A great amount of historic documents concerning early Arabs have been destroyed in Islamic times in order to annihilate the memory of the original background from which Islam emerged and how did it change the cultural features of the Arabs -- so, it is not a surprising factor that they did likewise with the peoples that they subdued. Only strongly established cultures resisted and were not "arabized" (like Jews, Assyrians, Coptic Egyptians, Armenians, that never surrendered to Islam). Yet, we still have enough elements to reconstruct the facts concerning the pre-Islamic Arabian culture, and it is interesting that it was a female-centred and even a female-ruled society. This characteristic regarded primarily the Central Arabian and also the Northern tribes, not properly the Southern Arabian culture. Therefore, in order to enable a better comprehensibility, in this chapter we will define with the term Arabian or Arab the peoples of the Northern and Central regions, and "Yemenite" those of the Southern kingdoms (the term Yemenite indeed indicates the right hand, meaning the south).
According to the Chronicles of King Ashurbanipal and preceding Assyrian records, the Arabians have been ruled mainly by queens since the dim and distant past, like their Kushite brothers in
There are conclusive evidences that Arabians had a matrilineal succession, the husband entered the wife's clan and lived in her home, and it was generally the woman who decided to divorce. Women were free to choose their partner, and often married younger men. It was also usual that clans had female names, and there are some hints that suggest that even polyandry was practised -- a custom not found among Semites but within some peoples in
The Nabateans learnt literature, sciences and arts from their neighbours and were Hellenized up to a certain degree; most of them also converted to Judaism and Christianity. It was in Roman times that they reached their splendour and expanded their influence over
As we have already said, the Arabians were primarily a Kushite people and that is what they were considered by their Semitic neighbours as well; Ishmael's offspring developed as a Hamitic people for many generations. In fact, the only ancestor they remembered was Adnan, whose origin is unknown and maybe legendary, or perhaps a Kushite to whom in Islamic times was ascribed Ishmaelite lineage. It was mainly in Roman times that the Nabateans absorbed some Semitic tribes (Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites and Aramean clans from
Concerning the Yemenites, in early times they had been ruled by queens according to the Kushitic tradition. The Semitic Yoqtanites assimilated the original Hamitic tribes and adopted their female monarchy system. Since they did not leave any written account of their own history previous to the Assyrian period, the only available document regarding the Sabean monarchy before the 8th century b.c.e. is recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, that reports the journey of the Queen of Sheva to
Since the 3rd century c.e. the Sabean Himyarite Kingdom was enjoying a cultural revival in which the historical Israelite presence played an essential role, so much that even the king Dhu Nuwas adopted Judaism (even though the ancient Sabean religion was still practised by most Yemenites). This new feature was not appreciated by the nominally Christian
by Avraham Sándor