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Yemen before the Prophet

28 December 2012

At the German site of www.spiegel.de/international/world/buried-christian-empire-in-yemen-cast… … some fascinating archaeology in Yemen sheds some light on the little known period between the end of the Roman empire and the Arab wars of conquest. You can read a lot of what went on in David Keys book Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World, and various attempts to trace the Jewish enclave in Yemen after the rise of Islam, or even Solomonic links with Ethiopia (speculative history). At some point in the late 5th or early 6th century Arabia was invaded by a Christian king of Aksum (known as Ethiopia at that time). They established a kingdom, here described as an imperial possession = an Aksum empire, and many churches were built, the most impressive being at Sanaa. At the time this town was a rival to Mecca and the church was demolished in the 7th century and looted by the rising tide of the Arabs, united under the banner of the Prophet. The Coptic christians of Aksum and Ethiopia were aligned with Egypt (Alexandria) and the Byzantines. This is probably why the Arabs aligned themselves with the Sassanids – and went on to seize the Levant, Egypt, and Aksum itself. Former Roman cities were left abandoned and have survived as ruins in the desert, and various engineering projects stick out like sore thumbs, untouched for centuries. What caused the turnabout in fortunes – why did the empire of Aksum flounder? It seems, according to the German archaeologists, the birth of Islam was closely associated with hardship during the mid 6th century AD – precisely where Baillie located a prolonged narrow growth tree event and taken up by Keys as a border between the Classical and the beginnings of the Modern World. Clues from limestone caves in Oman indicate a severe dry episode of climate coincided with the narrow growth tree ring event – closely followed by an epidemic (the Plague of Justinian) which the article dates to 541AD. This is smack in the middle of Baillie's 'event' – in actual fact, two closely spaced events, one in 536 and the other, in 541AD. All the indications are that the empire of Aksum was weakened during this event and never had a chance to recover – the desert bedouin took up arms and threw back the foreigners from their lands, going on to form an alliance with the Sassanids and destroying the Roman and Byzantine presence in the Near East. Islam was perhaps a new faith born out of an attempt to come to terms with the 536-45AD disaster, Christianity having failed – any expectation of a Second Coming had receded, just another apocalyptic dream. The Jews, and converts of the Jewish faith, had prospered in Arabia prior to 536-45AD, and it may be that they formed an alliance with the kings of Aksum – which in the end was a mistake. Bearing in mind many of both Christian and Jewish religiosity would have died in the epidemic and the subsequent wars, some of them would have migrated – south into Africa (but that is a different story).

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