Arabia and Her Ancient Races
Arabia was once a portion of the ancient Cushite empire. Some authorities claim that it was the original seat of Ethiopian culture. The ordinary encyclopedia and historical book give but little light upon the early race life of Arabia. When our research has gone deeper we will find that the true ethnic story of Arabia, Asia Minor and India have not yet been told. Recent books have rewritten the history of ancient Greece, as the findings or archaeology reveal other races and other sources for the civilization of Hellenic lands. The history of Arabia needs rewriting. This chapter is a contribution in that direction; the sum total of the careful investigations of scholars and investigators whom we can trust. The ancients gave Arabia a triple division. Petrea the stony, Deserta the desert, and Felix the happy. They did not assign to these any very distinct boundaries and much of the rear surface of Arabia is unknown to us today. Yemen includes the whole southwest quarter which possesses many advantages in climate and soil. Here existed to almost our times the late flowers of a rich primeval civilization, which did not spring from the Semitic race, which is in possession of Arabia today.
Arabia Deserta is the land of the Semitic Arabian for we, find two races incorporated in the term, Arabian. The ancient Adites and Thamudites were of Ham. The ancient inhabitants of Arabia Petraea were of the “Anu” of the “Old Race” of Egypt. The Semitic Arabians trace their descent from Heber of the race of Shem. Deserta had the Euphrates for its eastern boundary. The inhabitants live a wandering life, having no cities or fixed habitations, but wholly dwelling in tents. These are called Bedouins. When the Scriptures spoke of Arabia it referred to a smaller territory than the vast region we call Arabia today. Hebrews spoke of Kedem as the land to the east of them. Arabia Petraea lies south of the Holy Land. In this region dwelt the Edomites, Amalekites, Cushites and other tribes. Arabia Felix lay still farther south is bounded by the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the ocean. This country abounded in riches and especially in spices and is now called Hedjaz. It is much celebrated because the cities of Mecca and Medina are situated in it.
Having never been really conquered, Arabia has known no changes saving those of nature. There the deserts and mountains have always secured them from conquest. Nejd the central plateau is an important region regarded by the Arabians as the stronghold of their cherished institutions and traditions. Nejd is the favored land of the date palm of superior species. It is the special pride and ornament of the country. The coffee plant is highly prized. This central highland is surrounded on all sides by a broad desert belt. In general features, Arabia resembles the African Sahara of which it is but a continuation. Its general characteristics are African. Arabia roughly summed up is composed of one third coast ring and mountains, a one-third central plateau which is tolerably fertile, and one third desert circle. Throughout the highland of Nejd, though the days are hot, the nights are cool and pleasant. Here epidemic diseases are rare. It is very hot below in the plains. Sayce says that the divisions of “sandy,” “stony” and “happy,” so familiar to the Greeks and Latins is unknown to the Arabians of today. This is because they were terms used by the earlier Cushite Arabians.
Arabia was originally settled by two distinct races, an earlier Cushite Ethiopian race, and a later Semitic Arabian. ‘The Cushites were the original Arabians and dwelt there before Abraham came to Canaan. Ancient literature assigns their first settlement to the extreme southwestern point of the peninsula. From thence they spread northward and eastward over Yemen, Hadramaut, and Oman. A proof that they were Hamites lay in the name Himyar or dusky, given to the ruling race. The Himyaritic language, now lost, but some of which is preserved are African in origin and character. Its grammar is identical with the Abyssinian. The Encyclopedia Britannica in its article on Arabia says, “The institutions of Yemen bear a close resemblance to African types. The inhabitants of Yemen, Hadramaut, Oman and the adjoining districts, in shape of the head, color, length, and slenderness of limbs and scantiness of hair, point to an African origin.” The first inhabitants of Arabia were known to the national traditions as Adites. The Scriptures called Ad a descendant of Ham.
These Cushite Arabians were given to a settled life and not to the wandering habits of the Semitic Arabians. They were fond of village life, society, the dance, and music. Among the cities, the most ancient and populous were in “Happy Yemen.” Like the Cushites of Egypt, there was the marvelous reservoir of Marib constructed by the Himyaritic kings. Their descendants of today are good cultivators of the soil, traders and artisans and averse to pastoral pursuits. All of these traits distinguish them from the Semitic race. They have much more to do with the African coast than the Asiatic. Marriage with extreme facility exists between all classes of southern Arabia and the African races. There is the absence of any caste feeling between these Arabs and the still darker natives of Africa. All of this points to a common origin. Keane thinks that these people of southwestern Arabia, at a remote period found their way across the narrow strait of Bab-el-Mandeb and secured a permanent foothold on the Nubian steppes. These Himyaritic Arabians call themselves Æthiopians still in diplomatic and elevated circles.
