Ancient Persia and the Arabian Peninsula

Ancient Persia and the Arabian Peninsula

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This video discusses the civilizations of Ancient Persia and the Arabian Peninsula. In this episode, the grand residences at Persepolis and the imperial palaces of Darius are toured.

The second half of the video discusses the Arabian Peninsula. From the Arabian Peninsula, we follow an ancient caravan route through the desert to Syria, exploring many sites along the way.

Indigenous Arabs are descendants of the earliest split from ancient Eurasian populations

An open question in the history of human migration is the identity of the earliest Eurasian populations that have left contemporary descendants. The Arabian Peninsula was the initial site of the out-of-Africa migrations that occurred between 125,000 and 60,000 yr ago, leading to the hypothesis that the first Eurasian populations were established on the Peninsula and that contemporary indigenous Arabs are direct descendants of these ancient peoples. To assess this hypothesis, we sequenced the entire genomes of 104 unrelated natives of the Arabian Peninsula at high coverage, including 56 of indigenous Arab ancestry. The indigenous Arab genomes defined a cluster distinct from other ancestral groups, and these genomes showed clear hallmarks of an ancient out-of-Africa bottleneck. Similar to other Middle Eastern populations, the indigenous Arabs had higher levels of Neanderthal admixture compared to Africans but had lower levels than Europeans and Asians. These levels of Neanderthal admixture are consistent with an early divergence of Arab ancestors after the out-of-Africa bottleneck but before the major Neanderthal admixture events in Europe and other regions of Eurasia. When compared to worldwide populations sampled in the 1000 Genomes Project, although the indigenous Arabs had a signal of admixture with Europeans, they clustered in a basal, outgroup position to all 1000 Genomes non-Africans when considering pairwise similarity across the entire genome. These results place indigenous Arabs as the most distant relatives of all other contemporary non-Africans and identify these people as direct descendants of the first Eurasian populations established by the out-of-Africa migrations.

All humans can trace their ancestry back to Africa (Cann et al. 1987), where the ancestors of anatomically modern humans first diverged from primates (Patterson et al. 2006), and then from archaic humans (Prﳾr et al. 2014). Humans began leaving Africa through a number of coastal routes, where estimates suggest these “out-of-Africa” migrations reached the Arabian Peninsula as early as 125,000 yr ago (Armitage et al. 2011) and as late as 60,000 yr ago (Henn et al. 2012). After entering the Arabian Peninsula, human ancestors entered South Asia and spread to Australia (Rasmussen et al. 2011), Europe, and eventually, the Americas. The individuals in these migrations were the most direct ancestors of ancient non-African peoples, and they established the contemporary non-African populations recognized today (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 2003).

The relationship between contemporary Arab populations and these ancient human migrations is an open question (Lazaridis et al. 2014 Shriner et al. 2014). Given that the Arabian Peninsula was an initial site of egress from Africa, one hypothesis is that the original out-of-Africa migrations established ancient populations on the peninsula that were direct ancestors of contemporary Arab populations (Lazaridis et al. 2014). These people would therefore be direct descendants of the earliest split in the lineages that established Eurasian and other contemporary non-African populations (Armitage et al. 2011 Rasmussen et al. 2011 Henn et al. 2012 Lazaridis et al. 2014 Shriner et al. 2014). If this hypothesis is correct, we would expect that there are contemporary, indigenous Arabs who are the most distant relatives of other Eurasians. To assess this hypothesis, we carried out deep-coverage genome sequencing of 104 unrelated natives of the Arabian Peninsula who are citizens of the nation of Qatar (Supplemental Fig. 1), including 56 of indigenous Bedouin ancestry who are the best representatives of autochthonous Arabs, and compared these genomes to contemporary genomes of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas (The 1000 Genomes Project Consortium 2012 Lazaridis et al. 2014).

Saudi Leaders:

The first concrete evidence of human presence in the Arabian Peninsula dates back 15,000 to 20,000 years. Bands of hunter-gatherers roamed the land, living off wild animals and plants.

As the European ice cap melted during the last Ice Age, some 15,000 years ago, the climate in the peninsula became dry. Vast plains once covered with lush grasslands gave way to scrubland and deserts, and wild animals vanished. River systems also disappeared, leaving in their wake the dry river beds (wadis) that are found in the peninsula today.

This climate change forced humans to move into the lush mountain valleys and oases. No longer able to survive as hunter-gatherers, they had to develop another means of survival. As a result, agriculture developed – first in Mesopotamia, then the Nile River Valley, and eventually spreading across the Middle East.

The development of agriculture brought other advances. Pottery allowed farmers to store food. Animals, including goats, cattle, sheep, horses and camels, were domesticated, and people abandoned hunting altogether. These advances made intensive farming possible. In turn, settlements became more permanent, leading to the foundations of what we call civilization – language, writing, political systems, art and architecture.

Arabian Culture and Dress

The romance of a desert oasis, the clear starry nights and the allure of a hidden veil all put together can be summed up in one phrase – the Middle East.

Arab culture is more or less also known as an Islamic / Muslim culture. Prior to the revelation of Islam in the 6th century the Arabs had a different way of life than is presently know today. What we see today is the fusion of religion and culture finely interlaced.

With the rapid expansion of the religion Muslims from all over came into contact with, and assimilated from, Persian, Turkish, Mongol, Indian, Malay and Indonesian cultures.

A brief video on the history of the Middle East

A “tourists” introduction to the Middle East

Arab Origins

The Arabs ethnically are one people but were composed of two culturally opposite groups: nomadic and sedentary Arabs. The harshness of the environment forced on Arabs a nomadic, tribal existence for some of them. The nomadic Arabs, called Bedouins, moved their herds in search of scarce resources and water. Trade was the major form of livelihood for these tribes.

The Bedouin are the Arabic speaking nomads of the Middle East who have proudly maintained their pastoral way of life over thousands of years. From the Arabian Peninsula, their original home, they spread out into other lands and now live in the desert regions of all countries between the Arabian Gulf and the Atlantic. Recommended reading: The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization.

According to Arab tradition they are descendant from two main stocks: the first settled in the mountains of Southwestern Arabia (the Yemen), claim descent from Qahtan (Yoktan of the Bible) and became known as Yemenis. The second settled in North-Central Arabia, claimed descent from Ishmael and are called the Qaysis.

Prior to the advent of Islam the history of Arabia is very scarcely known. Find out more in the book Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times.

Popular Books on Islamic Dress

Arab Geography

Where is Arabia and how much land does it take up?

The Arabian Peninsula is a peninsula in Southwest Asia at the junction of Africa and Asia consisting mainly of desert.

The coasts of the peninsula touch, on the west, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba on the southeast, the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean) and on the northeast, the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf.

Geographically, it merges with the Syrian Desert with no clear line of demarcation.

Politically, the Arabian peninsula is separated from the rest of Asia by the northern borders of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The following countries are considered part of the peninsula Bahrain — an island just off the coast of the Peninsula, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Arabia has few lakes or permanent rivers. Most are drained by watercourses called wadis, which are dry except during the rainy season. Wherever water surfaces from the ground reservoirs oasis form and permit agriculture. The climate being extremely hot and arid, the peninsula has no forests, although desert-adapted wildlife is present throughout the region. The narrow coastal plain and isolated oases, commonly amounting to less than 1% of the land area, are used to cultivate grains, coffee and exotic fruits. Goats, sheep and camels are widespread throughout the region.

