” Memphis was captured like a water hurricane , many people were killed there, and prisoners were brought to the place where His Majesty was … There is no longer a nome closed to His Majesty among the nomes of the South and North, West and East.” So narrates about the accession of the Kushites in Egypt in 729 BC. e. unknown author of the Pianhi stele.
For almost a century, newcomers from Napata called themselves the pharaohs of Egypt, who arose, as if from nothing, on the historical stage after a century and a half of silence from epigraphic and archaeological sources south of the first Nile threshold. However, the previous long period of Egyptian domination outwardly, it would seem, leveled many aspects of local cultural traditions. The search for the origin of the newly appeared “lords of the Two Lands” takes us back to ancient times.
The fate of the two peoples, the Egyptians and the Kushites, has been closely intertwined over the centuries. According to academician B. B. Piotrovsky, archaeological materials of the 4th millennium BC. e. clearly show that the same culture covered at that time Upper Egypt and Northern Nubia. Later, due to the peculiarities of the geographical factor, the development of cultures proceeded in two different ways.
Kush controlled the territories mainly between the third and fifth Nile rapids, but sometimes the Kushite kings managed to extend their power in the north to Aswan and in the south to Khartoum, the capital of modern Sudan. The name of the country, as well as of its individual parts, was not the same. Kush was inhabited by agricultural and cattle breeding associations.
Early settlements south of Egypt
Already in the III millennium BC. e. territories south of the first rapids of the Nile become the object of military raids, and then direct conquest by the Egyptian pharaohs. The development of the early archaeological culture, known as the A-group, was interrupted in its prime by raids from the north. The population of the “group C” culture, which replaced and partially absorbed its remnants, already had a significant admixture of Negroid elements. Recent archaeological excavations have shown that the carriers of the Kerma Group C cultures are closely related in origin to the regions of South and East Sudan, as well as the Sahara, that they appear in the Nile Valley in the middle of the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC. e. Judging by the archaeological materials, the carriers of the “C” culture mainly occupied the territory of North Nubia proper, the carriers of the “Kerma culture” – the territory of Kush.
Excavations of the settlement and the necropolis of Kerma paint a picture of a developed society: a powerful town-planning complex, multifaceted architectural structures of a religious center, residential quarters built of baked bricks with large granaries, a fence that ran around the city center. The settlement of Kerma can be rightfully considered unique for the whole of Nubia.
Kerma’s society already had significant class differentiation. The rulers owned large herds of bulls and goats. Among the various types of ceramics, along with the Egyptian ones, there are items trimmed with mother-of-pearl from the Red Sea, and ivory items brought from Central Sudan, which testifies to broad ties and a significant level of development of society. The décor of the ceramics testifies to the strong influence of Black Africa. The population of Kerma maintained close contacts with Egypt, the population of Eastern Sahara, the Khartoum regions and the border regions of Ethiopia. Some tombs of the metropolis and the territory to which the power of Kerma extended, reached 100 meters in diameter, which provides one more proof of the power of its rulers.
During its heyday, coinciding with the period of the Middle Kingdom and the II Transitional Period, Kerma controlled the territory from the second to the fourth Nile threshold. Even during the period of Egyptian colonization, as the most recent excavations of the French archaeologist show III. Bonnet, Kerma, obviously, retained its status as a regional metropolis. The most stable was the local burial rite. In a later period, the constructions of the new centers of the Kushite civilization of Kava, Napata and Meroe show similarities with those of Kerma, which proves the local (Kermiian) roots of this civilization.
Egyptization of the region
A large number of natural resources, among which the most important place was occupied by gold deposits, located, in particular, in Wadi Allaki (here in 1961-1962 Soviet archaeological expedition conducted excavations led by Academician B. B. Piotrovsky), as well as the possibility of cattle breeding , valuable species of trees, theft of prisoners, determined the policy of Egypt towards this country. The era of Egyptian domination in Kush significantly affected its development and determined its fate for a long time. Already by the end of the II Transitional Period, the Egyptianization of the Kushite society reaches such a degree that it is practically difficult to separate the local features from the Egyptian ones. And with the departure of the Egyptians, the shadow of a great power remains here forever, even in areas where they never reigned.
The process of cultural interaction in the broadest sense of the word with the dominant role of Egypt at the first stage (from the initial period of the conquest to the XXV dynasty) took place not only through the forcible introduction of certain elements of culture (types of temples, Egyptian cults, paraphernalia, image style, language, social terminology, etc.) partly institutions of state power, the priesthood), but also selectively – only those features that corresponded to local traditions and views were preserved and taken root.
