America’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – Wendell Phillips


Ruins of Ancient Ma’rib, Yemen

From History Today by Sarah Rijziger:

Arabia Felix, or ‘Happy Arabia’, as the Romans called what is now Yemen, has always attracted explorers, despite being – or perhaps because it was – one of the most inaccessible places in the Near East. The last explorer to enter Yemen did so 65 years ago and, following that experience, it has, for the large part, remained inaccessible ever since.

As early as the 1760s, a Danish expedition crossed the country – Carsten Niebuhr was its only survivor, all the others falling prey to malaria. But it was only after the Austrian Ulrich Seetzen copied the first ancient South Arabian inscriptions at Dhafar in 1810 that western explorers really became fascinated by the region’s history. In the course of the 19th century, the Britons Charles Cruttenden and J.R. Wellsted, both officers of the East India Company, the Frenchmen Thomas Arnaud and Joseph Halévy and the Austrian Eduard Glaser all journeyed to Yemen in search of ancient ruins and inscriptions. Getting into and travelling around the country was no easy task and many a time they had to travel in disguise or fear for their lives among the suspicious tribes. Although they all made greater or smaller discoveries, thorough studies were always unattainable.

In 1927, two Germans were invited by the ruling Imam to excavate the remains of a Sabaean temple in Huqqa, near Sana’a. This was the first excavation ever carried out in Yemen. For Wendell Phillips, a young American who can be considered the last of the great explorers, the ultimate goal was Marib, the city of the legendary Queen of Sheba. ‘The land looked forbidding’, he would later write in his book Qataban and Sheba (1955), ‘but it was rich with the spoils of time, and I wanted to unearth some of those riches, digging down through sand and centuries to a glorious past.’

Read the rest of the article at History Today

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