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12th century BCE-4th century CE


Ancient World /
Sheba
Hebrew: shaba'
Arabic: saba'



Ma'rib, Yemen, was throughout most of Sheba's history the capital.
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Ma'rib, Yemen, was throughout most of Sheba's history the capital.

Sheban water basins, Yemen.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Sheban water basins, Yemen.

Kingdom of ancient southwestern Arabia lasting from 12th-10th century BCE until 4th century CE, altogether between 1300 and 1500 years.
The actual location of Sheba is a matter of discussion, but it is believed that their lands correspond to the western half of modern Yemen. The main alternative theory puts Sheba in present Ethiopia. Sheba depended on forging alliances with other countries of southwestern Arabia, especially Qataban and Hadramawt.
Sheba thrived from its agriculture, which excelled in spices which thanks to its high price per weight correlation was very profitable for export. Sheba could develop into a trade and transport hub, also with its location between Arabia/Middle East and Africa. The Shebans controlled the straits leading into the Red Sea for centuries.
The capital for most of the period of the kingdom was Ma'rib, 300 km from the Red Sea, on the eastern side of the high mountains but at the beginning of the Arabian desert. A second major city was Sirwah.
Although it is likely that the kingdom of Sheba was both rich and regionally important, its fame today owes to its mentioning in the Bible (1 Kings 10:1-13). It is also mentioned in the Koran (27:22-45). In the Bible, the Queen of Sheba visits King Solomon and gets impressed by his wisdom, while in the Koran the initial contact between the royals is by messengers, and what impresses the queen here is the strength of the religion.
The language of Shaba was a language in the Arabic group of the southern branch of the Semitic languages. The people were ethically corresponding to modern Yemenis.

History
The Shabaeans were a Semitic people who, at an unknown date, entered southern Arabia from the north, imposing their Semitic culture on an aboriginal population.
12th-10th century BCE: Excavations in central Yemen suggest that the Sabaean civilization began as early as this.
8th century: Sheba reaches its peak, establishing colonies along trade routes to Palestine and on the African coast.
7th–5th century BCE. A period of great advances and much building activity, mainly at Ma'rib and Sirwah. It is to this period we date the temples and monuments and the great Ma'rib Dam, which allowed great advances in the agriculture. We also start hearing of "mukarribs of Sheba", most probably high priest–princes who exercised some function parallel to the king's.
115: Rise of the Hamyarites.
Around 25: Sheba is conquered by the Himyarite kings (from this time on, the history of Sheba and the Himyarite kingdom is closely intervowen).
3rd century CE: King Shamir Yuhar'ish assumes the title “King of Shaba and the Dhu Raydan and of Hadramawt and Yamanat.” By this we learn that Hadramawt had succumbed to Sheba.
Mid 4th century: Sheba must have been invaded by foreign forces, and lost. This we learn from the king Aksum on the East African coast, who had taken the title of “king of Sheba and the Dhu Raydan”.
End 4th century: Sheba is reestablished, and the king can once again call himself "King of Sheba and the Dhu Raydan and Hadramawt and Yamanat."
6th or 7th century?: The final decline of Sheba. We do not know how and when, but it might have been Muslim Arabs who defeated the kingdom.




By Tore Kjeilen