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History of Oman

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History of Oman

Nakhal Fort, one of the best-preserved forts in Oman.
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History of Oman
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This article is about the history of Oman.


  • Prehistory 1
  • Pre-Islamic period 2
  • Early Islamic period 3
  • Late 19th and early 20th centuries 4
  • 1970s 5
  • 1990s 6
  • 2000s 7
  • Rulers of Oman 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


World Heritage Grave at Al Ayn in Oman

At Aybut Al Auwal in the Dhofar region of Oman a site was discovered in 2011 containing more than 100 surface scatters of stone tools belonging to a regionally-specific lithic industry, the late Nubian Complex, known previously only from Northeast Africa. Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates place the Arabian Nubian Complex at 106,000 years old. This provides evidence for a distinct Middle Stone Age technocomplex in southern Arabia around the earlier part of the Marine Isotope Stage 5.[1]

Archaeologists excavating a Middle Stone Age complex in the Dhofar Mountains.

The hypothesized departure of humankind from Africa to colonise the rest of the world involved them crossing the Straits of Bab el Mandab in the southern Red Sea and moving along the green coastlines around Arabia and thence to the rest of Eurasia. That crossing became possible when sea level had fallen by more than 80 m to expose much of the shelf between southern Eritrea and Yemen; a level that was reached during a glacial stadial from 60 to 70 ka as climate cooled erratically to reach the last glacial maximum. From 135,000 to 90,000 years ago tropical Africa had megadroughts which drove the humans from the land towards the sea shores and forced them to cross over to other continents.The researchers used radiocarbon dating techniques on pollen grains trapped in lake bottom mud to establish vegetation over the ages of the Malawi lake in Africa. The researchers took samples at 300-year-intervals. Samples from the megadrought times had little pollen or charcoal, suggesting sparse vegetation with little to burn. The area around Lake Malawi, which today is heavily forested was a desert 135,000 to 90,000 years ago.

There have been discoveries of Palaeolithic stone tools in caves in southern and central Oman, and in the United Arab Emirates close to the Straits of Hormuz at the outlet of the Persian Gulf (UAE site (Jebel Faya).[2][3] The stone tools, some up to 125,000 years old, resemble those made by humans in Africa around the same period.

Luminescence dating is a technique that measures naturally occurring radiation stored in the sand. Data culled via this methodology demonstrates that 130,000 years ago, the Arabian Peninsula was relatively more warm which caused more rainfall, turning it into a series of lush habitable land. During this period the southern Red Sea’s levels dropped and was only 2.5 miles or 4 km wide. This offered a brief window of time for humans to easily cross the sea and cross the Peninsula to opposing sites like Jebel Faya. These early migrants running away from the climate change in Africa, crossed the Red Sea into Yemen and Oman, trekked across Arabia during favourable climate conditions. 2,000 kilometres of inhospitable desert lie between the Red Sea and Jebel Faya in UAE. But around 130,000 years ago the world was at the end of an ice age. The Red Sea was shallow enough to be crossed on foot or on a small raft, and the Arabian peninsula was being transformed from a parched desert into a green land.

Pre-Islamic period

Northern half of Oman (beside modern-day Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, plus Balochistan and Sindh provinces of Pakistan) has been part of the Maka satrapy of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, the satrapy became part of the Macedonian Empire. Later, Oman was embraced in Parthian and Sassanian empires. It was lost to the invading Arab Muslims during the Muslim conquest of Persia.

Early Islamic period

Vestiges in Nizwa

Oman adopted Islam in the 7th century, during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad. Ibadism became the dominant religious sect locally by the 8th century. Oman is currently the only country with a majority Ibadi population. Ibadhism has a reputation for its "moderate conservatism". One distinguishing feature of Ibadism is the choice of ruler by communal consensus and consent.[4]

The relatively recent name of "Muscat and Oman" (which was abolished in 1970 in favor of "Sultanate of Oman"), implies two historically irreconcilable political cultures:

  1. the coastal tradition, the more cosmopolitan, secular, Muscat tradition of the coast ruled by the sultan
  2. the interior tradition of insularity, tribal in origin and ruled by an imam according to the ideological tenets of Ibadism

The more cosmopolitan has been the ascending political culture since the founding of the Al Said dynasty in 1744, although the imamate tradition has found intermittent expression.[5]

Several millennia ago, Arab tribes migrated eastward to Oman, coinciding with the increasing presence in the region of peoples from present-day Iran. In the 6th century Arabs succeeded in repelling encroachments of these ethnic groups; the conversion of Arab tribes to Islam in the 7th century resulted in the displacement of the settlers from Iran. The introduction of Ibadism vested power in the imam, the leader nominated by the ulema.[5] The imam's position was confirmed when the imam—having gained the allegiance of the tribal sheiks—received the bay'ah (oath of allegiance) from the public.

In 751 Ibadi Muslims, a moderate branch of the Kharijites, established an imamate in Oman. Despite interruptions, the Ibadi imamate survived until the mid-20th century.[6]

Several foreign powers attacked Oman. The Qarmatians controlled the area between 931 and 932 and then again between 933 and 934. Between 967 and 1053 Oman formed part of the domain of the Iranian Buyyids, and between 1053 and 1154 Oman was part of the Great Seljuq Empire. Even the power of Seljuq spread through Oman to Koothanallur as base in South India.

