Meluhha, Gerrha, and the UAE – The Search for National Identity of a Young Nation. Part IV
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Meluhha, Gerrha, and the UAE – The Search for National Identity of a Young Nation. Part IV

Cairo : Egypt | Apr 19, 2012 at 3:22 AM PDT
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BBC - Science and Islam, Part-B, The Empire of Reason

Meluhha, Gerrha, and the UAE – The Search for National Identity of a Young Nation. Part IV

A Predestination, and A Millennia Long Path of Global Trade and Wealth

By Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis

Main Chapters

I. National History, National Identity and Colonialism

II. Orientalism and Hellenism

III. UAE Historical Heritage Threatened by Academic Colonialism

IV. Neighboring Nations & Cultures – Key Components of UAE National History

V. National History of the Emirates - Diachronic Trends

VI. Assyrian - Babylonian Literature about UAE territory: Meluhha

VII. Assyrian – Babylonian ‘Meluhha’: UAE territory, not Indus Valley

VIII. Assyrian – Babylonian Texts about Meluhha – Emirates

IX. Meluhha – Emirates, and the Late Use of ‘Meluhha’ in Assyrian Imperial Annals

X. The Aramaean Foundations of UAE History: the Rise of Gerrha (539 BCE – 642 CE)

XI. Gerrha, Achaemenid Iran, and the Interconnectedness between Africa and Asia

XII. Gerrha’s Prominence in Antiquity - Harbinger of the Present UAE Rise

XIII. Gerrha and Alexander the Great

XIV. Why Gerrha Cannot Be Located in Al Ehsa Province of Saudi Arabia

XV. Macedonian Naval Expeditions around the Peninsula, and Gerrha

XVI. Arsacid Parthian Iran, Seleucid Syria, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Gerrha

XVII. Agatharchides on Gerrha and the Sabaean (Sheba) Yemenites

XVIII. The Romans in Egypt, the Roman Naval Expedition in Yemen, and Gerrha

XIX. Strabo’s Textual References to Gerrha

XX. Gerrha and the Anonymous Author of the Text ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’

XXI. Pliny the Elder and Gerrha

XXII. Ptolemy the Geographer - his Description of Yemen, Oman, and the Emirates

XXIII. Sharjah (Sarkoe) aand Umm Quwain (Kawana) Mentioned by Ptolemy the Geographer

XXIV. The Correct Location Gerrha in UAE, and Ptolemy the Geographer

XXV. Western UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Al Ehsa as per Ptolemy the Geographer

XXVI. UAE Islands Mentioned by Ptolemy the Geographer

XXVII. The Rise of the Sassanid Empire of Iran, and the End of Gerrha

XVIII. The Romans in Egypt, the Roman Naval Expedition in Yemen, and Gerrha

The antagonism between Alexandria and Gerrha progressed slowly; for about one century (end of 2nd century BCE to 30 BCE), Ptolemaic Egypt was an ailing power, during Rome’s advance in the East. When Rome completed the conquest of the Mediterranean coastlands and Octavian invaded Egypt (30 BCE), Egypt as a Roman border province acquired an increased importance.

Great interest was immediately shown to ensure a Roman alliance with Meroe, capital of Ethiopia (Ancient Sudan, a totally different country and nation than modern Abyssinia that has fallaciously used the name). A Meroitic – Roman alliance would consolidate the former Ptolemaic Red Sea colony Ptolemais Theron (today’s Suakin) as a Roman entrepot in the Red Sea.

Then, Octavian sent a naval expedition against Yemen, which is the furthermost point ever reached by a Roman military. The high customs charged by the Yemenites on all East African, Indian and other Oriental products, transported to Roman Alexandria, was the reason of the Roman naval expedition against Arabia Felix (today’s Aden), a former Qatabani harbor that had been for ca. 150 years in Sabaean – Himyarite hands.

