By Ibrahim Al-Othaimin
If Herodotus, the great history scholar of
ancient Greece, said that “Egypt is the gift of the Nile” due to the importance
of the Nile to life in Egypt, as well as its impact on Egyptian civilization,
then the Arabian Peninsula is the “gift of its strategic location”, which made
it a bridge of communication among the nations of the world, with its important
role in the history of the Middle East.
In ancient history, five trade routes
shaped this history and played an important role in it: the Silk Road, the
Incense Road or the Way of Frankincense, the Amber Road, the Way of Horses and
Tea, and the Trans-Saharan Highway. The Incense Road was regarded as one of the
most important routes for trade convoys, and an international commercial
crossroads between East and West. The Arabian Peninsula played a vital role in
this route by linking the south and southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, which
produced the most important incense commodities, with neighboring civilizations
in Mesopotamia, the Nile and the Levant (Al-Sham countries). Incense was one of
the most expensive commodities in the ancient world and the trade of incense
and frankincense, in which Yemen and Oman were dominant, was one of the most
important economic activities during that period; it was as important as oil is
The ancient caravans followed five key
paths on the peninsula.
The path of Al-Ola started from the Port of Aden and Qena in Yemen in the south of the
Arabian Peninsula and then it headed to Najran, Taif, Makkah, Yathrib, Khaybar,
Al-Ola (Daydan) and Mada’in Saleh (Hijr). The road then divided; one branch
extended to the oasis of Taima and then headed to Mesopotamia, while the other
one continued northward to Petra and Gaza in the land of Palestine heading to
the Levant (Al-Sham countries) and the Nile.
The path of the village of Faw started from the Port of Marib in Yemen, and headed toward Najran
and then extended northeast in the valley of Dawaser and passed the village of
Fao, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandah. It moved toward Aflaj and then
Yamamah to the Oasis of Perrin southwest of Al-Hofuf and then to Gerrha to the
coast of the Arabian Gulf.
The path of Al-Qassim started from Gerrha in the direction of Al-Hofuf, then headed to
the north of Al-Yamamah in Najd; it proceeded to the northwest parallel to the
Tuwaiq mountain range, then headed west to the province of Qassim, and then to
Hail and then Taima, heading to Petra toward the Levant (Al-Sham).
The path of Najd started from Hadramout along the coast of the Arabian Sea and the
Indian Ocean, then the Gulf, heading north along the eastern border of the
Plateau of Najd and out of it. It then headed north to the direction of
Mesopotamia or toward the Levant (Al-Sham).
The path of the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al Khali) started from the Hadramout and Amman region, headed
to the province of Yamamah, and passed through the eastern end of the Empty Quarter,
ascending north to the Levant (Al-Sham countries) or Mesopotamia.
These routes and paths helped to establish
many cities, kingdoms and commercial markets along these roads. Moreover, they
were also an important source of income for these kingdoms. According to Dr.
Ali Ghaban, an archaeologist, what was imposed on these convoys to provide
protection, shelter, etc., was equivalent to 16 percent of the total trade.
Also, these roads had an important impact on the revival of cultural centers
and poetry forums such as the market of Okaz and Domat Al-Jandal and others.
Therefore, the Arabian Peninsula, of which
Saudi Arabia occupies a great part, was a real crossroads of ancient
civilizations. It played an important civilized, economic and political role in
the periods preceding the emergence of Islam and developed greatly after its
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security
analyst based in Riyadh.