Find a Security Clearance Job!


115 BC - 570 AD Himyarite Dynasty

At the commencement of the Christian era, the Himyarite dynasty, so called from Himyar, fifth monarch of the race from Kahtan, which had ruled over Yemen with varying fortune and different degrees of magnificence for many centuries, was rapidly on the decline, and approaching its extinction. Shortly before this period occurred an event of great importance, which for the first time brought the powers of Europe into hostile contact with the nations of Arabia. Under the Himyarite Tobbas, Yemen was subject to one sovereign ; but there existed many provinces and divisions, which owned subjection only to their own petty chiefs, who in their turn usually acknowledged the suzerainty of the reigning prince.

An expedition was fitted out against Yemen in the reign of Augustus (24 BC), but it completely miscarried. In the year 30 BC, Egypt became a Roman province, and, from the moment it was subdued, Augustus planned the extension of the Roman power into Arabia and Ethiopia, under the supposition that the former produced spices and the latter gold. Two very important considerations inclined him to take this step : firstly, he hoped to open out a very rich traffic for his new subjects; and secondly, he flattered himself that new discoveries might be made, which would enable him to extend his conquests and commerce in that direction much further.Accordingly, an expedition was prepared, and placed under the command of AEllius Gallus, a Roman of the Equestrian order, to explore these two countries. The direction of the division sent to Ethiopia was given to Petronius, and terminated in the submission of Candace, Queen of Meroe, while the army for the exploration of Arabia was led by Gallus in person. It was organised at Cleopatris, in the neighbourhood of the modern Suez, and consisted of ten thousand Romans, with fifteen thousand mercenaries, together with a fleet of eighty vessels of war and a hundred and thirty transports.

The sovereign of Yemen during the invasion was Dthoo'l Adhar, the son of Abraha, the son of Afrikoos : this name corresponds very nearly with that of Ilisare, mentioned by Strabo, for Dthoo'l-Adhar may as well be spelt Zoo'l Azar, and in the oblique case Zi'l Izar-a resemblance to Ilisare too striking not to be admitted. He received the epithet Dhoo'l Adhar-' the lord of terrors,' or ' the terrible,' from having introduced into Yemen some monstrous races of men (others, however, say that it was a species of ape), which, never having been seen there before, filled the inhabitants with consternation. This prince having exhausted the patience of his subjects by tyranny and oppression, they rose in arms against him, and conferred the crown upon his son.

The only contemporary account of the commerce and navigation of Arabia about this period is contained in the Periplus of the Erythrcean Sea. The precise date of this voyage has not been satisfactorily determined: Letronne supposes that the author wrote in the time of the Emperor Septimus Severus and his son, namely between the years 198 and 210 of the Christian era.

According to Nowairi and Ibn Khaldoon, Tobba-el-Akran occupied the throne of Yemen for about fifty years, namely from about A.d. 90 to AD 140. He undertook to avenge the death of his grandfather Slmmmir Yerash, and having marched in the steps of that monarch's army, he reached and rebuilt Sammercand, and subsequently carried war into the heart of China, destroyed its capital, and founded there a city, which Thaalebi calls El-Beet, where he left a colony of 30,000 Arabians. These still continued to exist as a distinct people, preserving the dress and manners of Arabia, when Hamedoun wrote, which was about AD 553.

Several petty independent chiefs, bearing the titles Dthoo or Kail, ruled over provinces in Yemen : these were speedily subdued by Aboo Karib, who reduced them under his sway, and restored the kingdom of Himyar to its former extent. He then turned his attention to foreign conquest, and having collected a large army, invaded Chaldea (cir. AD 206). He then proceeded to the site of Heera, where he left behind such of his army as were unable to follow him, and continued his route. After penetrating Adirbijan, ravaging the Turkish territories, and defeating the Tartars with great slaughter, he returned to Yemen, laden with spoil.

Aboo Karib endeavoured to introduce Judaism into his country. Ilis attempts were at first opposed, but finally his subjects agreed to submit the question of the superiority of the two religions to the ordeal of fire. There was in Yemen a place whence miraculous fire issued, which had the effect of consuming the guilty, leaving the innocent unscathed; thither the champions of the two creeds repaired, the ministers of the false gods bearing their idols, and the Jewish doctors with their books upon their breasts. On coming in contact with the fire, both parties drew back, but were pushed forward by the crowd. The Himyarites were consumed, but the Jews passed through without injury. This gained many proselytes to Judaism. Such is the legend of the introduction of this religion into Yemen.

It is difficult to assign the precise era at which Christianity was introduced into Arabia; it is the universal belief of the Eastern churches that St. Thomas preached in Arabia Felix and Socotra on his way to India (about AD 50), where he suffered martyrdom; and it is said that the rudiments of the religion of the cross were first implanted amongst the Himyarites by St. Bartholomew. It is also recorded that St. Pantenus was sent by Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, to preach in Arabia Felix, and that he there found traces of the labours of St. Bartholomew,-amongst others, a copy of St. Matthew's Gospel, written in the Hebrew character, which he brought away with him to Alexandria.

Alarthid, the son of Abd-Kilal, reigned from AD 330 to AD 350. It is supposed that it was to this prince the Emperor Constantius sent an embassy about AD 342, headed by Theophilus Indus, an Indian bishop. The object of Constantius in sending this mission was to strengthen himself against the Persians, by an alliance with the Himyarites, and to convert the inhabitants of Yemen. Theophilus, despite the violent opposition of the Jews, obtained permission to build churches for the subjects of the emperor travelling through, or residing in, Arabia Felix, as well as far such of the Himyarites as had been converted to Christianity. Asseman considers that Theophilus merely converted the few who were already Christians to the Arian heresy, of which he was a zealous adherent. Probably the greater number of these were Roman subjects, and Jews were frequently confounded with Christians. The district where the latter were principally to be found was Nejran. Walia or Wakia, the son of Marthad, succeeded his father about A.d. 350, and reigned twenty years; during which period great disorders prevailed in his kingdom.

The ancient political system in Yemen had taken the form of strong and united kingdoms. Kings had taken religion and then their own interests as their mandate. At the beginning of the 5th century, Himyar Kingdom faced economic stagnation after the Romans opened sea trade routes. Religious and political conflicts between the Romans and the Persians had also affected the Kingdom. The religious conflict had led to internal division between the followers of Judaism and Christianity. The collapse of the Mareb Dam in 575 AD destroyed agricultural land and thus damaged the prosperity of the country.

Thus terminated the Himyarite dynasty, which had ruled in Yemen for two thousand years. Its power had long been on the decline, but its downfall was accelerated by the intolerance of the Jewish Tobbas, which induced them to persecute with unrelenting fury the disciples of Jesus. These latter were in many instances only too ready to repay by equally bitter persecutions the injuries they had received at the hands of the Jews. Henceforth Yemen appears in Pre-islamic history only as an Abyssinian dependency or as a Persian protectorate. The events now to be related form the prologue to a new drama in which South Arabia, so far from being the center of interest, plays an almost insignificant ro1e.

Join the mailing list