Home » Africa. South Arabia » History of ancient Africa and Southern Arabia

History of ancient Africa and Southern Arabia

Meroe Civilization

“Like a water hurricane was captured Memphis, many people were killed there, and prisoners were brought to the place where His Majesty was.… There is no longer a nome closed to His Majesty among the nomes of the South and North, West and East.” This is how the unknown author of the Piankhi stele tells about the accession of the Kushites to Egypt in 729 BC.

For almost a century, the newcomers from Napata called themselves the pharaohs of Egypt, who appeared, as if from oblivion, on the historical stage after a century and a half of silence of epigraphic and archaeological sources south of the first Nile cataract. However, the previous long period of domination of the Egyptians outwardly, it would seem, leveled many aspects of local cultural traditions. The search for the origin of the new-found “lords of Both Lands” takes us back to ancient times.

The fate of the two peoples, the Egyptians and the Kushites, has been closely intertwined for centuries. According to academician B. B. Piotrovsky, the archaeological materials of the fourth millennium BC clearly show that the same culture covered Upper Egypt and Northern Nubia at that time. Later, due to the peculiarities of the geographical factor, the development of cultures went in two different ways.

Kush controlled the territories mainly between the third and fifth cataracts of the Nile, but sometimes the Kushite kings managed to extend their power as far north as Aswan and as far south as Khartoum, the capital of modern Sudan. The name of the country, as well as its individual parts, was not the same. Kush was inhabited by agricultural and pastoral associations.

Early settlements south of Egypt

As early as the third millennium BC, the territories south of the first cataract of the Nile became the object of military raids, and then direct conquest by the Egyptian pharaohs. The development of an early archaeological culture known as “Group A” was interrupted in its heyday by raids from the north. The population of the “Group C” culture that replaced and partially absorbed its remnants already had a significant admixture of negroid elements. Recent archaeological excavations have shown that the carriers of the Kerma “group C” cultures are closely related in origin to the regions of Southern and Eastern Sudan, as well as the Sahara, and that they appear in the Nile Valley in the middle of the last quarter of the third millennium BC.e. Judging by archaeological materials, the carriers of the “group C” culture mainly occupied the territory of Northern Nubia proper, the carriers of the “Kerma culture” — the territory of Kush.

Kerma Culture»

Excavations of the ancient settlement and necropolis of Kerma paint a picture of a developed society: a powerful urban development complex, multi-faceted architectural structures of the religious center, residential quarters built of baked bricks with large granaries, a fence that ran around the city center. The ancient settlement of Kerma can rightly be considered unique for the whole of Nubia.

Kerma society already had considerable class differentiation. The rulers owned large herds of bulls and goats. Among the various types of ceramics, along with Egyptian ones, there are items decorated with mother-of-pearl from the Red Sea, and objects made of ivory imported from Central Sudan, which indicates broad connections and a significant level of development of society. The ceramic decoration shows a strong influence of Black Africa. The population of Kerma maintained close contacts with Egypt, the population of Eastern Sahara, the Khartoum region and the border areas of Ethiopia. Some tombs of the metropolis and the territory to which Kerma’s rule extended reached 100 m. in diameter, which provides further proof of the power of its lords.

In its heyday, which coincided with the Middle Kingdom and the Second Transitional Period, Kerma controlled the territory from the second to the fourth Nile cataract. Even during the period of Egyptian colonization, as shown by the most recent excavations of the French archaeologist III. In Bonn, Kerma apparently maintained its status as a regional metropolis. The local burial rite remained the most stable. In the later period, the structures of the new centers of the Kushite civilization of Kava, Napata and Meroe show similarities with the structures of Kerma, which proves the local (Kermian) roots of this civilization.

Egypticization of the region

A large number of natural resources, among which the most important place was occupied by gold deposits located, in particular, in Wadi Allaki (here a Soviet archaeological expedition led by Academician B. B. Piotrovsky conducted excavations in 1961-1962), as well as the possibility of breeding livestock, valuable tree species, and stealing prisoners determined Egypt’s policy towards this country. The era of Egyptian rule in Kush significantly affected its development and determined its fate for a long time. Already by the end of the Second Transition Period, the Egyptization of Kushite society reaches such an extent that it is almost difficult to separate local features from Egyptian ones. And with the departure of the Egyptians, the shadow of a great power is forever preserved here, even in areas where they never reigned.

