Ḥimyarite Kingdom (red) in the 3rd century CE.
Sana'a (poss. 500s)
|Religion||Pagan cults and Judaism|
|-||490s-500s||Abu Kariba Assad|
The Ḥimyarite Kingdom or Ḥimyar (in Arabic مملكة حِمْيَر Mamlakat Ḥimyar) (Hebrew: ממלכת חִמְיָר) (Flourished 110 BC–520s), historically referred to as the Homerite Kingdom by the Greeks and the Romans, was a kingdom in ancient Yemen. Established in 110 BCE, it took as its capital the modern-day city of Sana'a after the ancient city of Zafar. The Kingdom conquered neighbouring Saba' (Sheba) in c.25 BC (for the first time), Qataban in c.200 CE, and Haḍramaut c.300 AD. Its political fortunes relative to Saba' changed frequently until it finally conquered the Sabaean Kingdom around 280 CE. Himyar then endured until it finally fell to Christian invaders in 525 AD.
The Ḥimyarite Kingdom was the dominant polity in Arabia until 525. Its economy was based on agriculture, and foreign trade centered on the export of frankincense and myrrh. For many years, the kingdom was also the major intermediary linking East Africa and the Mediterranean world. This trade largely consisted of exporting ivory from Africa to be sold in the Roman Empire. Ships from Ḥimyar regularly traveled the East African coast, and the state also exerted a large amount of Influence both cultural religious and political to the trading cities of East Africa whilst the cities of East Africa remained independent. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea describes the trading empire of Himyar and its ruler Charibael (Karab Il Watar Yuhan'em II), who is said to have been on friendly terms with Rome:
"23. And after nine days more there is Saphar, the metropolis, in which lives Charibael, lawful king of two tribes, the Homerites and those living next to them, called the Sabaites; through continual embassies and gifts, he is a friend of the Emperors."
Early period (115 BCE until 300 AD)
During this period, the Kingdom of Ḥimyar conquered the kingdoms of Saba' and Qataban and took Raydan/Zafar for its capital, instead of Ma’rib. In the early 2nd century CE Saba' and Qataban split from the Kingdom of Ḥimyar; yet in a few decades Qataban was conquered by Hadramawt (conquered in its turn by Ḥimyar in the 4th century), whereas Saba' was finally conquered by Ḥimyar in the late 3rd century AD.
Zafar's ruins still lie on Mudawwar Mountain near the town of Yarim. During this period, they began to decline and fall. Their trade failed to a very great extent, firstly, because of the Nabetaean domain over the north of Ḥijāz; secondly, because of the Roman superiority over the naval trade routes after the Roman conquest of Egypt, Syria and the north of Hijaz; and thirdly, because of inter-tribal warfare. Thanks to the three above-mentioned factors, families of Qaḥṭān were disunited and scattered about all over Arabia.
From 300 until the advent of Islam in Yemen
The Himyarite king appears to have reneged polytheism and converted to Judaism around the year 380, some 15–20 years after the conversion of the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum to Christianity (360-5), though no changes occurred in its script or calendar or language (unlike Aksum). This date marks the end of an era in which numerous inscriptions
This period witnessed a lot of disorder and turmoil. The great many foreign and civil wars cost the people of the Yemen their independence. During this era, the Aksumites invaded Tihāmah and Najrān for the first time in the year 340, making use of the constant intra-tribal conflict of Hamdan and Ḥimyar. The Aksumite occupation of Tihāmah and Najrān lasted until 378, whereafter Yemen expelled the Aksumites. After this the Ma'rib Dam's last great flood (450 or 451) weakened Ḥimyar further and led to its collapse.
The capital of the kingdom was located in Zafar. In the fifth century, several kings of Ḥimyar are known to have adhered to Judaism. The political context was the position of Arabia between the competing empires of Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia. Neutrality, and good trade relations with both empires, was essential to the prosperity of the Arabian trade routes. Scholars speculate that the choice of Judaism may have been an attempt at maintaining neutrality,
or as a device to establish a symbolic difference from the Christian kingdom of Aksum.
