Marib Dam: An Engineering Wonder of the Ancient World

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SANAA, Dec. 18 (Saba) – Marib is the capital city of the Marib Governorate, Yemen and was the capital of the Sabaean kingdom, which some scholars believe to be the ancient Sheba of biblical fame.
The Marib Dam is an engineering marvel of the ancient world that is located in central Yemen, this dam is easily one of the finest examples of masonry architecture in the Arabian Peninsula, local stories say the dam was in use for centuries, however, the great dam apparently stopped serving as a barrier when it was breached by rats.
As the Sabaean kingdom developed, they built a huge earth filled dam in the second half of the 6th century BC to hold back some of the water that came down the wadi, from the lake that developed behind the dam, they developed a splendid irrigation system that watered about 25, 0000 acres. However, the dam collapsed, though the walls of its sluices are still standing today, a new dam, close to the location of the ancient one, was built during the 20th century.
The Marib dam consisted of a foundation of huge stones and an earthen wall plastered with stone and gravel on both sides on top of it, these walls reached a height of about 15 meters (49.21 ft.), and the thickness at its base was 60 meters (196.85 ft.) The dam ran 720 meters (2362.2 ft.) across the Dhana valley, from the northern mount of Balaq to the southern one, during two seasons between April and August, runoffs in the heights to the east would flow into the valley.
Over the centuries, the Marib Dam was repaired and renovated, the dam was so important to the people who lived in the area that its maintenance continued even after the fall of the Sabaean Kingdom to the Himyarites.
The cause of the collapse is a matter of debate amongst scholars, some argue that it was an earthquake that destroyed the dam, whilst others blame it on exceptional rains, yet local legends claim it was large rats that caused the breach by biting and scratching at the dam’s base.
All that remains of the Marib Dam today are its sluice gates, which stand as a testament to the engineering capabilities of the ancient Sabaeans. In 2015, these ruins were damaged by airstrikes during the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
During the 1st millennium BC, Marib served as the capital of the Sabaean Kingdom (better known in the West as Sheba), a pre-Islamic kingdom located in the south-western part of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sabaeans were a Semitic people who settled in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula after migrating from the north at an unknown date, this kingdom flourished due to its position on the spice route that brought exotic goods from the East to the West.
The kingdom was so dependent on this route that when the caravans stopped arriving during the 6th century BC, as a result of new trails, the Sabaean economy collapsed. Nevertheless, the kingdom continued to exist until the 3rd century AD, when it was conquered by the Himyarites. Traditionally, the Ma’rib Dam is said to have been constructed during the 8th / 7th century BC. According to inscriptions, the dam was built by a ruler named Sumhu’ Alay Yanuf and his son Yatha’-Amar Bayyin.
However, a German archaeological expedition excavating one of the areas below the dam has revealed that this monument went through several phases between the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC and the 1st millennium BC. In any case, the Marib dam was essential for the survival of the Sabaean Kingdom, as it provided water for its people.
They also built castles and temples in the area, Saba was known for dealing in the lucrative frankincense and myrrh trade, they were a seafaring people and were known to have influence and a population in the Northeast African kingdom of Dʿmt, across the Red Sea in Eritrea and Abyssinia, the only other source of both frankincense and myrrh.
The site of ancient Marib was largely abandoned during the 20th century, although a small village remains, the multi-story mud-brick buildings of the historic city are largely in ruins, the modern city of Marib is located about 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) north of the center of the ancient city.
The Yemen Oil Refining Company opened a refinery in Marib in 1986.
Marib is the start of the Marib-Ra’s Isa oil pipeline (438 km (272 mi)), with a capacity of 200,000 barrels.
Written by Mona Zaid
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