Saba / Sa'abia / Sheba
The kingdom of Saba is known to have existed in the region of Yemen. By 1000 BC
caravan trains of camels journeyed from what is now
Oman in south-east Arabia to the
Mediterranean. As the camel drivers passed through the deserts of Yemen, experts
believe that many of them would have called in at Marib.
Dating from at least 1050 BC, and now barren and dry, Marib was then a lush oasis
teeming with palm trees and exotic plants. Ideally placed, it was situated on the
trade routes and with a unique dam of vast proportions. It was also one of only
two main sources of frankincense (the other being East Africa), so Saba had a
virtual monopoly. Marib's wealth accumulated to such an extent that the city became
a byword for riches beyond belief throughout the Arab world.
Its people, the Sabeans - a group whose name bears the same
etymological root as Saba - lived in South Arabia between the tenth and
sixth centuries BC. Their main temple - Mahram Bilqis, or temple of the moon
god (situated about three miles from the capital city of Marib) - was so
famous that it remained sacred even after the collapse of the Sabean civilisation
in the sixth century BC - caused by the rerouting of the spice trail. By
the that point the dam, now in a poor state of repair, was finally
breached. The irrigation system was lost, the people abandoned the site within a year
or so, and the temple fell into disrepair and was eventually covered by sand. Saba
was known by the Hebrews as Sheba, and it survives today (Saba = Sa'abia = Saudi Arabia).
(Additional information from the BBC documentary, Queen of Sheba,
first screened on 18 May 2002.)
folk memories and religious accounts contain various versions of Saba's
most famous ruler. Generally, she is believed to have been born in 1020 BC
in Ophir and educated in
Ethiopia. Her mother is Queen Ismenie, her father
is chief minister to Za Sebado, and succeeds him as king. At least five
kings precede her.
to the Old Testament, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon of
bearing riches, and is seduced by him. Nine months after her return from
Israel she bears a son, Menelik. He returns to Israel and from there
travels to Africa to found the
Ethiopian empire. Saba is not mentioned again in ancient sources.
A medieval depiction of the Queen of Sheba riding a horse