Sabaean Kingdom
𐩪𐩨𐩱 (Sabaean)
مَمْلَكَة سَبَأ (Arabic)
1200 BC–275 AD
Coat of arms of Sabaean Kingdom
Coat of arms
Map of the Kingdom in the 8th century BC
Map of the Kingdom in the 8th century BC
Common languagesSabaic
South Arabian polytheism
GovernmentTheocracy (Early)
Monarchy (Late)[1]
• 700–680 BC
• 620–600 BC
Karib'il Watar
• 60–20 BC
Historical eraIron Age to Antiquity
• Established
1200 BC
• Disestablished
275 AD
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of Awsan
Himyarite Kingdom
Today part ofYemen or South Arabia

The Sabaeans or Sabeans (Sabaean: 𐩪𐩨𐩱, S¹Bʾ; Arabic: ٱلسَّبَئِيُّوْن, romanizedas-Sabaʾiyyūn; Hebrew: סְבָאִים, romanizedSəḇāʾīm) were an ancient group of South Arabians.[2] They spoke Sabaic, one of the Old South Arabian languages.[3] They founded the kingdom of Sabaʾ (Arabic: سَبَأ) in modern-day Yemen,[4][5] which was believed to be the biblical land of Sheba[6][7][8] and "the oldest and most important of the South Arabian kingdoms".[2]

The exact date of the foundation of Sabaʾ is a point of disagreement among scholars. Kenneth Kitchen dates the kingdom to between 1200 BCE and 275 CE, with its capital at Maʾrib, in what is now Yemen.[9] On the other hand, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman believe that "the Sabaean kingdom began to flourish only from the eighth century BC onward" and that the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is "an anachronistic seventh-century set piece."[10] The Kingdom fell after a long but sporadic civil war between several Yemenite dynasties claiming kingship;[11][12] from this, the late Himyarite Kingdom arose as victors.

Sabaeans are mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Quran,[13] they are described as either Sabaʾ (سَبَأ, not to be confused with Ṣābiʾ, صَابِئ),[4][5] or as Qawm Tubbaʿ (Arabic: قَوْم تُبَّع, lit.'People of Tubbaʿ').[14][15]


"Bronze man" found in Al-Baydā' (ancient Nashqum, Kingdom of Saba'), 6th–5th century BCE, the Louvre Museum

The origin of the Sabaean Kingdom is uncertain. Kenneth Kitchen dates the kingdom to around 1200 BCE,[9] while Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman write that "the Sabaean kingdom began to flourish only from the eighth century BCE onward".[16] Originally, the Sabaeans were one of the shaʿbs (Sabaean: 𐩦𐩲𐩨), "communities", on the edge of the Sayhad desert. Very early, at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, the political leaders (Sabaean: 𐩱𐩣𐩡𐩫, romanized: ʾmlk) of this tribal community managed to create a huge commonwealth of shaʿbs occupying most of South Arabian territory and took the title Sabaean: 𐩣𐩫𐩧𐩨 𐩪𐩨𐩱, romanized: mkrb sbʾ, "Mukarrib of the Sabaeans".[17]

Several factors caused a significant decline of the Sabaean state and civilization by the end of the 1st millennium BC.[18] Saba' was conquered by the Himyarites in the first century BCE; but after the disintegration of the first Himyarite Kingdom of the Kings of Saba' and Dhū Raydān, the Middle Sabaean Kingdom reappeared in the early second century.[19] Note that the Middle Sabaean Kingdom was different from the Ancient Sabaean Kingdom in many important respects.[20] The Sabaean kingdom was finally conquered by the Ḥimyarites in the late 3rd century, and at that time, the capital was Ma'rib. It was located along the strip of desert called Sayhad by medieval Arab geographers, which is now named Ramlat al-Sab'atayn.

The Sabaean people used an ancient Semitic tongue of their own, Sabaean or Himyaritic. Each of these peoples had regional kingdoms in ancient Yemen, with the Minaeans in Wādī al-Jawf to the north, the Sabeans on the southwestern tip, stretching from the highlands to the sea; the Qatabānians to the east of them, and the Ḥaḑramites east of them. The Sabaeans, like the other Yemenite kingdoms of the same period, were involved in the extremely lucrative spice trade, especially frankincense and myrrh.[21] They left behind many inscriptions in the monumental ancient South Arabian script or Musnad, as well as numerous documents in the related cursive Zabūr script.

Religious practices

Further information: South Arabian paganism

Inscription that shows religious practice during pilgrimage

Muslim writer Muhammad Shukri al-Alusi compares their religious practices to Islam in his Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-'Arab:[22]

The Arabs during the pre-Islamic period used to practice certain things that were included in the Islamic Sharia. They, for example, did not marry both a mother and her daughter. They considered marrying two sisters simultaneously to be the most heinous crime. They also censured anyone who married his stepmother, and called him dhaizan. They made the major hajj and the minor umra pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, performed the circumambulation around the Ka'ba tawaf, ran seven times between Mounts Safa and Marwa sa'y, threw rocks and washed themselves after sexual intercourse. They also gargled, sniffed water up into their noses, clipped their fingernails, removed all pubic hair and performed ritual circumcision. Likewise, they cut off the right hand of a thief and stoned Adulterers.