The process of cultural interaction in the broadest sense of the word under the dominant role of Egypt at the first stage (from the initial period of conquest to the XXV dynasty) took place not only through the forcible introduction of certain elements of culture (types of temples, Egyptian cults, attributes, image style, language, social terminology and partly institutions of state power, priesthood), but also selectively — only those features that corresponded to local traditions and views were preserved and

The rulers of Kush on the Egyptian throne

However, the Egyptian base, being transformed on the local soil, acquired a different flavor, and sometimes features that were not at all peculiar to it in Egypt. During the XXV dynasty, the result of the long influence of the Egyptians on the development of Kushite society boomerang back to Egypt, conquered by the rulers of Kush, who held the same titles of Pharaoh (son of Ra, “lord of Both Lands”, under the patronage of Horus and the goddesses of the kite and snake), who preached the same formulas of religious struggle at the behest of Amon, which at one time justified the Egyptian

Being on the Egyptian throne, it would seem, increased the influence of Egypt, but this was only an external moment-the desire to imitate and copy the greatness of the former ruler. So, a pyramid was built over the tomb of Piankha, although in Egypt itself they had not been built for about a thousand years before. It is possible that the body of Piankha was mummified, because canopic jars were found in the tomb. However, the body did not rest in a sarcophagus, but on a bed, as is typical for the burial grounds of Kerma.

The temple in Semna. The Age of Thutmose III. XVIII dynasty.

The temple in Semna. The Age of Thutmose III. XVIII dynasty.

The successor of Pianha Shabak left a good memory of his rule in Egypt. On his orders, the oldest theological treatise of Memphis was rewritten. The effort was not in vain. Long after Shabaka’s death, until Ptolemaic times, a street in Memphis bore his name. The dynast reached its peak of greatness under Taharqa. His coronation stele was installed not only in the completed and decorated magnificent Gempaton temple (at the third threshold), but also in the northern part of the Delta, in Tanis. The last representative of the XXV dynasty, Tanutamun, despite the prediction to reign in Egypt, received in a dream, did not have to enjoy fame for long. The power and onslaught of the Assyrian forces shattered the ambitions of the Pharaohs of Kush.

Apparently, due to the threat of invasion by foreigners from the north or for some other reason, the main centers of Kushite civilization moved much further south, to Napata and Meroe, to the fourth and fifth rapids of the Nile. The residence of the royal family from the VI—V centuries BC was located in Meroe, but Napata remained the main religious center. This was where the king’s main coronation ceremony took place, after which he traveled to other major shrines in Kush.

Temples of Kush

The most prominent monument of local architecture and art is the religious complex in Musawwarat es-Sufra, where the local lion-headed god Apedemak was worshipped. The reliefs of this temple in the style of execution are still very similar to Egyptian ones, although upon careful study, there is already a departure from the principles of the Egyptian canon. The hymn to Apedemac, though written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, is purely Meroitic in its content. Numerous lion images on the reliefs of the Musawwarat-es-Sufra religious complex reflect the typical African symbolism of the lion king, associated with the ideas of the power and physical strength of the ruler, the bearer of fertility, ensuring the well-being of his subjects.

At the turn of our era, another temple was built in honor of the god Apedemak, in Naga. Its architecture was designed in the local style. In reliefs, Apedemak is represented as a three-headed and four-armed lion-headed god, as well as in the form of a lion-headed snake with the body of a man and the head of a lion. These images were entirely the product of the work of local craftsmen and reflected the functions of the lion-headed god of war and at the same time the god of fertility.

Greek tradition has preserved the memory of the Meroite king Ergamen (Arkamani), who lived in the time of Ptolemy II, who received a Greek upbringing and philosophical education. He dared to destroy the old customs, according to which an aging ruler had to die at the behest of the priests. “Having conceived a mind worthy of a king,” Diodorus wrote, ” he … killed all the priests and, having destroyed this custom, remade everything as he saw fit.” In modern science, the name of this ruler is sometimes associated with the origin of the Meroitic script.

The first inscriptions written in Meroitic script date back to the second century BC, although the language certainly existed much earlier. This oldest alphabetic writing on the African continent was directly influenced by the Egyptian, both hieroglyphic and Demotic versions of it.

The entire history of the Meroite culture took place in cooperation with the major powers of antiquity. Kush has embraced many of their traditions and achievements. Syncretism in the Kush culture is thus historically conditioned. Among external factors, the leading role in the development of cultural tradition, of course, belongs to Egypt, a number of features of which are rooted in Kush without changes. This applies to individual images of Egyptian gods, to the style of depicting relief and statuesque compositions, to the attributes of kings and gods — the shape of crowns, scepters, an attached bull’s tail, to sacrificial formulas and a number of other elements of the funeral cult, to some temple rituals, to the titulature of kings.

A certain role in maintaining the tradition was played by the permanent layer of the Egyptian population in Kush — the direct carrier of culture. The peculiarity of the process was the adaptation of the features of Egyptian culture to such an extent that they were already mechanically perceived by the population and were no longer recognized as an alien, but as a local element.

The Greco-Roman period

In the Greco-Roman period, the process of cultural influence took place indirectly – through Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, as well as directly-through the Greek and Roman populations located in Meroe. The most striking manifestations of this influence are considered to be the so-called Roman kiosk in Naga, the remains of Roman baths in Meroe, full-face figures of the gods, similar in style to Greek images. This category also includes poetic works in honor of the local god Mandulis, composed according to various forms of the Greek literary canon.

