The Deluge or Universal Flood is attested in all traditions and inscriptions of all peoples worldwide, from the Middle East, Eurasia and Africa to the Americas and the Pacific Islands. In the same way, the beginning of the human race history after the survivors of the Flood is part of the heritage of all peoples, that essentially prove the Biblical report.
The "Table of the Peoples" of Bereshyit (Genesis) chapter 10 is mainly referred to the origins of the ancient peoples, that for kabbalistic symbolism is equalized to the "70 Nations of the Earth". Nevertheless, the list accurately defines the peoples in three categories that still exist in the modern world: the Northern and powerful nations, the Southern subdued peoples, as it is written in Bereshyit 9:25-27 that the offspring of Ham (the Southern nations) would become servant to Shem and Yephet (the Northern nations), and Semitic peoples, who have first subdued all Hamitic peoples in the Asian Middle East and then extended their cultural hegemony in the North-African lands. One of these Semitic peoples, the Israelites, achieved also great importance in the cultural, scientific and politic history of the Northern civilizations.
As it results evident, Semitic peoples at the beginning of their history had a very restricted area within Mesopotamia, between the Northern and the Southern peoples. Their further expansion will develop mainly to the detriment of Southern peoples.
It is important to notice that some Hamitic peoples have the same name as the Semitic ones that settled after them in the same land, and it is equally important to consider the fact that almost all the sources that reached us are written in Semitic languages, so the conquerors' name would have been applied to the preceding peoples. In the same way, many English names are taken from Roman or Greek sources without taking account of the ethnic name of the people, that is why we usually say Basque Land rather than Euskadi, Georgia rather than Sakart'velo, Hungarian rather than Magyar or German rather than Deutsch.
So, there is a Kushite Sheva and two peoples also called Sheva that are Semitic; a Kushite and a Semitic Dedan; a Kushite and a Semitic Havilah.
The Peoples of the South and their Ancient Kingdoms
The first organized states in human history were founded by Hamitic (Southern) peoples: Sumerians, Egyptians and Kushites. Sumerians attempted to found the first kingdom in Lower Mesopotamia (Shinar) without full achievement, and had also colonies in Northern Mesopotamia, that were very ephemeral as it was "Semitic" territory. Kushites settled by both shores of the Red Sea, in the South of the Arabian peninsula and Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa and Nubia. They consolidated their culture only in the African part, as the whole Arabia was conquered by Semitic peoples that assimilated the Kushitic inhabitants. Egyptians' civilization endured until the Arabs subdued the country.
Their nation was led by Nimrod, the founder of Babel, that actually was in the place known as Barsippa, word that means "Tower of Languages", where the Ziqqurat Etemenanki (the Tower of Babel) was built. Barsippa (or Borsippa) was not far away from the later city of Babylon. After his vain attempt to create an unified kingdom, Sumerians organized in City-States, a system that was common to most Hamitic peoples - also Kanaanites, known in history by the Greek name Phoenicians, had one king for each city instead of a "national" kingdom -. The main Sumerian cities were Ur, Erekh (Uruk), Ellasar (Larsa), Nippur, Lagash, Isin, Shurruppak (Farah), Eridu, Sippar, Kysh (Kush) and Babel (Borsippa), all of them in Shinar, the lower Mesopotamia. Nimrod founded also some colonies in Northern Mesopotamia by the Hidekel (Tigris), of which the most known was the city of Nimrud, then renamed Kalah by Assyrians. Sumerian cities were unable to achieve any agreement for unity and were often in war with each other; what caused their inability to drive back the first Semitic invaders, the Akkadians.
Nevertheless, Sumerians did not disappear suddenly from the scene; after two centuries of Akkadian rule, frequent intermarriage and fusion of both cultures, they achieved a brief period of political unity under the Third Dynasty of Ur.
This period was followed by a new dynasty of Hamitic background: the Amurru, a people related to Sumerians and Kanaanites, brought Babylon to an hegemonic role in Southern Mesopotamia. The most important sovereign of this period was Hammurapi - Amraphel, king of Shinar, as he is called in the Scriptures - who encoded the laws that ruled Mesopotamian peoples in the following generations.
Kushites were originally settled in Mesopotamia and Sumerians were just one of their tribes. Nimrod was the son of Kush, and the land of Shinar was often called "Kush" even many centuries later. His name was present in the city of Kysh and is still remembered in Kuzistan, by the Eastern shore of the Hidekel.
The anarchic style of Kushites, that were unable to keep unity and to found an enduring kingdom was the main cause of emigration of most of them. Sumerians prevailed over the other tribes, that searched other lands to settle going southwards.
