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Archaeological findings have shown that people have lived in Oman for over 10,000 years. Around 4000 BC, sea-going vessels were already being built and there were fishing villages on the coast. A thousand years later, agriculture was also practised. The many typical beehive graves that can be seen in Oman date back to this time. Up to 630 AD, historians divide the history of Oman into periods named after the sites. First of all the Hafit-period (3000- 2700 B.C.), then successively the Umman an-Nar-period (2700- 2000 B.C.), the Wadi Souq-period (2000- 1000 B.C.), the Lizq-period (1000- 400 B.C.) and the Samad-period (400 B.C. - 630 A.D.).

Along the incense route established in 1500 B.C., cities grew into powerful kingdoms through the incense trade. Some of these kingdoms were Saba, Hadramut, Ma'in, Qataban and Ausan. These kingdoms lived alongside each other in a kind of armed peace for centuries. Just before the beginning of the era, the Romans tried to get their hands on the incense route, but this failed completely. Eventually, in 400 BC, Saba succeeded in conquering the other empires. This domination lasted until the year 260 AD when the Himburians conquered Saba.

From this empire two great empires arose: Himjar in the west and Hadramut in the east. Hadramut was conquered again in 340 by the Himjar who were in turn subdued by the Abyssinians and again some time later by the Christians. The era of the old southern Arabian kingdoms was now over for good.

The arrival of Islam

From 622 onwards, the prophet Mohammed started spreading Islam. The rulers, and in their wake the population, soon converted to Islam. Finally, in 633, the Islamisation of all Arabia was completed. Meanwhile, the Persian king Cyrus II had conquered northern Oman and this Persian domination would last for about 1,000 years.

Under the Persian dynasties of the Achamenids, Parthians and Sassanids, sea trade flourished again. In the 7th century, Oman did not participate in the struggle for the succession of the Prophet Mohammed, but concentrated on expanding its trading empire to the east. The peace, however, did not last long. In the meantime, the Omanis had switched to the doctrine of Ibadism, a moderate variant of strict Islam. From Damascus, armies were sent to Oman to restore the authority of the Sunni Umayyad Caliph and convert the population to the Sunni faith. These and other attempts around 800 failed, however, and slowly but surely Oman expanded its power. However, the Arabian peninsula remained very unsettled and Oman was attacked several times in the following centuries.

Around the year 1000, Oman is said to have been a wilayat (province) of Iraq (Baghdad) for some time. In 1064 Oman was ruled for 80 years by the Seljuks from Central Asia. In 1258 Baghdad was taken by the Tartars and with that the influence of Baghdad on Oman ended. The period of ± 1150 to ± 1624 is called the Nabhan-era. This era was characterized by many mutual struggles. In 1276 the Persians conquered large parts of Oman, but eventually had to retreat. In 1462 another Persian attack followed and Bahla was taken, the capital and seat of the Nahban dynasty. Again Oman was liberated, but for many years it remained a very unsettled country.


Around 1500, Portuguese explorers and conquerors appeared on the international trade scene after being the first Europeans to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in 1478. Among other things, they wanted to get their hands on a part of the spice trade. The famous Vasco da Gama conquered Arab strongholds in East Africa from 1503 onwards. The Portuguese soon controlled large parts of the sea trade in the Indian Ocean, often by using a lot of force. In 1506, Alfonso du Albuquerque was sent to the Indian Ocean to establish a large Portuguese empire. The Portuguese controlled the trade in the Gulf and Indian Ocean for about another 100 years.

The Turks tried to break the Portuguese power, but these attempts came to nothing. At the end of the 16th century, the Dutch and British took over from the Portuguese, who were left with some possessions in northern Oman. In the 17th century, the Dutch were the leading naval power, with an office in Muscat from 1670. When the influence of the Dutch waned, the British and the French came into conflict in this region.

Nasir bin Murshid, elected imam and founder of the Yoruba dynasty, managed to bring together the coastal inhabitants and the inland tribes and to establish peace from 1624 onwards. The Portuguese now concluded a treaty with Nasir. He was succeeded in 1649 by Sultan bin Saif I, who in 1650 brought an end to a century and a half of Portuguese rule.

Oman sets its own course

From that time onwards, Oman only had to deal with the European powers through treaties, and the Omanis no longer allowed foreign rulers. Oman quickly rebuilt a large trading and military fleet and soon became a leading power in the Indian Ocean. Portuguese possessions in East Africa, Iran and India were also conquered.

Bilarab bin Sultan, the son of Saif I, conquered the province of Gujerat in India in 1670, but lost the power struggle with his brother Saif bin Sultan. Saif expelled all the Portuguese from the areas north of Madagascar. He also engaged in the lucrative slave trade both to the United States and for Oman itself. The Omani fleet continued to expand. With the removal of the common enemy, the Portuguese, an internal tribal struggle between the Bani Hinawi and the Bani Ghafiri resumed under the reign of Saif's son Sultan bin Saif II. This struggle intensified when Saif II died. It was between the supporters of his son Saif bin Sultan II and the supporters of Muhanna bin Sultan, who was favoured by the religious scholars.