The rulers of Kush on the Egyptian throne
However, the Egyptian base, transforming on the local soil, acquired a different flavor, and sometimes even not at all peculiar to it in Egypt. During the XXV dynasty, the result of the long-term influence of the Egyptians on the development of Kushite society boomerang returned to Egypt, conquered by the rulers of Kush, who possessed the same titles of Pharaoh (the son of Ra, “the lord of both Lands”, under the auspices of Horus and the goddesses of the vulture and snake), who preached the same the formulas of religious struggle at the behest of Amun, which at one time justified the Egyptian campaigns of conquest.
Staying on the Egyptian throne, it would seem, strengthened the influence of Egypt, but it was only an external moment – the desire to imitate and copy the greatness of the former ruler. Thus, a pyramid was built over the grave of Pianhi, although in Egypt itself they had not been built for about a thousand years before. It is possible that the body of Pianhi was mummified, for canopic canopies were found in the tomb. However, the body rested not in the sarcophagus, but on the bed, as is typical for the burial grounds of Kerma.
Pianhi Shabak’s successor left a fond memory of his dominion in Egypt. By his order, the oldest theological treatise of Memphis was rewritten. The efforts were not in vain. Long after Shabaka’s death, right up to Ptolemaic time, one of the streets of Memphis bore his name. The dynasty reached its apogee at the time of Taharka. His coronation stele was installed not only in the magnificent temple of Gempaton (at the third threshold), which was completed and decorated by him, but also in the northern part of the Delta, in Tanis. The last representative of the XXV dynasty, Tanutamon, despite the prediction to reign in Egypt, received in a dream, did not have to enjoy glory for long. The power and onslaught of the Assyrian troops scattered the ambitions of the pharaohs from Kush to dust.
Apparently, due to the threat of invasion by foreigners from the north or for some other reason, the main centers of the Kushite civilization moved much further south, to Napata and Meroe, to the fourth and fifth Nile rapids. The residence of the royal family from the 6th-5th centuries. BC e. was in Meroe, but Napata remained the main religious center. The main rite of the sovereign’s coronation took place here, after which he made trips to other large sanctuaries of Kush.
Temples of Kush
The most prominent monument of local architecture and art is the religious complex in Musavwarat-es-Sufra, where the local lion-headed god Apedemak was revered. The reliefs of this temple in their style of execution are still very much reminiscent of the Egyptian ones, although upon careful study there is already a departure from the principles of the Egyptian canon. The hymn to Apedemak, inscribed, however, in Egyptian hieroglyphs, is purely Meroite in its content. Numerous images of a lion on the reliefs of the religious complex of Musavwarat-es-Sufra reflect the typical African symbolism of the lion king, associated with the ideas of the power and physical strength of the ruler, the bearer of fertility, ensuring the well-being of his subjects.
At the turn of our era, another temple was built in honor of the god Apedemak, in Naga. Its architecture was sustained in the local style. On the reliefs, Apedemak is represented as a three-headed and four-armed lion-headed god, as well as in the guise of a lion-headed snake with a human body and a lion’s head. These images were entirely the product of the creativity of local craftsmen and reflected the functions of the lion-headed god of war and at the same time the god of fertility.
The Greek tradition has preserved the memory of the Meroite king Ergamene (Arkamani), who lived during the time of Ptolemy II, who received a Greek upbringing and philosophical education. He dared to destroy the old customs, according to which the aging ruler, at the behest of the priests, had to die. “Taking a mindset worthy of a king,” wrote Diodorus, “he… interrupted all the priests and, having destroyed this custom, changed everything at his discretion”. In modern science, the origin of the Meroit writing is sometimes associated with the name of this ruler.
The first inscriptions in the Meroite script have come down to us from the 2nd century BC. BC e., although the language certainly existed much earlier. This is the oldest alphabetic writing on the African continent arose under the direct influence of the Egyptian, both hieroglyphic and demotic.
The entire history of the development of the Meroite culture took place in cooperation with the largest powers of antiquity. Many of their traditions and achievements were adopted in Kush. Syncretism in Kush culture is thus historically conditioned. Among external factors, the leading role in the formation of a cultural tradition, of course, belongs to Egypt, a number of features of which have taken root in Kush without changes. This applies to individual images of Egyptian gods, to the style of depicting relief and statuary compositions, to the attributes of kings and gods – the shape of a crown, scepters, an attached oxtail, to sacrificial formulas and a number of other elements of the funeral cult, to some temple rituals, to the titles of kings.
A certain role in maintaining the tradition was played by the permanent layer of the Egyptian population in Kush – the direct bearer of culture. A feature of the process was the adaptation of features of Egyptian culture to such an extent that they were already mechanically perceived by the population and were no longer perceived as an alien, but as a local element.