They found fertile lands after having crossed the wilderness of the Arabian peninsula, in the country that now is known as Yemen, and in the opposite shore of the sea, in Africa. The tribes settled in Southern Arabia are usually known as Sabeans, yet, they are not the same people as the Semitic Sabeans that came later in the same geographic area. The tribes in Africa are commonly called Ethiopians - that in ancient times included Nubians and all peoples beyond the southern border of Egypt.
The Kushitic Sabeans have left scarce traces of themselves as they were overwhelmed by the Semitic cultures that followed, but what is certain is that they had a particularity that was transferred to their Semitic successors until the early Arab period: to have queens rather than kings. There was a high number of women among Ethiopian and Meroitic sovereigns, as well as in the early Sabean period in Yemen. Such pattern was also common to other peoples of Arabia for centuries.
The pre-Semitic Sabeans have left some hints that allow to identify them as tribes that created a sort of organized states or kingdoms before the Semites' arrival; they were the peoples of Savtah, reported in ancient chronicles as Sabatan, whose capital was the city of Shabwah; Savtekah settled nearby towards northwest; and Ra'amah, by the Gulf of Aden, in the country that will be also called Himayar or Dhu-Raydan. All them however are usually gathered together under a fourth people's name: Sheva. These Hamitic Sabeans might have not been as important as the preceding ones, but their name became common denomination for all of them because of the Semitic Sabeans that conquered all that area in a successive period.
The identification of this Hamitic Sheva was also a topic of discussion, as the same name is also reported in the opposite shore of the Red Sea - It is well documented that Seva (and perhaps also Sheva) was the ethnic name of a people called Habasat, from where the term Abyssinia comes. Anyway, it is also reported that the Habasat were expelled from Yemen by other peoples, that is why they crossed the sea and are among the founders of the Ethiopic civilization. Ethiopians claim that the famous Queen of Sheva was the sovereigness of the Habasat rather than the Queen of Yemenite Sabeans.
To speak about this magnificent civilization will be worth many websites, and there are enough scholars who have held outstanding researches about this people. I will only point out that the name given by Egyptians to their own land was "Khemet", a clear reference to the patriarch Kham (Cham, or Ham, the spelling is equivalent in any of these forms as it depends on the transcription of Aramaic characters), from whom the peoples of the South take the common denomination of Hamitic. Semitic peoples referred to Egypt as "Mitzrayim", after Kham's son, that is identified with the first Pharaoh, Menesh, "the Embanker of the Sea (the Nile)", that is another meaning of Mitzrayim. The present Arabic name of Egypt is Messr.
The Semitic Expansion in the Middle East
From their original land between the Euphrates and the Hidekel, Semitic peoples began their expansion directed mainly southwards and westwards, conquering the "Fertile Crescent" and the whole Arabian peninsula.
The first Semitic nation were the Akkadians, whose name is related to their original settlement, the city of Akkad, built near Babylon. Akkadians, led by Sharyukenu I (Sargon I), prevailed over the Sumerian state-cities and after unifying all the land of Shinar under their rule, extended their conquest campaigns northwards, settling the foundations of the great Semitic nation that will be known as Assyria. Akkadians went further and subdued Mari, Ebla and most of Kanaanites, being the first kingdom extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
The rivalry between Semites and Hamites was evident since the dawn of civilization, and Semites achieved always in overcoming and assimilating their foes: Akkadians drove Sumerians out of the historic scenery, as Arameans and Hebrews did with regards to Kanaanites, and Sabeans to Kushites of Arabia. The Biblical report says in Bereshyit 10:8-12 that Nimrod (a Kushite) was the first mighty one on earth, and that he founded the first kingdom in Mesopotamia. But Ashshur took his place and settled the Semitic supremacy. Ashshur is very probably the same person as Sargon I, the founder of both Akkadian and Assyrian nations (that are the same people) on the remains of Nimrod's short-lasted kingdom, soon fragmented into state-cities. Ashshur was the son of Shem, who executed Nimrod after his attempt to become an universal king; yet, Shem himself did not found any kingdom or state - he is the patriarch from whom Semites take their ethnic denomination.
Semites followed a policy of assimilation, and they mixed with the subdued peoples instead of keeping separate (even in the case of Avrahamites, who were commanded to not intermarry). This is what happened to most of Semitic peoples: Chaldeans mixed with Sumerians, Hebrews with Kanaanites and Egyptians, Sabeans with Kushites. Some peoples like Ishmaelites were Semitic by culture and language, though by blood they were actually more Hamitic (see "Arabs").
