1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sabaeans
SABAEANS. The ancient name of the people of Yemen (q.v.) was Saba (Saba’ with final hemza); and the oldest notices of them are in the Hebrew Scriptures. The list of the sons of Joktan in Gen. x. 26-29 contains in genealogical form a record of peoples of South Arabia which must rest on good information from Yemen itself. Many of these names are found on the inscriptions or in the Arabic geographers—Sheba (Saba’), Hazarmaveth (Ḥaḍramut), Abimael (Abime‘athtar), Jobab (Yuhaibib, according to Halévy), Jerah (Warāḥ of the geographers), Joktan (Arab Qaḥtan; waqata=qaḥata). On the other hand, the names of some famous nations mentioned on the inscriptions are lacking, from which it may be concluded that they did not rise to prominence till a later date. Saba’ (Sheba) itself, which was in later times the chief name, has in Gen. x. 28 a subordinate place; it was perhaps only a collective name for the companies of merchants who conducted the South-Arabian export trade (the root saba’ in the inscriptions meaning to make a trading journey), and in that case would be of such late origin as to hold one of the last places in a list that has genealogical form. Two other accounts in Genesis, originally independent, give supplementary information drawn from the Sabaean colonies, the stations and factories established to facilitate trade through the desert. The inscriptions of Al-‘Ola published by D. H. Müller show that there were Minaean colonies in North Arabia. Other South Arabs, and especially the Sabaeans, doubtless also planted settlers on the northern trade routes, who in process of time united into one community with their North-Arab kinsmen and neighbours. Thus we can understand how in Gen. xxv. 2-3 Sheba and Dedan appear among the North-Arab “sons of Keturah.” Again, the Sabaeans had colonies in Africa and there mingled with the black Africans; and so in Gen. x. 7 Sheba and Dedan, the sons of Raamah (Raghma), appear in the genealogy of the Cushites. With the Amhara Saba’ means “men,” a clear indication of their Sabaean descent.
The queen of Sheba who visited Solomon may have come with a caravan trading to Gaza, to see the great king whose ships plied on the Red Sea. The other biblical books do not mention the Sabaeans except incidentally, in allusion to their trade in incense and perfumes, gold and precious stones, ivory, ebony,and costly garments (Jer. vi. 20; Ezek. xxvii. 15, 20, 22 seq.; Isaiah lx. 6; Job vi. 19). These passages attest the wealth and trading importance of Saba from the days of Solomon to those of Cyrus. When the prologue to Job speaks of plundering Sabaeans (and Chaldaeans) on the northern skirts of Arabia, these may be either colonists or caravans, which, like the old Phoenician and Greek traders, combined on occasion robbery with trade. The prologue may not be historical; but it is to be presumed that it deals with historical possibilities, and is good evidence thus far.
The biblical picture of the Sabaean kingdom is confirmed and supplemented by the Assyrian inscriptions. Tiglath-Pileser II. (733 B.C.) tells us that Teima, Saba’, and Ḥaipā (=Ephah, Gen. xxv. 4 and Isa. lx. 6) paid him tribute of gold, silver and much incense. Similarly Sargon (715 B.C.) in his Annals mentions the tribute of Shamsi, queen of Arabia, and of Itamara of the land of Saba’—gold and fragrant spices, horses and camels.
