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



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




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


Last author of the Late Antiquity to mention Gerrha is Ptolemy the Geographer who was one of the world’s leading scholars in the 2nd century CE, and wrote ca. 100 years after Pliny the Elder; he was unrelated to the deposed and extinct Macedonian dynasty of Ptolemies, and his use of the personal name of the dynasty founder hints at a certain national(ist) Egyptian and (therefore) anti-Roman ideological position. As a matter of fact, Ptolemy the Geographer was an Upper Egyptian, born around Thebes (today’s Luxor), who wrote in Greek in order to have readership across the Mediterranean. As he was a Roman citizen, he is assumed to have lived and worked in Alexandria whereby a vast documentation was available in the Library. His Geography is one of his major opuses; it comprises of two parts, an introduction with extensive discussion about the data collected and the methods used, and the main part of the work, which is an atlas (books 2 to 6).


Geographike Hyphegesis, as the title stands in Ancient Greek, contains more than 4500 names of cities and more than 200 names of mountains – an unprecedented point of foremost erudition. In his Geography, Ptolemy included extensive topographic lists, names of cities, towns, countries, areas, mountains, rivers, bays, islands, peninsulas, etc.; his map covered the entire known world that spanned over 180 degrees of longitude, from the westernmost point (the Canary islands) to the easternmost point (China’s coastland). As far as latitude is concerned, Ptolemy’s world spanned over 80 degrees from Thule (Iceland) to the southernmost confines of Africa (the area of Mozambique), and Southeast Asia (Cattigara).


 In his 5th book, Ptolemy expands on parts of Asia, starting with Pontus (today’s Black Sea coastland of Turkey) and Bithynia (today’s Marmara Sea coastland of Turkey), e.g. the northwestern region of today’s Turkey. In the book’s 4th part (and table), he describes Cyprus, Syria Coele (Phoenicia), Palestine, Petraia (Stone) Arabia, Mesopotamia, Desert Arabia, and Babylonia.


In his 6th book, Ptolemy proceeds further to the east, describing other regions of Greater Asia (the term was used in opposition to Minor Asia, e.g. the area today’s Turkey), notably Assyria, Media, Susiana, Persia, Parthia and Desert Carmania (1st part and table). Immediately after that part, Ptolemy expands on Arabia Felix (the term covers the territories of today’s Najran, Yemen, Oman, Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain) and Carmania (today’s Iran region between the city of Kerman and the Ormuz straits); it makes therefore sense for him to place the Ormuz straits adjacent regions altogether in one unit (6th book, 2nd part and table / or units 7 and 8). The next part covers Hyrcania, Margiana, Bactria, Sogdiana, the land of Sacae, and the part of Scythia around Imaon mountain; these regions cover a vast space of today’s Eastern Iran, Northern Iran, NW Pakistan, Afghanistan, South & SE Turkmenistan, South Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.


As we already said, the description of Arabia Felix is included in the 2nd part of Geography’s 6th book; it covers unit 7, whereas Carmania is narrated in unit 8.


The chapter on Arabia Felix starts like all the chapters with a brief text that establishes the demarcation of the area under discussion; the Ancient Greek text is available online:  ( I translated from Ancient Greek into English all the excerpts from Ptolemy’s Geography that have been herewith included.


‘’From the North, Felix Arabia is delineated by the exposed southern parts of Petraia (Stone) Arabia ad Desert Arabia; from the west, it is demarcated by the Arabian Gulf (the Ancient Greek term denotes the Red Sea), and from the south by the Red Sea (the Ancient Greek term denotes the Indian Ocean). And from the East, it is delineated by the Persian Gulf, and by the Sea that stretches from the Gulf’s mouth (e.g. the Ormuz straits) up to cape Syagros’’.


Ptolemy then enumerates the coastal cities and towns, starting with the Red Sea coastlands of Arabia Felix that were successively inhabited by Thamnyditai, Sidenoi, Darrai, Banoubaroi, Arsai, Kinaidokolpitai, Kassanitai and Elisaroi. All these Yemenite ethnic groups were located in Yemen’s western shores; among the towns inhabited by Elisaroi, Ptolemy mentions well-known entrepots and harbours, namely Mouza Emporion (Mouza the Trade), which is identified with the modern Yemenite village Al Mukha ( and Okelis Emporion. As the ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’ offers more insight into the activities undertaken at Mouza, we know that this entrepot was among the largest existing in the entire Red Sea region.