The destruction of Arabia Felix, few years after the fall of Alexandria, ushered the wider region into an era of intense trade with Rome; the era lasted ca. 250 years and despite Alexandria’s prevalence in the trade between Rome and the East, Gerrha retained its wealth as the key point of the East African and Yemenite trade with Iran, Mesopotamia, Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.

XIX. Strabo’s Textual References to Gerrha

At the end of the 1st century CE, the Cappadocian historian, geographer and scholar Strabo, who was a Roman citizen and supported explicitly pro-Roman ideas and viewpoints, while only writing in Greek, composed his 17-volume masterpiece ‘’Geographica‘’; he referred to Gerrha, and saved the following key details about the Orient’s wealthiest city: (Strabo, 16.3 – 4 / English translation is available: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/16C*.html)

“3. After sailing along the coast of Arabia for a distance of two thousand four hundred stadia, one comes to Gerrha, a city situated on a deep gulf; it is inhabited by Chaldaeans, exiles from Babylon; the soil contains salt and the people live in houses made of salt; and since flakes of salt continually scale off, owing to the scorching heat of the rays of the sun, and fall away, the people frequently sprinkle the houses with water and thus keep the walls firm. The city is two hundred stadia distant from the sea; and the Gerrhaeans traffic by land, for the most part, in the Arabian merchandise and aromatics, though Aristobulus says, on the contrary, that the Gerrhaeans import most of their cargoes on rafts to Babylonia, and thence sail up the Euphrates with them, and then convey them by land to all parts of the country.

4. On sailing farther, one comes to other islands, I mean Tyre and Aradus, which have temples like those of the Phoenicians. It is asserted, at least by the inhabitants of the islands, that the islands and cities of the Phoenicians which bear the same name are their own colonies. These islands are distant a ten days' sail from Teredon and a one day's sail from the promontory near the mouth of the gulf at Macae”.

The above text by Strabo irrevocably demolishes all assumptions and efforts to locate Gerrha on modern Saudi territory; even more so, the evidence brought forth by Strabo helps accurately locate Gerrha in the wider area of today’s Abu Dhabi Emirate, somewhere near the UAE coastland.

The text narrates details about the Gulf’s coastlands, starting from the Hormuz straits and advancing toward the estuary of Euphrates and Tigris in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq and Kuwait); across paragraph 2 (one paragraph before the above text), the author describes in detail the Persian coastland from Hormuz to the westernmost ends of the Gulf that Strabo calls the ‘outlet of Euphrates’. Strabo then deals with the southern coastland, proceeding analogically, from East to West.

The analogy becomes even more evident when, after the description of Gerrha, the text focuses on the islands of Tyros and Arados that correspond to today’s Bahrain and Muharraq respectively.

Strabo then gives details about the distance between the two islands and the promontory of today’s Qatar peninsula (today’s Madinah ash Shamal) that he names ‘’the mouth of the gulf at Macae”. This makes stronger the effort to identify Qatar with the Assyrian / Babylonian land of Magan that was located between Tilmun (Tylos / Bahrain) and Meluhha (Gerrha / Emirates). Magan may have easily been deformed to Macae in Greek. Actually, it was one day’s sail from Tylos (Bahrain) to the northern end of Qatar’s peninsula.

Strabo also gives details about the distance between the two islands and Teredon, at the estuary of Euphrates; to sail alongside today’s Saudi Arabian Gulf coastland to the mouth of the river, it would take 10 days’ sail. However, there was no major settlement in this coastland, and Strabo did not mention anything.

In addition to the aforementioned, Strabo gives key info and precise details that only vicious, colonial forgers of History and imbecile, ignorant authors can disregard. Strabo offers an accurate estimate of Gerrha’s location. As per the above text, Gerrha was located at a distance of two thousand four hundred stadia from the Ormuz straits.

Stade (or rather stadion) is an Ancient Greek unit of length that has some known variants; the Attic stade equals 185 m, whereas the Olympic stade makes 176 m; however, ancient authors, starting at least with Eratosthenes (who died ca. 130 years before Strabo was born), when counting distances in itineraries, used another stade variant that totaled 157 m. This means that two thousand four hundred stadia equal 377 km.