In the Greco-Roman period, the process of cultural influence took place indirectly – through Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, as well as directly – through the Greek and Roman populations located in Meroe. The most striking manifestations of this influence are the so-called Roman kiosk in Naga, the remains of the Roman baths in Meroe, full-face figures of the gods, similar in style to Greek images. This should also include poetry in honor of the local god Mandulis, compiled according to various forms of the Greek literary canon.
Already from the time of Alexander the Great, Kush occupied a quite definite place in Hellenistic, and later in Roman literature. Kush was associated with travel, imaginary or real geographical discoveries, was considered a place of refuge for the rulers who were oppressed and persecuted from Egypt. The reader is presented with a fabulously rich country in gold, the place where the gods revered in the Greco-Roman world are concentrated. So in the synthesis of various elements, but with the stable preservation of the local basis, over the centuries, a qualitatively new culture was formed and developed – the Kush civilization, which influenced those countries with which it came into direct contact.
The traditions of deep antiquity have been preserved for centuries in the people’s memory. Even in modern Sudanese folklore, there is a legend about the Napa king of Naphtha, etymologically clearly dating back to the Meroite toponym, about the ancient customs of killing kings and their abolition by King Akaf, about serpents — the guardians of the temple, and many others. The legends contain memories of the treasures of Kerma, and the local population still surrounds with legends and reveres the ruins – the remains of the ancient settlement of Kerma. The distinctive and original culture of Kush has contributed to the common cultural heritage of the countries of the ancient East, was the source of the modern culture of the peoples of Sudan.
Ancient cultures of tropical Africa
The current level of our knowledge allows us to state with full certainty that nowhere in sub-Saharan Africa until the turn of the 7th-8th centuries. n. e. societies with antagonistic classes did not develop, and that only after the appearance of the Arabs in North and East Africa did the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa become familiar with writing.
It is indisputable, however, that in different regions there were certain communities that differed in one or another specific features of material and spiritual culture, which would be more correct to define as pre-civilization or proto-civilization.
These, relatively speaking, the most ancient civilizations, the addition of which generally coincided in time with the transition to the Iron Age throughout the entire territory of sub-Saharan Africa, formed in several main regions that separated huge distances, where, apparently, the population that lived in the early stages of the primitive communal system. These centers of civilizations were:
- Western Sudan and adjacent parts of the Sahelian zone in the north, as well as adjacent areas of the Sahara;
- central and southwestern parts of modern Nigeria;
- basin of the upper course of the river. Lualaba (present-day Shaba province in Zaire);
- the central and eastern regions of today’s Republic of Zimbabwe, which owes its name to the brilliant civilization that took shape here in the first centuries of the 2nd millennium AD. e .;
- African Indian Ocean coast.
Archaeological studies of the last two decades convincingly show a direct continuity between these ancient civilizations and the civilizations of the African Middle Ages – the great powers of Western Sudan (Ghana, Mali, Songhai), Ife, Benin, Congo, Zimbabwe, Swahili civilization.
The most advanced civilizations developed in Western Sudan and Nigeria. Central African centers lagged behind in terms of the appearance of iron and copper metallurgy and large urban-type settlements. The East African hearth was distinguished by a certain specificity associated with the role of sea trade in its formation.
Contacts between centers of civilizations
The separation of the centers of the civilizations of Tropical Africa by significant distances did not at all mean that there were no connections between them. They can be traced between the West Sudanese and Nigerian foci, between the latter and the Congo basin. Archaeological data reveal contacts that existed between the territory of present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe and the Upper Lualaba region, as well as the East African coast, although most of these data date back to the beginning of the 2nd millennium AD. e.
The situation was different with non-African contacts. If Western Sudan by the VIII century. n. e. already had many centuries of contact with North Africa, and East Africa had long-standing ties with the Red Sea basin, and then the Persian Gulf region and South Asia, the Nigerian and Central African foci did not interact directly with non-African societies. But this did not exclude indirect contacts, for example, the predecessors of the Zimbabwean civilization with the Middle East and South Asia. They were carried out through the harbors of the East African coast. Known, for example, finds of Roman products in the interior regions of the African continent, which are quite remote from the caravan and sea routes.
