emirate of Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on the Persian Gulf; the Emirate of Bahrain, consisting of eight islands in the Persian Gulf; the Sultanate of Oman, facing the Arabian Sea; and the Republic of Yemen, on the Red and Arabian seas. The northern part of the Syrian Desert extends into Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.


The people of the Arabian Peninsula are Arabs, members of the Semitic subgroup of the Caucasoid race, with some admixture of other Caucasoid groups and of Negroids from Africa in the coastal areas. The Negroid admixture is due chiefly to the importation of slaves from Africa, which was an active trade until recent years. Arabic is the chief written and spoken language. Practically all of the indigenous inhabitants are Muslims. The small, chiefly urban foreign colony is composed mostly of diplomatic personnel and employees of foreign-owned firms. The population (est. 1994) totals 35,200,000. (See also Arabs.)



The Arabian Peninsula is essentially a great tilted block of rock, highest in the west and sloping gradually eastward. Its surface presents a considerable diversity of relief features. This pattern is broken only in the southeast by the highlands of Oman. The area can be divided into the following landform regions: (1) Western and Southern Highlands; (2) the Nejd; (3) the Sand Areas (Great Nafud, Dahana, and Rub` al Khali); (4) the Syrian Desert; (5) the Persian Gulf lowlands; and (6) Oman.

The Western and Southern Highlands vary in elevation from 1,500 feet (460 meters) near Mecca to 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) in Yemen. The northern segment, from the Gulf of Aqaba to 100 miles (160 km) south of Mecca, is known as Hejaz. It has a general elevation between 2, 000 and 3,000 feet (600-900 meters), with some mountains attaining 6,000 to 9,000 feet (1,850-2,700 meters). Many streams rise in these highlands and flow onto the narrow (20-to-40-mile-wide [32-to-64-km]) coastal plain, the Tihama, but the waters evaporate before reaching the Red Sea. Southward the highlands continue into Asir but at a considerably higher elevation; much of the area lies between 5,000 and 7,000 feet (1,500-2,150 meters), with peaks above 9,000 feet (2,700 meters), and is very rugged. The mountains of Yemen in the southwestern corner of Arabia are the highest of the peninsula. Sizable areas are between 6,500 and 9,000 feet (2,000-2,700 meters), with peaks reaching 10, 000 to 12,000 feet (3,000-3,700 meters). Eastward, through the Hadhramawt, the highlands gradually decline to 2,000 feet (600 meters) in Dhofar. These mountains are extremely rugged.

The Nejd lies to the east of the Western Highlands and is bordered on its north, east, and south by sand areas. Western Nejd is a desolate tableland crossed by dry watercourses (wadis), which become filled with torrential streams after storms. Separating western Nejd from eastern Nejd is the Nafud Dahi, a series of sand hills or ridges that runs from the Great Nafud (An Nafud) on the north to the Rub` al Khali on the south. Eastern Nejd is marked by conspicuous north-south ridges with steep western fronts.

The two great sandy areas of the peninsula, the Great Nafud in the north and the Rub` al Khali in the south, are connected on the east by the Dahana, a belt of sand hills and ridges that varies in width from 15 to 50 miles (20-80 km). A similar but discontinuous band of sand ridges lies on the western edge of the Nejd, also connecting the Great Nafud and Rub` al Khali. The Great Nafud has an estimated area of 22,000 square miles (57,000 sq km) and is composed of many hills, ridges, and mounds of sand, most 20 to 50 feet (6-15 meters) high, with some rising to as much as 100 feet (30 meters) above the surrounding features. The sand surface may be hard-packed, rippled, or so loose that men and animals sink easily into it. Between the sand hills are sand- or gravel-covered basins. Some surfaces have been stripped clean of loose material by wind, but a sandy cover is characteristic. Sand of a reddish or pink color is widespread in the Great Nafud and Dahana. South of the Nejd is the Rub` al Khali, or ``Empty Quarter,'' one of the larger sand areas of the world. Like the Great Nafud, it is a sea of sand hills, dunes, and ridges, some of which are as high as 500 feet (150 meters). In the southern half of the Dahana and the northern Rub` al Khali are extensive areas of shifting sand dunes.

North of the Great Nafud is the Syrian Desert, which stretches into Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. The surface consists mainly of alluvial material from which most of the fine materials have been stripped; it is referred to as desert pavement. Wadis, occasional mesas and buttes, and sandy areas break the monotony of the desert scene. The most dissected part is the divide area between the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates drainage basin.

The Persian Gulf lowlands extend from the head of the Persian Gulf to the Musandam Peninsula of Oman. Largely a low plains area (less than 600 feet [180 meters]), the relief is broken in a few places by elevated ridges or escarpments. The immediate coast is fringed with coral reefs, mud islands, and bars; marshes and lagoons are common. Inland are silt-filled lagoons and sand plains that give way northward to the gravel surface of the Syrian Desert and westward and southward to the sands of the Dahana and the Rub` al Khali.

Oman has a series of rugged mountain ranges parallel to the coast. The Jabal al Akhdar attains a height of 9,957 feet (3,035 meters) in the peak of Jabal Ash Sham.

Climate and Water Resources.

The climate, except in the higher mountains and parts of the Syrian Desert, is tropical desert. In summer the whole region is intensely hot and very dry. Summer daytime temperatures regularly reach or exceed 100°F. (38°C.) and may reach 130°F. (54°C.). The daily range of temperature during summer is commonly 30°F. to 40°F. (-1.1°C. to 4°C.), so that nights are relatively cool. The average temperature for the hottest month is generally well above 90°F. (32°C.). The winter temperatures are less extreme and more pleasant. Days are warm to hot and nights cool. The average nighttime low is in the vicinity of 40°F. (4°C.), and only in the far south have night temperatures never fallen to freezing.

Except in the immediate coastal regions, the relative humidity is low, making the heat more bearable. The coastal areas have a constantly high humidity that makes activity very trying, especially in summer. The low night temperatures are important since they often produce heavy dew that is of some importance to natural vegetation.

The major part of the peninsula receives less than 5 inches (125 mm) of precipitation annually, many areas receiving as little as 3 and 4 inches (75-100 mm) a year. Not only is the amount meager, but it is also highly variable, so that a given locality may receive no rain for several years. Winter is the season of maximum precipitation; summers are almost entirely dry. The mountains in Asir (a region in Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea north of Yemen), Yemen, and Oman receive larger amounts of rain because of elevation: probably 10 to 15 inches (250-380 mm), except in Yemen, where the highest areas receive up to 30 inches (760 mm). Yemen is unique in Arabia in receiving more rain in summer than in winter. The higher land in Hejaz and Nejd gets more rains than the lower areas of the plateau and plains. There are virtually no permanent streams in Arabia. Surface runoff from storms gathers into the wadis and seeps into the alluvium of their beds. Wadis usually carry water for only a few hours or days or, at best, for a few weeks during the winter.

Although deficient in surface waters, Arabia has considerable reserves of underground water, which may be brought to the surface in various ways. Existing surveys indicate the eastern Nejd and Hasa as the best endowed with such groundwater resources. Natural springs occur in the limestone southeast of Riyadh. Many of the older wells were hand- dug; today there is an increased use of modern drilling and pumping devices. Water, however, remains the critical element of life and is strictly conserved.


Almost nothing is known in detail about the soils of Arabia; no surveys have been made, and less than one percent of the area is in crops. In general, desert and steppe soils are high in mineral but low in organic content. There is always danger in arid climates of the accumulation of excessive salts in the upper horizon of soils, which destroys their agricultural value. This may occur through natural means or, where irrigation water is regularly used, by raising the water table and bringing salts to the surface. When properly cared for, irrigated alluvial or volcanic soils can be highly productive.


Except in areas of relatively high moisture, natural vegetation is sparse and scanty. There are few areas entirely devoid of plant life, but vegetation is rarely sufficient to produce a continuous cover. Most plants are highly drought-resistant (xerophytic). Exposed rock surfaces, shifting dune areas, and some salt flats maintain little or no plant life. Perennial plants, shrubs, and a few trees are widely but unevenly distributed over the peninsula, as are annual plants and various types of grasses. No systematic survey or classification of natural vegetation has ever been made for Arabia. Traditional Arabic names are thus the only means for identifying many of the region's plants and shrubs.

Among the more common trees are acacia and tamarisk, the latter now grown widely in oases for its wood, which is valuable for construction purposes. Once abundant in the Southern Highlands, but now greatly reduced in number, are the trees that yielded frankincense and myrrh as resins. Among the bushes valuable as fuel and fodder are ghaza, 'abl, and rimth, found in the sand hill areas and on the gravelly plains. Many of the flowering plants and grasses appear only after rains and may temporarily cover considerable areas of desert surface; these plants and grasses provide forage for livestock. In the more humid mountain areas, there is subtropical and middle-latitude vegetation.


