Ḥimyar Proper (Dark Green), Himyarite Allies (Green), Nominal sphere of influence (light Green), Himyarite Rivals (Italic)
Sana'a (from the beginning of the 4th century)
Judaism after 390 CE
|•||275-300 CE||Shammar Yahri'sh|
|•||390–420 CE||Abu Karab As'ad|
|•||510s-525 CE||Yusuf Ash'ar Dhu Nuwas|
The Ḥimyarite Kingdom or Ḥimyar (Arabic: مملكة حِمْيَر, Mamlakat Ḥimyar, Musnad: 𐩢𐩣𐩺𐩧𐩣, Hebrew: ממלכת חִמְיָר) (fl. 110 BCE–520s CE), 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 ancient city of Zafar, to be followed at the beginning of the 4th century by what is the modern-day city of Sana'a. The kingdom conquered neighbouring Saba' (Sheba) in c. 25 BCE (for the first time), Qataban in c. 200 CE, and Haḍramaut c. 300 CE. Its political fortunes relative to Saba' changed frequently until it finally conquered the Sabaean Kingdom around 280. Himyar then endured until it finally fell to invaders from the Kingdom of Aksum in 525.
The Ḥimyarite Kingdom maintained nominal control 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 travelled the East African coast, and the state also exerted a large amount of Influence both cultural, religious and political over 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 El 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 BC 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; therefore, they have been called Dhu Raydan (Ar: ذو ريدان). In the early 2nd century AD Saba' and Qataban split from the Kingdom of Ḥimyar; yet in a few decades Qataban was conquered by Hadhramaut (conquered in its turn by Ḥimyar in the 4th century), whereas Saba' was finally conquered by Ḥimyar in the late 3rd century.
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 intertribal warfare. Thanks to the three above-mentioned factors, families of Qaḥṭān were disunited and scattered about all over Arabia.
The Himyarite kings appear to have abandoned polytheism and converted to Judaism around the year 380, several decades after the conversion of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum to Christianity (340), though no changes occurred in its script, calendar, or language (unlike Aksum). This date marks the end of an era in which numerous inscriptions record the names and deeds of kings, and dedicate buildings to local (e.g. Wagal and Simyada) and major (e.g. Almaqah) gods. From the 380s, temples were abandoned and dedications to the old gods ceased, replaced by references to Rahmanan, "the Lord of Heaven" or "Lord of Heaven and Earth". The political context for this conversion may have been Arabia's interest in maintaining neutrality and good trade relations with the competing empires of Byzantium, which first adopted Christianity under Constantine the Great and the Sasanian Empire, which alternated between Zurvanism and Manichaeism.
One of the first Jewish kings, Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad (r. 390–420), is believed to have converted following a military expedition into northern Arabia in an effort to eliminate Byzantine influence. The Byzantine emperors had long eyed the Arabian Peninsula and sought to control the lucrative spice trade and route to India. The Byzantines hoped to establish a protectorate by converting the inhabitants to Christianity. Some progress had been made in northern Arabia but with little success in Ḥimyar.
Abu-Kariba's forces reached Yathrib and, meeting no resistance, they passed through the city, leaving the king's son behind as governor. Abu-Kariba soon received news that the people of Yathrib had killed his son. He turned back in order to wreak vengeance on the city. After cutting down the palm trees from which the inhabitants derived their main income, he laid siege to the city. The Jews of Yathrib fought side by side with their pagan neighbors.
During the siege Abu-Kariba fell severely ill. Two Jewish scholars in Yathrib, Ka'ab and Asad by name, 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 scholars 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 supported Judaism. Some historians argue that the supported were not due to political motivations, but that Judaism, by its philosophical, simplistic and austere nature, was attractive to the nature of the Semitic people.
Abu-Kariba continued to engage in military campaigns and met his death under unclear circumstances. Some scholars believe that his own soldiers 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 first Aksumite invasion took place sometime in the 5th century and was triggered by the persecution of Christians. 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.
The Jewish monarchy in Ḥimyar ended with the reign of Yṳsuf, known as Dhū Nuwās, who in 523 attacked the Christian population of Najrān.  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 Bab-el-Mandeb, 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, who 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.
During this period, references to pagan gods disappeared from royal inscriptions and texts on public buildings, and were replaced by references to a single deity. Inscriptions in the Sabean language, and sometimes Hebrew, called this deity Rahman (the Merciful), “Lord of the Heavens and Earth,” the “God of Israel” and “Lord of the Jews.” Prayers invoking Rahman's blessings on the “people of Israel” often ended with the Hebrew words shalom and amen. 
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, Kindah, 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. Amharic, the language of the Amhara and official language of Ethiopia is likely an altered form of Himyaritic, according to the "Penny Cyclopaedia of the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge" (p. 451). Dr Steven L. Danver, also wrote in "Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues" (p. 15), that the name "Amhara" (the Amharic-speaking Ethio-Semitic people) is believed to be derived from Himyarites.
Post-Aksumite Dynasties & rulers
After the spread of Islam in Yemen, Himyarite noble families were able to re-establish control over parts of Yemen.
- Kindites rulers of Central Arabia during the Aksumite occupation of Himyar
- Yufirid Dynasty over most of Yemen (847-997)
- Mahdid Dynasty over Southern Tihama (1159-1174)
- Ancient history of Yemen
- Rulers of Sheba and Himyar
- Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad
- Yemenite Jews
- Zafar, Yemen
- Ethiopian–Persian wars
- Encyclopædia Britannica, Himyar
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- David, Ariel (15 March 2016). "Before Islam: When Saudi Arabia Was a Jewish Kingdom" – via Haaretz.
- J. F. Breton (Trans. Albert LaFarge), Arabia Felix From The Time Of The Queen Of Sheba, Eighth Century B.C. To First Century A.D., 1998, University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame (IN), pp. 119-120.
- Julian Baldick (1998). Black God. Syracuse University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0815605226.
- Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions, 1999 - 1181 páginas
- J. Ryckmans, "South Arabia, Religion Of", in D. N. Freedman (Editor-in-Chief), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, Volume 6, op. cit., p. 172
- 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).
- Paul Yule, Himyar Late Antique Yemen/Die Spätantike im Jemen, Aichwald, 2007, ISBN 978-3-929290-35-6
- Paul Yule, Zafar-The Capital of the Ancient Himyarite Empire Rediscovered, Jemen-Report 36, 2005, 22-29
- Paul Yule, (ed.), Late Antique Arabia Ẓafār, Capital of Ḥimyar, Rehabilitation of a 'Decadent' Society, Excavations of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg 1998–2010 in the Highlands of the Yemen, Abhandlungen Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, vol. 29, Wiesbaden 2013, ISSN 0417-2442, ISBN 978-3-447-06935-9
- Joseph Adler, "The Jewish Kingdom of Himyar (Yemen): Its Rise and Fall" Midstream, May/June 2000, Volume XXXXVI, No. 4
- R. Stupperich–P. Yule, Ḥimyarite Period Bronze Sculptural Groups from the Yemenite Highlands, in: A. Sedov (ed.), Arabian and Islamic Studies A Collection of Papers in Honour of Mikhail Borishovic Piotrovskij on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, Moscow, 2014, 338–67. ISBN 978-5-903417-63-6