Meluhha, Gerrha, and the UAE – The Search for National Identity of a Young Nation. Part I

Meluhha, Gerrha, and the UAE – The Search for National Identity of a Young Nation


A Predestination, and A Millennia Long Path of Global Trade and Wealth


By Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis




Main Chapters


I. National History, National Identity and Colonialism

II. Orientalism and Hellenism

III. UAE Historical Heritage Threatened by Academic Colonialism

IV. Neighboring Nations & Cultures – Key Components of UAE National History

V. National History of the Emirates – Diachronic Trends   

VI. Assyrian – Babylonian Literature about UAE territory: Meluhha

VII. Assyrian – Babylonian ‘Meluhha’: UAE territory, not Indus Valley

VIII. Assyrian – Babylonian Texts about Meluhha – Emirates

IX. Meluhha – Emirates, and the Late Use of ‘Meluhha’ in Assyrian Imperial Annals

X. The Aramaean Foundations of UAE History: the Rise of Gerrha (539 BCE – 642 CE)

XI. Gerrha, Achaemenid Iran, and the Interconnectedness between Africa and Asia

XII. Gerrha’s Prominence in Antiquity – Harbinger of the Present UAE Rise 

XIII. Gerrha and Alexander the Great

XIV. Why Gerrha Cannot Be Located in Al Ehsa Province of Saudi Arabia

XV. Macedonian Naval Expeditions around the Peninsula, and Gerrha

XVI. Arsacid Parthian Iran, Seleucid Syria, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Gerrha

XVII. Agatharchides on Gerrha and the Sabaean (Sheba) Yemenites

XVIII. The Romans in Egypt, the Roman Naval Expedition in Yemen, and Gerrha

XIX. Strabo’s Textual References to Gerrha

XX. Gerrha and the Anonymous Author of the Text ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’

XXI. Pliny the Elder and Gerrha

XXII. Ptolemy the Geographer – his Description of Yemen, Oman, and the Emirates

XXIII. Sharjah (Sarkoe) aand Umm Quwain (Kawana) Mentioned by Ptolemy the Geographer 

XXIV. The Correct Location Gerrha in UAE, and Ptolemy the Geographer

XXV. Western UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Al Ehsa as per Ptolemy the Geographer

XXVI. UAE Islands Mentioned by Ptolemy the Geographer

XXVII. The Rise of the Sassanid Empire of Iran, and the End of Gerrha



The establishment of a nation’s historical overview by the indigenous people and not foreign, colonial academia sets the real beginning of the national independence and self-determination.


Fully incorporating past moments, cultural identity, and the land’s historicity into a system of historical education able to offer a historical perspective of self-perceived identity, based on scientifically approved and historically correct data, a young nation creates the only solid national foundation for future generations.


I. National History, National Identity and Colonialism


In this key effort, either it is undertaken by an indigenous nation in Asia, Africa, Latin America or sought after by a European nation, the local scholarship and political leadership face always a tremendous opposition. This comes from the colonial powers, mainly England, France and their successor, the US, because this issue hinges on their ability to efficiently implement their policies that proved over the past 400 years to be so profitable to them and so disastrous to the colonized nations.


False identity, detachment of an indigenous nation from its true past, ignorance of the indigenous land’s historical importance, disregard of an historical nation for their own historicity, and distance of a newly incepted nation from their own cultural authenticity are important elements for the colonial academia’s, diplomats’ and regimes’ agenda. All the above mentioned traits help create a situation in which every indigenous nation easily becomes manageable, maneuverable and controllable as per the interests of the colonial powers. It goes without saying that always the colonial powers’ interests are catastrophic for the colonized nation with the targeted or even obliterated historicity.


The period of the colonial expansion of England and France (mainly 18th – 20th century) was not only characterized by military, political and economic expansion; it was also typified by an extraordinary academic, intellectual, spiritual, religious, cultural and educational colonialism that greatly helped them accommodate their colonial military, political and economic apparatuses, thus triggering among the targeted nations, ceaseless wars, permanent underdevelopment, abject poverty, detrimental disasters, civil discord, severe disorientation from each colonized nation’s real perspectives an potentialities, nationwide impotency, absolute misery and at times an appearance of power that is in fact purely fake.

II. Orientalism and Hellenism


The academic ateliers of Paris and London forged indeed a multi-level distortion of the historical truth; they undertook the elaboration of an entirely false historical system based on counterfeit pillars, and in addition, they promoted the diffusion of erroneous historical considerations, approaches, and conclusions across the world. As example, suffice it here to state that Hellenism and Orientalism are two key, albeit not exclusive, pillars of the aforementioned counterfeit historical system that was diffused worldwide by tyrannical, colonial means and sophisticated deception.

The sick nature of this system has been denounced over the past three decades by great scholars, like Martin Bernal and Edouard Said; the former demonstrated that the Greco-centrist viewpoint that characterized the Anglo-French colonial dogma is genuinely rejected by both, the archeological evidence and the textual documentation we have collected from Ancient Greece. Hellenism is false knowledge about Ancient Greece; worse, Hellenism is pure racism. Hellenism does not only consist in an insult against the rest of the world, and more particularly numerous nations with greater history than the Ancient Greeks, but it also proved to be an efficient tool in detaching the modern Greeks from their Christian Orthodox identity and in westernizeing them at their own detriment.


On the other hand, Edouard Said demonstrated that the Anglo-French colonial scholars, in their study of the Orient (which took the form of the creation of a great number of disciplines such as Egyptology, Assyriology, Hittitology, Iranology, Islamology, Indology, Sinology, etc.), did not objectively searched for the historical truth but discovered what they had beforehand desired to ‘discover’, projecting their preconceived and prejudicial, anti-Oriental (not only anti-Islamic but also anti-Oriental Christian) ideas on their absurd and fallacious ‘studies’ and on all their – inevitably partial and erroneous – conclusions.


The monstrous and anti-human, academic, intellectual, spiritual, religious, cultural and educational colonialism took another form: that of the imposition of the aforementioned fake disciplines back on the colonized lands; when a discipline was in the making, not one indigenous scholar originating from the land / civilization under study was allowed by the vicious, racist and evil Anglo-French colonial academia to participate in their researches and explorations. The reason was simple; vicious distortion in the making can be easily detected by any intelligent scholar emanating from a local tradition (Islamic, Confucian, African, etc.)


Indicatively, for more than 60 years after the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics by Champollion and the ensuing formation of the discipline of Egyptology, not one Egyptian national was accepted in any related institution (archeological institute, library, museum and university) and not one Egyptian was allowed to study and learn Egyptian hieroglyphics.


When the distorted disciplines of Orientalism were sufficiently well established, indigenous students from the lands / civilizations under study were accepted in the colonial countries’ universities only to subserviently accept the disastrous and false teachings in order to be subsequently sent back home as ‘’bon pour l’ Orient’’. Every one who dared challenge the erroneous colonial system of Orientalism was immediately rejected and undeservedly defamed; the evil colonial academia kept their diplomatic and military counterparts duly informed about the ‘dangerous local challenger’’, and the colonial establishment mobilized all their resources against the local who dared challenge the Orientalsit fallacies. With the political establishment of the colonized lands under total colonial control, the indigenous scholars who challenged the colonial aberration of Orientalism were immediately persecuted by the local puppets of the colonial powers, effectively marginalized, and duly kept under silence forever.


Finally, reaction came from inside the Western academia, with the aforementioned two scholars and many others who recently contributed to the demolition, yet not completed, of the monstrous colonial formation of Orientalism.


Alteration of the historical past can be undertaken under many different forms, and in this regard, covering a specific subject under a veil of silence is just one method. Once you attest it, while studying one historical point, you can be sure that you don’t just deal with a case of ignorance among the colonial scholars (and among the victims of their false teachings, their students) but you rather unveil a premeditated thought and an academic forgery with vast political repercussions. 


III. UAE Historical Heritage Threatened by Academic Colonialism


The United Arab Emirates emerged after 150 years of perfidious English colonialism that took the form of the establishment of the so-called Trucial States whose stance was adapted to the viciously anti-Islamic policies of England. If we are to evaluate developments in a pertinent and comprehensive manner, we have to take into consideration the critical fact that, during this period, Anglo-French and American academia, diplomats and agents invited (by means of scholarships) many Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Indians to study (in various universities in England, France and America) the history of their respective lands / civilizations in order to project onto these otherwise innocent, ignorant, naïve and unsuspicious students the extreme fallacies of the diverse branches of Orientalism, and the paranoid fallacy of Hellenism. They thus ‘educated’ these students, selected among the circle of the local puppets of the colonial powers, in a manner that proved to be absolutely catastrophic for their respective – colonized semi-colonized or targeted -lands.


Each targeted land was dealt with differently, as per the specific needs of the colonial agenda for each country. In the case of the land that came to be incepted as UAE in 1971-2, the differentiation was great; the colonial powers decided to leave the local intellectual – academic elite under formation and in general, the entire indigenous nation in mystery as regards

a) the history of the surrounding lands (Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Sudan (Ancient Ethiopia), Yemen, Somalia, Iran, India, and Central Asia),

b) their own national Emirati history, and more particularly,

c) the pre-Islamic history of their own land that stretches from the Eastern coastlands of the Arabian Peninsula to the peninsula of Qatar.


Here, we have to specify that the illustrious history of the Islamic Caliphates in general, and the local Emirati history after the rise of Islam in the peninsula were traditional subjects that local students, ancestors of today’s Emiratis, studied continuously, first in the local religious schools (medressas) and eventually at a higher level, in the great centers of Islamic Knowledge that surrounded their land, namely Muscat, Aden, Sanaa, Mecca, Medina, Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad, Najaf, Kerbala, Qom, Shiraz, Yazd, Kerman, Mashhad and of course Istanbul, where they used to pour in for many long centuries. It is therefore essential to point out here that the vicious theory according to which ignorance and illiteracy prevailed in the land of the modern state of the Emirates during the Islamic centuries is a heinous colonial attack against the national identity of the Emirates, and a permanent insult against every Emirati today; in fact, it consists in an absurd denigration of the illustrious ancestral generations of then modern Emiratis, who lived in Art, Knowledge, Wealth, Faith and Spirituality, when the ancestors of the modern English and French were living in hellish darkness like barbarians, feeding on roots and practicing incestuous rites.


