Mines of iron, lead, copper, and rock salt are still worked. - Although but a small portion of Arabia is susceptible of cultivation, its vegetable productions have always been greatly famed. The date and other species of palm stud the oases of the desert. In Yemen the coffee tree yields the small Mocha berry. The balm tree (ancyris opobalsamum), which furnishes the fragrant balm of Mecca, the acacia vera, which produces the gum arabic of commerce, the cassia fistula or purging cassia, the aloe, and the olibanum or frankincense, are the most valuable of the products of the soil. The durra (sorghum vulgare), a species of millet, which furnishes the chief article of food to the village Arabs, the sugar cane, wheat, barley, beans, rape, lentils, melons, gourds, oranges, lemons, pears, quinces, apricots, almonds, peaches, grapes, tamarinds, and cocoa-nuts form the bulk of the other productions of the country. The methods of agriculture adopted by the Arabs are extremely rude, but owing to their industry, and the porous and friable character of the soil, which only needs water to make it yield abundantly in the more fertile regions, they succeed in raising very good crops.
In many parts of Yemen ploughing is not attempted, but the ground is cultivated with a crowbar and hoe, as substitutes for the spade. Throughout nearly the whole country which is under cultivation, artificial irrigation is practised. At Muscat wheat and barley are sown in December and reaped in March. - The horse is supposed by some to have originated here. The camel and the dromedary are natives of the Arabian deserts. The ass also originated in this country, and the onager or wild ass, though perhaps a different species, still roams in the deserts of Nedjed. There is a race of oxen with a hump on the shoulders. The broad, thick-tailed sheep is common, but its wool is coarse, and its flesh not delicate. Among wild animals, the rock goat or ibex, gazelle, antelope, and jerboa are very abundant; and in the interior the hyena, panther, ounce, jackal, wolf, fox, wild boar, and wild cat exist. There are many species of apes, some of which cause great damage to the coffee plantations of Yemen. Among rapacious birds are found one or more species of the eagle, falcon, heron, owl, and ostrich. The partridge, guinea fowl, and pheasant are also found in different districts of the country. Fish abound on all the coasts, and on that of Oman the pinna marina, or pearl oyster, is found in large quantities.
Reptiles are very numerous, including tortoises, many species of lizards (some of which, like the guaril, are of great size, and are used for food), serpents, and batrachians. The locusts often destroy the crops, and many other insects inflict serious injury upon men or animals. - For many centuries the Arabians monopolized, in connection with their neighbors of Phoenicia, the greater part of the carrying trade of the world; and even when the Venetians, Portuguese, and Dutch had entered into competition with them, they-still retained the trade between India and Europe. The doubling of the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese was the signal for a rapid decline in their commerce; but the opening of the overland passage to India in recent times gave it a new impulse. The principal exports of Arabia are coffee (much of which is brought to Muscat, Mocha, and Jiddah from Abyssinia, Nubia, and Egypt, and exported thence as genuine Mocha coffee), dates, gum arabic, myrrh, aloes, almonds, balm of Mecca, frankincense, some aromatic and medicinal drugs, and pearls. The traffic in pearls is almost entirely in the hands of the banians, or Hindoo merchants. From Muscat, wheat, horses, raisins, salt, dried fish, and drugs are also exported.
Arabia receives from Europe silver, iron, copper, lead, firearms, and gunpowder; from Abyssinia, slaves, sheep, elephants' teeth, and musk; from the E. coast of Africa, gold, slaves, amber, and ivory; from Egypt, rice, lentils, sugar, and oil; from Surat, linen; and from Coromandel, cotton. - The population of the Arabian peninsula has been variously estimated at from 10 to 15 millions. The latter is probably the nearest to the truth, as recent explorations demonstrate that the interior contains more fertile lands and a denser population than was formerly supposed. It is estimated that the various races and tribes known collectively as Arabs comprise nearly seven eighths of this population; the remainder consists of Hindoos, Turks, negroes, Abyssinians, Jews, Persians, and Franks. Of the settled Arabs there are many distinct tribes, differing so much in manners, habits, and language as to give the impression to the traveller that they originated from different stocks. The discoveries at several points in the interior of Himyaritic inscriptions, and the existence of a language spoken by the natives of the interior villages called Ehkili, bearing a much stronger analogy to the Himyaritic than to the Arabic, would seem to indicate that a portion of the fixed Arabian population are descendants of those Hamites who originally settled in Syria, Phoenicia, and the adjacent countries.
The fixed Arabs are as a general rule, and especially in the northern parts, indolent, improvident, deceitful, treacherous, and prone to robbery. But at the same time they are courteous, sociable, easy in their manners, and intelligent, and the lower classes are superior to those of a corresponding grade in more civilized countries. The Bedouins are, probably with less admixture than the inhabitants of the towns and villages, of Semitic race. They speak the Arabic language with great purity and force, and subsist by rearing cattle and by plunder. (See Bedouins.) - Mohammedanism or Islamism is the prevalent religion of Arabia, though according to recent travellers the people are generally less devout and more inclined to skepticism than those of any other Mohammedan country; and among the inhabitants of Wady Doan, a large and populous valley in the interior of Hadramaut, Von Wrede found traces of the ancient fire worship; while M. Arnaud in 1848 found among the mountains of Yemen many Arabs whose reverence for Hud, a prophet who preceded Mohammed and who cursed him and his followers, was much stronger than that for the prophet of the Koran. - The Arabs claim descent from Kahtan or Joktan, of the posterity of Noah by Shem, and from Ishmael. Ishmael, according to their tradition, was prince and first high priest of Mecca, and his posterity ruled the city for 14 generations.