Since the time of Alexander the Great, Kush has occupied a well-defined place in Hellenistic and later Roman literature. Kush was associated with travel, imaginary or real geographical discoveries, and was considered a place of refuge for the rulers who were oppressed and persecuted from Egypt. The reader is presented with a fabulously rich country of gold, the seat of the gods revered in the Greco-Roman world. Thus, in the synthesis of various elements, but with a stable preservation of the local basis, a qualitatively new culture was formed and developed over the centuries — the Kush civilization, which influenced those countries with which it directly came into contact.

The traditions of deep antiquity have been preserved for centuries in the people’s memory. Even in the modern folklore of the Sudan, there is a legend about King Napa of Naphtha, etymologically clearly dating back to the Meroite toponym, about the ancient customs of killing kings and their abolition by King Akath, about the serpents-guardians of the temple, and many others. In the legends there are memories of the treasures of Kerma, and the local population is still surrounded by legends and reveres the ruins-the remains of the ancient settlement of Kerma. The distinctive and original culture of Kush made its contribution to the common cultural heritage of the countries of the ancient East, and was the source of the modern culture of the peoples of Sudan.

Ancient cultures of tropical Africa

Our current level of knowledge allows us to state with complete certainty that societies with antagonistic classes did not develop anywhere in sub—Saharan Africa before the turn of the seventh and eighth centuries AD, and that it was only after the arrival of the Arabs in North and East Africa that the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa became familiar with writing.

It is indisputable, however, that in different regions there were certain communities that differed in certain specific features of material and spiritual culture, which would be more correctly defined as precivilizations or protocivilizations.

These relatively ancient civilizations, whose formation generally coincided with the transition to the Iron Age throughout sub-Saharan Africa, were formed in several main areas that were separated by huge distances, where, apparently, a population that lived in the early stages of the primitive communal system was preserved. Such centers of civilizations were:

  • Western Sudan and its adjacent parts of the Sahel zone in the north, as well as the adjacent regions of the Sahara;
  • central and southwestern parts of present-day Nigeria;
  • upper Lualaba River basin (present-day Shaba Province in Zaire);
  • the central and eastern regions of today’s Republic of Zimbabwe, which owes its name to the brilliant civilization that developed here in the first centuries of the II millennium AD.;
  • African coast of the Indian Ocean.

Archaeological studies of the last two decades convincingly show a direct continuity between these ancient civilizations and the civilizations of the African Middle Ages — the great Powers of Western Sudan (Ghana, Mali, Songhai), Ife, Benin, Congo, Zimbabwe, and the Swahili civilization.

The greatest development was achieved by the most ancient civilizations that developed in Western Sudan and in Nigeria. Central African hotbeds lagged behind the emergence of iron and copper metallurgy and large urban settlements. The East African hearth was distinguished by certain specifics related to the role of maritime trade in its formation.

Contacts between centers of civilizations

The separation of the centers of civilizations of Tropical Africa by significant distances did not mean that there were no connections between them. They can be traced between the Western Sudanese and Nigerian foci, between the latter and the Congo basin. Archaeological evidence reveals contacts that existed between what is now Zambia and Zimbabwe and the Upper Lualaba region, as well as the East African coast, although most of these data date back to the beginning of the second millennium AD.

A scene. Tassili. Adger. IV millennium BC.

A scene. Tassili. Adger. IV millennium BC.

The situation was different with non-African contacts. While Western Sudan by the eighth century AD already had many centuries of contact with North Africa, and East Africa had long-standing ties with the Red Sea basin, and then the Persian Gulf region and South Asia, the Nigerian and Central African foci did not interact directly with non-African societies. But this did not exclude indirect contacts, such as the predecessors of the Zimbabwe civilization, with the Middle East and South Asia. They were carried out through the harbors of the East African coast. For example, there are known finds of Roman products in the interior regions of the African continent that are quite remote from the caravan and sea routes.

The high level of civilization of the Western Sudanese hearth was the result of the development of local societies, although long-standing and stable ties with the class societies of the Mediterranean to some extent accelerated this development. The links are attested by numerous rock carvings along the two main ancient routes across the Sahara: from Southern Morocco to the inner Niger Delta region and from Fezzan to the eastern tip of the Niger’s great Bend near the present-day city of Gao. We are talking about the so-called chariot roads: rock carvings of horse-drawn chariots indicate quite lively contacts, however, with certain restrictions on time and nature. On the one hand, the appearance of the horse in the Sahara refers only to the first millennium BC, and on the other — the chariots of the Saharan images themselves, according to experts, could hardly be used for any other purposes than prestigious ones, because of the fragility of the design, which does not allow them to be used either as a cargo or, possibly, as a

The real” technical revolution ” occurred with the introduction of the camel in the Sahara around the turn of the second and first centuries BC, and had serious social consequences, defining the relationship between the desert inhabitants and their settled neighbors to the south and allowing trade through the desert to become a stable and regulated institution. However, the latter, apparently, happened completely later and was already connected with the appearance of the Arabs.

