The Arabian Horizon – Lost Lands: Havilah


The Gradualist Skool of Historians occasionally shoves a place [or two] down the back of the sofa so that they can publicly search for a less embarrassing alternative.

For example:

Gradualist Historians have problems finding acceptable locations for the Biblical Havilah and Ophir which are [both] associated with gold and King Solomon.

Havilah is mentioned in Genesis 2:10-11

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.

The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

Ophir is a port or region mentioned in the Bible, famous for its wealth.

King Solomon received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearls, ivory, apes, and peacocks from Ophir every three years.

In 1946 an inscribed pottery shard was found at Tell Qasile (in modern-day Tel Aviv) dating to the eighth century BC.

It bears, in Paleo-Hebrew script the text “gold of Ophir to/for Beth-Horon […] 30 shekels”

The find confirms that Ophir was a place where gold was imported from, although its location remains unknown.

Having lost Havilah the Gradualist Historians are content to find this elusive country in the Hijaz mountains of Saudi Arabia because these mountains [like many other locations] “appear to satisfactorily meet the description” of a place with a gold mine and a river.

Possible location
The region in Genesis is usually associated with either the Arabian Peninsula or north-west Yemen, but in the work associated with the Garden of Eden by Juris Zarins, the Hijaz mountains appear to satisfactorily meet the description.

The Hejaz includes both the Cradle of Gold at Mahd adh Dhahab and a possible source of the Pishon River – a biblical name that has been speculated to refer to a now dried-out river formerly flowing 600 miles (970 km) northeast to the Persian Gulf via the Wadi Al-Batin system.

The Hijaz Mountains, or Hejaz Range, is a mountain range located in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia.
The range runs north-south along the eastern coast of the Red Sea.


The Mahd adh Dhahab, also known as the Cradle of Gold, is the leading gold mining area in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is located in the Al Madina province of the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia.

Gold was first mined in Arabia c. 3,000 BC.

The Gradualist Historians have a far bigger problem with Ophir because a cargo of gold “from Ophir every three years” implies Ophir is associated with an extended Indian Ocean trading route.

In spite of the fact that incense does not appear amongst the commodities entering into trade with Ophir [probably Somaliland], it is reasonable to assume that Solomon’s ships called at ports on both the African and the Arabian sides of the the Red Sea.

There can be no doubt that Arab and Indian traders knew and made use of the annual alternation of the southwest and northwest monsoons long before it was discovered for the west by Hippalus in the first century A. D., and that they guarded this secret carefully for centuries from the Greek and Roman merchant marine.

Frankincense and Myrrh in Ancient South Arabia – Gus W van Beek
Journal of the American Oriental Society – Vol. 78, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1958)


The spice trade refers to the trade between historical civilizations in Asia, Northeast Africa and Europe… spices found their way into the Middle East before the beginning of the Christian era, where the true sources of these spices were withheld by the traders and associated with fantastic tales.

A specific possibility is Southern India or Northern Sri Lanka, where the Dravidians were well known for their gold and precious stones, ivory and peacocks. Sandalwood came almost exclusively from South India in ancient times.

A dictionary of the Bible by Sir William Smith published in 1863, notes the Hebrew word for peacock Thukki, derived from the Classical Tamil for peacock Thogkai and Cingalese “tokei”, joins other Classical Tamil words for ivory, cotton-cloth and apes preserved in the Hebrew Bible.

Earlier in the 19th century Max Müller and other scholars identified Ophir with Abhira, near the Indus River in modern-day state of Gujarat, India.

In a book found in Spain entitled Colección General de Documentos Relativos a las Islas Filipinas (General Collection of Philippine Islands related Documents), the author has described how to locate Ophir.

According to the section “Document No. 98”, dated 1519-1522, Ophir can be found by travelling from the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, to India, to Burma, to Sumatra, to Moluccas, to Borneo, to Sulu, to China, then finally Ophir.

Spanish records also mention the presence of Lequios (big, bearded white men, probably descendants of the Phoenicians, whose ships were always laden with gold and silver) in the Islands to gather gold and silver.

The discovery of the lost city Ubar in the southern Arabian peninsula is another possibility.

The Israeli settlement created in the 1970s at Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai was called Ofira, Hebrew for “Towards Ophir” – since its location on the Red Sea was on the route supposedly traversed by King Solomon’s ships en route to Ophir.

