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Near East Kingdoms

Arabic States

 

Arabia

For a long part of its recorded history Arabia has been home, for the most part, to nomadic tribes, apart from a few settled areas such as Mecca. Arabs emerged late into the history of the ancient world, with northern tribes creating kingdoms in the first millennium BC such as Kedar and Nabataea, which were later subsumed within the Roman empire. The first historical mention of the Arabs from the southern deserts occurred in 853 BC, when they were involved in an alliance of states which defeated the powerful Assyrians under Shalmaneser III. The prophet Muhammed was born in Mecca around AD 570 and went on to found the Islamic empire in the seventh century. In the tenth century, Mecca and Medina came under the control of the sharif of Mecca, while much of the rest of Arabia reverted to a nomadic tribal existence.

(Additional information from Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East, Martti Nissinen, Robert Kriech Ritner, & Choon Leong Seow (Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), and from Ancient Assyria, C H W Johns (Cambridge University Press, 2012).)

979 - 748 BC

The situation in Babylonia is extremely confused by this time, with various Kassite, Babylonian, and newly-arrived Chaldaean and Arabian groups vying for power, as well as some individuals who claim distant Elamite descent. Most of those who secure the throne achieve very little in the face of such a politically fragmented state. Also arriving at this time are groups of Aramaeans, the most important of them being the Gambulians and the Puqudians. They do not seek integration into Babylonian society and mostly do not seek political power, but their small village communities dominate the fringes of the agricultural zone near the Tigris.

853 BC

FeatureBen-Hadad is a member of an alliance of states which also include Ammon, Arvad, Byblos, Edom, Egypt, Hamath, Kedar, and Samaria (seemingly despite the recent conflict between Damas and Samaria). Together they fight Shalmaneser III of Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar which consists of the largest known number of combatants in a single battle to date, and is the first historical mention of the Arabs from the southern deserts (specifically Kedarites). Despite claims to the contrary, the Assyrians are defeated, since they do not press on to their nearest target, Hamath, and do not resume their attacks on Hamath and Damas for about six years.

Map of Canaan and Syria c.850 BC
When the Neo-Assyrian empire threatened the various city states of southern Syria and Canaan around 853 BC, they united to protect their joint territory - successfully it seems, at least for a time (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.850 BC

Philistines sack Jerusalem in Judah, along with Arabs and Ethiopians, who loot King Jehoram's house, and carry off all of his family except for his youngest son, Jehoahaz.

722 - 710 BC

Between 722-720 BC, Moab, Philistia, Judah, and Edom rebel against Assyrian overlordship. The rising is apparently put down, as the next record shows Moab paying tribute to King Sargon II, but still apparently being led by a native ruler rather than a newly-installed governor. Moabite troops are subsequently used in Assyrian wars against the Arab tribes.

649 BC

Shamash-shumi-ukin of Babylon rebels against his brother in the Assyrian kingdom. Ashurbanipal soon besieges Babylon, bringing it back into the empire. Rebellions in support of Babylon by the Arabian Kedarites and Nabatu are also put down, possibly prior to Babylon's recapture. It takes two years of direct rule before a puppet ruler of Babylon is placed on the throne, while the son of the Nabatu chief is declared leader of their people (his father's fate is not recorded).

539 - 525 BC

Nabonidus angers the Babylonians in 539 BC by trying to reintroduce Assyrian culture, including placing the moon god Sin above Babylon's Marduk in terms of importance. Perhaps because of that, resistance to Cyrus the Great of Persia, when he enters Babylonia from the east, is limited to just one major battle, near the confluence of the Diyala and Tigris rivers. On 12/13 October (sources vary), Babylon is occupied by Cyrus, who adopts an enlightened approach to his subjects, and allows the captive Judeans to return home. Arabia seems to be forgotten for a time, until the Persians invade Egypt in 525 BC.

