Did you know?: Oman region, a Hub on the Maritime Trade Routes

Traditional Tanzanian Dhow Boats © Magdalena Paluchowska / Shutterstock.com

We invite you to join us each week for Did you know? articles which adhere to preselected themes. Knowledge and appreciation of these subjects helps to preserve, diffuse, and promote elements of our common heritage of the Silk Roads.

Situated on the eastern coasts of the Arabian Peninsula to the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean, Oman had a crucial position along the maritime Silk Routes over centuries. Thanks to their outstanding navigations knowledge, inhabitants of Oman had excellent sailing skills, and used maritime routes since at least the third millennium B.C. This is a consequence of the secure maritime routes, and location, which is at the crossroads between South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It also results from its long coasts stretching from the Strait of Hormuz in junction of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean coasts. In addition, due to their location, the people of this coastal region were great ship-builders. Mainly, because of the timber they imported from India, and sometimes exported to the Gulf of Aden region, through these maritime routes.

There are evidences of boats that headed to Egypt and embarked in Dhofar region in the southern Arabian Peninsula, around 3000 B.C. During the reigns of Egyptians Pharaohs, ships from the Arabian Peninsula transported goods from Dhofar to Egypt. The goods carried included frankincense used at this time for perfumes, the embalming of the Egyptian mummies, and for religious usages. Furthermore, according to the Bible, the frankincense, myrrh, and gold carried by the Three Wise Men to the holy child were from Dhofar. Consequently, this region became an important meeting place for merchants of diverse horizons, who bought these goods, and continued their journey towards South East Asia.

In this way, goods and merchants travelling from the Far East to the Middle East and Africa – respectively with final stop Basra in Iraq and Alexandria in Egypt –, had to stop in Sohar or Muscat (in the Northern part). This region was advantageous for the sailors because of the suitable winds; it also allowed the merchants to acquire fresh supplies.

Moreover, by the mid 9th century, Omani vessels from the Arabian Peninsula started sailing towards South China. The Chinese port of Quanzhou (Zaitun) was one of the major destination of Omani sailors. Quanzhou keeps even nowadays, different evidences of these exchanges especially during 14th century. Furthermore, Omani merchants played an important role in the expansion of Islam toward South East Asia.

On the other hand, archaeological evidences such as silk, ceramics, ivory, and textiles, found in Sohar, show a Chinese presence in the Arabian Peninsula. There are evidences that Omani Ships carried these products from China to the Arabian Peninsula by the 4th century A.D. Therefore, Sohar was at the heart of the Eastern-Western trade, and this powerful position made it one of the prosperous city of the region.

Through these maritime routes, boats from the Arabian Peninsula also reached East Africa. Indeed, the sailors used to carry Eastern Asian goods to these lands, and some of them established commercial settlements, and lived in this region. Zanzibar Island in modern Tanzania keeps outstanding elements of these interactions between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa over centuries.

To conclude, Oman is an example that shows how different civilisations and their cultural elements moved from one place to another through trade. These travellers would settle in other lands, living amongst and melting with the local people through different ways including intercultural marriages; resulting in cultural exchanges and unions. The maritime trade routes were definitely a junction between different worlds.


See also:

Interactions between Indian Subcontinent and Western Land during Roman Empire

Trade Routes in Himalayan India

Pakistan and the Silk Roads

The Anatolian Silk Roads

The Silk Routes of the Mongols

The Southern Silk Roads

The Great Silk Roads

This platform has been developed and maintained with the support of:


UNESCO Headquarters

7 Place de Fontenoy

75007 Paris, France

Social and Human Sciences Sector

Research, Policy and Foresight Section

Silk Roads Programme


Follow us