The first Aksumite invasion took place sometime in the 5th century and was triggered by the murder of some Byzantine merchants. Two Christian sources, including the Zuqnin Chronicle once attributed to Dionysius I Telmaharoyo, which was written over three centuries later, the Himyarite king motivated the killings by stating:-
This is because in the countries of the Romans the Christians wickedly harass the Jews who live in their countries and kill many of them. Therefore I am putting these men to death.
In retaliation the Aksumites invaded the land and thereafter established a bishopric and built Christian churches in Zafar.
By the year 500, on the eve of the regency of Marthad'īlān Yanūf (c.500-515)the kingdom of Himyar exercised control over much of the Arabian peninsula. It was during his reign that the Himyarite kingdom began to become a tributary state of Aksum, the process concluding by the time of the reign of Ma'dīkarib Yafur (519-522), a Christian appointed by the Aksumites. A coup d'état ensued, with Dhu Nuwas, who had attempted to overthrow the dynasty several years earlier, assuming authority after killing the Aksumite garrison in Zafār. He then proceeded to engage the Ethiopian guards, and their Christian allies in the Tihāma coastal lowlands facing Abyssinia. After taking the port of Mukhawān, where he burnt down the local church, and advanced south as far as the fortress of Maddabān overlooking the Bāb-el-Mandab, where he expected Kaleb Ella Aṣbeḥa to land his fleet. The campaign eventually killed between 11,500 and 14,000, and took a similar number of prisoners. Mukhawān became his base, while he dispatched one of his generals, a Jewish prince by the name of Sharaḥ'īl Yaqbul dhu Yaz'an against Najrān, a predominantly Christian oasis, with a good number of Jews, which had supported with troops his earlier rebellion, but refused to recognize his authority after the massacre of the Aksumite garrison. The general blocked the caravan route connecting Najrān with Eastern Arabia.
the King of Ḥimyar, Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad, undertook a military expedition into northern Arabia in an effort to eliminate Byzantine influence. The Byzantine emperors had long eyed the Arabian Peninsula as a region in which to extend their influence, thereby to control the lucrative spice trade and the route to India. Without actually staging a conquest of the region, the Byzantines hoped to establish a protectorate over the pagan Arabs by converting them to Christianity. The cross would then bear commercial advantages as it did in Ethiopia. The Byzantines had made some progress in northern Arabia but had met with little success in Ḥimyar.
Abu-Kariba's forces reached Yathrib and, meeting no resistance and not expecting any treachery from the inhabitants, they passed through the city, leaving a son of the king behind as governor. Scarcely had Abu-Kariba proceeded farther, when he received news that the people of Yathrib had killed his son. Smitten with grief; he turned back in order to wreak bloody vengeance on the city. After cutting down the palm trees from which the inhabitants derived their main income, Abu-Kariba laid siege to the city. The Jews of Yathrib fought side by side with pagan fellow inhabitants to defend their town and harried the besiegers with sudden sallies. During the siege Abu-Kariba fell severely ill. Two Jewish scholars in Yathrib, Ka'ab and Asad by name, hearing of their enemy's misfortune, called on the king in his camp, and used their knowledge of medicine to restore him to health. While attending the king, they pleaded with him to lift the siege and make peace. The sages' appeal is said to have persuaded Abu-Kariba; he called off his attack and also embraced Judaism along with his entire army. At his insistence, the two Jewish savants accompanied the Ḥimyarite king back to his capital, where he demanded that all his people convert to Judaism. Initially, there was great resistance, but after an ordeal had justified the king's demand and confirmed the truth of the Jewish faith, many Himyarites embraced Judaism. Such conversions, by ordeal, were not uncommon in Arabia. Some historians argue that the conversions occurred, not due to political motivations, but because Judaism, by its philosophical, simplistic and austere nature, was attractive to the nature of the Semitic people. In any case, it is known that by the 6th and 7th centuries, Judaism flourished in Himyar; and in inscriptions dating from those centuries Jewish religious terms such as "Raḥmān" ("the merciful," a divine epithet), "the God of Israel", and the "Lord of Judah" bears testament to this fact.
