Not far from the ancient Asian city of Marib in Yemen are the ruins of a once-grand dam. Scientists consider the Great Marib Dam to be one of the greatest engineering wonders of the ancient world.
This dam stretched nearly six hundred meters and was one of the largest dams of its era. This colossal structure turned the dead desert into a beautiful oasis. How the destruction of the dam caused the death of the majestic ancient empire and was reflected even in the Koran, further in the review.
An engineering miracle of the ancient world
The Great Dam made it possible to irrigate over one hundred square kilometres of sandy soil around Marib, which was the largest city in southern Arabia. It is also the oldest city in Yemen. It has the most tremendous archaeological significance in the entire Arabian region.
Marib was the capital of the great empire of antiquity – the Sabaean kingdom. Historians call it the “Cradle of Civilization.” Seven centuries before the birth of Christ, the construction of the famous Marib Dam began here. It has become a gigantic complex of gigantic hydraulic structures, consisting of ten-kilometre dams, several hundred locks, and numerous canals.
For a thousand years, this monumental structure has been one of the wonders of Arabia. No wonder, since the water in the desert is about prosperity. It has allowed the region to harvest rich crops, grow magnificent flowering gardens, and raise fish. Thanks to all this, the Sabaean kingdom was one of the richest and greatest trading empires of antiquity.
In the 6th century, the year of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, the dam collapsed. These killed the city and led to the death of a majestic ancient civilization. Some peoples migrated, others died out. The once-great kingdom was in the grip of the sands. It was such a grand event in the Islamic world that it was reflected even in the Quran.
The city of Marib was the capital of the kingdom of Saba (Sheba). The queen of this particular kingdom became a legend when she visited King Solomon in Jerusalem. The Bible describes the story of how she brought a whole caravan of valuable gifts for the glorified wisest ruler. There was a lot of gold, precious spices, and oils at that time.
The queen made riddles to Solomon to check whether it was confirmed that he was as wise as they say about him. The king solved them all. He helped the Queen of Sheba with advice and explained to her everything that worried her.
Unfortunately, apart from this text, there is no more historical evidence of the existence of the Queen of Sheba. She was mentioned later in Arabic texts as well as in Ethiopian legends. But such generous gifts were entirely consistent with the wealth of the Sabean empire.
The Sabaean kingdom became fabulously wealthy thanks to the trade along the Spice Route. This road ran between the south of Arabia and the port of Gaza. It was also known as the Path of Incense. Marib was one of the points where merchants stopped for rest and the exchange of goods.
Marib was a monopolist in the market for two of the rarest and most valuable antiquity products – the aromatic resins of incense and myrrh. They were obtained from the sap of trees that grew in this area. These substances were widely used in the ancient world for ritual and medical purposes.
The divine scent of incense and myrrh was used in royal courts around the world. These trees are extremely drought tolerant. However, these plants require meticulous maintenance. Together with the date palm, these crops formed the backbone of the economy of the Sabaean kingdom.
Developed agriculture in the desert? This was made possible thanks to the engineering genius of the Sabeans. They built an extensive irrigation network that includes an intricate system of wells and canals. At the centre of this system was the Marib Dam.
It was built from mortar and stone. The Great Dam cut across a large ravine in the hills of Balak Wadi Adhan. According to the surviving data, the dam’s height was one and a half dozen meters, and the length was almost a kilometre. Of course, when the dam was first built sometime between 1750 and 1700 BC, it was not massive and impressive. In the 7th century, it acquired all its colossal character. It had colossal stone and lime pillars connected by masonry around the perimeter. These supports have survived to this day.
Fall of the great empire
The Marib Dam has been maintained by generations of the Sabeans for centuries. Later, the rulers of the Himyarite kingdom were engaged in this. The Himyarites reconstructed the dam. They increased its height, built new sluices, spillways, a settling pond, and a kilometre-long canal with a distribution tank. A tremendous amount of work has been done.
Unfortunately, over time, the colossal structure began to collapse. All the engineering knowledge and complex hydraulic engineering methods, for which the Sabaean kingdom was so famous, began to be forgotten. Keeping the dam in proper condition became more and more difficult. Finally, the Marib Dam collapsed in 570.
Archivist still does not come to a consensus about the reasons for what happened. Someone thinks that heavy rains are to blame. Other scientists believe that the earthquake badly damaged the stonework. History has it that rats made the breach. The Qur’an states that in this way, God punished the Sabaeans for their ingratitude. The scriptures read: “Eat of the fruits of your Lord and be grateful to Him. Good land and a forgiving Lord. But they turned away, so we sent a flood of the dam on them; we replaced their blossoming gardens with gardens of bitter fruits.”
The irrigation system is out of order. By this time, Marib had lost his dominance in the myrrh and frankincense market. Gradually the city began to decline. The population migrated to other regions of Arabia.
Today, only a little wheat is grown in Marib, and during the rainy season, sorghum, sesame, and a variety of alfalfa are fed to animals. The old town is mostly in ruins. The modern city that has arisen nearby is only a shadow of its former self. It serves only as a quiet echo of the majestic glory and fabulous prosperity of the great empire of antiquity.