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The Sultanate of Oman: A Forgotten Empire

Oman is frequently in the news at the moment - reflecting Britain’s crucial role in the reconstruction of this ancient Empire.

As recently as 1959 Wilfred Thesiger described the interior of Oman as 'the least-known of the inhabited places of the East, even less well-known than Tibet'. He wrote with some feeling, for he had been denied access in 1950 when travelling in Arabia for the Middle East Locust Control. There is a strange paradox in this, for the coast of Oman has been very well-known for many centuries. The southern coast was famous in the ancient world as the source of frankincense. The northern was one of the most celebrated seafaring areas of the ancient and medieval world, the pivotal point of the trade of the Middle and Far East. Moreover, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, Oman built one of the most notable of non-European empires, spanning both the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. It offered vigorous resistance to the Portuguese, and was instrumental in confining their Indian Ocean empire to Goa and Mozambique. But from the early nineteenth century, the now-forgotten empire of Oman inevitably tangled with Britain. The British found Oman a convenient agency through which to pursue their own designs, and in doing so ultimately undermined and destroyed the Omani economy. The Omani Empire collapsed with it, as did the unity of the Omani state. It was from this period that the Oman interior became one of the least-visited and little-known parts of the world.

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