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The Arabian peninsula is an irregular rectangle of land close to 1.25 million square miles (3.2 million sq. km.) in extent, nestled between northeast Africa, the Fertile Crescent, and Iran. Comprising some of the harshest and most desolate regions on Earth, it has nevertheless played host to a long sequence of states reaching back into distant antiquity. Always a vitally significant region, as the homeland of Islam it's influence on modern world history is incalculable

Presently this covers: Abu Dhabi, 'Ad, Aden, Ajman, 'Akrabi, Alawi, Arabia, Asir, Ausan, 'Awdhali, Awlaqi, Bahrain, Bayhan, Burayda, the Caliphate, the Carmathians, Dali, Dhu Jibla, Djarrahid Confederation, Dubai, Fadli, Fujaira, Gerrha, Gurat, al-Haasa, Hadramaut, Ha'il, Hamriyah, Haram, Hejaz, al-Hijr, Hillah, Himyar, Hirah, Inabba, al-Julanda, Kalba, Kaminahu, Kathiri, Khardj, Kindah, Lahij, Lihyan, Lower Asir, Ma'an, Makan, Marib, Mascat, Mecca, Medina, Mukala, Najd, Najran, Nashan, Nizwa, Oman, Qalhat, Qataban, Qatar, Qishn, Ras al-Khaimah, Saba (Sheba), Salihid Kgdm., San'a, Saudi Arabia, Say'un, Sharjah, Shihr, the Shi'ite Imams, Socotra, Suhar, at-Tababi'a, Tanukh, Tayma, Thamud, Umm al-Quwain, Upper Asir, 'Unayzah, Wahidi, al-Yamamah, Yemen, Zabid, Zu-Raidan.


ABU DHABI The largest of the Gulf Emirates lying between Oman to the east, and Qatar in the west. Abu Dhabi entered into a Protectorate status with Great Britain in 1892, and when this ended in 1971, the Emirate joined with most of its neighbors to form the United Arab Emirates; the Emir retains considerable autonomy within his own demesne. The city of Abu Dhabi currently serves as the capital of the Federation.

'AD An ancient district in what is now southwestern Oman, running from the sea up into the Dhofar Mountains and thence to the edge of the Rub` al-Khali. In the highlands are to be found scattered groves of the frankincense tree, source of what some regard as the finest of aromatic incenses. The region may also be roughly the locale where camels were first domesticated. 'Ad is known as the tribal Kingdom in which lay the city of Ubar, a major transshipment point for the frankincense trade in ancient times.

ADEN A port city in the far south of the Arabian Peninsula.

AJMAN A Gulf Emirate now forming a part of the United Arab Emirates.

AKRABI A minor sultanate in southwestern Yemen, on the coast near Aden.

ALAWI A tribal sheikhdom north of Aden, wedged between Dhaba and Haushabi.

ARABIA The interior of the Arabian Peninsula, in modern times centered on the city of Riyadh.

ASIR Region in Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea, bordered on the north by Hejaz and the south by Yemen. The name Asir means "the Unreachable"; it is a mountainous region with a tradition of regional autonomy. In the 1830,s an emirate, nominally under Yemenite suzereinty, was created in Asir by Ahmad al-Idris, a Sayyid (descendent of Muhammad) from Morocco. Ahmad, who was on pilgrimage to Mecca, settled in the city of Sabija and declared himself both Emir and Imam of Asir.

AUSAN An ancient state on the coast of southern Arabia, in what is now southeastern Yemen.

'AWDHALI A tribal sheikhdom north of Fadli, in eastern Yemen.

AWLAQI A region in eastern Yemen, bordering the desert of the Hadramaut. It was traditionally divided between three separate polities:

Note also the existence of another clan of the same dynasty...

BAHRAIN A small island nestled between the east Arabian coast and the peninsula of Qatar. In ancient times, this was the fabled land of Dilmun, noted among Sumerians for its wealth and as a source of spiritual authority. During the classical era, it was known as Tylos, and was famed as a source for pearls. The modern Emirate had a special protectorate relationship with Great Britain from 1861 to 1971.

BAYHAN al-QISAB An emirate in Yemen, 146 miles (235 km.) north-northeast of Aden. Bayhan was ruled by a Hashemite clan distantly related to the Sharifs of Mecca (who later became the kings of Jordan and Iraq). A protectorate of Britain from the early 1800's to 1967, after which it was incorporated into the People's Republic of South Yemen.

BURAYDA An emirate in central Arabia, roughly equidistant from Riyadh to the southeast and Ha'il to the northwest, and quite nearby 'Unayzah.

