Qataban and Tamane [Archives:2005/816/Culture]

February 14 2005
A carving of a womans face for the tomb made in Qataban in the 1st century AD.
A carving of a womans face for the tomb made in Qataban in the 1st century AD.
By Abdul Majid Sher*
For the Yemen Times

The Austrian traveler-scientist Glazer was the first to identify the location of ancient Tamane', the capital city of the ancient Yemeni Kingdom Qataban. He stated that it was situated along Beihan Valley. The came in his book “The Abyssenians in the Arabian Peninsula and Africa”, which was published in Muneich in the year 1895. Today, the site is known to be Hajr Khahlan city lying towards the left side of the bank of Wadi Beihan, where it comes almost close to flowing its water to the desert plateau.

The first explorer to visit the site was the English traveler Berry in the year 1900. Khadi M. Al-Akwa made a search on a book entitled “The language and descendants”. The word Qataban had been written in that book as reference to one of the rulers known by the name Qutaban bin Ramada. As for the word Tamane' comprising four Arabic alphabets, it was seen on some of the ancient money coins discovered lately (in 1892 and 1894) in Yemen. However, the mystery of both names was solved later in 1924 by the scientist Rhodo Canaces who discovered the first ancient inscriptions telling about this Kingdom. These were discovered on some ancient walls he found in Hajr Khahlan. Thus it became clear that it was the real site of Tamane' city of ancient Qataban state. It was regarded the second biggest city of ancient Yemen after Mareb. Belieny, another foreign explorer, stated that there used to be 65 temples built all around Tamane'.

Most history records stated that ancient nation of Qataban believed in worshiping the stars in general, and the three main gods and goddess in particular i.e. the sun, moon and Venus. The last was ranked the first, while the sun had the last rank of worship. This was indicated through interpretation of their words of repeating calls to their gods. For Venus, Ashtar was the mediating god, and was highly valued for any affairs dealing with their ordinary life, such as irrigation.

However the main official god of Qataban State was the moon, as it was known by the name “Amm”. In fact the city itself had the lable of “Am tribes”. The citizens of Qataban were called the “Sons of Amm”, while their King was ” The head of Sons of Amm”.

Moreover, kings of Qataban were known not to practise the autocratic ruling of the State. They had around them several local representatives assigned to the regions, together with, chiefs of the tribes. These had participated and advised the kings on all matters related to the issuance of decrees and laws, as well as, the usual running affairs of the throne. This meant there were some sort of a parliamentary system exercised by the State of Qataban.

In religious matters, the King used to be the head of all temples, and was referred by the term Al-Mukareb i.e. the religious “pope” for all semi-unions of Qataban's tribes.

Some sources also indicated the actual residences of Qataban tribes were to exist on the high plateau of Beihan Valley i.e. between Beihan and Hajr bin Hameed. One archeological site was discovered lately in Hajr bin Hameed by digging through twenty underground layers of soil, and a depth of 15 meters. The date of the site relates back to the eleventh century B.C. Thus, Wadi Beihan is considered one of the most ancient inhabited areas in Yemen.

* Mr. AbdulMajid Sher is a staff writer at the Ministry of Information in Sana'a, Yemen. He compiled the story from a history book entitled “Papers in the history and archeology of Yemen”