Animal life, like vegetation, is severely restricted by the natural environment. The most common larger animal is the gazelle, which is found in almost all areas north of the Rub` al Khali. Within the Rub` al Khali, the oryx, a large member of the antelope family, is still found. Leopards and baboons survive in small numbers in the southeast. Among the carnivorous animals still reasonably abundant are wolves, foxes, lynxes, wildcats, and jackals. Hares and kangaroo rats are the most common rodents. Reptiles include a variety of nonvenomous lizards and several types of snakes, some venomous. Game birds, depleted by hunting, and smaller species of birds are widely distributed. Fish abound in the coastal waters, especially in the Gulf of Oman and in the Persian Gulf east of Qatar.


Arabia is unique among the major regions of the world in that its economic development has been linked to a single factor, the discovery and exploitation of oil. The enormous disparities in wealth among countries and within countries in the region are invariably traceable to the presence or absence of petroleum resources. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi have come to be dominated by oil production and related activities such as refining and transport. In Yemen, where oil is not a factor, sedentary subsistence farming and nomadic herding are the dominant activities, as they once were in all of Arabia.

A comparison of Kuwait and Yemen underscores the extent of this uneven development. In Kuwait, with a population (est. 1996) of about 2 million, one percent of the labor force is in agriculture, 33 percent in processing and manufacturing, and the remainder is in services and government. About 93 percent of the people live in urban centers. Because of Kuwait' s wealth in petroleum, which accounts for almost all of its export earnings, the per capita national product was about $15,000 in 1978. In Yemen, with a population (est. 1996) of 11.8 million, about 90 percent of the labor force is in agriculture, and only 11 percent of the population lives in urban centers. Coffee and other agricultural products provide all of the export earnings. The per capita product in 1978 was only $600. Similar disparities show up in health, education, and social welfare facilities and in the development of the foundations of a modern national economy, such as roads and power plants.

Within the group of oil-rich states some significant economic gradations occur. In Saudi Arabia the land is too vast and the population too diffuse to permit total absorption into the oil economy. Many regions still rely on subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry, and the oil and subsistence economies function in relative isolation from one another. The extent of this duality is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that most urban points in the country are connected only by airlines and camel caravans. In Oman oil revenues, although substantial, have not nearly sufficed to overcome the general level of poverty. In the United Arab Emirates the laws of confederation did not provide for full economic integration. Thus, profitable oil exploitation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai has had little direct effect on the other five members, where economic activity continues to center on fishing and farming.


Although the great majority of the people of Arabia depend on agriculture for a livelihood, only a small portion of the area is cultivated. Estimates are as low as one percent for Saudi Arabia and Yemen combined.

Agriculture is restricted to three areas. Sedentary cultivation dependent on rainfall alone occurs in Oman, Yemen, and Asir at elevations above one mile (1.6 km). Sedentary cultivation also occurs in highland areas with moderate rainfall and additional water in the form of runoff from adjacent mountains. Oasis cultivation occurs where an adequate water supply is available from springs or wells.

A variety of crops are grown in the highlands. In Yemen millet, wheat, and barley are grown at elevations of 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,400- 2,700 meters). Mangoes and citrus fruits are raised at altitudes ranging up to 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). A wide assortment of fruits are grown between 600 and 5,000 feet (180-1,500 meters). Coffee and qat, a stimulant, are the major cash crops of Yemen, while coffee and henna, used in dye making, are cash crops in the highlands of southwestern Saudi Arabia.

Date palms and cotton are raised below 2,500 feet (750 meters). Dates are the principal crop in the oases and are grown there along with fruit trees and clover, which is used as livestock feed. About one fifth of the agricultural land in Saudi Arabia is in date palms, and one sixth is in vegetables. Vegetable cultivation is concentrated in the Medina, Jidda, and Mecca regions along with date palms, fruit trees, and summer field crops, such as rice, millet, and sorghum.

Nomadic herding traditionally has complemented sedentary farming. Sheep, goats, and camels are even more important than date palms as a source of wealth in the rural economy. The bedouin Arabs specialize in pastoral activities. The camel, the distinctive animal of this economy, requires the use of large land areas. Yet the bedouin do not live in isolation from sedentary settlements but rather in close economic association with the villagers. In recent decades petroleum production and associated activities together with the growth of cities have offered new economic opportunities to the bedouin, especially in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the oil states of the Persian Gulf. (See also Arabs.)

Nonagricultural Production.

With the exception of oil processing and refining, there is little modern industry in Arabia. A small amount of handicraft production, largely for home consumption, takes place both in villages and in cities. In the coastal areas fishing, pearling, and shipbuilding are important. There has been profitable mining of gold in the west, with silver and copper as by-products.


Petroleum is the only significant source of wealth in Arabia. The oil fields are concentrated in the Persian Gulf area from Oman north to Kuwait. They account for about one half of the known reserves of the non-Communist world and they supply about one third of the world' s total oil production. Royalties from petroleum production are the primary source of government income. In 1979 they amounted to more than $90 billion.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are the two major petroleum producers. The Neutral Zone, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman have significant oil resources, but follow far behind the two leaders. More than half of the crude oil is marketed in Europe, about 20 percent goes to other parts of Asia, and some 10 percent to North America. Only about 7 percent is used locally, although this share is increasing. Crude and refined oil is shipped from ports near the producing fields or from Sidon in Lebanon, which is connected to the oil fields by the Trans-Arabian Pipeline. Refineries in Arabia produce 2 percent of the world's refined oil.

Petroleum production and associated activities have brought vast changes to some areas, of which the United Arab Emirates is an excellent example. Before 1966 the seven states depended primarily on contraband commerce and on pastoral nomadism. Since then petroleum production in Abu Dhabi has given it immense wealth. A new highway links it with Dubai, a thriving contraband port with more than 4,000 registered traders. Thousands of illegal immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Iran, lured by jobs in the petroleum industry, arrive each month. Fujaira, by contrast, remains relatively untouched by these developments although it is less than 100 miles (160 km) from Abu Dhabi.

Developments in the petroleum industry were especially significant in the 1960's and 1970's. During the 1960's, new fields were discovered both onshore and offshore in the Persian Gulf area; new pipelines, export facilities, and refineries were built; and national efforts to discover and exploit oil reserves were increased, particularly in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In the 1970's the oil-producing countries gained control of the petroleum industries, which had been primarily foreign-owned; and they also, through the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), won huge increases in the price paid for petroleum, including a fourfold increase in 1973-1974.

Petroleum production has affected development directly and indirectly. The direct influence comes about through the payment of royalties- -which have, of course, increased greatly, as the price charged for oil has gone up--and wages and the local purchase of materials and supplies by the petroleum companies. Kuwait has used royalties to support a welfare state as well as to furnish development funds for other Arab states. Saudi Arabia has invested royalties in oil refining, petrochemical, steel, and other industries.

Indirect influence has been important in a number of ways. Private enterprise has flourished, especially in associated service activities. Commerce, transport, and public and private services have expanded to absorb the majority of the nonagricultural workers. These commercial activities and services continue to grow in importance, although the proportion of the labor force in industry and petroleum production remains relatively low and stable. New transport networks have been built to fit the inflexible location of the petroleum fields. The road networks in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are the most highly developed.

A new railroad links Riyadh with Ad Dammam. New facilities have helped to expand foreign trade at a number of ports. Aden, although far removed from the main oil fields, has had related growth, as it is the major bunkerage port for petroleum tankers from the Persian Gulf.

Both the direct and the indirect influences are perhaps most evident in the growing urban centers. Riyadh has experienced recent rapid growth as have most of the regional capitals of Saudi Arabia, such as Mecca, Medina, and Jidda. Kuwait City has also grown. Most urban population growth is due to internal migration in search of new employment. Of the new towns developed near the major oil fields, the Dhahran cluster is the largest.

Development has only increased the economic differences between and within states. The gap between the oil states and those without oil has increased, in some cases dramatically. Kuwait is unique in that it is small and internal development is guided by central planning. Saudi Arabia has undertaken regional urban and rural planning in an attempt to reduce regional disparities by spreading development more evenly. However, the Saudi attempt has been only moderately successful. The problems of uneven development will become more critical as the pace of development accelerates throughout Arabia.


Knowledge of Arabia on the part of Europeans dates back to the time and the works of Herodotus and other early Greek geographers and much later to studies by Arab geographers. The best-known work of classical antiquity on Arabia is Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, compiled by an unknown Alexandrian Greek in the first century a.d. It described the trade and the coasts of the Red Sea, south Arabia, and the western Indian Ocean. Exploration by Europeans began in the 16th century, when the Portuguese circumnavigated Arabia and occupied Muscat and other points on the Gulf coast. Between 1762 (when Carsten Niebuhr started his expedition in southwest Arabia) and 1900, Europeans had gained knowledge of the major physical lineaments of the peninsula except for the great sand area of the Rub` al Khali. Information on exact locations, on archaeology, on tribal life and customs, and on flora and fauna had also been collected. The Rub` al Khali was first crossed by a European in 1931. Exploration since has been largely a matter of refinement of preexisting knowledge and the correction of minor details.

European explorers entered Arabia for various reasons: a few of them were Arabic scholars; most were military or political officers; others were naturalists, archaeologists, or scientists. Almost all of them had great curiosity about the region. Their observations varied considerably in acumen, but they presented a wealth of important information, and some of their writings have become literary classics.

