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Description of Arabia.
Description of Arabia and its inhabitants.-Birth, character, and doctrine of Mahomet.—He preaches at Mecca.-Flies to Medina.-Propagates his religion by the sword—P'oluntary or reluctant submission of the Arabs.-His death and successors. —The claims and fortunes of Ali and his descendants.
AFTER pursuing above six hundred years the fleeting Caesars of Constantinople and Germany, I now descend, in the reign of Heraclius, on the eastern borders of the Greek monarchy. While the state was exhausted by the Persian war, and the church was distracted by the Nestorian and Monophysite sects, Mahomet, with the sword in one hand, and the koran in the other, erected his throne on the ruins of Christianity and of Rome. The genius of the Arabian prophet, the manners of his nation, and the spirit of his religion, involve the causes of the decline and fall of the eastern empire; and our eyes are curiously intent on one of the most memorable revolutions, which have impressed a new and lasting character on the nations of the globe.”
In the vacant space between Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Æthiopia, the Arabian peninsula" may be con- CHAP. ceived as a triangle of spacious but irregular dimen
* As in this and the following chapter I shall display much Arabic learning, I must profess my total ignorance of the oriental tongues, and my gratitude to the learned interpreters, who have transfused their science into the Latin, French, and English languages. Their collections, versions, and histories, I shall occasionally notice.
sions. From the northern point of Beles on the oil.” of Arabia.
Euphrates, a line of fifteen hundred miles is terminated by the straits of Babelmandel and the land of frankincense. About half this length may be allowed for the middle breadth, from east to west, from Bassora to Suez, from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea." The sides of the triangle are gradually enlarged, and the southern basis presents a front of a thousand miles to the Indian ocean. The entire surface of the peninsula exceeds in a fourfold proportion that of Germany or France; but the far greater part has been justly stigmatised with the epithets of the stony and the sandy. Even the wilds of Tartary are decked, The soil by the hand of nature, with lofty trees and luxuriant * CHAP. herbage; and the lonesome traveller derives a sort of * comfort and society from the presence of vegetable life. But in the dreary waste of Arabia, a boundless level of sand is intersected by sharp and naked mountains; and the face of the desert, without shade or shelter, is scorched by the direct and intense rays of a tropical sun. Instead of refreshing breezes, the winds, particularly from the south-west, diffuse a noxious and even deadly vapour; the hillocks of sand which they alternately raise and scatter are compared to the billows of the ocean, and whole caravans, whole armies, have been lost and buried in the whirlwind. The common benefits of water are an object of desire and contest; and such is the scarcity of wood, that some art is requisite to preserve and propagate the element of fire. Arabia is destitute of navigable rivers, which fertilize the soil, and convey its produce to the adjacent regions: the torrents that fall from the hills are imbibed by the thirsty earth: the rare and hardy plants, the tamarind or the acacia, that strike their roots into the clefts of the rocks, are nourished by the dews of the night: a scanty supply of rain is collected in cisterns and aqueducts: the wells and springs are the secret treasure of the desert; and the pilgrim of Mecca," after many a dry and sultry march, is disgusted by the taste of the waters, which have rolled over a bed of sulphur or salt. Such is the general and genuine picture of the climate of Arabia. The experience of evil enhances the value of any local or partial enjoyments. A shady grove, a green pasture, a stream of fresh water, are sufficient to attract a colony of sedentary Arabs to the fortunate spots which can afford food and refreshment to themselves and their cattle, and which encourage their industry in the cultivation of the palmtree and the vine. The high lands that border on CHAP.
* The geographers of Arabia may be divided into three classes: 1. The Greeks and Latins, whose progressive knowledge may be traced in Agatharcides (de Mari Rubro, in Hudson, Geograph. Minor. tom. i), Diodorus Siculus (tom. i. l. ii. p. 159–167. l. iii. p. 211—216. edit. Wesseling), Strabo (l. xvi. p. 1112 —1114. from Eratosthenes, p. 1122–1132. from Artemidorus), Dionysius (Periegesis, 927–969), Pliny (Hist. Natur. v. 12. vi. 32), and Ptolemy (Descript. et Tabulae Urbium, in Hudson, tom. iii). 2. The Arabic writers, who have treated the subject with the zeal of patriotism or devotion: the extracts of Pocock (Specimen Hist. Arabum, p. 125–128) from the Geography of the Sherif al Edrissi, render us still more dissatisfied with the version or abridgment (p. 24– 27.44–56. 108, &c. 119, &c.) which the Maronites have published under the absurd title of Geographia Nubiensis (Paris, 1619); but the Latin and French translators, Greaves (in Hudson, tom. iii) and Galland (Voyage de la Palestine par La Roque, p. 265–346), have opened to us the Arabia of Abulfeda, the most copious and correct account of the peninsula, which may be enriched, however, from the Bibliotheque Orientale of D'Herbelot, p. 120. et alibi passim. 3. The European travellers; among whom Shaw (p. 438–455) and Niebuhr (Description, 1773. Voyages, tom. i. 1776) deserve an honourable distinction: Busching (Geographie par Berenger, tom. viii. p. 416—510) has compiled with judgment; and D'Anville's Maps (Orbis Veteribus Notus, and I* Partie de l'Asie) should lie before the reader, with his Geographie Ancienne, tom. ii. p. 208—231.
