Wadi Sirhan

Location of Wadi Sirhan (indicated in Arabic)
Road sign for Wadi Sirhan in Saudi Arabia

Wadi Sirhan (Arabic: وَادِي سِرْحَان‎, romanizedWādī Sirḥān; translation: "Valley of Sirhan") is a wide depression in the northwestern Arabian Peninsula. It runs from the Azraq oasis in Jordan southeastward into Saudi Arabia, where most of the valley is located. It historically served as a major trade and transportation route between Syria and Arabia. From antiquity until the early 20th century, control of Wadi Sirhan was often contested by various Arab tribes.


Wadi Sirhan is a wide, enclosed depression that starts in the Azraq oasis in Jordan and runs 140 kilometers (87 mi) southeast into Saudi Arabia,[1] ending in the wells of Maybuʿ.[2] Its breadth varies 5–18 kilometers (3.1–11.2 mi). According to the historian Irfan Shahid, "the term wādī, which suggests a narrow passageway, might seem misapplied" to Wadi Sirhan, a "broad lowland".[3] The Czech explorer Alois Musil described it as a "sandy, marshy lowland" with scattered hillocks.[2]


Wadi Sirhan historically served as an important trade route between Arabia and Syria. The Assyrian king Esarhaddon launched a campaign against the Bazu and Khazu tribes in Wadi Sirhan in the 7th century BCE.[2]

Roman and Byzantine erasEdit

The basin continued to serve as an important route during the Roman era, connecting the Arabia Petraea province with the Arabian Peninsula.[3] Though its strategic value emanated from its role as a gateway for trans-Arabian trade and transportation, Wadi Sirhan was also a significant source of salt.[4] At its northern end, it was guarded by the fortress of Azraq, while its southern end was guarded by the fortress of Dumat al-Jandal.[4] At both forts inscriptions were found indicating the presence of troops from the Bosra-based Legio III Cyrenaica.[4]

Wadi Sirhan was the home region from which the Salihids entered Syria and became the principal Arab federates of the Byzantine Empire throughout the 5th century CE.[3] When the Salihids were succeeded by the Ghassanids at the beginning of the 6th century, Wadi Sirhan became dominated by the latter’s allies, the Banu Kalb.[3] The Ghassanids were charged by the Byzantines with supervision over the region after Emperor Justinian dismantled the Limes Arabicus, a series of garrisoned fortifications guarding the empire’s eastern desert frontiers, c. 530.[3] The Ghassanids and the Kalb essentially supplanted the limes.[3] The Ghassanid phylarch Arethas passed through the depression on his way to defeating the Banu Tamim.[3] Likewise, Alqama, a poet of the latter tribe passed through Wadi Sirhan to meet with Arethas to lobby for his brother’s release from captivity.[3]

Early Islamic eraEdit

Following the Muslim conquest in 634 CE, the basin became an often fought over frontier between the Banu Kalb and their distant kinsmen from the Banu al-Qayn.[5]

Modern eraEdit

The lowland gained its current name following the migration of the Sirhan tribe, purported descendants of the Banu Kalb, to the Dumat al-Jandal region from the Hauran c. 1650.[6] Before their migration, Wadi Sirhan was known as Wadi al-Azraq after the Azraq oasis.[7]

T.E. Lawrence referred to the Wadi, during the Arab Revolt, "We found the Sirhan not a valley, but a long fault draining the country on each side of it and collecting the waters into the successive depressions of its bed."[8]

By the late 19th century, the Ruwalla were the predominant Bedouin tribe of Wadi Sirhan.[5] The emir of the tribe, Nuri Shalan, was a signatory of the Hadda Agreement between the Emirate of Transjordan and the Sultanate of Nejd, the precursors of modern-day Jordan and Saudi Arabia, respectively.[5] The treaty resulted in most of Wadi Sirhan becoming part of Saudi Arabia, while Jordan retained the basin's northwestern corner around Azraq.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lancaster & Lancaster 1999, p. 109.
  2. ^ a b c van Donzel 1997, p. 673.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Shahid 2009, p. 25.
  4. ^ a b c Shahid 2009, p. 26.
  5. ^ a b c d van Donzel 1997, p. 693.
  6. ^ Peake Pasha 1958, pp. 219-220.
  7. ^ Peake Pasha 1958, p. 220.
  8. ^ Lawrence, T.E. (1935). Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. p. 258.


Coordinates: 31°00′00″N 37°45′00″E / 31.0000°N 37.7500°E / 31.0000; 37.7500