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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The diversity of the natural environment: plains, mountains and deserts may be common in many countries, but it is unique in Yemen. Yemen's highlands are an extension of a chain of the Trans-Arabian Peninsula's high mountains which cut across, in parallel, from the Red Sea in the west to the Arabian desert, The Empty Quarter, in the east, the shape of which resembles the letter "L". Because of the height of this mountain chain, which is the highest in the Arabian Peninsula, rain clouds, carried by the seasonal winds from the Indian Ocean during the spring and summer, causes rainfall, which differs greatly from 1he rest of the area.

The rains are not normally heavy, but when it pours, torrents flow across a number of valleys. Some goes east to the desert and some west to the Red Sea, or south to the waters of the Arabian Sea. Under these circumstances and climate, people of the Stone Age lived here tens of thousands of' years ago experiencing the various stages of that period. There are many relics dating hack to this era are now in exhibit at the National Museum in Sana'a. The facade of caves show distinct traces of the Hunter Gatherers Society. While on top of the eastern mountain chain, 2000*2300m above sea level, more sophisticated societies lived during the Bronze Age. 

Unsuccessful attempt at dam construction can be traced back to the bronze age. The people, after this failure, emigrated down-stream to the valleys in the East of Yemen, and it is here where civilization in this part of the world began to flourish. Yemeni civilization didn't flourish on the hanks of rivers, as in many other ancient civilizations, but in the valleys. The Sheba dynasty flourished in the valleys of Dhanah and Ma'een in the Jouf Valley to the north of Sheba. Similarly, other dynasties such as Qataban in the Baihan Valley, Hadharmout in the valley of Armah and Osan in the valley of Markhah,

Sheba is the oldest of the Yemeni civilizations. Historians consider the start of the Sabean Dynasty as the beginning of historical accounts for Yemen's ancient states. This historical period began in 715BC, the year when Yathea'a Amirbayn, one of the oldest Macarabi, King of Sheba, paid protection money to Serjoun, the King of Assyria, as told by the Assyrian annals.

The first line of Sabean Macarabis and kings existed around the same time as the kings of Ma'een. The only time Ma'een was defeated was by Sheba, its neighbor. The sovereignty of Sheba also extended to cover the ancient states of Osan, Qataban and Hadramout. Qataban and Hadramout had sided with Sheba against the State of Osan. 

 

Regardless of which Yemeni dynasty was the oldest, strongest or reigned longest" the most recent archaeological researches state that the Iron Age extended from 1200BC until 332BC. Thus, the beginnings of the flourishing history of Southern Arabia civilizations was 1st century BC. The people lived by means of agriculture and it was around this time that dams and canals were constructed to irrigate the land to provide food and camels domesticated to help with the work load. The development of political systems was similar in each dynasty. Their location, between 1ndia and Africa, on one side, and between Egypt and Syria on the other, generated a good income from the taxes paid for the protection of the camel caravans transporting incense from Hadhramout and Dhofar (Oman) in the East. These caravans were also used to carry other goods, whatever would fetch a good price and was light enough for the camels to carry, which arrived into Yemen at the port of Qana on thc Arabian Sea. From there they would be transported through the cities and stations of Hadhramout, Qataban, Sabean and the Ma'een Dynasties on to the port of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. Cities flourished and the architectural style developed. The temples of the Astrological Triangle' were built along with the dams and canals which surrounded the capital cities of Marib, Ma'een, Tamna'a and Shabwa. 

 

The capitals of the civilizations of southern Arabia had strong contact with ancient Eastern civilizations. Before the birth of Christ, a campaign by a Roman Commander failed in an attempt to take control of' the incense road. However, Hippalos, a Greek sailor, had discovered the closely guarded secret of the ancient Yemenis: the monsoon winds, which gust eastward to India during the summer and to the west towards Africa during the winter and made transportation by sea so very difficult. The discovery by the Greeks on how to use the monsoon winds to their advantage, was followed by a ban, introduced by the Christian Church, on the use of incense which resulted in the incense road losing its importance. The Great Dam also collapsed and the Sheba Dynasty dispersed to the hills. This was evident by the dams, cities, palaces and temples which sprang up in Sama'i, Sana'a and Dhafar, and also on the trade road across the plateau by way of the Assa'd' path.