e Abulfed. Descript. Arabia, p. 1. D'Anville, l'Euphrate et le Tigre, p. 19, 20. It was in this place, the paradise or garden of a satrap, that Xenophon and the Greeks first passed the Euphrates (Anabasis, l. i. c. 10. p. 29. edit. Wells).
d Reland has proved, with much superfluous learning, 1. That our Red Sea (the Arabian Gulf) is no more than a part of the Mare Rubrum, the Eeveez Szxzzan of the ancients, which was extended to the indefinite space of the Indian ocean. 2. That the synonymous words sevégos, alélovs, allude to the colour of the blacks or negroes (Dissert. Miscell. tom. i. p. 59–117).
VOL. VI. T
* In the thirty days, or stations, between Cairo and Mecca, there are fifteen destitute of good water. See the route of the Hadjees, in Shaw's Travels, p.477.
the Indian ocean are distinguished by their superior plenty of wood and water: the air is more temperate, the fruits are more delicious, the animals and the human race more numerous: the fertility of the soil invites and rewards the toil of the husbandman; and the peculiar gifts of frankincense" and coffee have attracted in different ages the merchants of the world. If it be compared with the rest of the peninsula, this sequestered region may truly deserve the appellation of the happy; and the splendid colouring of fancy and fiction has been suggested by contrast, and countenanced by distance. It was for this earthly paradise that nature had reserved her choicest favours and her most curious workmanship: the incompatible blessings of luxury and innocence were ascribed to the natives: the soil was impregnated with gold" and gems, and both the land and sea were taught to ex
hale the odours of aromatic sweets. This division of o of
the sandy, the stony, and the happy, so familiar to the Greeks and Latins, is unknown to the Arabians themselves: and it is singular enough, that a country, whose language and inhabitants have ever been the same, should scarcely retain a vestige of its ancient geography. The maritime districts of Bahrein and Oman are opposite to the realm of Persia. The kingdom of Yemen displays the limits, or at least the situation, of Arabia Foelix: the name of Neged
the sandy, the stony, and the
f The aromatics, especially the thus or frankincense, of Arabia, occupy the xiith book of Pliny. Our great poet (Paradise Lost, l. iv) introduces, in a simile, the spicy odours that are blown by the north-east wind from the Sabaean coast :
Many a league, Pleased with the grateful scent, old Ocean smiles. (Plin. Hist. Natur. xii. 42). & Agatharcides affirms, that lumps of pure gold were found, from the size of an olive to that of a nut; that iron was twice, and silver ten times, the value of gold (de Mari Rubro, p. 60). These real or imaginary treasures are vanished; and no gold mines are at present known in Arabia (Niebuhr, Description,
is extended over the inland space; and the birth of Mahomet has illustrated the province of Hejaz along the coast of the Red Sea." The measure of population is regulated by the means of subsistence; and the inhabitants of this vast peninsula might be out-numbered by the subjects of a fertile and industrious province. Along the shores of the Persian Gulf, of the ocean, and even of the Red Sea, the Icthyophagi,' or fish-eaters, continued to wander in quest of their precarious food. In this primitive and abject state, which ill deserves the name of society, the human brute, without arts or laws, almost without sense or language, is poorly distinguished from the rest of the animal creation. Generations and ages might roll away in silent oblivion, and the helpless savage was restrained from multiplying his race, by the wants and pursuits which confined his existence to the narrow margin of the sea-coast. But in an early period of antiquity the great body of the Arabs had emerged from this scene of misery; and as the naked wilderness could not maintain a people of hunters, they rose at once to the more secure and plentiful condition of the pastoral life. The same life is uniformly pursued by the roving tribes of the desert; and in the portrait of the modern Bedoweens, we may trace the features of their ancestors,' who, in the age of Moses or Ma
h Consult, peruse, and study, the Specimen Historiae Arabum of Pocock : (Oxon. 1650, in 4to.) The thirty pages of text and version are extracted from the Dynasties of Gregory Abulpharagius, which Pocock afterwards translated (Oxon. 1663, in 4to.): the three hundred and fifty-eight notes form a classic and original work on the Arabian antiquities.
* Arrian remarks the Icthyophagi of the coast of Hejaz (Periplus Maris Erythraei, p. 12) and beyond Aden (p. 15). It seems probable that the shores of the Red Sea (in the largest sense) were occupied by these savages in the time, perhaps, of Cyrus; but I can hardly believe that any cannibals were left among the savages in the reign of Justinian (Procop. de Bell. Persic. l. i. c. 19).
J See the Specimen Historia Arabum of Pocock, p. 2. 5.86, &c. The journey of M. d’Arvieux, in 1664, to the camp of the emir of Mount Carmel (Voyage de la Palestine, Amsterdam, 1718), exhibits a pleasing and original picture of the life of the Bedoweens, which may be illustrated from Niebuhr