Carsten Niebuhr,

a German mathematician and surveyor, traveling with a party of five under the auspices of the king of Denmark, landed at Jidda in 1762. The group of which Niebuhr was a member, and also the only survivor, consisted of Peter Forsskal, a physician and botanist; Christian Kramer, a surgeon and zoologist; Frederick von Haven, a philologist and orientalist; and George Baurenfeind, an artist. The objective of the expedition was to explore the fertile regions of southeast Arabia. The party examined the Tihama in detail from Loheiya (Al Luhayyah) to Mocha (Al Mukha). They then ascended to Sana`, in Yemen, where, because of ill health, they remained only about ten days. Two of the party died in the Yemen. Niebuhr continued on to Muscat and the Persian Gulf, returning to Europe by way of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Although Niebuhr covered relatively little ground, he is outstanding because of the high quality of his observations and reporting.

Johann Ludwig Burckhardt,

a Swiss, had lived for a number of years in the Levant and was well known as the discoverer of the ancient site of Petra. He was a fine scholar and Arabist and a convert to Islam. Under the auspices of Muhammad Ali, who was then engaged in occupying Hejaz and Nejd, Burckhardt entered Arabia at Jidda in 1814 and remained at Mecca and Medina for about nine months. Ill health forced him to leave, and he died in 1817 in Cairo before entirely completing his reports.

Burckhardt, like Niebuhr, covered relatively little territory, but what he did see he described in minute detail. He was resident in Mecca both during and after the main annual pilgrimage, and his description of the pilgrimage and of everyday life in Mecca and Medina left little to be added by those following him. He also collected much information about other parts of Arabia, which he incorporated in his Travels in Arabia and Notes on the Bedouins and Wahabys.

George Forster Sadlier,

a captain of the British army, was commissioned in 1819 to congratulate Ibrahim Pasha on his reduction of the Wahhabi power and to offer him the aid of Great Britain. Sadlier landed on the east coast of Arabia in June and proceeded from Hofuf to Diriyah and then to Unayzah and Medina, where he met Ibrahim. He proceeded to Yanbu on the Red Sea, thus completing the first crossing of the peninsula. Sadlier was able to fix scientifically a number of points hitherto incorrectly located.

J. R. Wellsted,

a young lieutenant in the Indian Navy, was the first European to set foot in the interior of Oman. Beginning in 1820 the Arabian coasts were explored and accurately charted for the first time by officers of the Bombay Marine (later the Indian Navy) and the British Royal Navy, some of whom ventured into the hinterland along the south and east coasts. Starting late in 1835 from the easternmost point of Oman, Wellsted made his way westward through the Ja`alan region to the Wahibah Sands and then struck north up the Wadi Batha to Samad. There he was joined by Lieutenant F. Whitelock, also of the Indian Navy, who had set out from Muscat later. Together they reached Nazwa, the ancient capital of Oman, and climbed the lower slopes of the Jabal al Akhdhar, in central Oman. In January 1836 they arrived on the Al Batinah coast and then turned west, recrossing the Hajar mountains and emerging on the edge of the Dhaharah, the rocky steppe that stretches west toward the Rub` al Khali. Their intention was to travel north to Nejd, but they were barred by a Wahhabi raiding party and forced to return to Muscat. Nearly 100 years elapsed before another European penetrated as deeply into Oman as had Wellsted and Whitelock.

Georg August Wallin,

a trained and distinguished Arabist from Finland, traveled in northern Arabia in the service of Muhammad Ali. He started his journey in 1845 and traveling by the Wadi Sirhan reached Al Jawf. He next crossed a section of the Great Nafud and came to Ha`il, the seat of the Rashid family in Jabal Shammar. After staying there some time, Wallin next went to Medina and Mecca and then returned to Cairo. Before reporting on his journey, in 1848 Wallin again returned to Arabia. This time he landed on the west coast at Al Muwaylih and struck directly inland into Midian. He proceeded to the oases of Tabuk and Tayma' and on to Ha`il. From Ha`il he traveled northeastward to Meshed Ali (An Najaf) and Baghdad. Wallin was the first European to traverse much of northern Arabia.

Sir Richard F. Burton

is probably the most widely known of all the 19th-century explorers of Arabia, in part because of his other explorations, his literary works, and his colorful personality. Burton's first journey to Arabia in 1853 was in disguise as a pilgrim to Mecca and Medina. After several expeditions to Africa and tours in the British diplomatic service, Burton returned to Arabia in 1877 under the auspices of the Egyptian government to explore Midian for gold. Burton and his Egyptian crew found few signs of gold but did a first-rate job of geographic exploration. Especially important was Burton's tracing of the drainage system of the Wadi Hamdh, which was found to extend considerably farther into Nejd than had originally been thought.

William Gifford Palgrave

is perhaps as well known for his remarkable personality and background as for his work in exploration. A member of a Jewish family originally named Cohen, he converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Jesuit. In 1862, Palgrave and one companion entered Arabia, ostensibly to begin missionary work, but actually under the auspices of Napoleon III, who desired the friendship of Arabian leaders in an area that was shortly to become of major importance to France because of the opening of the Suez Canal.

Palgrave's route was by way of the Wadi Sirhan to Al Jawf and thence to Ha`il and eventually Riyadh. From there he proceeded into southern Nejd as far as Aflaj, farther than any of his predecessors; from Nejd he went next to Hasa, where he remained some time, and then to Muscat before he returned to Europe in 1863. Palgrave's major contributions to a knowledge of Arabia were his findings in and descriptions of southern Nejd, never before penetrated, and Hasa, seen and described only briefly by Sadlier.

A certain amount of mystery and conjecture surrounds Palgrave's work in Arabia. His descriptions are more flamboyant than most, and there are numerous exaggerations and overstatements of fact; but there was no real question by his contemporaries as to his travels and his main findings.

Joseph Halévy,

a French Jew born in Adrianople, Turkey, entered the Yemen in 1869 in the guise of a Jerusalem rabbi. He was interested primarily in the history of the area, its ancient civilizations, and its present religious status.

He descended the eastern slope of the uplands of the Yemen and reached the southern Al Jawf oasis, where he discovered the ruins of Ma`in, which site he ascribed to the Minaeans, an ancient Semitic people. From Al Jawf he traveled northward along the western edge of Rub` al Khali to the oasis of Najran (ancient Negrana), not visited by any European since 24 b.c., when the Roman prefect Aelius Gallus scouted the region for Augustus. The importance of this area was its position between the Yemen and Nejd, which constituted a trade route bypassing the Rub` al Khali.

On leaving Najran, Halévy retraced his route and proceeded south till he reached the Wadi Dana and the ruins of Ma`rib and its famous dam, built in the eighth century b.c. and associated with the Sabaeans and Queen Balk of Sheba (Saba). Halévy was the first to cover the entire wadi area of important oases between the eastern slope of the Yemen and the Rub` al Khali.

Charles Montague Doughty

traveled by himself for about two years (1877-1878) in north-central Arabia as a Christian and an Englishman--which makes him unique. As he made no attempt to conceal his identity, he left himself open to abuse and real danger. His fame as an explorer has grown with time, and his book, Travels in Arabia Deserta, became a classic of English literature.

Doughty's curiosity and interest in things Arabian was omnivorous, but he was especially interested in all phases of bedouin life, in ancient inscriptions and ruins, and in hydrography. He explored and correctly determined the headwater areas of both the Wadi Hamdh, which flows into the Red Sea, and the Wadi ar Rumma, which originates in the Harrat Khaybar.

Wilfrid S. Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt's

journeys were primarily to gain information on the Arabian horse and secondly to satisfy a curiosity about bedouin life. This English couple- -she was the granddaughter of Lord Bryon and the first European woman to enter the peninsula--went to Arabia in 1879 under the auspices of a noble Arab family of Palmyra. They continued south across the Great Nafud to Ha`il and and the Shammar tribal areas. Lady Anne's journals contain geographic information about the region.

Charles Huber and Julius Euting

did their most significant work in concert in 1883-1884. Huber, an Alsatian Frenchman, had been in Nejd on a previous trip (1878-1880) under the auspices of the French government. He had discovered a number of important inscriptions but was not qualified to decipher or understand them. He had also made a significant contribution, as did Doughty, to the existing knowledge of the hydrography of Nejd. In 1883 Huber was joined by Julius Euting, a German scholar of Semitic epigraphy. Together they made copies and rubbings of the inscriptions of the Tayma' oases. Inscriptions from early Arabian cultures and also some of ancient Syrian origin (500 to 400 b.c.) were uncovered. They also purchased a stele, the Tayma' Stone, which recounts the introduction of a foreign worship into the oasis. This stone, now in the Louvre, is accounted fourth in importance among ancient Semitic inscriptions. Shortly afterward Euting returned to Germany. Huber, having gone to Jidda to send his finds to Europe, was murdered by his guides (1884) on his return to Ha'il.

