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The Thamūd (/ˈθɑːmʊd/; Arabic: ثمود) is the name of an ancient civilization in Hejaz known from the 1st millennium BC to near the time of Muhammad. The Thamud civilization was located in the north of the peninsula. Although they are thought to have originated in Southern Arabia, Arabic tradition has them moving north to settle on the slopes of Mount Athlab near Mada'in Saleh.

Numerous Thamudic rock writings and pictures have been found on Mount Athlab and throughout central Arabia.[1]


The oldest known reference to Thamud is a 715 BC inscription of the Assyrian king Sargon II which mentions them as being among the people of eastern and central Arabia subjugated by the Assyrians but they were living very early even before Abraham when we compare the family tree of Prophets as their Ancestors were Iram and Ars.[2]

They are referred to as "Tamudaei" in the writings of Aristo of Chios, Ptolemy, and Pliny.[3]

The Qur'an

Migration towards north.

The Qur'an mentions Thamud in Surah Al-A'raf in the context of several prophets who warned their people of coming judgement. Verse 74 says of Thamud, "and remember when he made you successors after Aad and settled you in the land, and you take for yourselves palaces from its plains and carve from the mountains, homes".[4] This could refer to the rock-cut tombs of Mada'in Saleh (the Cities of Saleh)

In the Qur'an, ʿĀad and Thamud are generally mentioned together as a matter of context.[citation needed] The verses advise Thamud to take warning from the destruction of ʿĀad.

To the Thamud people (We sent) their brother Salih. He said, "O my people! worship Allah: you have no other deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your lord. This is the she-camel of God sent to you as a Sign. So leave her to eat within God's land, and do not touch her with harm, lest there seize you a painful punishment.
"And remember when He made you successors after Aad and settled you in the land, and you take for yourselves palaces from its plains and carve from the mountains, homes. Then remember the favors of God and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption."

— Qur'an, Surah 7 (Al-A'raf), ayat 73-74[5]

This verse suggests some kind of relationship between ʿĀad and Thamud, and ʿĀad may even have been a part of Thamud's history and culture. Just as Nuh's (Noah) people were seen as the ancestors of ʿĀad, it seems ʿĀad were seen in a similar relation to Thamud.

The ʿĀad were a people living in southern Arabia. Some remains of Thamud were found in the region where ʿĀad had lived, especially around the region where capital city of the Hadramites, the descendants of ʿĀad, stood.[citation needed]

A bit further on from the passage quoted above, the Qur'an says,

So they hamstrung the she-camel, and were insolent toward the command of their lord and said, "O Salih, bring us what you promise us, if you should be of the messengers."
So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home (corpses) fallen prone.

— Qur'an, Surah 7 (Al-A'raf), ayat 77-78[6]

In Surah Al-Qamar it says " Indeed, we sent upon them one shriek (i.e, blast from the sky), and they became like the dry twig fragments of an (animal) pen."[7]


The historian Ali ibn al-Athir mentions the Thamud in his book The Complete History (Arabic: الكامل في التاريخ - al-Kamil fi at-tarikh) composed ca. 1231.[citation needed]

Ibn Khaldun

Historian and scholar, Ibn Khaldun also mentions the Thamud several times in his universal history al-Kitābu l-ʻibār ("Book of Evidence") written in the late 14th century, but only in passing, seldom giving much information.

This can be illustrated by what happened among the nations. When the royal authority of 'Ad was wiped out, their brethren, the Thamud, took over. They were succeeded, in turn, by their brethren, the Amalekites. The Amalekites were succeeded by their brethren, the Himyar. The Himyar were succeeded by their brethren, the Tubba's, who belonged to the Himyar. They, likewise, were succeeded, by the Adhwa'.130 Then, the Mudar came to power.