Assyrians succeeded Akkadians as leading Semitic people, making of the whole Mesopotamia their homeland. Their first capital was Ashshur, built as all Assyrian cities by the Hidekel (while Chaldean cities were closer to the Euphrates), that was transferred to Shubat-Enlil by king Shamsi-adad I, and subsequently to Nineveh, that remained the Assyrian capital until its destruction, except during the reign of Sargon II, that built Dur-Sharyukenu (Khorsabad) to be his capital, returned to Nineveh after his death.
Assyrians not only subdued Hamitic peoples, but also some Northern ones: their neighbours were Hurrites, ancient Armenians (Urartu-Tilgarimmu), Medes and barbaric peoples like Cimmerians (Gimirrai), Massageti (Meshketians) and Scythians.
The Hurrites, although related to Sumerians by origin, were an Indo-European civilization settled in a vast area from Anatolia and Southern Kanaan to Media, including Ararat and part of Northern Mesopotamia. Their main cities were Nuzi, in the realm of Arrapkha, and Washukkana, capital of Hanigalbat; both kingdoms were annihilated by Assyrians and since then Hurrites are no longer mentioned in the Middle East history - one of their tribes, the Aryana, left the Anatolia to conquer India.
Armenians did not resist Assyrian expansionism, on the contrary, they were rather an allied people, and they still are, being the two main Christian minorities in that area.
Assyrians take the credit for having unified all the Middle East, connecting the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus with the Mediterranean area, building roads and enabling commercial development, and for their immense cultural contribution; Assyrian language (usually known as Aramaic) became international, even centuries after the end of Assyrian hegemony (it was the official language of the Persian Empire and of Israelites after the exile, still spoken today by Mizrachi Jews).
Assyrians created also the policy of deportation, followed and modified by succeeding empires. Notwithstanding, this Assyrian policy was not oppressive towards the exiled peoples, on the contrary, they were resettled elsewhere only to prevent insurrection, but usually with better life conditions than in their own land. While peoples were surrendered as vassals, they were over-taxed by their own kings, that had to pay tribute to the king of Assyria, while once they were part of the Assyrian nation they had the possibility of improving their own social, cultural, political and economic situation. In fact, most of exiled Israelites decided not to return back to Israel when they were allowed.
The term "Chaldean" (Kaldu in Akkadian, Kasdim in Hebrew) is of uncertain meaning. It usually refers to the Southern Assyrian tribe settled in Shinar and whose capital was Babylon, but it seems that such term applied to the whole people is not thoroughly correct, because in Babylonian documents the term "Chaldean" is applied only to a caste of astrologers and wizards, similar to the "Magi" in Persia. Such meaning is evident also in the Scriptures, in the Book of Daniel, chapters 2, 4 and 5, where repeatedly the Chaldeans are numbered as a category among the wizards, diviners, astrologers and sorcerers. Nevertheless, the same word refers also to the whole people. It is probable that the Chaldeans were the result of intermarriage between Semites and the no longer existing Sumerians, and that their priestly caste, descending from Nimrod, were still ruling the Babylonian religious system. The Biblical term "Ur of the Chaldeans" seem to indicate a city where Sumerians and Akkadians were mixed, and Avraham was for this reason commanded to leave, in order not to mix his offspring with Nimrod's people.
The history of the ancient civilizations of Yemen is quite interesting and deserves the same attention paid to other cultures as Egyptians, Assyrians, Hebrews or Phoenicians. Even though these Yemenite peoples are much less known, they had magnificent kingdoms and an important maritime trading network.
The ancient Yemen concentrated different peoples and kingdoms in a relatively restricted area; the reason for such overpopulation was the incredibly fertile land they found after having crossed the wilderness of Arabia - in fact, Yemen was then known as "Arabia Felix" , the Happy Arabia, owing to the natural resources of that land.
The first inhabitants were of Kushitic stock and their history is almost unknown; they arrived from the lower Mesopotamia and are mentioned above as pre-Semitic Sabeans, in the chapter "Kushites".
