South Arabia

For details on the State of South Arabia, see Federation of South Arabia and South Yemen.

South Arabia is a historical region that consists of the southern region of the Arabian Peninsula, mainly centered in what is now the Republic of Yemen, yet it has historically also included Najran, Jizan, and 'Asir, which are presently in Saudi Arabia, and the Dhofar of present-day Oman.

South Arabia is inhabited by peoples partaking distinctive linguistic and ethnic affinities, as well as traditions and culture, transcending recent political boundaries. This is the historical region of Qahtanite.

Language and etymology

The frontiers of South Arabia as linguistically conceived would include the historic peoples speaking the related South Arabian languages as well as neighboring dialects of Arabic, and their descendants. Anciently, there was a South Arabian alphabet, which was borrowed by Ethiopia.

Yemen or al-Yaman means "the right side". One etymology derives Yemen from yamin the "right side" as the south is on the right when facing the sunrise; yet this etymology is considered suspect. Another derives Yemen from yumn meaning "felicity" as the region is fertile; indeed the Romans called it Arabia Felix.[1] Yaman derives from Yam, Yams, Yame, Yame or Miya, Miyah, Miah (water).


Three thousand years ago, several different ancient states occupied the region of South Arabia, e.g., M'ain, Qataban, Hadhramaut, Saba.[2] In these ancient times South Arabia claimed several notable features: the famous dam at Marib, the cosmopolitan incense trade, as well as the legendary Queen of Sheba.[3] Two thousand years ago the Himyarites became the masters of South Arabia, remaining dominant for several centuries. From Ethiopia across Al-Bahr Al-Ahmar came armies of Axum first in the 3rd–4th centuries, then later in the 6th under King Kaleb who established dominion, c. 520. They were displaced by Persian forces of the Sassanid dynasty, c.575, who also arrived by sea.[4][5][6][7] A half-century later, in the year 6 A.H. (628), the region became Muslim.[8]

Ancient South Arabia

Ancient kingdoms and appellations:

Foreign presence (before Islam):

South Arabian Islamic dynasties

South Arabia in the early modern and colonial-era

Flag of Federation of South Arabia, Protectorate of British Empire.

South Arabia in recent history

Independent Yemen:

South Arabia outside Yemen

See also


  1. Mackintosh-Smith, Yemen (London: John Murray 1997) at 8.
  2. Brian Doe, South Arabia (London: Thames & Hudson 1971) at 60–102.
  3. Jean-Francois Breton, Arabia Felix (University of Notre Dame 1999) at 13–20, 23; 53–73; 3–5, 41–43.
  4. al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, volume V, The Sasanids, the Byzantines, the Lakmids, and Yemen (S.U.N.Y. 1999), in Yemen: Ethiopian conquest at 179, 182–183, 204–208, 212; Persia over al-Habashah at 159–160, 236–249.
  5. Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum. An African civilization of late antiquity (Edinburgh Univ. 1991) at 71–74, 76–77 (3rd century), at 78–80 (4th century), at 84–88 (6th century).
  6. Sally Ann Baynard, "Historical Setting" in The Yemens: Country Studies (Washington, D.C.: Foreign Area Studies, The American University, c.1985) 1–89, at 3–14: Ethiopians at 11–12 (4th century for 4 decades, 6th century for about 50 years); Persians at xiii, 12.
  7. Guy Annequin, Little-Known Civilizations of the Red Sea (Geneva: Ferni 1979) at 196–202.
  8. al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, volume VIII, The Victory of Islam (S.U.N.Y. 1997) at 114 (became Muslim).

See also

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