The modern city of Dubai lies at a distance of 190 km from Khasab, the major Omani city in Musandam Peninsula. Abu Dhabi lies at a distance of ca. 129 km from Dubai. This makes a total of 319 km of modern road, at times close to and at times far from the coastline. However, Khasab lies at a certain distance from the straits that are exactly located between the two capes, Ras Qabr Hindi in the southeast, and Ras Shuraytah in the northwest. In-between lies Jazirat (island) Musandam from where ancient geographers and navigators must have started their calculations. Khasab is not linked by land road with the extreme coastland between the aforementioned two capes. Of course, the modern road system is not made of direct lines, and in addition, it does not follow the ancient itinerary. In the Antiquity, calculations were made in terms of sailing off the coast, and the navigation line was straight except the landscape imposed otherwise.

Bird’s eye distance of 377 km from Jazirat (island) Musandam, involving a curve parallel to the modern Emirati coastline, indicates a terminus around the area of the modern towns Al Rafiq, Tarif, and certainly not beyond Al Mirfa. We have also to take into consideration that Gerrha was not a coastal city but lied safely in the inland at a distance of two hundred stadia distant from the sea, which means ca. 30 km from the coast. The triangle area between Al Rafiq, Al Mirfa and Habshan is certainly the approximate location of Gerrha, as per Strabo’s authoritative text.

Beyond the details about the city location, Strabo’s reference to Gerrha offers a great number of details about the world’s wealthiest city of those days, but a full analysis of the above excerpt goes far beyond the limits of the present introductory article.

It is however noteworthy that at another point of his Geographica, Strabo saves an earlier account of the entire Arabian Peninsula, namely that of Artemidoros; in that part, there is another reference to Gerrha: (Strabo, 4.18 / English translation is available: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/16D*.html)

“18. After saying all this about the Troglodytes and the neighbouring Aethiopians, Artemidorus returns to the Arabians; and first, beginning at Poseidium, he describes Arabians who border on the Arabian Gulf and live opposite the Troglodytes. He says that Poseidium lies farther in than the Aelanites Gulf; and that contiguous to Poseidium there is a grove of palm trees, which is well supplied with water and is highly valued because all the country around is hot and waterless and shadeless; and that here the fertility of the palms is wonderful; and that a man and a woman have charge of the grove, being appointed to that charge through hereditary right. They wear skins, and live on dates from the palm trees; but on account of the number of wild beasts they build huts in trees and sleep there. Then, next, one comes to the Island of Phocae,201 which was so named from the number of seals there. Near the island is a promontory, which extends to the Rock of the Nabataean Arabians, as they are called, and p343to the Palaestine country, whither Minaeans and Gerrhaeans and all the neighbouring peoples convey their loads of aromatics. Then one comes to another coast, which was formerly called the coast of the Maranitae, some of whom were farmers and others tent-dwellers, but is now called the coast of the Garindaeans, who destroyed the Maranitae by treachery; for the Garindaeans attacked them while they were celebrating some quadrennial festival, and not only destroyed all the people at the festival but also overran and exterminated the rest of the tribe. Then to the Aelanites Gulf, and to Nabataea, a country with a large population and well supplied with pasturage. They also dwell on islands situated off the coast near by; and these Nabataeans formerly lived a peaceful life, but later, by means of rafts, went to plundering the vessels of people sailing from Aegypt. But they paid the penalty when a fleet went over and sacked their country.

