History of Yemen

With the rise of the great ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia and along the Mediterranean Sea , historic Yemen became an important overland trade link between these civilizations and the highly prized luxury goods of South Arabia and points east and south As a result several pre-Islamic trading kingdoms grew up astride an incense trading route that ran northwest between the foothills and the edge of the desert. First, there was the Minaean kingdom, which lasted from about 1200 to 650 bc, and whose prosperity was due mainly to the trade of frankincense and spices. The large and prosperous kingdom of Saba (Sheba), founded in the 10th century bc and ruled by Bilqis, the queen of Sheba, among others, was known for its efficient farming and extensive irrigation system built around a large dam constructed at Ma‘rib. Farther south and east, in the region that would later become South Yemen, were the Qataban and Hadhramaut kingdoms, which also participated in the incense trade. The last of the great pre-Islamic kingdoms was that of Himyar, which lasted from about the 1st century bc until the ad 500s ( Himyarites ). At their heights, the Sabaean and Himyarite kingdoms encompassed most of historic Yemen Because of their prominence and prosperity, the states and societies of ancient Yemen were collectively called Arabia Felix in Latin, meaning “Happy Arabia.” However, when the Romans occupied Egypt in the 1st century bc they made the Red Sea their primary avenue of commerce. With the decline of the caravan routes, the kingdoms of southern Arabia lost much of their wealth and fell into obscurity. Red Sea traffic sailed past Yemen, and what seaborne commerce Yemen engaged in had little impact on the country’s interior. The Tihāmah region, which was hot, humid, swept by sandstorms, and clouded in haze, isolated the comparatively well-watered and populous highlands. The weakened Yemeni regimes that followed the trading kingdoms were unable to prevent the occupation of Yemen by the Christian Abyssinian kingdom (modern Ethiopia ) in the 4th and early 6th centuries ad and by the Sassanids of Persia in the later 6th century, just before the rise of Islam .

Rise of Islam :

     The Islamic era, which began in the 7th century, contains many events critical to the formation of Yemen and the Yemeni people. The force with which Islam spread from its origins in Mecca and Medina in the nearby region of Al Hijaz (the Hejaz) led to Yemen’s rapid and thorough conversion to Islam. Yemenis were well-represented among the first soldiers of Islam who marched north, west, and east of Arabia to expand Muslim territory. Yemen was ruled by a series of Muslim caliphs, beginning with the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled from Damascus in the latter part of the 7th century; Umayyad rule was followed by the Abbasid caliphs in the early 8th century (see Caliphate The founding of a local Yemeni dynasty in the 9th century effectively ended both Abbasid rule from Baghdad and the authority of the Arab caliphate. This allowed Yemen to develop its own variant of Arab-Islamic culture and society in relative isolation. In the 10th century, the establishment of the Zaydi imamate, essentially a theocracy, in the far north of Yemen forged a deep, lasting link between the towns and tribes of the northern highlands and the Zaydi Shia sect of Islam. By contrast, the two-century-long rule of the Rasulids, beginning in the 1200s and initially based in Aden, identified the coastal regions and the southern uplands with Shafi’i Islam. The Rasulids, one of the major dynasties in the history of Yemen, broke from the Egyptian Ayyubid dynasty to rule independently. Their capital, later located at Ta‘izz , was famous for its diverse artistic and intellectual achievements.

Ottoman Rule :

        In the early 16th century Portuguese merchants came to Arabia and took over the Red Sea trade routes between Egypt and India The Portuguese annexed the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean and from that vantage point tried unsuccessfully to take control of Aden. Following the Portuguese, the Egyptian Mamluks attempted to take power in Yemen, successfully capturing Sana‘a but failing to take Aden. Armies of the Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt in 1517, and in 1538 brought most of Yemen under their control. The Ottomans were expelled nearly a century later, after a long struggle led by the Zaydi imamate that united and strengthened Yemeni identity and ushered in a long period of Zaydi rule. Yemen developed an extensive coffee trade under Ottoman rule, with the coastal town of Mocha (Al Mukhā) becoming a coffee port of international importance. Despite this, the highlands of Yemen remained economically and culturally isolated from the outside world from the mid-17th century to nearly the mid-19th century, a period during which Western Europe was greatly influenced by modern thought and technology.
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