The sand dunes, however, preserved the outer crust of the ancient Yemeni civilization in Eastern Yemen, in a way similar to the process of preserving flowers pressed within the pages of a book, and as a result, archeologists have been able to trace the history of ancient Sheba.

The Himyarite Dynasty followed with its rulers, the Kings of Sheba, Dhu Raidan, Hadramout, Yamant and their tribes on the high plateau and coastal region, until the Abyssinian (Ethiopians), occupied Yemen in the year 525AD. The Abyssinians ruled for fifty years until 575AD. That year was known as the Year of the Elephant', because Abraha used them in his failed campaign to occupy the Qa'ba, Islam's most holiest of shrines. Saif Ibn Dhi Yazan expelled the Abyssinians from Yemen with the help of the Persian Empire, but only to place Yemen under the direct influence of Persian Empire. This continued until the people of Yemen heard the Islamic call. They voluntarily adopted Islam as their new religion; and Yemeni battalions were at the vanguard of the Islamic armies. Yemenis played leading roles in the building of the Islamic state, which stretched from China in the east to Andalusia to the west. 

Yemen came under the direct administration of the Islamic state during the rule of the Caliphs in Madina, continuing through the Ommiad Dynasty in Damascus and the Abbasid Dynasty in Baghdad. However, on the decline of Islamic state in Baghdad, several dynasties ruled Yemen starting from the 9th century AD. At various stages in the history of Yemen there was more than one dynasty in existence, fighting each other at times and peacefully co-existing at other times. Some of them had formally followed either the Caliphate of Baghdad or the Caliphate of Cairo. The direct rule of some of these states included the largest parts of Yemen. Among these states were:

  • Ziyadiya State, the capital of which was Zabid, 819 * 1018AD.

  • Ya'firiya State in Shibam kawkaban, 861* 956AD.

  • Zaydi Imamate State in Sa'da, 892*1962AD.

It co-existed with all other states for more than one thousand years. Its influence stretched from Sana'a to Najran, diminishing to include only the north-eastern regions. The Zaydi Imamate ruled most parts of greater Yemen at one period in history. 

  • Sylihya State in Jibla, 1047 - 1138AD.

  • Ayoubid State in Taiz, 1174 1229AD.

  • Rasulide State in Taiz, 1229 1454AD.

  • Tahirid State in Mikrana Rada'a', 1446 1517AD.

Despite the fact that these states were independent from the central states, they were in touch with what was going on in the main cities. Several Yemeni cities flourished during the lslamic era on the roads of trade and pilgrimage across the plateau and coastal plains. They were influenced by the Islamic civilization which also prevailed at other Arab and Islamic cities. Students and scholars came to the centers from both inside and outside Yemen. The most famous cities of the period were Zabid, Sana'a, Sa'da, Tarim, Jibla and Dhamar.

Yemen also fell under the influence of Islamic states such as the Mamelukes and the Ottomans in the wake of the Portuguese invasion of the coasts in the early 16th century AD.

The Turkish Ottomans ruled Yemen during two periods. The first began in 1535 and continued until 1638, while the second was from 1872 until the end of the 1st World War in l918. The British occupied the southern part of Yemen in 1839. 

During the period of conflict over the borders between the Ottomans in the northern part of Yemen and the British in the south, border posts were installed between the South and North of Yemen for the first time in its history. After that, Yemen suffered from terrible isolation imposed by a clerical utilitarian rule in the North and a humiliating colonial hegemony in the South.

During this period, poverty, ignorance, injustice and a series of deadly diseases prevailed in the       country. The circle of isolation was not broken until the Eternal Revolution of the 26th September against the Imamate rule and the Revolution of the 14th October 1962, and the South achieved independence from Britain in 1967.

From 1962 North Yemen became known as the Yemen Arab Republic, with its capital in 'Sana'a, while the South of Yemen became known as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen with its capital in Aden. Twenty years after the British evacuation on 30th November l967, the constitution of the existing Republic of Yemen was signed on 30th November, 1987. This event crowned pro- longed efforts to unify the country. On 22nd May 1990, there was great news, Yemen became united and was named the Republic of Yemen. The historic city of Sana'a was named the capital of the unified Yemen, and a new era in Yemen's history began. 

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