Arabian Clothing and Fashion

The Arabs of today wear pretty much similar clothing than they used to wear since pre-Islamic periods. Women may have undergone some changes considering the covering up of the head. Traditional Islamic wear for women includes the abaya, the chador, and the burqa, as well as countless other forms of dress and headcovering.

Abaya Collection, Fashion Show

The women wear a variety of different ensembles to cover themselves.

In modern day usage, jilbab refers to a long, flowing, baggy overgarment worn by some Muslim women. The modern jilbab covers the entire body, except for hands, feet, face, and head. The head is then covered by a scarf or wrap, known also as a Hijab.

It is not clear that any Muslim women wore jilbabs in the long centuries between the early Muslim period and the 1970s.

A burqa is a type of opaque veil sometimes worn in addition to a headscarf by Muslim women observing purdah. There are various versions of the burqa according to different regions in the muslim world. In Arab terms the burqa is generally black in color and is of ankle length, if not longer. The arms are then put through two holes with the front open and just layered over one another and held together with their hands.

In some parts of the Muslim world the burqa may also cover the entire face with a see through veil over it, although not necessary by the religion some very conservative regions observe burqa this way, example in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule.

The abaya is an overgarment worn by some Muslim women. It is the traditional form of hijab, or Islamic modest dress, for many countries of the Arabian peninsula. Traditional abaya are black, and may be either a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders or head, or a long black caftan.

Today abaya’s are cut from light, flowing fabrics like crepe, georgette, and chiffon. They are now made in colors other than black.

Popular Books on Islamic Dress

Various Kinds of Veils

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women.

These scarves, regarded by many Muslims as a symbol of both religion and womanhood, come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.

The burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.

The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.

The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.

The chador, worn by Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.

Images and Information courtesy

Fashion Today

If you have ever visited any of the Middle Eastern countries you will find that some countries like UAE, Bahrain, Doha, Jordan, Egypt do not have strict rules about women’s clothing conduct in public. Saudi Arabia and Iran are known to have some of the strictest rules when it comes to public etiquette for women’s clothing. In private though women are known to flash their local or foreign designer goods with pride.

It is quite normal to see women and men of all religions in some muslim countries dress as they please but with a certain level of covering up that is expected of them. For instance if you do go out it is not recommended to have bare shoulders, navels, or excessive tight clothing. Mini skirts and shorts will attract unwanted attention and is generally frowned upon. The general rule is to be comfortable but suitably attired with a higher level of decency to the clothing.

Top fashion labels from Gucci, Chanel to Diesel have set up shop in many Middle Eastern countries as the women and men have become more conscious of their looks and do not mind spending for designer prices. Some countries like Doha and the UAE are building their economies on trade and tourism rather than oil, so they have started to adopt a more westernized approach to promoting their countries by their beaches and sand dunes.

The mystique of Arabia is definitely an inspiration for many designers around the world, as they try to think of new ways to make a stride into the Muslim culture and make fashionable clothing according to the religion of the location. Swarovksi crystals seem to be the new favourite glamour quotient as it is easily applied and provide the oopmh factor that many women want on their burqa’s or abaya’s.


The Arabian Peninsula is located in the continent of Asia and is bounded by (clockwise) the Persian Gulf on the northeast, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman on the east, the Arabian Sea on the southeast, the Gulf of Aden, Guardafui Channel and Somali Sea on the south, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait on the southwest and the Red Sea, which is located on the southwest and west. [11] The northern portion of the peninsula merges with the Syrian Desert with no clear borderline, although the northern boundary of the peninsula is generally considered to be the northern borders of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. [11]

The most prominent feature of the peninsula is desert, but in the southwest, there are mountain ranges, which receive greater rainfall than the rest of the peninsula. Harrat ash Shaam is a large volcanic field that extends from northwestern Arabia into Jordan and southern Syria. [12]

Political boundaries Edit

The Peninsula's constituent countries are (clockwise from north to south) Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the east, Oman on the southeast, Yemen on the south, and Saudi Arabia at the center. The island country of Bahrain lies just off the east coast of the Peninsula. [11] Due to Yemen's jurisdiction over the Socotra Archipelago, the Peninsula's geopolitical outline faces the Guardafui Channel and the Somali Sea to the south. [13]

Six countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). [14]

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia covers the greater part of the Peninsula. The majority of the population of the Peninsula lives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Peninsula contains the world's largest reserves of oil. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are economically the wealthiest in the region. Qatar, the only peninsular country in the Persian Gulf on the larger peninsula, is home to the Arabic-language television station Al Jazeera and its English-language subsidiary Al Jazeera English. Kuwait, on the border with Iraq, is an important country strategically, forming one of the main staging grounds for coalition forces mounting the United States-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Population Edit

Historical population
YearPop. ±%
1950 9,481,713
1960 11,788,232+24.3%
1970 15,319,678+30.0%
1980 23,286,256+52.0%
1990 35,167,708+51.0%
2000 47,466,523+35.0%
2010 63,364,000+33.5%
2014 77,584,000+22.4%
2018 86,221,765+11.1%
Political Definition: Gulf Cooperation Council and Yemen
Sources:1950–2000 [15] 2000–2014 [16]
Historical population (Gulf 4)
YearPop. ±%
1950 356,235
1970 1,329,168+273.1%
1990 4,896,491+268.4%
2010 11,457,000+134.0%
2014 17,086,000+49.1%
2018 18,675,440+9.3%
Population of 4 smallest (in area) GCC states with entire coastline in Persian Gulf: UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait
Sources:1950–2000 [17] 2000–2014 [16]

Though historically lightly populated, political Arabia is noted for a high population growth rate – as the result of both very strong inflows of migrant labor as well as sustained high birth rates. The population tends to be relatively young and heavily skewed gender ratio dominated by males. In many states, the number of South Asians exceeds that of the local citizenry. The four smallest states (by area), which have their entire coastlines on the Persian Gulf, exhibit the world's most extreme population growth, roughly tripling every 20 years. In 2014, the estimated population of the Arabian Peninsula was 77,983,936 (including expatriates). [18] The Arabian Peninsula is known for having one of the most uneven adult sex ratios in the world, with females in some regions (especially the east) constituting only a quarter of vicenarians and tricenarians. [19]

Cities Edit

The ten most populous cities on the Arabian Peninsula are:

Rank City Population
1 Riyadh 7,231,447
2 Jeddah 4,610,176
3 Dubai 3,331,420
4 Kuwait City 3,114,553
5 Sanaa 2,972,988
6 Mecca 2,042,106
7 Sharjah 1,684,649
8 Muscat 1,549,729
9 Medina 1,488,782
10 Abu Dhabi 1,482,816
Source: 2020 [20]

Landscape Edit

Geologically, this region is perhaps more appropriately called the Arabian subcontinent because it lies on a tectonic plate of its own, the Arabian Plate, which has been moving incrementally away from the rest of Africa (forming the Red Sea) and north, toward Asia, into the Eurasian Plate (forming the Zagros Mountains). The rocks exposed vary systematically across Arabia, with the oldest rocks exposed in the Arabian-Nubian Shield near the Red Sea, overlain by earlier sediments that become younger towards the Persian Gulf. Perhaps the best-preserved ophiolite on Earth, the Semail Ophiolite, lies exposed in the mountains of the UAE and northern Oman.