The tribal struggle between the Bani Hinawi and the Bani Ghafiri also flared up again and resulted in the partition of Oman. The Bani Hinawi got large parts of the interior, the surroundings of Sur and Nizwa. The Bani Ghafiri gained control of the Batinah, Jabrin and Rustaq. However, the battle continued and Saif twice called for help from the Persians, who took the opportunity to take Mutrah, Muscat and the whole of Batinah.

Ahmed bin Said, the founder of the Al Bu Said dynasty, which rules Oman to this day, continued the fight against the Persians and managed to defeat them by stratagem in 1747 and he was elected the ninth Imam. Ahmed managed to restore peace both domestically and with the neighbouring Arab tribes.

Increasing British influence

Under Ahmed's leadership, Oman once again became a leading naval power, establishing trade relations with the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. By offering financial and military help, the influence of the British did increase from 1800 onwards.

After Ahmed's death in 1783, his son Said bin Ahmed was elected imam. Said's son, Hamad bin Said, controlled large parts of Oman, dividing the country into a sultanate on the coast and an imamate inland. Hamad was succeeded by his uncle Sultan bin Ahmed, who soon took control of large parts of Oman. In 1798, the Dutch and French were at war with the British. When Ahmed was the first Arab prince to enter into an agreement with the British, Dutch and French ships were forbidden to anchor off the coast of Oman. The help of the British also came in handy when the Omanis were attacked by Qawasim from the pirate stronghold of Ras al-Khaimah (now the United Arab Emirates) and the strict religious-military Wahabite movement.

Sultan bin Ahmed was killed in fighting in 1804 and was eventually succeeded by Said bin Sultan. Under him, Oman reached a peak in terms of trade policy and expansion. He concluded trade agreements with the Netherlands, Great Britain and the United States, and Zanzibar was even proclaimed as the second capital in Africa and an economic centre that extended to Zaire and Uganda. He controlled, among other things, the slave trade and the world trade in ivory and cloves to a large extent.

Economic prosperity over

When the British abolished slavery in 1839, the Omanis lost an important source of income. Said died at sea in 1856, leaving 36 sons and daughters behind! Another struggle for the succession followed, this time between sons Majid and Thuwani. After the division of the sultanate, Majid controlled the rich East African area and Thuwani the poor Asian part of the country. Majid would therefore pay Thuwani money annually. In 1860 Majid failed to meet his obligations and Thuwani proclaimed himself ruler of all Omani territories.

In 1861, Oman was split into the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat and the Sultanate of Zanzibar, which would develop independently of Oman and remain until 1964. With the arrival of the first European steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal, maritime trade collapsed and the final economic decline began. An economic crisis ensued and tribes in the interior were very dissatisfied and wanted the restoration of the imamate.

In 1861, Turki led a revolt against his brother Thuwani, who was even murdered by his own son Salim in 1864. In 1868, a rebellion led by Azan bin Qais followed and Salim was forced out of Oman. Azzan was proclaimed imam and a religious and conservative regime came into being. In the meantime, Turki had collected a lot of money and weapons and Azzan was killed in a battle. Turki then took Muscat and Mutrah and, with British support, managed to stay in power until his death in 1888, despite internal unrest.

He was succeeded by his son Faisal, who also approached the French again and in 1894 a French consulate was even opened in Muscat, naturally under protest from the British. After Faisal's death in 1913, he was succeeded by his son Taimar bin Faisal and in the interior Salim bin Rashid al- Kharusi was proclaimed imam. With British help, an attack on Muscat in 1915 could be stopped. In 1920, the Treaty of Seeb was concluded, establishing the spheres of influence of the imam and the sultan. This treaty lasted until 1954.

First oil drillings

Meanwhile, the state treasury remained empty, partly because exploratory drilling for oil did not yet yield anything. Taimur died in 1932 and was succeeded by his son Said bin Taimur. He tried to solve the economic crisis. Oil could be a source of income, but first the whole country had to be under Said's control. This brought him into conflict with the new imam Ghalib bin Ali, who wanted to establish an independent state in the interior with the help of the Saudis. Said sent a small army of Omanis, together with British auxiliary troops, and peace was soon restored. Ghalib tried again in 1957, but again he was defeated, even though it took until 1959 before the rebellion (Jebel Akhdar uprising) was finally suppressed. With this victory, the power of the imams was finally broken and the coastal population and the people of the interior could focus together on Oman's future.

