site located in northwestern Saudi Arabia, in a vast inland drainage basin where, in an otherwise desolate landscape, an ample supply of groundwater provides a natural stopping place on the main north–south “incense route” along the western side of the peninsula (27°38′ N, 38°30′ E). The earliest evidence for occupation at the site consists of pottery of the type known as Qurayyah painted ware dated to the late second millennium BCE. [See Qurayyah.] Tayma' is first mentioned in Akkadian texts of the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria, who, in about 733 BCE, defeated the Arab tribes of the region, under Queen Samsi, and received tribute from them. These and other sources of the period indicate that the inhabitants of northern Arabia were nomadic pastoralists who had become wealthy and powerful through their control of the trade routes. It has been suggested, however, that Tayma' at least, was already a permanently occupied walled town—a conclusion that may be based on a misunderstanding of the archaeological evidence. The issue is controversial and has been most recently discussed by Peter Parr (“The Early History of the Hejaz: A Response to Garth Bawden,” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 4 [1993]: 48–58).

Tayma' is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Is. 21:14) in connection with events in the sixth century BCE, by which time it had become sufficiently important for the last Neo-Babylonian ruler, Nabonidus, to move his official residence there between about 552 and 542 BCE. He may have done this because it was a center of the moon god, Sin, of whom Nabonidus was a devotee; although it was most likely that he wished to control more effectively the lucrative Arabian trade. It was Nabonidus who, according to inscriptions, embellished and fortified the oasis, perhaps for the first time. During the Achaemenid period (539–331 BCE) the town flourished, probably under indirect rule from Persia and perhaps in competition with Dedan, but it was overshadowed in the Nabatean period (first century BCE–second century CE) by Hegra. [See Dedan; Meda'in Saleh.] Judging from the writings of such Muslim authors as al-Istakhri and al-Mukaddasi, it continued to be renowned as a market town during the medieval period; however, it declined thereafter and was largely ignored by the earliest Western visitors to Arabia in the early nineteenth century.

The first description of Tayma' was given to the Western world by Charles Doughty (Travels in Arabia Deserta, Cambridge, 1888), whose visit in 1877 was followed by those of Charles Huber in 1880 and by Huber and Julius Euting three years later. On this latter occasion the Tayma' stone, an Aramaic stela recording the introduction of a religious cult into Tayma' and generally dated to the fifth century BCE, was removed and sent to the Louvre, where it still resides. The site was also investigated by Antonin Jaussen and Raphael Savignac, who recorded many inscriptions (Mission archéologique en Arabie, 2 vols., Paris, 1909–1914); by H. St. John Philby (The Land of Midian, London, 1957); and by Frederick V. Winnett and William L. Reed, whose publication (Ancient Records from North Arabia, Toronto, 1970) provides the most authoritative brief history of the site. Since 1979 the Saudi Arabian Antiquities Department has been conducting limited excavations there.

The most impressive remains of ancient Tayma' are long lines of stone walling, mostly covered with debris and blown sand, enclosing an irregular area of about 8 sq km (5 sq. mi.). It is unlikely that this area was ever entirely built over, and it is misleading to call the wall a town wall; it primarily protected the fields and irrigation systems, of unknown date, which are plainly visible. The original settlement is probably represented by a small artificial mound, or tell, near the modern Tabuk–Medina highway; other adjacent walled areas, called compounds by some scholars Garth Bawden et al., “Preliminary Archaeological Investigations at Tayma',” Atlal 4 [1980]: 69–106), may represent successive additions to the settlement. At various localities within the enclosed area, ruined buildings are visible. The Department of Antiquities has partially excavated three groups of these, the most important so far being that known as Qaṣr al-Hamra, where a complex of rooms, perhaps a palace, has been revealed. One of the rooms, clearly a shrine, contained stone offering tables, a cuboid stone carved with religious motifs, and an Aramaic stela similar to the Tayma' stone. Although originally attributed to the Neo-Babylonian period, it now seems more likely that the shrine dates to Achaemenid times. The dating of other structures, including a number of burial mounds of various types, remains uncertain, although pottery of the Nabatean and medieval periods has been found in various parts of the site.


  • Abu-Duruk, Hamid Ibrahim. Introduction to the Archaeology of Tayma'. Riyadh, 1986.
    Account of the recent Saudi excavations
    . Find it in your Library
  • Bawden, Garth, and Christopher Edens. “Tayma' Painted Ware and the Hejaz Iron Age Ceramic Tradition.” Levant 20 (1988): 197–213.
    Presents the case for the continuous occupation of Tayma' throughout the first millennium BCE
    . Find it in your Library
  • Edens, Christopher, and Garth Bawden. “History of Tayma' and Hejazi Trade during the First Millennium B.C.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 32 (1989): 48–103.
    Useful, comprehensive account, somewhat marred by an overly theoretical approach and an uncritical interpretation of the archaeological data
    . Find it in your Library
  • Lambert, W. G. “Nabonidus in Arabia.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 5 (1972): 53–64.
    Masterly summary of the evidence which, however, pays too little attention to economic motives
    . Find it in your Library
  • Parr, Peter J. “Pottery of the Late Second Millennium B.C. from North West Arabia and Its Historical Implications.” In Araby the Blest: Studies in Arabian Archaeology, edited by Daniel T. Potts, pp. 72–89. Copenhagen, 1988.
    This and the article below provide a critical reappraisal of the recent work at Tayma'
    ]. Find it in your Library
  • Parr, Peter J. “Aspects of the Archaeology of North-West Arabia in the First Millennium BC.” In L'Arabie préislamique et son environnement historique et culturel: Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg, edited by Toufic Fahd, pp. 39–66. Leiden, 1989. Find it in your Library

Peter J. Parr