Historical greatness, diachronic trends and main challenges of Yemen [Archives:2004/750/Opinion]

June 28 2004

By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

Since Napoleonic France attempted to act as successor to Imperial Rome, Czarist Russia and the USSR behaved always as the Third Rome (survivor of the 1453 fallen Constantinople), and last but not least Nader Shah of Iran was acting inspired by Darius and Shapur I, there would not be any mistake if Yemen would take into consideration the historical pillars of its natural expansion, and envision an appropriate, a genuinely Yemenite, future for itself and the surrounding area.
The diachronic imperial method and approach to expansion can apply to smaller countries as well, and if the proper study is carried out, all the targets can be materialized through peaceful conversation, consultation and the common desire for progress. Of course, this would displease colonial powers that want the colonized African and Asiatic countries to be continuously absorbed in vain campaigns and in impossible fake visions, but too bad for them! There are many in our world to believe that the future must exist for all without any discrimination!
Arabia and Yemen as distinguished by the Periplus of the Red Sea.
In a previous feature, we had the opportunity to follow the anonymous author of the 1st century CE text in his description of the Yemenite colonial presence in Azania, i. e. the Eastern African coast, in the south of the Horn of Africa, and up to the area of today's Dar es Salam in Tanzania. He did so, while describing the navigation from Suez down to Rhapta, on today's Tanzanian coast.
Starting by paragraph 19 of his text, the author describes the navigation at the Eastern edge of the Red Sea. He refers to Leuke Kome (“White Town”) as the first harbour and port of call on the sailor's way to the south. Since the departure is given not from Arsinoe (Suez) but Myos Hormos (the Mouse's Bay), which corresponds to al Ghardaq – Hurghada in the Egyptian Red Sea coast, and the distance mentioned is 1000 to 1500 stadia (1 stadium equals 185 m), we deduce that Leuke Kome must be identified as the modern coastal town Al Wadjh.
The text refers to the Roman military presence (“ekatontarchos”: a centurion, officer leading 100 Roman soldiers), Roman fiscal presence (“paraleptes tes tetartes”: a customs officer dispatched in order to get 25% of the passing merchandise as tax), as well as a land road to the Aramaic Nabataean capital Rekem / Petra of King Malichus (certainly Malichus II). The Roman garrisons ensured safety for the land trade, since the main part of the merchandises (sent to Rekem and further on to Jerusalem, Damascus, Antioch, or Palmyra) was transported from Yemen by sea to Leuke Kome. Who were the inhabitants of that place? Since Leuke Kome does NOT belong to 'Arabia', we can deduce that they were probably Aramaeans, possibly of the highly civilized Nabataean branch, since the text makes a striking differentiation between them and the Arab inhabitants of the coast immediately in the south of Leuke Kome.
According to the Periplus of the Red Sea, civilization ends at Leuke Kome, and starts again around Mouza that is in the modern Yemenite Red Sea coast. What lies between them is the realm of Arab barbarism according to the author of the text (paragraph 20), which reads as follows:
“Immediately after this port (Leuke Kome) starts Arabia, which is extended alongside a large part of the Red Sea. It is inhabited by various peoples and tribes, whose languages differ either a little or totally. The coastal zone features many groups of huts of the fish-eaters, whereas the inland includes hamlets and pastures, being inhabited by a people who speak two languages and have a perverted character. These people rob those who deviate from their sailing just in the middle of the sea, and come nearby their coasts. They arrest all the shipwrecked, so that they make later use of them as captives. That is why the Kings of Yemen attack them, and hold many of them as prisoners. They are called Canraites (note: this is the single time this term was used in Ancient Greek literature). Truly, any sort of navigation nearby the coast of Arabia is particularly dangerous, and this area is characterized by a lack of ports and offers few possibilities of anchorage, being full of perilous rocks, difficult of reach because of the rocky precipices, and awful from any viewpoint. That is why when we sail south, we navigate in the open sea, and as fast as possible, until we reach the Katakekavmene Neso ('Scorched Island'). Immediately after that island, there are plenty of lands inhabited by civilized people, who have large cattle, and use camels for their trade and transportation”.
Here we are already among the ancient Yemenites! The Katakekavmene Island can be identified with Farasan islands, a slightly north of the Northern Yemenite borderline. The text enters then paragraph 21, as follows:
“Beyond these areas, in the last bay of the coast that is extended on our left during our navigation, lies Mouza, which is an official (“nomimon”: controlled by the state) port of call. If we follow the correct navigation line to the south, it lies in a distance of 12000 stadia from Berenice. The city is exclusively inhabited by Yemenites, captains and mariners, and is burgeoning with commercial activity (lit. “the trade is exceeding”) since it plays a vital role in the commerce up to Barygaza, and in this business the Mouza people use their own equipment”.
It is essential to notice the radiation of the Mouza trade, technology and navigation up to India, since Barygaza is to be found in the area of today's Mumbai (Bombay). The reference to the presence of mariners and sailors makes of Mouza a 'haut lieu' of 1st century CE navigation in the Indian Ocean.

