As it first emerged from pre-history, the islands of Bahrain were first known as Dilmun. The first mention of Dilmun is on Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets, dated to the late fourth millennium BC. These were found in the city of Uruk, in the temple of the goddess Inanna.
Qal’at al-Bahrain, the site of a later fort, is known to have been an important town for Bahrain’s maritime trade since around 2300 BC. From this same period we find an inscription in the ancient city of Lagash, where King Ur-Nanshe proclaims that: “The ships of Dilmun brought him wood as tribute from foreign lands.”
We later find references to Dilmun in Babylonian documents, for example in letters during the reign of Burnaburiash of the Kassite dynasty, from around 1370 BC. These letters hint at administrative and trading relationships with the Babylonians. By this time, Dilmun was already attaining a reputation as a land of significant pearling wealth and a centre for regional maritime trade.
In the fourth century BC, contingents from the army of Alexander the Great, explored Bahrain. The Greeks gave the islands the name of Tylos. Greek writer Pliny praised Bahrain’s beautiful pearls.
Some of evocative mentions of Bahrain emerge from the most ancient examples of literature in existence. For example, Dilmun is cited in the Sumerian creation myths as a place where the heroes of these stories were taken by the gods to live forever. Dilmun is sometimes referred to as “the place where the sun rises” and “the land of the living”.
In the epic Sumerian story of Enki, Dilmun is the place where creation occurred. In this story, Enki promises to to Ninhursag, the Earth Mother: “For Dilmun, the land of my lady’s heart, I will create long waterways, rivers and canals, whereby water will flow to quench the thirst of all beings and bring abundance to all that lives.”
In later Babylonian creation stories, this creation myth is repeated on the basis that Dilmun is the location where the salt water of the sea and fresh water met and mingled – perhaps in relation to Bahrain’s early fame as a rare source of fresh water in the Arabian Gulf.
In the epic of Gilgamesh – an Akkadian poem often considered to be the first great work of literature – Gilgamesh, King of Uruk who reigned around 2600 BC, travels to Dilmun to seek the secret of eternal youth. Thus, we see in all these legends that Dilmun was seen as a sacred and revered location of mystery and prosperity.
Bahrain is home to some 170,000 burial mounds in honeycomb-shaped burial complexes. Nowhere else in this region hosts so many of these structures in such high density. Many burial grounds date back to around the second and third centuries BC. The oldest and largest burial mounds – the “Royal Tombs” – are found at Aali; some measuring up to 15 metres in height and 45 metres wide.
Excavations have now found evidence for Neolithic communities in Bahrain since 5000 BC, along with stone tools and the scattered remains of animal bones and shell fish – indicating their dietary preferences. There is speculation that diets of oysters may have led to the discovery of pearls and therefore the origins of Bahrain’s famed pearling industry.
First for Bahrain
- Bahrain’s first mosque
- First artificial islands
- Female president of UN General Assembly
- First nation to host Gulf Cup
- First mention in historical record
- First modern schools
- First causeway
- First oil well in the region
- First media outlets
- Bahrain’s first lady
- Women in medicine
- International Airshow
- First referendum
- First Grand Prix