Bronze hearth of metallurgy

Trans-Saharan contacts probably played a role in the development of the West African center of industry in the Bronze Age, which preceded iron metallurgy, and was unique in all of Tropical Africa. Excavations by the French researcher Nicole Lambert in Mauritania in the 60s proved the existence of a major center of the copper and bronze industry here. Copper mines and copper smelting sites (Lemden) were discovered in the Akzhuzhta area. Not only large accumulations of slag were found, but also the remains of a smelting furnace with blow pipes. The finds date back to the VI-V centuries BC. The Moorish center of the bronze industry lay just at the southern end of the western “road of chariots”, which directly connected it with a similar but earlier center of metallurgy in southern Morocco.

Scientific literature has suggested a connection between the Moorish center of metallurgy and numerous burials and megalithic structures along the middle course of the Niger in the Gundam-Niafunke region. It is not necessary to deny the fundamental possibility of such a connection. However, in much closer areas along the Dar Tishit escarpment in Mauritania, which lie in a straight line between Akzhuzht and the Niger Valley, the influence of the bronze industry did not manifest itself. Archaeological discoveries of the late 70s-early 80s. They are forced to link the monuments of the Gundam — Niafunke area rather with another center of civilization, unique for the entire territory of Tropical Africa, since it is distinguished by a fairly developed tradition of urban life that developed before the beginning of our era.

Ancient Ghana

We are talking about the excavations of American archaeologists Susan and Rodrick McIntosh in Jenna (Mali), which began in 1977. On the hill of Dioboro, 3 km from the city, the remains of an urban-type settlement were uncovered: the ruins of the city wall and block-by-block development with numerous traces of residential buildings were found. Jenne-Geno (Old Jenne) has preserved evidence of the existence of a developed iron metallurgy and ceramic production in the area. The city served as a center of active trade between the upper Niger region and the Sahel, as well as in the middle Niger Delta. Radiocarbon dates suggest that its foundation dates back to the third century BC, while according to tradition it was believed that the city appeared no earlier than the eighth century. It is particularly important that the results of McIntosh’s work also provide an opportunity to review the usual views on the nature of exchanges in the inner delta region, as well as on the reasons for the formation of the first known early state formations in Tropical Africa — ancient Ghana. And in this respect, the Western Sudanese hotbed of civilizations is unique.

Image of an archer. Tassili-i-Ajer. Adger. IV millennium BC.

Image of an archer. Tassili-i-Ajer. Adger. IV millennium BC.

The fact is that the formation of ancient Ghana was usually associated with the needs of trans-Saharan trade. Now it is clear that long before the emergence of Ghana and the development of large-scale desert trade, the middle Niger developed a fairly complex and organized economic complex with a developed system of exchanges involving agricultural products, iron, copper and their products, and pastoral products, while iron preceded copper in such exchanges. These data allow us to understand the true correlation of internal and external factors in the historical development of the region.

The results of archaeological research indicate a continuous deterioration of the” political ” situation in the Dar Tishit region during the first millennium BC. The decrease in the size of settlements, the encirclement of their defensive walls and the gradual transfer to the hilltops indicate an increase in pressure from nomads, who were obviously pushed south by the growing aridization The Sahara. It was suggested that the rudimentary exploitation of Negroid farmers by these nomads was born. But the same pressure stimulated to a greater extent the formation of large organizational early political structures among farmers, capable of resisting aggression. This trend was evident at least in the second quarter of the first millennium BC, and possibly even earlier, by the beginning of this millennium. Ancient Ghana at the turn of the third and fourth centuries AD was the logical conclusion of this trend. This is quite understandable, considering that the appearance of the camel in the Sahara dramatically increased the military-technical potential of nomadic societies.

Nigerian “civilizations” (Noc, Ife, Igbo-Ukwu, Sao)

The Nigerian hotbed of ancient civilizations is directly related to the emergence of the iron industry in West Africa. Most of the early civilizations of this hearth are distinguished by some degree of continuity with the so — called Nok culture, the earliest Iron Age culture in the region, dating back to the fifth century BC.It includes the oldest extant monuments of art of the peoples of Tropical Africa — a rich collection of realistic sculptures found during excavations along with metal and stone tools, metal and pearl ornaments. In addition to its purely artistic merits, it is interesting because it presents the features of the style that have been preserved in traditional African sculpture (including wooden sculpture) up to our time. In addition, the completeness of the artistic form implies a stage of rather long development of this artistic tradition.

Terracotta head. Ife Culture (Nigeria). XII-XV centuries AD

Terracotta head. Ife Culture (Nigeria). XII-XV centuries AD

The Ife civilization, which was created by the ancestors of the modern Yoruba people, shows a continuous connection with the works of Nok. The realistic sculptural tradition has found further development and continuation in the art of Ife. The impact of the artistic style of Nok ceramics was also reflected in the famous bronzes of Ife.

