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A History of Pre-Islamic Bahrain

This essay is about the brilliant and rich history of Bahrain's ancient Past. I have taken the initiative to write these essays and raise awareness about Bahrain's rich historical past. Bahrain is a land that had seen the Assryians, Sumerians, Mesopotamians, Indus Valley(ians?), Achaemenians, Parthians, Sassanids and even the Hellenic Greeks from Alexander the Great's time! Please note this is about Pre-Islamic Bahrain and expect more essays about its history after Islam. I assure you, its richer 


Pre-Islamic Bahrain:
Dilmun: Sumerian’s Paradise:

During the Pre-Islamic era of Bahrain, which is (circa) the beginning of the fourth Millenium BC until the 7th Century AD. Dilmun (Bahrain’s Oldest name) was first mentioned in Sumerian clay tablets around the 4th Millenium BC, in the Sumerian city of Urk (In Mesopotamia). In those records were trade data, dealing with goods and supplies brought from Dilmun. Dilmun was considered a trading hub , as it was strategically located between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. Trade flourished in this time and had lead to prosperous development of the island. Known items that had been exchanged included ; Timber, Dates, Pearl (Called Fish eyes), Ivory, Lapis Lazuli (a precious gem), gold and other minerals. It is also believed that Dilmun was heavily involved in trade with the Magan (Present Day Oman) culture.

Literary references to Meluhhan trade date from the Akkadian, the Third Dynasty of Ur, and Isin-Larsa Periods (c. 2350–1800 BC), but the trade probably started in the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2600 BC). Some Meluhhan vessels may have sailed directly to Mesopotamian ports, but by the Isin-Larsa Period, Dilmun monopolized the trade. The local national Museum here says that this golden age supposedly lasted between Circa 2200-1600 BC.

Dilmun was very much mentioned when it had come to Sumerian Mythology. Dilmun is described in the epic story of Enki and Ninhursag as the site at which the Creation occurred. Ninlil, the Sumerian goddess of air and south wind had her home in Dilmun. It is also featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Another story, popular with locals here deals with Gilgamesh , in search of a flower that is said to have granted immortality to those who consume it. This was said to only grow in Dilmun, which was at the time, full of freshwater springs. Anyways, Gilgamesh finally found the flower after searching, day and night, for it. Once he had it(it was submerged in the water), he decided to rest up in the springs. While he was bathing, a snake had emerged and ate the flower.

Persian and Hellenic Control:
From around the 6th Century BC to the 3rd Century BC, Bahrain had been conquered by the Persian Empire, then ruled by the Achaemenians Dynasty. This is during the wave of expansionism that had ensued the region due to Persian dominance in the region at the time.

At the end of the 3rd Century BC, Bahrain had been “discovered” (or captured) by an officer of Alexander the Great. The officer was Nearchus (Νέαρχος, Lived c.360 -300 BC), He was a navarch in Alexander’s army during his expedition to India. Anyways, the Greeks had renamed Dilmun as “Tylos”, believed to relate to the pearls and oysters located there. The Greek admiral Nearchus is believed to have been the first of Alexander's commanders to visit this islands, and he found a verdant land that was part of a wide trading network; he recorded: “That in the island of Tylos, situated in the Persian Gulf, are large plantations of cotton tree, from which are manufactured clothes called sindones, a very different degrees of value, some being costly, others less expensive. The use of these is not confined to India, but extends to Arabia.” The Greek historian, Theophrastus, states that much of the islands were covered in these cotton trees and that Tylos was famous for exporting walking canes engraved with emblems that were customarily carried in Babylon.

It is unclear whether Bahrain had been part of the Seleucid Empire although recent excavations have shown support to this idea. Alexander had planned to settle the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf with Greek colonists, and although it is not clear that this happened on the scale he envisaged, Tylos was very much part of the Hellenised world: the language of the upper classes was Greek (although Aramaic was in everyday use), while Zeus was worshipped in the form of the Arabian sun-god Shams. Tylos even became the site of Greek athletic contests, as some sources say. Ancient Greeks at the time had speculated whether Pheonicians were descended from the inhabitants of Tylos, citing the naming similarity between Tylos and Tyre as a factor, another one is that Pheonicians were known to have maintained their Persian Gulf heritage.

To quote Wikipedia (I had to , at some point  ) - With the waning of Seleucid Greek power, Tylos was incorporated into Characene or Mesenian, the state founded in what today is Kuwait by Hyspaosines in 127BC. A building inscriptions found in Bahrain indicate that Hyspoasines occupied the islands, (and it also mention his wife, Thalassia). From the third century BC to arrival of Islam in the seventh AD, Bahrain was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties of Parthians and Sassanids.
By about 250 BC, Seleucids lost their tritories to Parthians, an Iranian tribe from Central Asia. Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in the southern coast of Persian Gulf.

Now, this control was thought to have last until the 3rd Century AD , Where the Sassanids overcame the Parthians and had taken over the land. The ruler of the Sassanid Dynasty had moved into the Bahrain region to capture it from the Parthian governor (Wiki says his name was Sanatruq). Later, a guy called Shapur I was appointed as the governor of Bahrain who is said to have contructed vast cities and improved the infrastructure of the island. By this time, Tylos (which is Old Hellenic name given to Bahrain) had been renamed “Mishmahig”, a Middle-Persian word that meant “ewe-fish”, presumably due to the abundance of fish here. However, some Historians believe The name 'ewe-fish' would appear to suggest that the name /Tulos/ is related to Hebrew /ṭāleh/ 'lamb' (Strong's 2924).

Here's a map of the Sassanid Empire at around 600AD :
Click the image to open in full size.During the advent of the 1st Millenium AD, Bahrain, which was pre-dominately Pagan, had developed a Christian community, believed to have followed the Nestorianism Doctrine of Christianity. In fact, a village in Bahrain (called Samaheej) was once the seat of Bishops from all over the Persian Gulf). After Persian Influence had waned on the island, the Island was renamed “Awal” by its Pagan tribes, who were powerful at the time. Awal was believed to be the name of an ox diety. . Awal resembled the head of an ox. As for the meaning of this name, there are awwal 'first, first part, previous'; awwalan 'firstly, at first'; awwalī 'prime, primordial, original'. Awal also means 'the best' in many Indian languages. Similarly the deity Awal of Bahrain appears to be very similar to the deity Nandi of the Hindus. Indus valley civilization also had a deity like an ox. It suggest that there were religious and cultural links between the two cultures.

Awal has been the last name given to Bahrain, prior to the rise of Islam in the region. Afterwards, it had been known as Bahrain for 1400 years to come.

A picture of Awal:
Click the image to open in full size.

I'd like to thank you for reading this and I'm open to all questions or criticisms (I know I did put some Wiki things )


  1. Amazing post! I quite like it,Looking forward to your post on islamic Bahrain.

    But please if possible write a post on the history of kuwait,since I assume it wasn't part of the arabian peninsula back then and it was just a piece of land alone,anyways am not sure,regardless please write a post about it,Thanks!

    Ismail AlFaouri

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    I don't consider myself an expert in the history of Kuwait, though I guess it could be possible.

    I have already posted about the history of Islamic Bahrain, its right after this post. It also includes the history of the Qarmatians. I hope you enjoy!


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