The aforementioned attitude of the colonial powers prevented the indigenous nation from acquiring even a rudimentary, albeit inaccurate and distorted knowledge of their pre-Islamic history, which is of primary importance for their nation-building effort. Owed to this colonial policy, the indigenous, modern Emirati nation was barred from becoming acquainted with the history and the civilization of surrounding nations with whom they (and their ancestors) have interacted for no less than 5000 years! 


If we were to compare the two colonial policies, we would conclude that the colonial attitude toward Egypt and Iraq was, although very negative, less harmful than the Anglo-French attitude against the 19th and 20th century Emiratis. This conclusion is based on a simple and solid reason; the inaccuracies of the Western schools of History, the distortions of Hellenism, and the fallacies of Orientalism are such that they trigger immediate criticism and, through a certain process of critical thinking, several mistakes and falsifications, earlier learned as correct historical data and interpretations, are later questioned and finally rejected by the unbiased students. Contrarily, compact ignorance leads to nowhere, stays longer, and condemns the targeted nation to permanent paleness and impotency.

The aforementioned colonial policy in and by itself reveals the intentions and the targets of the colonial powers as regards the Emirates; the formation of a fake state and the inception of a pale, impotent nation deprived from the sense of nationhood, detached from their culture, and disconnected from their historical past, ready to be exploited because of their natural resources. Such an invalid nation would effectively be able to become a much praised ‘global hub of services’ (like Singapore or Hong Kong) in order to be further utilized by the colonial powers that provenly leveraged the maximum part of the existing national wealth. In brief, it was a clear plan aiming at the ultimate destruction and the operational abolition of the indigenous nation.


In addition to the aforementioned policies, the colonial academia undertook an even more inimical attempt against the Emirates. They systematically attempted to disconnect the indigenous nation from their pre-Islamic past; to do so, they attributed parts of the historical heritage of the Emirates to other, surrounding countries. In other words, they usurped a three millennia long heritage of the Emirati nation. This point will be extensively discussed and effectively rejected later in this text.


And to come up with a fake coverage of a hypothetical interest and hypocritical friendliness, the colonial academia contributed to several excavation projects on Emirati territory that, although pertinently performed and published, never led to the composition of a concise National History of the Emirates. In fact, fragmentary knowledge, disparate archaeological data, and incoherent info vanish to oblivion, having no real effect, and leaving the targeted nation in mystery about their diachronic presence in History. 


Thus, the lack of a basic diagram of National History of the Emirates, the absence of references to the diachronic trends that shaped the nation’s cultural identity across the ages, and the concealment of literary evidence relating to the Emirati national past surely suffice to deprive modern Emiratis from a historically justified feeling of national pride which is solidly based on 5-millennia long historicity, on glorious moments, and on historical greatness reported in Ancient Assyrian – Babylonian, Greek and Latin texts.


IV. Neighboring Nations & Cultures – Key Components of UAE National History


Before examining the fundamental historical sources relating to the Pre-Islamic History of the Emirati Nation, we have to briefly name the surrounding nations / civilizations with whom the indigenous Emirati nation interacted over the past five millennia. This point helps guide the nationwide educational effort that has to be undertaken in the future, if nation-building and national history-writing are among the goals of the present Emirati administration.


Diachronically, the land of the Emirates and the indigenous nation were interrelated with

a) the Sumerians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians of Mesopotamia (3rd – 1st millennium BCE),

b) the Elamites of SW Iran (3rd – 1st millennium BCE),

c) the Aramaeans of Mesopotamia, Syria and North Arabia (1st millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE),

d) the different nations that inhabited the Iranian plateau (Atropatene / Azeri, Persian, Baluch and others / 1st millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE), and

e) the pre-Islamic Yemenites who were organized in various states such as Sheba, Himyar, Qataban, Hadhramawt, Oman, etc. (1st millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE).


To lesser extent, the land of the Emirates and the indigenous nation were interrelated with

f) the different nations of the Valley of Indus and the Indian Sub-continent (2nd millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE),

g) the Horn of Africa nations, mainly the Ancient Somalis of the state of Punt (2nd millennium BCE), as well as the Somali inhabitants of the Late Antiquity states of Other Berberia and Azania (1st millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE),

h) the Egyptians and the Ancient Sudanese (called ‘Ethiopians’ in the Antiquity, unrelated to the modern state of Abyssinia which is fallaciously called Ethiopia / 2nd millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE), and 

i) diverse Central Asiatic nations and states, namely the Bactrians, the Sogdians, the Arachosians, etc. (1st millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE).


Following the preaching of Prophet Muhammad and the expansion of Islam, and down to modern times, the land of the Emirates and the indigenous nation were also interrelated with

j) the nations that progressively accepted Islam among those mentioned above,

k) the Arabs of Hedjaz (1st – 2nd millennium CE), and

l) the various Turkic nations that progressively accepted, defended and promoted Islam, notably the Seljuk and the Ottoman Turks (2nd millennium CE).


At this point, I have to clarify that I herewith don’t mention colonial nations that appeared in the area of the Emirates as threat and invaders (such as the Portuguese and the English). The historical interaction was detrimental and calamitous for all Emiratis and for all Muslim nations.


In addition to the aforementioned, the history of the land of the Emirates and the indigenous nation are also interrelated with

m) the Ancient Greeks, and

n) the Ancient Romans, who saved in their texts a great number of references to the land of the Emirates, thus forming the main historical source for the Pre-Islamic History of the Emirates (1st millennium BCE – 1st millennium CE).


At this point, I have to clarify that never did a Greek-speaking or Latin-speaking administration control any part of the Emirates’ territory. Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire (controlling amongst others Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau) and reached Punjab (Pentapotamia), but neither did his army nor his fleet (under admiral Nearchus) set foot on the territory of the Emirates.


On the other hand, the Romans, who arranged a successful naval expedition against Aden (then known as Arabia Felix) around 25 BCE and in later periods, during their wars with Iran, reached up to the Caspian Sea and North Mesopotamia (under Trajan, beginning of the 2nd century CE), never attempted to put under control the Emirati national territory.


Thus, the importance of Ancient Greek and Latin for the Emirates’ national history-writing hinges on textual evidence – exclusively.  


Among, all aforementioned nations and states, the only to control for several pre-Islamic periods the Emirati territory have proven to be the Iranians (either at the times of the Achaemenid / Hahamaneshian dynasty or during the Sassanid / Sassanian period). The Achaemenid control (550 – 330 CE) was vague and limited, involving local policy adjustment rather than military occupation; in addition, due to Achaemenid policies, the Emirati territory rose to great importance. Contrarily, the Sassanid control (224 – 651 CE) meant full annexation and incorporation into the Iranian Empire, which triggered a decline in local wealth and gradual decadence until the emergence of Islam.


Even more important for the Emirates’ national history-writing have been the Aramaeans who, based in the area of today’s Sham (SE Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and SW Iran), managed to progressively setup the entire East – West network of trade routes that gradually but effectively interconnected all lands between Rome and China in an unprecedented commercial and cultural inter-exchange that lasted for many centuries until the rise of Islam, only to be subsequently used by Muslim merchants, scholars, sailors, and faith advocates. Aramaeans were physically present on Emirati territory, and along with the Ancient Yemenites and some Iranian settlers (of lesser importance) they have been the true ancestors of the modern Emirati nation; this will be better illuminated further on in this text.


The above table definitely places the land and the nation of the Emirates at the central point of a great number of nations and civilizations; this did not occur by coincidence or without an important role for this land and nation. In fact, the Emirates were located at a very strategic position in the trade network between East and West; the impressive present wealth of this nation is not without historical precedent! For many long centuries, during its great and long past, the land and the nation of the Emirates repeatedly became greatly famous for their fabulous wealth. That trait was indeed predestined for a major comeback in our times!


V. National History of the Emirates – Diachronic Trends   


First and foremost, the Pre-Islamic History of the Emirates cannot be reconstructed without a strong link with the trade routes between Mesopotamia and the Gulf region for the 3rd and the 2nd millennia BCE. 


More importantly, due to the increased interconnectedness of all three continents of the ancient world during the second half of the 1st millennium BCE and down to the emergence of Islam, the History of the Emirates during the Late Antiquity (the times between Shah Cyrus / Kurosh of Achaemenid Iran and Prophet Muhammad) cannot be reconstructed without a strong link with the complex network of trade routes that brought closer Europe, Africa and Asia for more than a millennium (550 BCE – 642 CE).


From first view, one may assume that the location of the Emirates between Mesopotamia from one side and the Eastern coastland of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Horn of Africa region from the other side was the reason of its strategic importance; this is however relative. In fact, as per the existing textual evidence, the Emirati territory was more important for its own resources than its intermediate position between the aforementioned regions. This trait concerns the earlier, Sumerian – Assyrian / Babylonian history of the Emirates, which covers the period between the end of the 4th millennium and 539 BCE, the fall of Nabonid Babylon and the rise of the Achaemenid Iran under Cyrus.


For approximately 2500 years, the area of the Emirates was at the easternmost confines of the Mesopotamian world. Of course, there were scarce Mesopotamian explorations and exchanges with the Eastern coastland of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Horn of Africa region, but these contacts never intensified. The reminiscence of the Assyrian explorations in and contacts with these lands was saved in Arrian’s Indica (XXXII.7), many centuries after the disappearance of the Ancient Assyrians from History. The above text reads: “Those who had knowledge of the district said that this promontory belonged to Arabia, and was called Maceta; and that thence the Assyrians imported cinnamon and other spices”. During the period between the end of the 4th millennium and 539 BCE, Sumerians and Assyrians/Babylonians called the area of the Emirates ‘Meluhha’.