J. Snouck Hurgronje,

a learned Dutch Arabist, is noted for his studies of Arab life in Jidda and Mecca and also as a historian of Hejaz. Hurgronje's work is similar to that of Burckhardt but is important because Hurgronje had a remarkable command of Arabic. He also had the friendship and confidence of local authorities, which enabled him to come and go with ease. He spent five months in Jidda prior to going to Mecca, where he stayed another five months. Hurgronje's picture of Meccan society during and between pilgrimage (hajj) is detailed and accurate.

Eduard Glaser,

an Austrian archaeologist, is associated primarily with southwest Arabia through three trips that he made during the 1880's under Turkish authority. Glaser is best known for the collection of Himyaritic inscriptions he gathered in and about Ma'rib, center of the ancient Sabaean civilization, where he remained for about a month in 1889. Besides collecting some 400 inscriptions, he also made a sketch survey of the district.

Earlier (1884), Glaser had penetrated the Yemeni upland north of ' Amran, farther north than any of his predecessors. Glaser found that it was essentially a flattened inward (western) edge of the eastern Yemeni slope to the Rub` al Khali and the area in which a number of wadis (Jawf, Najran) had their origin. This trip enabled cartographers to fill in a hitherto empty section of the map of the Yemen.

Alois Musil,

an Austrian orientalist, is the first explorer of Arabia of the modern period. His travels took place between 1896 and 1915, and although most of his time and effort was expended in the Syrian Desert, he did explore northwestern Arabia and northern Nejd and added valuable information and maps to the growing store of detailed knowledge of the peninsula.

Musil's general objectives were to gain an insight into the origin and evolution of monotheism, to get an understanding of the part Arabia has played in the broader history of civilization, and to obtain detailed information on topography. He attained his goals through his friendship with powerful tribal rulers as well as through his own scholarship. His published works contain a wealth of material on the area's history, tribal culture, and physical geography.

Harry St. John Philby

is undoubtedly the best known of the 20th-century explorers of Arabia. He spent more time there than any other European in the pursuit of geographic information. In 1917 he first visited the Nejd as an Indian political officer on a mission to Ibn Saud. He later returned to Saudi Arabia as a private citizen, became the confidant of Ibn Saud, and explored the peninsula. He published his findings in a number of books, including The Arabian Highlands, The Heart of Arabia, and Land of Midian.

Probably the greatest disappointment of Philby's career was that he was not the first European to traverse the Rub` al Khali. When in 1932 he managed the crossing, it had already been accomplished the year before by Bertram Thomas.

Bertram S. Thomas

spent a number of years in British political service in Arabia and other parts of the Middle East. He was the first European to cross the Rub` al Khali (1931). Thomas held a post in the Muscat government when he became fascinated by the great sand area to the west. For several years prior to his crossing, he spent winters exploring and traveling in Oman and Dhufar to gain experience. He reached Dhufar in late 1930, and after a long wait he found guides who would accompany him across the eastern side of the desert to the Qatar Peninsula. Thomas published an account of the trip in Arabia Felix: Across the Empty Quarter of Arabia (1932).

Wilfred Patrick Thesiger,

an Englishman with wartime experience in Africa, became interested in Arabia while a member of the Middle East Anti-Locust Survey after World War II. The Rub` al Khali especially fascinated him, and in the winter of 1945-1946 he explored the southern margin of the area. The following winter he crossed from Dhufar in the Trucial Coast near Abu Dhabi (Abu Zaby) and back to the Arabian Sea along the eastern base of the Oman highlands. Much of this trip was through unexplored territory.

Thesiger's most remarkable journey was made in 1948, when he crossed the western Rub` al Khali from Wadi Hadhramaut to As Sulayyil oasis at the southern end of the Tuwayq Mountains in Nejd. Although Philby had cut well into the desert in 1932, Thesiger was the first to cross it completely at its western end, from south to north. His record of his journeys, Arabian Sands (1959), is probably the last epic of Arabian exploration.


The history of Arabia has been dominated by the region's physical geography, by its relative isolation from the rest of the world, and, since the seventh century, by Islam. The Arabs call the peninsula jazirat al-arab, the Arab island, because it is surrounded on three sides by the sea and enclosed on the fourth side by the sands of the Great Nafud and the vast stretches of the Syrian Desert. In ancient times it was only in the mountains of the southwest and the southeast that settled cultivation and local civilizations developed. In the northern and central reaches of the peninsula, cut off from the southwestern and southeastern corners by the sand sea of the Rub` al Kali (Empty Quarter), the life of the early inhabitants was nomadic, based upon widely scattered oases. But with the domestication of the camel in the second millennium b.c. the deserts that divided and hemmed in Arabia no longer limited the wanderings of these nomads. Instead, the deserts afforded the nomads access not only to the more remote parts of the peninsula but also to the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent (Syria and Mesopotamia). From that time on, the history of Arabia was one of migration and warfare.

Pre-Islamic Arabia.

Of Arabia's ancient history very little is known, and that depends almost entirely upon archaeological finds and epigraphic evidence. Archaeological investigation has been limited, and the usefulness of the epigraphic evidence, mostly from the numerous stone inscriptions in south Arabia, is impaired by the absence of references to the events recorded there in the extant literature of the ancient world.

It is known that the Egyptians made voyages down the Red Sea to obtain spices and incense at least as early as the third millennium b.c. and that in the second millennium they competed with the Assyrians for control of the trade route leading out of Arabia. There is evidence in the cuneiform inscriptions of Assyria of intercourse with eastern Arabia as early as the third millennium b.c., and mention is made of a land (or even, perhaps, of a civilization) of Dilmun lying southeast of Mesopotamia. Archaeological discoveries point to the possible identification of Dilmun with the island of Bahrain and the adjacent region of the mainland.

The earliest historical references to the Arabs or their forebears occur in the Assyrian and Babylonian records, in the Bible, and in the south Arabian inscriptions. The Arabs were part of the Semitic group of peoples (including, for example, Hebrews Aramaeans, and Assyrians), but where they originated, how they were differentiated from the other Semites, and how they came to inhabit Arabia is not known. One basic theory, based upon the resemblance between the civilizations of south Arabia and those of the Fertile Crescent, claims that the Arabs originated somewhere in the northern borderlands of Arabia and later migrated north into the region between Syria and Mesopotamia and south to the fertile southwestern corner of the peninsula. The other theory, taking note of the two distinct groups inhabiting Arabia in the second half of the first millennium b.c.--the Bedouin, or nomads, of the north and the settled cultivators of the south--postulates a dual origin for the Arabs. This theory echoes Arab genealogical tradition, which holds that the Arabs are descended both from Qahtan (Joktan of the Bible), the offspring of Shem, and from Adnan, the descendant of Ishmael. The progeny of the former are the ``true Arabs' ' (al-arab al-ariba) of south Arabia, whereas the descendants of the latter are the ``Arabized Arabs'' (al-arab al-mustariba) of the north. However, neither group remained wholly separate from the other, as Qahtani Arabs later migrated northward and the Adnani southward. To render the picture even more confused, Arab genealogists also speak of the ``lost Arabs'' (al-arab al-baida), who may have been the original inhabitants of Arabia.

Arabs appear in the records of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, sometimes as tributaries but more often as marauders threatening the trade routes from the Persian Gulf into Syria and from south Arabia to Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. The struggle for control of these trade routes was one of the principal features of Middle Eastern history in the first millennium b.c., and the northern Arabs, because of their geographical position, were drawn into the struggle, in turn by the Babylonians, Achaemenids, Hellenes, Seleucids, Egyptians, and Romans. Alexander the Great of Macedonia dispatched a naval expedition to reconnoiter the Persian Gulf in 326 b.c. as a preliminary to the circumnavigation and conquest of Arabia. His death in 323 b.c., however, ended the project. A century later the Ptolemies of Egypt sent naval squadrons into the Red Sea and established a base on the Arabian coast above Yanbu in an effort to cut the incense road south of where it branched northwestward toward Syria and the Seleucid empire. They were frustrated by the opposition of the Nabataeans, a people of Arab stock from the tribe of Anbat, one of the first of the northern Arab tribes to abandon nomadism and lead a settled life. By the fourth century b.c. the Nabataeans had made their capital, Petra, one of the most important stations on the caravan route to Syria; for two centuries thereafter they held the balance of power between the Ptolemies and Seleucids.

Himyarite-Sabaean Civilization of Southwestern Arabia.

The civilization that evolved in southwestern Arabia in the second half of the first millennium b.c. was founded upon agriculture and trade, especially upon the spice trade between India and the Mediterranean and upon a frankincense trade monopoly. Frankincense was cultivated along the south coast of Arabia--in the Hadhramaut (in southwest Arabia), the Mahrah country (west of the Hadhramaut), and Dhufar (along the southeastern coast of the peninsula). A succession of kingdoms emerged in this corner of Arabia beginning in the fifth century b.c. They included the Saba (biblical Sheba), Ma`in, Qataban, Hadhramaut, and Himyar, of which the Sabaean was the most influential. Sabaean merchants and seafarers monopolized the trade in pearls, spices, silks, slaves, ivory, gold, and incense between the Mediterranean world and Africa, India, and Arabia. Saba's economy was also supported by extensive agriculture, made possible by an elaborate system of irrigation fed by a great dam at Marib, the Sabaean capital. The dam was breached several times, and the consequent disruption to the country's life caused a series of migrations to other parts of Arabia. Attracted by the wealth of Saba, the Romans sent an army under the command of Aelius Gallus, prefect of Egypt, to conquer the kingdom in 24 b.c. The rigors of the Arabian climate and terrain, however, forced the expedition to retreat to Egypt.