According to heresiographies Shahrastain, Sabaeans accept both the sensible and intelligible world, but do not follow religious laws, but center their worship on spiritual entities.[23]

Mentions in religious texts

Main article: Sheba

Baha'i Writings

Sabaeans are mentioned many times in the Baha’i Writings as regional people and of their religious practice. The religion is considered among the true religion of God as an early part of a historical process of progressive revelation where God guides humanity by sending Divine Educators throughout time to teach people of the religion of God.[24] They have also been mentioned in the book Secrets of Divine Civilization by `Abdu’l-Bahá’ as those peoples who have possibly contributed to the foundations of the science of logic.[25]


Sabaeans are mentioned in the biblical books of Genesis, 1 Kings (which includes the account of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba), Isaiah, Joel, Ezekiel and Job. The latter mentions Sabaeans as having slain Job's livestock and servants.[26] In Isaiah they are described as "tall of stature".[27]


Ruins of the historical dam of the former Sabaean capital of Ma'rib, amidst the Sarat Mountains of present-day Yemen

The name of Saba' is mentioned in the Qur'an in the 2nd, 27th[28] and 34th[29] sūrahs, with the latter being named after the area. In the 2nd sūrah, Al-Baqarah, they are mentioned as follows: “Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and act righteously—will have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Their mention in the 27th sūrah refers to the area in the context of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, whereas their mention in the 34th surah refers to the Sayl al-ʿArim (Flood of the Dam), in which the historic dam was ruined by flooding. As for the phrase Qawm Tubbaʿ ("People of Tubbaʿ"), which occurs in the 44th[30] and 50th[31] Chapters, Tubbaʿ was a title for kings of Saba', like for Himyarites.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor (1993). E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936. Vol. v5. Leiden: BRILL. p. 292. ISBN 978-90-04-09791-9. OCLC 258059170 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b "The kingdoms of ancient South Arabia". British Museum. Archived from the original on May 4, 2015. Retrieved 2013-02-22.
  3. ^ Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity, 1991.
  4. ^ a b Quran 27:6-93
  5. ^ a b Quran 34:15-18
  6. ^ Burrowes, Robert D. (2010). Historical Dictionary of Yemen. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 319. ISBN 978-0810855281.
  7. ^ St. John Simpson (2002). Queen of Sheba: treasures from ancient Yemen. British Museum Press. p. 8. ISBN 0714111511.
  8. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson (2003). On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 0802849601.
  9. ^ a b Kenneth A. Kitchen The World of "Ancient Arabia" Series. Documentation for Ancient Arabia. Part I. Chronological Framework and Historical Sources p.110
  10. ^ Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, p. 171
  11. ^ Muller, D. H. (1893), Himyarische Inschriften [Himyarian inscriptions] (in German), Mordtmann, p. 53
  12. ^ Javad Ali, The Articulate in the History of Arabs before Islam, Volume 2, p. 420
  13. ^ Wheeler, Brannon M. (2002). Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166. ISBN 0-8264-4956-5 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Quran 44:37 -Yusuf Ali
  15. ^ Quran 50:12-14
  16. ^ Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. p. 171.
  17. ^ Korotayev 1996, pp. 2–3.
  18. ^ Andrey Korotayev. Ancient Yemen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-922237-1. P. 98.
  19. ^ Korotayev 1996.
  20. ^ KOROTAYEV, A. (1994). Middle Sabaic BN Z: clan group, or head of clan?. Journal of semitic studies, 39(2), 207-219.
  21. ^ "Yemen | Facts, History & News". InfoPlease.
  22. ^ al-Alusi, Muhammad Shukri. Bulugh al-'Arab fi Ahwal al-'Arab, Vol. 2. p. 122.
  23. ^ Walbridge, John. “Explaining Away the Greek Gods in Islam.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 59, no. 3, 1998, pp. 389–403. JSTOR,
  24. ^ "Bahá'í Reference Library - Directives from the Guardian, Pages 51-52". Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  25. ^ "The Secret of Divine Civilization | Bahá'í Reference Library". Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  26. ^ Job 1:14–15
  27. ^ Isaiah 45:14
  28. ^ Quran 27:15-44
  29. ^ Quran 34:15-17
  30. ^ Quran 44:37 -Yusuf Ali
  31. ^ Quran 50:12-14
  32. ^ Wheeler, Brannon M. (2002). Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166. ISBN 0-8264-4956-5 – via Google Books.

Further reading