Ptolemy names the Bab el Mandeb Yemenite promontory ‘’Poseidion Akron’’, cape of Poseidon (the Ancient Greek god of the sea that corresponds to the Roman god Neptune), one city, and the mount Kaboubathra. Immediately after that part, started the land of the Omeritai who are identified with the Himyarite Yemenites. Soon after, Ptolemy mentions Arabias Emporion, which corresponds to Arabia Felix city of the earlier text ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’ (paragraph 26); this site is identified with modern Aden.


Immediately, east of Aden started Hadhramawt (Adramiton Hora; Land of the Hadhramis), which seems to have expanded at the detriment of Himyar at the times of Ptolemy the Geographer. In that part, while proceeding toward the East, Ptolemy mentions several cities and locations that had already been mentioned by the unknown author of the text ‘’Periplus of the Red Sea’’.


After including the city of Moskha in Hadhramawt (which clearly means that the earlier attested state of Oman had collapsed and was incorporated in Hadhramawt), Ptolemy describes the land of Sahalitai that stretched until the Ormuz straits. Ptolemy’s Didyma Mountains are identified with Al Hajar al Sharqi and Al Hajar al Gharbi mountains, and Ptolemy’s Black Mountains or Assabon are identified with Ruus al Jibal at the end of Musandam Peninsula. In the area between Muscat and Musandam Peninsula (that belongs partly to Oman and the Emirates), Ptolemy mentions two cities, namely Kossara (or Kosseudi) and Abissa, and cape Korodabon (Ras As Sikkan). In the aforementioned area, he also locates an Oracle of Artemis, an Ancient Greek goddess identified by the Ancient Greeks with the Persian goddess Anahita of the Mithraist Iranians; this bears witness to a persistent Persian presence in Oman during the Arsacid times. Finally, at the very area of the straits, Ptolemy mentions Kryptos limen, which in Ancient Greek means literally ‘’hidden harbor” that can be identified with Khawr al Hablayn.


At that point (unit 7, paragraphs 12 and 13), Ptolemy starts a recapitulation, mentioning collectively the coastal mountains and rivers of Arabia Felix.


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


With paragraph 14, Ptolemy enters into the description of the ‘’Persian Gulf’’; beyond the straits, he mentions some fish-eating populations first. Ptolemy states that they lived in deep bays that correspond to the area around Khawr Shim; the term used signifies that the fish eating tribes were deprived of a sophisticated social hierarchy. He then adds that the inner part of the bays was inhabited by Macae. This area seems to be around modern city Khassab in Musandam Peninsula.


Proceeding to the southwest, in the direction of the modern Emirati coastland and the cities of Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Quwain, Ajman and Sharjah (lit. Al Sharqah), Ptolemy mentions the data below, in the following order:


(& 14) The Land of Nareitai (whereby the following places are to be found)


Regma city

Sacred capes of the Sun (Hiera Heliou akra, in Greek)

Lar river estuary

the springs of the river

Kanipsa city

Kavana (or Kawana) city


Regma city must be located in the area of the modern city Bukha (Oman), whereas the Sacred capes of the Sun were probably situated in the Emirati coastland north of Ras al Khaimah. River Lar’s estuary must have been in the coastland around Ras al Khaimah, which is probably built on the very site of Kanipsa city.


Furthermore, the name Kavana (or Kawana) suggests that there is an ancient, pre-Islamic etymology of the modern city’s name (Umm al Quwain); anyhow, the common explanation of the city name (‘’mother of the two powers’’) seems to have merely been an Interpretatio Arabica, i.e. an effort to associate a pre-Islamic name to an Arabic word. With Kavana (or Kawana), Ptolemy completes the description of the Land of Nareitai, and comes across the land of Attaioi.


