Oman, a country of S. E. Arabia, comprising the coast from Abu Debi, on the Persian gulf, lon. 54° 40' E., to the vicinity of Merbat on the Indian ocean; area, about 80,000 sq. m.; pop. estimated in 1873 at 1,598,000. Its boundary inland is limited only by the great desert. It has also a nominal jurisdiction over the coast of the Persian gulf from Abu Debi to the bounds of Nedjed, including Bahrein and the other islands of the gulf eastward, the Persian coast opposite Ras Musandum from lias Jashk to Bunder Abbas, and the islands of the Indian ocean, including Socotra. The peninsula which constitutes Oman proper, extending from Ras el-Hadd to Ras Musandum, is about 350 m. long. The coast line between these two points is nearly a crescent. A range of mountains, following generally the same curve, traverses the country from its S. E. to its N. extremity, throwing off in its course a branch which extends to Ras el-Khaimah on the Persian gulf. The average height of these mountains is about 4,000 ft., but in their highest ridge, called Jebel Akhdar, they reach an elevation of 6,000 ft.
Limestone is the prevailing rock, but near Muscat, where the cliffs rise abruptly from the coast, serpentine predominates; and at the N. extremity of the chain, around Ras Musandum, are steep walls of basalt or trachyte, which show many evidences of volcanic action. In the neighborhood of Ras el-Hadd are rich lead mines, and copper mines are worked in the interior. Iron is found in many localities, and gold is said to exist in Jebel Akhdar. Rock salt is abundant, and is worked largely for exportation. The principal mines are on the island of Ormuz and near Bunder Abbas on the Persian coast. The sea throws up amber in considerable quantities, and pearls are found in the Persian gulf. Only one pearl fishery is now carried on, at the island of Ormuz. Gold, pearls, amber, and salt are government monopolies. The soil of Oman near the sea is poor, but in the interior it is very fertile when irrigated. There are a few streams, which are generally dependent on the rains, but several are said to be permanent. Rain is abundant from October to March in the highlands, whence torrents descend to the plains. Irrigation is practised extensively, the water being collected and led through the cultivated tracts in subterranean canals, which extend sometimes many miles.
Wheat, maize, barley, durra, and other grains grow in abundance; and cotton, sugar, tobacco, indigo, and coffee are raised to some extent. The coffee is inferior to that of Yemen, and the sugar cane is of poor quality. Cotton would do well if properly cultivated. The climate of the plains is hot, and the fruits are those of India, but in the valleys of the highlands the apricot, grape, and fig grow to perfection. Excellent wine, resembling that of Shiraz, is made in large quantities. The camels and asses of Oman are celebrated, and the latter are largely exported. Horses are few and are generally inferior, but occasionally good ones are imported from Nedjed. The cattle are of the humpbacked Indian variety. Sheep and goats are raised in vast flocks, and common fowl are numerous. Delicious fish are caught on all the coasts, and the ports are sometimes almost blocked with sardines. Dried and salted fish are put up in large quantities, and exported to India, Morocco, and even to Australia. In some of the larger towns, particularly in Sharja, Muttra, and Sohar, there is considerable manufacturing of gold and silver filigree, for the ornamentation of arms, belts, seats, pipes, etc.
Other manufactures are coarse woollen and cotton cloths, carpets and coverlets, silk stuffs for women, and sugar. - Oman proper is divided by the range of mountains into several districts. Sur comprises the coast between Ras el-Hadd and Muscat, extending to the mountains, which approach the sea gradually, and at their southern extremity rise steep and rugged from the shore. Jailan lies S. W. of Sur, on the other side of the mountains; it stretches indefinitely down the W. coast, is sandy and uncultivated, and is inhabited principally by the great tribe of Hinawy or Hi-navy Bedouins. Jebel Akhdar, N. W. of Jailan, the most mountainous and richest of the districts, is occupied by the Yaaribah tribe; its principal cities are Rastag, the former capital, Bahila, Nezwa, and Haja. N. W. of Jebel Akhdar is Dahira, which is traversed by the secondary chain of mountains leading to the Persian gulf; it is inhabited chiefly by the Ghafary Bedouins. Bereima, its principal city, which commands the defiles of the grand chain, is occupied by a garrison of Wahabee troops, charged with assuring the payment of the annual tribute to Nedjed. On the other side of the mountains, E. of Jebel Akhdar and Dahira, is Batina, which consists of a vast plain rising gradually from the sea into hills covered with vegetation.