The high level of civilization of the West Sudanese hearth was the result of the development of local societies, although long-term and stable ties with the class societies of the Mediterranean region accelerated this development to some extent. The connections are evidenced by numerous rock carvings along two main ancient routes through the Sahara: from southern Morocco to the region of the inner delta of the river. Niger and from Fezzan to the eastern end of the great bend of Niger near what is now Gao. It’s about the so-called chariot roads: rock carvings of horse-drawn chariots speak of quite lively contacts, but with certain time and character restrictions. On the one hand, the appearance of the horse in the Sahara dates back only to the 1st millennium BC. e., and on the other hand, the chariots of Saharan images themselves, according to experts, could hardly be used for any other purposes, except for prestigious ones, due to the fragility of the structure, which does not allow them to be used either as a cargo or, possibly, like a war wagon.
The true “technical revolution” occurred with the appearance of the camel in the Sahara around the turn of the 2nd-1st centuries. BC e. and had serious social consequences, defining the forms of relations between the inhabitants of the desert and their sedentary neighbors to the south and allowing trade across the desert to become a stable and regulated institution. True, the latter, apparently, happened completely later and was associated with the appearance of the Arabs.
Bronze hearth of metallurgy
The Trans-Saharan contacts probably played a certain role in the formation of the West African hotbed of the Bronze Age industry, which preceded the iron metallurgy, – the only hotbed in all of Tropical Africa. Excavations by French explorer Nicole Lambert in Mauritania in the 60s. proved the existence of a large center of the copper and bronze industry here. Copper mines and copper smelting sites (Lemden) were discovered in the Akzhuzht area. Not only large accumulations of slag were found, but also the remains of a smelting furnace with blow tubes. The finds date back to the 6th-5th centuries. BC e. The Moorish center of the bronze industry lay just at the southern end of the western “chariot road”, which directly connected it with a similar, but dating back to the center of metallurgy in southern Morocco.
The scientific literature has suggested a connection between the Moorish center of metallurgy and numerous burials and megalithic structures along the middle reaches of the Niger in the Gundam-Niafunke region. There is no need to deny the fundamental possibility of such a connection. However, in areas much closer to Akjouzht along the Dar Tishit cliff in Mauritania, lying on a straight line between Akjouzht and the Niger Valley, the influence of the bronze industry did not manifest itself. Archaeological discoveries of the late 70s – early 80s. force to connect the monuments of the Gundam-Niafunke region rather with another center of civilization, unique for the entire territory of Tropical Africa, since it is distinguished by a fairly developed tradition of urban life, which was formed even before the beginning of our era.
We are talking about the excavations of the American archaeologists Susan and Rodrik McIntosh in Jenna (Mali), begun in 1977. On the Dioboro hill, 3 km from the city, the remains of an urban-type settlement were uncovered: the ruins of a city wall and quarterly buildings with numerous traces residential buildings. Jenne-Jeno (Old Jenne) has preserved evidence of the existence of a developed iron metallurgy and ceramic production in the district. The city served as the center of active trade between the upper Niger region and the Sahelian zone, as well as in the middle Niger delta. Radiocarbon dating allows us to attribute its foundation to the 3rd century. BC e., while according to tradition it was believed that the city arose no earlier than the VIII century. It is especially important that the results of McIntosh’s work make it possible to revise the usual views on the nature of exchanges in the inner delta region, as well as the reasons for the formation in this region of the first of the known to us early state formations of Tropical Africa – ancient Ghana. And in this respect, the Western Sudanese center of civilizations is unique.
The fact is that the formation of ancient Ghana was usually associated with the needs of the trans-Saharan trade. Now it becomes obvious that long before the appearance of Ghana and the formation of large trade across the desert in the middle reaches of the Niger, a rather complex and organized economic complex with a developed system of exchanges had grown, in which agricultural products, iron, copper and products from them and products of cattle breeding were involved ; while iron in such exchanges preceded copper. These data allow us to understand the true relationship between internal and external factors in the historical development of the region.
The results of archaeological research indicate a continuous deterioration of the “political” situation in the Dar-Tishit area during the 1st millennium BC. e. The decrease in the size of settlements, the enclosure of their defensive walls and the gradual transfer to the tops of the hills indicate an increase in pressure from the nomads, who were obviously pushed to the south by the growing aridizationSahara. It has been suggested that the rudimentary exploitation of Negroid farmers by these nomads began. But the same pressure to a greater extent stimulated the formation of large organizational early political structures among farmers, capable of resisting aggression. This tendency manifested itself in any case in the second quarter of the 1st millennium BC. e., and possibly earlier, by the beginning of this millennium. Ancient Ghana at the turn of the 3rd-4th centuries n. e. became the logical completion of this trend. This is quite understandable, considering that the appearance of the camel in the Sahara dramatically increased the military-technical potential of nomadic societies.