VI. Assyrian – Babylonian Literature about UAE territory: Meluhha


Throughout the existing vast cuneiform literature either in Sumerian or in Assyrian / Babylonian (the two languages differed from one another as much as Arabic does from Chinese), we have found many late 3rd millennium BCE references to Meluhha. In these texts, not much is said about Meluhha itself, except for the products that were imported in Mesopotamia. What is very clear is the reference to the connection of Meluhha with the ‘Lower Sea’ (Tiamtum Shapiltum in ‘classical’ Akkadian of the 3rd millennium BCE), which was the term by which the Assyrians and the Babylonians denoted the Gulf in contradiction with the ‘Upper Sea’ (the Mediterranean).


The seaside lands of Mesopotamia were customarily described as ‘Sealand’, a geographical term that covers the extreme South of today’s Iraq and the adjacent parts of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. One has to bear in mind that the local topography in that part of the Gulf differed very much at those days, because over the millennia the Twin Rivers’ flow helped create sizeable alluvial lands, and we how great difficult in demarcating the coastline at the times of the Mesopotamian Antiquity. Ethnically, the term ‘Sealand’ can describe different nations at different moments, namely Sumerian population (3rd millennium BCE), Babylonian inhabitants (2nd millennium BCE) or Chaldaean Aramaeans of Bit Yakin (1st half of the 1st millennium BCE).


What existed beyond the Mesopotamian Sealand?


For all the Mesopotamians, there was a sequence of lands at the southeastern confines of their world: the island of Tilmun (or Dilmun), Magan and Meluhha; the latter was indeed the furthermost point known to the Sumerians and the Assyrians / Babylonians. As a matter of fact, Magan was immediately east of the island Tilmun, and Meluhha was further on in the east.


The only commonly accepted and solid identification of one of the above locations is that of Tilmun, which corresponds to the island nation of Bahrain. Magan is usually identified with Oman; however, this wrong. The most plausible identification of the land Magan of the Mesopotamian literatures is the Qatar peninsula, immediately east of Bahrain Island. Furthermore, the reason for which Magan is identified particularly with Oman is even more extraordinary! This happened because, when the first Assyriologists of the late 19th and early 20th century studied for the first time the cuneiform Assyrian / Babylonian texts pertaining to Magan, Oman was already a semi-independent country disputed by the English and the French, whereas the Emirates had not yet been conceptualized as a nation, involving a national territory, a national history, and an historicity across the ages. The Emirati territory was indeed part of the English colonial sphere (as ‘Trucial states’); it was inconsequentially and confusingly heard of, and therefore absolutely disregarded. A simple geographical overview of the NE corners of the Arabian Peninsula is enough to convince any observer that, except suggested otherwise by historical sources, the territories of today’s Emirates and Oman constitute an undividable geographical entity. In fact, had Magan been associated with Oman during the period between the 3rd millennium BCE and the middle of the 1st millennium BCE, then Magan would have also been inextricably related with the Emirates. However, this is not so. Magan was not located either in Oman or in the Emirates.


As it often happens, a first mistake gives easily birth to a second. Having erroneously identified Oman with Magan, the early Assyriologists were driven to the impossible association of Meluhha with the Gujarat peninsula in India; this assumption prevailed for long, and it was even published in the revered scholarly publication Reallexikon der Assyriologie, entry Meluhha (online available here: / on page 53). The basic reason for which it is impossible to locate Meluhha in Gujarat is the undeniable fact that the cuneiform textual evidence locates Meluhha strictly in the ‘Lower Sea’ area, and there hasn’t yet been a single indication that the term ‘Lower Sea’ denoted for the Sumerians and the Assyrians / Babylonians not only the Gulf but also the Indian Ocean, i.e. the sea beyond the Ormuz straits. In fact, for no less than 2500 years, the term ‘Lower Sea’ denoted only the Gulf, and although archeological evidence makes it clear that Mesopotamians imported from the Indus valley and the East African coast, we have absolutely no textual mention of these remote lands, and seas.


Another mistake, extremely frequent at the days of the early Assyriologists but easily discernible today, is the assumption that the Emirates’ national territory should be excluded from any effort of identification of Meluhha just because of the harsh desert conditions that prevail there; in fact, these conditions have prevailed in the area only over the past few centuries. The aforementioned projection proved to be totally false, because modern technologies, used over the recent decades, allowed us to have a more accurate insight into the natural environment where ancient nations lived and prospered, into their habitat, and into their daily life. This conclusion does not concern only the region of today’s Emirates, but many other countries across different continents. Indicatively, all the pyramids of Egypt and Sudan that stand today in the middle of the desert, surrounded by the desert sand, were built in perfectly arable lands; furthermore, the Red Sea coasts of Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen, the north Somali coastlands, and the shores of Hadhramawt and Dhofar were covered by great forests. The same concerns the territory of the Emirates as well! The Emirati coastland was not a desert before two or four millennia.


Great Assyriologists like B. Landsberger considered the name Meluhha to be of Sumerian origin. However, the misplaced identification of Meluhha triggered further misconceptions and farfetched attempts, as various scholars tried to associate it with Proto-Dravidian languages of the Indian South.


VII. Assyrian – Babylonian ‘Meluhha’: UAE territory, not Indus Valley


More recently, Pakistani and Indian specialists of Ancient History of the Indus Valley and the Indian Peninsula, who have no background in Assyriology but implement a great political agenda and are known for their nationalistic mindset, tried – in a most misleading attempt – to associate Meluhha (not anymore with Gujarat but) with the 2nd millennium BCE Indus Valley civilization. This effort is partly due to problems related to the Indus Valley material record, and more specifically to the disproportionate documentation scholars and researchers have collected from major archeological sites, such as Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. These sites are known for their great monuments and the unearthed vast archeological evidence. In the other hand, the epigraphic documentation, attested under the form of an early ideogrammatic system, has not yet been deciphered.


Indus Valley specialists have therefore unearthed a great number of sites, and they brought to the daylight an abundance of monuments, but the recorded textual evidence is of no help as long as it is remains undeciphered. They therefore cannot reconstitute the Indus Valley past as pertinently as Assyriologists managed to evidence the Mesopotamian heritage. Trying therefore to establish a farfetched historicity for the Indus Valley, they misinterpreted the term ‘Meluhha’ by associating it with the Indus Valley states that flourished at the end of the 3rd and during most of the 2nd millennium BCE. However, most of the significant archaeological sites excavated in the Indus Valley were located deep in the inland; this fact is prohibitive for any association attempt between the Indus Valley sites and the Mesopotamian term ‘Meluhha’, because Meluhha was definitely a coastal territory, and it was not so far from both, Tilmun and Magan.


Certainly, there were contacts between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley; but specialists have already concluded that the trade route linked the middle Zagros Mountains, east of Mesopotamia, with the Indus Valley, by crossing the Iranian plateau and the Baluchistan plains. Tepe Yahya in today’s Iran seems to have been an important entrepot on this trade route. There was no navigation involved, and there was no coastal trade route across the northern shores of the Gulf.  


Furthermore, if the Indus Valley sites had been identified with Meluhha, we would have been forced to identify Magan and Tilmun (known for their position in-between) with parts of the Iranian plateau, which is practically impossible, because Magan is a coastland and Tilmun is an island.


We know for instance that Tilmun was not only located between Mesopotamia and the eastern states of Magan and Meluhha but it did also play the role of an intermediate for the Mesopotamian trade with Magan and Meluhha. Cuneiform documentation from the Ur III period (end of 3 rd millennium BCE), pertaining to the commercial exchanges between the Neo-Sumerian states and Meluhha, makes clear that the Mesopotamian imports from Meluhha were successively transported via Magan and Tilmun; this is a clear indication that Meluhha cannot be associated with the area around Indus’ estuary whereby no major site was excavated. 


Last but not the least, those who assume that Meluhha can be possibly identified with the Indus Valley sites , should offer a convincing response to the following question:


– Why on earth did the Indus Valley trade with Mesopotamia, even if we assume that it was transported across the sea and not over the continental trade routes, needed to transit through Tilmun (i.e. modern Bahrain), which is far from the hypothetical navigation line connecting the estuaries of Indus and the twin rivers, Euphrates and Tigris, of Mesopotamia?


For the supposed maritime transportation of the Indus Valley trade with Mesopotamia, Tilmun (Bahrain) would be a small and unimportant island, and then an absolutely useless deviation. 


Even if one attempted to combine the wrong identification of the term ‘Meluhha’ with the historical fact of the Meluhha merchandises being transported to Mesopotamia via Tilmun, we would totally reject such an assumption, because based on textual evidence, we find no reference to a hypothetical Tilmun thalassocracy. This suggests that, even if the Indus Valley sailors preferred to sail alongside the Arabian Peninsula’s coastlands to the estuary of Euphrates, and if the Indus Valley merchants and products sailed on local boats safely as far as Tilmun, they would certainly be able to advance further on up to the southern Mesopotamian harbor-cities, without a stopover in Tilmun. Navigation from the Indus estuary to the southern Mesopotamian harbors did not involve a stopover in Tilmun / Bahrain in any way.


The literary evidence that makes state of Mesopotamian imports from Meluhha, being successively transported via Magan and Tilmun, reveals a situation of mutual dependence among the three locations, and this involves immediate propinquity.


Taking into consideration the geographical background, we can safely conclude that the island of Tilmun could acquire importance as a transit point and an entrepot in a trade with Mesopotamia only for the nearby coastlands of the modern states of Qatar and the Emirates that have normally to be respectively identified with Magan and Meluhha. 