The earliest Greek accounts of the Sabaeans and other South-Arabian peoples are of the 3rd century B.C. Eratosthenes (276–194 B.C.) in Strabo (xv. 4. 2) says that the extreme south of Arabia, over against Ethiopia, is inhabited by four great nations—the Minaeans (Μειναῖοι, Μηναῖοι; Ma‘īn of theinscriptions) on the Red Sea, whose chief city is Carna; next to them the Sabaeans, whose capital is Mariaba (Mariab of the inscriptions); then the Catabanes (Qatabān of the inscriptions), near the Straits of Bāb-el-Mandeb, the seat of whose king is Tamna; fourthly, and farthest east, the people of Ḥaḍramut (Chatramotitae), with their city Sabota. The Catabanes produce frankincense and Ḥaḍramut myrrh, and there is a trade in these and other spices with merchants who make the journey from Aelana (Elath, on the Gulf of ‘Akaba) to Minaea in seventy days; the Gabaeans (the Gaba’ān of the inscriptions, Pliny's Gebanitae) take forty days to go to Ḥaḍramut. This short but important and well-informed notice is followed a little later by that of Agatharchides (120 B.C.), who speaks in glowing terms of the wealth and greatness of the Sabaeans, but seems to have less exact information than Eratosthenes. He knows only the Sabaeans and thinks that Saba is the name of their capital. He mentions, however, the “happy islands” beyond the straits, the station of the Indian trade (§ 103). Artemidorus (100 B.C.), quoted by Strabo, gives a similar account of the Sabaeans and their capital Mariaba, of their wealth and trade, adding the characteristic feature that each tribe receives the wares and passes them on to its neighbours as far as Syria and Mesopotamia.
The accounts of the wealth of the Sabaeans brought back by traders and travellers excited the cupidity of Rome, and Augustus entrusted Aelius Gallus with an expedition to South Arabia, of which we have an authentic account in Strabo (xvi. 4. 22). He hoped for assistance from the friendly Nabataeans;but, as they owed everything to their position as middlemen for the South-Arabian trade, which a direct communication between Rome and the Sabaeans would have ruined, their viceroy Syllaeus, who did not dare openly to refuse help, sought to frustrate the emperor's scheme by craft. Instead of showing the Romans the caravan route, he induced them to sail from Cleopatris to Leucocome, and then led them by a circuitous way through waterless regions, so that they reached South Arabia too much weakened to effect anything. But the expedition brought back a considerable knowledge of the country and its products, and the Roman leader seems to have perceived that the best entrance to South Arabia was from the havens on the coast. So at least we may conclude when, a hundred years later (A.D. 77, as Dillmann has shown), in the Periplus of an anonymous contemporary of Pliny (§ 23) we read that Charibael of Ẓafar, “the legitimate sovereign of two nations, the Homerites and Sabaeans,” maintained friendly relations with Rome by frequent embassies and gifts. Pliny's account of Yemen, too, must be largely drawn from the expedition of Gallus, though he also used itineraries of travellers to India, like the Periplus Maris Erythraei just quoted.
Nautical improvements, and the discovery that the south-west monsoon (Hippalus) gave sure navigation at certain seasons, increased the connexion of the West with South Arabia, but also wrought such a change in the trade as involved a revolution in the state of that countrv. The hegemony of the Sabaeans now yields to that of a new people, the Homerites or Ḥimyar, and the king henceforth bears the title “king of the Himyarites and Sabaeans.” Naval expeditions from Berenice and Myoshormus to the Arabian ports brought back the information on which Claudius Ptolemy constructed his map, which still surprises us by its wealth of geographical names.
Sabaean colonies in Africa have been already mentioned. That Abyssinia was peopled from South Arabia is proved by its language and writing; but the difference between the two languages is such as to imply that the settlement was very early and that there were many centuries of separation, during which the Abyssinians were exposed to foreign influences. New colonies, however, seem to have followed from time to time, and, according to the Periplus (§ 16), some parts of the African coast were under the suzerainty of the Sabaean kings as late as the Sabaeo-Himyaritic period; the district of Azania was held for the Sabaean monarch by the governor of Maphoritis (Ma‘āfir),and was exploited by a Sabaean company. Naturally difficulties would arise between Abyssinia and the Sabaean power. In the inscription of Adulis (2nd century) the king of Ethiopia claims to have made war in Arabia from Leucocome to the land of the Sabaean king. And the Ethiopians were not without successes for on the Greek inscription of Axūm (c. the middle of the 4th century) King Aeizanes calls himself “king of the Axūmites, the Homerites, and Raidān, and of the Ethiopians, Sabaeans, and Silee.” More serious was the conflict under Dhü-Nu’ās (Dhū-Nuwās of the Arab historians) in the beginning of the 6th century; it ended in the overthrow of the Himyarite king and the subjugation of Yemen, which was governed by a deputy of the Axūmite king, till (about 570) the conquerors were overthrown by a small band of Persian adventurers.