THE CALIPHATE The success of the prophet Mohammed in redefining Middle-Eastern and, indeed, world history is well known. When he died, control over the political and religious forces he had unleashed was given to Successors (Al Khalifah). The office is difficult to define, in part because its nature has shifted drastically over time. Despite its beginnings, the Caliphs have never achieved universal hegemony over the Muslim world; the Shiite movement was merely the earliest and best established group of non-adherents. Nevertheless, the Caliphs have exerted a tremendous influence over events. Here is a master list, with comments as to the various phases that have evolved over the centuries.


UMMAYAD The Caliphate becomes formally hereditary in the Ummayad clan, a move unrecognized by adherents to 'Ali, a schism which defines Sunni (Ummayad) and Shia (Aliid) Islam.

ABBASID The capital of the Caliphs was transferred to the newly built city of Baghdad, in central Mesopotamia. Following the violent overthrow of the Ummayad House, a member of the dynasty escaped and, after wandering North Africa for several years, re-established his House at Cordoba, in Spain. He retained claim to Caliphate status, thus creating a rival. Other rivals appeared in Africa at a later time; the Fatamids established control over much of North Africa and eventually seized Egypt for a time; they, too, claimed the Caliphate. From 861, the Caliphs were increasingly isolated from any real control over their lands or office, and by the 10th century, the City of Light was a half-ruined edifice at the mercy of whatever conqueror was strong enough to take it; see Mesopotamia for details. By the mid 12th century, however, the conquerors had wasted themselves in internecine warfare, and the Abbasids enjoyed a final century of power and splendour. In the second quarter of the 13th century, though, the Muslim world was shattered by the unstoppable onslaught of the Mongols, and in 1258 Baghdad was leveled and the population slaughtered...

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With the destruction of Baghdad by the Horde of Hulugu in 1258, the first era of the Imperial Caliphate comes to an end. What followed were a line of Successors, still of the ABBASID House, based in Egypt, whose functions were purely clerical, under the secular dominion of the Mamluqs.

With the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish Sultans abrogated to themselves the title of Caliph, thus inaugurating the final phase of the office. With the dissolution of the Ottoman State in the early 20th century, the office of Caliph fell vacant, and has thus far not been revived.


DALI (ad-DHALA) An emirate in southern Yemen, centered on the town of Dhala near the former border between North and South Yemen.


DHU JIBLA A locale in central Yemen, the main base for a tribal confederacy, Ismai'li Shi'ites and adherents of the Fatimid claimants to the Caliphate.

DJARRAHID CONFEDERACY A Bedouin tribe of Yemeni extraction, centered in northwestern Arabia but with no fixed boundaries. They were at times clients of the Fatimids and/or the Byzantines, and at other times at fierce odds with same; their primary occupation centered around attempts to win prestige and wealth via pillaging and devious plots. During the late 900's they occupied large sections of southern Palestine, and were for a time based in Ramla (modern-day central Israel, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). I include them largely as examples of the sort of predatory tribal groups occupying much of the Arabian Penisula from time immemorial.

DUBAI A large and important Emirate on the Gulf coast, now forming a part of the United Arab Emirates.

FADLI Sultanate in southwestern Yemen, it's capital at Umm 'Aslah (Asala, Barqah), on the coast some 42 miles (68 km.) northeast from Aden city. A British protectorate from the early 1800's, it was one of the more autonomous kingdoms of the Western Aden Protectorate.

FUJAIRAH The easternmost of the United Arab Emirates, fronting on the strip of coastline along the Gulf of Oman.

GERRHA An ancient tribal kingdom in eastern Arabia. Flourishing in the First Millennium BCE along the northern edge of the Rub' al-Khali. It's inhabitants profited greatly from the frankincense trade, being transshippers of the resin from 'Ad, in the Dhofar Mountains south of the desert, to points north. Apparently migrating out of Mesopotamia sometime before 700 BCE, they were noted as brigands by land and pirates by sea when they were not shipping incense. Claudius Ptolemy mentions the town of "Gerra" in the Geographos (2nd cent CE). I have no names of the rulers of this people at this time.

GURAT A Yemeni Kingdom; a relict of Saba remaining after the Himyarite conquest of the 1st/2nd century CE. See also Marib.

al-HAASA (Aasa) The east coast of Arabia, primarily the region opposite Qatar and Bahrain, but extending vaguely north along the coast toward Kuwait. Historically this area has held a high concentration of Shi'ites, as opposed to the generally Sunni populations in the rest of Saudi Arabia. An important town in the area is az-Zahran (Dhahran), site of recent Coalition bivouacs during Mesopotamian conflicts.

HADRAMAUT Geographically, the Hadramaut refers to a long valley in the interior of southwestern Arabia, but the term has come to also refer to all the districts both north and south of that valley; a large oblong region of wastes adjacent to the Rub` al-Khali, fronting on the coast, and extending from Oman in the northeast to Aden in the southwest.

