Oman in the Second Millennium BC
sub section- Overview
Dawn of Islam
Al Bu Said Dynasty
H.M. Sultan Qaboos
There are a number of sites scattered over
Oman which date back to this period. These include the Mikhailif site and the Al Waset
site in Batinah. Many smooth, soapstone vessels have been discovered at these areas as
well as ornaments characteristic of the period, bronze spearheads, arrowheads and knives.
Oman in the First Millenium BC
The most important site dating back to the
first millennium BC is located in Sohar. A settlement was unearthed there in which were
found constructions below the buildings of the first century AD, indicating a flourishing
settlement. The artefacts discovered show that Sohar was a significant trading centre at
this time. Merchant seals were found and a type of fine terracotta earthenware, possibly
imported from India. Other forms of pottery included Chinese porcelain of a type found in
abundance in the first century of the Islamic Age, confirming that trade with China was
flourishing then. This trade continued until the 14th century AD.
succession of strata at the site shows the gradual decline of trade and the subsequent
stagnation of the city as a result of the overlordship of Hormuz passing to Qalhat near
Sur. Thus trade and its attendant enterprise and tax revenue were relocated there.
The fortification of Sohar was raised by
order of one of the princes of Hormuz with the purpose of imposing a trade blockade on the
town, until it was severely reduced and the inhabitants were forced to flee. After the
Portuguese had been expelled from the region, Sohar saw a trade revival and an increase in
its mercantile exchanges in the Far East.
brought the city of Dhofar in the south of the Sultanate to worldwide prominence. Dhofar
was the prime source of this exotic commodity and also of gum. Frankincense was in the
forefront of commodities traded in the past, particularly once it had caught the attention
of the early historians around 400 BC, such as Herodotus, Pliny, Ptolemy, Strabo and
Field studies carried out in Dhofar
indicate that frankincense was transported by land and sea across the world. The crop was
collected for outward transport from Ras Fartak port (Jebel Al Qamr) to Yemen and the rest
of Asia, via Aden port. The land route started to the west of Dhofar and passed through
the Nejd to the south of the Arabian peninsula, then swinging north to Najran and on to
Gaza. However, the most significant route was that which linked Dhofar with the east of
the Arabian peninsula and continued to Sumer, in Iraq.
Ptolemy I was the first geographer to draft
a map of the Dhofar district in which he identified the Salalah Plain (Khwar Rawri) as the
region where frankincense was cultivated. He also highlighted an area which he named Suq
al Omaniyeen (the Omani Marketplace). Other studies show that the Omanis controlled the
principal districts on the south coast of the Arabian Sea. Muslim historians made
reference to Ubar or Wabar, placing it in the northern part of Dhofar. Nashwan bin Said
Al-Homeiri also referred to this place, but believed it to be in the territory occupied by
the Aad tribe (the eastern part of Yemen). The historian Al-Tabai speaks of Ubar without
specifying its whereabouts in a reference to its having been stricken with drought. At all
events, there are many references indicating that the Aad clan was settled at Ubar. The
Quran also records a tale of the Aad who were destroyed and buried without their domicile
being known. Thus it can be concluded that Ubar was not the name of a city, but of a
substantial territory, the precise location of which is a matter of debate between
historians and archaeologists.
From the earliest times, Dhofar was a
habitat uniquely suited to the cultivation of the frankincense bush, although it appears
that the use of frankincense as a traded commodity did not occur before the Neolithic
Period, some 8000 years previous. During the Islamic Era, frankincense trade traversed the
routes of the Neolithic Period which were constructed by the Arabs and Romans. The
frankincense route from Oman to Egypt travelled by way of the Negev and Sinai. Thus, trade
may have occurred between the Arabian peninsula and Dhofar during the Neolithic Period.
Certainly, South Arabia was once endowed
with many rivers and lakes and consequently, traversed by many roads, in particular across
the Rub al-Khali. The evidence for this comes from vessels and implements associated with
the Neolithic Period which were found along the length of the route and at various sites
throughout the Arabian peninsula. Further evidence came in the form of paintings on rock
faces in the west of the peninsula and in Yemen. Finds along the route to Sumer in Iraq
were all characterised by the same feats of decoration.
Oman did not confine its exports to raw
frankincense, or olibanum. By blending this with a form of tallow, it was possible to
process it into incense for religious rites. Ivory and perfumes were also among Oman's
exports during the Neolithic Period. Investigative surveys stumbled on a quantity of
Sumerian tablets bearing the name bokhur (incense) and records have described bokhur
as "extracted from the frankincense bush".
In conclusion, from approximately 5000 BC
to around 1800 BC, Iraq's need for incense, as supplied by Dhofar, grew. Some time around
2000 BC the region probably witnessed a change of climate and the environment began to
experience drought and gradual desertification. This happened around the time inhabitants
began to domesticate the camel for use in the overland caravan route. Archaeological
findings in the peninsula and in Egypt prove that the land trade became an established
reality circa 1500 BC.
At all events, the locality known as Shasir
was the Nejd/Dhofar district's principal trade centre for the northern land route which
began at the start of the Neolithic Period and which appears to have been associated with
trade between Dhofar and the north of the Arabian peninsula to Sumer in the south of Iraq.
It is possible that the trade links between Dhofar and Sumer extended from the earliest
times to trade with Gaza and Ancient Egypt.
Shasir continued to thrive after the end of
the Bronze and Iron ages. Recent excavations have unearthed traces of fine buildings,
suggesting a well-populated place on the trading activities of its citizens. During the
Middle Ages, many sources refer to their uncommon enterprise in the export of incense,
horses and gum. It is likely that Shasir retained its trading prominence up to the start
of the 16th century, when its inhabitants left and relocated in the surrounding
Field surveys carried out in 1993 on the
Salalah Plain discovered a similarity in the buildings excavated, particularly at the Ain
Hamran site, with those of the Shasir district, sharing many identical architectural
features. A large group of buildings at Balid in Salalah were also found. These studies
ascribe considerable significance to this locality as a busy trading post engaged in the
export and import of goods, as evidenced by the presence of a variety of coins and ceramic
vessels, dating to the 14th century AD. Archaeologists also found parallel
samples in Shasir, establishing that a link existed between the region to the interior of
Dhofar and the coast right up to the 15th century.
From this brief outline, it can be seen
that Oman was home to a civilisation which went back in time continuously to the
pre-Islamic Age. Throughout the Islamic age itself, Oman enjoyed a cultural expansion on a
par with the other Islamic lands, with which it communicated through trade and navigation.