In 1154 the indigenous Nabhani dynasty took control of Oman, and the Nabhani kings ruled Oman until 1470, with an interruption of 37 years between 1406 and 1443.

Wall of the Jabrin Castle

The Portuguese took Muscat on 1 April 1515, and held it until 26 January 1650, although the Ottomans controlled Muscat from 1550 to 1551 and from 1581 to 1588. In about the year 1600, Nabhani rule was temporarily restored to Oman, although that lasted only to 1624 with the establishment of the fifth imamate, also known as the Yarubid Imamate. The latter recaptured Muscat from the Portuguese in 1650 after a colonial presence on the northeastern coast of Oman dating to 1508. The Yarubid dynasty expanded, acquiring former Portuguese colonies in the African Great Lakes region and engaging in the slave trade. By 1719 dynastic succession led to the nomination of Saif ibn Sultan II (lived c. 1706 – 1743) . His candidacy prompted a rivalry among the ulama and a civil war between the two factions, led by major tribes, the Hinawi and the Ghafiri, with the Ghafiri supporting Saif ibn Sultan II. He assumed power in 1748 after the deaths of the leaders of both factions in battle, but the rivalry continued, with the factionalization working in favor of the Iranians, who occupied Muscat and Sohar in 1743.[5]

The Iranians had occupied the coast previously—indeed the coast was often the possession of various empires. These empires brought order to the religious and ethnic diversity of the population of this cosmopolitan region. Yet the intervention on behalf of an unpopular dynasty brought about a revolt. The leader of the revolt, Ahmad ibn Said al Said, was elected sultan of Muscat upon the expulsion of the Persians. The position of Sultan of Muscat would remain in the possession of the Al Said clan even when the imamate of Oman remained out of reach.

The Al Said clan became a royal dynasty when Ahmad ibn Said Al Said was elected imam following the expulsion of the Iranians from Muscat in 1744. Like its predecessors, Al Said dynastic rule has been characterized by a history of internecine family struggle, fratricide, and usurpation. Apart from threats within the ruling family, omnipresent challenges from the independent tribes of the interior rejected the authority of the sultan, recognizing the imam as the sole legitimate leader and pressing, by resort to arms, for the restoration of the imamate.[5]

Schisms within the ruling family became apparent before Ahmad ibn Said's death in 1783 and later manifested themselves with the division of the family into two main lines:

  1. the Sultan ibn Ahmad Al Said (ruled 1792–1806) line controlling the maritime state, with nominal control over the entire country
  2. the Qais branch, with authority over the Al Batinah and Ar Rustaq areas

During the period of Sultan Said ibn Sultan Al Said's rule (1806–1856), Oman cultivated its colonies in the African Great Lakes, profiting from the slave trade. As a regional commercial power in the 19th century, Oman held territories on the island of Zanzibar on the Swahili Coast, the area along the coast of the African Great Lakes region known as Zanj including Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, and (until 1958) in Gwadar (in present-day Pakistan) on the coast of the Arabian Sea. But when the British declared slavery illegal in the mid-19th century, the sultanate's fortunes reversed. The economy collapsed, and many Omani families migrated to Zanzibar. The population of Muscat fell from 55,000 to 8,000 between the 1850s and 1870s.[5] The United Kingdom seized most of the overseas possessions, and by 1850 Oman had become a different country than before.

Late 19th and early 20th centuries

When Sultan Sa'id bin Sultan Al-Busaid died in 1856, his sons quarreled over the succession. As a result of this struggle, the empire—through the mediation of the British Government under the Canning Award—was divided in 1861 into two separate principalities: Zanzibar (with its African Great Lakes dependencies), and Muscat and Oman.

The death of Sa'id bin Sultan in 1856 prompted a further division: the descendants of the late sultan ruled Muscat and Oman (Thuwaini ibn Said Al-Busaid, r. 1856–1866) and Zanzibar (Mayid ibn Said Al-Busaid, r. 1856–1870); the Qais branch intermittently allied itself with the ulama to restore imamate legitimacy. In 1868 Azzam ibn Qais Al-Busaid (r. 1868–1871) emerged as self-declared imam. Although a significant number of Hinawi tribes recognized him as imam, the public neither elected him nor acclaimed him as such.[5]

Imam Azzan understood that to unify the country a strong, central authority had to be established with control over the interior tribes of Oman. His rule was jeopardized by the British, who interpreted his policy of bringing the interior tribes under the central government as a move against their established order. In resorting to military means to unify Muscat and Oman, Imam Azzam alienated members of the Ghafiri tribes, who revolted in the 1870–1871 period. The British gave Imam Azzam's rival, Turki ibn Said Al-Busaid, financial and political support. Turki ibn Said succeeded in defeating the forces of Imam Azzam, who was killed in battle outside Matrah in January 1871.[5]

Muscat and Oman was the object of Franco-British rivalry throughout the 18th century. During the 19th century, Muscat and Oman and the United Kingdom concluded several treaties of friendship and commerce. In 1908 the British entered into an agreement of friendship. Their traditional association was confirmed in 1951 through a new treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation by which the United Kingdom recognized the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman as a fully independent state.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were tensions between the sultan in Muscat and the Ibadi Imam in Nizwa. This conflict was resolved temporarily by the Treaty of Seeb, which granted the imam rule in the interior Imamate of Oman, while recognising the sovereignty of the sultan in Muscat and its surroundings.