The Saudi Arabians made another attempt to annex a part of Oman in 1952 but failed thanks to the help of the British. The British took advantage of this by enforcing that oil concessions could only be granted to other countries with their permission. Because of all these developments, Said was afraid of losing his rule and he closed Oman off from the rest of the world, as it were, afraid that the population would gain new ideas. Newspapers, radio and television were banned and travelling abroad was only allowed with permission of the sultan. This kept Oman one of the poorest countries in the world and of course discontent among the population grew, also because the rapidly increasing oil revenues only benefited the sultan and other rulers.

These developments led to a revolt in Sunni Dhofar. The population in the south ignored the travel ban and came into contact with a different and more modern world and nationalistic ideas quickly emerged (founding of the Dhofar Liberation Front; DLF), which resulted in a revolt supported by the Jebalis, the population of the mountains. They eventually went so far as to change their goal: they now wanted to liberate the entire Gulf region from the imperialist rulers from the West and for this purpose the Peoples Front of the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG) was founded. They received support from China, the Soviet Union and Iraq. The British, who had big interests in the oil industry, sought support from Said's son, Qabous bin Said, who had been "under house arrest" since 1964.

Sultan Qabous changes course

He deposed his father in a non-violent coup in July 1970 and in the same year the British troops also left the country. Qabous promised the people different, better times. The name of the country was also changed to the Sultanate of Oman. However, the conflict in Dhofar continued and even grew into an international conflict. Even with the help of the British, the rebels could not be defeated, although they were forced to retreat into the mountains.

The oil crisis in 1973 caused a turnaround. The idea that the communist-oriented PFLOAG would take control of the Persian Gulf was a doomsday scenario for Iran and the West that had to be avoided at all costs. Iran deployed troops, Jordan provided military advisers and the United States supplied weapons. In the liberated areas, an aid programme was immediately set up and schools, mosques and hospitals were rapidly built to appease the population.

In 1975, Dhofar was liberated and the Dhofaris were given money, facilities and even a position in the government. Oman was now well under construction and the living conditions of the population improved enormously in a relatively short period of time. With the help of Western money and a United Nations development plan, trade, industry and education developed and schools, libraries, museums and post offices were built. Illiteracy was tackled and farmers and fishermen received support. In 1981, Oman joined with other Persian Gulf states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a military alliance, which soon led to political and economic cooperation as well.

During the Second Gulf War in 1991, Oman was among Kuwait's allies and provided military facilities to Iraq's allied opponents. In February 1992, American archaeologists north of Salalah discovered the remains of the city of Ubar, located along the incense route and dating from around 2000 BC. Ubar was already mentioned in the Koran and in the fairy tales of 1001 nights. In April, the remains of the city of Saffara Metropolis (5000-2000 B.C.) were found at the foot of the Kara Mountains. In 1993, new oil wells and a gas field were discovered near Sunainah in the northeast. In 1998, Sultan Qabous received the International Peace Award for his leading role in maintaining peace and stability in the region.

21th century

On 4 October 2003, every Omani citizen aged 21 and above could cast his/her vote for candidates for the Majlis Al Shura(Consultative Council). Omanis living in other GCC states were also able to vote for the first time at their place of employment. 81 men and two women were elected to the Majlis Al Shura. The Majlis Oman has no formal legislative power and can only discuss draft laws on social and economic policy and recommend changes.

Given the powers of the sultan (legislation, appointment of ministers and the judiciary), the Majlis Oman is not yet a powerhouse. The ministers appointed by the sultan are not accountable to parliament, but to the head of state. In January 2006, Oman and the United States signed a free trade agreement. In June 2009, Somali pirates attacked Oman and the first ship was hijacked off the coast of Oman. In 2011 and 2012 there is some political unrest and opponents of the regime are imprisoned. In March 2013, the Sultan releases 30 people. In May 2014, the former Minister of Commerce Mohammed al-Khusaibi is sentenced to 3 years in prison for corruption. In October 2015, the new Majlis Al Shura is elected, it includes 1 woman. In July 2017, ports of Oman are used by Qatar to circumvent sanctions against that country. Haitham bin Tariq Al Said is the heir to the throne in 2020 after the death of his cousin Sultan Qaboos. Arif Alvi will be elected by parliament in September 2018 to succeed Mamnoon Hussain, whose five-year term was coming to an end. Former international cricket star Imran Khan wins the 2018 general election and says he wants to end corruption. Opposition to Khan flares up in late 2020, fuelled by allegations of corruption and economic discontent. Khan calls for a vote of confidence in March 2021. He narrowly survives, but the opposition boycotts the vote.


Callan, L. / Oman & United Arab Emirates
Lonely Planet

Foster, L.M. / Oman
Children’s Press

Medani Elsayed, M. / Reishandboek Oman en de Verenigde Arabische Emiraten

Van Deuren, G. / Oman, Verenigde Arabische Emiraten

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info