The results of excavations conducted in Igbo-Ukwu, on the lower Niger, provide an opportunity to judge the level of social organization of the creators of ancient cultures of this region from archaeological materials. British scientist Thursten Shaw discovered here a developed early civilization with a high artistic culture, with a very advanced technology for processing iron and bronze for its time. The Igbo-Ukwu foundry was a master of the lost wax casting technique, which would become the glory of Benin bronze a few centuries later. Shaw’s excavations showed that the society that created this civilization was distinguished by a developed and already rather stratified social organization.

Particularly interesting is the question of the cultural links between Igbo-Ukwu and Ife. Based on the stylistic similarity of the sculpture of both centers, it was suggested that Ife is a more ancient civilization than was generally assumed; analogies between certain types of jewelry known from modern ethnographic studies and finds in Ife and Igbo-Ukwu suggested that Ife as a cultural center is at least synchronous with Igbo-Ukwu, i.e. it can be dated no later than the IX century AD.

Apparently, the Sao culture in present-day Chad (within a radius of approximately 100 km around modern-day Chad) was not associated with the Nok culture. N’Djamena). Excavations have found here a lot of terracotta sculptures representing a completely independent artistic tradition, bronze weapons, utensils. The French researcher Jean-Paul Leboeuf, who studied the initial stage of the Sao culture, attributes its earliest stage to the VIII-X centuries.

Focus of early cultures in the upper reaches of the Lualaba river

Quite an original focus of early civilizations was formed in the upper reaches of the Lualaba River, as can be seen from the excavations of two large burial grounds – in Sanga and Katoto. Moreover, Katoto dates back to the 12th century, but its inventory shows a clear continuity in relation to the earlier Sanga. The latter dates, at least for some of the burials, to the period between the seventh and ninth centuries. The richness of the funerary implements attests to the high level of development of the local craft. In particular, the metallurgists of Sanga not only owned foundry and blacksmithing skills, but also knew how to draw wire, iron and copper.

Terracotta head. Culture of Sao, IX-XI centuries AD

Terracotta head. Culture of Sao, IX-XI centuries AD

The abundance of products made from both metals seems quite natural, if we recall that the province of Shaba, where Sanga is located, and today remains almost the main mining area of Tropical Africa. It is characteristic that in Sanga, as in Tropical Africa in general, iron metallurgy preceded copper metallurgy. The brilliant art of local artisans is also evidenced by ivory jewelry. The Sanga pottery is very distinctive, although it shows an unmistakable affinity with the ceramics of the larger region in Southeastern Zaire, usually referred to as Kisale ceramics.

The craft and artistic tradition represented by Sanga and later Katoto has shown remarkable vitality. For example, iron hoes from the Katoto burial inventory completely reproduce the shape of modern hoes, artisanal in the area. Based on the material of the excavations in Sanga, we can talk about a large concentration of the population, as well as that this area was inhabited for a long time. The nature of the inventory allows us to confidently assume that social stratification has already gone quite far. Therefore, it is fair to assume that the upper Lualaba area, along with the Sudan zone, belonged to the key areas of State formation on the subcontinent. However, Sanga chronologically preceded the formation of the system of exchanges between the upper Lualaba and the Zambezi basin, which means that some form of supreme power arose here spontaneously.

The mentioned system of long-distance exchanges in the Lualaba basin, as well as in the Sudan zone, existed in parallel with the network of local exchanges that emerged earlier. But foreign trade seems to have played a particularly important role in spreading the influence of local civilization to the south-east, in the Zambezi basin. And if, in the words of the famous Belgian scientist Francis Van Noten, Sanga can be considered as a “brilliant but isolated” phenomenon in the Congo basin, then between Shaba and the territory of present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe, its influence was quite noticeable, which does not mean, however, that the Zimbabwe civilization that emerged here is not independent.

The heyday of this civilization belongs mainly to the XII-XIII centuries. Meanwhile, it is necessary to mention it, since the prerequisites for its formation arose much earlier. Copper products found by Roger Summers on the Inyanga Plateau, where many of its most important monuments are located, date back to the same time as Sanga,— VIII-IX centuries..- and they turn out to be much earlier than the complex of structures in Zimbabwe proper. But even in Zimbabwe, the earliest traces of settlement (the so-called Acropolis in Greater Zimbabwe) date back to the fourth century AD. (however, on the basis of a single sample), and the early settlements of the Gokomere hill — V-VII centuries.

Swahili Civilization

A brilliant example of the African civilizations of the Middle Ages was the Swahili civilization, which developed on the East African coast of the Indian Ocean. As in the case of Zimbabwe, its heyday is already in the XII-XIII centuries. But just as there, the creation of the prerequisites for its emergence spanned a much longer period-approximately from the first to the eighth centuries. By the turn of our era, East Africa was already connected with the countries of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, as well as with South and Southeast Asia, with quite long and lively trade and cultural contacts.

