The Sabaeans (سبأيين) were an ancient people speaking a South Semitic language who lived in what is today Yemen and in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Their Ancient Sabaean Kingdom lasted from the early 1st millennium to the 1st century BC. In the 1st century BC it was conquered by the Himyarites, but after the disintegration of the 1st Himyarite empire of the Kings of Saba' and dhu-Raydan the Middle Sabaean Kingdom reappeared in the early 2nd century CE. It was finally conquered by the Himyarites in the late 3rd century CE as mentioned in the Quran 34:15. Its capital was Marib and was along the strip of desert that was called Sayhad by medieval Arab geographers and that is called now Ramlat al-Sab`atayn.
The Sabaean people were one of four ancient Yemeni groups (Greek ethnos) classified by Eratosthenes. The others were the Minaean, Himyarite, Habesha people and Qatabanian people. Each of these had regional kingdoms in ancient Yemen, though the Minaean Kingdom held dominance from approximately 1200 BC until 650 BC, and the Sabaeans after them.
The Sabaeans, as were the other Arabian and Yemenite kingdoms of the same period, were involved in the extremely lucrative spice trade, especially frankincense and myrrh.
Most archaeologists now believe them to be the same nation as the Bible kingdom of Sheba. They left behind many inscriptions in the monumental Musnad (Old South Arabian) alphabet, as well as numerous documents in the cursive Zabur script.
Due to their hegemony of the Red Sea some Sabaeans lived in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea during the Sabaean-influenced kingdom of D`mt. Most modern historians consider this civilization to be indigenous,, but some still view, as in the past, D`mt as the result of a mixture of "culturally superior" Sabaeans and indigenous peoples; a very small minority even views the kingdom as wholly Sabaean and Ethiopians as the descendents of ancient Sabaean immigrants, but with little evidence.
The people of Sheba were polytheistic but are frequently but erroneously confused (by those who know little better) with the Sabians mentioned in the Qur'an whose etymology is completely unrelated being spelled with an initial Arabic letter "Sad" instead of the initial letter "Sin" (hebrew Shin).
The issue was confused by Mohammed Marmeduke Pickthal in his translation of the Quran because at least one tribe of Sheba, the Ansar comprised a deaconate of the Hanif priesthood (like the Ethiopian Jew Heman ben Shalim). As a result of this, Hanif priests used to run an altar (Kraba) in Mecca (Mekraba) called The Great Altar (as talked about in the Talmud Masechet Menuchot) during the reign of the Kingdom of Sheba. Thus the Shevaite people were regarded by Jewish authorities as Noahides from the time of the First Temple, when trade routes developed under Solomon.
When they were chased out of Mecca, the altar was taken over by the Himyar idol worshippers.
Abdullah ibn Saba was instrumental in trying to re-establish the Noahide religion of the Shevaites and thus his followers were also called Sabaeans.
- Bafaqīh, M. ‛A., L'unification du Yémen antique. La lutte entre Saba’, Himyar et le Hadramawt de Ier au IIIème siècle de l'ère chrétienne. Paris, 1990 (Bibliothèque de Raydan, 1).
- Ryckmans, J., Müller, W. W., and ‛Abdallah, Yu., Textes du Yémen Antique inscrits sur bois. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1994 (Publications de l'Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 43).
- sebomenoi.org -- an UNC educational project.
- Minaean Kingdom
- Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity. Edinburgh: University Press, 1991, pp.57.
- Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia: 1270-1527 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp.5-13.
- Megalommatis, Mohammed K.P. "Yemen’s Past and Perspectives are in Africa, not a fictitious 'Arab' world"
- S. Arabian "Inscription of Abraha" in the Sabaean language, at Smithsonian/NMNH website