Great Malek of Saba, may Illmaquh bless your reign.
Once the Malek sof Saba were called Mukarrib and their word was law from the oceans of sand to the ocean of waves. All the sha`bs bowed their necks in submission, from the nomadic tribes of the deserts to the north to the dark skinned Hadramawt in the east. Even peoples across the waves in the land of D`mt respected the authority of Saba. Today only a few sha’bs continue to respect the rule of the Malek of Saba. The city of Maryab remains the center of the realm as always, but our rule does not reach far beyond its walls. The Minaeans and Hadramawt pay lip-service to our authority, but it out of respect for tradition rather than for our might, and truthfully they do as they please. Even worse the treacherous people of Qataban no longer even show us the traditional respect, but rather they look towards our riches with covetous eyes and our city with dreams of fire and pillage.
We are not at their mercy yet though; far from it. What was once ours may be so again. While our subjects are fewer than in the past they are still numerous, and can provide soldiers both plentiful and varied. From the city of Maryab and her environs come the citizen soldiers who form the core of your army. Tough and loyal spearmen can be called upon from the lower classes, and the nobility can provide both horse and heavy infantry. The desert tribes that still call you master can provide a wide array of light infantry and cavalry to augment your citizen army and to battle in the searing heat that quickly exhausts your urbanite forces. Across the waves the kingdom of D`mt is long fallen and people long for stable rule. They still remember the days of Mukarribs and should you return to their lands they would doubtless provide loyal and effective soldiers for your armies. Further north the Bedouins who trouble our caravans are fierce warriors. A wise ruler would much rather see them fight for him rather than against him. He would also do well to remember that might of Saba has never rested solely on the arms of her own people, but on getting others to bear arms for them. We are the most populous of the sha’bs without doubt and certainly the most courageous, but even so we are few, and if we are to rule over a vast realm and many peoples, we must let them bear their share of the arms.
If you are to expand your rule and bring back to Saba the glories of past days, the fertile lands around Maryab and her famous dam must be secured. The first task of the Malek has always been to watch over and expand the great irrigation works that harness the monsoons rains and feed him and his people. But if we are to regain our glory we must look beyond the soil of home and gain complete control of the trade routes between far off Egypt and India. The caravan routes have always passed through our territory but of late the Minaeans have been exerting more and more control over the caravans, we must check their ambitions and remind them who their rulers are. The sea routes have become increasingly important of late; we must be ready to seize control of this trade as well, lest our domination of the caravan routes proves to be little more than the conquest of a dried out oasis. The source of the aromatics that remain the core of the trade network should also be reclaimed. To the east a mere two days journey are the first of the precious groves of Myrrh trees and beyond them abound both groves of Myrrh and Frankincense trees. The people of Egypt especially have an unquenchable thirst for the aromatics, and will pay many times their weight in gold for them. These endeavors will not go unchallenged though, Qataban especially desires to control the same resources. If we are ever to regain our former glory they must bend to our rule once more. The surrounding tribes and cities must also be brought to heel to make sure no one can threaten your heartlands and also that there are no competitors for control of the trade. But you should not only look to the nearby regions, but also across the sea and Ethiopia. These lands can be brought under your rule as they were before, but it will draw the attention of the Ptolemaioi, the new rulers of Egypt. If they ever find a good opportunity to send an army and navy down the sea, they will. "An enemy’s enemy is my friend" is a saying, but do not count the Seleukids your friends either. Should their war with the Ptolemaioi go their way, they might send armies down to conquer us, as whereas we control the trade to India by sea, they control the trade to India by land and might wish to be the only ones doing trade with the East. Either kingdom would doubtless like to continue the efforts of their glorious founder Alexander, who before his death cast his ever covetous eyes on what is rightfully ours. Our far ranging traders tell us that stories of our wealth and happiness abound in the outside world, we must be wary of those who are seduced by these tales. Secure your homelands Malek, expand and conquer your neighbours and always keep an eye on the kingdoms to the north, who would wish take our freedom and gold away from us.
It is impossible to write an actual histoire totale of the Sabaeans, due to the limited amount of information currently available, especially on the earlier periods of their history. Though the Sabaeans are mentioned by some classical Roman and Greek authors, our main sources are based on archaeological remains and epigraphy. Many thousands of inscriptions are known and translated, yet most offer little information. The last two main sources of information from the period are coins and writings on palm leaves. Indeed these shed light on many aspects of their culture and its change over the centuries. Yet they fail to offer us a general overview of the events or a clear chronology. One of the better known and more notorious parts of Sabaean history is the reign and campaigning of Karib’il Watar. But even his rule is hard to date. Some authors like von Wissman and Ryckmans have suggested a long chronology, placing Karib’il Watar in the 9th to 7th century BC. The likes of Beeston and Pirenne have suggested the 6th or the 5th century BC in the past. While most now favour a longer chronology due to Archaeological evidence, some Authors like Kitchen still favour a short chronology. It is not until the first centuries AD that we can really date events. Central to the many theories are two Assyrian records mentioning the Sabaean kings “Yita’ ‘amar” and “Karibilu” paying tribute. These were dated to 715 and 685 BC respectively. Archaeology has recently however made it more and more clear that the start of Sabaean history is likely even earlier than the historians estimated. Though some authors like Kitchen still advocate a short chronology.