Nigerian “civilizations” (Nok, Ife, Igbo-Ukwu, Sao)
The Nigerian home of the most ancient civilizations is directly related to the emergence of the iron industry in West Africa. Most of the early civilizations of the mentioned center are distinguished by some degree of continuity in relation to the so-called Nok culture, the earliest Iron Age culture in the region, dating back to the 5th century. BC e. It includes the oldest surviving monuments of artistic creativity of the peoples of Tropical Africa – a rich collection of realistic sculptures found during excavations along with metal and stone tools, jewelry made of metal and pearls. In addition to purely artistic merit, it is interesting in that it presents features of the style that have been preserved in traditional African sculpture (including wood) up to our time. Besides,
The Ife civilization, created by the ancestors of the modern Yoruba people, reveals a successive connection with the works of Nok. The realistic sculptural tradition found further development and continuation in the art of Ife. The influence of the artistic style of Nok ceramics was also reflected in the famous bronzes of Ife.
The results of excavations carried out in Igbo-Ukwu, in the lower Niger, give an opportunity to judge the level of social organization of the creators of the ancient cultures of this region by archaeological materials. The British scientist Tersten Shaw discovered here a developed early civilization with a high artistic culture, with a very advanced technology for processing iron and bronze for its time. The Igbo-Ukwu foundry masters the lost wax (lost wax) technique that made Benin bronze a few centuries later. Shaw’s excavations showed that the society that created this civilization was distinguished by a developed and already quite stratified social organization.
Of particular interest is the question of the cultural ties between Igbo-Ukwu and Ife. On the basis of the stylistic similarity of the sculpture of both centers, it was suggested that Ife is a more ancient civilization than was commonly believed; The analogies between certain types of jewelry known from modern ethnographic research and the finds in Ife and Igbo-Ukwu suggested that Ife as a cultural center is at least synchronous with Igbo-Ukwu, i.e. it can be dated no later than the 9th century. n. e.
Apparently, the Sao culture on the territory of modern Chad (within a radius of about 100 km around modern N’Djamena) was not associated with the Nok culture. Excavations have uncovered many terracotta sculptures here, representing a completely independent artistic tradition, bronze weapons and utensils. The French researcher Jean-Paul Leboeuf, who studied the initial stage of the Sao culture, attributes its earliest stage to the 8th-10th centuries.
The center of early cultures in the upper reaches of the river. Lualaba
A completely original focus of early civilizations was formed in the upper reaches of the river. Lualaba, as can be judged from the materials of the excavations of two large burial grounds – in Sanga and Katoto. Moreover, Katoto dates back to the XII century, but his inventory reveals a clear continuity with respect to the earlier Sanga. The latter dates, at least for some of the burials, to the period between the 7th and 9th centuries. The richest grave goods testify to the high level of development of the local craft. In particular, Sangi’s metallurgists not only possessed casting and blacksmithing skills, but also knew how to draw wire, iron and copper.
The abundance of products made of both metals seems quite natural, if we recall that the province of Shaba, where Sanga is located, remains almost the main mining region of Tropical Africa today. It is characteristic that in Sangha, as in Tropical Africa in general, iron metallurgy preceded copper metallurgy. The brilliant art of local artisans is also evidenced by ivory jewelry. The Sangi pottery is very distinctive, although it reveals an unmistakable affinity with the pottery of a wider region in Southeast Zaire, usually designated as kisale pottery.
The mentioned system of long-distance exchanges in the Lualaba basin, as well as in the Sudanese zone, existed in parallel with the network of its earlier local exchanges. But it was foreign trade that apparently played a particularly important role in spreading the influence of the local civilization to the southeast, to the Zambezi basin. And if, in the words of the famous Belgian scientist Francis Van Noten, Sang can be considered as a “brilliant but isolated” phenomenon in the Congo basin, then between Shaba and the territory of present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe its influence was quite tangible, which does not mean, however, about lack of independence of the civilization of Zimbabwe that emerged here.
The flourishing of this civilization refers mainly to the XII-XIII centuries. Meanwhile, it is necessary to mention it, since the prerequisites for its formation arose much earlier. Copper items found by Roger Summers on the Inyanga Plateau, where many of its most important monuments are located, date from the same time as Sanga – the 8th-9th centuries – and turn out to be much earlier than the complex of structures in Zimbabwe proper. But in Zimbabwe, the earliest traces of settlement (the so-called Acropolis in Greater Zimbabwe) date back to the 4th century. n. e. (true, based on a single sample), and the early settlements of the Gokomere Hill – V-VII centuries.