The theologian Benito Arias Montano (1571) proposed finding Ophir in the name of Peru, reasoning that the native Peruvians were thus descendants of Ophir and Shem.

Other assumptions vary as widely as the theorized locations of Atlantis.

The Bavarian antiquarian Aventinus (c. 1530) implied it to be Epirus, on the Balkan Adriatic coast.

In 1568 Alvaro Mendaña discovered the Solomon Islands, and named them as such because he believed them to be Ophir.

Author on topics in alternative history David Hatcher Childress goes so far as to suggest that Ophir was located in Australia; proposing that the cargoes of gold, silver and precious stones were obtained from mines in the continent’s north-west, and that ivory, sandalwood and peacocks were obtained in South Asia on the voyage back to Canaan.

However, the least appreciated suggestion is that Havilah and Ophir are both associated with the Great Zimbabwe.

Augustus Henry Keane believed that the land of Havilah was centered on Great Zimbabwe and was roughly contemporaneous with what was then Southern Rhodesia.


Vasco da Gama’s companion Tomé Lopes reasoned that Ophir would have been the ancient name for Great Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, the main center of sub-African trade in gold in the Renaissance period – though the ruins at Great Zimbabwe are now dated to the medieval era, long after Solomon is said to have lived.

The identification of Ophir with Sofala in Mozambique was mentioned by Milton in Paradise Lost (11:399-401), among many other works of literature and science.

The Gradualist Historians also don’t appreciate having their carefully crafted narrative contradicted by a Roman coin found 25 metres down in a gold mine in Umtali.


Recent research finds direct evidence for recovery of gold in the archaeology of Nyanga district, Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.

In particular, laboratory tests and structural analysis counter archaeologists’ conjecture that hundreds of stone-lined ‘pit-structures’ housed dwarf-sized cattle to provide manure for enriching poor soils on steep scarps for terrace farming.

Laboratory Analysis Reveals Direct Evidence of Precolonial Gold Recovery in the Archaeology of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands – Ann Kritzinger
Proceedings of 9th International Mining History Congress, Johannesburg – April 2012



Mutare (known as Umtali until 1983) is the fourth largest city in Zimbabwe, with an urban population of approximately 188,243 and rural population of approximately 260,567.

Although the city was founded in the late nineteenth century, the region has a long history of trading caravans passing through on the way to the Indian Ocean, from ports such as Sofala, to inland settlements, such as Great Zimbabwe.

Mining includes gold at Redwing Mine, Penhalonga and some smaller mines, diamonds in Marange and gravel quarries around the city.

They also don’t appreciate being outwitted by a 130 year work of fiction.

King Solomon’s Mines (1885) is a popular novel by the Victorian adventure writer and fabulist Sir H. Rider Haggard.

Haggard knew Africa well, having travelled deep within the continent as a 19-year-old during the Anglo-Zulu War and the First Boer War, where he had been impressed by South Africa’s vast mineral wealth and by the ruins of ancient lost cities being uncovered, such as Great Zimbabwe.’s_Mines

“‘Ay,’ said Evans, ‘but I will spin you a queerer yarn than that’; and he went on to tell me how he had found in the far interior a ruined city, which he believed to be the Ophir of the Bible, and, by the way, other more learned men have said the same long since poor Evans’s time.

King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard – 1885


And they particularly dislike Augustus Henry Keane for discovering that Havilah and Ophir had simply been shoved down the back of the sofa.


A few words seem called for to explain how I came to risk my reputation for sanity by plunging into this ‘Ophir Question’ so often authoritatively declared to be insoluble.

When such pronouncements were made it was insoluble, because some of the essential factors of the problem were missing.

Such is no longer the case, and during the last three decades, that is, since the re-discovery of the Zimbabye monuments in the present Rhodesia, materials have been accumulated from various quarters, which justify the re-opening of the subject, and have seemed to me amply sufficient for its final settlement.

These fresh materials fall under several heads, the most important of which may here be specified.

First and foremost come the extensive though still far from exhausted explorations and careful studies of the Rhodesian remains, together with general surveys of the whole ground, by thoroughly competent observers – trained archaeologists such as the late Theodore Bent and Mr. Robert Swan ; practical miners, engineers, and men of high scientific knowledge, such as Dr. Henry Schlichter, Dr. Carl Mauch, Mr. Thomas Baines, Mr. E. A. Maund and Mr. Franklin White; lastly experienced local explorers, such as Messrs. Hall and Neal with their worthy associate, Mr. Johnson, who have spent years of intelligent labour investigating the whole of this wonderful auriferous region, mapping its hundreds of ancient gold workings and classifying the associated ‘Zimbabyes’ into periods and types.