The peninsula consists of:

  1. A central plateau, the Najd, with fertile valleys and pastures used for the grazing of sheep and other livestock
  2. A range of deserts: the Nefud in the north, [21] which is stony the Rub' al Khali or Great Arabian Desert in the south, with sand estimated to extend 600 ft (180 m) below the surface between them, the Dahna[22][23][24]
  3. Stretches of dry or marshy coastland with coral reefs on the Red Sea side (Tihamah)
  4. Oases and marshy coast-land in Eastern Arabia, the most important of which are those of Al Ain (Tawam in the United Arab Emirates and Oman) and Al-Hasa (in Saudi Arabia), according to one author [24]
  5. Tropical monsoon coastline in Dhofar and Al-Mahra (known as Khareef in the Arabian Peninsula).

Arabia has few lakes or permanent rivers. Most areas are drained by ephemeral watercourses called wadis, which are dry except during the rainy season. Plentiful ancient aquifers exist beneath much of the peninsula, however, and where this water surfaces, oases form (e.g. Al-Hasa and Qatif, two of the world's largest oases) and permit agriculture, especially palm trees, which allowed the peninsula to produce more dates than any other region in the world. In general, the climate is extremely hot and arid, although there are exceptions. Higher elevations are made temperate by their altitude, and the Arabian Sea coastline can receive surprisingly cool, humid breezes in summer due to cold upwelling offshore. The peninsula has no thick forests. Desert-adapted wildlife is present throughout the region.

According to NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite data (2003–2013) analysed in a University of California, Irvine (UCI)-led study published in Water Resources Research on 16 June 2015, the most over-stressed aquifer system in the world is the Arabian Aquifer System, upon which more than 60 million people depend for water. [25] Twenty-one of the thirty seven largest aquifers "have exceeded sustainability tipping points and are being depleted" and thirteen of them are "considered significantly distressed". [25]

A plateau more than 2,500 feet (760 m) high extends across much of the Arabian Peninsula. The plateau slopes eastwards from the massive, rifted escarpment along the coast of the Red Sea, to the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. The interior is characterised by cuestas and valleys, drained by a system of wadis. A crescent of sand and gravel deserts lies to the east.

Mountains Edit

There are mountains at the eastern, southern and northwestern borders of the peninsula. Broadly, the ranges can be grouped as follows:

  • Northeast: The Hajar range, shared by the UAE and northern Oman [24]
  • Southeast: The Dhofar Mountains of southern Oman, [24] contiguous with the eastern Yemeni Hadhramaut[29][30]
  • West: Bordering the eastern coast of the Red Sea are the Sarawat, [22] which can be seen to include the Haraz Mountains of eastern Yemen, [23] and the 'Asir[31] and Hijaz Mountains of western Saudi Arabia, [32][33] the latter including the Midian in northwestern Saudi Arabia [29]
  • Northwest: Aside from the Sarawat, the northern portion of Saudi Arabia hosts the Shammar Mountains, which include the Aja and Salma subranges [24]
  • Central: The Najd hosts the Tuwaiq Escarpment [29] or Tuwair range [24]

From the Hejaz southwards, the mountains show a steady increase in altitude westward as they get nearer to Yemen, and the highest peaks and ranges are all located in Yemen. The highest, Jabal An-Nabi Shu'ayb or Jabal Hadhur [26] [27] [28] of the Haraz subrange of the Sarawat range, is about 3,666 m (2.278 mi) high. [22] [23] By comparison, the Tuwayr, Shammar and Dhofar generally do not exceed 1,000 m (0.62 mi) in height. [24]

Not all mountains in the peninsula are visibly within ranges. Jebel Hafeet in particular, on the border of the UAE and Oman, measuring between 1,100 and 1,300 m (3,600 and 4,300 ft), [34] [35] is not within the Hajar range, but may be considered an outlier of that range.

Jebel Hafeet on the border of Oman and the UAE, near the city of Al Ain. It can be considered an outlier of Al Hajar Mountains. [34]

The northeastern Hajar Mountains, shared by Oman and the UAE, as seen from the desert of Sharjah

The Dhofar mountainous region in southeastern Oman, where the city of Salalah is located, is a tourist destination known for its annual khareef season

The Hadhramaut Mountains of eastern Yemen, contiguous with the Omani Dhofar range, as seen from the city of Al-Mukalla

Terraced fields in the Harazi subrange of the Sarawat Mountains in western Yemen

Jabal Sawdah of the 'Asir range in southwestern Saudi Arabia, near the border with Yemen

The Faifa mountains in the Asir Region, southwestern Saudi Arabia.

The Midian Mountains of Tabuk Province, in northwestern Saudi Arabia, near the border with Jordan

The Aja subrange of the Shammar Mountains in the region of Ha'il, northern Saudi Arabia

The Tuwaiq Escarpment or Tuwayr mountainous region in the Najd, southwest of the Saudi capital city of Riyadh

Land and sea Edit

Most of the Arabian Peninsula is unsuited to agriculture, making irrigation and land reclamation projects essential. The narrow coastal plain and isolated oases, amounting to less than 1% of the land area, are used to cultivate grains, coffee and tropical fruits. Goat, sheep, and camel husbandry is widespread elsewhere throughout the rest of the Peninsula. Some areas have a summer humid tropical monsoon climate, in particular the Dhofar and Al Mahrah areas of Oman and Yemen. These areas allow for large scale coconut plantations. Much of Yemen has a tropical monsoon rain influenced mountain climate. The plains usually have either a tropical or subtropical arid desert climate or arid steppe climate. The sea surrounding the Arabian Peninsula is generally tropical sea with a very rich tropical sea life and some of the world's largest, undestroyed and most pristine coral reefs. In addition, the organisms living in symbiosis with the Red Sea coral, the protozoa and zooxanthellae, have a unique hot weather adaptation to sudden rise (and fall) in sea water temperature. Hence, these coral reefs are not affected by coral bleaching caused by rise in temperature as elsewhere in the indopacific coral sea. The reefs are also unaffected by mass tourism and diving or other large scale human interference. However, some reefs were destroyed in the Persian Gulf, mostly caused by phosphate water pollution and resultant increase in algae growth as well as oil pollution from ships and pipeline leakage. [ citation needed ]

The fertile soils of Yemen have encouraged settlement of almost all of the land from sea level up to the mountains at 10,000 feet (3,000 m). In the higher elevations, elaborate terraces have been constructed to facilitate grain, fruit, coffee, ginger and khat cultivation. The Arabian peninsula is known for its rich oil, i.e. petroleum production due to its geographical location. [36]

During the Hellenistic period, the area was known as Arabia or Aravia (Greek: Αραβία ). The Romans named three regions with the prefix "Arabia", encompassing a larger area than the current term "Arabian Peninsula":

    ("Stony Arabia" [37] ): for the area that is today southern modern Syria, Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and northwestern Saudi Arabia. It was the only one that became a province, with Petra as its capital. ("Desert Arabia"): signified the desert interior of the Arabian peninsula. As a name for the region, it remained popular into the 19th and 20th centuries, and was used in Charles M. Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta (1888). ("Fortunate Arabia"): was used by geographers to describe what is now Yemen, which enjoys more rainfall, is much greener than the rest of the peninsula and has long enjoyed much more productive fields.

