On the South Arabian Folk Tales


Alfred Freiherr von Kremer (1828 ‒89) was an Austrian orientalist and diplomat. He studied law at the University of Vienna and classical oriental languages at the Oriental Academy (now the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna). Upon the completion of his studies, he was sent by the Imperial Academy of Sciences (now the Austrian Academy of Sciences) to Syria and Egypt in 1849‒51 to collect Arabic manuscripts. It was during this journey that he discovered Kitāb al-maghāzī (The book of conquests [of Prophet Muhammad]) by Muhammad ibn ʻUmar al-Waqidi (747 or 748‒823), one of the earliest Muslim historians and a judge in the court of Abbasid caliphs Harun al-Rashid and al-Maʼmun. Kremer later pioneered the cultural history approach to oriental studies and published his seminal work Kulturgeschichte des Orients unter den Kalifen (Cultural history of the Orient under the caliphs). In the book presented here, Über die südarabische Sage (On the South Arabian folk tales), Kremer attempts to shed light on the history of pre-Islamic Yemen, especially that of the Himyarite Kingdom, which flourished 110 BC–525 AD and was initially pagan, then Jewish for more than a century, before being overthrown by Christian Ethiopia. He does this by piecing together the ethnographic history of ancient Yemen under the different ruling dynasties, using Western and Arabic sources, as well as ancient Yemeni folk tales, their background and their evolution. Chief among these tales is “al-Qaṣīdah al-Ḥimyarīyah” (the Himyarite ode), which lists the names of the different kings of ancient Yemen. Also known as the “poem of the crowns,” it was composed by Nashwan ibn Saʿid al-Himyari (died 1178), a scholar, linguist and Yemeni historian who took particular pride in his Yemeni heritage.

Date Created

Publication Information

F.A. Brockhaus, Leipzig


Title in Original Language

Über die südarabische Sage

Type of Item

Physical Description

151 pages ; 24 centimeters


  • The Library of Congress copy has an ink stamp in Japanese: Minami Manshū Tetsudō Kabushiki Kaisha Tōa Keizai Chōsakyoku zōsho no in (Seal of the collection at the South Manchuria Railway Company, East Asia Economic Research Bureau). The volume most likely was confiscated by the U.S. Armed Forces at the end of World War II and subsequently transferred to the Library of Congress. The South Manchuria Railway Company engaged in extensive intelligence gathering and operational activities on behalf of the Japanese Imperial Army, including efforts to agitate Muslims against Chinese and Russian rule.


  1. G.W. Bowersock, “Judaism Comes to Himyar” in The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam (Oxford, UK, and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
  2. Al-Himyari, Nashwan, al-Maktaba al-shamila, http://shamela.ws/index.php/author/779.
  3. “Kremer Alfred Frh. von,” in Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815–1950 (ÖBL) (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1969). http://www.biographien.ac.at/oebl_4/253.pdf.

Last updated: October 29, 2015