A Pre-Islamic Nabataean Inscription Mentioning The Place Yathrib

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First Composed: 2nd February 2018

Last Modified: 18th February 2018

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Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:




Figure (a) photo of original inscription, (b) its trace, and (c) its transcription.


No date but from pre-Islamic era.

Accession Number

Not available.


Not available.


Nabataean script.


The translation of the inscription is given below:

  1. Greetings! kad bin Aslam
  2. who came from Yathrib.


The place Yathrib, known as Madina after the advent of Islam, has a long history of settlement. Ancient sources mention this town a few times. Perhaps the earliest mention of it comes from an inscription found in Harran, of the Babylonian king Nabonidus (r. 556-539 BCE) that says yatribu (ia-at-ri-bu) among the towns of northwest Arabia in which he traveled for a decade.[1] Datable to the second half of the first millennium BCE, a Minaean inscription found near the ancient city of Maʿīn records some form of registration of women from non-Minaean land, and mentions two originally from Yathrib (ytrb).[2] Next on the list is the famous Geography of Ptolemy that comes from 2nd century CE which mentions lathrippa (λαθριππα), a town in the Arabia Felix.[3] It is mentioned again twice in the mid-6th century CE. The first mention comes as iathrippa (ιαθριππα) by Stephanus Byzantinus (c. 528-35 CE), who located it near Hegra (al-Ḥijr).[4] The second mention comes from a Sabaean inscription of Abraha, a South Arabian ruler, written shortly after 552 CE. In this text, he annouced the establishment of his authority over Yathrib (ytrb) among other areas of the Arabian Peninsula.[5] In this long line of mentions of Yathrib, this undated Nabataean inscription near Tabuk[6] is interesting because it is written in a script that was forerunner of Arabic script.[7]

The proper name of the person with consonants k-a-d is uncertain and hence left as it is.


Neat Tabuk, Saudi Arabia.

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[1] C. J. Gadd, "The Harran Inscriptions Of Nabonidus", Anatolian Studies, 1958, Volume 8, pp. 58-59, 84 (Nabonidus H2, A, Col. I, 22-27).

22. ...But I
23. hied myself afar from my city of Babylon
24. (on) the road to Tema', Dadanu, Padakku[a],
25. Ḫibra, Iadiḫu, and as far as Iatribu;
26. ten years I went amongst them, (and) to
27. my city Babylon I went not in...

[2] K. Mlaker, Die Hierodulenlisten von Maʿin: Nebst Untersuchungen Zur Altsüdarabischen Rechtsgeschichte Und Chronologie, 1943, Harrassowitz: Leipzig, pp. 18, 27.

[3] E. L. Stevenson (Trans.), Geography Of Claudius Ptolemy, 1932, The New York Public Library: New York, Book VI, p. 139. Also see W. M. Watt, "Al-Madina" in C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, B. Lewis & Ch. Pellat (Eds.), The Encyclopaedia Of Islam (New Edition), 1986, Volume V, p. 994; M. Schöller, "Medina" in J. D. McAuliffe (Ed.), Encyclopaedia Of The Qur'an, 2003, Volume 3, Brill: Leiden, Boston, p. 367.

[4] M. Billerbeck, C. Zubler, Stephani Byzantii Ethnica, 2011, Volume II (Δ–Ι), Walter de Gruyter GmBH: Berlin, pp. 258-259. The German translation of the Greek text says:

5. Iathrippa (Medina), Stadt in Arabien, nahe bei der Stadt Egra. Der Bewohner <heisst> Iathrippener; denn dieser Typus ist landesüblich, <gebildet> wie Medabener.

[5] C. Robin & S. Ṭayran, "Soixante-Dix Ans Avant L'Islam: L'Arabie Toute Entière Dominée Par Un Roi Chrétien", Comptes-Rendus Des Séances De L'Académie Des Inscriptions Et Belles-Lettres, 2012, pp. 525-553 for Murayghan 3 inscription of Abraha mentioning Yathrib. For its translation in English, see C. J. Robin, "Ḥimyar, Aksūm, and Arabia Deserta in Late Antiquity: The Epigraphic Evidence" in G. Fisher (Ed.), Arabs And Empires Before Islam, 2015, Oxford University Press, pp. 169-170.

Murayghān 3
+ King Abraha Zybmn, king of Saba’, of dhu-Raydān, of Hadramōt, and of Yamnat, and of their Arabs in the Upper-Country and on the Coast, has written this inscription when he returned from the Country of Maʿaddum, when he seized the Arabs of Maʿaddum taken at [Mu]dhdhirān, chased out ʿAmrum son of Mudhdhirān, and seized all of the Arabs of Maʿaddum [, Ha]garum-and-Khaṭṭ, Ṭayyum, Yathrib, and Guzā(m).

[6] Sulayman bin ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Theeb, Nuqūsh Jabal Umm Jaḏāyiḏ al-Nabaṭiyyah, 2002, Maktabat al-Malik Fahd al-Waṭaniyyah: al-Riyāḍ, pp. 168, 269, 317 (Inscription No. 163).

[7] J. F. Healey, "Nabataean To Arabic: Calligraphy And Script Development Among The Pre-Islamic Arabs", Manuscripts Of The Middle East, 1990-1991, Volume V, p. 44; Also see J. F. Healey, "The Early History Of The Syriac Script: A Reassessment", Journal Of Semitic Studies, 2000, Volume XLV, No. 1, pp. 55-67; B. Gruendler, "Arabic Script", in J. D. McAuliffe (Ed.), Encyclopaedia Of The Qur'an, 2001, Volume I, Brill: Leiden, p. 138. For detailed discussion on the evolution of Arabic script from Nabataean script see B. Gruendler, The Development Of The Arabic Scripts: From The Nabatean Era To The First Islamic Century According To The Dated Texts, 1993, Harvard Semitic Series No. 43, Scholars Press: Atlanta (GA), pp. 123-127.

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