Meluhha, Magan and Tilmun were of great importance indeed for the Sumerians and the Assyrians / Babylonians. For this reason, the diverse political authorities that ruled the Mesopotamian nations did their best to keep Meluhha, Magan and Tilmun out of reach of the Elamites, the worst enemy of the Mesopotamian states.


A permanent rival of the Sumerian states, Akkad, Assyria and Babylon, Elam was located east of Mesopotamia, in today’s SW Iran; the area eat of Tigris river used to be called by Greeks and Romans ‘Transtigritane’ during the Late Antiquity. Elam is the name (ethnic and geographic term) by which the Assyrians and the Babylonians used to call the non-Semitic state that tried persistently to infiltrate in Southern Mesopotamia. In their own language, the Elamites called their country Anshan; Elamite writing has been deciphered, and the decipherment brought forth vast textual evidence about a three millennia long Mesopotamian civilization, which at different moments expanded across the southern confines of the Iranian plateau and the northern shores of the Gulf.


Elam’s expansion in the east could threaten the commercial relations of the Sumerians and the Assyrians / Babylonians with Magan and Meluhha, and we have indications that Meluhha sided at times with Elam against the Sumerians and the Assyrians / Babylonians. Other textual references shed light on the bilateral relations, and make state of Assyrian / Meluhha interpreters (‘emebal Meluhha’).


VIII. Assyrian – Babylonian Texts about Meluhha – Emirates


In the famous text ‘Malediction of Akkad’, we read that the great Akkadian emperor Naram Sin grew the people of Meluhha up; on this occasion, the Meluhha people were described as “the inhabitants of the black land”. In a hymn to Ninurta, dating back in the times of Gudea, we find that Mesopotamians imported lapis lazuli and carnelian from Meluhha.


In the religious text ‘Enki and the World Order’, we notice that the great Sumerian god of the Water (known as Ea among the Assyrians and the Babylonians) made a critical decision about the destiny of Meluhha. Enki blessed that country to be the territory of great trees, to have vast plains covered by ‘Mesh’ trees and other great plants and bamboos, and to be endowed with warriors experienced in battle, great cattle, francolins, chicken and the divine bird Haja (peacock ?). As per the Enki Order of Creation, Meluhha would be gifted with gold and tin for the production of bronze.


The Sumerian – Assyrian / Babylonian holy text ‘Enki and Ninhursaga’ brings forth a religious ‘explanation’ of the intermediary role played by Tilmun (Bahrain) island in the trade between Mesopotamia and the coastal lands of Magan and Meluhha, immediately east of Tilmun. Enki makes the wish that the people of Magan and Meluhha bring their merchandises to the entrepot of Tilmun as offerings to Ninsikila, Enki’s female associate divinity.


Typical Meluhha merchandises imported in Mesopotamia are luxurious products, such as precious stones (gem stones und precious wood), precious metals and ivory. Assyriologists like G. Pettinato and Heimpel published analytical accounts of the Meluhha imports in Mesopotamia, examining (the former) literary and lexicographical data, and (the latter) royal inscriptions and administrative data. Carnelian, lapis lazuli, ‘Shuba’ and ‘Nir’ precious stones, precious wood (gish.esi), ‘sea wood’ (gish-ab-ba), and ‘Mes-Meluhha-wood’ are the most ordinary, valuable objects imported from Meluhha.


When it comes to metals and precious metals, frequently mentioned among the Meluhha merchandises imported in Mesopotamia are:  gold, tin, copper, and Ku-NE-A (unidentified).


On the other hand, the ivory imports from Meluhha were used by some scholars as an ‘argument’ in support of the Meluhha – Indus Valley (or Gujarat, or India) theory. This, in and by itself, shows the nature of the farfetched assumption; it has again to do with a projection of modern times’ conditions and traits onto the historical past. Today perhaps, the only extant elephants in the wider area between the Mediterranean and India are to be found in the subcontinent; but this was not the case during the Mesopotamian Antiquity. Elephants existed not only in the Arabian Peninsula but also in Syria, and more specifically in the Orontes Valley (today’s Hatay province of Turkey) whereby the Assyrian emperors of the 2nd and the 1st millennium BCE reportedly used to hunt them, pretty much like they frequently hunted lions in parts of today’s Southeastern Turkey (Hakkari).


High period for the Meluhha – Mesopotamian contacts and exchanges proved to be the 2nd half of the 3rd millennium and the early 2nd millennium BCE. It is certain that we have fewer references to Meluhha during the times of the Kassite dynasty of Babylonia and the early post-Kassite times. This is rather due to developments of political order that occurred in the wider area of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and the Eastern Mediterranean.


IX. Meluhha – Emirates, and the Late Use of ‘Meluhha’ in Assyrian Imperial Annals


The exorbitant use of the geographical term ‘Meluhha’ in the imperial inscriptions and the Annals of the Neo-Assyrian emperors, and more particularly those of the Sargonid dynasty (722 – 609 BCE / Sargon of Assyria – Sinakherib – Assarhaddon – Assurbanipal) has confused many scholars; it is true that during this period, Assyrian scribes used the term ‘Meluhha’ to describe the land of North Sudan that they had customarily described as mat Kusi (land of Cush). This is exactly the country the Ancient Greeks called Ethiopia (lit. ‘’the country of the burned-face people’’), which has nothing to do with the modern dictatorial state of Abyssinia that viciously misused the name of Ethiopia. The end of the 8th and the 7th century BCE was the only period during which the Assyrians invaded Egypt, annexed the Nile Valley to their empire, and kicked the Sudanese (Ethiopian) kings of Thebes (Luxor) back to North Sudan where was located their early capital at Napata (today’s Karima, 750 km south of the present Egyptian – Sudanese borderline, alongside the Nile).  


The issue was early noticed by W. F. Albright, a famous Orientalist, who wrote a scholarly article in the scholarly periodical Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (vol. 7, p.80 -7). It was perhaps too early to establish a plausibly trustful conclusion; the article’s title demonstrates the approach: ‘Magan, Meluhha, and the synchronism between Menes and Naram Sin’. No one supports today this farfetched interpretation.  


Naming North Sudan and the Red Sea coast of Sudan as ‘Meluhha’ can only be due to an analogy with the earlier use of the term. Many tried to extract a possible reference to dark-sinned or black-head people, whereas others attempted to setup theories of transcontinental resettlements between the Horn of Africa region and the Dekkan, the Indian South, and spoke of a theoretical common origin for both, East Africa’s Kushites and the Dravidians on the West Indian coast. There is nothing to prove any of these farfetched opinions. In this regard, Bernard Sergent’s references to the subject are deprived of any accuracy, let alone proof.


Yet, it is clear that for an erudite emperor like Assurbanipal (669 – 625 BCE), an analogy existed between the specific term’s earlier use and the Sargonid times’ adaptation. If we make the correct assumption that, for the Sargonid emperor’s scribes, there could not be any identification of ethnic content between the people inhabiting 3rd – 2nd millennium BCE Meluhha and the 1st millennium BCE Kushites at Egypt’s southern borders, we can understand that the only analogy used was of geographical character.


What geographical analogies could exist between the 3rd – 2nd millennium BCE ‘Meluhha’ – Emirati coastland in the Gulf and the 8th – 7th century BCE ‘Meluhha’ – Kush/Ethiopia and the Sudanese coastland in the Red Sea? Based on Assyrian world perceptions, geographical concepts, and attitudes toward the surrounding environment, we can take into consieration the following:


a. the Gulf was viewed as a lower level of the earth’s surface (or simply ‘more in the south’), compared to the Mediterranean (that they called ‘Upper Sea’). This conceptualization must have also been extended to the Red Sea when Assyria under the Sargonids invaded Northwest Arabia, Palestine, and – last – Egypt.


b. In the Gulf area, the furthermost point known to the ancestors of the 7th century BCE Assyrians was Meluhha (located beyond Tilmun and Magan); in the Red Sea region, the furthermost point known to the 7th century BCE Assyrians was the Sudanese coastland of Kush (Ethiopia).


c. While Tilmun and Magan in the Gulf area and the Egyptian coastland in the Red Sea region were occupied by Assyrian forces of Assarhaddon and Assurbanipal (7th century BCE), Meluhha was an uncontrolled land beyond the borders of the vast Assyrian empire, either we take into consideration the early use of the term (in today’s Emirates’ coastland in the Gulf) or we refer to the latter use of the term (in today’s Sudanese coastland in the Red Sea).


d. Finally, in both cases, Meluhha was located on the right side of the sea as the Assyrians looked either from Mesopotamia toward the Gulf’s eastern confines (early use of the term) or from Palestine and Egypt toward the Red Sea’s southern parts (latter use of the term). The Assyrian viewpoint was later diffused among the Greeks and the Romans, and this attested for instance in Arrian’s Indica. Speaking of the Gulf coastlands of the Arabian Peninsula, Arrian says exactly this (Indica, 43):


“On the right side of the Red Sea beyond Babylonia is the chief part of Arabia, and of this a part comes down to the sea of Phoenicia and Palestinian Syria, but on the west, up to the Mediterranean, the Egyptians are upon the Arabian borders”. (

Here, we have first to specify that the Ancient Greek term “Red Sea” encompasses the Indian Ocean, the Gulf and what we call today ‘Red Sea’, which was then called ‘Arabian Gulf’; Arrian used in this case the all-inclusive term “Red Sea” instead of the usual term “Persian Gulf” because he was discussing about the coastlands of the Arabian Peninsula and he wanted to point out that the land extended from “the right side of the Red Sea beyond Babylonia” to the territories of Egypt and Palestine.


In this text, we can easily notice the prevailing attitude of seeing the Gulf coastlands of the Arabian Peninsula as “the right side of the sea beyond Babylonia”. So, the Sargonid Assyrians, who invaded and annexed Egypt, would similarly view the Kushitic – Sudanese coastland of what we call today ‘’Red Sea’’ as “the right side of the sea beyond Egypt”.