Persian Satraps of Arabāya (Arabia)

Egypt was conquered by the Persian empire under Cambyses in 525 BC and annexed as a great satrapy until 404 BC. This was not without a hiccup, as Cambyses was seemingly defeated by the now-rebel Twenty-Sixth dynasty pharaoh, Psamtik III, who is theorised as enjoying a brief period of resurgence before finally being crushed by Darius I. The Achaemenid kings of Persia were subsequently acknowledged as pharaohs in this era, forming a twenty-seventh dynasty although, in their administrative terminology, it was an official satrapy or province.

Arabia around the oasis of Taymāʾ, which had belonged to the Babylonian empire, was only attached to the Persian empire during Cambyses' Egyptian campaign. Administratively it was added to the great satrapy of Mudrāya (Egypt). Between that and the earlier fall of Babylon to the Persians in 539 BC it was probably one of several regions that lay 'unclaimed' until the Persians could get around to it. However, due to a bond of friendship that was created in 525 BC, the Arabs did not actually enter any satrapy and were exempt from royal tribute (although individuals were counted as satraps of the region). Instead they brought the Persian kings a 'gift' of a thousand talents (around thirty tons) of frankincense a year. Herodotus also mentions an Arab camel corps amongst the various contingents that were levied for Xerxes' Greek expedition. These Arabs were armed with long bent-back bows.

During the Achaemenid period the term Arabāya related only to the northern part of today's Arabia. Herodotus located the Arabs in the region between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, essentially along the coast from southern Palestine into northern Sinai. They also lived in the steppes of southern Mesopotamia. The central and southern areas were largely unknown territory. This use of Arabāya to designate a geographical rather than an administrative entity is paralleled in the term 'Aribi' ('Arabu, Arubu'), which appears in Assyrian royal inscriptions beginning in 853 BC. In the Old Testament the term 'Arab' designates inhabitants of the Syrian desert. In Babylonian economic and legal documents of the Achaemenid period some Arabs ('Arbāya') are referred to as residents of Babylon (having played a part in its history in the first millennium BC), Nippur, Sippar, Uruk, and other cities. The language being spoken by these Arabs is unknown, with the few preserved names (around twenty) not differing from Aramaic.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Arabians in Mesopotamia during the late-Assyrian, Chaldean, Achaemenian and Hellenistic Periods, R Zadok (ZDMG 131, 1981), from The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia, Trevor Bryce, from Zur historischen Topographie von Persien. II. Die Wege durch die Persische Wüste, Wilhelm Tomaschek (1885), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Livius.)

525 - 524 BC

Psamtik III of Egypt is defeated at the Battle of Pelusium and Egypt is conquered by the Persian empire under Cambyses. It becomes a vassal state, with the Persian troops being supplied with water by the Arabs during their journey into Sinai. Many Egyptian temples are destroyed, but Cambyses spares the Jewish Temple on Elephantine. However, it seems that Psamtik is not immediately captured. Instead he, or the bulk of his forces, seek refuge around the Dachla Oasis. Cambyses follows him with an army of 50,000 men and, according to Herodotus, the entire army disappears in the desert, presumably overcome by a sand storm (around 524 BC).

Ruins of the eastern gate of Psamtik's fortress
The remains of a fortress which was probably built by Pharaoh Psamtik to secure Egypt's north-eastern border (beyond or near Arabia's frontier) was uncovered in stages by archaeologists between 2008-2019 (click or tap on image to view full sized)

A highly favourable modern theory is that this story is created by Cambyses' successor to mask an embarrassing defeat. In this theory, Psamtik manages to reconquer a large part of Egypt and is crowned pharaoh in the capital, Memphis. It is Cambyses' successor in Persia, Darius I, who ends the Egyptian 'revolt' with a good deal of bloodshed two years after Cambyses' defeat, in 522 BC (or 521 BC). Satraps are appointed to govern Egypt and, presumably, they hold sway over Arabāya too.

346 BC

In tandem with Satrap Mazaeus of Khilakku, Bēlsunu of Ebir-nāri and Phoenicia leads fresh contingents of Greek mercenaries to put down the revolt in the Levant (principally led by Sidon). The main attack falls on Sidon but both satraps are repulsed. The Persian king himself is forced to follow up with a more direct intervention. It would seem to be after this date that Bēlsunu is replaced by one Dernes. He may be of lesser rank because he isn't given Ebir-nāri, only Phoenicia, plus Arabāya.

mid-300s BC

Dernes

Satrap of Phoenicia & Arabāya.