The Arab inhabitants used a north–south division of Arabia: Al Sham-Al Yaman, or Arabia Deserta-Arabia Felix. Arabia Felix had originally been used for the whole peninsula, and at other times only for the southern region. Because its use became limited to the south, the whole peninsula was simply called Arabia. Arabia Deserta was the entire desert region extending north from Arabia Felix to Palmyra and the Euphrates, including all the area between Pelusium on the Nile and Babylon. This area was also called Arabia and not sharply distinguished from the peninsula. [38]

The Arabs and the Ottoman Empire considered the west of the Arabian Peninsula region where the Arabs lived 'the land of the Arabs' – Bilad al-'Arab (Arabia), and its major divisions were the bilad al-Sham (Levant), bilad al-Yaman (Yemen), and Bilad al-'Iraq (Iraq). [39] The Ottomans used the term Arabistan in a broad sense for the region starting from Cilicia, where the Euphrates river makes its descent into Syria, through Palestine, and on through the remainder of the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas. [40]

The provinces of Arabia were: Al Tih, the Sinai peninsula, Hedjaz, Asir, Yemen, Hadramaut, Mahra and Shilu, Oman, Hasa, Bahrain, Dahna, Nufud, the Hammad, which included the deserts of Syria, Mesopotamia and Babylonia. [41] [42]

The history of the Arabian Peninsula goes back to the beginnings of human habitation in Arabia up to 130,000 years ago. [43] However, a fossilized Homo sapiens finger bone was found at Al Wusta in the Nefud Desert, which indicates that the first human migration out of Africa to Arabia might date back to approximately 90,000 years ago. [44] Nevertheless, the stone tools from the Middle Paleolithic age along with fossils of other animals discovered at Ti's al Ghadah, in northwestern Saudi Arabia, might imply that hominids migrated through a "Green Arabia" between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. [45] Acheulean tools found in Saffaqah, Riyadh Region reveal that hominins lived in the Arabian Peninsula as recently as 188,000 years ago. [46] However, 200,000-year-old stone tools were discovered at Shuaib Al-Adgham in the eastern Al-Qassim Province, which would indicate that many prehistoric sites, located along a network of rivers, had once existed in the area. [47]

Pre-Islamic Arabia Edit

There is evidence that human habitation in the Arabian Peninsula dates back to about 106,000 to 130,000 years ago. [48] The harsh climate historically [ when? ] prevented much settlement in the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula, apart from a small number of urban trading settlements, such as Mecca and Medina, located in the Hejaz in the west of the peninsula. [49]

Archaeology has revealed the existence of many civilizations in pre-Islamic Arabia (such as the Thamud), especially in South Arabia. [50] [51] South Arabian civilizations include the Sheba, the Himyarite Kingdom, the Kingdom of Awsan, the Kingdom of Ma'īn and the Sabaean Kingdom. Central Arabia was the location of the Kingdom of Kindah in the 4th, 5th and early 6th centuries AD. Eastern Arabia was home to the Dilmun civilization. The earliest known events in Arabian history are migrations from the peninsula into neighbouring areas. [52]

The Arabian peninsula has long been accepted as the original Urheimat of the Semitic languages by a majority of scholars. [53] [54] [55] [56]

Rise of Islam Edit

The seventh century saw the rise of Islam as the peninsula's dominant religion. The Islamic prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in about 570 and first began preaching in the city in 610, but migrated to Medina in 622. From there he and his companions united the tribes of Arabia under the banner of Islam and created a single Arab Muslim religious polity in the Arabian peninsula.

Muhammad established a new unified polity in the Arabian peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Arab power well beyond the Arabian peninsula in the form of a vast Muslim Arab Empire with an area of influence that stretched from the northwest Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, southern Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, to the Pyrenees.

With Muhammad's death in 632 AD, disagreement broke out over who would succeed him as leader of the Muslim community. Umar ibn al-Khattab, a prominent companion of Muhammad, nominated Abu Bakr, who was Muhammad's intimate friend and collaborator. Others added their support and Abu Bakr was made the first caliph. This choice was disputed by some of Muhammad's companions, who held that Ali ibn Abi Talib, his cousin and son-in-law, had been designated his successor. Abu Bakr's immediate task was to avenge a recent defeat by Byzantine (or Eastern Roman Empire) forces, although he first had to put down a rebellion by Arab tribes in an episode known as the Ridda wars, or "Wars of Apostasy". [57]

Following Muhammad's death in 632, Abu Bakr became leader of the Muslims as the first Caliph. After putting down a rebellion by the Arab tribes (known as the Ridda wars, or "Wars of Apostasy"), Abu Bakr attacked the Byzantine Empire. On his death in 634, he was succeeded by Umar as caliph, followed by Uthman ibn al-Affan and Ali ibn Abi Talib. The period of these first four caliphs is known as al-khulafā' ar-rāshidūn: the Rashidun or "rightly guided" Caliphate. Under the Rashidun Caliphs, and, from 661, their Umayyad successors, the Arabs rapidly expanded the territory under Muslim control outside of Arabia. In a matter of decades Muslim armies decisively defeated the Byzantine army and destroyed the Persian Empire, conquering huge swathes of territory from the Iberian peninsula to India. The political focus of the Muslim world then shifted to the newly conquered territories. [58] [59]

Nevertheless, Mecca and Medina remained the spiritually most important places in the Muslim world. The Qur'an requires every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, as one of the five pillars of Islam, to make a pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah at least once in his or her lifetime. [60] The Masjid al-Haram (the Grand Mosque) in Mecca is the location of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, and the Masjid al-Nabawi (the Prophet's Mosque) in Medina is the location of Muhammad tomb as a result, from the 7th century, Mecca and Medina became the pilgrimage destinations for large numbers of Muslims from across the Islamic world. [61]

Middle Ages Edit

Despite its spiritual importance, in political terms Arabia soon became a peripheral region of the Islamic world, in which the most important medieval Islamic states were based at various times in such far away cities as Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo.

However, from the 10th century (and, in fact, until the 20th century) the Hashemite Sharifs of Mecca maintained a state in the most developed part of the region, the Hejaz. Their domain originally comprised only the holy cities of Mecca and Medina but in the 13th century it was extended to include the rest of the Hejaz. Although, the Sharifs exercised at most times independent authority in the Hejaz, they were usually subject to the suzerainty of one of the major Islamic empires of the time. In the Middle Ages, these included the Abbasids of Baghdad, and the Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks of Egypt. [62]

Modern history Edit

The provincial Ottoman Army for Arabia (Arabistan Ordusu) was headquartered in Syria, which included Palestine, the Transjordan region in addition to Lebanon (Mount Lebanon was, however, a semi-autonomous mutasarrifate). It was put in charge of Syria, Cilicia, Iraq, and the remainder of the Arabian Peninsula. [63] [64] The Ottomans never had any control over central Arabia, also known as the Najd region.

The Damascus Protocol of 1914 provides an illustration of the regional relationships. Arabs living in one of the existing districts of the Arabian peninsula, the Emirate of Hejaz, asked for a British guarantee of independence. Their proposal included all Arab lands south of a line roughly corresponding to the northern frontiers of present-day Syria and Iraq. They envisioned a new Arab state, or confederation of states, adjoining the southern Arabian Peninsula. It would have comprised Cilicia – İskenderun and Mersin, Iraq with Kuwait, Syria, Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, Jordan, and Palestine. [65]

In the modern era, the term bilad al-Yaman came to refer specifically to the southwestern parts of the peninsula. Arab geographers started to refer to the whole peninsula as 'jazirat al-Arab', or the peninsula of the Arabs. [66]

Late Ottoman rule and the Hejaz Railway Edit

The railway was started in 1900 at the behest of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and was built largely by the Turks, with German advice and support. A public subscription was opened throughout the Islamic world to fund the construction. The railway was to be a waqf, an inalienable religious endowment or charitable trust. [67]

The Arab Revolt and the foundation of Saudi Arabia Edit

The major developments of the early 20th century were the Arab Revolt during World War I and the subsequent collapse and partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The Arab Revolt (1916–1918) was initiated by the Sherif Hussein ibn Ali with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Empire and creating a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen. During World War I, the Sharif Hussein entered into an alliance with the United Kingdom and France against the Ottomans in June 1916.