Between Batina and Sur, on the coast, is the district of Muscat, which comprises little more than the cities of Muscat and Muttra and their environs. (See Muscat.) Sharja, on the coast of the Persian gulf, is virtually independent; it is inhabited by the Jowasim or Kawasim Arabs. The Benu Yass occupy the coast beyond Sharja. The dependencies of Oman on the coast of Persia are rented from the shah. They include the port of Bunder Abbas, formerly called Gombrun, and its dependencies, the islands of Kishm and Ormuz, and the smaller islands along the coast. The sovereigns of Oman had held these for more than a century, on the annual payment of 6,000 tomans; but in 1854 the shah seized the fortified places and expelled their officials. In 1856 a treaty was concluded by which the ruler of Oman was permitted to retain them for 20 years, at the expiration of which they were to revert to Persia; and the rental was raised to 16,000 tomans. Besides Muscat and its suburb Muttra, the chief seaports and centres of trade are Khur-Fahkan, Shinaz, Sohar, So-weik, and Barka. The entire coast from Ras el-Hadd northward is lined with towns and villages, many of which are mere collections of huts, but have large fisheries and trade.
The principal port on the Persian gulf is Sharja. The S. coast has many small villages, peopled chiefly by negroes. Muscat is generally regarded as the capital of Oman, but Palgrave says that Sohar, Nezwa, and Bahila hold a similar rank, and are in turn the sovereign's place of residence. The inhabitants of the interior are engaged mostly in pastoral and agricultural pursuits; those on the coast are traders, fishermen, and mariners. The townspeople are mixed largely with Persian, Indian, and negro blood. Most of the commerce is in the hands of Banians from Kutch and Guzerat in India. The Bedouins are a strong, athletic, and handsome race, much superior physically to those further north. The natives of Oman call themselves Abadites, and profess a Mohammedanism largely mixed up with elements of more ancient and foreign creeds; but toleration exists for all religions, races, and customs, and the people are said to be the most hospitable of the Arabs. - Oman is ruled by a sovereign whose proper title is seyid. By Europeans he is called sometimes imam of Muscat and sometimes sultan of Oman; but the latter title has never been borne by any of the rulers, and the former has not been used during the present century.
The government is less a royalty than a union of independent municipalities, each city and village having its own corporation and customs. The prerogatives of the sovereign consist in the right to name and to depose governors, although he is restricted in his choice to the family who hold the office hereditarily; in the power to fix customs and duties; in the exclusive possession of a navy and of his little army of 500 or 600 men, composed of Arabs, Persians, and Belooches; and in the management of all foreign alliances and treaties, and the making of peace and war. The administration of justice is reserved to the cadis and sheiks of each locality. Taxes are fixed and immutable, and the seyid cannot modify them. All his power depends on the good will of the people, and on the amount of money he may have wherewith to buy support. The revenues derived from import duties on merchandise and slaves, and taxes on interior commerce and local industry, have been farmed of late years to an English house in Bombay, for the annual sum of $115,000. The tribute from Zanzibar, the income from commerce carried on in the seyid's own name, and the revenue from the Persian coast and the islands, which are not included in the contract with the English house, raise the total revenue to something less than $200,000. - The ruling dynasty of Oman was founded about 1750 by Ahmed ibn Said. Previously the sovereign was elected on account of personal merits, irrespective of descent, but since Ahmed's accession the election has been restricted to his family.
He died about 1775, after bringing the country to a high state of prosperity. In 1784 Zanzibar was captured, and a few years later the authority of Oman was extended to the mainland of Africa. About 1800 the Wahabees invaded Oman, and by repeated invasions in after years reduced it nearly to the verge of ruin, withdrawing finally only on condition of the payment of an annual tribute. After the recovery of Nedjed from the Egyptian conquest, Turky, the Wahabee ruler, attempted to reassert his claims in Oman, but in 1833 agreed to accept an annual tribute of 5,000 German crowns. In 1845 Faisul, son of Turky, who had returned to Nedjed after the second Egyptian invasion, sent an army into Oman, but accepted the terms offered by the seyid. The tribute was continued till 1852, when further demands were made by the Wa-habee ruler, and it was increased to 12,000 crowns. The seyid Said died in 1856 after a reign of half a century, leaving 15 sons. At this time Oman was rich and prosperous. Her government extended over the best part of the Arabian coast, the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, and Monha, and a large portion of the African coast opposite; and her navy numbered 40 ships, 12 of which carried from 10 to 50 guns each.
But with the death of Said internal dissensions began, and the succession was disputed. Thoweiny, the eldest son, was elected ruler of Oman, and Majid, his brother, of Zanzibar. After a long dispute, the rival claims of the brothers were submitted to the arbitration of Lord Canning, then governor general of India, who confirmed each in his sovereignty, and decreed that the seyid of Zanzibar should pay an annual subsidy to Oman of 40,000 crowns. In making the award, regard was had to the fact that Oman was burdened with a tribute to the Wahabees, then increased to 20,000 crowns, the half of which had previously been drawn from the treasury of Zanzibar. The terms were accepted by each in 1862, and since then Zanzibar has been independent. For the past ten years Oman has been the scene of dissension, brought about by the rival claims of different members of the ruling family to the sovereignty, and the continued interference of the Wahabees. In 1873 the seyid of Oman made a treaty with England for the suppression of the slave trade.