Historical confusion perpetuated for modern diplomatic interests
The modern science of philology helps in identifying precisely the names of ancient peoples referred to within various historical texts. When Herodotus speaks of 'Scythians', he refers to the ancient people whose traces can be found in Asia and in Europe, throughout the steppes and the plains of Russia, Ukraine and Germany. But when Michael Choniates, Michel Psellos and other Byzantine academics use this same term in the 11th and in the 12th centuries CE, they simply mean 'Turks”! Every historical term has its history, evolution and specifications.

1. Confusion of terms 'Yemenite' – 'Arab' in the Antiquity
The ancient Yemenites developed culture and civilization at the confines of the then known world. When we first find other people referring to ancient Yemenites, we notice that the way to reach Yemen (Sabaa, Himyar, Awsan, Minyan, and Qataban, let alone Hadhramawt) was through Arabia. The earliest mention of ancient Yemenites does not come before the middle of the 8th century, and emanates from Assyrian – Babylonian Cuneiform sources. Then come references in Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, and so on. But the only way all these various peoples, namely the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Aramaeans and the Romans, could view the peoples and the states of ancient Yemen was a purely topographical – geographical one: Yemenites were 'beyond the Arabs', their land was far-off, and one should first cross Arab lands to reach Yemenites.
This way the confusion started between the terms 'Arab' and 'Saba', 'Himyar', etc. The generic term 'Arab' started being attributed to all the Yemenites as well. At the end, the entire peninsula was called Arabic! The cultural and civilisational distinction between Yemenites and Arabs was however clear, as we observed already in the aforementioned text of the Periplus, but the term Arabic was prevalent for generic references to Ancient Yemenites.

2. Confused terms: Arabic and Persian Gulfs, Red Sea in the past and at present
Since the Egyptians had very limited presence on their Red Sea coast, and Meroe – the great Sudanese state of the Antiquity – had no presence at all, it was only normal for Ancient Greeks to call the area we call today Red Sea “Arabios kolpos”, i.e. Arabic Gulf. This tendency was reinforced by the Yemenite presence started at the Farasan islands and in Mouza (al Mokha), two places that are very much in the south. Modern Arab politicians wishing to call the Persian Gulf 'Arabic Gulf' make many historical mistakes, but are mostly contradicted by the historical reality that in antiquity there was an Arabic Gulf, but this was what we call today 'Red Sea'.
When the author of the Periplus of the Red Sea refers to the 'Red Sea', he means a) the Arabic Gulf (what we call today Red Sea), b) the Persian Gulf, and c) the entire Indian Ocean from the eastern coast of Africa to Indochina and Indonesia (an area named as 'Chryse' – golden by the author of the Periplus of the Red Sea). In other words, the term 'Red Sea' in antiquity covered a much larger area than in our times.

