According to South Arabian tradition, the eldest son of Noah, Shem, founded the city of Ma’rib
. During Sabaean rule (9th century BCE – CE 275), trade and agriculture flourished generating much wealth and prosperity.
The Sabaean kingdom is located in what is now the Asir region in southwestern Yemen, and its capital, Ma’rib, is located near what is now Yemen’s modern capital, Sana’a.
During Sabaean rule, Yemen was called “Arabia Felix” by the Romans who were impressed by its wealth and prosperity. The Roman emperor Augustus sent a military expedition to conquer the “Arabia Felix”, under the orders of Aelius Gallus.
After an unsuccessful siege of Ma’rib, the Roman general retreated to Egypt, while his fleet destroyed the port of Aden in order to guarantee the Roman merchant route to India.
The success of the kingdom was based on the cultivation and trade of spices and aromatics including frankincense and myrrh. These were exported to the Mediterranean, India, and Abyssinia where they were greatly prized by many cultures, using camels on routes through Arabia, and to India by sea.
During the 8th and 7th century BCE, there was a close contact of cultures between the Kingdom of Dʿmt in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea and Saba. Though the civilization was indigenous and the royal inscriptions were written in a sort of proto-Ethiosemitic, there were also some Sabaean immigrants in the kingdom as evidenced by a few of the Dʿmt inscriptions.
Agriculture in Yemen thrived during this time due to an advanced irrigation system which consisted of large water tunnels in mountains, and dams.
The most impressive of these earthworks, known as the Marib Dam was built ca. 700 BCE, provided irrigation for about 25,000 acres (101 km2) of land and stood for over a millennium, finally collapsing in CE 570 after centuries of neglect.
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