The Swahili civilization that developed on the East African coast of the Indian Ocean became a brilliant example of African civilizations of the Middle Ages. As in the case of Zimbabwe, it flourished already in the XII-XIII centuries. But just like there, the creation of the prerequisites for its emergence covered a much longer period – from about the 1st to the 8th century. By the turn of our era, East Africa was already connected with the countries of the Red Sea basin and the Persian Gulf, as well as with South and Southeast Asia, with fairly long-standing and lively trade and cultural contacts.
The acquaintance and contacts of representatives of the Mediterranean civilization with East Africa are attested in such written monuments of antiquity as “Periplus of the Eritrean Sea” and “Geography” by Claudius Ptolemy. In the I-II centuries. the coastal areas up to about 8 ° S latitude (the mouth of the Rufiji River) were regularly visited by South Arabian sailors. East Africa supplied the then world market with ivory, rhinoceros tusks, turtle shells and coconut oil, exporting iron and glass products.
Archaeological work at different points on the coast of East Africa yields results dating back to the heyday of the Swahili civilization proper, that is, to the Muslim period of the region’s history, the beginning of which, according to the oral and literary Swahili tradition, dates back to the turn of the 7th-8th centuries. However, the studies of the last two decades, especially the works of the Soviet Africanist V.M.Misyugin, indicate that a kind of pre-civilization had developed on the coast long before that time, based mainly on ocean shipping and ocean fishing.
It is with this pre-civilization that the emergence of comparatively large settlements – trading and industrial ones – which then turned into such well-known city-states typical of the Swahili civilization as Kilwa, Mombasa, and others, should apparently be associated. 1st-8th centuries: hardly by chance the anonymous author of Periplus, written apparently in the last quarter of the 1st century, avoids using the words “city” or “harbor”, preferring to speak of the “markets” of the East African coast. It was on the basis of such trading points that those cities were formed, the foundation of which was tradition, and after it, and early European researchers, associated with the appearance here of newcomers from Arabia or Iran. But there can be no doubt that these migrants of the 7th-8th centuries. settled in points
Thus, by the VIII century. n. e. on the territory of Tropical Africa, several centers of early civilizations have already formed, which became the basis for the subsequent development of African cultures.
Civilizations of Ancient South Arabia
Settlement of southern Arabia
The fate of the Arabian Peninsula is truly dramatic. Finds of Early Paleolithic tools of the Olduvai type in the territory of South Arabia from the coastal strip near the strait to the western regions of Hadhramaut, as well as the discovery of numerous Early Paleolithic sites along the northern border of the Rub al-Khali indicate that South Arabia was part of one of the zones from which humanity began its “March across the planet”, starting from East Africa. One of the ways of settlement went through Arabia, which at that distant time was abundantly irrigated by the waters of river streams, flowering, rich in countless herbivores.
Apparently, no later than the XX millennium BC. e. the first threatening signs of a sharp change in the natural conditions of human habitation in Arabia were discovered, which in the 18th-17th millennia led to an absolute aridity of the climate practically throughout the peninsula. People left Arabia, although it is possible that in its extreme south and east separate, little connected “ecological shelters” were preserved, where the embers of life continued to smolder.
From the 8th millennium under the conditions of a new climate change, this time favorable for people, a secondary and final settlement begins – first in the eastern coastal part (Qatar), and then, from the 7th-6th millennia, in Central and South Arabia (south -western part of Rub al-Khali, North Yemen, Hadhramaut, etc.). Apparently, no later than the 5th millennium along the eastern coast of Arabia, carriers of the Ubeid culture , and then of the Jemdet-Nasr culture, settled . In the 3rd millennium, Eastern Arabia, and especially Oman (ancient Magan), were included in the maritime trade of the Southern Mesopotamia and the “country of Dilmun” (Bahrain) with Northwest India.
It is possible that at the end of the 3rd – beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. e. Semitic tribes first penetrate the territory of South Arabia. We do not know the specific reasons that prompted them to make a full of hardships way to the south of the peninsula, but it is clear that already in their ancestral home they reached a fairly high level of development: they were familiar with agriculture, they acquired skills in irrigation and construction. Communication with more cultured sedentary peoples introduced them to writing; they already possessed a harmonious system of religious ideas.
The peculiarities of the natural conditions of South Arabia – a large indented relief, contrasts of climatic zones, relatively narrow valleys-wadis, suitable for agriculture, contributed to the fact that the newcomers, settling in separate tribal or clan groups, created isolated centers of culture. One of the consequences of this isolation was the coexistence in a small area for a long time at least four special languages.