HA'IL (also known as Jebal Shammar) An Emirate in central Arabia; the Rashidi were the principal rivals of the Saudi of Najd.

A small port about 6 miles (10 km.) northeast of Sharjah, along what was known as the Trucial Coast; today, a duty-free zone within Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

HARAM An ancient state in southwestern Arabia.

HEJAZ The western regions of the Arabian Peninsula, including the sacred cities of Mecca and Madinah.

al-HIJR (Lihyan, Mada'in Salih) An early kingdom in northwestern Arabia, 195 miles (313 km.) northwest of Medina and 68 miles (109 km.) south-southwest of Tayma, the 'Uwayrid lava fields lie 20 miles (32 km.) to the west. It is mentioned in the Quran, and in earlier times served as the southern capital of the Nabataean kingdom (with Petra as its northern capital).

HIRAH Based in south-central Mesopotamia (in the area around Kufa and ancient Babylon), on the Euphrates some 80 miles (130 km.) south of modern Baghdad, this state extended south along the west cost of the Persian Gulf as far as Qatar. A pre-Islamic Arab Kingdom, vassals of the Persians and utilized by them as frontier guards opposing the Byzantine clients in Ghassan; they were disrupted by their erstwhile patrons at the beginning of the 7th century, thus leaving a hole in Persian defences through which Muslim Arabs could pour a generation later.

INABBA An ephemeral ancient state in southwestern Arabia.

KALBA An ephemeral Emirate within the United Arab Emirates territory.

KAMINAHU An ancient state in southwestern Arabia.

KHARDJ An emirate in central Arabia, founded in the late 1600's.

LAHIJ A small Sultanate located in interior just north of the port of Aden, on the main route to San'a, in Yemen. The region is an agricultural district, although somewhat arid in character.

LIHYAN An ancient state in northwestwern Arabia.

MA'AN An ancient state in southern Arabia, roughly adjacent to what is now northern Yemen and southern Hejaz - at times it's influence extended along the Red Sea coast into northwestern Arabia.

MAHRA A sultanate in far eastern Yemen, adjacent to the Omani frontier to the east, and the Rub al-Khali wastes to the northeast. The capital was at Qishn, on the coast some 504 miles (810 km.) east-northeast of Aden.

MARIB A Yemeni Kingdom; a relict of old Saba after the conquest of central Yemen by Himyar. See also Gurat.

MECCA An ancient city in central Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia) - it is mentioned as a holy place in the Vedic Puranas as Makheshvara, site of a sacred Black Stone dedicated to a divinity the text identifies as Shiva. Home of the Prophet Muhammad, and site (along with Medina, to the north) of the establishment of Islam. As such, it is the holiest of pilgimages within the Muslim world, and visiting it is one of the five obligations enjoined upon all Muslims, if they are able. Politically, it has normally been within one or another of the Empires of the region, although it has always retained a high degree of autonomy under the Sharifs (descendents of Muhammad) who have governed the city and district.

MEDINA (al-Madinah, Yathrib) A city in western Arabia, 200 miles (322 km.) north of Mecca and 440 miles (708 km.) west of Riyadh, at the northern tip of the extensive Rahad lavafields. It is the second holiest city in Islam, and the burial place of the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad and his followers removed to Yathrib in September 622, following unstable conditions and persecutions in Mecca - from Yathrib, Muhammad's forces conquered Mecca and began Islamic expansion. Yathrib was soon renamed al-Madinat an-Nabi (the City of the Prophet).

NAJRAN A town in southwestern Saudi Arabia, near the Yemenite border. From the 1600's until the mid 1900's, Najran was ruled by hereditary cleric-princes (Da'is) under the dominion of the Imams of Yemen.

NASHAN An ancient state in southwestern Arabia.

NIZWA A settlement in central Oman, the site of a Kharijite Imamate in later Mediaeval times.

OMAN The eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula, involving the cities of Musqat and Oman. In ancient times, this was probably the fabled Land of Makan, the source for early Sumerians of copper and diorite. Later eras saw the region as a major source of Frankincense. The interior holds the buried site of the lost city of Ubar.

QATABAN An ancient tribal Kingdom located in southern Yemen, with Hadramaut to the northeast and Saba to the northwest. A powerful state flourishing from the 5th century BCE to the 2nd century CE, and which held much of south Arabia at various times, it lost cohesion upon the emergence of Himyar, and was eventually absorbed by the newer state.

QATAR A peninsula within the Persian Gulf, along the east coast of Arabia. Qatar was a protectorate of Great Britain from 1916 to 1971.