At this point, we can safely conclude that Meluhha represents the earliest phase of pre-Islamic Antiquity of today’s Emirates, and that the existing Assyrian – Babylonian literature about Meluhha illustrates the Emirates’ earliest civilization and cultural heritage, which has already been evidenced thanks to a certain number of archaeological excavations. The identification of Meluhha with the Arabian Peninsula’s coastland beyond Qatar and up to the straits consists in the most solid effort of locating the Ancient Mesopotamians’ ‘Far East’. In fact, the cuneiform literature evidencing Meluhha forms the earliest bulk of national historiography for the modern Emirati nation.


With the collapse of the Nabonid state of Babylonia (539 BCE), and the subsequent rise of Achaemenid Iran, the Emirates’ National History enters a new chapter that is more important, better documented, and lasts for more than a millennium, down to the arrival of Islam.


X. The Aramaean Foundations of UAE History: the Rise of Gerrha (539 BCE – 642 CE)


Whereas the Emirates as Meluhha was for more than two millennia a land at the confines of the Mesopotamian world, following the rise of Achaemenid Iran and the subsequent great changes for the then known world, the same land acquired greater importance, because it was located at the epicenter of a vast and complex network of trade routes that interlinked the Mediterranean world, Iran and the East African coastlands with Central Asia, India and China.


During this period, the Emirati territory was not known under a particular ethnic name or toponymic; to refer to the most authoritative ‘Geography’ by Ptolemy, a corpus dated back in the 2nd century CE, the entire territory of today’s Oman, Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia up to the modern city of Dammam was part of ‘Felix Arabia’ (Eudemon Arabia in Greek), which was a term used to denote basically Yemen.


At this point, we have to mention the classical geographical division of the Arabian Peninsula into three parts, after their particular natural characteristics:


a. Petraia Arabia (lit. Stone Arabia), an area identified with modern Hedjaz, the mountainous, arid land that stretches between Jordan’s southern borders and Najran oasis,


b. Desert Arabia, the central part of the territory of the modern state of Saudi Arabia, and


c. Felix Arabia (in total contrast with the earlier parts, as it was endowed with natural riches and abundant vegetation).


Modern scholars make a dramatic mistake, identifying Felix Arabia with only Yemen. In fact, Najran is a historically permanent and inalienable part of Yemen. Furthermore, ancient geographers and historians considered as parts of the Arabia Felix the following modern territories: Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and part of the the Arabian Peninsula’s northern coast between Qatar and Kuwait.


The above division demonstrates that even in the Late Antiquity, the Gulf’s southern coastlands were not as dry and arid, as desert and barren as they have been over the last few centuries. More importantly, this division corresponds to the fundamental traits of the historical identity of the UAE, placing the country naturally, historically and culturally closer to Oman and Yemen than Hedjaz (Saudi Arabia).


As we already said, the aforementioned division was geomorphologic of character; it helped people distinguish lands as per their own natural characteristics. This makes clear to modern scholarship and researchers that, had the Emirates’ territory been arid and desert at those days, Ptolemy the Geographer would have classified it as part of the Desert Arabia – which he did not! Because of the area’s geomorphologic traits, divisions of ethnological – cultural – linguistic character followed the lines predetermined by nature. People living in the Emirati coastland, Oman, Yemen and Najran were far more interconnected at all levels than the marginalized Arab inhabitants of Hedjaz.


As far as Political Geography is concerned, Felix Arabia was never one state, kingdom or empire; the vastness of the wealth, the diversity of the economic activities, and the imperatives of the landscape (mountains, wadis, and coastlands) allowed the formation of many separate kingdoms that for most of the pre-Islamic times were equally strong and wealthy, and therefore managed to remain independent. Rivalries and wars were relatively scarce because the wealth, which was pretty well shared by all, did not allow for these developments.


What follows is a brief diagram of the political institutions that existed across Felix Arabia. In the area of occupied Najran and North Yemen, the major states included Sheba, Qataban and Himyar. The latter controlled also the western parts of the modern state of South Yemen and the city of Felix Arabia, which is identified with the modern city of Aden. Sheba (with Marib as capital) was the militarily stronger Yemenite state, whereas Qataban developed an entire thalassocracy across the Indian Ocean already before the prevalence of Achaemenid Iran over Babylonia. Qatabani sailors were great specialists in local meteorology, and used effectively the monsoons to sail fast, safely and effectively. They also explored the East African coastlands mainly from the Horn of Africa and further to the South, as far as modern Mozambique.


Around the end of the 2nd century BCE, Sheba and Himyar waged a war against, and prevailed over, Qataban – to the detriment of all, because their victory signified weaker naval control over the Red Sea straits; this unfortunate development allowed Ptolemaic Egypt to expand in the area. United Sheba and Himyar ruled over the East coast of Africa that they colonized, taking benefit of the earlier Qataban presence and know how.


Hadhramawt was another independent state within the geographical region of Arabia Felix; it controlled the central and eastern part of the modern state of South Yemen and parts of the Dhofar region. Furthermore, Omana was an independent state during the first two centuries of the 1st millennium CE.


No major state existed in the part of Fekix Arabia that stretched beyond Omana, from the Ormuz straits to the estuary of Euphrates and Tigris. Smaller towns and villages depended on the few sizeable cities. Thanks to several Ancient Greek and Latin texts, we know many names of cities, towns and villages that existed at those days on today’s Emirati territory. The most important was the richest: Gerrha. Within an interconnected world of commercial and cultural exchanges, Gerrha rose gradually to global prominence, 2000 years before the modern state of the Emirates materialized a global economic miracle.


XI. Gerrha, Achaemenid Iran, and the Interconnectedness between Africa and Asia


Before expanding on Gerrha and its plausible location, it is important to briefly describe the major historical developments that helped increase the area’s importance worldwide.   


After the fall of Babylonia to Kurosh (Cyrus) in 539 BCE, Iran expanded in Mesopotamia, Eastern Anatolia, Syria, and across the East Mediterranean coastland. Cyrus’ successor, Kambujiya (Cambyses) expanded greatly in Africa, invading and annexing Egypt, parts of Libya, and the North of Sudan (525 BCE). The early Achaemenid expansion needed urgently an excellent administration of the newly acquired lands and coastlands. Cambyses’ successor, Daryavush (Darius) proved to be a visionary administrator and managed to quickly setup a well organized empire, perfectly interconnecting its parts by means of safe land routes and maritime connections; due to the size of the Achaemenid empire, the communication / transportation infrastructure brought faraway lands, like India and Egypt, Oman and the Balkans, Russia and Yemen, much closer. Due to the Achaemenid imperial ideology, which was molded after the Assyrian prototype, the world became a smaller place. Suddenly, the territory of today’s Emirates and Oman became very important.


To establish an alternative route to Egypt, which was already an Iranian province, Darius favored the establishment of a regular maritime connection; to do so, he asked Scylax the Caryander to undertake the circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula, starting from the Gulf, alongside the Arabian Peninsula coastlands, and across the Red Sea up to Arsinioe (Suez). At Arsinoe ended the old ‘Suez Canal’ that Pharaonic times’ Egyptians had first dug in order to transfer their fleet from the Nile and the Mediterranean to the Red Sea; during the 1st millennium BCE and prior to the Iranian invasion and annexation, the old canal was fallen in desuetude. Darius reopened the canal to facilitate straight contact and transportation between Egypt and Iran through the alternative route, instead of crossing Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia to Iran; the inauguration stele (a trilingual document in Babylonian Cuneiform, Old Persian Cuneiform, and Egyptian Hieroglyphic) was found in modern excavations and shed light on this point. This great development increased the importance of the wider region of the Emirates and Oman, as almost the entire Egyptian trade of Iran was transited through this area.


Although controlling a vast empire stretching from Central Asia and North India to North Sudan and Libya in Africa, and to Ukraine and Macedonia in Europe, Darius did not control militarily some rather nearby countries, namely Oman, Yemen (central part of Arabia Felix) and the Horn of Africa (today’s Somalia); however, he managed to attach them to his global vision and imperial policy. As a matter of fact, at those days, for the Iranian Empire, the direction toward further expansion was the West. Darius and his successor, Hashayar Shah (Xerxes), attempted to annex Carthage and the Greek cities-states south of Macedonia; however, in either case, they marked little success. The military expansion effort of the Iranians proved to be fruitless, but at the same time it helped the Yemenite states survive, prosper, and expand their influence over East Africa. This strengthened their position and increased their wealth. This situation lasted due to the fact that the Achaemenid Empire of Iran did not invade, annex or fully control the territories across the Gulf’s southern coast, except for the parts of today’s Emirates and Oman that are close to the Ormuz straits.


Controlling Yemen and Somalia would in fact be far more important for Xerxes and his vast empire than invading the tiny and marginal Greek states or even subduing Carthage and gaining control over the West Mediterranean trade in the process. The relative Iranian indifference for Oman, Yemen and the Horn of Africa region proved to have a great impact on the National History of the Emirates.


The Sabaean Yemenites (of the Sheba kingdom) and their neighbors from Qataban, Himyar and Hadhramawt managed to put under control the rapidly increasing trade between East Africa and Iran; this, added to the wealth accumulated because of the Yemenite products that were already known and sought after in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Iran, and the Mediterranean world, created a wealth surplus. Iranian navies circumnavigated the Arabian Peninsula, establishing better connection between Egypt and Fars, Iran’s political center. However, due to Qatabani Yemenite thalassocracy across the Indian Ocean, a tremendous part of wealth escaped the hands of the imperial administration.


Age-old traders and renowned merchants, the Sabaean Yemenites were used to transfer their merchandises across Hedjaz (Petraia Arabia) to Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia. But by now, due to Qatabani Yemenite thalassocracy across the Indian Ocean, the trade volume and the product variety had increased tremendously, and so had the number of purchasers. Yemenite and East African goods were highly demanded in Iran, Central Asia, and Caucasus; they were very much sought after in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Syria and Palestine (the Asiatic lands annexed to Iran), in Egypt and the North of Africa, and across the European provinces of Iran, e.g. Macedonia, Thrace, other parts of the Balkans, and the Ukrainian coastlands.