Image of Oni (ruler). Bronze. Ife culture. XII-XV centuries AD

Image of Oni (ruler). Bronze. Ife culture. XII-XV centuries AD

The acquaintance and contacts of representatives of the Mediterranean civilization with East Africa are attested in such written monuments of antiquity as the” Periplus of the Erythraean Sea “and the” Geography ” of Claudius Ptolemy. In the first and second centuries, areas of the coast up to about 8° south latitude (the mouth of the Rufiji River) were regularly visited by South Arabian sailors. East Africa supplied the then world market with ivory, rhino tusks, turtle shells and coconut oil, exporting iron and glass products.

Archaeological work at various points along the coast of East Africa gives results dating back to the heyday of the Swahili civilization proper, i.e., to the Muslim period of the region’s history, which, according to the oral and literary Swahili tradition, dates back to the turn of the seventh and eighth centuries. However, the research of the last two decades, especially the works of the Soviet Africanist V. M. Misyugin’s data indicate that the coast developed a peculiar pre-civilization long before this time, which was based mainly on ocean navigation and ocean fishing.

It is probably with this precivilization that the appearance of relatively large settlements — commercial and commercial — should be attributed, which then turned into such famous city-states typical of the Swahili civilization as Kilwa, Mombasa, etc. In all likelihood, cities were formed during the first and eighth centuries: it is hardly by chance that the anonymous author of the Peripla, written apparently in the last quarter of the first century, avoids using the word ” city “or” harbor”, preferring to talk about the” markets ” of the East African coast. It was on the basis of such trading posts that those cities were formed, the foundation of which tradition, and after it, early European researchers associated with the appearance of newcomers from Arabia or Iran. But there can be no doubt that these seventh—and eighth-century migrants settled in places that Middle Eastern sailors and merchants have known for centuries from their contacts with the inhabitants of the coast.

Thus, by the eighth century AD, several pockets of early civilizations had already developed in Tropical Africa, which became the basis for the subsequent development of African cultures.

Civilizations of ancient Southern Arabia

Settling in South Arabia

The fate of the Arabian Peninsula is truly dramatic. Finds of early Paleolithic tools of the Olduvai type on the territory of Southern Arabia from the coastal strip near the strait to the western regions of Hadramaut, as well as the discovery of numerous Early Paleolithic sites along the northern border of Rub al-Khali indicate that Southern Arabia was part of one of the zones from which humanity began its “march on the planet”, starting from East Africa. One of the routes of settlement was through Arabia, which at that time was richly watered by river streams, flourishing, and rich in countless herds of herbivores.

Apparently, not later than by the XX millennium BC, the first terrible signs of a sharp change in the natural conditions of human habitation in Arabia were revealed, which in the XVIII—XVII millennium led to absolute aridity of the climate practically throughout the peninsula. People left Arabia, although it is possible that in its extreme south and east there were separate, poorly connected “ecological shelters”, where the embers of life continued to smolder.

Secondary occupancy

Al-Guza Gorge. Paleolithic site.

Al-Guza Gorge. Paleolithic site.

VIII thousand in the new, this time is favorable for people climate change starts secondary, and final, its settlement, first of the Eastern coastal part (Qatar), and then, with the VII—VI Millennium, and the Central and southern Arabia (the South-Western part of the RUB al-Khali, North Yemen, hadhramaut, etc.). Apparently, not later than V th along the Eastern coast of Arabia settled carriers usadskiy culture and then the Cemdet Nasr culture. In the third thous. Eastern Arabia, and especially Oman (ancient Magan), are included in the maritime trade of the Southern Two Rivers and the ” Dilmun countries “(Bahrain) with Northwestern India.

It is possible that at the end of the third and beginning of the second millennium BC, Semitic tribes first penetrated the territory of Southern Arabia. We do not know the specific reasons that prompted them to make the hard way to the south of the peninsula, but it is clear that already in their ancestral homeland they reached a fairly high level of development: they were familiar with agriculture, they acquired skills in irrigation and construction. Communication with more cultured sedentary peoples introduced them to writing, and they already had a coherent system of religious beliefs.

Features of the natural conditions of Southern Arabia — a large rugged relief, contrasts of climatic zones, relatively narrow valleys-wadis suitable for agriculture, contributed to the fact that newcomers, settling in separate tribal or tribal groups, created isolated pockets of culture. One of the consequences of this isolation was the coexistence of at least four distinct languages in a small area over a long period of time.

The civilizations that emerged here from the end of the second millennium to the sixth century BC also had distinct features of identity:

  • Sabeyskaya Street,
  • Katabanskaya Street,
  • Khadramautskaya Street,
  • Main Street,

They co-existed throughout the first millennium BC. Probably, during all this time, the South Arabian civilizations in their cultural contacts with the Middle East remained focused on the areas from which their founders once came. In the culture of ancient Hadramaut, there are also certain features of borrowing from the regions of the extreme east of the Arabian Peninsula, which for a long time were under the influence of the Southern Two Rivers.