These events were followed by the foundation of Saudi Arabia under King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. In 1902, Ibn Saud had captured Riyadh. Continuing his conquests, Abdulaziz subdued Al-Hasa, Jabal Shammar, Hejaz between 1913 and 1926 founded the modern state of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis absorbed the Emirate of Asir, with their expansion only ending in 1934 after a war with Yemen. Two Saudi states were formed and controlled much of Arabia before Ibn Saud was even born. Ibn Saud, however, established the third Saudi state.

Oil reserves Edit

The second major development has been the discovery of vast reserves of oil in the 1930s. Its production brought great wealth to all countries of the region, with the exception of Yemen.

Civil war in Yemen Edit

The North Yemen Civil War was fought in North Yemen between royalists of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen and factions of the Yemen Arab Republic from 1962 to 1970. The war began with a coup d'état carried out by the republican leader, Abdullah as-Sallal, which dethroned the newly crowned Muhammad al-Badr and declared Yemen a republic under his presidency. The Imam escaped to the Saudi Arabian border and rallied popular support.

The royalist side received support from Saudi Arabia, while the republicans were supported by Egypt and the Soviet Union. Both foreign irregular and conventional forces were also involved. The Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, supported the republicans with as many as 70,000 troops. Despite several military moves and peace conferences, the war sank into a stalemate. Egypt's commitment to the war is considered to have been detrimental to its performance in the Six-Day War of June 1967, after which Nasser found it increasingly difficult to maintain his army's involvement and began to pull his forces out of Yemen.

By 1970, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia recognized the republic and a truce was signed. Egyptian military historians refer to the war in Yemen as their Vietnam. [68]

Gulf War Edit

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. [69] The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces led to the 1990–91 Gulf War. Egypt, Qatar, Syria and Saudi Arabia joined a multinational coalition that opposed Iraq. Displays of support for Iraq by Jordan and Palestine resulted in strained relations between many of the Arab states. After the war, a so-called "Damascus Declaration" formalized an alliance for future joint Arab defensive actions between Egypt, Syria, and the GCC member states. [70]

Yemen Arab Spring Edit

The Arab Spring reached Yemen in January 2011. [71] People of Yemen took to the street demonstrating against three decades of rule by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. [72] The demonstration lead to cracks in the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) and Saleh's Sanhani clan. [73] Saleh used tactic of concession and violence to save his presidency. [74]

After numerous attempt Saleh accepted the Gulf Cooperation Council mediation. He eventually handed power to Vice President Hadi. He was sworn in as President of Yemen on 25 February 2012. He launched a national dialogue to address new constitution, political and social issues.

Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen in March 2015. [75] The famine in Yemen is the direct result of the military intervention and blockade of Yemen. [76]

The extraction and refining of oil and gas are the major industrial activities in the Arabian Peninsula. The region also has an active construction sector, with many cities reflecting the wealth generated by the oil industry. The service sector is dominated by financial and technical institutions, which, like the construction sector, mainly serve the oil industry. Traditional handicrafts such as carpet-weaving are found in rural areas of Arabia. [ citation needed ]

The old city of Sanaa, Yemen. Peninsular Arabs trace their lineage to Qahtan, who was reportedly based in Yemen. [23]

A map of the peninsula made in 1720 by the German publisher Christoph Weigel

This video was taken by the crew of Expedition 29 on board the ISS on a pass from Western Europe to the peninsula

Ain Zubaydah was built to water the pilgrims in Mecca by order of Zubaidah bint Ja'far

Arabic Culture: A Culture of Synthesis

Arabic culture assimilated different cultures from subjugated peoples. They created a culture from their own values, a mix of Eastern values (Persian, Indian, Chinese) and classical-Hellenistic traditions (taken from Byzantium)

Arabic culture added its own philosophy to this synthesis, imbued with its religion and its language, which became the universal language of the civilization, as all conquered countries adopted Arabic.
The most important works by Eastern and Greek philosophers were translated into Arabic. Based on these, Muslim scholars proceeded to make their own creations in schools and centers of learning established in large cities such as Baghdad, Damascus, and Cordoba.

Thanks to the Arabic translations, Europeans rediscovered their civilization’s old roots but also benefited from the new contributions that the Muslims had made.

Such was the case with the use of gunpowder, paper, and the compass, which they had learned from the Chinese. Passionate about alchemy, Muslim scientists discovered alcohol, potash, and sulfuric acid among other materials.

Doctors like Rhazes and Avicenna made notable advances in this science. The same thing happened with geography and astronomy. In regards to mathematics, the Arabs brought the numbering system based on zero, and algebra.

The developments thinkers like Averroes made in philosophy were also essential, as well as the diffusion of Aristotle’s philosophy, being the most widely-read author among the Arabs.

Furthermore, their literature was brilliant. Influenced by India, they nurtured short stories and tales with enthusiasm. An excellent example of this is the stories of One Thousand and One Nights, written in prose and based on stories and legends from Persia and India.

Arabic Art

Among other things, the Koran prohibited the use of religious icons. Although not all the caliphs carried out this prohibition, Arabic art was confined mainly to architecture.

The need for communal prayers on Fridays, as ordered by Muhammad, gave way to the key monument: the mosque. This was where communal prayers were performed.

Ancient arabic art. Dome of the rock

In all Arabic mosques, the width is larger than the length and there are many columns, but there is no stylistic unity in the elements used (arches, capitals, decoration), which vary from country to country.
However, certain characteristics stand out:

  • The use of domes, learned from Byzantium.
  • The use of horseshoe arches, used by the Persians and in the Visigothic kingdom.
  • The predominance of decorative elements applied to the walls: stone plates, plasterboard or glazed ceramic.


In Arabic, mosques are called masjad, which means ‘place of worship’. Unlike Christian churches, Muslim sanctuaries are centers of prayer and not the house of God. The typical mosque was a simple courtyard, which had a wall marking Qibla, the direction facing Mecca, with a small apse, the mihrab, which indicated the direction. Then, part of this courtyard was covered and the minbar, which is the pulpit for the Imam, was added to lead prayers, while a Muslim priest called people to prayer from the minaret, a tower. To avoid idolism, Islam forbids any human or animal representation in mosques.

Dome of the Rock

The oldest surviving monument in Islam is the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem. Built in the 7th century by the caliph Omar, Muhammad’s successor, it is also known as the Dome of the Rock. This is due to the fact that a rock is inside that is traditionally associated with the place of Isaac’s sacrifice, the son of Abraham, which is honored equally by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Over the centuries it also became the rock from which the prophet Muhammad miraculously ascended to heaven.

Ancient Wisdom in the Persian Tradition

Perhaps the most important contribution that H.P. Blavatsky made to the intellectual and spiritual discourse of the late nineteenth century was her emphasis on a single “Wisdom-Religion” found in various cultures and religious traditions. Indeed the word theosophy in her view referred to this “Wisdom-Religion.” In her 1889 book The Key to Theosophy, she traced the origin of this word (theosophia, “Divine Wisdom”) to Ammonius Saccas, an Alexandrian philosopher of the third century AD, and equated it with the Sanskrit word brahm-vidya. The idea that this “Wisdom-Religion” is found in all cultures motivates us to explore the jewels of various spiritual traditions. This article shares some little-known aspects of “Wisdom-Religion” literature in ancient Persia. (All translations quoted here were made by the author, unless otherwise mentioned.)

