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History of Oman

Early History

Oman's history can be traced to very early times. In Genesis 10:26–30, the descendants of Joktan are said to have migrated as far as Sephar (now Dhofar). The area was already a commercial and seafaring centre in Sumerian times, and Phoenicians probably visited the coastal region. Other groups that probably came to the area in ancient times include the Baida and Ariba, Semitic tribes from northern Arabia, now extinct; the first Himyar dynasty from Yemen, which fell to the Persians in the time of Cyrus, about 550 BC; ancient Greek navigators; and the Parthians (174– 136 BC).

The earliest settlements in Oman, as in the Arabian peninsula generally, date from some time in the 3rd millennium BC. Though at that time and for some hundreds of years more, Oman was on the edge of the trade routes linking ancient Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley, it does not appear to have profited a great deal from its location. Some centuries later, however, an area of what is now Oman became of paramount importance to the ancient world.

The southernmost region of Oman, modern Dhofar, was responsible for the area's importance. For it is one of the few spots in the world where frankincense trees grow. Frankincense is an aromatic gum from certain species of trees which grow only in southern Oman, the Wadi Hadhramaut in Yemen, and Somalia.

The incense burns well because of its natural oil content and in addition, it has medicinal uses. These two factors plus its relative scarcity made it an extremely sought after substance in the ancient world. (The gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child were gold, frankincense and myrrh. At the time, the gold was far less valuable than the other two.)

Frankincense was vital to the religious rites of almost every civilisation in the ancient world. The great temples of Egypt, the Near East and Rome itself were all major consumers of the scarce commodity. Not to mention the thousands of other temples found in every city, town and village. Or the medical practitioners themselves. Indeed, the writer Pliny in the first century AD claimed that control of the frankincense trade had made the south Arabians the richest people on earth.

In the second century AD at the height of the trade, some 3000 tons of frankincense were transported each year by ship from south Arabia to the Greece, Rome and the Mediterranean world. The centre of the trade was in a place now called Khor Rouri which the Greeks called Muscat. Though the trade went into a decline after the 3rd century AD, it still managed to keep south Arabia relatively wealthy for another three centuries.

The coming of Islam

The tribes in the northern part of Oman were converted to Islam during the first generation of the Islamic era -- the middle of the 7th century AD and shortly after, came under the rule of the Ummayyads whose centre was in Damascus. About a century later, the Omanis revolted against the Ummayyads and expelled them from their country. The Ummayyads themselves had only a short time remaining as the leaders of the Muslim world for they were soon overthrown by the Abbasids whose capital was in Baghdad.

Oman took advantage of the dynastic strife in Damascus around the year 751 and elected an imam who gradually evolved from a local spiritual leader to a temporal sovereign. While the its wealth gave the imam substantial power in the entire Gulf region, Oman became an object of consecutive invasions by the Ummayyad caliphs of Baghdad, the Mongols the Persians.

Oman managed to remain free of the Abbasids and continued its adherence to Ibadi Islam which is still dominant in the country today. Because of Oman's remoteness from other Muslims, the Ibadis survived as a group long after they had vanished from other parts of the Muslim world.

Towards independence

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