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Aden - Early History

The history of Aden is so inseparably bound up with that of Yemen, it is impossible in tracing the annals of the Settlement from the earliest times to avoid following, to a certain extent, that province through the various vicissitudes of fortune that have overtaken it. Aden formed part of Yemen under the ancient Himyarite kings. It has been identified with the Eden of Ezekiel xxvii. 23, whose merchants traded 'in all sorts, in blue clothes, and broidered work, in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar.'

The author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea informs us that, shortly before his time, Arabia Felix, or Aden, had been destroyed by the Romans ; and Dean Vincent is of opinion that the Caesar in whose reign this event took place was Claudius. The object of destroying so flourishing a port is not difficult to determine: - from the time that the Romans first visited Arabia under AElius Gallus, they had always maintained a footing on the shores of the Red Sea; and it is probable that Claudius, being desirous of appropriating the Indian trade to the Romans, sought a pretext for quarrel with Aden, in order that he might, by its destruction, divert the Indian trade to the ports of Egypt: this he was the more confident of effecting, as the direct passage across the Indian Ocean had been discovered, some time previously, by Hippalus, a Greek of Alexandria. In the time of Constantine, Aden had recovered its former splendour, andy as a conquest of the Roman empire, it received the name of Romanian Emporium.

Aden is mentioned as one of the places where churches were erected by the Christian embassy sent forth by the Emperor Constantius, 342 AD. Its position rendered it an entreport of ancient commerce between the provinces of the Roman empire and the East. About 525 AD Yemen, with Aden, fell to the Abyssinians, who, at the request of the Emperor Justin, sent an army to revenge the persecution of the Christians by the reigning Himyarite dynasty. In 575 the Abyssinians were ousted by the Persians. Anarchy and bloodshed followed.

Marco Polo wrote that "The province of Aden is governed by a king, who bears the title of soldan. The inhabitants are all Saracens, and utterly detest the Christians. In this kingdom there are many towns and castles, and it has the advantage of an excellent port, frequented by ships arriving from India with spices and drugs. The merchants who purchase them with the intention of conveying them to Alexandria, unlade them from the ships in which they were imported, and distribute the cargoes on board of other smaller vessels or barks, with which they navigate a gulf of the sea for twenty days, more or less, according to the weather they experience. Having reached their port, they then load their goods upon the backs of camels, and transport..."

Aden's commanding situation rendered it of great importance in former times. During the reign of Constantine, it was an opulent city, forming one of the great emporia for the commerce of the East. No splendid fragment, imposing in its ruin, records the glory and opulence of the populous city, as it existed in the days of Solyman the Magnificent, the era from whence it dates its decline. The possession of Aden was eagerly contended for by the two great powers, the Turks and the Portuguese, struggling for mastery in the East, and when they were no longer able to maintain their rivalry, it reverted into the hands of its ancient masters, the Arabs. The security afforded by its natural defences, aided by the fortifications, the work of former times, rendered it a suitable retreat for the piratical hordes of the desert. The lawless sons of Ishmael could, from this stronghold, rush out upon the adjacent waters, and make themselves masters of the wealth of those adventurers who dared to encounter the dangers of the Red Sea.

The rising Muhammadan power reached Aden ten years after the Hijirah. In the tenth year of the Hijirah, some disturbances having broken out in Yemen, Mahomed sent his lieutenant Ali thither at the head of 300 horsemen, and Badan, who had previously acknowledged the supremacy of the prophet, gladly accepted his assistance in restoring order. About this time the two rival prophets Moosailmah and Al-Aswad sprung up in Yemen, and on the death of Badan, which occurred in 632, the latter seized upon the government, but he was subsequently murdered by a party of Mahomed's friends. Moosailmah then managed to possess himself of the throne, but he was defeated by Khalid, who was sent by Aboo Bakr, the successor of Mahomed. Soon after this Akramah Aboo Sahl visited Aden, where his presence served to put to flight several turbulent persons who had been endeavouring to instigate the Himyarites to revolt. After the death of Ali, Yemen became subject to the Caliphs of the house of Umayyah, and remained so until 749, when it passed into the hands of the Abbasides. Daud ibn Abd-al-Majid was at that time appointed Governor of Aden. In 905 Yemen came under the sway of the Karjlmite Caliphs, and in 93 2 it threw off its allegiance and became independent, its rulers assuming the style and title of Imam. The name of the first of his dynasty was Asad ibn Yafur.

In 1038 Aden was in the possession of one Zahir Ayyah, who appointed as its governor Sahli, but Ibn Omar, chief of Lahej, suddenly attacked and captured the place, putting the governor to death. It continued under the successors of Ibn Omar until 1137, when it was captured by Belal ibn Yari Mahomed. In the same year, however, it was retaken by Saba, a descendant of Ibn Omar. Sultan Al Mansur Hatim, a rival of the then Imam of Yemen, obtained possession of Aden by treachery, and his family continued in possession of the fortress until expelled by the Imam Mazaffar Shamso-ud-Din in 1249. During the next few years Aden continued to be the scene of perpetual struggles, and in 1325 we find it under the rule of Abd-al-Hassan Ali, the then Imam of Yemen. Until 1454 Aden continued under the government of the Imams of Yemen, when it was seized by two brothers, one of whom, Malik A'li, subsequently succeeded to the imamship, and it was his nephew, A'bd-al-Wahhab, who constructed the aqueduct to convey water from Bir Mahait into Aden (a distance of 16,000 yards), the ruins of which exist to the present day; this was about the year 1500.