Treasured Books in the Royal Court

It is well known that the religion of Zoroaster was the main religion of ancient pre-Islamic Persia (also called Iran). Today this religion is a minority in Iran, and many Zoroastrians live in India, where they are called Parsis (literally “Persians” Contractor, 2003). However, it would be incorrect to assume that Zoroastrianism was the only religious or spiritual tradition in the ancient Persian empire, which spanned a vast region between the Roman Empire on the west and the Chinese kingdom on the east. Even the Persian courts were open to diverse ideas. Writing in the fifth century BC, during the Persian Achaemenid dynasty, Herodotus in The Histories remarks that “no race is so ready to adopt foreign ways as the Persian” (Herodotus, 63).

The Persian kings seem to have possessed a treasured book, which was read to them for counsel or consolation. The oldest reference to this book is found in Old Testament book of Esther. According to the Bible, Esther was the Jewish queen of the Achaemenid king Ahasuerus (Xerxes) who ruled “from India to Ethiopia” from 486 BC until his death in 465 BC. (The version of Esther in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, refers to this king as Artaxerxes, the youngest son of Xerxes.) The book of Esther says that “during one night, the king could not sleep, so he gave an order to bring the book of records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king” (Esther 6:1, New Revised Standard Version). We also have independent evidence for this book in the work of a Greek scholar of the same time. In his Persica, Ctesias of Caria, who was a court physician to Artaxerxes II (who ruled from 404 to 358 BC), refers as one of his sources to the “royal parchments” or “royal leather record books” in the court (Schmitt).

This book (or books) is not extant, but we can speculate about its contents with a reasonable degree of confidence. It seems that the royal book had two versions or parts: creation myths and histories of kings on the one hand and wisdom teachings and ethics on the other.

The mythological and historical parts provided records and lessons of history, especially for kings. The biblical book of Ezra, which documents how Cyrus the Great (founder of the Achaemenid dynasty) liberated the Jews from their captivity in Babylon and sent them back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple in 538 BC, also mentions that this history was recorded in a Persian court book (Ezra 6:1).

The ethical and contemplative portion of this book offered practical wisdom and spiritual philosophy for living, not only for the royal court but also for common people. In his Histories, Herodotus devotes a few pages to “certain Persian customs and manners.” For instance, he writes:

The erection of statues, temples, and altars is not an accepted practice amongst them, and anyone who does such a thing is considered a fool, because, presumably, the Persian religion is not anthropomorphic like the Greek. Zeus, in their system, is the whole circle of the heavens, and they sacrifice to him from the tops of the mountains. They also worship the sun, moon, and earth, fire, water, and winds . . . The actual worshipper is not permitted to pray for any personal or private blessing, but only for the king and for the general good of the community, of which he is himself a part . . .

The period of a boy’s education is between the ages of five and twenty, and they are taught three things only to ride, to use the bow, and to speak the truth . . . They consider telling lies more disgraceful than anything else. (Herodotus, 61–64)

A page from the 1430 illustrated manuscript of the Shahnameh (“The Book of Kings”) commissioned by Prince Baysonghor in Iran.

Herodotus also refers to the “magus,” the Zoroastrian priest. This word is the origin of the present-day word magic it is also related to the story of the three magi from the East who visited the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem, according to Matthew 2:1–12.

These two strands of the ancient Persian court book were mentioned in other documents, which surfaced and survived in Iran even after the coming of Islam in the seventh century AD. Here, for reasons described below, I will call these two strands “Big History” and “perennial wisdom.”

Big History and Its Lessons

Over the past two decades, Big History has become a popular term and field of learning—thanks to the efforts of historian David Christian. According to the International Big History Association, “Big History seeks to understand the integrated history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity, using the best available empirical evidence and scholarly methods.” This learning, indeed, helps us to place our cultural and intellectual development in the larger context of the natural history of the world. However, attempts at Big History are not new they date back to some of the classical mythologies and scriptures in the world, which of course used the knowledge and thinking of their own time.

The Shahnameh (or “Book of Kings”), composed by the poet Ferdowsi, is an epic work. Ferdowsi, who died in 1020 at age eighty, spent the last four decades of his life on this book. With 50,000 rhyming couplets, it is the largest epic work ever composed by a single person. Unlike the Greek epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, or the Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which revolve around a certain period, war, or hero, the Shahnameh presents a vast expanse of time and space (Davis, xiii). It begins with the appearance of the first man—Kayumars, the first king, who lived in a cave and wore animal skins—and ends with the death of the last king of the Sassanian dynasty during the invasion of the Muslim Arabs in the seventh century AD. All in all, the book chronicles a period of 3,962 years, partly myth and partly history (Robinson, 153–54).

Kayumars’s son is killed by Ahriman (the devil), and thus begins the cosmic conflict between good and evil—a Zoroastrian motif that becomes the common thread running through the entire Shahnameh. Humans, in this perspective, must strive to be on the side of Divine Light (Ahura Mazda), which is characterized by “good thought, good words, and good deeds.”

Geographically, the Shahnameh covers the entire habitable world known to the ancients: China, Central Asia (Turan), India, Iran, the Greco-Roman world, and the Arabian Peninsula.

The Shahnameh did not appear in a vacuum. The book was based on pre-Islamic Persian records, especially the Khotay Namak (“Royal Book”), compiled during the reign of the Sassanian king Khosrow I, who ruled from AD 531 to 579. This book was a popular work of Big History in classical times. The Greek poet and historian Agathias, serving in the court of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the sixth century, compiled his Histories partly based on the Khotay Namak. After the emergence of Islam, the Khotay Namak was translated by various persons into Arabic and formed a major source of information for general histories (tawarikh) written in Arabic.

What is most interesting in the Shahnameh, as far as the wisdom religion is concerned, is the manner in which Ferdowsi composes the stories. To use Aristotle’s terms, he divides the story into three stages: theos (or logos: the story itself), pathos (emotion), and ethos (ethics). Each major story begins with the remembrance and praise of the one God, who is the source of everything—the heavens, the earth, life, and wisdom (kherad). Even when Ferdowsi refers to letters written by the kings and heroes, these letters also often begin with theology.

The main part of the story proceeds with the “acts and duties” of courage, hard work, justice, and goodness—all qualities of chivalry. Toward the end of the story, Ferdowsi comments on the perishable nature of life and this world: nothing has a fixed or lasting existence everything passes this world is like a guesthouse built in the wilderness enjoy life and let others enjoy it as well do your best and plant seeds of goodness. Here are two quotes:

This is the way of the world:
It raises us up from the dust and then scatters us on the wind.
Live in joy with your beloved now,
and contemplate on how this world turns and moves:
It lifts a man to the heights of pleasure,
and then throws him underneath the soil.
The world has no shame in doing this.

This contemplation of the passing nature of life and the belief that it is best to cherish this hour was later developed in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a set of Persian quatrains immortalized in English by the verse translation of Edward FitzGerald in 1855. Here is FitzGerald singing Omar Khayyam’s lines:

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend.
Before we too into the Dust descend:
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Songs, sans Singer, and—sans End!

