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Sabaean Kingdom
𐩪𐩨𐩱 (Sabaean)
مَمْلَكَة سَبَأ (Arabic)
1200 BCE–275 CE
Coat of arms of Sabaean Kingdom
Coat of arms
Map of the Kingdom in the 8th century BCE
Map of the Kingdom in the 8th century BCE
Common languagesSabaic
Arabian paganism
GovernmentTheocracy (Early)
Monarchy (Late)[1]
• 700–680 BCE
• 620–600 BCE
Karib'il Watar
• 60–20 BCE
Historical eraIron Age to Antiquity
• Established
1200 BCE
• Disestablished
275 CE
Succeeded by
Himyarite Kingdom
Today part ofYemen

The Sabaeans or Sabeans[2] were an ancient group of South Arabians.[3] They spoke Sabaic, one of the Old South Arabian languages.[4] They founded the kingdom of Sabaʾ (Arabic: سَبَأ) in modern-day Yemen,[5][6] which is considered to be the biblical land of Sheba[7][8][9] and "the oldest and most important of the South Arabian kingdoms".[3]

The exact date of the foundation of Sabaʾ is a point of disagreement among scholars. Kenneth Kitchen dates the kingdom to between 1200 BCE and 275 CE, with its capital at Maʾrib, in what is now Yemen.[10] On the other hand, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman believe that "the Sabaean kingdom began to flourish only from the eighth century BC onward" and that the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is "an anachronistic seventh-century set piece."[11] The Kingdom fell after a long but sporadic civil war between several Yemenite dynasties claiming kingship;[12][13] from this, the late Himyarite Kingdom arose as victors.[14]

Sabaeans are mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Quran,[15] they are described as either Sabaʾ (سَبَأ, not to be confused with Ṣābiʾ, صَابِئ),[5][6] or as Qawm Tubbaʿ (Arabic: قَوْم تُبَّع, lit.'People of Tubbaʿ').[16][17]


"Bronze man" found in Al-Baydā' (ancient Nashqum, Kingdom of Saba'), 6th–5th century BCE, the Louvre Museum

The origin of the Sabaean Kingdom is uncertain.[18] Kenneth Kitchen dates the kingdom to around 1200 BCE,[10] while Robert Nebes states that the formation of the Sabean polity took place in the 10th century BCE at the latest, noting that the earliest known Sabean ruler, Yada'il bin Damar'ali, dates to before 900 BCE.[19] Originally, the Sabaeans were one of the shaʿbs (Sabaean: 𐩦𐩲𐩨, romanized: šʿb), "communities", on the edge of the Sayhad desert. Very early, at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, the political leaders (Sabaean: 𐩱𐩣𐩡𐩫, romanized: ʾmlk) of this tribal community managed to create a huge commonwealth of shaʿbs occupying most of South Arabian territory and took the title Sabaean: 𐩣𐩫𐩧𐩨 𐩪𐩨𐩱, romanized: mkrb sbʾ, "Mukarrib of the Sabaeans".[20]

Several factors caused a significant decline of the Sabaean state and civilization by the end of the 1st millennium BCE.[21] Saba' was conquered by the Himyarites in the first century BCE but after the disintegration of the first Himyarite Kingdom of the kings of Saba' and Dhū Raydān, the Middle Sabaean Kingdom reappeared in the early second century.[22] Note that the Middle Sabaean Kingdom was different from the Ancient Sabaean Kingdom in many important respects.[23] The Sabaean kingdom was finally conquered by the Ḥimyarites in the late 3rd century, and at that time, the capital was Ma'rib. It was located along the strip of desert called Sayhad by medieval Arab geographers, which is now named Ramlat al-Sab'atayn.

The Sabaean people spoke an Semitic language of their own, Himyaritic. Each of these peoples had regional kingdoms in ancient Yemen, with the Minaeans in Wādī al-Jawf to the north, the Sabeans on the southwestern tip, stretching from the highlands to the sea; the Qatabanians to the east of them, and the Hadharem east of them. The Sabaeans, like the other Yemenite kingdoms of the same period, were involved in the extremely lucrative spice trade, especially frankincense and myrrh.[24] They left behind many inscriptions in the monumental Ancient South Arabian script as well as numerous documents in the related cursive Zabūr script, their presence is also felt in Africa where they left numerous traces such as inscriptions and temples that date back to the Sabean colonization of Africa.[25][26][27][28]

Religious practices

Inscription that shows religious practice during pilgrimage

The Ottoman scholar Mahmud al-Alusi compared the religious practices of South Arabia to Islam in his Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-'Arab.

The Arabs during the pre-Islamic period used to practice certain things that were included in the Islamic Sharia. They, for example, did not marry both a mother and her daughter. They considered marrying two sisters simultaneously to be the most heinous crime. They also censured anyone who married his stepmother, and called him dhaizan. They made the major hajj and the minor umra pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, performed the circumambulation around the Ka'ba tawaf, ran seven times between Mounts Safa and Marwa sa'y, threw rocks and washed themselves after sexual intercourse. They also gargled, sniffed water up into their noses, clipped their fingernails, removed all pubic hair and performed ritual circumcision. Likewise, they cut off the right hand of a thief and stoned Adulterers.[29]

According to the medieval religious scholar al-Shahrastani, Sabaeans accepted both the sensible and intelligible world. They did not follow religious laws but centered their worship on spiritual entities.[30]

Mentions in religious texts

Baha'i Writings

Sabaeans are mentioned many times in the Baha’i Writings as regional people and of their religious practice. The religion is considered among the true religion of God as an early part of a historical process of progressive revelation where God guides humanity by sending Divine Educators throughout time to teach people of the religion of God.[31] They have also been mentioned in the book Secrets of Divine Civilization by `Abdu’l-Bahá’ as those peoples who have possibly contributed to the foundations of the science of logic.[32]