Arabia in the average book is described as a dreary barren waste, the home of the Semitic Arabian. In most sterile regions, we do find this race. They are a nomadic people wandering from pasturage to pasturage, as their ancestors have done from time immemorial and as they shall probably do to the end. The Arab despises agriculture and the customs and restraints of civilized life. There is constant resistance among them to anything like regal power or organization. There is some similitude between them and the Cushite Arabians for they have long lived in proximity, yet there are rivalry and the enmity that would spring from the difference in the race. The Semitic Arabians are compelled to a pastoral life because they occupy the most waste portions of the plateau. Their condition involves them in constant quarrels over wells and pasturage. This caused the separation of Abraham and Lot. Extreme want makes them plunderers of caravans. They are utterly ignorant of writing or books. This division of the inhabitants has no remembrance of the ancient geography of Arabia because they were not then the inhabitants. The only authority that they recognize is that of an elder.
These Arabs trace their descent from Heber, from whom the line of Abraham descended. Abraham’s son Joktan became the first king of the country. According to Herodotus, their original home lay between Colchis and the Medes. They lived in Arabia without mingling until Ishmael, the son of Hagar settled among them. Some of these Ishmaelites applied themselves to traffic and husbandry; for Hagar was Hamitic. It was from this class in later days arose the Mohammedan conquest. The tribe of Koreysh claimed to have descended from Ishmael through Hagar. They were intimately connected with the southern Cushite tribes that were the originators of the idol worship of the Kaaba at Mecca. The great majority of the Ishmaelites lived a life like the modern Bedouin, who too traced back to Ishmael. Their domains stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea. Their hand was against every man and every man’s hand against them. These Arabs will not marry with the settled tribes or with Turks or Moors. The third division of pure Semitic Arabians probably sprang from the children of Abraham and Keturah. In prodigious multitude, they cover Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and a great part of Africa.
These Semitic Arabians are quite unlike in nature to the Cushite and Hebrew stock, which in early ages must have been deeply permeated with Ethiopian blood. This made the Jew more gentle than the fierce nature of his wilder unmixed Semitic brethren. This intermingling of Hebrew and Ethiopic blood could easily have taken place in the four hundred years of the Jewish exile in Egypt, and later in Canaan, they intermingled with the original inhabitants who were Cushite. Let us examine the nature of the pure Semitic race. Sayce. describes their life as full of danger and distress. Our private citizens possess more solid and pleasing luxuries than the proudest emir, head of ten thousand horse. The care of the sheep and camels is abandoned to the women, while under the banner of the emir the men practice the use of the bow, javelin, and scimitar.
The dignities of sheik and emir descend in an order that is loose and precarious. If an Arabian prince abuses his power, he is quickly punished by the desertion of his subjects. The natural state of the nation is free, each of her sons disdains submission to the will of a master. Caravans from the remote times of Job and Sesostris have been the victims of their rapacious spirit. They pretend that the riches of the earth and the fertile climates were given to the other branches of the human family and that they must recover the portion of their inheritance of which they have been unjustly deprived. The caravans that traverse the deserts are ransomed or pillaged. The temper of a people thus armed against mankind is doubly inflamed by this domestic license of rapine, murder, and revenge. Each Arab might point his javelin against the life of his countryman with impunity and renown. The jurisdiction of the magistrate was impotent. The recital in prose or verse of an obsolete feud was sufficient to kindle the same passions among the descendants of the hostile tribes. They would wait whole months and years for the opportunity of revenge. The refined malice of the Arab refuses even the head of the murderer, substitutes the innocent for the guilty person and transfers the penalty to the best and most considerable of the race by whom they have been injured.
The bitter hardships of the son of Abraham, cast out without succor, seems to have accentuated the evil of his nature. Sayce reveals a better side of Abraham showing in their hospitality. This ferocious Arab, the terror of the desert, embraces freely without inquiry, the stranger who dares to confide in his honor and enter his tent. He is kind and respectful. He shares his wealth or property with his guest and dismisses him with gifts. Though disdaining law he proudly indulges the impulse of pity and alms. Thus everywhere over the earth where we find people crowded back by climate or conquest to bleak and barren districts we see the change of human nature from gentleness to ferocity. Columbus found a peaceful and gentle people in America.