Soon after the beginning of the Christian era Saba fell under the Himyarite kingdom, which originated on the south coast west of Al Mukalla, probably in the third or second centuries b.c. Two centuries later it absorbed the Qataban kingdom, and by the first century a.d. it had formed a dual monarchy with Saba, with its capital at Zafar, in the mountains of Yemen.

The decline of the Himyarite-Sabaean civilization is traditionally ascribed to the final bursting of the great dam at Marib in the middle of the sixth century. But its decline began at least three centuries earlier, when the Romans penetrated the Red Sea and the Seleucids and Parthians diverted the spice trade from western Arabia to the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia. Little is known of events in western Arabia from the end of the third century until the early sixth century, when southwestern Arabia was subdued by the Abyssinians. They in turn were driven out by the Sassanians of Persia, who had subjugated most of eastern Arabia in the preceding century.

Ghassanid, Lakhmid, and Kinda Kingdoms.

The Abyssinian and Sassanian invasions of Arabia stemmed from the lengthy struggle between the Sassanians and the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire for dominance of all western Asia. As their struggle continued it drew in, on either side, most of the petty states of Arabia. The Ghassanid and Lakhmid kingdoms of north Arabia served the East Roman and Sassanian empires respectively as buffer states in the fifth and sixth centuries. Both kingdoms had been founded by south Arabian tribes that had migrated northward in the first century, the Ghassanids to southeast Syria, the Lakhmids to Hira in lower Mesopotamia, not far from the ruins of Babylon. In time the Ghassanids were converted to Monophysite Christianity, but the Lakhmids, although most of their subjects were Nestorian Christians, remained pagans. A third petty kingdom, Kinda, also founded by a south Arabian tribe, arose in central Arabia in the second half of the fourth century. At its zenith Kinda stretched from the Hejaz to Bahrain and successfully challenged both the Ghassanids and the Lakhmids; but by the middle of the sixth century it had disintegrated. The Ghassanid and Lahkmid kingdoms were swept away from the Islamic expansion from Arabia in the seventh century.

Politics and Religion on the Eve of Islam's Birth.

Muslim Arabs describe the period before the coming of the Prophet Muhammad as al-jahiliyah, the age of ignorance. The term applies to the century preceding Muhammad's proclamation of his mission in the second decade of the seventh century, but it is also loosely used to denote the entire span of Arabian history before that time. As a description of the condition of most of the peninsula's inhabitants on the eve of Islam, it is somewhat justified. However, it could scarcely be applied to the civilization of the Minaeans, Sabaeans, and Himyarites. That civilization, however, was now in ruins, and throughout the greater part of Arabia there was disorder and disunity.

The Bedouin tribes of northern and central Arabia were constantly at war with one another and with their neighbors, harassing the trade routes and raiding the frontiers of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires. Their conflicts gave rise to a body of heroic poetry, and its diffusion throughout northern and western Arabia contributed to the eventual triumph of northern Arabic as the dominant language of the peninsula.

The religion of the northern tribes was as primitive as their politics. Caves, trees, springs, and stones were held to be the abode of spirits; the desert was believed to be peopled with malevolent beings, jinns; and the moon was worshiped as a beneficent power.

In the Hejaz, Asir, and Yemen, religious beliefs and practices also focused largely upon sacred stones and springs, the most famous of which were the Black Stone, a meteorite set in the southeast corner of the Kaaba in Mecca, and the well of Zemzem in the adjacent courtyard. In other towns kaabas, or cube-shaped structures, housed similar sacred objects. A pantheon of deities was worshiped in the Hejaz, whose sanctuaries were places of pilgrimage. The principal deity of Mecca, Allah (al- ilah, the god), was held to be the ultimate god, the creator of the world and the heavens.

The emergence of this concept of an immanent supreme being was probably due in part to the influence of Christianity and Judaism, which had penetrated the Hejaz and Yemen in preceding centuries. Many of the merchants of the Hejaz, during their travels abroad, had also been brought into contact with the monotheistic religions of the Mediterranean world. There were, in addition, several Christian and Jewish communities in western Arabia; the most well known were the Christians of Najran, in the southwest corner of modern Saudi Arabia, and the Jews of Yathrib, on the spice route 300 miles (480 km) north of Mecca.

Muhammad and the Rise of Islam.

It was in this environment that Muhammad, son of Abd Allah of the tribe of Quraysh, began preaching to the people of Mecca his doctrine of redemption, salvation, and the oneness of God. His fellow citizens disliked his preaching, especially his condemnation of idolatry and his insistence upon his role as the prophet of Allah. In a.d. 622 they forced him and his converts to flee Mecca. Muhammad and his followers found refuge at Yathrib, which became known as madinat al-nabi (the city of the prophet), or simply Medina (the city). The year of the flight (hegira) marked the beginning of the Muslim era. Muhammad lived for ten years at Medina, converting its inhabitants, expelling the Jewish community, and eventually, in 630, making Mecca subject to him. By the time he died in 632 several towns and districts in the Hejaz acknowledged his authority and paid him tribute, and there were converts to his teaching in many parts of Arabia.

The new religion of Islam (that is, resignation or submission to the will of God, Allah) provided the unifying force that Arabs had lacked. The process of unification was aided by the use of northern Arabic as the language of the Koran, the posthumous transcription of Muhammad' s revelations. Islam and Arabic were henceforth inseparable, and together they eventually gave the Arabs a sense of a common identity.

Muhammad's death left the Muslim community without a leader. Because he and his followers had believed him to be the last of the prophets, he could not be replaced. Thus the new leader, Abu Bakr, who was Muhammad's father-in-law, was simply designated caliph (khalifa, or successor) of the Prophet of God. Abu Bakr's two-year reign was almost wholly occupied with bringing back into the Muslim fold those tribes that had apostatized on the death of Muhammad and with converting the rest of Arabia. When Abu Bakr died in 634 the peninsula was unified for the first and only time.

The Diminishing Influence of Arabia in the IslamicEmpire.

Because the tribes of Arabia were forbidden by the new Islamic theocracy to fight among themselves, they had to direct their warlike energies to conquest beyond Arabia. Under the caliphs Omar and Othman they overran the Sassanian empire and inflicted defeats upon the armies of Byzantium before being stopped at the Taurus mountains in modern Turkey. Syria and Mesopotamia were absorbed into the Arab empire along with Egypt, conquered in 640.

With the accession in 656 of the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of Muhammad, the unity of the empire was shattered. Ali easily defeated a rebellion by the Prophet's widow, Aisha, and some of the Prophet's former companions, but he faced a more formidable adversary in Mu`awiya, the governor of Syria and a kinsman of the late caliph Othman. To cope with Mu`awiya, Ali moved his capital from Medina to Kufa in lower Mesopotamia. In the spring of 657 the armies of the two rivals battled at Siffin on the Euphrates River. Because the fighting was inconclusive the two commanders submitted their contest to arbitration, which developed into a wrangle over the legitimacy of Ali's succession. When the arbitrators declared both Ali and Mu`awiya ineligible for the caliphate, Ali broke off the arbitration. A number of his followers denounced him for having submitted his claim to the judgment of men when the decision lay with God alone, and the more extreme among them, the khawarij (outsiders or seceders), violently rejected his rule. Although Ali crushed their revolt, his authority was crumbling, and in 661 he was assassinated. His son Hasan succeeded him, but abdicated shortly afterward in favor of Mu`awiya, who had been proclaimed caliph in Jerusalem in 660.

Under the Umayyad caliphate (Mu`awiya's family name), which lasted from 661 to 750, the Arab empire reached its greatest extent. In the east, Persia and Afghanistan were subdued and India invaded, while in the west, North Africa and most of Spain were brought under Muslim rule.

Inevitably these sweeping events diminished the status of Medina and the importance of Arabia in the Islamic empire, especially as the number of converts to Islam among the conquered peoples far exceeded the Arab Muslims of the peninsula. The capital was moved to Damascus, from where the entire empire was ruled. Shortly after Mu`awiya's death in 680 an attempt was made to restore the Islamic capital to Medina when Ali's son Husain, together with Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, the son of one of the Prophet's principal companions, rebelled against the Umayyads. Husain was slain at Karbala in Iraq, and Ibn al-Zubayr was killed when an Umayyad army captured Mecca in 692.

Proliferation of Islamic Sects.