19 Bordering upon these people is the very fertile country of the Sabaeans, a very large tribe, in whose country myrrh and frankincense and cinnamon are produced; and on the coast is found balsam, as also another kind of herb of very fragrant smell, which quickly loses its fragrance. There are also sweet-smelling palms, and reeds; and serpents a span in length, which are dark-red in colour, can leap even as far as a hare, and inflict an incurable bite. On account of the abundance of fruits the people are lazy and easy-going in their modes of life. Most of the populace sleep on the roots of trees which they have cut out of the ground. Those who live close to one another receive in continuous succession the loads of aromatics and deliver them to their next neighbours, as far as Syria and Mesopotamia; and when they are made drowsy by the sweet odours they overcome the drowsiness by inhaling the incense of asphalt and goats' beard. The city of the Sabaeans, Mariaba, is situated upon a well-wooded mountain; and it has a king who is authority in lawsuits and everything else; but it is not lawful for him to leave the palace, or, if he does, the rabble, in accordance with some oracle, stone him to death on the spot. Both he himself and those about him live in effeminate luxury; but the masses engage partly in farming and partly in the traffic in aromatics, both the local kinds and those from Aethiopia; to get the latter they sail across the straits in leathern boats. They have these aromatics in such abundance that they use cinnamon and cassia and the others instead of sticks and firewood. In the country of the Sabaeans is also found larimnum, a most fragrant incense. From their trafficking both the Sabaeans and the Gerrhaeans have become richest of all; and they have a vast equipment of both gold and silver articles, such as couches and tripods and bowls, together with drinking-vessels and very costly houses; for doors and walls and ceilings are variegated with ivory and gold and silver set with precious stones. This is Artemidorus' account of these peoples, but the rest of his statements are partly similar to those of Eratosthenes and partly quoted from the other historians’’.

XX. Gerrha and the Anonymous Author of the Text ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’

Writing almost one century after Strabo, the anonymous author of the famous Ancient Greek text ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’ preserves for us a captain’s and a merchant’s notebook as regards the navigation and the trade between Alexandria, East Africa, Arabia, Central Asia, India and China. He presents his data as per nautical charts; first, the entire schedule from Arsinoe (modern Suez) to Rhapta (Darussalam, Tanzania) alongside East Africa’s coasts, and then the longer and perplex schedule of those sailing from Arsinoe to Arabia Felix (Aden) alongside the western coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, and thence either alongside the Yemenite and Omani coast to the Ormuz straits and beyond up to the Delta of Indus and further on to the western coast of India or straight from Aden and the Horn of Africa (‘Akroterion Aromaton’: Cape of Perfumes) to the western coast of India and further on to East India, Chryse (Indochina and Indonesia), and China.

The text describes the important geomorphologic traits, the existing entrepots, and the merchandises available across the entire Yemenite and Omani coastlands, successively mentioning cape Syagros (Ras Fartak in today’s SE Yemen, near Al Ghaydah), the Omana gulf (immediately after cape Syagros), the mountains of the Dhofar coastland, the Asikhon coastland (between today’s Fararah and Sawqirah), and the islands of Zenobios (Khuriya Muriya). The author proceeds further, narrating about the part of Oman that was then under Arsacid Parthian Iranian administration and control. Further on, the text refers to the island of Sarapis (Masirah) that was then inhabited by the priests of the ‘fish-eaters’ (Ichthyophagi), and confirms the use of the Ancient Yemenite language (which was very different than pre-Islamic Hedjaz Arabic) as the native language of all the Omanis as well. Then, the anonymous author of the text goes on describing the geomorphology of the Omani coastline that turns to the Northwest after cape Ras el Had. In the area of the Ormuz straits, the anonymous author of the ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’ mentions the existing small islands (Calaios islands), the Kalon (’’Good’’) mountain, and Assabon (Musandam) mountain on the straits.

Describing what is important for the East – West trade from an Alexandrian point of view, the author of the ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’ does not mention Gerrha because he does not mention the entire Gulf region except for two lines; he there states that the Gulf is very long and quite large, adding that an entrepot named Apologou was nearby Spasinu, the capital of the small Aramaean kingdom of Characene that was located at the estuary of Euphrates. The fact that this text avoids any reference to Gerrha reflects to some extent the rivalry between Alexandria and Gerrha across the trade routes between East and West; the most probable reason is that the author, who may have been a captain or a merchant who had repeatedly and extensively traveled in most of the areas he describes in his text, found it necessary to obliterate any mention to Alexandria’s greatest rival because of his own economic interests.