? - 333 BC

Arsames

Satrap of Athura, Ebir-nāri, Khilakku & Phoenicia. Killed.

333 - 332 BC

In 334 BC Alexander of Macedon launches his campaign into the Persian empire by crossing the Dardanelles. Much of Anatolia falls by 333 BC and Arsames falls (whilst also officially satrap of Arabāya and leading Arabian and Ethiopian contingents). Alexander proceeds into Syria during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri, which also gains him Harran, Judah, and Phoenicia (principally Byblos and Sidon, with Tyre holding out until it can be taken by force). Athura, Gaza, and Egypt also capitulate (not without a struggle in Gaza's case). Mazaeus of Athura initially plays his part by opposing Alexander, but he eventually surrenders, and Alexander makes him satrap of Mesopotamia.

Arabāya (Arabia) seems to drift away from any centralised administration. It seems not to be included in Alexander's conquest of Egypt. Indeed, in 312 BC the most prominent Arab state, Nabataea, defeats an army from Argead Syria as it attempts to plunder Nabataean territory during the Wars of the Diadochi. The state turns into a fully recognised kingdom in the second century BC and survives until the second century AD.

Cuneiform tablet recording the Nabataeans
The cuneiform tablet records the existence of the Nabataeans, one of the few mentions of them as later records were largely paper/papyrus-based, written in Aramaic or Greek

The Arab invasion of the seventh century destroys any remaining Nabataean identity, incorporating them into the new Islamic empire. The Crusaders construct a fort there in the twelfth century but this is soon abandoned, leaving Petra to the local peoples who completely abandon it by the fourteenth century. The city is largely forgotten until it is rediscovered by the Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. By the twentieth century, the region is part of Hashemite Transjordan. By that time, the focus for Arabia's independence is on the House of Saud.

House of Su'ud / Saud
AD 1735 - 1932

The prophet Muhammed was born in Mecca around AD 570 and went on to found the Islamic empire in the seventh century. In the tenth century, Mecca and Medina came under the control of the sharif of Mecca, while much of the rest of Arabia reverted to a nomadic tribal existence.

The Arabic House of Su'ud is named after its founder, Saud, the father of the emir of Diriyya. A small and mostly independent Saudi state began to expand its borders in the eighteenth century, pushing against regional Ottoman control with varying degrees of success. This began a process which ended with the creation of an independent Saudi kingdom in modern Arabia.

Saud

Founder of the dynasty.

1735

Muhammad I bin Saud gains the emirate of Diriyya (on the north-western edge of Riyadh in Arabia) from Zaid bin Markhan. The town becomes his powerbase, and soon serves as the first capital of his expanded emirate.

1735 - 1765

Muhammad I bin Saud / Ibn Saud

Son. Emir of Diriyya (Ad-Dar'iyah).

1744

The emerging power of Muhammad ibn Saud unites with a religious leader named Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab in Nejd in central Arabia. Wahhab is the proponent of a radical form of Islam, something which forms the basis of Saudi dynastic rule from this point onwards. Together they forge a small Saudi state (otherwise known as the First Saudi State), based around Riyadh. It pushes outwards from there.

Arab Revolt 1916-1918
This photo of Arab fighters of the revolt of 1916-1918 is probably not too different to the appearance of the Saudi Arabs of the mid-seventeenth century

1765 - 1803

Abd al-Aziz I / Abdul Aziz

Son. Assassinated by a Shia from Iraq.

1803 - 1814

Su'ud I / Saud I

Son. Annexed Makkah and Madinah from the Ottoman empire.

1814 - 1819

Abdallah / Abdullah

Son. Executed by the Ottomans.