In 1503, Aden was visited by Ludovico de Varthema; ten years later it was attacked by the Portuguese under Albuquerque, who had been charged by King Emmanuel to effect its capture. His expedition left India on the 18th February 1513, with 20 ships and 2500 sailors, and reached Aden on Easter eve. The assault was delivered on Easter Sunday. An outwork with 39 guns fell to the Portuguese; but, after a four days' bloody siege, Albuquerque was repulsed with great slaughter, and had to coatent himself with burning the vessels in the harbour and cannonading the town. In 1516, the Mameluke Sultdn of Egypt failed in a similar attack. Later in that year, the fortress was offered to the Portuguese under Lopo Scares d'Albergaria; but the defences having been meanwhile repaired by the native governor, it was not delivered up.

The annual fall of rain in Aden is very limited, seldom exceeding six or seven inches; it is manifest, therefore, that a large city could not entirely depend on this precarious source of supply. To remedy this defect, the sovereign of Yemen, Melek-el-Mansoor Taj-ed-din Abd-el-Wahab bin Tahir, towards the close of the fifteenth century, constructed an aqueduct to convey the water of the Bir Hameed into Aden. The remains of this work are still visible, though it has long been ruined and disused.

About 1517 Selim I, Sultan of Turkey, having overthrown the Mameluke power in Egypt, resolved to seize Aden as a harbor, whence all the Turkish expeditions against the Portuguese in the East, and towards India, might emanate. This project was carried out in August 1538 by an expedition sent forth by his son, Solyman the Magnificent, under the admiral Rais Sulaimdn. The Turkish sailors were conveyed on shore, lying on beds as if sick; and the governor was invited on board the Turkish fleet, where he was treacherously seized and hanged. The Turks strengthened the place by 100 pieces of artillery and a garrison of 500 men.

For a time Aden, with the whole coast of Arabia, remained under the power of Solyman the Magnificent. Before 1551, the townsmen had rebelled and handed the place over to the Portuguese, from whom, however, it was retaken in that year by Peri Pasha, the Capidan of Egypt, and still more strongly fortified. In 1609, Aden was visited by the East India Company's ship Ascension, the captain being well received, and then thrown into prison until the governor had got as much as he could out of the ship. Next year, Admiral Sir Henry Middleton also visited Aden, and one of his ships being left behind, a similar act of treachery was repeated. About 1614, Van den Broeck arrived on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, was, as usual, well received, but obtained a hint that he had better leave, and returned unsuccessful to India. In 1618, by the desire of Sir Thomas Roe, British Ambassador to the Emperor of India, the English received permission to establish a factory at Mokha.

With the loss of every thing approaching to good government, Aden lost its trade. The system of monopoly, which enriches the sovereign at the expense of the subject, speedily ends in ruin. The superior classes of the inhabitants were either driven away, in consequence of the tyranny which they endured, or, reduced to a state of destitution, perished miserably upon the soil, until at length the traces of former magnificence became few and faint, the once flourishing city falling into one wide waste of desolation. The remains of a splendid aqueduct, which was at the first survey mistaken for a Roman road ; a solitary watch-tower, and a series of broken walls, alone attest the ancient glories of the place. Previous to the occupation of the British, the population of Aden scarcely exceeded six hundred souls.

In 1630, the Turks were compelled to evacuate Yemen, and Aden passed again to the native Imams of that province. In 1708, the French visited the port, and in 1735 it was seized by the Abdali Sultan of Lahej. During the next seventy years, it formed the subject of constant struggles among various Arabian claimants. In 1802, Sir Home Popham concluded a treaty of friendship and commerce with the chief; and in 1829 the Court of Directors thought of making it a coaling station, but abandoned the idea owing to the difficulty of procuring labor. Aden was attacked by the Turkchi Bilmas in 1833, and sacked by the Fadhlis in 1836.

The Chief soon afterwards committed an outrage on the passengers and crew of a British buggalow, wrecked in the neighborhood; and in January 1838, Captain Haines, on behalf of the Government of Bombay, demanded restitution. It was arranged that the peninsula should be ceded for a consideration to the British. But various acts of treachery supervened, and it was captured in January 1839 by H.M. steamers Volage, 28 guns, and Cruiser, 10 guns, with 300 European and 400 native troops under Major Baillie.

This was the first accession of territory in the reign of Queen Victoria. Captain Haines thus described its condition when it passed into British hands: 'The little village (formerly the great city) of Aden is now reduced to the most exigent condition of poverty and neglect. In the reign of Constantine, this town possessed unrivalled celebrity for its impenetrable fortifications, its flourishing commerce, and the glorious haven it offered to vessels from all quarters of the globe. But how lamentable is the present contrast! With scarce a vestige of its former proud superiority, the traveller values it only for its capabilities, and regrets the barbarous cupidity of that government under whose injudicious management it has fallen so low'.

A stipend of 541 German crowns was assigned to the Sultan during his good behavior. But the Abda'li proved fickle, and in three attacks, the last in 1841, he was repelled with heavy loss. In 1844 he implored forgiveness, and his stipend was restored. In 1846, a fanatic, named Sayyid Ismdil, preached a jihad among the neighboring tribes, but was routed. Occasional outrages in the neighbourhood, such as atrocities on boats' crews and plunderings, from time to time disturbed the peace; but each was very promptly checked. The adjacent peninsula of Jebel Ihsan, Little Aden, was obtained by purchase in 1868; an advance of the Turkish troops on the Lahej territory took place in 1872, but was withdrawn in consequence of representations made by Her Majesty's Government to the Porte.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:03:30 ZULU