It goes without saying that Gerrha linked its interests with the destiny of the Arsacid Parthian dynasty of Iran, while also maintaining very good relations with Tadmor / Palmyra, the major Aramaean state in Syria / Mesopotamia, and with Kushan, the powerful Eastern Iranian state that controlled an immense area encompassing today’s Afghanistan and vast territories of Pakistan, India and Central Asia, after the Macedonian state of Bactria collapsed.

The pearl trade between Gerrha in the Gulf and Palmyra, Doura Europos, Hatra, Edessa (Urhoy / Urfa) and Rekem / Petra in the area of Syria – Mesopotamia can be reconstructed thanks to Palmyrene inscriptions found in the Aramaean state of Characene, near the estuary of Euphrates.


XXI. Pliny the Elder and Gerrha

If an Alexandrian businessman like the author of the ‘Periplus of the Red Sea’ needs to hide the truth for his own lucrative interests, a state scholar in charge of the archives of an empire needs nothing to hide; that is why Pliny the Elder mentioned Gerrha in his grand opus Natural History. On repeated occasions, we have attested Pliny’s reliance on official documentation that we have to fully trust, as it was classified for the needs of the Roman imperial administration. Naturalis Historia, as the title stands in Latin, is a vast encyclopedia encompassing all the knowledge acquired by Roman experts in terms of natural sciences (geology, mineralogy, botany, zoology and astronomy); it is the largest single work survived from Roman imperial times. Divided into 37 books (or parts), Natural History features 15 chapters on Botany (chapters 12 to 27). Speaking about the tree called stobrum (which still remains unidentified, although it seems to have similar effects as aloe), in his 12th book, Pliny the Elder speaks of Gerrha (ch. 40); an English translation is available here (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D12%3Achapter%3D40):

‘’The Arabians import from Carmania also the wood of a tree called stobrum, which they employ in fumigations, by steeping it in palm wine, and then setting fire to it. The odour first ascends to the ceiling, and then descends in volumes to the floor; it is very agreeable, but is apt to cause an oppression of the head, though unattended with pain; it is used for promoting sleep in persons when ill. For these branches of commerce, they have opened the city of Gerrha (spelt Carræ in Latin), which serves as an entrepot, and from which place they were formerly in the habit of proceeding to Gabba, at a distance of twenty days' journey, and thence to Palæstina, in Syria. But at a later period, as Juba informs us, they began to take the road, for the purposes of this traffic, to Charax and the kingdom of the Parthians. For my own part, it would appear to me that they were in the habit of importing these commodities among the Persians, even before they began to convey them to Syria or Egypt; at least Herodotus bears testimony to that effect, when he states that the Arabians paid a yearly tribute of one thousand talents, in frankincense, to the kings of Persia.

From Syria they bring back storax, which, burnt upon the hearth, by its powerful smell dispels that loathing of their own perfumes with which these people are affected. For in general there are no kinds of wood in use among them, except those which are odoriferous; indeed, the Sabæi are in the habit of cooking their food with incense wood, while others, again, employ that of the myrrh tree; and hence, the smoke and smells that pervade their cities and villages are no other than the very same which, with us, proceed from the altars. For the purpose of qualifying this powerful smell, they burn storax in goat-skins, and so fumigate their dwellings. So true it is, that there is no pleasure to be found, but what the continual enjoyment of it begets loathing. They also burn this substance to drive away the serpents, which are extremely numerous in the forests which bear the odoriferous trees’’.

The text does not only highlight Gerrha’s importance, but it also offers an important time perspective, mentioning (in association with Gerrha) Herodotus’ reference to Yemenite trade with Achaemenid Iran, which establishes Gerrha’s rise in the early Achaemenid times (end of 6th century BCE).

(to be continued)

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An Egyptian watch tower along Israel's border with Egypt
An Egyptian watch tower along Israel's border with Egypt
Megalommatis is based in Cairo, Kairo, Egypt, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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