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525-635 - Abyssinian & Persian Occupation

From the year 525, Yemen passed through a period of conflict with the Abyssinianns lasting for 50 years that was followed by the Persian control of Yemen. This led to a state of political, tribal and religious division. The Persians wanted to defeat the Romans by defeating the Abyssinians in Yemen. In 575 A.D., a 7500 strong Persian Army along with another 800 prisoners and the backing of some Yemeni tribes, defeated the Abyssinians.

The Yemenite kingdom was rendered subject by the Abyssinians for upward of 70 years in the 6th century of the Christian era, during which period Christianity was proclaimed in the land. Ultimately the heir to the throne of the Himyarite dynasty was restored through the assistance of Chosroes, King of Persia (605 AD), but about 30 years later the kingdom was finally overthrown by the followers of Mohammed.

The Abyssinians appear at this time to have held parts of Arabia Felix. The Axumite sovereign AEizonas arrogated to himself the title of "King of the Himyarites," and that he sent his two brothers into Arabia, who subdued the Himyarites and several other tribes, and brought away a great number of captives, with sheep, oxen, and beasts of burden. With 'Amr the Tubba' dynasty comes to an end. The succeeding kings were elected by eight of the most powerful barons, who in reality were independent princes, each ruling in his strong castle over as many vassals and retainers as he could bring into subjection. During this period the Abyssinians conquered at least some part of the country, and Christian viceroys were sent by the Najashi (Negus) to govern it in his name.

At last Dhu Nuwas, a descendant of the Tubba' As'ad Kamil, crushed the rebellious barons and made himself unquestioned monarch of Yemen. Dthoo Nowas was with one consent proclaimed sovereign of Yemen. He reigned from AD 490 to AD 525, and became a zealous partisan of Judaism, which, in consequence, made great progress in his day. His conversion is ascribed by some to his having witnessed the fire consecrated to a demon extinguished by a Jewish teacher reading several passages from the Pentateuch over it; and by others to his having acquired a predilection for that religion when on a visit to Yathrib, then partly inhabited by Jews and partly by heathen. On his change of religion he assumed the name of Yoosoof. The religious fanaticism and natural cruelty of Dthoo Nowas led him to persecute in a most unrelenting manner all the Christians within his dominions. He marched against Najrdn with an overwhelming force, entered the city, and bade the inhabitants choose between Judaism and death. Many perished by the sword ; the rest were thrown into a trench which the king ordered to be dug and filled with blazing fire.

Dhu Nuwas paid dearly for his triumph. Daws Dhu Tha'labdn, one of those who escaped from the massacre, fled to the Byzantine emperor and implored him, as the head of Christendom, to assist them in obtaining vengeance. Justinus accordingly wrote a letter to the Najashi, desiring him to take action. The sovereign who reigned in Abyssinia at this time was a Christian; he is styled by the Greek writers Elisbaas, and by the Ethiopians Caleb, or Amda. Agreeably to the request of Justin, he commenced to make warlike preparations for the conquest of Yemen.

Ere long an Abyssinian army, 70,000 strong, under the command of Aryit, disembarked in Yemen. Dhu Nuwds could not count on the loyalty of the Himyarite nobles ; his troops melted away. When he saw the fate that had befallen himself and his people, he turned to the sea and setting spurs to his horse, rode through the shallows until he reached the deep water. Then he plunged into the waves and nothing more of him was seen. Thus died, or thus at any rate should have died, the last representative of the long line of Himyarite kings.

In consequence of the brilliant victories of Aryat, he was confirmed in the government of Yemen, and reigned as viceroy of the Negashi or king of Abyssinia from AD 525 to AD 537. Several Himyarite kings are mentioned by Arab historians as having reigned subsequent to the conquest of Yemen by the Abyssinians. Among these are Marthad the son of Dthoo Jadan, and another is Alkama Dthoo Keefan, the son of Sharaheel, the son of Dthoo Jadan, who governed the district of Hamdan, by the people of which he was slain. It is probable either that the country was not entirely subdued, or that some Himyarite princes continued to rule as vassals of the king of Abyssinia.

In AD 570, the year of the Prophet's birth, Abraha [the Abyssinian form of Ibrahim or Abraham], the capable Abyssinian Viceroy, marched on Mecca, ostensibly to avenge an insult offered to the church at Sana, but probably intending to destroy the Kaaba from political motives. Brushing aside all opposition, he reached Tayif, three stages east of the Sacred City. Thence he despatched raiding parties which captured, among other live stock, two hundred camels belonging to Abdul Muttalib. Following with his main body, which included that portentous monster an elephant, he halted outside Mecca and sent envoys to inform the panic-stricken Arabs that he had no desire to injure them but was determined to destroy the Kaaba. Abdul Muttalib proceeded to the camp of the enemy to treat with Abraha, who restored his camels but would not be turned from his purpose.

The legend runs that Abdul Muttalib would only ask for his camels, and in reply to a contemptuous remark from Abraha retorted that the Kaaba needed no human defender. On the fateful day the elephant refused to advance, and the failure of the expedition is commemorated in the following verses from the Koran : " Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the army of the Elephant ? Did he not cause their stratagem to miscarry ? And he sent against them flocks of little birds which cast upon them small clay stones, and made them like unto the stubble of which the cattle have eaten." The passage is a glorified description of an epidemic of small-pox - also termed "small stones " in Arabic-which is historical. The Abyssinian army retreated, and Abraha died at Sana of the foul disease. The news that the Kaaba had been protected by divine intervention must have spread far and wide, and greatly enhanced both the sanctity of the Shrine and the prestige of the Kureish.

Upon the death of Abraha his son Yaksum held the viceroyalty for only four years, to be succeeded by Masruk. It was during Masruk's reign that the famous expedition was despatched by Noshirwan, which resulted in the expulsion of the Abyssinians and the reinstatement of the old Himyarite monarchs under the suzerainty of the Great King. After the rout of the Viceroy Abraha at Mecca in 570, the Persians seized their opportunity, and Southern Arabia became a Persian province till its incorporation in Islam. Tabari, who is the authority for this campaign, states that Saif, upon his accession to the throne, was visited by Abdul Muttalib, who is known to have died in AD 578. Consequently the date of this campaign must have been between AD 574 and AD 578.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:03:36 ZULU