Thus was given the indispensable clue to the time sequences, and to the architectural prototypes if any could elsewhere be found, for all these observers have from the first been of accord that none of the early and more finished structures, those especially of the first and second periods, could be ascribed to the present Bantu populations of Rhodesia. And such an attribution is now altogether excluded, since I have been able to show that these Negroid Bantu peoples were preceded by a still lower race – the Bushman-Hottentots – who occupied the land at the very time the monuments were raised, and indeed supplied the forced labour necessary for their profitable erection.

While these operations were in progress, or even prior to them, others, notably Joseph Halevy, Lieutenant J. R. Wellsted, Eduard Glaser, Julius Euting, Thomas Arnaud, Siegfried Lander, and the pioneer. Christian Seetzen, mostly eminent orientalists and accomplished archaeologists, were at work amid the ruins and inscribed rocks thickly strewn over Southern Arabia.

Nearly two thousand inscriptions in two forms of the ancient Himyaritic language – Minaean and Sabaean – were recovered and partly deciphered, while numerous groups of crumbling monuments were surveyed and described.

These descriptions arrested immediate attention, and by the comparative method of study the monuments themselves were soon brought into line with those beyond the Zambesi.

Further research multiplied the points of contact both in the forms and material of the
structures, and in the objects brought to light from their debris. The parallelisms ceased to be coincidences and became identities ; the elliptical temples at the ancient Sabaean capital, Maraiaba, at Nakb el-Hajar and elsewhere, presented the most striking resemblance to several of the Zimbabyes ; the symbols figured on a Phoenician coin of Byblos looked like miniature plans of certain South African groups ; an ingot of tin found in Falmouth Harbour might have been cast from a soapstone mould of curious form brought from Great Zimbabye ; the very date of this structure (1100 B.C.) has been astronomically determined by a zodiacal chart which was found in the neighbourhood and proved to be the work of northern star-gazers dating from a time when Sol entered Taurus at the vernal equinox.

All this cumulative evidence left no doubt that the foreign prototypes of the Rhodesian monuments had been found in the Himyaritic lands of Southern Arabia, seat, as some now think, of the oldest civilisation in the world.

Else we are entitled to ask, If the South African buildings, all intimately connected with gold-winning, were not raised by the Himyarites and their Phoenician kinsmen, by whom were they raised ? Did they drop from the clouds? And even so, how came they to simulate the architectural style of their Yemenite counterparts? Miracle upon miracle has to be suggested by the sceptics, if any remain, to avoid a very obvious and inevitable inference.

And again, why simulate on the stones and earthenware of Zimbabye the very script recurring on the rock inscriptions of Arabia Felix ?


The texts of these graven stones enter as a third factor of vital importance in the problem.

They reveal long lists of Sabaean kings dating at least from the time of Solomon and Hiram, and other very much older lists of Minaean kings – thirty-three have so far been recovered – going back to a dim past coeval with the early Egyptian and Babylonian epochs.

They further show that the art of navigation was already well developed in those remote times, that the Babylonians probably acquired the art from the Himyarites already dominant in the Indian Ocean ; and that there were Minaean potentates who offered their supplications to the land gods and the sea gods of all the regions with which they had established intercourse.

A fourth factor was yielded unexpectedly, and indeed unwittingly, by Bent’s explorations in the South Arabian frankincense land, Dhofar.

Here are concentrated in strange profusion all the elements needed to establish the identity of Moscha – Arrian’s Portus Nobilis – and the ruins grouped round the adjacent inlet, with the Biblical Ophir, Ptolemy’s Sapphar Metropolis under the very shadow of the Mount Sephar of Genesis x.

The survey of the district showed that the famous harbour, running nearly two miles inland, has long been silted up at its mouth, thus explaining how it came to be forgotten throughout mediaeval times till now again recovered by modern enterprise.

With its recovery Ophir is also recovered, and is found to be not a gold-yielding land, but a gold mart, a gold importer and distributor throughout the ancient world, as might indeed have been anticipated by a more careful study of the Biblical texts.