What we do know is that in Maryab we find traces of sedentary life and agriculture dating back to at least the 3rd millennium BC. Around the 12th century BC the incense routes seem to have been born, and with them a new culture came into existence. By the beginning of the 1st millennium the main political structure would be the shab (s’b), towns or villages which were small and independent from one another. Nearby villages then started to work together and formed small unities comprising several shabs. This would become the new standard unit of shabs, comparable to a tribe. Certain shabs grew larger and more powerful; Shabs as Sirwah – sometimes suggested as the first capital of the Sabaeans - and Maryabu [modern day Ma’rib] soon started dominating smaller nearby shabs and together formed larger unions or federations of shabs usually ruled by one or multiple ‘kings’ or ‘Malik’ [mlk], often confined to a single wadi.
By the time of Karib’il Watar some of these Maliks had grown rather powerful and expanded their rule so much that only a few would dominate a region comparable with modern Yemen. Saba was one of these leading powers and this lead them into the next phase of Sabaean history, often dubbed the time of the ‘mukkaribs’, which can be dated to the 9th or 8th century BC. It is named after the title mukkarib [mkrb] which in English translates as federator, referring to the many shabs under his rule. The famous inscriptions of the aforementioned Sabaean leader on the walls of the great temple at Sirwah talk about his many military campaigns and building projects, and under his rule the Sabaeans conquered their main rivals: the kingdom of Ausan and its capital Miswara. In the north he even expanded the kingdom as far as the fabulous oasis and city of Najran and made Hadramawt in the east their protectorate. He claims in his inscriptions not to have lost a single battle! It is during this period that the Sabaean kingdom flourished most and became a major player not only in terms of trade but also politically. During the mukkarib period this wealth allowed the building of great monumental temples but more importantly the building of the great Maryab Dam. This dam enabled the region around Maryab to become the most fertile of South Arabia and helped to sustain its 50,000 inhabitants. The rate of urbanisation in the area increased during this period, especially at Maryab which became by far the largest settlement and shab, something which could explain the sometimes suggested change of capital city from Sirwah to Maryab.
Qatabân [qtbn], the former allies of the Sabaeans, now became their main rivals. Saba seems not to have been able to fully integrate and keep her newly conquered regions, except for a core of around twelve loyal shabs unified by their malik [mlk] and their god Almuqah [clmqh]. The Qatabân and the African kingdom of Dm’t used this opportunity and were able to become the leading nations in the region by the coming period. In the north the Ma’in also profited from the weakening of the Sabaeans and became the great traders of Arabia and as such the allies of the incense-producing Hadramawt, former protectorates of the Sabaeans. These kingdoms kept each other in check from probably around the 4th century BC and 3rd century BC. This went hand in hand with the continuous loss of power of the malik in favour of an increased importance of the tribes. By the end of the 2nd century the Qatabân seem to have grown weaker as well, which resulted in the independence of Ramdan, but more importantly and somewhat later: the rebellion of the Himyarites. The latter people would found their own 'kingdom' around approximately 115 BC and would grow to be the next leading nation in South Arabia.
In the first century BC Emperor Augustus sent Aelius Gallus, then the governor of Egypt, with a force of 10,000 soldiers and 500 Jewish infantry. He was joined by Syllaeus, the ‘minister’ of the Obodas III, the Nabataean king. He would act as a guide and as a commander of the 1,000 strong Nabataean force that was added to the mission. The goal of this exploration was conquering the incense-producing lands and their riches. But the inhospitable sea, the unforgiving climate, dry land and disease proved fierce enemies. Syllaeus was accused by the Romans for boycotting the operation as well and would ultimately be decapitated because of these allegations. The mission failed without the expedition even reaching Maryab. Though captives taken by the Romans would have claimed that they were a mere two days' walk away. They also had a few encounters with local forces. These were described as inexperienced, unskilled and using mainly arrows, spears and especially double edged axes, and were most likely encounters with nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes akin to the Kindha or the ‘Amar, not to the settled armies of South Arabia. Strabo reports these events in great detail and claims that only two Romans had died in battle. Dio Cassius also gives a short report on this expedition, though less informed, but perhaps less coloured as well. The invasion was however never followed up by another and did not have many consequences. However the Romans' presence at the end stations of the incense routes would have a cultural and artistic impact. More important, however, was their increasing naval presence in the Red Sea and sea trade with India, which would put the already divided and hostile kingdoms under economic pressure.
The first victim was Qatabân, which was sandwiched geographically by the Sabaeans and the Himyarites. Soon the Sabaeans followed. The Himyar federation suffered from the same weakness as the ancient Sabaean federation and could not yet keep their conquered provinces for long. Around the start of the third century the Sabaeans rebelled to form the middle Sabaean ‘kingdom’. The Sabaean malik at this point however was no longer a member of the Sabaean shab, nor was the title simply inherited anymore. This new Sabaean federation was then even able to conquer the Hadramawt capital of Shabwa and to destroy its royal palace in 217 or 218 AD. These defeats were not enough to eliminate the Hadramawt, who had now founded their new capital of Shibam. This revival and initial success was short lived and soon the Sabaeans were to be reconquered by their Southern foes. The Himyar would ultimately conquer the whole of western south Arabia and hold it until the dawn of Islam.
Out of respect for the Sabaean legacy and because of the respect they wished to get, even these kings called themselves kings of Saba and did not lay a finger on ancient Maryab in the same way Babylon or Athens have often been spared during their histories.
The Saba can draw upon various troop types from line infantry to ranged troops to cavalry, although very few have heavy armor, which can be drawback against the northern empires, although the high morale and fighting prowess makes up for lack of armor.