Unit 2 Chapter 3 Lesson 1 Life on the Arabian Peninsula

Geography The geography of the Arabian
peninsula encouraged a nomadic way of life.
Economics Trade routes opened the Arabian
peninsula to goods and ideas from many parts
of the world.
Belief Systems Mecca was an important
religious center as well as a trade city.

Life on the Arabian Peninsula

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 1 How did the geography of the Arabian peninsula encourage a nomadic way of life?


The deserts of the Arabian peninsula cover hundreds of thousands of square miles. One desert in the south covers nearly 250,000 square miles. (See map below.) It is so enormous and so desolate that Arabs call it the Rub al-Khali, which means “the empty quarter.”

Physical Features and Climate

The Arabian peninsula is a region of Southwest Asia. It lies between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The peninsula is about 1,200 miles at its longest point from north to south and 1,300 miles at its widest point from east to west. This is about one-fourth the size of the United States. The region is very arid. It receives little rain and is covered mainly by deserts. Because of its desert climate, only a small amount of the land is useful for agriculture. Farmland is found in the southern mountains and along the northern coastline.


For centuries, Arab herders called Bedouins  have adapted their lives to arid land. Bedouins are nomads. Because there is little farmland, nomads move from place to place instead of settling permanently. Bedouins travel within a specific area as they seek water and grazing land for their herds. The path they follow is affected by such factors as the landscape they must cross and the amount of rainfall.

Another geographic factor is the location of an oasis. An oasis is a desert area that contains water. (See Geography feature below.) Bedouins interacted with people who settled at oases and lived a sedentary, or settled, life. Often, this interaction meant that the settled population traded food that they grew to the nomads for animals and animal products. Family Life Bedouins organized themselves into groups called clans. Clans were families of people related by blood or marriage. Each clan was its own unit of government. Clans also provided security and support in the extreme conditions of the desert. Bedouins took pride in their ability to adapt to life in the desert. They were also proud of their fighting skills. Clans had to defend themselves against raids by other clans who wanted water, livestock, or food supplies. Because of their fighting ability, Bedouins became the core of armies that would help create the Muslim Empire.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 1 How did the geography of the Arabian peninsula encourage a nomadic way of life? The people became because the land was arid and there was little farmland.

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 2 What made the Arabian peninsula important for trade?

Crossroads of Three Continents

The Arabian peninsula is well situated for trade. It is a crossroads of three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe. Also, it is surrounded by bodies of water. These include the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. (See map above.)

Growth of Trade Cities

By the early 600s, growing numbers of Arabs had moved to market towns or oases. Market towns grew into cities because of trade. Larger settlements near the western coast of Arabia became centers for local, regional, and long-distance trade.

In these cities, Arabs could meet travelers from near and distant lands and trade a variety of goods, including spices from India and ivory from Africa. (See feature “Life Along a Trade Route” ) Some seaports, such as Aden on the southwestern coast, were important trading centers long before the 600s.

Other areas, such as larger oases, prospered because they had good soil and enough water to support farming. These oases, too, were important for trade. They became stops along the many trade routes that crossed the peninsula. Mecca and Medina were such oasis cities.

Trade Routes and Trade Goods

Sea and land routes connected Arabia to major trade centers. These trade routes ran from the southern tip of the peninsula to the Byzantine and Persian empires to the north. Products and inventions from three continents moved along these routes by camel caravans. Merchants traded animals, textiles, metals, crops, and spices such as pepper and saffron. Trade was also important in cultural exchange. Merchants carried information as well as products. For example, they would gain knowledge of different religions practiced in the cities they visited. Judaism and Christianity were spread this way

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 2 What made the Arabian peninsula important for trade? Its location at the crossroads of three continents— Asia, Europe, and .

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 3 Why was Mecca important as a religious center?

Mecca was an important religious center as well as a trading center. It was located along the trade routes in western Arabia. Caravans stopped in Mecca during certain holy months. They brought people who came to worship at an ancient religious shrine called the Ka’aba, which was located in the middle of the city. The shrine was a cube-shaped stone building.

Abraham in Mecca

Arabs associated the Ka’aba with Abraham. Abraham was an important early figure in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions. Many Arabs thought themselves descendants of Abraham. They believed that Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Ka’aba as a temple to God (called Allah in Arabic). The belief in one God is called monotheism.

Many Religions

Other Arabs, especially those in the desert, believed in many gods. This belief is called polytheism. Over the years, these Arabs began to worship at the Ka’aba. Each year, people flocked to Mecca from all over the peninsula. The journey to a sacred place is called a pilgrimage.

Many Jews and Christians lived in Arab lands, so the belief in one God continued on the Arabian peninsula. Also, some Arabs blended Christian and Jewish beliefs and rituals with their own traditions. It was into this religious environment that Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was born in Mecca around A.D. 570.


ESSENTIAL QUESTION 3 Why was Mecca important as a religious center? It was the location of the the Ka’aba, an important .

What factors made Mecca a center of religious activity?

What factors made Mecca a center of religious activity? Many made the trip to Mecca to worship at the Ka’aba