1818 - 1822

Unable to spare forces to retake Makkah and Madinah in the Hijaz themselves, the Ottomans send Muhammed Ali Pasha, viceroy of Egypt to destroy the Saudi state. He does so in a merciless campaign which ends with the siege of Diriyya. Abdullah is executed and Arabia is temporarily occupied by the pasha's forces. However, the garrisons in Arabia are unable to prevent the rise of a new Saudi state under a cousin of Abdullah who has taken refuge in the desert to avoid the Ottoman purge of his family.

1822 - 1834

Turki

Son of Abdallah, son of Muhammad I. Ruled in Najd. Assassinated.

1824

The Second Saudi Sate is formed, smaller and more circumspect than before, although it still manages to secure Riyadh as its capital. Turki faces strong rivalry from another Arabic family, the Al Rashid (the Rashidis), for power in the region.

1834

Mushari

Distant cousin. Killed his predecessor, but held power only briefly.

1834 - 1838

Faysal I

Son of Turki. Killed Mushari.

1838 - 1843

Muhammed Ali of Egypt re-occupies Arabia. Faysal is transported to Egypt along with other members of the Al-Saud family and a senior member of the family is the preferred candidate to head the House of Su'ud.

1838 - 1841

Khalid I

Vassal of Egypt. Supported by the Egyptian governor of Arabia.

1841 - 1843

Abdallah II

Vassal of Egypt. Seized control from Khalid.

1843

Faysal manages to escape from captivity in Cairo and returns to reclaim his rightful position in Arabia.

1843 - 1865

Faysal I / Faisal

Restored. His death leads to family in-fighting.

1865 - 1871

Abdallah III

Son.

1871

Su'ud II / Saud II

Half-brother. Revolted against Abdallah. Overthrown.

1871 - 1873

Abdullah

Uncle. Son of Turki.

1873 - 1875

Su'ud II / Saud II

Regained power. Died.

1875 - 1887

Abdallah III

Restored. Later a governor under the Rashidis (1887-1889).

1887

Muhammad II

Son of Su'ud II.

1887 - 1902

The Rashidis are ascendant in central Arabia, reducing the Al Saud to the position of governor, although the serif of Mecca & Hijaz continues to hold pre-eminence in the region.

1887 - 1889

Abdallah III

Restored to power, but now as governor.

1889 - 1891

Abd al-Rahman

Brother of Muhammad. Governor.

1891

Muhammad III

Governor.

1891 - 1902

The Rashidis instigate direct rule in central Arabia in 1891, ending the need for local governors and forcing the Al Saud into exile. From that exile, Abdul Aziz captures Riyadh in 1902 and becomes emir, effectively kick-starting the process which will lead to the formation of a fully independent kingdom in 1932.

1902 - 1932

Abd al-Aziz II / Abdul Aziz

Son of Abd al-Rahman. Emir (1902). King of Najd & Hijaz (1926).

1916 - 1918

The Arab Revolt against the Ottoman empire is led by Hashemite Mecca & Hijaz, together with British Army officer T E Lawrence. Lawrence manages to combine the power of several Arabic tribes to drive the Turks north in a series of campaigns in coordination with the British forces in the Near East. Once the Arabs capture Damascus they secure a semblance of power (well depicted in the feature film Lawrence of Arabia). In subsequent bargaining with the British who now control the region, the Hashemites claim Hijaz and Greater Syria.

1925 - 1932

The Hashemite King Husayn and his son are overthrown in Arabia. Abdul Aziz declares himself king of the Hijaz in 1926, and king of Najd in 1927. The two kingdoms are united in 1932 as the Saudi kingdom.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
AD 1932 - Present Day

The modern Saudi-ruled kingdom of Arabia encompasses the southern parts of the former Kedarite kingdom of the first millennium BC. To the west it borders Egypt (across the narrow Gulf of Aqaba), to the north Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait, to the east Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates, and to the south Oman and Yemen (with a mostly undefined border).