There was evidently a need for an additional trade route to serve the increased Sabaean trade; the old route across Hedjaz was not enough anymore. Maritime transportation would not serve much in this regard, as it would increase the product cost. A much shorter land / desert route would do. The end of this road that crossed the Arabian Peninsula from Southwest to Northeast was Gerrha.


XII. Gerrha’s Prominence in Antiquity – Harbinger of the Present UAE Rise 


Gerrha rose to economic prominence relatively fast, and due exclusively to the Sabaean and East African trade. The location of Gerrha has not yet been properly identified, because no excavation brought to surface such magnificent remains that Ancient Greek and Latin textual references allow us to imagine. There are many good reasons for us to believe that Gerrha was located on the territory of the UAE, and more specifically at Abu Dhabi. This will discuss later; at this point, suffice it to say that there is conclusive historical textual evidence and strong interpretative argumentation refuting the aberration that Gerrha would have been located somewhere in the Saudi Arabian province of Al Ehsa. Those who support this fallacy are either fully unaware of ancient sources or totally bound to colonial agendas; as a matter of fact, there is no evidence to support this fallacy.


Gerrha rose exactly during the times of the Achaemenid dynasty of Iran (550 – 330 BCE). From Gerrha, the Sabaean and East African trade was further transported to either Mesopotamia – Anatolia or to the central provinces of Iran, or – also – to Central Asia. The route started at the northernmost confines of Yemen and the Najran area, passed from the then confines of the vast desert actually known as Rub al Khali, and reached the territory of today’s Emirates at a distance of ca. 350 km from the straits where Iranian navy and army prevailed. This being so, the Sheba / Gerrha land / desert route became a serious alternative to the sea trade route between Egypt and Iran, which was envisioned by Darius; the two routes did not exist in terms of rivalry, simply the Sheba / Gerrha land / desert route escaped totally from the Achaemenid Iranian control, and this ended up in a colossal loss of wealth for the already very wealthy Iranian Empire. This wealth was accumulated in Gerrha. This situation means also that North African and even Egyptian products were transported by sea until the Sabaean harbors in the Red Sea, and then dispatched by caravans alongside the land / desert route to Gerrha.


Gerrha, like the Sabaean Yemenites, had good relations with Iran, and this allowed for lower taxes and customs. The ethnic origin of the Gerrhans is neither Yemenite nor Arab. Ancient Greek sources make state of an Aramaean arrival in the area, probably dated back to the Nabonid Babylonian times (609 – 539 BCE), so before the rise of Achaemenid Iran. The Aramaeans were a Semitic nation, with affinities with the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Phoenicians and the Arabs, who spread in Syria and Mesopotamia first at the beginning of the 12th century BCE; they formed independent kingdoms, like Aram Dimashq, Bit Adini, etc. until they were progressively annexed by Assyria. In the times of Late Antiquity, the Phoenicians, the Babylonians, and other nations of the wider region were assimilated with the Aramaeans. Aramaic writing was initiated among many other nations because the Aramaeans were skillful merchants and crossed vast territories in Asia and in NE Africa. Today, the entire population of Arabic speaking people in Iraq, Syria, SW Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Emirates, Northern Saudi Arabia, SE Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine are Aramaeans, who have been progressively arabized linguistically, due to their earlier islamization.


Strabo, writing at the end of the 1st century BCE (which means a few years after the Roman invasion of Egypt – 30 BCE), specified in his Geographica (16.3.3) that, after circumnavigating around Arabia, Gerrha was located at a distance of 240 stadia (an ancient measurement) from the Ormuz straits, in a steep gulf creek. He added that first to inhabit Gerrha were Chaldaean refugees from Babylonia. The reference can be best contextualized in the Nabonid times, when the Babylonian kings made an effort to duly control the vast masses of Aramaeans, who had entered their empire or had been relocated there by the Assyrian emperors during the 7th century BCE. Known through Assyrian / Babylonian sources as Kaldu, the Chaldaeans were one of the Aramaean tribes, and had earlier inhabited the southernmost confines of Mesopotamia. We can certainly assume that Aramaeans intermingled with the earlier inhabitants of the wider Meluhha region, but according to Strabo, the city lof Gerrha was founded by the Aramaeans. This is the reason Gerrha excelled in trade and was promoted to a key point in the complex network of trade routes between East and West; the rulers of Gerrha were the allies of the Aramaean merchants who were powerful across the land and desert routes from Upper Egypt and Western Anatolia (Turkey) to Yemen, India, Central Asia, and China.


This left an everlasting stamp on the National History of the Emirates. Aramaeans had already great experience in the trade. Transferring their know how to the area of the Emirates (Meluhha), the Chaldaean Aramaeans effectively turned this place to the world’s most successful economy and to the top transit point in the trade between East and West.


During the Achaemenid times, the Aramaeans controlled the Iranian trade and highly contributed to its expansion. In fact, only Aramaean populations and rulers could make of Gerrha the world’s wealthiest city that ancient textual evidence convinces us that it was. The impact of the Aramaeans on the trade between the Mediterranean and China was unique; Maes Tatianus, an Aramaean, is the first person historically known by his name to have traveled from the area of Syria – Mesopotamia (epicenter of the Aramaeans) to China.


Aramaean alphabetic writing replaced around the end of the Achaemenid times the Old Persian cuneiform writing, thus introducing the alphabet among Persians; Aramaic alphabetic characters were used for the writing of Kharosthi (one of the two early writing systems of Ancient India), and of many Central Asiatic languages.


Benefitting from the vastness of the Achaemenid empire, and utilizing earlier regional trade networks, Aramaeans setup a complex system of trade routes between the Mediterranean and China. Land routes crossed the Iranian plateau and Central Asia and then through Eastern Turkestan to China, whereas sea routes from Egypt and Azania (the name of Ancient Somalia during the Late Antiquity) to the estuary of Euphrates and Tigris in the Gulf and to the Indus Delta were interconnected, thus offering, through the Indus Valley and Eastern Turkestan. an effective alternative to the Mediterranean / Egyptian / East African sea route trade to China.


The position of Gerrha within this vast trade network was of capital importance. Gerrha rose to prominence, by

a) controlling Sabaean Yemenite and East African trade directed to Anatolia, Syria-Mesopotamia, Persia, Caucasus, Central Asia (all five being Iranian provinces) and China,

b) offering a key transit to the Southwest Indian coastlands’ trade with Iran, and vice versa,

c) overseeing merchandises transported from Anatolia, Caucasus, Syria-Mesopotamia and occasionally from the Mediterranean world to Southwest Indian coastlands and states, and vice versa, and

d) being an alternative route for Egyptian and Mediterranean trade with Central Asia and China, and vice versa.


It is evident that to the establishment of the above mentioned trade network, a second sociopolitical factor contributed greatly, besides Achaemenid Iran’s unity, vastness, and communication / transportation infrastructure: the political division of the Indian North and South into many states and nations that were constantly waging war one upon the other, and the traditional dependence of India on sociopolitical and cuktural developments occurring in Iran and Central Asia.


XIII. Gerrha and Alexander the Great


When Alexander, King of Macedonia, invaded the Achaemenid empire, he preserved its entire sociopolitical structure, administrative practices, and economic activities. In fact, the ‘great’ invasions of Alexander the ‘Great’ are a modern academic fabrication well-orchestrated by the Hellenist and Orientalist forgers in order to fully support the racist theory of Western European superiority and the assorted version of History that they produced. The so-called exploits of Alexander were nothing more than the substitution of the Achaemenid dynasty by the Macedonian king; only in Pentapotamia (Punjab) and the North of India, Alexander went beyond the borders of the Achaemenid state.


Certainly, viewed from the eyes of the Ancient Greek microcosm, Alexander’s military achievement looks immense and unprecedented. But it would be an impartial modern scholar’s mistake to make his the viewpoint of so unimportant ancient testimonies. The importance of each and every Ancient Greek city did not reach the level of even a major city of Ancient Elam (such as Susa or Dur Untash, e.g. the modern site of Chogha Zanbil), the pariah of the Ancient Mesopotamian world.


Beyond the above objective observations, one has to admit that Alexander’s legacy across Greek, Oriental, and Muslim literatures and traditions left a highly positive impression, as the magnificent opus ‘Sekandernameh’ by the great Azeri epic poet highlights. However, this critical point has always been passed under silence by Hellenist and Orientalist colonial forgers who – like in so many other cases – promote a monstrous deformation of the historical sources and reality, viciously altering traits and characters.


If we carefully study Alexander’s imperial policies, during and after the completion of his military adventures, we discover an absolute continuity as regards the imperial Achaemenid Iranian tradition, in terms of royal procedure, imperial ideology, mixed marriages, administrative practices, and religious tolerance. By substituting the Iranian monarchy with his own, Alexander tremendously intensified the old Macedonian royal practices, and at the same time he rejected the pseudo-democratic, tyrannical and inhuman policies of the Greek city-states whereby slavery flourished, and ‘free’ population were only the male adults, e.g. less than 10% of each city (slaves usually totaling 80 – 90% of the inhabitants).


It was not without reason that Alexander transferred his capital from Macedonia’s marginal Pella to Babylon in Mesopotamia, at the geo-strategic center of his empire. Last echo of all these developments, and of the imperial Achaemenid Iranian continuity, which was ensured personally by the Macedonian king, can be found in the Islamic Iranian epic ‘Shahnameh’ (composed by Ferdowsi at the end of the 10th century CE) whereby Alexander (Iskander) was portrayed as an ordinary Shah of Iran. This explains also why Alexander was proclaimed Pharaoh in Egypt, following the example of Cambyses, Darius and the other Iranian rulers of Egypt.