Abu-Kariba's reign did not last long after his conversion to Judaism. His warlike nature prevented him from maintaining peace and prompted him to engage in bold enterprises. It is uncertain how Abu-Kariba met his death, although some scholars believe that his own soldiers, worn out by constant campaigning, killed him. He left three sons, Ḥasan, 'Amru, and Zorah, all of whom were minors at the time. After Abu-Kariba's demise, a pagan named Dhū-Shanatir seized the throne. In the reign of Subahbi'il Yakkaf, the son of Abu Karib Assad, a certain Azqir, a Christian missionary from Najrān was put to death after he had erected a chapel with a cross. Christian sources interpret the event as a martyrdom at Jewish hands -the site for his execution, Najrān, being said to have been chosen on the advice of a rabbi, but indigenous sources do not mention persecutions on the grounds of faith, and it may have been merely to deter the extension of Byzantine influence.
The Jewish monarchy in Ḥimyar continued for several decades, with one interruption. It finally ended with the reign of Yṳsuf, known as Dhū Nuwās, who in 523 attacked the Christian population of Najrān.  (These events, long attested to by Syriac, Greek, and Arabic sources, had until recently been largely dismissed by Western scholars as implausible, but recent discoveries of period inscriptions seem to leave little doubt regarding the historicity of the sources). Word of the slaughter eventually reached the negus of Axum, who invaded Ḥimyar in 525, conquering it and deposing Yūsuf. Ethiopian Jewish tradition describes a second Jewish kingdom that arose soon after, the Kingdom of Semien.
Ancestral divisions of Himyar
- Himyar: The most famous of whose septs were Zaid Al-Jamhur, Banu Quda'a and Sakasic.
- Kahlan: The most famous of whose septs were Hamdan, Azd, Anmar, Ṭayy (today their descendants are known as Shammar), Midhhij, Kinda, Lakhm, Judham
Kahlan septs emigrated from Yemen to dwell in the different parts of the Arabian Peninsula prior to the Great Flood (Sail Al-‘Arim of Ma’rib Dam), due to the failure of trade under the Roman pressure and domain on both sea and land trade routes following Roman occupation of Egypt and Syria.
The emigrating septs of Kahlan can be divided into four groups:
- Azd: Who, under the leadership of ‘Imrān bin ‘Amr Muzaiqbā’, wandered in Yemen, sent pioneers and finally headed northwards. Details of their emigration can be summed up as follows:
- Tha‘labah bin ‘Amr left his tribe Al-Azd for Ḥijāz and dwelt between Tha‘labiyah and Dhī Qār. When he gained strength, he headed for Madīnah where he stayed. Of his seed are Aws and Khazraj, sons of Haritha bin Tha‘labah.
- Haritha bin ‘Amr, known as Khuzā‘ah, wandered with his people in Hijaz until they came to Mar Az-Zahran. They conquered the Ḥaram, and settled in Makkah after having driven away its people, the tribe of Jurhum.
- ‘Imrān bin ‘Amr and his folks went to ‘Oman where they established the tribe of Azd whose children inhabited Tihama and were known as Azd-of-Shanu’a.
- Jafna bin ‘Amr and his family, headed for Syria where he settled and initiated the kingdom of Ghassan who was so named after a spring of water, in Ḥijāz, where they stopped on their way to Syria.
- Lakhm and Judham: Of whom was Nasr bin Rabi‘a, father of Manadhira, Kings of Heerah.
- Banū Ṭayy: Who also emigrated northwards to settle by the so- called Aja and Salma Mountains which were consequently named as Tai’ Mountains. The tribe later became the tribe of Shammar.
- Kindah: Who dwelt in Bahrain but were expelled to Hadramout and Najd where they instituted a powerful government but not for long, for the whole tribe soon faded away.
However, the majority of the Ḥimyar Christian royalty migrated into Jordan, Al-Karak, where initially they were known as Banū Ḥimyar (Sons of Ḥimyar). They later on moved to central Jordan to settle in Madaba under the family name of Al-Hamarneh.