The Perennial Philosophy

It is the turn of the ninth century AD. The Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, who established the legendary “House of Wisdom” (Bayt al-Hikma) in his capital, Baghdad, has just passed away. One of his sons, Amin, has succeeded him. His other son, Ma’mun, is the governor of the vast province of Khorasan in northeast Iran. Ma’mun’s mother and tutor are Persians. The Persians are supporting Prince Ma’mun for the throne against his brother in the capital. Local governors are sending precious gifts to Ma’mun. The governor of Kabulstan (Kabul in Afghanistan), instead of sending material gifts, dispatches an old man by the name of Zooban.

“What valuable service can this old man offer?” the prince asks.

Zooban stays in Ma’mun’s court and encourages the prince to march on and capture Baghdad. In 813, Ma’mun triumphantly enters the capital, and his rule marks the beginning of the golden age of learning, translation, and science in Islamic civilization. Ma’mun wishes to reward Zooban and offers him money, but Zooban says, “I want something far more valuable than money.”

Zooban answers, “There is a book hidden in the ruins of the palace of Persian kings at Mada’en, near Baghdad.”

The caliph gives orders to dig and search for the book, and indeed sheets of writings are found in a sealed box. “What book is this?” they ask.

Zooban says, “This book is called Javidan Kherad [‘Perennial Philosophy’ also Khirad]. It was written by Ganjur, son of Ispandiyar, who was the prime minister (vizir) of the king Iranshahr.”

The expression perennial philosophy was popularized in our time by Aldous Huxley’s book of the same name. The first line in Huxley’s book says that the phrase philosophia perennis was coined by the seventeenth-century German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. But it seems that this term, as well as a book of that genre, dates back to the courts of ancient Persian kings.

Scholars have not been able to identify Ganjur, the minister of Iranshahr. But this seems to be a generic name, for Ganjur means treasure, and Iranshahr was the name of Iran during the Sassanian period (AD 224–651).

Back to Zooban in the ninth century. The old man takes his desired book home, but Ma’mun’s prime minister, Hassan ibn Fazl, becomes curious about its content, and requests Zooban to have the book translated into Arabic. A scholar who knows the Persian language of the Sassanian era is hired, and Zooban gives the first chapter (“thirty leaves” of the book) for the Arabic translation. This chapter included the sayings of the king Hooshang (the grandson of Kayumars, the primordial man). As for the rest of the book, Zooban says, “the remaining leaves contain some secrets which must not be made known.”

Even this partial Arabic translation is said to have impressed Ma’mun so much that when he first opened the manuscript to read, he delayed his prayer because he could not concentrate on it without finishing the book. The Arabic translation found its way into the hands of the Persian scholar and court librarian Ibn Miskawayh (AD 932–1030), who added several chapters on the wisdom sayings of the early Muslim, Indian, and Greek thinkers. Ibn Miskawayh also wrote an introduction to the book (the above story actually comes from his introduction). Ibn Miskawayah’s Arabic work, still keeping the original Persian title Javidan Kherad, is extant and was printed in Egypt in 1952. (Abul Rahman Badawi, the editor of the modern Arabic edition, entitled it Al-Hikma al-Khalidah in Arabic, and subtitled Javidan Kherad—both meaning perennial philosophy.)

The book has been translated into the modern Persian three times: first by Sharaf al-din Qazwini in thirteenth-century Iran second by Taqi al-Din Shushtrari during the reign of the Indian Mogul king Jahangir (1605–37), and third by Shams al-Din Husayn Hakim during the reign of Aurangzeb in India (1652–1707). All these Persian translations are extant and have been printed in Iran and India.

The Javidan Kherad has not been translated into English. Only its first chapter—the maxims of Hooshang—was translated by Edward Henry Palmer (1840–82), a fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge (Palmer, 1869). Palmer used the third Persian translation and compared it with an Arabic manuscript at the library of St. Augustine’s College at Canterbury.

Over the years, as I have read passages from the Javidan Kherad, I have also thought of the governor of Kabul and why he dispatched Zooban to the court of the caliph. I wish Zooban had been generous enough to share the entire book, but he probably had his own reasons.

Hooshang was the third king of the Pishdadian dynasty, the mythical first dynasty of Persia. The word pishdad means foremost justice or earliest order, and is described in the Shahnameh as the first kingdom. Obviously what is recorded in the Javidan Kherad was not really written by Hooshang, but his name indicates the antiquity of these wisdom teachings in Persia, as Hooshang was also believed to be the person who discovered fire and invented writing. The following are the first lines from his sayings:

The source of all things lies in God, who is also the end of all.
Success and grace come from God, who is the worthy one to be praised.
Whoever knows his humble beginning becomes grateful.
And whoever knows his end becomes sincere and humble.
Whoever understands what success is does not become arrogant, and
Whoever understands what grace is accepts, trusts, and does not cause conflict.
The highest thing bestowed upon humans in this world is wisdom,
as forgiveness is for the hereafter.

Blavatsky and the Javidan Kherad

In her major works, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, Mme. Blavatsky discusses the Zoroastrian religion but does not refer to the Javidan Kherad. Apparently she was most exposed to Zoroastrianism when she and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott went to India in 1879, arriving in Bombay (Mumbai), where many Indian Parsis live. The third Persian edition of Javidan Khirad was printed in 1876 in Bombay by Maneckji Limji Hataria (1813–90), an Indian Parsi, and he presented a copy of this edition to Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott upon their arrival in Bombay.

Blavatsky launched The Theosophist magazine in Bombay (which later moved to Adyar). Thanks to Maneckji Hataria, Blavatsky learned about this book and wrote a review in the April 1882 issue of The Theosophist. (The review is unsigned, but according to Boris de Zirkoff, editor of HPB’s Collective Writings, it can be plausibly attributed to her. See his note to Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 3:463–64n.) She also referred to the Javidan Kherad in an 1882 article on Zoroaster: “There exists among the Persian Parsees a volume older than the Zoroastrian present writings. The title is Javidan Kherad, or Eternal Wisdom, a work on practical philosophy of magic with natural explanations. Thos. Hyde speaks of it in his Preface to Historia Religionis Veterum Persarum” (“The History of the Religion of the Ancient Persians,” 1700: Blavatsky, “Zoroaster,” 463–64). Later, in her 1890 book Gems from the East, Blavatsky extensively quoted from Palmer’s translation, including the following: “Four things increase by use:—Health, wealth, perseverance, and credulity.”

The Shahnameh and the Javidan Khirad are two shining examples of ancient Persian literature, which has much to offer for our enlightenment and well-being in modern times. It deserves more study and even artistic attention, because as Henry Corbin, the eminent French scholar, once remarked: “Persian mysticism can help restore our sense of a beauty which is under attack in the world of today, by a veritable rage of negation and destruction” (Corbin, 236).

Badawi, A.R., ed. Al-Hikmah al-Khâlidah, Jâvidân Khirad, of Abu Ali Ahmad ibn Muhammad Muskawayh. Cairo: Maktab al-Najdh al-Misriyyah, 1952.

Blavatsky, H.P. Gems from the East: A Birthday Book of Precepts and Axioms. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1890.

[——.] “The Javidan Kherad, or ‘Eternal Wisdom’.” The Theosophist 3, April 1882: 180–81.

——. “Zoroaster in ‘History’ and Zarathushtra in the Secret Records.” In Boris de Zirkoff, ed. H.P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, Volume 3: 1881–82. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1982: 449–68.