The foregoing description of Arabia and Arabians found in Ancient Empires of the East is not sufficient to give us a clear idea of Arabia and Arabians. It is a true and faithful account of the Semitic branch but does not amount for other conditions and races there. Palgrave’s expedition to Arabia in 1862 found beside wandering Bedouins and wastes, a rich and beautiful country. Arabia is a vast region. Baldwin reports that he found throughout almost all his journey a settled and civilized country, with cities, towns, villages and a settled government. All of this was the legacy of the earlier culture. In these regions, the Bedouin or later Arab counted for nothing. He found central Arabia an extensive, fertile tableland, surrounded by a circle of desert waste. Here were settled nations of the Cushite Arabian stock. Here they had developed for thousands of years the noble breed of Arabian horse. Naturalists agree that Arabia is the genuine and original home of the horse. Here it attained its highest perfection, not perhaps in size, but in form, symmetry, and beauty. For endurance, docility, and speed for incredible distances, these horses have no equals. Sayce says, that the Barb, the Spanish and the English breed are all built on the foundation of the imported Arabian horse.
The development of the camel is Arabian. It does not appear on any of the Egyptian monuments. The Bedouin has the superstitious love for the pure horses of Arabia. A female is rarely sold. These horses are educated in the tents among the children of the Arabs. This trains them to habits of gentleness and attachment. Their senses are not blunted by abuse of spur or whip. As they feel the touch of the hand or stirrup, they dart away like the wind, if the rider is dismounted in the rapid chase, they instantly stop until he has recovered his seat. They disappear before the enemy like the mist. In the sands of the deserts of Africa and Arabia, the camel is a sacred and precious gift. The driest thistle and the barest thorn is all the food they require, Nature has formed cisterns within the camel. He can lay up a store of water that will last him from twenty to thirty days. The value of the camel to the Arabs and Oriental nations is inestimable. They regard it as a peculiar gift of heaven to their race. They were called the “ships of Persia,” so dependent was commerce upon their instinct to cross the trackless wastes. A dromedary can cover ten times as much ground as a horse. Every part of the camel filled some Arabian need.
To the Cushite race belonged the oldest and purest Arabian blood. They were the original Arabians and the creators of the ancient civilization, evidence of which may be seen in the stupendous ruins to be found in every part of the country. At the time that Ethiopians began to show power as monarchs of Egypt about 3000 to 3500 B. C. the western part of Arabia was divided into two powerful kingdoms. In those days the princes of Arabia belonged wholly to the descendants of the Cushites, who ruled Yemen for thousands of years. Zohak celebrated in Iranian history was one of these famous rulers. These Arabians hid the sources of their commerce and the Greeks had of them only cunning stories that the Arabians put in circulation about their country. Much of the rich commerce of India, the treasurers of Africa, crossed between Yemen and Syria avoiding the tedious navigation of the Red Sea. Strabo, Pliny, Diodorus, and Ptolemy tell us that in very early ages, Yemen reached a high state of civilization. Arts and commerce flourished and wealth was accumulated, literature was cultivated and talent held in esteem. The national writings that survive to this day, tell the same story. This culture had declined before its extinction in the seventh century.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. II, p. 222, 223) says, “The first dawning gleams that deserve to be called history find Arabia under the rule of a southern race. They claimed descent from Khatan. They have divided anciently into several aristocratic monarchies. These Yemenite kings descendants of Khatan and Himyar ‘the dusky,’ a name denoting African origin, whose rulers were called ‘Tobba,’ of Hamitic etymology, reigned with a few dynastic interruptions for about 2500 years. They demanded the obedience of the entire southern half of the peninsula and the northern by tribute collectors. The general characteristics of the institutions of Yemen bore considerable resemblance to the neighboring one of the Nile Valley.” One of its monarchs subdued the whole of central Asia, reaching even the boundaries of China. Another made conquests in Africa. Their chroniclers appropriated the glories and some of the exploits of the early kings of Ethiopia, because Arabia, Egypt, Chaldea, and India were colonies of the Cushite empire. Ethiopia was the mother of them all and her rulers under various titles were their rulers. Modern histories speak of the Semitic conquest of Babylon as early as 4500 B. C. which is erroneous unless they explain that these Arabians were Cushite Arabians, another division of the race of the black Sumerians. The line of Sargon 3800 B. C. was of the same race. Each one of these early Arabian conquests was of African Arabs.