With the exception of what the South-Arabian Hamdānī relates of his own observation or from authentic tradition, the Mahommedan Arabic accounts of South Arabia and Sabaea are of little worth. The great event they dwell on is the bursting of the dam of Ma’rib, which led to the emigration northwards of the Yemenite tribes. We may be sure that this event was not the cause but the consequence of the decline of the country. When the inland trade fell away and the traffic of the coast towns took the sea route, the ancient metropolis and the numerous inland emporia came to ruin, while the many colonies in the north were broken up and their population dispersed. To this the Koran alludes in its oracular style, when it speaks (xxxiv. 17) of well known cities which God appointed as trading stations between the Sabaeans and the cities He had blessed (Egypt and Syria),and which He destroyed because of their sins.
The three Minaean citadels lie nearly in this position (.·.) with old Sabaean settlements (Raiam) all round them, and even with some Sabaean places (e.g. Nask and Kamnā) within the triangle they form. The dialect of the Minaeans is sharply distinguished from the Sabaeans (see above). The inscriptions have yielded the names of twenty-seven Minaean kings, who were quite independent, and, as it would seem, not always friends of the Sabaeans, for neither dynasty mentions the other on its inscriptions, while minor kings and kingdoms are freely mentioned by both, presumably when they stood under the protection of the one or the other respectively. The Minaeans were evidently active rivals of the Sabaean influence, and a war between the two is once mentioned. In Ḥaḍramut they disputed the hegemony with one another, the government there being at one time under a Minaean, at another under a Sabaean prince, while the language shows now the one and now the other influence. The religions also of the two powers present many points of agreement, with some notable differences. Thus, puzzling as the fact appears, it is clear that the Minaeans formed a sort of political and linguistic island in the Sabaean country. The origin of the Minaeans from Ḥaḍramut is rendered probable by the predominance of their dialect in the inscriptions of that country (except in that of Ḥiṣn Ghorāb), by the rule, already mentioned, of a Minaean prince in Ḥaḍramut, and by Pliny's statement (H.N. xii. 65) that frankincense was collected at Sabota (the capital of Ḥaḍramut; inscr. שביה), but exported only through the Gebanites, whose kings received custom dues on it, compared with xii. 69, where he speaks of Minaean myrrh “in qua et Atramitica est et Gebbanitica et Ausaritis Gebbanitarum regno,” &c., implying that Minaean myrrh was really a Hadramite and Gebanite product. All this suggests a close connexion between the Minaeans and Ḥaḍramut; and from the Minaean inscriptions we know that the Gebanites were at one time a Minaean race, and stood in high favour with the queen of Ma‛īn. Thus we are led to conclude that the Minaeans were a Hadramite settlement in the Jauf, whose object was to secure the northern trade road for their products. We cannot but see that their fortified posts in the north of the Sabaean kingdom had a strategical purpose; and so Pliny (xii. 54) says, “Attinguntet Minaei, pagus alius, per quos evehitur uno tramite angusto [from Ḥaḍramut]. Hi primi commercium turis fecere maximeque exercent, a quibus et Minaeum dictum est.” Besides this road, they had the sea-route, for, according to Pliny, their allies, the Gebanites, held the port of Ocelis. If the Minaeans were later immigrants from Ḥaḍramut, we can understand how they are not mentioned in Gen. x. In later times, as is proved by the Minaean colony in Al-‛Ola, which Euting has revealed to us, they superseded the Sabaeans in some parts of the north. In the ‛Ola inscriptions we read the names of Minaean kings and gods. Notable also is the mention in 1 Chron. iv. 41 of the “Bedouin encampments (אהלים) and the Ma‛īnīm” smitten by the Simeonites, which may possibly refer to the destruction of a Minaean caravan protected by these Bedouins. The LXX. at least renders Ma‛īnīm by Mιναἰοὺς. It seems bold to conjecture that the Minaeans were in accord with the Romans under Aelius Gallus, yet it is noteworthy that no Minaean town is named among the cities which that general destroyed, though ruin fell on Nask and Kamna, which lie inside the Minaean territory.