I expanded on the issue, because Alexander’s expeditions constitute indeed an important moment for the history of the Emirates and for Gerrha’s historical role in the trade between East and West. Alexander tried to put the entire region of the Arabian peninsula (located between Mesopotamia – Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, India, and Iran) under control, but despite an early success, he failed.


When Alexander was in Egypt, he sent Anaxicrates to explore the Arabian peninsula’s coastlands, starting from Egypt; in this regard, his role was similar to that of Scylax the Caryander under Darius, but his trajectory opposite. It seems that Anaxicrates reached the Red Sea straits of Bab el Mandeb, but did not proceed further on. Consequently, the coastlands of Himyar, Hadhramawt, Oman and Gerrha remained unexplored and unknown. We have every reason to believe that in the mind of the Macedonian King, who had just become a Pharaoh, the rapidly increasing East – West trade and the ensuing wealth were the target hidden behind his order.


Later on, Alexander ordered in Babylon a big harbor to be built in order to facilitate the trade with the East, which was passing through Gerrha. The harbor was planned to afford anchorage for 1000 ships of war; this means it was huge. In Arrian’s Anabasis (book vii, chapter 19: 4 and 5), we read that Alexander undertook all these preparations in order to attack Arabia. Further on, we read that the plan to invade Arabia may have been due to the fact that the people of the Arabian Peninsula were the only ‘barbarians’ (the Ancient Greek term means only ‘non-Greek’; the word itself is of Assyrian Babylonian etymology) of the wider region, who had not sent an embassy to him or done anything else to show respect to Alexander. However, the text did not specify whether this plan of Alexander concerned the Yemenite Sabaeans, Qatabanis and Hadhramis, the Aramaean Gerrhans or the Arabs of Petraia Arabia (Hedjaz) and those of the desert. 


If we take into consideration another excerpt of Arrian’s Anabasis, we may conclude that Alexander’s plan rather concerned the inhabitants of Felix Arabia, i.e. the Sabaeans, the Qatabanis, the Hadhramis, the Omanis and the Gerrhans; the text reads: ‘’the land fertility induced Alexander to attempt to invade the land’’ (book vii, chapter 20: 2). In the same text, we find an enumeration of the basic merchandises that, produced in Arabia Felix and transported via Gerrha, made the Sabaeans and the Gerrhans prosperous and wealthy: cassia, myrrh, frankincense and cinnamon!


It seems that, despite his advance in Iran, Central Asia, and India, Alexander never forgot his back thoughts and the secret desire to annex the Arabian Peninsula. According to the historical records, Alexander ordered three more times a naval expedition to be sent around the Arabian Peninsula; this demonstrates an extraordinary persistence! However, all three expeditions failed.


XIV. Why Gerrha Cannot Be Located in Al Ehsa Province of Saudi Arabia


The first expedition involved the dispatch of a triaconter (a vessel with 30 oars) under Archias, who was ordered to investigate the course of the voyage alongside the coast of the Arabian peninsula; however, they sailed up to the island of Tylos (which is the Ancient Assyrian / Babylonian Tilmun, i.e. today’s Bahrain) and did not dare to venture beyond that point (book vii, chapter 20:6 and 7).


This event offers a very strong argument against the erroneous effort to identify Gerrha with a possible location in the Saudi coastland between Qatar and Kuwait, which was supported amongst others by David W. Tschanz ( In fact, if Gerrha had been located there, Archias would have mentioned the city while undertaking his voyage alongside the northeastern coast of the peninsula. 


At this point, I have to deplore all earlier efforts that were at times attempted by great scholars like Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville who identified Gerrha with Qatif, Carsten Niebuhr who preferred Kuwait and C. Forsterwho suggested that the ruins at the head of the bay behind the islands of Bahrain were the ruins of Gerrha. It is quite obvious that the aforementioned scholars never studied the Ancient Greek and Latin texts that relate to Gerrha.


Even more absurd is the recent effort of Abdulkhaliq Al Janbi (in his book ‘Gerrha, The Ancient City Of International Trade’ – in Arabic) to identify Gerrha with the old city of Hajar or the remains of Al-‘Uqair in Al Ehsa province of Saudi Arabia; deprived of any reference to key textual information (see below), this book seems to be part of a Saudi expansionist agenda mixed again with historical falsification. 


In fact, beyond the existing ancient sources, there is a far more convincing argument that explains the reason for which Gerrha could not be located in the Saudi Arabian coastland between Qatar and Bahrain. To understand this point, it takes a good study of the vast commercial network that was progressively setup between East and West during the Late Antiquity; great attention should be first paid at the nature, the traits and the functionality of this triple network that offered possible alternatives among land, desert and sea routes.


Gerrha came to existence because Aramaeans (Chaldaeans) moved to its location and built up the city as per their own needs as merchants; this was quite typical of the Aramaeans. They used to setup new cities in diverse countries; as example, they founded Kaine (‘’new’’) city in Upper Egypt at a strategic location on the road that linked the Nile Valley with the Red Sea coast. Kaine survived down to our times as Qena, 60 km north of Luxor.


As the Aramaeans undertook and totally controlled the trade with Yemenites across the peninsula and other parts of the Asiatic landmass, they were the primary partners of the Sabaeans, the strongest Yemenite kingdom in land. In coordination with the Sabaeans, and in full understanding of their mutual, commercial – economic needs, the Aramaeans founded Gerrha. In fact, the city location should serve the needs of the Sabaean – Aramaean trade and the diffusion of East African and Yemenite merchandises to Mesopotamia, Iran, Caucasus, and Central Asia.


More specifically, the location of Gerrha would serve the Sabaean – Aramaean interests by being at the end of a road and at the beginning of a bifurcation. This means that products for Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Syria, Armenia, and Caucasus would be dispatched toward the West; on the other hand, merchandises for Central Asia and India would be shipped toward the North and the East. Starting from the land of the Sabaeans and advancing to the North, one immediately understands that the bifurcation point (Gerrha) could not be located in any other land except the territory of the Emirates.


If Gerrha was located in the area of today’s Al Ehsa province of Saudi Arabia, its location would not serve the Sabaean – Aramaean interests, as it would expose the East African and Yemenite merchandises that were directed for Central Asia to Arsacid Parthian taxes and customs.


Worse, if Gerrha was located in the area of today’s Al Ehsa province of Saudi Arabia, there would not be any need for a city to be built there at all! Why building a city so close to the southern part of Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq and Kuwait), since the road from North Yemen would soon reach the confines of Mesopotamia? Caravans transporting goods from Yemen would not need to stop in any city if they had already reached the territory of Al Ehsa province of today’s Saudi Arabia; they would simply advance and soon reach their destination.


So, to first search for a possible location of an ancient city located on the trade network between East and West like Gerrha, one must understand that it should be pretty far from Mesopotamia in order to have a reason to exist.


XV. Macedonian Naval Expeditions around the Peninsula, and Gerrha


Another naval expedition was undertaken by Androsthenes, who sailed around a part of the Arabian Peninsula, and wrote a book narrating his explorations. The book is now lost, but it was studied during the Late Antiquity by various historians and geographers. For instance, Strabo, who wrote 300 years later, quoted Androsthenes’ book (Strabo, book 16, 3:1).


Alexander demanded one more naval expedition to be undertaken, and this was carried out by Hieron of Soli; Arrian (Anabasis, book vii, chapter 20: 7, 8) narrates that the instructions were to sail as far as the Arabian Gulf (this means today’s Red Sea) up to Egypt, and that Hieron advanced more than all previous explorers, but still failed to complete the exploration.


The aforementioned developments, which occurred in the period 330 – 323 BCE (two centuries and two decades after the inception of the Achaemenid state and the first circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula which was successfully undertaken by Scylax of Caryander), boded only well for Gerrha, as the Aramaean caravan city – state in the southern coastlands of today’s Emirates remained out of the borders of the Macedonian Emperor’s state, as many other adjacent regions did, namely the Arabian Peninsula’s northern parts, Oman, the various Yemenite states, Azania (Somalia). Out of the Macedonian control was also Kush (Ethiopia, in today’s Northern Sudan), and the same occurred to the tiny Abyssinian state around Adulis (near today’s Massawa, in Eritrea) and Axum as well. 


An important moment of the National History of the Emirates proved to be February 324 BCE. It was then that Alexander’s fleet was ordered to sail under Admiral Nearchos from Indus estuary back to Mesopotamia, while the army would cross Gedrosia (today’s Baluchistan), Carmania (today’s Iranian province of Kerman), and Persia (Fars) to Babylon, Alexander’s new and imperial capital.


The first part of the itinerary would of course be fluvial, because this fleet had not sailed to India while Alexander advanced in Iran, but was built in Hydaspes river (today’s Jhelum river) to address Alexander’s needs for war with the Northern Indian states. During the trip, Nearchus had to remain behind and oversee repairs that had to be made during the journey. Sailing off the coastlands of Gedrosia (Baluchistan) proved to be an extremely harsh attempt to the extent that they became unrecognizable! As a matter of fact, when Nearchus’ fleet reached the coast of Iran beyond the straits, whereby he came to know that Alexander and the Macedonian army in their return movement were in nearby Carmania, he set out along with Archias to meet the Macedonian king. However, Alexander and his chief-of-staff had at first some difficulty to recognize them. Following the brief encounter and the subsequent discussions and religious tasks (sacrifices), Nearchus and Archias returned to the fleet and sailed to the estuary of Tigris and Euphrates, and further on to Susa (in today’s Iran) to encounter Alexander again. While crossing the Persian Gulf, he managed to explore parts of the Arabian coastland, and he wrote down a special report. Almost five centuries later, the Roman historian Arrian in his Indica (XLIII) used info gathered by Nearchus’ sailors, while writing the following:


‘’On the right side of the Red Sea beyond Babylonia is the chief part of Arabia, and of this a part comes down to the sea of Phoenicia and Palestinian Syria, but on the west, up to the Mediterranean, the Egyptians are upon the Arabian borders. Along Egypt a gulf running in from the Great Sea makes it clear that by reason of the gulf’s joining with the High Seas one might sail round from Babylon into this gulf which runs into Egypt. Yet, in point of fact, no one has yet sailed round this way by reason of the heat and the desert nature of the coasts, only a few people who sailed over the open sea. But those of the army of Cambyses who came safe from Egypt to Susa and those troops who were sent from Ptolemy Lagus to Seleucus Nicator at Babylon through Arabia crossed an isthmus in a period of eight days and passed through a waterless and desert country, riding fast upon camels, carrying water for themselves on their camels, and travelling by night; for during the day they could not come out of shelter by reason of the heat’’.