RAS al-KHAIMAH A gulf Emirate associated with the United Arab Emirates.

SALIHID KINGDOM The Salihids were a North Arabian federation of tribes that served as foedarati of Rome from the late 300s until their fall to the Ghassanids in the late 400's.

SAN'A An interior city in the far south of the Arabian Peninsula, currently the capital of Yemen. From the 9th century, it has been a center of the Zayidi Shi'ite sect.


SAY'UN (Kathiri) An old sultanate in the interior of eastern Yemen, within the northeastern  region of the Hadramaut. Generally known simply as the Kathiri Sultanate, it became Say'un in 1848. Once holding much of the territory in this harsh region, as well as western Oman, the ruling dynasty lost the coast and other districts to the Qu'aitids of Mukalla in the 19th century.

SHARJAH A gulf Emirate, formerly the largest and most powerful.

SHIHR & MUKALLA A group of local states in east-central Yemen occupying much of the Hadramaut region; the main settlement is Mukalla, on the coast some 284 miles (457 km.) northeast of Aden city - Shihr is about 40 miles (64 km.) further east of Mukalla. The coastal region was acquired by the Qu'aiti clan in the third quarter of the 19th century, and much of the interior taken from the Kathirids.

The SHI'ITE IMAMS These are the other Caliphs; the early leaders of the Shi'atu 'Ali, the Party (or Sect) of 'Ali. 'Ali was the fourth Caliph, a nephew of Mohammed the Prophet. He was murdered by members of the Kharijite Sect, thus paving the way for the Ummayads to assume control of the Muslim world. His descendents were, however, regarded by their adherents and supporters as the true Caliphs, and thus the beginning of the oldest schism within Islam was sown.

SOCOTRA (Suqutra)A mountainous island off the tip of the horn of Africa, long associated with South Arabia. The place was a Nestorian Christian refuge for centuries, but they were suppressed completely by the 17th century. The place is noted as a source of aloe, dates, frankincense, and dragon's blood (another incense resin).

SUHAR (Sohar) A town on the coast of northern Oman, about 135 miles (215 km.) northwest of Masqat. A major transhipment point between the Persian Gulf and India, it also seems to be in the general area of ancient Makan, source of copper for Sumeria. In legend, it is sometimes regarded as the home port of Sinbad the Sailor.

TANUKH An Arab tribal kingdom of the second through fourth centuries CE. The Tanukhids were a Christian tribe, originally from South Arabia, who settled in northern Arabia, eastern Jordan and southern Syria. They were the dominant Arabian foederati of Rome until their displacement by the Salihids around the year 400.

TAYMA A town and oasis in northwestern Saudi Arabia, about 230 miles (370 km.) northwest of Medina, and roughly 170 miles (275 km.) southeast of the Jordanian frontier. It lies on the edge of the Great Northern Wastes, the Nafud, some 160 miles (256 km.) or so from the Red Sea. The place, a stop on the Spice Route from Ubar, is ancient and many ruins and inscriptions are to be found here. The place is mentioned in the Old Testament a number of times - the Hebrews regarded it as the settlement of a descendent of Abraham, Tema, the son of Ishmael.

THAMUD An important tribal confederation originating in southern Arabia c. 4th century BCE, but expanding into central and northern Arabia at an early date. Although they were a powerful non-Muslim force within the peninsula, they were shattered quickly by the first wave of Muslim armies leaping out of Mecca-Madinah, and thereby were noted in the Quran as a testament to Allah's power to bring the mighty down. Claudius Ptolemy notes at least two versions of the name, and possibly as many as four, at various locales within Arabia ("Thamyditae", "Thaemi", "Thamydeni", "Thanuitae"), lending credence to a loose-knit association of sub-clans.

UMM al-QUWAIN A gulf Emirate within the United Arab Emirates.

'UNAYZAH An emirate in the al-Qasim region of what is now central Saudi Arabia, quite close to Buraydah.


WAHIDI A sultanate in southern Yemen, in the western portion of the Hadhramaut and east of Beihan and Awlaqi. The region is known for its harsh climate and warlike tribes, including until recently a number of unique Jewish clans.






 A region in central Arabia, notably remote and relatively inaccessible, an independent emirate for a time following the decay of the Caliphate.

YEMEN The southwestern corner of the peninsula, and the most fertile region within it.


Itakh was a Khazar ghulam in Abbasid service who was made governor of Yemen by the Caliph in 839. His position was largely titular as Yemen had by this time disintigrated into a collection of feuding states, only some of whom acknowledged even nominal allegiance to the Caliphate.

ZABID A city-state in southern Yemen, periodically exercising control over the Hadramaut region and the coastal lowlands.