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Sunday September 15th 2019Tim Candler9

 

     The Romans called the southern part of the Arabian Peninsular, Arabia Felix. Felix here means something like happy and fertile, unlike Arabia Deserta which wasn't worth much, it was full of nomadic tribes eking a precarious living that required intense discipline to master, the sort of intense discipline that occasionally made them very challenging for the happy and more fertile lands that basically surrounded them. And for the Romans there was Arabia Petraea which was the Sinai, it was a Roman Frontier Province east of the very rich and very fertile lands of Egypt. If you ever go anywhere near modern day Arabia Felix you'd be forgiven for wondering where the Romans got the fertile idea from, back then however rainfall was more plentiful, the land was green and around 900 BC a number of dams had been built to mitigate the effects of seasonal flooding on crop lands. Nor did the Romans know much about Arabia Felix other than stories about the fabulously wealthy, possibly mythical, ancient Queen of Sheba, and too, Romans had a sneaky suspicion that the Arabian Peninsular was chock full of exotic treasures, a suspicion that was well founded because even in Roman times, there was an ancient trade between Arabia Felix, the Indian subcontinent and all the way down the eastern coast of Africa which in time included exporting really neat and unusual stuff to Romans. Sometimes, in this area of trade a person might begin to wonder whether our rather oddly named species, Homo Sapiens, should be renamed something like Homo Erectus Artifici. Artifici is a general Latin word for trade, method, trick, skill, talent and so on, that lends itself to the possibilities in the idea of neat stuff, art if you like, rather than the Latin word Commercium which translates more as the money grubbing wheeling and dealing side of barter and exchange. Not to get carried away, the English word trade comes from the Dutch, meaning path, track, course of action. Sailing ships for the Dutch traded their course. The word Trade merged with an old English word Tread, which was and is to step on, trample, traverse. The old  meaning in trade was more regular habit than it was barter or exchange. Trade Winds had nothing to do with commerce, rather Trade winds had regular and reliable habits. The modern use of the word Trade emerged in the 1800's. Trade War first appeared in the English language in the 1890's.

Past

     Then in 20 odd BC the Romans thought they'd send an exploratory army to take a jolly good look at Arabia Felix, check out the possibilities, smell the air, and of course develop relationships with the local inhabitants. To do this the Roman Prefect of Egypt at the request of his Emperor collected around 10,000 soldiers and off they all went, south down the western side of the Arabian Peninsular toward Arabia Felix. With the Roman army heading toward Arabia Felix there was a guide and adviser who was a native of Northern Arabia, he came from up there near Aqaba, which is the Port Town of Jordan. The western coastal area of Arabia, heading south before you get to Yemen, has been called the Hejaz for thousands of years. The word means 'The Barrier', to the East of which is the Red Sea and Africa, to the west is Arabia. The Hejaz includes Mecca, Jeddah and Medina, it was the prize of the Ottoman Empire. During the First World War the Hejaz declared itself independent of the Ottoman Empire, the British happily joined in, and soon after the end of the First World War with the help of the British the Hejaz lost its independence and became part of the Saud family Royal territory of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile the Roman army had been six months attempting to reach Arabia Felix, they'd had a few successes, they'd lingered there, they'd lingered here, but the sun was cruel, the water appalling, food very inadequate, diseases and sicknesses Romans had never seen before and had few remedies to combat took a toll, and there was some doubt as to the motives of their guide, a slight suspicion that he either didn't know as much as he claimed to know, or he wasn't whole hearted in his desire to see Arabia Felix become a part of the Roman Empire. The other thing about Arabia Felix, in 20 odd BC it had managed to survive considerable local unrest, and a clan called the Sabaeans, of Queen of Sheba fame had control of the ancient capital area of Yemen where the Queen of Sheba might once have resided. A place that today is still called Marib. It was at Marib that the Roman army suffered a major defeat, they had to retreat. The survivors took two months to get themselves back to Egypt, and when they were safely home they executed their guide. The more reasonable Geopolitical importance to trade of who runs Yemen today has to do with access to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal. The very treacherous, wreck strewn, Strait of Aden between Yemen and Africa, or Bab-el-Mandeb, a name that reflects the legend of an earthquake that was supposed to have separated the Horn of Africa from Arabia, is 16 miles wide. 9% of international trade passes through the Suez Canal, 21,000 ships a year, and pretty much all these ships pass through the Strait of Aden. Most modern oil tankers are too big to fit through the Suez Canal.

 

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