Political events of the first millennium BC

In the first half of the first millennium BC, these were already highly developed societies based on irrigated agriculture, with numerous cities, developed architecture and art. Industrial crops are beginning to play an important role, especially trees and shrubs that produce frankincense, myrrh and other incense resins that were in high demand in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The cultivation of incense trees became a source of prosperity for the states of Ancient Yemen — “Happy Arabia”. The export of incense contributed to an increase in exchange and trade, as well as to the expansion of cultural contacts. In the tenth century BC, Saba established trade and diplomatic relations with the Eastern Mediterranean. By the eighth century BC, the Sabaean state first came into contact with the Assyrian power and, apparently, no later than the seventh century BC, colonized the territory of modern North-Eastern Ethiopia.

Ancient hieroglyphs. Limestone. Western Handramaut.

Ancient hieroglyphs. Limestone. Western Handramaut.

The production of frankincense, myrrh, etc. was concentrated mainly in the areas of Hadramaut (and partly Kataban) adjacent to the Indian Ocean, and the external caravan trade from the VI century BC was in the hands of the Maina. From here, the main part of the Incense Road caravan began. In the future, the Mainese establish caravan stations and trading colonies in Northwestern Arabia and begin to make regular trade trips to Egypt, Syria and the Two Rivers, and then to the island of Delos.

The place occupied by Southern Arabia on the sea route from India to Africa and Egypt and further to the Mediterranean, already in the first half of the first millennium BC, also determined its role as the most important intermediary in the exchange of goods between the ancient civilizations of South Asia and the Middle East, the Indian Ocean basin and the Mediterranean Sea. The harbors of Hadramaut and Kataban served as transit points for these goods, which from here went north by caravan routes — to Egypt, Syria, and the Two Rivers. This was facilitated by a special wind regime in the northern Indian Ocean, which allowed sailing directly from the harbors of the west coast of India to South-West Arabia and East Africa in winter, while in the summer months the winds provided sailing from South Arabia and Africa to India.

Since the seventh century BC, the political hegemony of Saba has been spreading over the entire territory of Southwestern Arabia, but since the sixth and fourth centuries BC, as a result of long wars, Main, Kataban and Hadramaut were freed from Sabean dependence, and this is reflected in numerous facts of “national” cultural revival. Wars continue throughout the second half of the first millennium BC. e. As a result of their Main is absorbed by Saba, but it itself, weakened by these wars, for a long time becomes the arena of internecine battles and changes of various peripheral dynasties. Relative stability has been established here only since the third century A.D. By this time, Kataban has disappeared from the historical arena, and a dynasty from Himiyar, an area located in the extreme southwest of Southern Arabia, has reigned in Saba itself.

Decline of trade

By the beginning of our era, there is a sharp change in the situation on the routes of export of incense, which affected the subsequent development of local civilizations. Already in the middle of the second century BC, the Red Sea and the western part of the Gulf of Aden were developed by Greek-Egyptian navigators and merchants. On their ships, they reach the northern coast of Somalia and Aden, where goods brought from India by Yemeni and Indian sailors are loaded onto their ships. At the end of the second century BC, the monopoly of Southern Arabia in transit trade between India and Egypt was dealt a heavy blow. The discovery of the monsoon regime by Greek-Egyptian navigators allowed them to make a direct voyage to India and back. Within a hundred years, more than 100 ships were being sent to India from Egypt every year. With the conquest of Syria and Egypt by Rome in the first century BC, the situation became even more complicated. Intra-Arabian trade has been declining, and the struggle in Southern Arabia since the first century A.D. has been waged not for dominance on trade routes, but directly for the land where trees grow that give incense, and for the coastal areas where harbors for the export of these incense were located.

Culture of ancient Arabia

The ancient settlement of Reybun. General view. VIII century BC-I century AD

The ancient settlement of Reybun. General view. VIII century BC-I century AD

The founders of the ancient Yemeni civilizations brought with them to Southern Arabia a strong knowledge, understanding and skills in many areas of economic and cultural life — this is evidenced by the magnificent buildings made of stone, huge cities built on artificial hills in the Wadi valleys, unsurpassed skill of the builders of giant irrigation systems. This is also indicated by the richness of spiritual life, which is reflected in the complex ideas about the world of the gods, in the creation of its own “intelligentsia of the spirit” – the priesthood, in the extremely wide distribution of writing.

The ancient South Aravians, who spoke the languages of a separate subgroup of” south peripheral ” Semitic languages, used a special script that they inherited from the alphabetic script of the Eastern Mediterranean — many signs were changed in accordance with the main idea — to give the entire system of signs clear geometric shapes. They wrote on a variety of materials: they cut on stone, on wooden boards, on clay, then cast inscriptions in bronze, scratched on rocks (graffiti), and also applied soft writing materials. Everyone wrote: kings and nobles, slaves and merchants, builders and priests, camel drivers and artisans, men and women. The discovered inscriptions contain descriptions of historical events and articles of laws. Dedicatory and construction texts, inscriptions on tombs, business correspondence, copies of mortgage documents, etc. were also found. It is the inscriptions, along with individual references in the Bible, among ancient and early Byzantine authors, that are the most important source of knowledge on the history and culture of Ancient South Arabia.

