History of Yemen

Yemen’s history dates back tens of thousands of years ago. It is believed that the first people of Yemen crossed over from East Africa and began slowly populating the area. Archaeologists are able to trace back that it was about 5000 BC that water channels and stone dwellings were already being built within the region.

There have been some ancient kingdoms in Yemen’s past, too. In around 1000 BC, there were three kingdoms. Saba or Sheba as it was also known, was the largest of the kingdoms and also the most powerful. They had an irrigation system so that Sabaeans were able to grow crops and were therefore able to prosper from farming as well as trade. They worshipped the god Almaqah and in Marib, the temple of Almaqah was an important religious site. Saba was developed in the Central Highlands.

Also in the Central Highlands was the kingdom of Qataban, and in eastern Yemen, Hadhramawt was prominent. All three of these kingdoms were polytheistic (worshipped many gods) and they did not require walls surrounding their kingdoms as archaeologists suggest that they were able to live in peace.

These kingdoms were able to grow wealthy because of trade with other countries that opened up from Arabia to Mesopotamia and Babylonia. Yemen had frankincense and myrrh that only was available through its own country as well as Oman and Northern Africa. These products were used in medicines, fragrances and more, making them very popular. Trade grew, bringing in silks from China, slaves from Africa and swords from India. When merchants stopped in Yemen, they believed that all of these goods originated here, which is where the country’s name came from – Happy Arabia.

The Roman Empire was developing, growing larger. In 323, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire at the hands of Constantine. Frankincense and myrrh were not important to the religion and it therefore hurt the trade industry of Yemen. The wealth level dropped significantly and with this loss came generations of fighting amongst each other as well as with outsiders who wanted to control the land.

Christianity continued to grow and missionaries were sent out. In the centuries through 400 and 500, Christian and Jewish missionaries were in the Arabian areas. The monotheistic religions went against everything that the Yemenis had known. While many inhabitants in southern Arabia were converting, Yusuf Ashaar Dhu Nuwas, the king of Saba in the early 500s, told all Christians in his area that they must convert to Judaism.

Over 20,000 Christians refused and were slaughtered. Abraha, the Christian King of Ethiopia found out about the killings and seized the country in 525. After that, the country then ended up under Persian rule, were in remained for many years. The religion of Islam consumed the Arabian Peninsula, which is still the religion of today.