The death of Ibn al-Zubayr signified the passing of the Arabian (or Medinan) caliphate and the relegation of Arabia to a position of relative obscurity in Islamic history. Arabia was little affected by the overthrow of the Umayyads (Ommiads) of Damascus by the Abbasids of Baghdad in 750 or by subsequent dynastic changes. The annual pilgrimage (hajj(hajj)) to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina gave the peninsula some importance, but its main distinction from the eighth to the 18th century was as a breeding ground for rebellion and as a refuge for dissident Islamic sects.

A remnant of the khawarij, the Ibadiya, found their way into Oman, where they converted many tribes. Their chief belief denied dynastic succession to the caliphate or imamate (leadership) of Islam, even in the Prophet's own family. Beginning in the mid-eighth century, the Ibadiya of Oman elected their own imams, although sometimes the imamate was in abeyance.

A greater source of trouble to the Umayyad caliphs, and later to the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, were the Shiites. The death of Ali had opened a split in Islam between the Sunnite, or orthodox, Muslims, who held that the caliphate should remain in the Prophet's family (the Quraysh), and the Shiites, who preferred the title of imam and insisted that the imamate be confined to the line of Ali. Doctrinal differences widened the political breach, and in time a proliferation of Sunnite and Shiite sects destroyed the original unity of Islam.

One of the earliest and more important of the Shiite sects was the Ismaili, who split off from the main body of the Shiites in 765 and began an unremitting campaign of subversion against the Abbasid caliphs. Under the name of Karmathians (Qarmatians) they established an independent state in eastern Arabia at the close of the ninth century. They discarded prayer, fasting, and the pilgrimage, which made them detested by pious Muslims, and espoused revolution. In 930 they captured and sacked Mecca, carrying off the sacred Black Stone from the Kaaba; they were only persuaded to return it 20 years later by the Fatimid rulers of North Africa, an Ismaili dynasty set up in Tunis in the early tenth century. The Karmathians broke with the Fatimids shortly afterward and then went into decline. Their disintegration was accelerated in the 11th century by the increasingly intense Sunnite reaction against Shiite excesses. By the end of the century the Karmathian state in Hasa had vanished.

Triumph of Sunnitism.

Much of the impetus for the Sunnite reaction against the Shiites came from the Seljuq Turks, Sunnites who conquered Baghdad in 1055 and declared themselves the protectors of the Abbasid caliphate. The Abbasid empire had for well more than a century been a hollow shell, its caliphs, like the later Roman emperors, mere puppets of their praetorian guards. Other Turkish dynasties also appointed themselves champions of Sunnite Islam.

The Ayyubids of Damascus (a Turkish dynasty of Kurdish origin), under the leadership of Salah al-din (Saladin of the Crusades), conquered Egypt in 1171 and suppressed the Fatimid caliphate. Salah al-din next turned his attention to southwest Arabia, where Ismaili and other Shiites had wielded much influence since the second half of the eighth century.

Between the eighth and the twelfth century a bewildering assortment of Shiite dynasties and principalities had come and gone in Yemen, of which the most long-lived was the Zaidi imamate of Sa`dah in the north. In 1174 Salah al-din sent his brother, Turan Shah, to conquer Yemen, and by 1176 the petty Shiite states had been crushed, marking the triumph of Sunnitism over Shiitism throughout Arabia.

Yemen and the Hejaz from the 10th to the 16thCenturies.

An Ayyubid kingdom, organized on military lines, was set up in Yemen by Turan Shah with its capital at Ta`izz; it was displaced in 1230 by the Rasulid dynasty, another Turkish line. When the Mongols under Hulagu Khan captured Baghdad in 1258 and put to death the last Abbasid caliph, the reigning Rasulid proclaimed himself Caliph of Islam, but none of his successors claimed that title. For the next two centuries the Rasulids ruled from their capital at Ta`izz over most of Yemen, Asir, and Hadhramaut and controlled the commerce of the Red Sea. In the mid-15th century, they were overthrown and Hadhramaut regained its independence. Similarly, southern Arabia and the interior were fragmented into small tribal holdings.

Under the Abbasids the Hejaz had remained a backwater of the empire, although the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, endowed with great wealth by pious Muslims, became centers of learning, poetry, and music, as well as places of refuge for political malcontents. Mecca was dominated by the descendants of Ali's son, Hasan, and Medina by those of Hasan's brother Husain. In the mid-tenth century, in the wake of the disorders caused by the Karmathians in Arabia, the head of the ruling Hasanid family of Mecca assumed the title of sharif (exalted or noble), thus founding the generally independent sharifate of Mecca (which endured until 1925). As the Abbasid empire disintegrated the Hejaz became increasingly isolated and turbulent, its holy places the scenes of strife, plunder, and sacrilege. Mecca was occupied by Turan Shah in 1173 on his way to Yemen. Four years later the Crusader Renaud de Châtillon sent a squadron of galleys to cruise in the Red Sea and harry the ports of the Hejaz. The Mamluk (often spelled Mameluke in older literature) sultans of Egypt, who came to power in the mid- 13th century, exercised a sporadic overlordship of the holy cities for two-and-a-half centuries. Their rule ended in 1517 when Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman sultan Selim I and the Hejaz became, in name at least, part of the Ottoman empire.

European Influence in the Early Ottoman Period.

Beginning in the early 16th century Arabian history was influenced by European nations in quest of trade and dominion, as well as by the Ottoman Turks. The first Europeans to venture into Arabian waters in modern times were the Portuguese, who had discovered the sea route to the East at the end of the 15th century and became determined to acquire control of Asia's trade with Europe. That trade--consisting of spices, aromatics, drugs, dyes, precious stones, ivory, and gold- -was controlled by Arab merchants and seafarers, who carried the precious goods up the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf to Egypt and Syria, where they passed to the Venetians. Hoping to gain control of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, the Portuguese in 1507 attacked the island kingdom of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Hormuz was made tributary to Portugal and for the next 100 years the Portuguese monopolized the trade of the Persian Gulf. They also attempted to take Aden in 1513, and although they failed, they did considerable damage to trade and shipping in the Red Sea. Inevitably, the forays by a Christian power provoked a Muslim reaction. The Ottoman Turks, who after conquering Egypt had asserted control over the coastal lowlands of Yemen, unsuccessfully challenged the Portuguese at sea several times between 1529 and 1589.

A more serious threat to Portugal's dominance came from the English, who, after the formation of the English East India Company in 1600, established factories, or trading stations, on the west coast of India. In 1622, in alliance with Shah Abbas I of Persia, they successfully stormed the Portuguese stronghold of Hormuz and ended Portugal's monopoly of the Persian Gulf trade. With the rise to power of the Ya`ariba line of Ibadi imams of Oman, the Portuguese lost control of their remaining strongpoints at Muscat and other places on the coast of Oman.

The first of the Ya`ariba line, Nasir ibn Murshid, was elected in 1624. By the time of his death in 1649 only Muscat remained in Portuguese hands, and it fell the following year. The Ya`ariba imams made Muscat the greatest non-European naval power in the eastern seas in the second half of the 17th century, plundering Portuguese, English, and Dutch shipping alike and driving the Portuguese from Mombasa and other ports on the east coast of Africa.

The power of the Ya`aribas, however, lasted barely a century. Civil war broke out in Oman in the early 1720's over the succession to the imamate and continued for more than 20 years, splitting the country and subjecting it for a time to Persian occupation. In the 1740's the war was brought to an end and the Persians expelled by Ahmad ibn Said, of the clan of Al Bu Said; he was elected imam in 1749. His interests, like those of the Ya`ariba, lay in trade and overseas expansion, and under his rule and that of his successors Muscat became the great emporium for the trade of eastern Arabia and the east African slave trade.

The decline of Portuguese power in Arabia was paralleled by the decline of Turkish power. Only about 100 years after they had subdued the region, the Turks were expelled from Hasa in eastern Arabia in 1664 by the Bani Khalid tribal confederacy; in southwest Arabia they retained footholds only along the coast of Yemen. There was a strong religious animosity between the Turks and the Yemeni tribes because the Turks were Sunnite Muslims of the Hanafi rite, whereas the coastal tribes were mostly Sunnites of the Shafi rite; the upland tribes were predominantly Shiites of the Zaidi sect, owing allegiance to the imams of Sa`dah. A determined campaign by successive Zaidi imams early in the 17th century drove the Turks from Sana, which became the Zaidi capital. And in 1635 the Turks lost their hold on the coastal plain, the Tihama.

As the fortunes of Aden, hard hit by Turkish and Portuguese attacks, declined, Mocha, the principal port of the Yemen, began to prosper. Coffee had been introduced into Yemen from Abyssinia, probably in the 15th century, and it became the country's principal export, attracting European traders to Mocha, particularly the Dutch and English, who opened trading stations there. The Dutch trading post was withdrawn in 1738 as a consequence of the successful cultivation of coffee in the East Indies, but the English post remained for another 100 years.

In the Persian Gulf beginning in the late 17th century the Dutch, English, and French competed for the commercial ascendancy relinquished by the Portuguese. By the late 18th century only the English remained, and they too would probably have left it had it not been for the landing of Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt in 1798. The defense of their possessions in India and the need to suppress piracy in Arabian waters kept the English East India Company in the Gulf after the turn of the 19th century.