However, little is known about spiritual culture — large works of mythological, ritual and other content have been lost. The most important sources to this day are inscriptions containing, among other things, the names and epithets of the gods, their symbols, as well as sculptural and relief images of deities, their sacred animals, and mythological subjects. They are based on ideas about the nature of the pantheons (a single host of gods in Southern Arabia did not develop) and some of the functions of the gods. It is known that astral deities who were at the head of the pantheons played a huge role here in the early stages, primarily the ancient Semitic god Astar (cf. Ishtar, Astarte, etc.). His image was Venus. Astar was followed by various incarnations of the solar deity, and finally by the “national” gods — the deities of tribal unions represented by the Moon (Almaqah in Saba, Wadd in Maina, Amm in Qaraban, and Sin in Hadhramaut). Of course, there were other patron gods of individual clans, tribes, cities, “functional” deities (irrigation, etc.).

In general, the pantheons united the most ancient Semitic (Astar, possibly Ilu) gods or ancestral deities borrowed from the Two Rivers (Sin) and from neighbors, from Central and Northern Arabia, etc. If we talk about the dynamics of ideas in the “pagan” era, then we can clearly trace, at least from the time shortly before the beginning of our era, the promotion of “national” gods and the gradual displacement of the main astral deity Astar. Subsequently, by the fourth century AD. Thus, the Almaqah in Saba almost completely supersedes other gods, which greatly facilitated the transition to monotheistic religions-Judaism and Christianity.

Decline and fall of the Arabian civilizations

A consequence of the special natural conditions of the ancient South Arabian civilizations and the peculiarity of their development was the close proximity and interaction with the nomadic tribes of inner Arabia. Some of these tribes constantly sought to move out of the desert country into agricultural areas and settle there. Pastoral tribes were at a much lower level of economic and cultural development. Settling for centuries (especially since the second century AD) in the lands of Yemen, they came into direct contact with local civilizations. This to a large extent led to a general decline in economic life and culture, to the fact that the local population was increasingly dissolved in the mass of alien tribes and clans, lost its identity and language, and “Arabized”. The irresistible and growing influence of negative factors predetermined the gradual decline of South Arabian civilizations from the first centuries of our era and their death in the VI century.

The ancient settlement of Reybun. Excavations

The ancient settlement of Reybun. Excavations

However, the decline of the ancient civilizations of Southern Arabia was accompanied by an extraordinary rise in spiritual life, in which the whole set of conditions and features of their development was reflected in a bizarre form. In dying societies, it has taken on a strong eschatological tone.

The fact that Southern Arabia, especially its inner, most advanced centers of civilization, was increasingly unable to enjoy the benefits of a special position at the crossroads of trade routes did not mean that this position itself had lost all significance in the eyes of the great empires of antiquity. It can even be argued that since the end of the first century BC, it has steadily increased, and Arabia in general and South Arabia in particular have acquired the character of the most important element of international relations.

Clashes and struggles of ideas

At the turn of our era, the natural centers for the spread of Late Hellenistic influences (and later Christianity) in Southern Arabia were precisely the trading settlements of Greek-Egyptian merchants in the coastal trade cities (Aden, Kana, on the island of Socotra). The attempts to create allegorical images of the South Arabian gods and their “Hellenization”attested in iconography date back to this time. In the first centuries of our era, Christianity began to spread in the Greco-Roman environment of Aden and Socotra.

Dedicatory inscription. Western Handramaut.

Dedicatory inscription. Western Handramaut.

Since the fourth century A.D., the Eastern Roman Empire has been making efforts to plant the mentioned religion in Southern Arabia, using both the missionary activity of the Church of Alexandria and the Christianized top of Axum, a state that emerged in Ethiopia by the beginning of our era and seized some coastal areas in Southwestern Arabia at the beginning of the second century. Soon more Arians, Monophysites, Nestorians and others will fill Arabia. To this picture must be added the local ancient pagan religion and the primitive cults of the Bedouin, who are increasingly influencing political events in the south of the Arabian Peninsula.

Broad circles of South Arabian society were involved in a fierce struggle of ideas, accompanied by clashes and invasions of the Aksumites… The main political conclusion of this struggle was clearly revealed: both Christianity of any kind and Judaism lead to the loss of independence, to the enslavement of the country by foreigners. However, the ideological explosion could not be prevented. The struggle of ideas spread beyond the borders of southern Arabia, involving trade points on the caravan routes in its orbit. Gradually, another major political idea — the idea of unity and confrontation-made its way into this struggle. Something of its own, Arabian, unique, was born. Islam was born.

Tell your friends:


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No ratings yet)