The land of Attaoi comprises of the following settlements:

Sarkoe city

Karada city

Atta city


Sarkoe corresponds to modern Sharjah (written Sharqah), and it seems to have been the first historical mention of the world-known modern city of the Emirates. Consequently, along with Kawana – Umm al Quwain, Sarkoe is the modern Emirati city with the greatest historicity. Ptolemy the Geographer’s mention of both names demonstrates a 20-century long continuity of both city names.


Beyond Sarkoe, and due to the vicinity of the location, as per Ptolemy’s estimates, we can attempt to identify Karada with modern Dubai; Atta city seems to be the capital city of the Attaioi territory or at least the ancestral location of the tribe that controlled the area. We can locate Atta in the whereabouts of Jebel Ali, 35 km southwest of Dubai or further on in that direction. Beyond the land of Attaioi lies the land of Gerraioi, the Gerrhans – inhabitants of Gerrha, and its surroundings.


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


As per Ptolemy’s description, the land of Gerraioi comprises of the following cities:

Magindanata or Matintana city

Gerrha city

Bilbana city


The yet unidentified Magindanata or Matintana city has a name of possibly Iranian etymology. In the wider area of Abu Dhabi, several archeological places have been excavated, and certainly one of them could be the ancient Magindanata or Matintana. The good relations between Gerrha and both the Persian Achaemenid and the Parthian Arsacid dynasties that ruled from 550 to 330 BCE and from 250 BCE to 224 CE respectively makes the propinquity of various Iranian populations look quite normal and ordinary.


As we safely rely on Strabo’s precise information to accurately locate Gerrha in the whereabouts of the modern cities Al Rafiq, Tarif, Al Mirfa, and Habshan, we notice that from the area of Jebel Ali (possibly identified with Atta) until the triangle area delineated among the above mentioned cities, at the times of Ptolemy the Geographer, there was only one settlement noticed and referred to. The distance exceeds 200 km, and this leads us to the conclusion that this part of today’s Emirati territory was less inhabited than the land between Atta (Jebel Ali) and the Ormuz straits.


Beyond Gerrha, Ptolemy mentions one more city belonging to the land of Gerrhans, namely Bilbana. Here again, we have a toponym of possibly Iranian etymology. Bilbana must have been located in the area west of the modern town of Al Mirfa.


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


Beyond that point, Ptolemy mentions three adjacent territories successively, as per below:


Land of Thaimoi

Eithar city

Gulf of Magon

Istriana city


Land of Leanitai

Mallava city

Penisnula cape (Khersonesos akra)

Leanites gulf

Itamos harbor

Adarou city


Land of Aboukaioi

Holy Gulf (Hieros Kolpos)

Koromanis city


We can vaguely identify the land of Thaimoi with the westernmost confines of the Emirati territory, around Ruwais, Jebel Dhanna, Al Hamra, and beyond. The Gulf of Magon can be approximately associated with the area around Sila and the gulf formed between the main coastland of the Emirates and the southeastern confines of the Qatar peninsula. The name of the gulf constitutes a remarkable point; it consists in a late reminiscence of the Assyrian / Babylonian toponym Magan that we earlier identified with the Qatar peninsula, and which was located – as per the Mesopotamian historical sources – between Tilmun (Bahrain) and Meluhha (Emirates).


According to Ptolemy’s references, the land of Leanitai corresponds to the modern state of Qatar. Mallava city must have been located between Doha and the peninsula’s northernmost promontory, around Al Ruwais. The Leanitai seem to have originally settled in Qatar’s western coastland and for this reason the gulf of Bahrain was named Leanites gulf by Ptolemy.


The last territory of Arabia Felix (that started from modern Najran and North Yemen) belonged to the Aboukaioi. They seem to have inhabited the Saudi Arabian coastland opposite Bahrain, and the shores of Hieros Kolpos (lit. Holy Gulf) that must be identified with the small gulf east-southeast of the modern city of Dammam. There was located the only city mentioned on the land of Aboukaioi, Koromanis. Ptolemy closes the list by adding the following sentence: “Beyond which is located the end of this land toward the desert, and Maisanites gulf”. This makes sure that, at those days, the coastland between Dammam and Kuwait was desert. Maisanites gulf is to be identified with the small Gulf of modern Kuwait, near the estuary of Euphrates.


