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History of Oman

Oman's history is often divided into two or three distinct times: the ancient times dating back to nearly 5000 BC, the 1700 and 1800s, then today, beginning with about 1970. Today, the Omanis proudly claim they are in the middle of a "Renaissance," and due to their long and powerful past, this phrase is well deserved.

Oman's southern coast, near modern-day Dhofar is home to the highly sought after frankincense, but the region also had gold, making historic Oman one of the richest areas in the entire Middle East, if not the world. The frankincense, which can only be found in a couple places, but none with as high of quality as Dhofar, became the draw from everywhere in the ancient Middle East as it was a highly sought after trading material, linking Oman with India, the Arabian Peninsula, and the rest of the world.

Frankincense gained fame in the west as being one of the gifts from the three kings. Plus, the gold cities of the Bible were also located in Oman, which justifiably gave Oman its reputation as a rich and prosperous land. Unfortunately, to have a revival, first there must be a downturn and Oman's first began at about year 0 until a little after the introduction of Islam to the region.

In about 1000 to 1500 Oman made a resurgence by controlling the Indian Ocean and the trading routes from Africa, Arabia, and India. This resurgence was short-lived however and in the 1500s the Portuguese gained control over these same trade routes by successfully attacking Oman's coasts and ships. Portuguese rule over Oman lasted until 1624.

In the 1800s, Oman regained influence over the seas and moved their capital to the island of Zanzibar (off the coast of modern-day Tanzania), making parts of the East African coast colonies. By the late 1800s however, the Omani empire had divided between Oman itself and the African colonies. Near the same time the British arrived in the Persian Gulf and tried to end Oman's control over trade.

Although the British never turned Oman into a colony, the country was essentially under British control during much of the 1900s. During this time Oman was essentially divided into two areas: the coast and the interior. The latter filled with nomads and desert, while the prior was based on trade and the seas. These two groups warred with each other as the coasts were dominated by the Sultan and the interior sought freedom and the open desert, which was the traditional life they had lived for centuries. Despite eventually uniting the country, civil unrest continued as Oman isolated itself from the rest of the world during much of the 1900s; education rates stagnated, and healthcare lagged behind international standards.

In 1970 Qaboos, the Sultan's son took power in a bloodless coup. At the time Oman only had two primary schools, no secondary schools, two hospitals (run by American missions), and only 10 kilometers of sealed roads. This uphill battle for Sultan Qaboos was successfully overcome as today, Oman rightfully boasts one of the world's best road networks, increasing literacy and education rates, and improving healthcare.

Despite the modernization since 1970, Oman looks and feels nothing like it's neighboring Gulf coast countries. Omani traditions and culture have not only remained, but have been embraced and flourish under the country's educational system. Additionally, Sultan Qaboos and his ministers annually go out among the people to request their suggestions, ideas, and needs so they can continue to improve their country. Some of these requests even being fulfilled before the Sultan's departure from the town or village he visits.

This page was last updated: March, 2013