Yemen is one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East. Its relatively fertile land and adequate rainfall in a moister climate helped sustain a stable population, a feature recognized by the ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy, who described Yemen as Eudaimon Arabia (better known in its Latin translation, Arabia Felix) meaning "fortunate Arabia" or Happy Arabia. Yemenis had developed the South Arabian alphabet by the 12th to 8th centuries BC, which explains why most historians date all of the ancient Yemeni kingdoms to that era.
Between the 12th century BC and the 6th century AD, it was dominated by six successive civilizations which rivaled each other, or were allied with each other and controlled the lucrative spice trade: Ma'in, Qataban, Hadhramaut, Awsan, Saba and Himyar. Islam arrived in AD 630, and Yemen became part of the Muslim realm.