The inscriptions seem to indicate that the monarchies of South Arabia were hereditary, the son generally following the father, though not seldom the brother of the deceased came between, apparently on the principle of seniority, which we find also in North Arabia. Eratosthenes (in Strabo xvi. 4, 3) says that the first child born to one of the magnates after a king came to the throne was his designated successor; the wives of the magnates who were pregnant at the king's accession were carefully watched, and the first child born was brought up as heir to the kingdom. There seems to be a mistake in the first part of this statement; what Eratosthenes will have said is that the oldest prince after the king was the designated successor. This law of succession explains how we repeatedly find two kings named together among the Sabaeans, and almost always find two among the Minaeans; the second king is the heir. The principle of seniority, as we know from North Arabian history, gives rise to intrigues and palace revolutions, and was probably often violated in favour of the direct heir. On the other hand, it readily leads to a limited power of election by the magnates, and in fact good Arabian sources speak of seven electoral princes. Some inscriptions name, besides the king, an eponymus, whose office seems to have been priestly, his titles being dhū ḥarīf, eponymus and rashūw, “sacrificer.” All royal inscriptions are signed by him at the beginning and the end, and he appears with the king on coins.
Religion.—In spite of the many ruins of temples and inscriptions,the religion of the Sabaeans is obscure. Most of the many names of gods are mere names that appear and vanish again in particular districts and temples. Of the great national gods of the Sabaeans and Minaeans we know a little more. The worship of the heavenly bodies, for which there is Arabic evidence, had really a great place in Yemen. Sun-worship seems to have been peculiar to the Sabaeans and Hamdanites; and, if the Sabis of Sabota (Pliny) was in fact the sun deity Shams, this must be ascribed to Sabaean influence. The Sabaean Shams was a goddess, while the chief divinity of the Minaeans was the god ‛Athtar, a male figure, worshiped under several forms, of which the commonest are the Eastern ‛Athtar and ‛Athtar Dhū Kabḍ. Wadd and Nikrah, the gods of love and hate, are possibly only other forms of the two ‛Athtars. The Sabaeans also recognize ‛Athtar; but with them he is superseded by Almaqah, who, according to Hamdānī, is the planet Venus, and therefore is identical with ‛Athtar. The moon-god Sīn appears on an inscription of Shabwat; but, according to Hamdānī, Haubas, “the drier,” was the Sabaean moon-god. On the Shabwat inscription ‛Athtar is the father of Sīn, and it is noteworthy that these two deities also appear as nearly related in the Babylonian legend of ‛Ishtar's descent to Hades, where ‛Ishtar is conversely the daughter of the god Sīn. The mother of ‛Athtar on another inscription is probably the sun. We find also the common Semitic Il (El) and a Dhū Samai answering to the northern Ba‘al Shamayim. Three gods of the inscriptions are named in the Koran—Wadd, Yaghūth and Nasr. In the god-name Ta’lab there may be an indication of tree-worship. The many minor deities may be passed over; but we must mention the sanctuary of Riyām, with its images of the sun and moon, and, according to tradition, an oracle. In conformity with old Semitic usage, pilgrimages were made at definite seasons to certain deities, and the Sabaean pilgrim month, Dhū Ḥijjatān, is the northern Dhū’l-Ḥijja. The outlines, and little more, of a few of the many temples can still be traced. Noteworthy are the elliptic form of the chief temples in Ma’rib and Ṣirwāh; and the castle of Naqab-al-Ḥajar with its entrances north and south.