The Wahhabis.

By far the most significant development of the 18th century was the emergence of the Wahhabi, or Saudi, state of Nejd. It originated in central Africa as a religious reform movement begun by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) of Ayaina. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's mission was to persuade his fellow Muslims to return to a simpler and more rigorous observance of the tenets of Islam, according to the Hanabali rite. He particularly deplored the cult of saints, which to him smacked of idolatry and polytheism, and he carried his objections to the point of condemning what seemed to him the excessive veneration of Muhammad. His message was fundamentalist and puritanical and represented Islam in its most pristine form. Perhaps the chief reason it was adopted by the easygoing townsmen and the superstitious Bedouin of central Arabia was that it carried with it a license to persecute and plunder non-Wahhabis. Another reason was the Ibn Abd al-Wahhab converted Muhammad ibn Saud, a chieftain of the Anaiza tribe, who resided at Ad Dir`iyah in the Nejd. With Ibn Saud's military backing, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was able to persuade or coerce the tribesmen of Nejd to accept the reformed faith and to unite in a military-religious confederacy for its dissemination throughout Arabia.

Muhammad ibn Saud died in 1765. His son and successor, Abd al-Aziz, married the daughter of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and at some time around the reformer's death in 1792 Abd al-Aziz was acknowledged as imam by the Wahhabi community. Under the command of Abd al-Aziz' son, Ibn Saud, the Wahhabis between 1792 and 1795 subdued Hasa and then raided the frontiers of Turkish Iraq. In 1801 they sacked the holy city of Karbala, burial place of the Shiite martyr, Husain, arousing the fury of the Shiite world. Turning west they invaded the Hejaz, occupied Mecca in 1803, and captured Medina in 1804. Neither the pasha of Baghdad nor the sharif of Mecca was able to halt the Wahhabis, who in the next few years raided and pillaged as far north as the outskirts of Damascus. To the south they made inroads into Oman and provoked the tribes of the southern shore of the Persian Gulf, the so-called Pirate Coast, into making widespread attacks upon Arab, Indian, and European shipping.

The Ottoman sultan, unable to restore his nominal authority over the Hejaz, ordered his vassal, Mehemet Ali Pasha, vali (governor-general) of Egypt, to retake Mecca and Medina. Mehemet Ali's campaign began in 1811 and was successfully concluded by his son, Ibrahim Pasha, seven years later, when the Wahhabi capital of Dir`iyah was destroyed. The ruling Wahhabi imam, Abd Allah ibn Saud, was taken prisoner and sent to Constantinople (now Istanbul), where he was beheaded. The British government in India, which had tried unsuccessfully in 1809- 1810 to extirpate the piratical strongholds along the Pirate Coast, sent a second expedition in 1819. It managed to subdue the maritime tribes and force them to conclude a treaty in which they forswore piracy forever.

The Wahhabis recovered under the imam Turki ibn Abd Allah (r. 1824- 1834), who established a new capital at Riyadh, not far from the ruins of Dir`iyah. Once more, however, they had to contend with Mehemet Ali Pasha, who sought to extend his control to Damascus and Baghdad as well as to the trading routes through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. In 1833 Mehemet Ali forced the Ottoman sultan to cede most of Syria, and at the end of the same year he began an invasion of Yemen. Early in 1837 he sent a second expedition into Nejd. Riyadh fell in May 837 and at the close of the following year Egyptian troops reached the Persian Gulf. The Wahhabi imam, Faisal ibn Turkik, was sent to Cairo as a prisoner. The invasion of Yemen was less successful, and it was forestalled in its ultimate object, the capture of Aden, by a British expedition from India, which occupied that port in January 1839. At the end of 1840 Russia, Great Britain, Austria, and Prussia intervened to end the hostilities. They issued the London Convention, which forced the pasha to relinquish control of most of the Ottoman territory he had captured, including Syria and the Hejaz, and to return Egypt nominally to the Ottoman empire.

During the middle of the 19th century the fortunes of Arabia were largely controlled by the Wahhabi imam, Faisal ibn Turki (r. 1834- 1838, 1843-1865) and by the British government in India. The British were concerned principally with protecting the maritime approaches to India, ensuring the safety of shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, and suppressing the slave trade. A perpetual maritime truce was subscribed to in 1853 by the sheikhdoms of the Pirate Coast, which then became known as the Trucial Coast. British relations with the Wahhabis were confined to opposing sporadic Wahhabi attempts to conquer Bahrain, Oman, and the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms, to prevent the truce from being endangered. The campaign against the slave trade was directed primarily toward Oman, ruled from 1806 to 1856 by Said ibn Sultan, the most famous of the Al Bu Said line. Said was compelled by the British government in 1845 to forbid the export of slaves from his east African dominions of Zanzibar and the adjacent coast. Subsequent treaties imposed by the British upon the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms, Bahrain, and Persia gradually closed the area to the slave trade. The slave trade also brought Said into contact with the United States and France, which led to commercial conventions in 1833 and 1844, respectively.

On Said's death in 1856 his sons quarrelled over succession to the sultanate. The British government in India intervened and, largely to suppress the slave trade more effectively, divided the sultanate in 1861. Al Bu Said rule in Oman, already shaken by various Wahhabi invasions, was further weakened by the loss of Zanzibar. Successive Al Bu Said rulers had also estranged many of the tribes by allowing the Ibadi imamate to lapse, preferring to reign as temporal sovereigns with the title of sayyid (lord), while by Europeans they were called sultans. Tribal rebellions plagued Oman into the 20th century.

Growing Turkish Control.

After the withdrawal of the Egyptians from the Hejaz in 1840 effective power there was applied by the sharif of Mecca, Muhammad ibn Aun. It was not until his death in 1858 that the Ottoman sultan was able to wield full authority in western Arabia. In the middle of the century the Turks subdued the Asir and occupied the Tihama, Mocha, and Hodeida (Al Hudaydah). No effective opposition was offered by the Zaidi imam at Sana. Anarchy reigned in the highlands as a series of sanguinary conflicts was fought over the imamate. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 the Turks were able to move troops and supplies to Arabia with greater rapidity. They tightened their hold on the Hejaz and extended their control of Yemen to the western highlands. Sana was occupied in 1872, a Turkish vali appointed to its government, and the imam reduced to the status of a vassal. Turkish rule, however, was never secure in the Hejaz or in Yemen. To the south, Aden remained in British hands and grew in importance and prosperity as the traffic through the newly built Suez Canal increased. Great Britain gradually extended its control over the hinterland of Aden by means of treaties of protection with the local rulers.

The Turks also took the offensive in eastern Arabia after the opening of the Suez Canal. When the Wahhabi imam Faisal ibn Turki died in 1865 his sons Abd Allah and Saud disputed the succession. After sitting on the throne for six years, Abd Allah in 1871 called upon the Turks for help in subduing his brother. They responded by invading and subduing Hasa, which remained under Turkish control for the next 40 years. The fortunes of the Al Saud now declined steeply as the imamate changed hands seven times within the next five years. Their power was eclipsed by that of the rival house of Ibn Rashid, also Wahhabis but Turkish vassals as well, whose capital lay to the north, at Hail in Jabal Shammar. The Rashidis captured Riyadh in 1885 and six years later incorporated it into their dominions, the Saudi head being forced into exile at Kuwait.

Kuwait at this time was nominally under the suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan, although in fact it enjoyed virtual independence. German and Russian plans for the construction of a railroad to the head of the Persian Gulf led the British government in 1899 to obtain from the ruler of Kuwait a pledge not to alienate any of his territory or conduct relations with a foreign power. To counter Russian, German, and French activities in the Gulf, similar pledges had already been extracted by the British from the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms and Bahrain in 1892. The sultan of Muscat had bound himself in 1891 not to alienate any portion of his territories except to Great Britain.

Arabia in the 20th Century.

The increase in Ottoman and European political and strategic interest in Arabia at the beginning of the 20th century resulted in the first attempts to define frontiers within the peninsula. Lengthy negotiations between the Ottoman and British governments brought about agreements in 1913 and 1914 that defined, in the east, the frontiers of Kuwait with Turkish Iraq and Hasa and the frontier of Hasa with Qatar and the Trucial Coast, and, in the southwest, the frontier of Yemen with the western Aden protectorates. The convention embodying the settlement in eastern Arabia was never ratified by the Turks, and in any case its usefulness was nullified by the expulsion of the Turks from Hasa by the Saudis.

The resurgence of Saudi power was accomplished by Ibn Saud, the grandson of Faisal ibn Turki. In 1901-1902 he came out of exile in Kuwait and expelled the Rashidis from Riyadh. Rallying the tribes of Nejd to him, he reasserted the authority of the Al Saud in central Arabia, and in May 1913 he drove the Turks from Hasa.