3. Modern fake scientific terms: South-Arabic, Sudarabique, Suedarabisch
The confusing names of ancient authors can be understood in terms of lack of information, lack of method or a lack of proper exploration. Modern confusion is at times inexcusable.
From the very first moments of modern Western exploration and study of the Yemenite past, it became very clear to all sorts of related academics, epigraphists, Semitic linguists, archeologists, historians, philologists, etc. that:
– The different Yemenite epigraphic monuments were testifying to various languages that had nothing to do with Arabic, and that they were closer to Gueze (Ancient Abyssinian)
– The diverse ancient philological sources relating to ancient Yemenites testify to a certain confusion with regard to racial / ethnic / national names, regrouping at times ancient Yemenites with Arabs.
– The Greek and Latin sources (the longest and better studied until now) relating to ancient Yemen testify to a clear-cut understanding of the tremendous cultural differences separating all the various ancient Yemenite peoples from the Arabs.
– Throughout Yemenite past, Sabaeans and Himyarites approached sometimes the point of unifying almost the whole of Yemen.
And of course, they knew of the extensive use of the term 'Yemen' throughout the Islamic ages for the whole area south of Asir, and west of Oman. Yet, they introduced the meaningless, pale and historically fake term “South Arabic' (Sudarabique, Suedarabisch, Sudarabico), which means nothing.
This has been a conscious and devious effort to disentangle the glorious past of Yemen from its own present and future, and to deprive the modern state from the immediate attribution of the past glories – since the modern state of Yemen is the inheritor and the custodian of the country's national cultural heritage and identity. Acting like this, the disreputable Orientalist researchers wished to achieve many goals all at once:
– to disorient modern Yemenites engaged in the study of their own past.
– to make modern Yemenites unable to duly and proficiently incorporate the past's achievements, culture, identity and character into the modern country's 'nation building' in the way and to the extent Greeks or Italians were able to.
– to deceive large numbers all over the world by means of a term that would not directly imply the Yemenite identity of the monuments or the history narrated, presented, developed and/or studied.
– to add one more point of overall misrepresentation of the ancient Orient within the discipline of Orientalism.
The disastrous work brought an excellent result for the colonial powers' researchers, who initiated the term, being the leading specialists in “South Arabic studies'!

Q: Can you say 'Southarabologist'?
A: Of course not! But you can say Egyptologist, Classicist, Hellenist (for specialists in Greek Studies)
Go to Google and check: 'South Arabic Studies' has no less than 258000 references! 'Yemenite Studies' gathers just 5800 references, whereas the acceptable but not recommendable 'Yemeni Studies' rises the references number up to 25000!
Modern Yemenites should demand the exclusive use of the term 'Yemenite' by all Western scholars searching Yemenite past in their writings and bibliography from now on.

Q: Why Yemen cannot accept the term 'South Arabic' anymore?
A: Why would Greece reject the term 'South Balkan Studies' for research pertaining to Ancient and Medieval (Byzantine) Greece?
The reasons for rejecting forever the term 'South Arabic' are many. Here are some:
– It is unrelated to the racial / ethnic / national identity and hypostasis of the national group concerned, that is, the modern Yemenites.
– Consequently, the false term is a multiple de-personifying factor.
– It presents all the Ancient Yemenite peoples as just groups living in an area at the southernmost confines of the area inhabited by another people.
– So, automatically it subordinates Yemenites to that people.
– That people (namely: Arabs) had no connection with the glory of the Ancient Yemenite past, be it Sabaean, Himyarite, Qatabani, Hadhramawti, Minyan, Awsani or other. So, it is particularly erroneous as a term, since it permits an unbelievable confusion and eventual attribution of moments of the Yemenite past to Arabs.
– It represents the modern Yemenites as a pale people without past, since there is no apparent connection between South Arabic and Yemenite.
– The term is particularly damaging in the sense of created difficulties with regard to the establishment of an all-encompassing Yemenite national history, with an appropriately managed historical education that consists of the basis of nation-building for peoples with a great past.
'Sabaean' or 'Himyarite' Studies would be certainly far more appropriate terms, although they would not be all-embracing terms. But when we use the term Assyriology, we mean however the study of the Ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, as well as of many other Mesopotamian peoples, Sumerians, Elamites, Amorrites, Hurrians, etc.
The introduction of the term Yemenite Studies is strongly recommended on the basis of several historical truths.
1. The term matches a modern racial / ethnic / national name. It must be therefore preferred in recognition of the historical ties existing, as it was the case of Roman Studies (instead of Latin Studies). Perhaps, the Catholic Church insisted on the latter, but the modern Italian state has always been fond of the former.
2. Yemen itself, as a name, has a great historicity that goes back to pre-Islamic and pre-Christian times with several epigraphic mentions.
3. Although Yemen was a small tribe – state, certainly eclipsed by Saba, Qataban, or Himyar, its survival and modern all-inclusiveness of character make of it excellent for diachronic historical use.
4. Because of the modern radiation of the term, the historical significance of the 'South Arabic' antiquities will be enhanced – in the eyes of the Yemenites, as well as of all foreigners, tourists or not -, since the terms Himyar, Sheba (Saba) do not radiate at a modern national level as strong as terms like Greece, Persia, Egypt, to name but a few.
5. The basic historical trends of the ancient Yemenite states, as well as of the neighboring Frankincense Land (a state mentioned in the Periplus as located at the area of Dhofar and Oman), will be of easier access, enabling further national emancipation and liberation from the shackles of colonial traps and schemes.