Contractor, Dinshaw, and Hutoxy Contractor. “Zoroastrianism: History, Beliefs, and Practices.” In Quest 91, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 2003): 4–9.

Corbin, Henry. The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy. Translated by Joseph H. Rowe. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1998.

Davis, D., trans. Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. New York: Penguin, 2006.


Muhammad was born around 570 C.E. He taught the faith called Islam, which became one of the major religions of the world. In this chapter, you will learn how Islam was started by Muhammad and how it spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, during the 600s and 700s C.E.

Muhammad’s birthplace, Makkah (Mecca), was an ancient place of worship. According to tradition, many centuries before Muhammad was born, God tested the prophet Abraham’s faith by ordering him to leave Hagar and their infant son Ishmael in a desolate valley. As Hagar desperately searched for water, a miracle occurred. A spring bubbled up at her son’s feet. This spring became known as Zamzam. According to the Qur’an (koor-AHN), Abraham built a house of worship at the site, called the Ka’bah. Over time, people settled near it.

By the time of Muhammad’s birth, this settlement, Makkah, was a prosperous city at the crossroads of great trade routes. Many people came to worship at the Ka’bah. But instead of honoring the God of Abraham’s faith, Judaism, and Christianity, the worshippers at the Ka’bah honored the many traditional gods whose shrines were there.

According to Islamic teachings, Muhammad was living in Makkah when he experienced his own call to faith. Just as Abraham did, Muhammad proclaimed belief in a single God. At first, the faith he taught, Islam, met with resistance in Makkah. But Muhammad and his followers, called Muslims, eventually gained a great number of followers. Makkah became Islam’s most sacred city, and the Ka’bah became a center of Islamic worship.

In this chapter, you will explore how Muhammad started Islam. You will learn how the Islamic faith quickly spread throughout Arabia and beyond. As you will see, within a century of Muhammad’s death, a vast Muslim empire stretched from North Africa to Central Asia.

The underwater ruins of the Persian Gulf. The oldest civilization

It’s difficult to say where we can find traces of the world’s oldest civilization because many ancient underwater ruins still await our discovery. There are a great number of mysteries beneath the waters, and we have only unraveled a small percent of them.

In the Sumerian creation myth Enki and Ninhursag, God Enki made a promise saying he will create a marvelous land called Dilmun where life can thrive.

„For Dilmun, the land of my lady’s heart, I will create long waterways, rivers and canals, whereby water will flow to quench the thirst of all beings and bring abundance from all points of view.”

The oldest civilization

Most scholars agree the ancient Sumerians were the earliest developed civilization in our recorded history. Mesopotamia is therefore often characterized as the cradle of civilization.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Sumerians were the oldest civilization. There is archaeological evidence that advanced ancient civilizations existed long before the Sumerians. The Indus Valley civilization also called the Harappan civilization was one of the world’s largest and oldest civilizations, and it’s very possible they predate the Pharaohs and Sumerians.

Scientist Jeffrey Rose from the Birmingham University has suggested that paleoenvironmental, archaeological, and genetic evidence from the Arabian Peninsula and southern Iran provide us with vital clues about some of the earliest civilizations on Earth.

Ruins Of Long-Lost Arabian – Persian Civilization

According to Rose, mysterious underwater ruins discovered at the bottom of the Persian Gulf could be traces of the world’s oldest civilization. Discoveries made in the Persian Gulf Oasis have the potential to re-write history.

Underwater archaeologists have discovered more than 60 ancient submerged settlements beneath the waters of the Arabo-Persian Gulf. The settlements date to around 5,500 B.C. and their inhabitants were a „prospering Neolithic population practicing a combination of fishing, date palm cultivation, and agriculture.”

This may sound like a primitive culture, but scientists have made surprising discoveries that give us reason to reconsider our knowledge about the past. Among the many submerged ancient ruins resting at the bottom of the Persian Gulf, there are sophisticated stone houses that could only have been built by an advanced culture.

The underwater artifacts discovered at the site are beautifully decorated and show evidence of trade with foreign lands. Scientists found submerged long-distance trade networks, and evidence for one of the oldest boats in the world.

Who were these people and where did they come from?

There are some clues, but not many. This unknown ancient civilization was erased from history pages because of climate change.

“Perhaps it is no coincidence that the founding of such well-developed communities along the shoreline corresponds with the flooding of the Persian Gulf basin around 8,000 years ago”, Rose said. “These new colonists may have come from the heart of the Gulf, displaced by rising water levels that plunged the once fertile landscape beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean.”

Did the Ubadians originally come from eastern Arabia?

Middle Holocene sites around the Gulf are distinguished by the appearance of Mesopotamian-style plain and painted pottery called „Ubaid ware.” Hence the name of this mysterious civilization.

Between 5,500–4,000 B.C. much of Mesopotamia shared a common culture, called Ubaid. The specialists do not exclude the fact that these people came from the heart of Mesopotamia. It is not possible to say exactly who they were or where they came from. All these are simple assumptions. It is certain that this civilization is one of the oldest that existed on Earth. Some suggest that when the gods descended on Earth (Enki) in that place they created the Garden of Eden.

Is Dilmun resting at the bottom of the Persian Gulf?

Dilmun was an important place for the Sumerians. Mentioned in Sumerian economics texts as an independent ancient kingdom, it was a commercial center that flourished around 2,000 B.C on Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf. Dilmun’s location has never been confirmed and Bahrain is only a candidate. Some suggest Dilmun may have been the legendary Garden of Eden.

Rose thinks there is a possibility we may have discovered the underwater ruins of Dilmun, but he emphasizes the more important aspect of this archaeological finding.

The underwater ruins of the Persian Gulf provide evidence that this part of the world was inhabited far more than previously thought. This place was the home of a developed society. About 8,000 years ago, the Gulf flooded and the Indian Ocean swallowed everything. Rose suggests that underwater lands would be a kind of „Persian Gulf Oasis” – a rich and fertile region, probably the home of mysterious people many years ago.

Projecting ancient ancestry in modern-day Arabians and Iranians: a key role of the past exposed Arabo-Persian Gulf on human migrations

Arabian Peninsula is strategic for investigations centred on the structuring of the modern human population in the three main groups, in the awake of the out-of-Africa migration. Despite the poor climatic conditions for recovery of ancient DNA human evidence in Arabia, the availability of genomic data from neighbouring ancient specimens and of informative statistical tools allow better modelling the ancestry of these populations. We applied this approach to a dataset of 741,000 variants screened in 291 Arabians and 78 Iranians, and obtained insightful evidence. The west-east axis was a strong forcer of population structure in the Peninsula, and, more importantly, there were clear continuums throughout time linking west Arabia with Levant, and east Arabia with Iran and Caucasus. East Arabians also displayed the highest levels of the basal Eurasian lineage of all tested modern-day populations, a signal that was maintained even after correcting for possible bias due to recent sub-Saharan African input in their genomes. Not surprisingly, east Arabians were also the ones with higher similarity with Iberomaurusians, who were so far the best proxy for the basal Eurasians amongst the known ancient specimens. The basal Eurasian lineage is the signature of ancient non-Africans that diverged from the common European-East Asian pool before 50 thousand years ago, and before the later interbred with Neanderthals. Our results are strong evidence to include the exposed basin of the Arabo-Persian Gulf as possible home of basal Eurasians, to be investigated further on namely by searching ancient Arabian human specimens.

Watch the video: Entire History of the Persian Achaemenid Empire 550-330 BC. Ancient History Documentary