Sacrifices and incense were offered to the gods. The names for altar (midhbaḥ) and sacrifice (dhibḥ) are common Semitic words, and the altar of incense has among other names that of miḳṭar, as in Hebrew. A variety of spices—the wealth of the land—are named on these altars, as rand, ladanum, costus, tarum, &c. Frankincense appears as lubān, and there are other names not yet understood. The gods received tithes of the produce of trade and of the field, in kind or in ingots and golden statues, and these tributes, with freewill offerings, erected and maintained the temples. Temples and fortifications were often combined. The golden statues were votive offerings; thus a man and his wife offer four statues for the health of their four children, and a man offers to Dhū Samai statues of a man and two camels, in prayer for his own health and the protection of his camels from disease of the joints.
Their commerce brought the Sabaeans under Christian and Jewish influence; and, though the old gods were too closely connected with their life and trade to be readily abandoned, the great change in the trading policy, already spoken of, seems to have affected religion as well as the state. The inland gods lost importance with the failure of the overland trade, and Judaism and Christianity seem for a time to have contended for the mastery in South Arabia. Jewish influence appears in the name Raḥmān (see above), while efforts at Christianization seem to have gone forth from several places at various times. According to Philostorgius, the Homerites were converted under Constantius II. by the Indian Theophilus, who built churches in Ẓafar and Aden. Another account places their conversion in the reign of Anastasius (491–518). In Nejrān Syrian missionaries, seem to have introduced Christianity (Nöldeke). But, as the religion of the hostile Ethiopians, Christianity found politicaI obstacles to its adoption in Yemen; and, as heathenism had quite lost its power, it is intelligible that Dhū Nuwās, who was at war with Ethiopia before the last fatal struggle, became a Jew. His expedition against Christian Nejrān had therefore political as well as religious motives. The Ethiopian conquest rather hurt than helped Christianity. The famous qalīs (ἐκκλησία) of Abraha in San‛ā seems to have been looked on as a sign of foreign dominion, and Islam found it easy to supersede Christianity in Yemen.
Coins.—In older times and in many districts coins were not used, and trade was carried on mainly by barter. Nor have there been many great finds of coins; indeed most of the pieces in European collections probably come from the same hoard. At the same time the coins throw a general light on the relations of ancient Yemen. The oldest known pieces are imitations of the Athenian mintage of the 4th century B.C., with the legend ΑΘΕ and the owl standing on an overturned amphora. The reverse has the head of Pallas with a Sabaean N. Of younger coins the first series has a king's head on the reverse, and the old obverse is enriched with two Sabaean monograms, which have been interpreted as meaning “majesty” and “eponymus” respectively. In a second series the Greek legend has disappeared, and, instead of the two Sabaean monograms, we have the names of the king and the eponymus. A third series shows Roman influence and must be later than the expedition of Gallus. As the standard of the coins of Attic type is not Attic but Babylonian, we must not think of direct Athenian influence. The type must have been introduced either from Persia or from Phoenicia (Gaza). One remarkable tetradrachm with the Sabaean legend Abyath’ā is imitated from an Alexander of the 2nd century B.C., the execution being quite artistic and the weight Attic. There are also coins struck at Raydān and Ḥarib, which must be assigned to the Himyarite period (1st and 2nd century A.D.). The inscriptions speak of “bright Hayyilī coins in high relief,” but of these none have been found. They also speak of sela‛ pieces. The sela‛ in late Hebrew answers to the older shekel, and the mention of it seems to point to Jewish or Christian influence.