The kingdom is ruled as an absolute monarchy, much against the grain of modern western politics but in line with Arabic practice. In 1986, King Fahd took the title 'Khadim al-Haramayn al-Sharifayn' (Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques) to indicate his protection of the two most holy sacred Muslim sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina, which were seized from the Hashemites in 1925. Saudi Arabia quickly became one of the world's major oil-producing countries in the twentieth century, making big margins on production and exploration even during economic recessions. This put it in a powerful position on the world stage.

1932 - 1952

Abd al-Aziz II / Abdul Aziz / Ibn Saud

Founded the kingdom.

1938 - 1941

Vast reserves of oil are discovered in the Al-Hasa region of Arabia. Production begins in 1941 and is in full swing within a decade, bringing unforeseen huge amounts of wealth to the kingdom.

Oil refinery in Saudi Arabia
The discovery of oil in Arabia brought great wealth to the ruling family and a rapid process of modernisation to the country

1948 - 1949

On the day following the proclamation of the creation of the state of Israel, the neighbouring Arab states of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria attack, prompting the start of the Arab-Israeli War. Saudi Arabia sends its own military contingent to support the Egyptians. The war lasts for a year before a ceasefire is agreed. The Green Line is established - temporary borders which can be generally agreed by all sides. Egypt gains the Gaza Strip while Jordan controls East Jerusalem and the West Bank region, but an estimated 700,000 Palestinians have been expelled or have fled their homeland, mostly to enter southern Lebanon or Jordan.

1953 - 1964

Su'ud III / Saud III

Son. Deposed.

1964

Doubts over Su'ud's ability to rule and increasing rivalry from his half-brother, Faysal, lead to the king being deposed.

1964 - 1975

Faysal II / Faisal

Half-brother. Assassinated.

1973 - 1975

The Oil Crisis grips the industrialised world when the Arab oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, put pressure on the USA to withdraw its support of Israel by withholding oil supplies. The attempt eventually fails. King Faysal is assassinated by his nephew, Prince Faysal bin Musa-id.

1975 - 1982

Khalid II

Half-brother. Forged closer ties with the USA.

1979

The Iranian revolution and the introduction of a hardline Islamic state there threatens Saudi Arabia's security, especially in the east (the location of the oil fields), where the possibility exists that a breakaway territory may form that could be absorbed by Iran. As a result, a more strict observance of Islam is enforced within Arabia.

1982 - 2005

Fahd

Brother. Suffered stroke in 1996. Died 01.08.

1990 - 1991

The First Gulf War is triggered when Kuwait is occupied by Iraq. A United Nations coalition army under the control of the USA is assembled in Saudi Arabia, and it forces the Iraqis out, causing them heavy losses.

First Gulf War 1990-1991
Following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi forces suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the popular alliance that removed it, but Kuwait itself also suffered damage that took time to repair

1996 - 2005

Abdullah

Half-brother. Fulfilled most of the king's duties after his stroke.

2005 - 2015

Abdullah

King following the death of his brother.

2011

A wave of popular protests against a deeply unpopular and dictatorial government in Tunisia forces the president to flee to Arabia where he is given asylum. The protests strike a chord in Arabs across North Africa and the Near East, and similar protests are triggered in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen. Some protests are also voiced in Saudi Arabia, although on nothing like the scale seen elsewhere.

Prince Sultan

Brother. Crown prince 01.08.2005. Died of cancer 22.10.2011.

Prince Nayef

Brother. Named the new heir on 28.10.2011. Died 16.06.2012.

2015 - Present

Salman

Brother. Born 31.12.1935.

Muqrin

Half-Brother. Crown prince 23.01-29.04.2015. Replaced.

2015

Saudi Arabia's new king announces a major cabinet reshuffle at the end of April that puts in place a new generation to succeed him. King Salman appoints his nephew, the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as crown prince. The king's own son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is made deputy crown prince, and the foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, is replaced. This latest reshuffle shows that Salman is firmly turning the page on his predecessor's era by pushing aside allies of the late monarch such as his half-brother Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, who until Wednesday 29 April had been crown prince.

Mohammed bin Nayef

Nephew of Salman. Crown prince from 29.04.2015. Replaced.

Mohammed bin Salman

Son of Salman. Crown prince from 20.06.2017.