The distinctive features of originality had also arisen here from the end of the 2nd millennium to the 6th century. BC e. civilization:
They coexisted throughout the 1st millennium BC. e. Probably, during all this time, the South Arabian civilizations, in their cultural contacts with the Middle East, retained an orientation towards those regions from which their founders once came. In the culture of ancient Hadhramaut, there are also certain features of borrowing from the regions of the extreme east of the Arabian Peninsula, which for a long time were under the influence of the Southern Mesopotamia.
Political events of the 1st millennium BC e.
In the first half of the 1st millennium BC. e. these were already highly developed societies based on irrigated agriculture, with numerous cities, developed architecture and art. Industrial crops are beginning to play an important role, especially trees and shrubs that give incense, myrrh, and other aromatic resins that were in high demand in the countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The cultivation of aromatic trees has become the source of prosperity for the states of Ancient Yemen – “Happy Arabia”. The export of incense contributed to an increase in exchange and trade and the expansion of cultural contacts. In the X century. BC e. Saba establishes trade and diplomatic relations with the Eastern Mediterranean. By the VIII century. BC e. The Sabaean state first comes into contact with the Assyrian state and, apparently, no later than the 7th century. BC e.
The production of incense, myrrh, etc. was concentrated mainly in the areas of Hadhramaut (and partly Kataban) adjacent to the Indian Ocean, and foreign caravan trade from the 6th century. BC e. ended up in Maine’s hands. The main part of the caravan “Way of Incense” began from here. Subsequently, the Mains created caravan stations and trading colonies in North-West Arabia and began to make regular trade trips to Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia, and then to the island of Delos.
The place occupied by South Arabia on the sea route from India to Africa and Egypt and further, in the Mediterranean, already in the first half of the 1st millennium BC. e., also determined its role as the most important intermediary in the exchange of goods between the ancient civilizations of South Asia and the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The harbors of Hadhramaut and Kataban served as transshipment points for these goods, which from here went by caravan routes to the north – to Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia. The matter was facilitated by a special wind regime blowing in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, which made it possible in winter from the harbors of the western coast of India to sail directly to Southwest Arabia and East Africa, while in the summer months the winds provided sailing from South Arabia and Africa to India.
Since the VII century. BC e. the political hegemony of Saba extends over the entire territory of South-West Arabia, but already from the 6th-4th centuries. BC e. as a result of long wars, Mine, Kataban and Hadhramaut are freed from Sabaean dependence, and this is reflected in numerous facts of the “national” cultural revival. Wars continue throughout the second half of the 1st millennium BC. e. As a result, Mine is absorbed by Saba, but she herself, weakened by these wars, for a long time becomes an arena of internecine battles and changes of various peripheral dynasties. Relative stability has been established here only since the 3rd century. n. e. By this time, Kataban disappeared from the historical arena, and a dynasty from Khimiyar, a region located in the extreme southwest of South Arabia, reigned in Saba itself.
Decline in trade
By the beginning of our era, there was a sharp change in the situation on the ways of exporting incense, which influenced the subsequent development of local civilizations. Already in the middle of the II century. BC e. The Red Sea and the western part of the Gulf of Aden turn out to be mastered by the Greek-Egyptian navigators and merchants. In their ships they reach the northern coast of Somalia and Aden, where goods brought from India by Yemeni and Indian sailors are loaded onto their ships. At the end of the II century. BC e. the monopoly of South Arabia in the transit trade between India and Egypt was dealt a heavy blow. The discovery by the Greek-Egyptian sailors of the monsoon regime allowed them to make direct voyages to India and back. Within a hundred years, over 100 ships were sent to India annually from Egypt. With the capture of Syria and Egypt by Rome in the 1st century. BC e. the situation became even more complicated. Intra-Arabian trade is withering, the struggle in South Arabia since the 1st century. n. e. it is no longer for domination on trade routes, but directly behind the lands where the trees that give incense grow, and for the coastal regions, where the harbors for the export of these incense were located.
The culture of ancient Arabia
The founders of the ancient Yemenite civilizations brought with them to South Arabia solid knowledge, ideas and skills in many areas of economic and cultural life – this is evidenced by the magnificent buildings of stone, huge cities built on artificial hills in the wadi valleys, the unsurpassed skill of the builders of giant irrigation systems. This is also evidenced by the richness of spiritual life, reflected in the complex ideas about the world of the gods, in the creation of their own “intellectuals of the spirit” – the priesthood, in the extremely widespread distribution of writing.
The ancient South Arabians, who spoke the languages of a separate subgroup of “southern peripheral” Semitic languages, used a special script inherited from the alphabetic writing of the Eastern Mediterranean – many signs were changed in accordance with the main idea – giving the entire system of signs clear geometric forms. They wrote on a variety of materials: cut on stone, on wooden planks, on clay, then cast inscriptions in bronze, scratched on rocks (graffiti), and also applied soft writing materials. Everyone wrote: kings and nobles, slaves and merchants, builders and priests, camel drivers and artisans, men and women. The found inscriptions contain descriptions of historical events, articles of laws. Also found were dedicatory and construction texts, inscriptions on tombs, business correspondence, copies of mortgage documents, etc., etc.
