It is thought that the word `Oman’ is derived from the verb meaning to occupy or settle.
The earliest traces of human settlements in the area appear to be from the fourth millennium B.C. The burial mounds or the beehive tombs that are found around Ibri and on the Jebel Bani Jabir plateau provide the only links to this early civilization. Not much else is known about the early settlements in Oman.
What is agreed upon by most historians is the fact that Oman had a long and enviable trading history. Mesopotamian records describe trade with ships from Magan and Dilum. Magan, believed to be present day Sohar, was once the centre of copper trade. Trading accounts from the Indus Valley civilization, the Sumerian and Assyrian civilizations all mention the seafaring port of Magan and attribute their economic success to trade with Magan.
These early trading accounts particularly highlight two products that contributed to the growth of trade with Oman; Frankincense and Copper.
The Frankincense tree also called olibanum produces an aromatic sap, Frankincense, used in perfumes and in incense. Southern Oman, present day region of Dhofar, was the centre of the Frankincense trade. Found in very few places around the world, the Frankincense tree grew best in the Dhofar region of Oman. This uniqueness made Omani Frankincense a highly prized commodity and was mostly traded against high value commodities like spices. Trading in Frankincense grew to such an extent in Oman that whole economies of new cities subsisted entirely on the trade of this aromatic sap. The prosperity of the lost city of Ubar, was believed to be based on the frankincense trade.
Copper assumed importance in the later pre – Islamic times and played a large part in Oman’s economic prosperity since then.
Islam spread across Oman with the acceptance of Islam as their religion by the then ruling Azdi tribe, in the early 7th century. The ruling Azdi tribes till then were pagan worshippers. With the conversion of the Azdi tribe, Islam soon spread throughout the entire country thus aligning Oman with the larger Arabian Peninsula in its culture and way of life.
By the advent of Islam into Oman in the 7th century, Omani seamen were trading with cities as far away as Canton in China, making Sohar the largest port in any Islamic region at the time. Along with the goods of trade, perhaps Omanis were also instrumental in spreading their new found faith, Islam, to the Far East, examples of which are the Islamic majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Portuguese occupied the country for over 150 years. With little interest in solidifying their presence in the country, apart from controlling trade, coupled with the changing fortunes of their colonization strategy worldwide, the Portuguese were ousted by the far sighted leader of the Al – Ya’ruba dynasty, Imam Nasir bin Murshid Al – Ya’ruba in 1650. Henceforth, under the rule of the Ya’ruba dynasty, Oman became a unified nation state with its influence stretching as far as Asia and Africa. The Ya’ruba Dynasty ruled Oman till 1743.
During the years of the Ya’ruba dynasty, internal factionalism between tribes and the Ya’ruba dynasty on issues of succession were common and soon, partly fuelled by the conquering designs of the Persians, these internal squabbles brought the downfall of the dynasty. The last of the Sultans, Sultan bin Murshid died fighting the Persians at Sohar.
After the death of Sultan bin Murshid at the battle of Sohar, the then Governor of Sohar, Sheikh Ahmed bin Said Al Busaid, who fought alongside the Sultan in the same battle, was nominated by the ulema as the next Imam. Known as an astute military strategist, he called for a cease fire with the warring Persians and invited the Persian military retinue to attend a huge party in their honor and on the sound of a drum, massacred the entire retinue, thereby gaining control of the country and ousting the Persians forever.
And in so doing, Imam Ahmed began a long and glorious dynasty, the Al Busaids, a dynasty that has lasted from 1747 to the present day.