There seem to have been several cities of this name in Arabia, as there are still several towns or sites of the name, scarcely modified. How many distinct cities are mentioned by the classical geographers, antiquarians are not agreed, and the various readings have involved the question in great perplexity.
It will be well to eliminate first those of which the notices are most distinct.
The celebrated capital of the Sabaei in Yemen,
is known both in the native and classical writers.
It is called the metropolis of the Sabaei by Strabo (16.4.2), which tribe was contiguous to that of the Minaei, who bordered on the Red Sea on one side, and to the Catabaneis, who reached to the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb.
[SABAEI; MINAEI; CATABANI.] It was situated on a well-wooded mountain, and was the royal residence.
It seems difficult to imagine that this was distinct from the Mariaba of Pliny, who, however, assigns it to the Atramitae, a branch of the Sabaei, and places it on a bay 94 M. P. in circuit, filled with spice-bearing islands; while it is certain that the Mariaba of the Sabaeans was an inland city.
It is beyond all doubt the Maarib of the Arabian historians, built according to their traditions by ‘Abd-schems, surnamed Saba,
third only in succession from the patriarch Koktan Or Joktan, son of Eber. Abulfeda says that this city was also called Saba; and that, in the opinion of some, Maarib was the name of the royal residence, while the city itself was called Saba. Its founder also constructed the stupendous embankment so renowned in history, forming a dam for confining the Water of seventy rivers and torrents, which he conducted into it from a distance. (Abulfeda, Historia Ante-Islamica,
lib. iv. ap. init.)
The object of this was not only to supply the city with water, but also to irrigate the lands, and to keep the subjugated country in awe, by being masters of the water.
The water rose to the height of almost 20 fathoms, and was kept in on every side by a work so solid, that many of the inhabitants had their houses built upon it.
It stood like a mountain above the city, and no danger was apprehended of its ever failing.
The inundation of El-Arem (the mound
) is an aera in Arabic history, and is mentioned in the Koran as a signal instance of divine judgment on the inhabitants of this city for their pride and insolence.
A mighty flood broke down the mound by night, while the inhabitants were asleep, and carried away the whole city, with the neighbouring towns and people. (Sale, Koran,
cap. 34, vol. ii. p. 289, notes, and Preliminary Discourse,
sect. 1. vol. i p. 13; [p. 2.275]Questions Proposées,
par M. Michaelis, pp. 183--188.)
This catastrophe seems to have happened about the time of Alexander the Great, though some chronologies place it subsequently to the Christian aera. Sale places the city three days' journey from Sanaa (note, in loc. cit.
The notion of the identity of Mareb
with Sheba, mentioned by Abulfeda, is still maintained by some natives; and Niebuhr quotes for this opinion a native of the town itself (Description de l'Arabie,
p. 252), and justly remarks that the existence of the remains of the famous reservoir of the Sabaeans in the vicinity of Mareb
serves to identify it with the capital of the Sabaeans. To account for the capital not bearing the name of the tribe, as was usual, he suggests that the Sabaeans may have derived their name from another town, and then have built this stupendous reservoir near Mariaba, and there have fixed the residence of their kings.
But a fact elsewhere mentioned by him, will perhaps lead to a more satisfactory solution.
It seems that the great reservoir is not situated before Mareb,
nor close to it, but at the distance of an hour, and on the side of it.
This may account for its preservation on the bursting of the embankment. May not the inundation have occasioned the utter destruction of the neighbouring city of Sheba, as the traditions relate, while the royal residence at Mareb
escaped, and formed the nucleus of the modern town? We have seen from Abulfeda that some native authorities maintain that Maarib was the royal residence, while the capital itself was called Saba.
The name Mariaba (al. Mariva) signifying, according to the etymology of Pliny, “dominos omnium,” would well suit the residence of the dominant family (6.28.32).
is now the principal town of the district of Dsorf,
16 German leagues ENE. of Sana,
containing only 300 houses, with a wall and three gates; and the ruins of a palace of Queen Balkis are there shown.
The reservoir is still much celebrated.
It is described by a native as a valley between two chains of mountains, nearly a day's journey in length (==5 German leagues). Six or seven small streams, flowing from the west and south, are united in this valley, which contracts so much at its east end, by the convergence of the mountains, that it is not more than 5 or 6 minutes wide.
This space was closed by a thick wall, to retain the superfluous water during and after the rains, and to distribute it over the fields and gardens on the east and north by three sluice-gates, one over the other.
The wall was 40 or 50 feet high, built of enormous blocks of hewn stone. and the ruins of its two sides still remain.
It precisely resembles in its construction the Bends,
as they are called, in the woods of Belgrave,
on the Bosphorus, which supply Constantinople with water, only that the work at Mareb
is on a much larger scale. (Niebuhr, l.c.
pp. 240, 241.)
MARIABA BARAMALACUM. A city of this name in the interior of Arabia is mentioned with this distinguishing appellation by Pliny (6.32
) as a considerable town of the Charmaei, which was one division of the MINAEI: he calls it “oppidum xvi. mill. pass. . . . . et ipsum non spernendum.” It is supposed by some to be identical with the Baraba metropolis (Βάραβα
al. Μαμάρα μητρόπολις
of Ptolemy (6.15
, p. 155), which he places in long. 76°, lat. 18° 20‘. Forster has found its representative in the modern Taraba,
whose situation corresponds sufficiently well with the Baraba metropolis of Ptolemy (Geog. of Arabia,
vol. i. p. 135, ii. p. 256); but his account of the designation Baramalacum (quasi
Bar-Amalacum, equivalent to “Merab of the sons of Amelek” ) is inadmissible according to all rules of etymology (vol. ii. pp. 43, 47). Taraba,
pronounced by the Bedouins Toroba,
is 30 hours (about 80 miles) distant from Tayf
in the Hedjaz,
still a considerable town, “as large as Tayf,
remarkable for its plantations, which furnish all the surrounding country with dates; and famous for its resistance against the Turkish forces of Mohammed Ali, until January, 1815, when its inhabitants were compelled to submit. Taraba
is environed with palmgroves and gardens, watered by numerous rivulets.” (Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia,
Appendix, No. iv. p. 451.)
A more probable derivation of Baramalacum from Bahr-u-malkim == the Royal Lake, would identify it with the preceding, No. 1. (Vincent, Periplus,
another inland city of Arabia, is mentioned also by Pliny (l.c.
) as the capital of the Calingii, 6 M.P. in circumference, which was, according to him, one of the eight towns taken and destroyed by Aelius Gallus.
He has perhaps confounded it with the Marsyabae which Strabo fixes as the limit of his expedition, and the siege of which he was forced to abandon; but it was remarked before that this name was according to Pliny equivalent to metropolis,--though the etymology of the name is hopelessly obscure:--so that it is very possible that, besides the Marsyabae mentioned by Strabo, a Mariaba may have fallen in with the line of that general's march, either identical with one of those above named, or distinct from both; possibly still marked by a modern site of one of several towns still preserving a modification of the name, as El-Marabba,
marked in Kiepert's map in the very heart of the country of the Wahibites; and a Merab
marked by Arrowsmith, in the NE. of the Nedjd