While the scepter of Yemen was outstretched far over the length and breadth of the land and the genuine or African Arabs formed a complete and dense circle all around, the deserts of Arabia remained the stronghold of a different race, wild, ferocious tribes, less susceptible to culture, but of a far greater energy. This race was the Semitic Arabian, that had come into the land from the north. They spoke a language akin to the Syriac and Hebrew. Unlike the African Arabians, they had little disposition for agriculture, architecture or the fine arts. Their instincts led them to a nomadic, pastoral life. History has left unrecorded the exact date of their arrival and the period that they remained tributary, though often refractory, to the kings of Yemen. In the fifth century of the Christian era, a late date, a leader arose who broke off the bonds of Yemen. He slew the tax-gatherer and raised the banner of revolt. He was assassinated and in the sixth century they had narrowed the boundaries of the earlier Cushite Arabian monarchies, and both northern and southern communities were coming under the growing power of the tribe of Koreysh.
The Koreysh figure as the descendants of Ishmael. In their artificial annals, says Britannica, me Yemenites or genuine Arabs appear under a cousinly character. On all these points Mohammedan annalists are equally positive. All other trusty testimony is adverse. Their falsifications have found favor with our European writers. Baldwin in Prehistoric Nations, pp. 76, 77, says, that the Semitic Arabians and later Mohammedans confused and altered the earlier Arabian history. They sought to bring upon themselves the glory of the Cushite Arabian name. They have appropriated the names of the old Ethiopians, whose career had long since closed before the entrance of the Semites into Arabia. Mohammedan writers give but vague pictures of the conditions of their country. They were not literary people. and their first attempts were after the death of their prophet. The times of Mohammed were becoming ancient when these men wrote. They had entered Arabia after the extended empire of the Cushite Arabians had declined and disunited. The Semitic Arabian lived a rude nomadic life in obscurity until 700 A. D., Arabian civilization extended back behind them for thousands of years.
To sum up, 3000 to 3,500 B. C. Arabian civilization equaled that of Egypt and Babylon. The ancient glory had departed prior to the rise of Assyria. The same wave that entered Arabia from the north had become predominant in Assyria, which from its monuments had in its origin been Cushite. The fierce nature of the Semitic Arabian and of the children of Esau, whom Abraham had said in blessing their father, “they shall live by the sword,” showed in the merciless tortures and cruelties of the later Assyrians. The first Adite empire of Arabia was overthrown 1800 B. C., so long ago that the cause now is mythical. The ancient chronicles speak of a “Flood of Arem,” which dispersed the families of Yemen over the northern part of Arabia. This flood destroyed Mareb the ancient capital. Lenormant says in the Ancient History of the East, Vol. II, p. 306, “The Jokanites were subject to the Cushites until the end of the second Adite empire. We may be sure the Sabaeans, who at first let them in peaceably made a stout resistance. The Cushites were their superiors in knowledge and, civilization.” It had been a Cushite principle to mete out equal justice to aliens. For many years the Semites lived subject to the laws of the Sabaeans, silently increasing in strength. They accepted in part the language, manners, and institutions of the Cushites. At last, they rose and overthrew those who had given them the light.
None of the ancient empires were able to subjugate Arabia. Bravely for thousands of years, she maintained her freedom. When the second Adite empire was overthrown, masses of the Sabaeans emigrated to Abyssinia. Ghez is a living relic of the ancient speech of Yemen. These Cushites clung long to their faith and peculiar institutions. Alexander the Great, hearing of her rich treasures, desired to pit his great strength against her, but death interrupted his plans. Ælius Gallus, the Roman prefect of Egypt, undertook an expedition against Yemen, with an army of ten thousand infantry and fifteen hundred horsemen. He crossed the Red Sea but his soldiers, disorganized by the intense beat, were incapable of laying siege to Mareb. The old Cushites of Yemen stoutly maintained their independence, when other dominions were forced to yield to Rome. After me Mohammedan conquests, which exhausted the Arabians, they were easy prey for the Turks. Thus came the fall of that empire, as Assyrians, taught and inspired by an earlier culture, which carried the arms, language, and institutions of Arabia over half of the old world, “from the banks of the Indus to the shores of the Atlantic ‘ from the mid-African desert with its burning sands to the green vineyards of pleasant France.” This later flower of Semitic culture “s grafted upon the old Cushite root. The later lines of conquest following the identical pathways of the ancient Cushite empire of Ethiopians.