Ḥimyar is the name of a geographical area in southwest Arabia as well as that of a tribal confederation in power from the 1st cent. BC to ca. AD 525. At times the Ḥimyarites ruled over large parts of S. Arabia, well into the Arabian desert. Their capital was Ẓafār, near present-day Yarīm (in Yemen). Inscriptions in Sabaic, an Old South Arabian language, were produced until the 6th cent. AD. Living from trade, the Ḥimyarites had to assert their power vis-à-vis the Ethiopians in the Horn of Africa, and vis-à-vis the Romans in the north. In the 4th cent. they came into contact with both Christianity and Judaism.

The Ḥimyarites are occasionally mentioned in Syriac literature. In the Life of Bishop Paul of Qentos and Priest John of Edessa (which details events from the first half of the 5th cent.) it is reported that Paul and John, on their way from Edessa to Mount Sinai, are captured by pagan, tree-worshipping Arabs and brought to a place named ‘of the Ḥimyarites’. The Ḥimyarites occupy a more prominent place in the literature concerning the war that broke out in the 2nd decade of the 6th cent. and culminated in the persecution and killing of Christians by the king of the Ḥimyarites in the city of Nagran. The date of the persecution is debated, either 518 or 523. The existence of a letter written by Yaʿqub of Serugh to the persecuted Nagranites would point to the former date, while the majority of the other sources explicitly refer to the latter. The sources present the king of Ḥimyar, variously known as Yūsuf, Masrūq, or Dhū-Nuwās, as being Jewish, which adds to the dramatic power of the narratives. The persecution in Nagran was the prelude to a major intervention by the joint forces of the Roman emperor Justin I and the Ethiopian negus, which ended Ḥimyarite supremacy on the Arabian Peninsula and established an Ethiopian protectorate, which also had close contacts with the Byzantine Empire. The Persians conquered S. Arabia in 572, and this region came under Muslim rule in 628.

One of the main sources providing information on the persecution and the martyrdom of Christians in Nagran is the Syriac ‘Book of the Ḥimyarites’ (Ktābā da-ḥmirāye), which is only fragmentarily known in a 10th-cent. ms. (ed. A. Moberg). The Book is anonymous, but I. Shahîd argued that its author was Shemʿun of Beth Arsham, a well-known anti-Chalcedonian leader, who authored one and possibly two Syriac letters concerning the persecution. Not only the Book’s authorship, but also its relationship to the other sources is debated. The persecuted Christians of Nagran are portrayed in the Syriac sources as being of non-Chalcedonian allegiance. The Greek version of the ‘Martyrdom of Arethas’ (Ḥārith), however, a text that does not exist in Syriac, is written from a Chalcedonian viewpoint. The Greek texts concerning Gregentius bp. of Ẓafār, who lived in the 6th cent., reflect a Chalcedonian milieu as well.


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  • I.  Shahîd, The martyrs of Najrân. New documents (Subsidia Hagiographica 49; 1971).
  • J. Tubach, ‘Die Anfänge des Christentums in Südarabien. Eine christliche Legende syrischer Herkunft in Ibn Hišām’, ParOr 18 (1993), 101–11.

| Ḥimyar |


Front Matter A (73) B (53) C (26) D (36) E (27) F (5) G (30) H (22) I (31) J (15) K (11) L (12) M (56) N (19) O (3) P (28) Q (11) R (8) S (71) T (39) U (1) V (5) W (3) X (1) Y (41) Z (4) Back Matter
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