Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Arabia (Jezirat-al-Arab of the inhabitants, Arabistan of the Turks and Persians), the south west peninsula of Asia, shaped like an irregular parallelogram (almost a triangle), extending between long. 32° 30' to 60° E., and lat. 12° 41' to 34° N. The Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf bound it wholly or partially on three sides. The Gulf of Suez separates it from Africa; but there are no recognised lines between it and Asiatic Turkey. Altogether, it is about 1,800 miles in length, and about 600 in breadth, with an area of 1,219,000 square miles, and a population estimated at not much above 5,000,000, though no census has been taken, and much of the Dahna or desert has never been explored. The old divisions of "Arabia Petraea," the region around Petra, in the N.W., "A. Felix," along the W. and S.W. coasts, and "A. Deserta," in the interior, are unknown to the inhabitants, who speak of the different areas under the following names: - (1) Sinai, the peninsula between the Gulfs of Suez and Akaba, a mass of naked rocks and craggy precipices, cut into by long narrow defiles and sandy valleys, in which dwarf acacias, tamarisks, euphorbias, and thorny shrubs are the only vegetation, if a few date palms, and a little grass in favoured places are excepted. (2) The Hedjaz, and (3) Yemen along the shores of the Red Sea, and for some indefinite distance into the interior, divided into the Tehama or low country (in which are the ports of Djidda, Yenibo, Mokha, and Loheiha), and the more mountainous district on the landward side. The Hedjaz is for the most part barren country, being stony in the north, and sandy to the east and south, with a few brackish wells, and some streams which dry up in summer. The roads are merely camel tracks made by the pilgrims to Mecca, the holy city surrounded by the Haram or sacred territory, and Medina, in the vicinity of which and at Kholeys, N. of Mecca (of which Djidda is the port), there is some cultivation possible owing to the presence of springs; drought causes sterility elsewhere. Yemen is better watered, and has in consequence several rich valleys. (4) Hadramaut, along the southern coast, sterile, sandy, and stony. (5) Oman, the S.E. end of the peninsula, in which is the harbour of Muscat, mountainous, hot, but in parts very fertile, and with manufactures of silk, cotton and arms. (6) El Hasa, along the Persian Gulf, flattish- and fertile; and (7) Nejd, the central plateau, the highest point of which is Djebel Toweyk, with many settled valleys, through which streams flow in the rainy season. The smaller plateau of Shomer is also intersected by mountains, and in this region, the coast towns, the holy cities (Mecca and Medina, which subsist by the pilgrims), and the oasis of Jauf (60 miles by lO broad), are found the greater number of the settled inhabitants of Arabia. The mean height of the highlands is 3,000 to 4,000 ft.; but several peaks rise to close on 7,000 ft., their seaward sides being steeper than their inland slopes. Points of the interior table land, which falls to the E. and N., are said to attain an elevation of even 8,000 ft., but vast tracts are still unknown. In brief, Arabia as a whole is not a fertile or a wooded land, much of it being rolling sands, or barren mountain slopes (on the sides which face the sea), with valleys better watered and plateaux which afford fair pasturage for the wandering Arabs. Roughly, according to Palgrave, a third of the country is coast ring and mountains, partly barren, partly either cultivated or susceptible of tillage, a third of central plateau tolerably fertile, and a third desert circle, intervening with only one gap between the first and second.

The climate, as a rule, is warm, but dry and healthy, though the hot winds called "Khamsin" in the northern desert, and "Simoon" in the eastern districts are very trying even to the natives. The middle part of the country being included in the rainless regions of the Old World, and in the belt of greatest heat, is extremely torrid during the dry months. But it is not actually without rain, some falling in S. Arabia during the cold season in Yemen from June till September, and sometimes during winter. In Oman, showers may be expected three or four times a month, from October till May, but at Aden "the rains" last only from November till February or March. The south coast is best supplied; the interior deserts are often unmoistened for many months or even years at a stretch, and then by torrents which are over in a few hours. But radiation and evaporation being rapid, considerable cold is experienced at night, and the hills are not unfrequently white with snow, while on the interior table lands the winters are comparatively rigorous. Yet the shores of the Red Sea are at times so hot that Europeans sicken, and children die, while at Muscat (in Oman), when the temperature is 100° in the shade, the Arabs sleep naked on the flat roofs of their houses and are watered like plants, a habit which may account for the prevalence of muscular rheumatism. The chief danger to health is from the sudden alternation from extreme heat to cold consequent on the change of wind.