Sabaeans are mentioned in the biblical books of Genesis, 1 Kings (which includes the account of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba), Isaiah, Joel, Ezekiel and Job. The latter mentions Sabaeans as having slain Job's livestock and servants.[33] In Isaiah they are described as "tall of stature".[34]


Ruins of the historical dam of the former Sabaean capital of Ma'rib, amidst the Sarat Mountains of present-day Yemen

The name of Saba' is mentioned in the Qur'an in surah al-Maeeda 5:69, an-Naml 27:15-44 and Sabaʾ 34:15-17. In surah al-Maeeda, they are mentioned as follows: “Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and act righteously—will have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Their mention in surah al-Naml refers to the area in the context of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, whereas their mention in surah Sabaʾ refers to the Flood of the Dam, in which the historic dam was ruined by flooding. As for the phrase Qawm Tubbaʿ "People of Tubbaʿ", which occurs in surah ad-Dukhan 44:37 and Qaf 50:12-14, Tubbaʿ was a title for the kings of Saba', like for Himyarites.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor (1993). E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936. Vol. v5. Leiden: BRILL. p. 292. ISBN 978-90-04-09791-9. OCLC 258059170 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ (Sabaean: 𐩪𐩨𐩱, S¹Bʾ; Arabic: ٱلسَّبَئِيُّوْن, romanizedas-Sabaʾiyyūn; Hebrew: סְבָאִים, romanizedSəḇāʾīm)
  3. ^ a b "The kingdoms of ancient South Arabia". British Museum. Archived from the original on May 4, 2015. Retrieved 2013-02-22.
  4. ^ Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity, 1991.
  5. ^ a b Quran 27:6-93
  6. ^ a b Quran 34:15-18
  7. ^ Burrowes, Robert D. (2010). Historical Dictionary of Yemen. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 319. ISBN 978-0810855281.
  8. ^ St. John Simpson (2002). Queen of Sheba: treasures from ancient Yemen. British Museum Press. p. 8. ISBN 0714111511.
  9. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson (2003). On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 0802849601.
  10. ^ a b Kenneth A. Kitchen The World of "Ancient Arabia" Series. Documentation for Ancient Arabia. Part I. Chronological Framework and Historical Sources p.110
  11. ^ Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, p. 171
  12. ^ Muller, D. H. (1893), Himyarische Inschriften [Himyarian inscriptions] (in German), Mordtmann, p. 53
  13. ^ Javad Ali, The Articulate in the History of Arabs before Islam, Volume 2, p. 420
  14. ^ Nebes 2023, p. 303.
  15. ^ a b Wheeler, Brannon M. (2002). Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166. ISBN 0-8264-4956-5 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ Quran 44:37 -Yusuf Ali
  17. ^ Quran 50:12-14
  18. ^ Nebes 2023, p. 330.
  19. ^ Nebes 2023, p. 332.
  20. ^ Korotayev 1996, pp. 2–3.
  21. ^ Korotayev 1995, p. 98.
  22. ^ Korotayev 1996.
  23. ^ KOROTAYEV, A. (1994). Middle Sabaic BN Z: clan group, or head of clan?. Journal of semitic studies, 39(2), 207-219.
  24. ^ "Yemen | Facts, History & News". InfoPlease.
  25. ^ The Athenaeum. J. Lection. 1894. p. 88.
  26. ^ Poluha, Eva (2016-01-28). Thinking Outside the Box: Essays on the History and (Under)Development of Ethiopia. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 978-1-5144-2223-6.
  27. ^ The Babylonian and Oriental Record. D. Nutt. 1894. p. 107.
  28. ^ Japp, Sarah; Gerlach, Iris; Hitgen, Holger; Schnelle, Mike (2011). "Yeha and Hawelti: cultural contacts between Sabaʾ and DʿMT — New research by the German Archaeological Institute in Ethiopia". Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies. 41: 145–160. ISSN 0308-8421. JSTOR 41622129.
  29. ^ al-Alusi, Muhammad Shukri. Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-'Arab, Vol. 2. p. 122.
  30. ^ Walbridge, John (1998). "Explaining Away the Greek Gods in Islam". Journal of the History of Ideas. 59 (3): 389–403. doi:10.2307/3653893. ISSN 0022-5037.
  31. ^ "Bahá'í Reference Library - Directives from the Guardian, Pages 51-52". Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  32. ^ "The Secret of Divine Civilization | Bahá'í Reference Library". Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  33. ^ Job 1:14–15
  34. ^ Isaiah 45:14

Further reading

  • Bafaqīh, M. ‛A., L'unification du Yémen antique. La lutte entre Saba’, Himyar et le Hadramawt de Ier au IIIème siècle de l'ère chrétienne. Paris, 1990 (Bibliothèque de Raydan, 1).
  • Klotz, David (2015). "Darius I and the Sabaeans: Ancient Partners in Red Sea Navigation". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 74 (2): 267–280. doi:10.1086/682344. S2CID 163013181.
  • Korotayev, Andrey (1995). Ancient Yemen. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-922237-1.
  • Korotayev, Andrey (1996). Pre-Islamic Yemen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 3-447-03679-6.
  • Nebes, Norbert (2023). "Early Saba and Its Neighbors". In Radner, Karen; Moeller, Nadine; Potts, D. T. (eds.). The Oxford History of the Ancient Near East: The Age of Persia. Vol. 5. Oxford University Press. pp. 299–375. ISBN 978-0-19-068766-3.
  • Ryckmans, J., Müller, W. W., and ‛Abdallah, Yu., Textes du Yémen Antique inscrits sur bois. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1994 (Publications de l'Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 43).
  • Article at Encyclopædia Britannica
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