XXVI. UAE Islands Mentioned by Ptolemy the Geographer


Further expanding unit 7, Ptolemy goes on describing the inland parts of Felix Arabia, involving a list of mountains, a list of populations and ethnic groups, and a list of cities. At the very end of unit 7, Ptolemy presents several lists of islands that were located  alongside the coastland of Felix Arabia. In paragraph 47, he enumerates the islands located in the ‘’Persian Gulf’’ as per below:


Apfana island






It is clear that Ptolemy proceeds from east to west, as he did in the parts dedicated to the coastland. As we know that Tylos and Arados correspond to the modern islands of Bahrain and Muharraq respectively, we can conclude that the first three islands mentioned by Ptolemy, Apfana Island, Ihara and Tharro, were situated between Qatar’s eastern coastland and the Ormuz straits; we can therefore attempt to identify with some of the modern UAE islands.


Apfana may be identified with the island Sir Abu Nu’air, 65 km off the Emirates’ coast where archaeological finds date back to the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE (;; another possible identification is Abu Musa island, ca. 50 km north of Sir Abu Nu’air ( or even Tunb island, ca. 50 km north of Abu Musa and closer to the straits


Ihara can be identified with Sirri island, another 50 km west of Abu Musa island ( or with Das island ( that lies at almost half the distance between the Emirati and the Eastern Qatari coasts.


Tharro can be identified with Dalma island (; where several excavations brought to light the material civilization of the local pre-Islamic inhabitants; no less than 20 archaeological sites have already been identified on the island.


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


Chronologically, Ptolemy is the last author to offer us analytical insight into the Emirati coast. Few decades after he compiled his data, a major event of the Late Antiquity took place. The Arsacid Parthian dynasty was overthrown in Iran, and the rise of the Sassanid Empire marked another phase of Iranian expansion, at times more overwhelming than that of their Achaemenid ancestors whose glory and prestige the Sassanids pledged to reinstate and revalidate. The event (224 CE) was of global dimensions, and in terms of World History, after the fall of Babylonia (539 BCE) that marked the end of the Ancient World, it is one of the two most critical dates of the Pre-Islamic World (along with Alexander’s conquests at ca. 330 BCE).


The rise of the Sassanid dynasty heralded incessant wars with the Roman Empire that turned the entire area between the Caucasus Mountains and the Bab el Mandeb straits of the Red Sea into a battlefield. The Perso-Roman clash took another dimension one century later, with the Christianization of the Roman Empire (330 CE), and the historical phenomenon ended only with the arrival of Islam, the subsequent detachment and Islamization of the eastern provinces of the Oriental Roman Empire (636 – 645 CE), and the demolition of the Sassanid Empire (651 CE).


As the Oriental Roman Empire continued opposing the Islamic Caliphate and other related kingdoms (steadfastly until the early 12th century and as late as 1453), the Christian – Islamic confrontation was patterned after the earlier Perso-Roman rivalry; in this case, the Sassanid Empire was not truly destroyed but merely substituted by the early Caliphate.


Gerrha declined and fell to oblivion when it was annexed to the Sassanid Empire (224 CE) that evidently turned the Gulf into an Iranian ‘’lake’’ for more than 400 years. As a mere city controlled by the Iranian garrisons, Gerrha was not allowed to continue its lucrative commercial activities, and the bulk of the wealth was sent to Istakhr, the Sassanid capital at Fars, in order to finance the wars that led to the annexation of Oman, Yemen, North India, and Central Asia into the Sassanid Empire. With the collapse of the state of Kushan, no major state was left in India, and China was too far and often divided into many kingdoms. Then, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Cappadocia and Anatolia became the terrain of the incessant Perso-Roman wars.


Thus, the territory of today’s Emirates that had been an important center of civilization, art, trade, and wealth for almost three millennia (2500 BCE – 224 CE) fell to insignificance and marginalization (224 – 651 CE), before becoming an ordinary Islamic territory ruled from the faraway capital of the Caliphate.





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