THE GULF IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
Archaeological evidence suggests that Dilmun returned to prosperity
after the Assyrian Empire stabilized the TigrisEuphrates area
at the end of the second millennium B.C. A powerful ruler in Mesopotamia
meant a prosperous gulf, and Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian king who
ruled in the seventh century B.C., was particularly strong. He
extended Assyrian influence as far as Egypt and controlled an
empire that stretched from North Africa to the Persian Gulf. The
Egyptians, however, regained control of their country about a
half-century after they lost it.
A series of other conquests of varying lengths followed. In 325
B.C., Alexander the Great sent a fleet from India to follow the
eastern, or Persian, coast of the gulf up to the mouth of the
Tigris and Euphrates rivers and sent other ships to explore the
Arab side of the waterway. The temporary Greek presence in the
area increased Western interest in the gulf during the next two
centuries. Alexander's successors, however, did not control the
area long enough to make the gulf a part of the Greek world. By
about 250 B.C., the Greeks lost all territory east of Syria to
the Parthians, a Persian dynasty in the East. The Parthians brought
the gulf under Persian control and extended their influence as
far as Oman.
The Parthian conquests demarcated the distinction between the
Greek world of the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Empire in
the East. The Greeks, and the Romans after them, depended on the
Red Sea route, whereas the Parthians depended on the Persian Gulf
route. Because they needed to keep the merchants who plied those
routes under their control, the Parthians established garrisons
as far south as Oman.
In the third century A.D., the Sassanians, another Persian dynasty,
succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam
four centuries later. Under Sassanian rule, Persian control over
the gulf reached its height. Oman was no longer a threat, and
the Sassanians were strong enough to establish agricultural colonies
and to engage some of the nomadic tribes in the interior as a
border guard to protect their western flank from the Romans.
This agricultural and military contact gave people in the gulf
greater exposure to Persian culture, as reflected in certain irrigation
techniques still used in Oman. The gulf continued to be a crossroads,
however, and its people learned about Persian beliefs, such as
Zoroastrianism, as well as about Semitic and Mediterranean ideas.
Judaism and Christianity arrived in the gulf from a number of
directions: from Jewish and Christian tribes in the Arabian desert;
from Ethiopian Christians to the south; and from Mesopotamia,
where Jewish and Christian communities flourished under Sassanian
rule. Whereas Zoroastrianism seems to have been confined to Persian
colonists, Christianity and Judaism were adopted by some Arabs.
The popularity of these religions paled, however, when compared
with the enthusiasm with which the Arabs greeted Islam.
Data as of January 1993