But as long as the idea persisted that Ophir was itself an auriferous land it would never have been discovered, as I trust has now been made clear. It is here also made clear that the Biblical Tharshish, the Tharshish of Solomon and Hiram, is to be sought in the Indian Ocean, and not at the other end of the Mediterranean, as might be inferred from the vagaries of the Septuagint and Vulgate (Greek and Latin) translations of certain passages in Kings and Chronicles.

How any intelligent commentator could ever have supposed that Solomon’s Tharshish was the Tartessus at the mouth of the Guadalquivir on the Atlantic seaboard, passes comprehension.

Why should the Israelitish and Phoenician navies, built at Solomon’s naval station of Ezion-geber on the Red Sea, try to get through the Isthmus of Suez to sail down the whole length of the Mediterranean in quest of the ivory and peacocks which they never could find in Spain but could easily ship at various ports of the Indian Ocean ?

If Tartessus was their objective, they could have sailed straight from Tyre, and Solomon need not have troubled about Ezion-geber, which nevertheless plays such a conspicuous part in the naval. records of his reign.

A fifth factor of great interest and novelty is introduced for the first time into the question in Chapters XII and XIII where long-standing social and religious intercourse is established between the Malagasy inhabitants of Madagascar and their Himyaritic, Phoenician, and Jewish visitors from the northern hemisphere.

To reach these southern latitudes, almost within sight of Rhodesia, the Himyarites had only to start from their port of Ophir, whence they were already accustomed to send expeditions to all parts of the Indian Ocean.

But their Phoenician and Israelitish associates had to sail down the whole length of the Red Sea, and then round by the south coast of Arabia to Ophir, which lay about midway between Ezion-geber and the Mozambique Channel.


It may be gathered from the Biblical texts that many of the expeditions stopped here, while others, especially those equipped by Solomon and Hiram jointly, passed on to Tharshish, port of the auriferous Havilah (Rhodesia).

In this way all these Semitic peoples – Himyarites, Jews, and Phoenicians – may well have found their way to the great island, where their long sojourn is still attested by the numerous Himyaritic elements in the Malayo-Polynesian Malagasy language, especially terms connected with the Sabaeo-Babylonian astrology, and divination, as well as by the survival of many Canaanitish religious observances and Levitical rites prevalent in Phoenicia and Israel in Solomonic times.


It will come as a surprise to many of my readers to learn that the Malagasy people name their week-days, not in the relatively modern Arabic of the Koran, but in the far more ancient Himyaritic language of the rock inscriptions, and that all their month-names are those not of the Moslem Arabs, but of the Sabaeo-Babylonian Zodiacal constellations, and that not in translations, as we might say the Ram, the Bull, the Twins, &c., but in the very Semitic forms themselves, slightly modified in conformity – with the Malagasy phonetic system.

It will also be a surprise to folklorists to find that many of the popular myths, legends, nursery rhymes and stories, are strikingly analogous to those current from time out of mind amongst the European populations, and that the explanation lies probably in the gold-hunting expeditions despatched by Solomon and his friend Hiram to the southern waters some three thousand years ago.

But such popular fancies seem never to die, but still to gain new life and put on endless
Protean forms with every rebound from mother earth. Nor will anybody feel much surprise at the vitality of this remarkable Malagasy folklore, when he has studied the proofs here submitted of the still more astonishing vitality of the Malagasy language itself.

It must now be pretty evident to everybody that the Ophir problem was necessarily insoluble before this great mass of fresh evidence had been placed at the disposal of the historical student.


We thus arrive at the following important conclusions, which I trust may now be considered fairly well established, and may therefore legitimately take the place of the many theories and speculations hitherto current regarding the ‘Gold of Ophir,’ its source and forwarders :

1. Ophir was not the source, but the distributor of the gold and the other costly merchandise
brought from abroad to the Courts of David and Solomon.

2. Ophir was the emporium on the south coast of Arabia which has been identified with the
Moscha or Portus Nobilis of the Greek and Roman geographers.

3. Havilah was the auriferous land whence came the ‘gold of Ophir,’ and Havilah is here identified with Rhodesia, the mineralised region between the Lower Zambesi and the Limpopo – Mashona, Matabili, and Manica lands.