True, little is known about spiritual culture – large works of mythological, ritual and other content have been lost. The most important sources to this day are inscriptions containing, among other things, the names and epithets of the gods, their symbols, as well as sculptural and relief images of deities, their sacred animals, mythological subjects. They are the basis for ideas about the nature of the pantheons (there was no single host of gods in South Arabia) and some of the functions of the gods. It is known that here in the early stages astral deities, who stood at the head of the pantheons, played a huge role here, primarily the ancient Semitic god Astar (cf. Ishtar, Astarte, etc.). Venus was his image. After Astar, various hypostases of the solar deity followed and, finally, the “national” gods – the deities of tribal unions, the personification of which was the Moon (Almakah in Saba, Wadd in Main, Amm in Karaban, and Sin in Hadhramaut). Of course, there were other gods – patrons of individual clans, tribes, cities, “functional” deities (irrigation, etc.).
In general, the pantheons united the most ancient common Semitic (Astar, possibly Ilu) gods or ancestral deities borrowed from Mesopotamia (Sin) and from neighbors, from Central and North Arabia, etc. If we talk about the dynamics of ideas in the “pagan” era, it can be clearly traced, at least from the time shortly before the beginning of our era, the advancement of the “national” gods and the gradual pushing back of the main astral deity Astara. Subsequently, by the IV century. n. e., Almakah in Saba almost completely supplants other gods, which greatly facilitated the transition to monotheistic religions – Judaism and Christianity.
The decline and decline of Arabian civilizations
A consequence of the special natural conditions of the existence of the ancient South Arabian civilizations and the peculiarity of their development were close proximity and interaction with the nomadic tribes of inner Arabia. Some of these tribes constantly strived to leave the desert country for agricultural areas and settle there. The pastoralist tribes were at a much lower level of economic and cultural development. Having settled over the centuries (especially since the 2nd century AD) in the lands of Yemen, they came into direct contact with local civilizations. This, to a large extent, led to a general decline in economic life and culture, to the fact that the local population was more and more dissolved in the mass of newcomer tribes and clans, lost its identity and language, “Arabized”.
However, the decline of the ancient civilizations of South Arabia was accompanied by an extraordinary rise of spiritual life, in which the entire set of conditions and features of their development was reflected in a bizarre form. In dying societies, it has become heavily eschatological.
The fact that South Arabia, especially its inner, most developed centers of civilizations, could less and less enjoy the benefits of a special position at the intersection of trade routes did not mean that this position itself had lost all significance in the eyes of the great empires of antiquity. It can even be argued that from the end of the 1st century. BC e. it steadily increased, and Arabia in general and South Arabia in particular acquired the character of an essential element of international relations.
Clash and struggle of ideas
At the turn of our era, the trading settlements of the Greco-Egyptian merchants in the coastal trading cities (Aden, Cana, on the island of Socotra) became the natural centers of the spread of late Hellenistic influences (and later Christianity) in South Arabia. Attempts to create allegorical images of the South Arabian gods and their “Hellenization”, witnessed in iconography, date back to this time. In the first centuries of our era, Christianity began to spread in the Greco-Roman environment of Aden and Socotra.
From the IV century. n. e. The Eastern Roman Empire is making efforts to plant the mentioned religion in South Arabia, using for this both the missionary activity of the Alexandrian Church and the Christianized elite of Aksum – a state that arose at the beginning of our era on the territory of Ethiopia and seized already at the beginning of the II century. some coastal areas in Southwest Arabia. Soon Arabia will be filled with more Arians, Monophisites, Nestorians, etc. To this picture it is necessary to add the local ancient pagan religion and the primitive cults of the Bedouins, which are increasingly influencing political events in the south of the Arabian Peninsula.
In a fierce struggle of ideas, accompanied by clashes, invasions of the Aksumites, wide circles of South Arabian society were involved … The main political conclusion of this struggle was clearly evident: both Christianity of all kinds and Judaism lead to the loss of independence, to the enslavement of the country by foreigners. However, it was impossible to prevent an ideological explosion. The struggle of ideas spread beyond the borders of the south of Arabia, involving trade points on the caravan routes into its orbit. Gradually, in this struggle, another main political idea was making its way – the idea of unity and opposition. Something of their own was born, Arabian, unique. Islam was born.