Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Arabia Felix: Yemen Then

Arabia Felix, Lucky Arabia, or present day Yemen, was at the heart of some of the most profitable commerce at the time of Emperor Augustus.

Incense, frankincense, was used extensively in Rome to mask the smell of burning flesh when they immolated their dead, a common Roman practice. It was a gateway north towards Rome and Byzantium, through the Red Sea as well as the trade routes through Mecca and of Medina, and south across the Indian Ocean to India and China.

It was a hub of global commerce with its own resources as well and Sanaa the capitol city was a beautiful hub of wealth and fine architecture.

The Historian Strabo, known for his books on geography stated about Arabia Felix, the following"

“The country of the Sanaaei (Arabia Felix), a very populous nation, is contiguous, and is the most fertile of all, producing myrrh, frankincense, and cinnamon. On the coast is found balsamum and another kind of herb of a very fragrant smell, but which is soon dissipated.

There are also sweet-smelling palms and the calamus. There are snakes also of a dark red color, a span in length, which spring up as high as a man's waist, and whose bite is incurable.

On account of the abundance which the soil produces, the people are lazy and indolent in their mode of life. The lower class of people live on roots, and sleep on the trees. The people who live near each other receive, in continued succession, the loads of perfumes and deliver them to others, who convey them as far as Syria and Mesopotamia. When the carriers become drowsy by the odor of the aromatics, the drowsiness is removed by the fumes of asphalt and of oat's beard.

Mariaba or Sanaa, the capital, is situated upon a mountain, well wooded. ... The people cultivate the ground, or follow the trade of dealing in aromatics, both the indigenous sort and those brought from Ethiopia; in order to procure them, they sail through the straits in vessels covered with skins. There is such an abundance of these aromatics, that cinnamon, cassia, and other spices are used by them instead of sticks and firewood.

By the trade in these aromatics both the Sanaaeans ... have become the richest of all the tribes, and possess a great quantity of wrought articles in gold and silver, as couches, tripods, basins, drinking-vessels, to which we must add the costly magnificence of their houses; for the doors, walls, and roofs are variegated with inlaid ivory, gold, silver, and precious stones. . ."

Arabia Felix prospered for centuries until the beginning of the seventh century, when Rome no longer burned their dead, they were buried, the demand for their product decreased, Byzantium was at war with Persia, Aden was ruled by Romans, Ethiopian Christians, Jews, and then Persians. The trade routes slowly faded.