Monday 20 May 2024

African presence in the Arabian peninsula (7th millennium [9,000 years ago] to 650 CE)

Southern Arabian and Northeast African civilizations have been in contact since BEFORE the obsidian-exchange networks of the seventh millennium BC. Obsidian (volcanic glass) was mined in Ethiopia and exported to Southern Arabia. These networks were strengthened by the rise of the Egyptian dynasties of the fourth millennium BC. Researchers have indicated the possible settlement of people from Arabia in the Horn of Africa as early as the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC.[3]

The Afro-Arabian Tihama culture, which may have originated in Africa, began in the second millennium BC. This cultural complex is found in Africa, in countries such as Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, as well as in neighbouring Yemen and the Saudi coastal plains.[3]

In the first millennium BC, Southern Arabians gained control of the Red Sea trade-routes and established the first kingdom of Yemen, Saba, in around 800 BC. As a result of Saba's influence, Eritrea and the north of Ethiopia were gradually incorporated into an area of Arabian influence. By 600 BC, the formation of the state of Daamat arose in Eritrea and in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Many inscriptions in the Sabaean script have been found.

Although the script is clearly identical to that in southern Arabia, most of the inscriptions reveal few elements, in language and its key features, or in custom, that were known in the origin area. Evidence of a pre-Sabaean Semitic language or a group of languages in Ethiopia during this period is apparent from lexical and morphological peculiarities found in its Sabaic inscriptions. These are not present in ancient inscriptions from southern Arabia. Despite initial interpretations suggesting a colonization of the highlands of Tigray and Eritrea by Sabaeans from the western side of the Red Sea, due to similarities in script, language, pantheon, and monuments with the South Arabian civilization, there is no factual indication of domination. There is no mention of control, dependency, or outposts identified on either side. The idea was dismissed in the 1950s and 1960s by some scholars who proposed that Sabaean presence was limited to the settlement of small groups, particularly stonemasons, as monumental inscriptions primarily mention stonework. The local features revealed in the inscriptions imply either an adaptation to local traditions or some form of influence. It appears that, if the Sabaeans did move to Ethiopia, they were integrated by the local population in the 8th century BC, and likely even earlier,[4].

After several centuries of isolation, the Kingdom of Aksum arose in 100 AD. This kingdom existed for 800 years and occupied southern Arabia for part of this period. Utilitarian Aksumite pottery has been found in large quantities in deposits from the 5th and 6th centuries in the Hadhramaut region of Yemen.

Southern Arabia was a client state of the Aksumite kingdom throughout the sixth century. Himyarite inscriptions document an invasion of Mecca by an ambitious Aksumite general named Abraha (Tigrinya: አብርሃ) in the year 570 AD.[5] An early incident in Islamic Afro-Arab relations, known as the First Hijrah, (Arabic: الهجرة إلى الحبشة, al-hijra ʾilā al-habaša), was part of the early history of Islam. The first companions of the Prophet Muhammad (the Sahabah) fled from the persecution of the ruling Quraysh tribe of Mecca. They sought refuge in the Christian Kingdom of Aksum, in present-day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia (formerly referred to as Habesha land/Abyssinia, an ancient name whose origin is debated),[6] In 613 or 615 AD, the Aksumite monarch who received them is referred to as Ashama ibn Abjar or the Negus (Arabic: نجاشي, najāšī). Modern historians have alternatively identified him with King Armah and Ella Tsaham.[7]

Some of the companions later returned to Mecca and made the hijra to Medina with Muhammad, while others remained in Habesha land until they came to Medina in 628. The mosque they established is called the "Masjid aṣ-Ṣaḥābah". Located in the Eritrean city of Massawa, and dating to the early 7th century AD, it is believed to be the first mosque on the African continent.[8] Many companions settled there after Islam became established in the Arabian peninsula and the descendants of these companions still reside in the region.

From the 7th century onward Muslim communities were established along the coast of Eritrea and Somalia, subsequently spreading inland. The Arab slave trade, which began in pre-Islamic times but reached its height between 650 AD and 1900 AD, transported millions of African people from the Nile Valley, the Horn of Africa, and the eastern African coast across the Red Sea to Arabia. Millions more were taken from sub-Saharan Africa across the Sahara as part of the trans-Saharan slave trade.[9]


(1). "Saudi Arabia - The World Factbook". Retrieved 2021-07-17.

(2). "The multiple roots of Emiratiness: the cosmopolitan history of Emirati society". openDemocracy. Retrieved 2020-08-18.

(3). Richards, Martin; Rengo, Chiara; Cruciani, Fulvio; Gratrix, Fiona; Wilson, James F.; Scozzari, Rosaria; Macaulay, Vincent; Torroni, Antonio (April 2003). "Extensive Female-Mediated Gene Flow from Sub-Saharan Africa into Near Eastern Arab Populations". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 72 (4): 1058–1064.

(4). Dugast, Fabienne; Gajda, Iwona (2012-10-29). "Reconsidering contacts between southern Arabia and the highlands of Tigrai in the 1st millennium BC according to epigraphic data".

(5). Iwona Gajda: Le royaume de Ḥimyar à l’époque monothéiste. L’histoire de l’Arabie ancienne de la fin du ive siècle de l’ère chrétienne jusqu’à l’avènement de l’Islam. Paris 2009, pp. 142–146.

(6). E. A. Wallis Budge (Aug 1, 2014). A History of Ethiopia: Volume I: Nubia and Abyssinia. Routledge. pp. vii.

(7). M. Elfasi, Ivan Hrbek (1988). Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century. UNESCO. p. 560.

(8). "Liste des premières mosquées au monde prophètique, rashidun et omeyyade selon les écris historique et les traces archéologiques". Histoire Islamique (in French). 2014-06-15. Retrieved 2017-09-24.

(9). Richards, Martin; Rengo, Chiara; Cruciani, Fulvio; Gratrix, Fiona; Wilson, James F.; Scozzari, Rosaria; Macaulay, Vincent; Torroni, Antonio (April 2003). "Extensive Female-Mediated Gene Flow from Sub-Saharan Africa into Near Eastern Arab Populations". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 72 (4): 1058–1064.

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