It is a matter of debate whether the Himyarite language (Semitic, but not Ṣayhadic) was spoken in the south-western Arabian peninsula until the 10th century.
Kings of Saba' and Ḥimyar
|Mukribs of Saba'|
|1||Yatha' Amar Bayin I|
|2||Yada' Il Bayin I|
|3||Samah Ali Yanuf I|
|4||Yatha' Amar Watar I|
|5||Yakrib Malek Zarih|
|6||Yakrib Malek Watar I|
|7||Samah Ali Yanuf II|
|8||Yada' Il Bayin II|
|9||Yatha' Amar Watar II|
|10||Yada' Ab I|
|11||Yada' Il Bayin III|
|12||Yakrib Malek Watar II|
|13||Yatha' Amar Bayin II|
|14||Karab Il Watar I|
|15||Yada' Ab II|
|17||Samah Ali Watar|
|18||Yada' Il Zarih son of 17|
|19||Samah Ali Yanuf III son of 18|
|20||Yatha' Amar Watar III son of 18|
|21||Yada' Il Bayin IV son of 20|
|22||Yada' Il Watar I son of 20|
|23||Zamir Ali Zarih I son of 21|
|24||Yatha' Amar Watar IV son of Samah Ali Yanuf son of 20|
|25||Karab Il Bayin I son of 24|
|26||Samah Ali Yanuf IV son of 24|
|27||Zamir Ali Watar son of 26|
|28||Samah Ali Yanuf V son of 27|
|29||Yatha' Amar Bayin III son of 28|
|30||Yakrib Malek Watar III|
|31||Zamir Ali Yanuf son of 30|
|Kings of Saba'|
|32||Karab Il Watar II son of 31|
|33||Samah Ali Zarih son of 32|
|34||Karab Il Watar III son of 33|
|35||Il Sharih I son of 33|
|36||Yada' Il Bayin V son of 34|
|37||Yakrib Malek Watar IV son of 36|
|38||Yatha' Amar Bayin IV son of 37|
|39||Karab Il Watar IV son of 38|
|40||Yada' Il Bayin VI son of 39|
|41||Samah Ali Yanuf VI son of 39|
|42||Yatha' Amar Watar V son of 39|
|43||Il Sharih II son of 41|
|44||Zamir Ali Bayin I son of 41|
|45||Yada' Il Watar II son of 44|
|46||Zamir Ali Bayin II son of 45|
|47||Samah Ali Yanuf VII son of 46|
|48||Karab Il Watar V son of 46?|
|49||Karab Yuhan'em son of Ham Athat|
|50||Karab Il Watar VI son of 49|
|51||Wahab Shamsam son of Halik Amar|
|52||Wahab Il Yahiz I son of Saraw|
|53||Anmar Yuha'man I son of 52|
|54||Zamir Ali Zarih II son of 53|
|55||Nasha Karab Yuha'man son of 54|
|56||Wahab Il Yahiz II|
|57||Zamir Ali Bayin III|
|58||Anmar Yuha'man II son of 56|
|59||Yasir Yuhan'em I|
|60||Shamir Yuhar'esh I son of 59|
|61||Yarim Aymin son of Awsalat Rafshan|
|62||Karab Il Watar Yuhan'em I son of 56|
|63||Alhan Nahfan son of 61|
|Kings of Saba' & Ziridan|
|65||Sha'ram Awtar son of 63|
|66||Il Sharih Yahzib son of 64|
|67||Yazil Bayin son of 64|
|68||Hayu Athtar Yazi' son of 65?|
|69||Karab Il Watar Yuhan'em II son of 57|
|70||Watar Yuha'min son of 66|
|71||Zamir Ali Zarih III son of 69|
|72||Nasha Karab Yuha'min Yuharhib son of 66|
|73||Karab Il Bayin II son of 71|
|75||Sa'd Shams Asri' son of 66|
|76||Murthid Yuhahmid son of 75|
|77||Zamir Ali Yahbir I son of 74|
|78||Tharin Ya'ib Yuhan'im son of 77|
|79||Zamir Ali Yahbir II son of 78|
|81||Amdan Bayin Yuhaqbiz|
|82||Hutar Athat Yafish|
|83||Karab Athat Yuhaqbiz|
|85||Rab Shams Namran|
|86||Il Ez Nawfan Yuhasdiq|
|87||Sa'd Um Namran|
|88||Yasir Yuhan'em II|
|Kings of Saba' & Ziridan & Hazarmut & Yamnit|
|89||Shamir Yuhar'esh II son of 88|
|90||Yarim Yuharhib son of 89|
|91||Yasir Yuhan'im III son of 89|
|92||Tharin Ayfi' son of 91|
|93||Zari' Amar Aymin I son of 91|