With the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, the British government in India sent an expeditionary force to Turkish Iraq. Shortly afterward the British opened negotiations with Ibn Saud, which resulted in the conclusion of a treaty in December 1915 recognizing him as ruler of Nejd and Hasa. In return he assumed obligations toward Great Britain similar to those entered into earlier by the Trucial sheikhs. Ibn Rashid, the Saudis' dynastic enemy to the north, remained loyal to the Turks. So also did the imam of Yemen, Yahya ibn Muhammad, his passivity enabling the Turks to invade the western Aden protectorate, occupy Lahej, and hold it until the end of the war. The sharif of Mecca, Husain ibn Ali, was also approached by the British with the suggestion that he rebel against the Turks. After hesitating for a year and a half while he secured promises of substantial subsidies and independence after the war, the sharif revolted in June 1916. The Turkish garrison at Medina was besieged, and a tribal army was raised under the command of Husain's sons, Faisal, Abd Allah, and Ali, to harry the Turks along the Hejaz railroad. With the aid of Colonel T. E. Lawrence of the British army, the sharifian army in the next two years gained much notoriety. The Turkish garrison at Medina, however, held out comfortably until the war was over.

Ibn Saud's attention during the war had been directed mainly toward his rival, ibn Rashid of Jabal Shammar. It was not until 1921, however, that Ibn Saud was able to defeat him and annex his principality. In the meantime the British had placed Husain's sons, Faisal and Abd Allah, on the thrones of the newly created kingdoms of Iraq and Transjordan (modern Jordan), respectively. Raids by Ibn Saud's fanatical warriors, the Ikhwan (brethren), into Iraq and Transjordan provoked a strong British reaction, and in 1922 and 1925 Ibn Saud was forced to conclude agreements fixing the frontiers of Nejd with Iraq, Transjordan, and Kuwait. The animosity that had always existed between the Hashemite sharifs of Mecca and the Saudi imams flared into open warfare in 1924, when Husain ill-advisedly assumed the title of caliph after the Ottoman caliphate had been abolished by republican Turkey. Condemning him as a heretic, Ibn Saud's Ikhwan swept down upon the Hejaz and occupied Mecca in October 1924. Husain abdicated as king of the Hejaz (a title he had adopted during the war) in favor of his son Ali; but Ali could not withstand the Saudis and in December 1925 he too abdicated, surrendering Medina and Jidda (Juddah) to the Wahhabis. Ibn Saud, who had adopted the title of sultan of Nejd in 1921, now assumed the title of king of the Hejaz as well. His dual sovereignty and independence were recognized by Great Britain in 1927 in the Treaty of Jiddah. In 1932 Ibn Saud changed the name of his kingdom to Saudi Arabia, which immediately achieved full international recognition as an independent state. Both Husain and Ali died in exile.

After the conquest of the Hejaz, Ibn Saud incorporated the Asir into his dominions. This provoked a quarrel with the imam Yahya, the ruler of Yemen, which had been independent since the departure of the Turks after World War I. Early in 1934 a Saudi force occupied Hodeida, but it withdrew in May after agreement was reached to define the Yemen- Asir border, a task accomplished two years later. In 1934 Ibn Saud also entered into a treaty with Great Britain to define the Aden-Yemen frontier and began a series of negotiations to determine the frontiers of Saudi Arabia with the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms, Qatar, Muscat and Oman, and the eastern Aden protectorate.

Border determination had been made necessary by the granting of oil concessions during the 1930's by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the other Persian Gulf states. Oil was first discovered in Bahrain in 1932. It was struck in Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia in 1938. Border negotiations continued until the eve of World War II, but in 1939 the British and Saudi governments had still not agreed on frontiers.

U.S. interest in Arabia, aroused initially by missionary activities and later by oil exploration, increased during World War II. Both the United States and Great Britain gave financial aid to Saudi Arabia, in spite of its official neutrality until 1945. After the war, U.S. interest in Arabia continued, for strategic reasons and because large reserves of oil had been discovered in Hasa.

Oil exploration was resumed and resulted in important oil finds in Qatar, some of the Trucial States, and Oman, reviving the question of Saudi Arabia's eastern and southern frontiers and reawakening Ibn Saud's ambition to extend his influence in the manner of his ancestors over the littoral states. Negotiations between the Saudi and British governments on frontiers were again unsuccessful, and the situation was complicated by new developments in Arabia and the rise of nationalism in the rest of the Arab world.

In Oman, dissatisfaction with Al Bu Said rule had led the highland tribes to elect an Ibadi imam in 1913 and again in 1920. In the latter year the reigning sultan at Muscat signed a written guarantee not to interfere in the affairs of the Omani tribes. This compromise between the Ibadi imam and the sultan of Muscat lasted until the post-World War II period, when rivalries, involving both conflicting Arab claims and British interests, developed for control of the Buraimi oasis, which was believed to contain oil. When the second imam, who died in 1954, was succeeded by a third elected imam who proclaimed an independent state of Oman and began to receive support from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the sultan was provoked into intervening in the interior. Eventually, British troops were sent to help the sultan suppress the revolt. Oil was discovered in Oman in 1964, and by 1970 Sultan Said ibn Taimur had lost the confidence of the British, who welcomed his overthrow in a coup intended to modernize and unify the country.

Oil had also changed Saudi Arabia. Ibn Saud died in 1953 and was succeeded by his oldest surviving son, Saud, who was deposed 11 years later by the Saudi family and succeeded by his brother Faisal. Saud's downfall was due as much to extravagance as to misgovernment; the vast revenues from oil production had seduced many of the Al Saud from their adherence to the stern doctrines of Wahhabism and sapped the religious foundations of Saudi society. Under King Faisal the erosion was slowed.

Events in Yemen and Aden in the 1960's caused considerable uneasiness throughout Arabia. Yahya, who was assassinated in 1948, had been succeeded by his son Ahmad. Dissatisfaction with Ahmad's rule grew in the 1950' s, particularly among officials and army officers who admired the successful military coups in other Arab countries. When Ahmad died in September 1962 they rose against his successor, declared the imamate abolished, and proclaimed Yemen a republic. Almost immediately troops and ammunition arrived from republican Egypt to help consolidate the revolution and to exploit the opportunity now afforded President Gamal Abd al-Nasser (commonly spelled Gamal Abdel Nasser) to realize the ambitions once held by Mehemet Ali. Nasser's aim was to replace Great Britain's waning influence in Arabia with his own and to bring about the downfall of the traditional regimes. His troops, however, were unsuccessful, and six months after Egypt's defeat in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 Nasser withdrew his forces from Yemen. Nevertheless, the republican government survived in Yemen on the basis of a compromise worked out by the republicans and the royalists.

Egypt's intervention between 1962 and 1967 in Yemen also intensified unrest in Aden and the adjacent protectorates. Since its occupation in 1839 Aden had been ruled by the British Indian government, but in 1937 Aden was declared a crown and brought under the control of the Colonial Office in London. In 1963 Aden was joined to the protectorates in a British-sponsored federation that was expected to become independent. Arab nationalists in Aden, however, resented sharing power with the traditional rulers of the more populous protectorate states. Supported and armed by Yemen and Egypt, they waged a successful guerrilla campaign against the federal government and the British. In November 1967 the British abandoned Aden, the protectorates, and the federation, and independent Southern Yemen came into being.

Shortly after abandoning Aden, Great Britain announced its intention to terminate its agreements with the Persian Gulf states and withdraw from the area by the end of 1971. A first step in this direction had been taken in 1961, when the 1899 agreement with Kuwait had been abrogated and British protection ended. Iraq immediately asserted a claim to sovereignty over Kuwait, but was rebuffed by the deterring presence of British and Saudi troops in Kuwait. A similar claim of much longer standing by Iran to sovereignty over Bahrain was withdrawn in 1970 after a majority of the island's population voted for independence in a plebiscite conducted under UN auspices. The persistence of Saudi Arabia's and Iran's territorial claims to the Trucial States did not deter Britain from withdrawing from the Gulf. Before leaving, the British had endeavored to persuade Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial States to join in a federation, but Bahrain and Qatar both chose to become independent separately during 1971. The Trucial States achieved independence as the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

Great changes occurred in Arabia after World War II, the most striking of them brought about by the exploitation of oil. Wealth brought the products of the Western world in profusion, and to a lesser degree elements of Western culture and philosophy. It also attracted to the oil-rich Gulf states many Arabs from the more advanced Arab countries, as well as non-Arabs. Arabs from the north of Arabia brought with them not only the intellectual and emotional baggage of Arab nationalism but also novel political doctrines of republicanism and revolution.

As wealth from oil poured into the Persian Gulf states, the juxtaposition of sheikhs ruling as patriarchs with an urban proletariat of detribalized peninsular Arabs, Iranians, and others and with a restless quasi-intelligentsia from the northern Arab lands provided a classic situation for revolution. Non-Arab powers with economic or strategic interests in Arabia, like the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, looked with apprehension upon the peninsula's future. Other nations, such as the Soviet Union, prowled expectantly around its edges. The last remnants of Arabia' s isolation have been dispersed, and its history has entered upon a new era of turbulence. For recent developments, see Bahrain; Kuwait; Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; United Arab Emirates; and Yeman, as well as Persian Gulf War (1990-1991).