Literature.—Fresnel, Pièces rel. aux inscrr. Himyarites déc. par M. Arnaud (1845); Inscriptions in the Himyaritic Character in the British Museum (London, 1863); Praetorius, Beitr. zur Erklärung der himjar. Inschr. (3 parts, Halle, 1872–1874); Kremer, Südarabische Sage (1866); Sprenger, Alte Geogr. Arabiens (1873); D. H. Müller, Südarabische Studien (Vienna, 1877); Id., Die Burgen u. Schlösser Südarabiens (2 parts, Vienna, 1879–1881) (especially for chronology and antiquities); Mordtmann and Müller, Sabäische Denkmäler (Vienna, 1883); Derenbourg, Études sur l’épigraghie du Yemen (Paris, 1884); ld., Nouv. Étud. (1885); Glaser, Mitteilungen über . . . sab. Inschr. (1886); Hamdānī, Geogr. d. arab. Halbinsel, ed. D. H. Müller, vol. i. (Leiden, 1884). See also papers by Osiander, Z.D.M.G. xix.-xx. (1864–1865); Halévy, Journ. As. (1872–1874); D. H. Müller, Z.D.M.G. xxix.-xxxi., xxxvii.; Prideaux, Tr. Soc. Bibl. Arch. (1873); Derenbourg, Bab. and Or. Record (London, 1887).
Later works are: D. H. Müller, Epigraphische Denkmäler aus Arabien (Vienna, 1889); E. Glaser, Skizze der Geschichte und Geographie Arabiens &c., 1 Heft (Munich, 1889), vol. ii. (Berlin, 1890); Corpus inscriptionum Semiticarum..., iv., Paris. vol. i. fasc. 1 (1889), 2 (1892),3 (1900), 4 (1908); Fr. Hommel, Aufsätze und Abhandlungen (1892 sqq.); Fr. Hommel, Südarabische Chrestomathie (Munich, 1893); J. H. Mordtmann, Himjarische Inschriften und Altertümer in den kgl. Museen zu Berlin (Berlin, 1893); H. Winckler, Altorientalische Forschungen (“das Land Muṣri”); D. H. Müller, Epigraphische Denkmäler aus Abessinien (Vienna, 1894); E. Glaser, Die Abessinier in Arabien und Afrika (Munich, 1895); J. H. Mordtmann, Musée Impérial Ottoman, &c. (Constantinople, 1895); D. H. Müller, “Arabia” in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie des klassischen Altertums, i. 314-359 (1897); J. H. Mordtmann, Beiträge zur minäischen Epigraphik (Weimar, 1897); E. Glaser, Zwei Inschriften uber den Dambruch von Mârib; D. H. Müller, Südarabische Altertümer im kunsthistorischen Hofmuseum (Vienna, 1899); M. Lidzbarski in Ephemeris (1901 sqq.); O. Weber, Studien zur südarabischen Altertumskunde, i.-iii. (1901–1908); H. Grimme, “Verschiedene Aufsätze” in O.L.Z., &c.; D. Nielsen, Die alt-arabische Mondreligion (1904); D. Nielsen, Neue Katabanische Inschriften (1906); E. Glaser, Altjemenische Nachrichten, vol. i.(1906); M. Hartman, “Südarabisches,” i.-viii., in O.L.Z. (1907–1908); Mélanges H. Derenbourg (Paris, 1909); M. Hartman, Die arabische Frage mit einem Versuche der Archäologie Jemens (Halle, 1908); D. Nielsen, Der südarabische Gott Ilmekah (1909); O. Weber, “Gottes Symbole auf südarabischen Denkmälern” in the Hilprecht-Buch (1909), 269-280; cf. also Arabia, Axum.
The lexical material, in so far as it touches the Hebrew, was incorporated by D. H. Müller in the 10th-12th edition of the Gesenius Lexicon and is now incorporated by O. Weber in the 15th edition of the Gesenius-Buhl Lexicon. For collected literature see: up to 1892, F. Hommel’s Südarabische Chrestomathie; from 1892 to 1907, O. Weber’s Studien zur südarabischen Altertumskunde, iii. (D. H. M.)