|94||Karab Il Watar Yuhan'em III|
|95||Tharin Yakrib son of 89|
|96||Zamir Ali Yahbir III son of 95|
|97||Tharin Yuhan'im son of 96|
|98||Malki Karab Yuha'min son of 97|
|99||Zari' Amar Aymin II son of 98|
|100||Ab Karab As'id son of 98|
|101||Hasan Yuha'min son of 100|
|102||Sharhib Il Ya'fir son of 100|
|103||Sharhib Il Yakif|
|104||Mu'di Karab Yan'im son of 103|
|105||Luhay'ath Yanuf son of 103|
|106||Nawfim son of 103|
|107||Murthid Alan Yanuf|
|108||Mu'di Karab Ya'fir|
- Ancient history of Yemen
- Rulers of Sheba and Himyar
- Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad
- Yemenite Jews
- Zafar, Yemen
- See, e.g, Bafaqih 1990.
- Korotayev A. Pre-Islamic Yemen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1996.
- Christian Julien Robin,'Arabia and Ethiopia,'in Scott Johnson (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Oxford University Press 2012 pp.247-333, p.279.
- Norbert Nebes, 'The Martyrs of Najrān and End of the Ḥimyar: On the Political History of South Arabia in the Early Sixth Century,' the Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, Michael Marx (eds.), The Qur'ān in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations Into the Qur'ānic Milieu, BRILL 2010 pp.27-60, p.43.
- "The Jewish Kingdom of Himyar (Yemen): Its Rise and Fall," by Jacob Adler, Midstream, May/June 2000 Volume XXXXVI No. 4
- Christopher Haas, 'Geopolitics and Georgian Identity in Late Antiquity: The Dangerous World of Vakhtang Gorgasali,' in Tamar Nutsubidze, Cornelia B. Horn, Basil Lourié(eds.),Georgian Christian Thought and Its Cultural Context, BRILL pp.29-44, p.39.
- Christian Julien Robin,'Arabia and Ethiopia,'in Scott Johnson (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Oxford University Press 2012 pp.247-333.p.282
- P. Yule, Himyar Spätantike im Jemen, Late Antique Yemen, Aichwald, 2007, p. 98-99
- Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, Verso 2009 p.194.
- Robert Hoyland,Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam, Routledge,2001 p.51.
- G.W. Bowersock, The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Kingdom in Arabia, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, 2011, ; The Adulis Throne, Oxford University Press, in press.
- Alessandro de Maigret. Arabia Felix, translated Rebecca Thompson. London: Stacey International, 2002. ISBN 1-900988-07-0
- Andrey Korotayev. Ancient Yemen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-922237-1.
- Andrey Korotayev. Pre-Islamic Yemen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1996. ISBN 3-447-03679-6.
- Bafaqīh, M. ‛A., L'unification du Yémen antique. La lutte entre Saba’, Himyar et le Hadramawt de Ier au IIIème siècle de l'ère chrétienne. Paris, 1990 (Bibliothèque de Raydan, 1).
- Yule, P., Himyar Late Antique Yemen/Die Spätantike im Jemen, Aichwald, 2007, ISBN 978-3-929290-35-6
- Yule, Zafar-The Capital of the Ancient Himyarite Empire Rediscovered, Jemen-Report 36, 2005, 22-29
- Joseph Adler, "The Jewish Kingdom of Himyar (Yemen): Its Rise and Fall" Midstream, May/June 2000, Volume XXXXVI, No. 4