Magan (civilization)

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Location of foreign lands for the Mesopotamians, including Elam, Magan, Dilmun, Marhashi and Meluhha.

Magan (also Majan[1]) was an ancient region in what is now modern day Oman and United Arab Emirates. It was referred to in Sumerian cuneiform texts of around 2300 BC and existed until 550 BC as a source of copper and diorite for Mesopotamia. As discussed by The Archeology Fund founded by Juris Zarins, "The Sumerian cities of southern Mesopotamia were closely linked to the Gulf. Archaeologists and historians have linked sites in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar to the Sumerian geographical term of Dilmun. Oman, was most likely the Sumerian Magan".[2]


Modern archaeological and geological evidence places Magan in the area currently encompassed by Oman and the United Arab Emirates.[3][4]

In the past, historians had debated possible locations, including the region of Yemen known as Ma'in,[5] in the south of Upper Egypt, in Nubia or the Sudan, and others as part of today's Iran and Pakistan. Other Possible locations for the Magan include Bahrain, Qatar, and the geographical location known as Dilmun.[2] The latter location, specifically in the neighborhood of coastal Baluchistan, has been suggested on account of the similarity between Baluchistan's historical name, "Makran", and "Makkan", a variant of Magan.[6]


Model of a Magan boat

The first Sumerian mentions of a land of Magan (Sumerian 𒈣𒃶 Magan, Akkadian Makkan) are made during the Umm al-Nar period (2600–2000 BCE), as well as references to 'the Lords of Magan'. Sumerian sources also point to 'Tilmun' (accepted today as being centered in modern Bahrain) and Meluhha (thought to refer to the Indus Valley).[4] Akkadian campaigns against Magan took place in the twenty-third century BCE, again possibly explaining the need for fortifications, and both Naram-Sin and Manishtusu, in particular, wrote of campaigning against '32 lords of Magan'.[4]

Gudea cylinders inscription A IX:19. Gudea mentions the devotions to his Temple: "Magan and Meluhha will come down from their mountains to attend".[7] The words Magan (𒈣𒃶) and Meluhha (𒈨𒈛𒄩) appear vertically in the first column on the right.[8]

Naram-Sin gave the Akkadian title Malek to the defeated ruler of Magan, a title which is cognate to the Semitic, including Arabic word for king, malik.[9]

Magan was famed for its shipbuilding and its maritime capabilities: one Magan ship was capable of carrying around 20 tons of cargo, making each a formidable vessel.[10] King Sargon of Agade (2371–2316 BCE) boasted that his ports were home to boats from Tilmun, Magan and Meluhha. His successor, Naram-Sin, not only conquered Magan, but honoured the Magan King Manium by naming the city of Manium-Ki in Mesopotamia after him. Trade between the Indus Valley and Sumer took place through Magan, although that trade appears to have been interrupted, as Ur-Nammu (2113–2096 BCE) laid claim to having 'brought back the ships of Magan'.[11]


Archaeological finds dating from this time show trade not only with the Indus Valley and Sumer, but also with Iran and Bactria.[12] They have also revealed what is thought to be the oldest case on record of poliomyelitis, with the distinctive signs of the disease found in the skeleton of a woman from Tell Abraq, in modern Umm Al Quwain.[12]

Trade was common between Magan and Ur before the reigns of the Gutian kings over Ur. After they were deposed, Ur-Nammu of Ur restored the roads and trade resumed between the two nations (c. 2100 BC).[13]

Magan trade may have also been influenced by cities further south in Oman. The Shisr site, recognized as Wubar (Ubar) by UNESCO's "Land of Frankincense" is one such location that could have provided a large supply of resins of both frankincense and myrrh: major trade routes from southern Oman to Iraq go through long stretches of Magan-Sumer occupied land.[14][15] The resins on these trades routes was also sought after for medicinal properties: the Sumerians and the Magan-Sumerian people would have needed a steady supply to continue to make medicines and southern Oman, specifically the Dhofar Region, could supply the resins in necessary quantities.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Boats of the World
  2. ^ a b Zarins, Juris. "The Archeology Fund". The Archeology Fund. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  3. ^ M. Redha Bhacker and Bernadette Bhacker. "Digging in the Land of Magan". Archaeological Institute of America.
  4. ^ a b c Abed, Ibrahim; Hellyer, Peter (2001). United Arab Emirates : a new perspective. London: Trident Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-1900724470. OCLC 47140175.
  5. ^ F. Hommel, Ethnologie und Geographie des alten Orients, (Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft von W. Otto, III. Abtl. I, Teil, Bd. I, Munich 1926), 550, 578 ff.
  6. ^ John Lawton. "Oman - The Lost Land". Saudi Aramco World (May/June 1983): 18–19. Archived from the original on 26 October 2014.
  7. ^ "I will spread in the world respect for my Temple, under my name the whole universe will gather in it, and Magan and Meluhha will come down from their mountains to attend" "J'étendrai sur le monde le respect de mon temple, sous mon nom l'univers depuis l'horizon s'y rassemblera, et [même les pays lointains] Magan et Meluhha, sortant de leurs montagnes, y descendront" (cylinder A, IX:19)" in "Louvre Museum".
  8. ^ "The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature".
  9. ^ Tosi, Maurizio (1986). "The Emerging Picture of Prehistoric Arabia". Annual Review of Anthropology. 15: 461–490. doi:10.1146/ ISSN 0084-6570. JSTOR 2155769.
  10. ^ Bhacker, Redha. "Digging in the Land of Magan". Archeology. Archaeological Institute of America.
  11. ^ Donald., Hawley (1970). The Trucial States. London: Allen & Unwin. p. 27. ISBN 978-0049530058. OCLC 152680.
  12. ^ a b Abed, Ibrahim; Hellyer, Peter (2001). United Arab Emirates : a new perspective. London: Trident Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-1900724470. OCLC 47140175.
  13. ^ Hamblin, William J. Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  14. ^ "Land of Frankincense". UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  15. ^ Hedges, George. "The Archeology Fund". The Archeology Fund. Retrieved November 22, 2021.
  16. ^ Michie, C. (1991). "Frankincense and myrrh as remedies in children". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 84 (10): 602–605. doi:10.1177/014107689108401011. PMC 1295557. PMID 1744842.