Eduard Glaser’s Journey to Ma'rib


Eduard Glaser (1855–1908) was a preeminent scholar of South Arabia. He was born in Rust in Bohemia, and later moved to Vienna, where he studied Arabic and Sabaean grammar under Austrian orientalist David Heinrich Müller. Glaser made four journeys to South Arabia in the late 19th century (1882–84, 1885–86, 1887–88, and 1892–94) to study and copy down Sabaean inscriptions. The Sabaeans were a people of South Arabia in pre-Islamic times, founders of the kingdom of Saba’, the biblical Sheba. They spoke a Semitic language, now extinct, that had its own alphabet. At the time of Glaser’s visits, the region was under Ottoman Turkish rule, and Glaser used his connections with Turkish officials and the military to gain unparalleled access to historical sites, including the ancient city of Ma'rib and its famous dam, some 550 meters long. Although Glaser’s name is most closely associated with the trove of inscriptions that he copied down during his trips, his study of South Arabia was wide-ranging and covered many other topics. Eduard Glasers Reise nach Marib (Eduard Glaser’s journey to Ma'rib) was published in Vienna in 1913, five years after his death. It recounts part of his third journey, from Sanaa to Ma'rib, undertaken between March 17 and April 24, 1888. The book is divided into three main parts: “Reise nach Marib” (Journey to Ma'rib), “Aufenthalt und Arbeiten in Marib” (Stay and work in Ma'rib), and “Rückreise nach Ṣan'ā” (Journey back to Sanaa). The book has cartographic and topographic inserts showing the parts of the region he visited, sketches of the ruins of the Ma'rib Dam, and essays on the people, the land, and the customs. Also included are descriptions of the routes taken by two earlier European travelers, the Frenchmen Thomas-Joseph Arnaud in 1843 and Joseph Halévy in 1869–70. Glaser found it difficult to operate within the European academic world. As a result, his work, which is preserved in the Austrian Academy of Sciences and throughout Europe, did not immediately gain the attention it deserved.

Last updated: September 22, 2015