Before the rise of Islam, Arabia was home to nomadic Bedouin tribes as well as emerging civilizations and kingdoms that were in close contact and traded with Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa and India. In the early centuries CE, northwest and northeast Arabia were subsumed under the Roman and Persian Empires respectively. The Arabian kingdoms that were involved in the lucrative trade networks in frankincense, myrrh and other spices prospered and amassed great amounts of wealth.
The rise of Islam was marked by the Islamic Golden Age.
- 1 Petra, Jordan. The grandest and most popular Nabatean site.
- 2 Avdat. A major Nabatean city on the Petra-Gaza incense route. From the mid-3rd century, Avdat shifted from international trade to agriculture and producing wine.
- 3 Madain Saleh, Saudi Arabia. The second largest settlement of the Nabatean Kingdom (after Petra). With over a 100 rock-cut, well-preserved monumental tombs, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
- 4 Bosra, Syria. A major metropolis that became the capital of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea.
- 5 Ma'rib, Yemen. The capital of the kingdom of Saba, traditionally associated with the biblical Sheba. Ruins of mud-brick houses, castles and temples can still be seen today, as can sculptures made from sandstone and quartzite.
- 6 Zafar, Yemen. The original capital of the Himyarite Kingdom. It was a bustling town of agricultural and international trade home to polytheists, Jews and Christians. The ring-stone of Yishak bar Hanina found at Zafar is the earliest evidence of a Jewish presence in Southern Arabia.
- 7 Shabwa, Yemen. The capital of the Hadhramaut kingdom which in the 3rd century CE was invaded and sacked by the Himyarites. There are remains of a royal palace and ancient temple.
- 8 Qal'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) (6km from Manama). Beneath the 6th century fort lies 5,000 years of continuous human presence. The most important archeological site in the country, the location of Bahrain Fort was a trading port for the Dilmun civilization, referred to as the "land of immortality" by the Sumerians, and known as Tylos to the Greeks. Copper and ivory relics have been excavated at the site.
- 9 Ed-Dur, United Arab Emirates. A coastal port that thrived in the 1st century. Ed-Dur had strong links with the Greco-Roman world, with excavations finding Hellenic-style coinage and Roman glass and pottery. The known use of alabaster windows is also found in Ed-Dur. The main buildings at the site are a square fort and a temple dedicated to the sun god Shams.
- 10 Hatra, Iraq. A fortified caravan city that existed from the 3rd century BC when it was capital of its Arab kingdom. Under the influence of the Parthian Empire, Hatra was known for its fusion of pantheons and possessed temples housing sculptures in tribute to the Mesopotamian gods. As of 2022, due to threats of destruction by the Islamic State, the archaeological site is ongoing reconstruction efforts.