The products of Arabia are cereals - wheat or barley in small quantities, millet, rice, and pulse; beans, melons, gourds, cucumbers, cabbages, cumin and the like, two crops a year being common in certain places; coffee, cotton, sugar, tobacco, indigo, gum Arabic, balm, various drugs and resins, tamarinds, lavender, frankincense, myrrh, etc., and above all dates, on which the Arabs mainly depend for food. Horses, camels, oxen, sheep, goats, and asses are the domestic animals; the Arab horses, the Oman camels, and the Mahrah dromedaries, still maintaining their ancient reputation. The wild ass roams the plains, and though the lion seems now extinct, the panther, hyaena, ounce, wolf, fox, wild boar, apes, antelopes, ibex, and other large quadrupeds are common. The ostrich is chased for its feathers; peacocks and parrots are found in Nejd, Hasa, Oman, and the southern provinces, and many of the Arabs train hawks for the purpose of falconry. With the exception of lizards, reptiles are comparatively rare, and only two vipers are deadly; but scorpions are plentiful, centipedes annoyingly frequent, white ants as troublesome as in southern India, and vast swarms of locusts destructive to the crops, though they are freely eaten by the Arabs. Minerals of any value are scarce. Some precious stones are met with; lead and silver are mined in the Oman mountains; cinnabar and sulphur occur, rock salt is common, petroleum may not unlikely be found in quantity, but no gold is at present unearthed in Arabia. The pearl fisheries of the Persian Gulf are a source of considerable profit. Agriculture is. however, at a low stage, and with the exception of leather dressing, the weaving of coarse fabrics, iron wrork of a rude description, gold and silver work of a finer quality, and (in Oman) woollen weaving, silk and gold embroidery, filigree, sword cutlery, etc., there are few manufactures of importance. Trade, in like manner, is rudimentary. Camels and sheep, hair and wool, coffee, dates, horses, rice, and pearls sum up the exports, their relative importance being indicated by the order in which they are named. White cotton cloth, Indian prints, sugar, hardware, arms, ammunition, and a few trinkets are the principal imports.

The population is made up of Arabs, and on the coast a number of Jews and Turks. But the interior tribes are quite unmixed with alien stocks, and still keep up the patriarchal form of government, each tribe being ruled by a Sheik or Shereef (descendant of the Prophet), or an Elder. With the exception of the Joctanides (the ancient Himyarites), who speak a dialect of their own, and hold the south coast, Arabic is the universal language of the people.

Politically, Hedjaz, El Hasa, and Yemen are vilayets of Turkey. Egypt claims the Sinai Peninsula, and the old Land of Median, stretching southward from the Gulf of Akaba. The Sultan of Oman is independent, though in alliance with and under English control. Nejd, the seat of the once important Wahabee empire (q.v.), is also left to itself. The Emir of Shomer (capital, Hail) pays tribute to the Shereef of Mecca, who is appointed by the Sultan of Turkey; and England, besides occupying Aden and the island of Perim at the mouth of the Red Sea, owns the Kuria Muria islands on the south coast, and exercises great influence in Hadramaut (split into numerous little states or principalities), and a protectorate over the coast tribes from Perim to Ras Sais. But the interior nomads are practically their own masters, and except in the Turkish provinces the reins of government are held very loosely. Until the rise of Islam Arabia had little history, but under Mohammed and his successors the country was welded into one sovereignty, and the people, inspired by the common creed, issued forth as conquerors and colonists, whose empire became one of the greatest in the world's history. In the sixteenth century the Turks subdued Yemen, but were expelled in the seventeenth century. During these two centuries Oman was under the Portuguese, who held Muscat and other places on the coast from 1508 to 1659. The Dutch and the Persians also essayed a footing, and in 1760, Mohamed-ibn-Abd-el-Wahab of Nejd founded the Wahabee empire, which lasted until, in 1812-18, it was shattered by Mohammed Ali, Viceroy of Egypt, though it soon again recovered itself, Oman, however, remaining independent. But since that date this monarchy has so fallen in pieces that with the exception of Nejd (capital, Riad; pop., about 500,000) no portion of Arabia is included in the Wahabee dominions. All the rest of its provinces have quietly reasserted their independence, or gravitated under the Turkish sway, Yemen and the Hedjaz having been restored by Egypt in 1841, after Mohammed Ali's discomfiture.

Ethnologically the inhabitants of Arabia belong exclusively to the Semitic family, of which they form by far the largest and most important division. In fact, with the exception of the Jews and Abyssinians, all other divisions (Syrians, Phoenicians, Chaldaeans, Assyrians, Samaritans, Himyarites) have been altogether assimilated in speech, and mostly in religion, to the Arabs, the language and precepts of the Koran being now dominant throughout the whole of the Arabian peninsula, Syria, and Mesopotamia - that is, the primeval home and historic domain of the Semitic peoples. Physically also a great fusion of allied races has taken place, resulting in a distinct sub-Semitic Arab type, which prevails with considerable uniformity throughout the Arab-speaking lands, and which is characterised by a long oval face, aquiline nose, receding chin, moderately high forehead, small mouth and ears, dolichocephalic head, black eyes and hair, fair complexion but easily bronzed in the sun, middle height, averaging 5.50 feet. With the spread of Islam the Arabs have passed in large numbers into north Africa. Here the race has become perfectly acclimatised as far as the Chad basin, and has mainly preserved its type, language, and religion intact. In Asia Arab settlements have been founded as far east as Turkestan and parts of India and the Eastern Archipelago; but here they have generally become absorbed in the surrounding populations, many of whom claim Arab descent, though preserving of the race nothing but the Mohammedan religion. Even in Arabia itself especially, the continuous inflow of African slaves has made itself felt in the decidedly dark colour and heavy features of many communities, especially in Yemen, Oman, and Hedjaz. The people of Arabia are generally supposed to be all Bedouins - that is, nomad pastors, living under tents and wandering with their flocks and herds from oasis to oasis. But this description is applicable chiefly to the tribes of the steppes on the Nejd plateau. Elsewhere, and especially in Yemen, they form agricultural and even urban communities engaged in trade and numerous industries, these various pursuits depending not on race, but on the conditions of the environment. The Arabic language is by far the richest in grammatical forms, in wealth of words and expressions, and in literary monuments of all the Semitic tongues. Its position in this family seems to lie somewhere between the old Assyrian and Hebrew. Compared with the Aryan languages it has undergone but slight change since the seventh century, when it was first reduced to written form.