4. The ancient gold workings of this region were first opened and the associated monuments
erected by the South Arabian Himyarites, who were followed, in the time of Solomon, by the Jews and Phcenicians, and these very much later by the Moslem Arabs and Christian

5. Tharshish was the outlet for the precious metals and precious stones of Havilah, and stood probably near the site of the present Sofala.

6. The Himyaritic and Phoenician treasure-seekers reached Havilah through Madagascar, where they had settlements and maintained protracted commercial and social intercourse with the Malagasy natives. With them were associated the Jews, by whom the fleets of Hiram and Solomon were partly manned.

7. The Queen of Sheba came by the land route, and not from over the seas, to the Court of Solomon. Her kingdom was Yemen, the Arabia Felix of the ancients, the capital of which was Maraiaba Bahramalakum. Her treasures were partly imported – the precious metals and precious stones – from Havilah and its port of Tharshish to Ophir, and partly – frankincense and myrrh – shipped at Ophir from the neighbouring district of Mount Sephar.

8. Sephar was confused by the Alexandrian authors of the Septuagint with Ophir, which was the chief emporium of the Sabaean empire.

9. In a word the ‘Gold of Ophir ‘ came from Havilah (Rhodesia), and was worked and brought thence first by the Himyarites (Minaeans and Sabaeans), later by the Jews and Phcenicians, the chief ports engaged in the traffic being Ezion-geber in the Red Sea, Tharshish in Havilah, and, midway between these two, Ophir in South Arabia.

10. This central position of Ophir explains how it became the intermediate emporium whither the fleets of Hiram and Solomon sailed every three years from Ezion-geber for the gold imported from Havilah, and for the spices grown on the slopes of the neighbouring Mount Sephar, not far from the deep inlet of Moscha, round which are thickly strewn the ruins of Ophir.

11. These and the other Himyaritic ruins of Yemen show striking analogies with those of Rhodesia, while the numerous objects of Semitic worship, and the fragments of the Himyaritic script found at Zimbabye and elsewhere south of the Zambesi, leave no reasonable doubt that the old gold workings and associated monuments of this region are to be ascribed to the ancient Himyarites of South Arabia and their Jewish and Phoenician successors.

The Gold of Ophir: Whence Brought and by Whom? Augustus Henry Keane – 1901

The Ḥimyarite Kingdom or Ḥimyar (Flourished 110 BCE–520s CE), historically referred to as the Homerite Kingdom by the Greeks and the Romans, was a kingdom in ancient Yemen.

Established in 110 BCE, it took as its capital the ancient city of Zafar, to be followed at the beginning of the 4th century by what is the modern-day city of Sana’a.

The kingdom conquered neighbouring Saba’ (Sheba) in c. 25 BCE (for the first time), Qataban in c. 200 CE, and Haḍramaut c. 300 CE.

Its political fortunes relative to Saba’ changed frequently until it finally conquered the Sabaean Kingdom around 280.

Himyar then endured until it finally fell to Axumite invaders in 525.


The Kingdom of Aksum or Axum, also known as the Aksumite Empire, was a trading nation in the area of Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia.

It existed from approximately 100–940 CE

After a second golden age in the early 6th century, the empire began to decline, eventually ceasing its production of coins in the early 7th century.


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3 Responses to The Arabian Horizon – Lost Lands: Havilah

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  2. malagabay says:

    UPDATE 1 Nov 2016
    The script noted by Theordor Bent at the Great Zimbabwe appears to match the Ancient South Arabian Script from the Yemen which reached its mature form around 500 BC and was used until the 6th century AD.

    Ancient South Arabian script
    The ancient Yemeni alphabet branched from the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet in about the 9th century BC.

    It was used for writing the Old South Arabian languages of the Sabaic, Qatabanic, Hadramautic, Minaic (or Madhabic), Himyaritic, and Ge’ez in Dʿmt.

    The earliest inscriptions in the alphabet date to the 9th century BC in Akkele Guzay, Eritrea.

    There are no vowels, instead using the mater lectionis to mark them.

    Its mature form was reached around 500 BC, and its use continued until the 6th century AD, including Old North Arabian inscriptions in variants of the alphabet, when it was displaced by the Arabic alphabet.

    In Ethiopia and Eritrea it evolved later into the Ge’ez alphabet, which, with added symbols throughout the centuries, has been used to write Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre, as well as other languages (including various Semitic, Cushitic, and Nilo-Saharan languages).

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