‘’Yet from the Arabian gulf which runs along Egypt people have started, and have circumnavigated the greater part of Arabia hoping to reach the sea nearest to Susa and Persia, and thus have sailed so far round the Arabian coast as the amount of fresh water taken aboard their vessels have permitted, and then have returned home again. And those whom Alexander sent from Babylon, in order that, sailing as far as they could on the right of the Red Sea, they might reconnoitre the country on this side, these explorers sighted certain islands lying on their course, and very possibly put in at the mainland of Arabia. But the cape which Nearchus says his party sighted running out into the sea opposite Carmania no one has ever been able to round, and thus turn inwards towards the far side’’.


From the above excerpts, we understand that, although Nearchus is believed to have set foot on Tylos island (Bahrain), he did not disembark on any point of the territory of today’s Emirates and Gerrha or on Mount Mussandam on the Arabian Peninsula’s promontory in the straits. Finally, that territory remained out of reach for Alexander’s army and fleet, despite the fact that their great wealth was known. 


Despite all his efforts, Alexander’s state could not survive his founder; it was divided among his successors, and even they had difficulties to control their vast territories. The largest of all four states of Alexander’s successors was the Syrian state of the Seleucids, with Antioch (today’s Antakya in Hatay, Turkey) as capital. It controlled today’s Eastern Turkey, Syria, Mesopotamia, the Iranian plateau, the Central Asiatic provinces, and the entire territory of today’s Afghanistan and Pakistan, which were then known as Bactria, Arachosia, Gedrosia and Pentapotamia. The louse control of the eastern provinces had an early consequence; 60 years after Alexander’s death, the Iranian plateau, the Central Asiatic and the Eastern provinces were lost to the Seleucid Empire of Syria that was limited in only the lands of Eastern Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine.


XVI. Arsacid Parthian Iran, Seleucid Syria, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Gerrha


In Parthia (northeastern provinces of today’s Iran) rose a dynasty that expelled the Macedonians, declared Iran’s independence, and controlled most but not all the territories lost to the Seleucids of Antioch. Subsequently, the few Macedonian garrisons left in Bactria, separated from Antioch, seceded from Iran, and ruled the largest part of today’s Afghanistan (then known as Bactria). Except Bactria (under Macedonian administration), several minor states emerged in the areas of Gedrosia, Arachosia and Pentapotamia, east of the Parthian Iranian state.


The above developments boded also well for Gerrha and its importance in the trade routes between the Mediterranean, East Africa, Central Asia and China. Surrounded by many local states with little control over regional affairs, Gerrha played politics to promote its economic status. To Gerrha’s greatest benefit, this situation lasted long. The Parthian dynasty of Iran, known as Ashkanian (Arsacids), proved to be the longest in three millennia of Iranian History; it lasted ca. 475 years (250 BCE – 224 CE), until the rise of the nationalistic Persian dynasty of Sassanian (Sassanids). This period highlights Gerrha rise to economic prominence.


Other developments took place soon to help further increase Gerrha’s importance. The rise of the Arsacids in Iran gave birth to a certain rivalry with the Seleucids of Antioch (the event involved marginal powers as well, from Pontus and Armenia to North India). In addition, the weakened Seleucid Empire entered into a bitter rivalry with the Ptolemies who ruled Egypt and inherited from Alexander’s empire the islands of Cyprus and Crete, a development that could asphyxiate the Seleucids. Seleucid Syria was definitely stronger, but did not prevail easily. Parthian Iran and the Roman Republic benefitted from the Syro-Egyptian effort of mutual destruction.


Because of the constant wars between Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria, the eastern provinces of the Seleucid state (that were located west of the Parthian Empire of Iran) gradually managed to achieve a certain degree of autonomy; many small Aramaean states were then formed, notably Tadmor (Palmyra in today’s East Syria), Rekem / Petra of the Nabataeans (in today’s South Jordan), Hatra (in today’s NW Iraq), and Characene (in today’s South Iraq and Kuwait). Their typical localism was beneficial to the role Gerrha used and aspired to play.


During the 3rd century BCE various ambassadors of either the Seleucids or the Ptolemies moved to India to encounter kings like Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Ashoka. Megasthenes was sent by Seleucos I of Syria, but he certainly moved from Iran, crossing Bactria and Pentapotamia, to reach Pataliputra. Deimachus met Bindusara and wrote down the most trustworthy description of India; his account is by now lost, but was greatly appreciated by Late Antiquity authors, such as Strabo.


Dionysius was sent to Ashoka by Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt; Pliny the Elder saved the detail, but for his case, it is more probable that he crossed the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf up to Gerrha, before sailing further to the area of Indus estuary, in order to avoid the Seleucid garrisons that protected the territory of Egypt’s great rival in Palestine and Southern Mesopotamia.


The lure of wealth generated in Gerrha by the Aramaean traders and inhabitants was too attractive for Antiochus III the Great (222 – 187 BCE) to avoid. In 205 BC, he decided to launch a large-scale military incursion against the Gerrhans in order to secure for his country a reasonable portion of their trade. He probably advanced beyond Mesopotamia, across the northwestern coastland of the Arabian Peninsula, but was finally diverted from his goal of capturing the city, because the Gerrhans offered to pay a great tribute involving 500 talents of silver, 1000 talents of frankincense, and 200 talents of ‘stacte’ myrrh. 


Anxious to balance the only potential threat, the Arsacid Empire of Iran, Gerrha continued paying tribute to Seleucid Empire even in later periods. And to balance Seleucid Syria, the Gerrhans had good relations with Ptolemaic Egypt as well.


At those days, another exploration was undertaken by Ariston, supported by the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt; the expedition started from Egypt and marked a success in exploring the northwestern coastlands of the Arabian Peninsula (Agatharchides, fragm. 103, GGM I, p.190 -191). However, it is highly unlikely that he reached the Bab el Mandeb straits of the Red Sea, let alone any region beyond.


During the same period (3rd century BCE), the greater scholarly attempt to write down accurate information and setup full maps of the entire region between Egypt, Mesopotamia and India ws undertaken by Eratosthenes of Cyrene (today’s Benghazi in Libya) , the famous librarian of the Library of Alexandria. His map of the Arabian Peninsula and the details included for the area of the Emirates and Oman demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge about the region. Science could only increase thanks to the accelerated study of earlier Egyptian and Babylonian scientific texts, which was undertaken by people like Hipparchus (190 – 120 BCE).


XVII. Agatharchides on Gerrha and the Sabaean (Sheba) Yemenites


It was at the middle of the 2nd century BCE that Agatharchides wrote an acclamation about Gerrha in his treatise ‘On the Red Sea’ (here it is to be reminded that the term ‘Red Sea’ in Greek at those days denoted the entire Indian Ocean, the Gulf, and today’s Red Sea, which was then called ‘Arabian Gulf’):


‘’It seems that there is no wealthier nation than the Sabaeans and the Gerrhans; the latter are used to cash all the taxes and customs involved in the trade between Asia and Europe. They helped Ptolemies’ acquisitions in Syria increase in wealth very much, and thanks to Phoenician labor, they built up profitable trade companies, and much more’’ (Agatharchides, fr. 102, GGM, I, p. 189 – 190).


Egyptians tried to improve their relations with the Lihyan Arabs of North Hedjaz whose tribal leaders imitated the Egyptian royal practices, by making of the name of the Ptolemies an early Arabic synonym for ‘king’; their title ‘Tulmai’ or ‘Talmai’ was saved indeed in Greek inscriptions. Trying to take greater benefit from the Red Sea trade, Egyptians and Alexandrian Greeks set up colonies alongside the Red Sea coast, like Ptolemais Theron (today’s Suakin) in the Sudanese (Meroitic Ethiopian) coastland. A certain rivalry between Alexandria and Gerrha started becoming more evident.


By the time Artemidorus Ephesius undertook his exploration (around 100 BCE), a great change had occurred in Yemen, and this contributed to further increase in Gerrha’s wealth. The combined forces of Sheba and Himyar invaded the strongest maritime force among the Yemenite states, Qataban, in an effort to take greater benefit of the enormous wealth accumulated at Timna, the capital of the Yemenite thalassocracy (modern Beihan in Shabwah governorate). The major outcome of this event was the Sabaean – Himyarite combined control over the former Qatabani colonies in parts of Somalia and East African coastlands, then called Azania, down to ca. today’s Darussalam in Tanzania. This development greatly affected Gerrha because of the excellent relationship between the Gulf city-state and the Sabaeans. East African products transported through Gerrha to parts of Asia and Europe certainly had lower taxation after Qataban disappeared from the scene.


However, the same event triggered also another development that was quite opposite to the Sabaean – Gerrhan interests; the Sabaean – Himyarite alliance was less experienced across the seas, and the collapse of Qataban, the stronger naval force among the Yemenite states, allowed Ptolemaic Egypt to further expand in the Red Sea and the Bab el Mandeb straits. This signified lower taxes and customs, greater control over the Horn of Africa trade, and an Alexandrian antagonism with Gerrha for the diffusion of East African, Yemenite, Omani and Indian merchandises in the Mediterranean.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s