In 1954, the conflict flared up again, when the Treaty of Seeb was broken by the sultan after oil was discovered in the lands of the Imam. The new imam (Ghalib bin Ali) led a 5-year rebellion against the sultan's attack. The Sultan was aided by the colonial British forces and the Shah of Iran. In the early 1960s, the Imam, exiled to Saudi Arabia, obtained support from his hosts and other Arab governments, but this support ended in the 1980s. The case of the Imam was argued at the United Nations as well, but no significant measures were taken.

Zanzibar paid an annual subsidy to Muscat and Oman until its independence in early 1964.

In 1964, a separatist revolt began in Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO), while continuing the Dhofar Rebellion.


In 1970, Qaboos bin Said al Said ousted his father, Sa'id bin Taimur, who later died in exile in London. Al Said has ruled as sultan ever since. The new sultan confronted insurgency in a country plagued by endemic disease, illiteracy, and poverty. One of the new sultan's first measures was to abolish many of his father's harsh restrictions, which had caused thousands of Omanis to leave the country, and to offer amnesty to opponents of the previous régime, many of whom returned to Oman. He also established a modern government structure and launched a major development programme to upgrade educational and health facilities, build a modern infrastructure, and develop the country's natural resources.

In an effort to curb the Dhofar insurgency, Sultan Qaboos expanded and re-equipped the armed forces and granted amnesty to all surrendering rebels while vigorously prosecuting the war in Dhofar. He obtained direct military support from the UK, Iran, and Jordan. By early 1975, the guerrillas were confined to a 50-square-kilometer (19 sq mi) area near the Yemeni border and shortly thereafter were defeated. As the war drew to a close, civil action programs were given priority throughout Dhofar and helped win the allegiance of the people. The PFLO threat diminished further with the establishment of diplomatic relations in October 1983 between South Yemen and Oman, and South Yemen subsequently lessened propaganda and subversive activities against Oman. In late 1987 Oman opened an embassy in Aden, South Yemen, and appointed its first resident ambassador to the country.

Since his accession in 1970, Sultan Qaboos has balanced tribal, regional, and ethnic interests in composing the national administration. The Council of Ministers, which functions as a cabinet, consists of 26 ministers, all directly appointed by Qaboos. The Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council) has the mandate of reviewing legislation pertaining to economic development and social services prior to its becoming law. The Majlis Al-Shura may request ministers to appear before it.


In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos presented his people with the "Basic Statutes of the State", Oman's first written "constitution". It guarantees various rights within the framework of Qur'anic and customary law. It partially resuscitated long dormant conflict-of-interest measures by banning cabinet ministers from being officers of public shareholding firms. Perhaps most importantly, the Basic Statutes provide rules for setting Sultan Qaboos' succession.

Oman occupies a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, 35 miles (56 km) directly opposite Iran. Oman has concerns with regional stability and security, given tensions in the region, the proximity of Iran and Iraq, and the potential threat of political Islam. Oman maintained its diplomatic relations with Iraq throughout the Gulf War while supporting the United Nations allies by sending a contingent of troops to join coalition forces and by opening up to pre-positioning of weapons and supplies.


In September 2000, about 100,000 Omani men and women elected 83 candidates, including two women, to seats in the Majlis Al-Shura. In December 2000, Sultan Qaboos appointed the 48-member Majlis Al Dowla, or State Council, including five women, which acts as the upper chamber in Oman's bicameral representative body.

Al Said's extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world and has preserved a long-standing political and military relationship with the United Kingdom, the United States, and others. Oman's moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries.

Rulers of Oman

Standard of the Sultan of Oman

See also


  1. ^ The Nubian Complex of Dhofar, Oman: An African Middle Stone Age Industry in Southern Arabia
  2. ^ Armitage, S.J. et al. 2011
  3. ^ The southern route ‘out of Africa’: evidence for an early expansion of modern humans into Arabia. Science, v. 331, p.p. 453-456)
  4. ^ Donald Hawley, Oman, pg. 201. Jubilee edition. Kensington: Stacey International, 1995. ISBN 0905743636
  5. ^ a b c d e f g A Country Study: Oman, chapter 6 Oman – Government and Politics, section: Historical Patterns of Governance. US Library of Congress, 1993. Retrieved 2006-10-28
  6. ^ [2] Fourth line down from the top of the history section: "In 751 Ibadi Muslims, a moderate branch of the Kharijites, established an imamate in Oman. Despite interruptions, the Ibadi imamate survived until the mid-20th century". Archived 2009-10-31.

External links

  • Chronology
  • Omani Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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