— Muqaddimah ("Introduction"), Chapter II [8]

The Yemen, al-Bahrayn, Oman, and the Jazirah have long been in Arab possession, but for thousands of years, the rule of these areas has belonged to different (Arab) nations in succession. They also founded cities and towns (there) and promoted the development of sedentary culture and luxury to the highest degree. Among such nations were the 'Ad and the Thamud, the Amalekites and the Himyar after them, the Tubbas, and the other South Arabian rulers (Adhwa) . There was a long period of royal authority and sedentary culture. The coloring of (sedentary culture) established itself firmly. The crafts became abundant and firmly rooted. They were not wiped out simultaneously with (each ruling) dynasty, as we have stated. They have remained and have always renewed themselves down to this time, and they have become the specialty of that area. Such (special Yemenite) crafts are embroidered fabrics, striped cloth, and finely woven garments and silks.

— Muqaddimah Chapter V [9]


A script graphically similar to the Semitic alphabet (called Thamudic) has been found in southern Arabia and up throughout the Hejaz.[10] The script was first identified in a region in north central Yemen that is known as Thamud, which is bound to the north by the Rub' al Khali, to the south by the Hadhramaut and to the west by Shabwah. The script was named after the place where it was first discovered, not for the people. Inscriptions in Thamudic come mostly from northern Saudi Arabia, but can be found throughout the Arabian peninsula.[11]


Very little information is known about the identity or the nationality of Thamud, but they are referred to as Arabs ("àrabes") in the records of the Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus.[12]

The title and description given by Photius to Thamud indicates that they had a status similar to Qedarites who have been identified as Arabs.[13]

In 2003, Professor Jan Retsö[14] in a research in his book The Arabs in Antiquity[15] concluded that Thamudic people were Arabs.[13]

Use of the Name

After the disappearance of the original people of Thamud, Robert Hoyland suggested that their name was subsequently adopted by other new groups that inhabited the region of Mada'in Saleh.[16]

This suggestion is supported by Abdullah ibn Umar and Ibn Kathir who report that people called the region of Thamud Al-Hijr, while they called the province of Mada'in Saleh Ardh Thamud "the land of Thamud" and Bayt Thamud "the house of Thamud".[17][18]

The conclusion that can be taken from the evidences above is that the term "Thamud" wasn't applied to the groups that lived in Mada'in Saleh such as Lihyanites and Nabataeans,[19][20] but rather to the region itself.

According to Classical Arabic sources, it's agreed upon that the only remaining group of the native people of Thamud are the tribe of Banu Thaqif which inhabited the city of Taif south of Mecca.[21][22][23]


As it was told in the Quran how the original people of Thamud were vanished, it's suggested that the story mentioned in Quran can be explained like "they may have been destroyed by one of the many volcanic outbreaks that have formed the far-reaching Arabian lava fields" [24]

See also


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  2. M. Th. Houtsma et al., eds., E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936
  3. Phillip Hitti, A History of the Arabs, London: Macmillan, 1970, p. 37.
  4. Quran 7:74
  5. Quran 7:73–74
  6. Quran 7:77–78
  7. Quran 54:31
  8. Muqaddimah Ch. 2.21
  9. Muqaddimah Ch. 5.20
  10. Brian Doe, Southern Arabia, Thames and Hudson, 1971, pp. 21-22.
  11. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History - Thamudic inscriptions exhibit
  12. Bibliotheca historica, Volume II, Book III, Page 219
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads, Page 299
  14. Jan Retsö
  15. Retsö, Jan (2003). The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads. RoutledgeCurzon.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Hoyland, Robert G. (2001). Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam. Routledge. p. 69. ISBN 0415195349.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Sahih al-Bukhari, Narrated: Abdullah ibn Umar, Hadiths: 2116 & 3379
  18. Ibn Kathir (14th century). Al-Bidaya wa'l-Nihaya ("The Beginning and the End"). p. 159 (Volume 1). Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. The New Encyclopædia Britannica: Macropædia Volume 13. USA: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1995. Page: 818
  20. Encyclopedia Britannica, Under the Category of: History of Arabia, the Section of: Dedān and Al-Ḥijr
  21. The Detailed History of Arabs before Islam, Prof. Jawwad Ali, Volume: 15, Page: 301
  22. The Historical Record of Ibn Khaldon, Volume: 2, Page: 641
  23. Kitab Al-Aghani, Abu Al-Faraj Al-Asfahani, Volume: 4, Page: 74
  24. Encyclopedia Britannica, Under the Category of: Thamūd

External links