The Semitic peoples that took their place founded wealthy kingdoms in Yemen: Sheva, Ma'in, Awsan, Qataban, Hadhramawt and Himayar. The beginning of the establishment these kingdoms is uncertain, because the Sabean peoples did not keep history records for centuries, until they had relationships with Assyria. In fact, the first Sabean kings of whom we know their names were mentioned in Assyrian chronicles during the rule of Sargon II. Before that time, the only Sabean monarch of whom we have notice is the Queen of Sheva. It is known that in the early period Sabeans were ruled by queens, as it was the common characteristic of many other peoples related to Sabeans, including their Kushite predecessors, the Ethiopic Sabeans and also many Semitic peoples of Arabia like some Midyanite tribes. The Queen of Sheva's name is unknown: Arabs call her Bilqis (Balqishah), Ethiopians (who assert she was not from Yemen but from Punt) call her Makeda. This is not so relevant as the fact that because of her a new ethnic element was added to the already complex Sabean mosaic: the Israelites. Yemen has been the first place where Israelites emigrated and settled voluntarily, not as consequence of deportation. The intense trading carried on by king Shlomoh in agreement with Sabean merchants (and the taxation he imposed on Israel) encouraged Israelites to open their own business in this newly allied nation, that was plenty of precious goods, gems, wood and frankincense. The influence of Hebrew culture in Yemen has been essential, so much that even some Sabean kings adopted Judaism. The first Sabean king mentioned by Assyrians was Yati'amar, a name found elsewhere only among Israelites (Ithamar). Also the name of the ancient port of 'Aden seems to be related to Eden, the Paradise, and might have been originally an Israelite settlement to control the commercial route to Ophir.
The following is a brief outline about the Yemenite kingdoms:
Kingdom Capital Sheva Sirwah in the early period, then transferred to Maryab Ma'in Qarna'w Awsan Hadzhar Nab, San'a Qataban Timna' Hadhramawt Shabwah Himayar Zhofar Ma'afir Qada' al Ta'izz
Period Years (Jewish / b.c.e.; c.e.) Comments Kushitic until 2560 / 1200 b.c.e Kushite tribes settle in Yemen Early Sabean 2560-3060 / 1200-700 b.c.e. Minean hegemony - Queen of Sheva makes a trading agreement with Israel - Sabean states ruled by "Mukarribs" Ancient Sabean 3060-3650 / 700-110 b.c.e. The Mukarribs replaced by kings - Two Sabean kings mentioned in Assyrian chronicles: Yati'amar and Kariba'ilu Middle Sabean 3650-4060 / 110 b.c.e.- 300 c.e. The Sabean kingdom becomes a kind of federation: the Kingdom of Sheva, Dhu-Raydan, Hadhramawt and Yamanat (Yemen) Himyarite 4060-4285 / 300-525 c.e. Hegemony of Himayar - great development of Jewish culture - king Dhu Nuwas adopts Judaism Axumite 4285-4330 / 525-570 c.e. End of the Sabean independence; Ethiopians conquer the land with support of Byzantium.
Additional information about the Queen of Sheva and map of the trade routes between Israel and the ancient Kingdom of Sheva here.
Hebrews were originally an Akkadian family from Ur that emigrated in successive stages to the Hurrites' land in Northern Mesopotamia, Kanaan and Egypt. Their history is widely known through the Scriptures, nevertheless, there are some facts regarding this people that are still matter of discussion (see Hebrews in Canaan, Israelite Tribes and Kingdoms and Israelites in Exile and the "Lost Tribes")
Distribution of the Semitic Peoples
Midyanites were a group of tribes that originally inhabited around Mount Sinai and the region along the Gulf of Eylat. Since ancient times they extended their influence in all Northern Arabia, from Syria to the Minean and Sabean borders, so that the term "Midyanite" was applied to many different tribes, including Ishmaelites.
The Midyanites, like Sabeans, did not have a single state, but a group of kingdoms, usually allied to each other. The five Midyanite kingdoms are mentioned in different sources: besides the Bible, they are reported in Assyrian and Minean chronicles, either separately or among other peoples of the area - often together with Ishmaelite tribes, as their territories were scattered irregularly within Ishmaelite settlements, as well as Ishmaelites owned some enclaves inside Midyanite lands, so that both terms became interchangeable to define either of both peoples.
Among Midyanites there were various kinds of peoples, some of them had fame as skilled warriors and plunderers, others were on the contrary peaceful travellers, merchants, knife-sharpeners, shepherds - these were known by different names like Qeynites, Ashurim, Letushim, Le'ummim, and seem to be the original Gypsies.
Midyanites shared with most peoples of Arabia the characteristic of having many queens among their rulers: three successive Assyrian kings (Tiglat-Pileser III, Sargon II and Sennakherib) mention seven Midyanite queens: Zabibi, Shamsi, Te'elkhinu, Yati'ah, Tabu'wa, Yapa'a and Bashi.
For more details see: "The Peoples List"
Arabs are the most recent Semitic people according to their appearance in history. In fact, it is not possible to speak about "Arabs" in ancient times, but only about their ancestors. The term Arab is also of uncertain meaning; when and by whom this people (or these peoples) began to be called Arabs is unknown. Indeed, the word "Arabia" is Greek, as well as Egypt, Italy etc. and its probable etymology may be of Semitic origin:
1) `arabah = steppe, wilderness;
2) `ereb = mixture of peoples.
Both terms are appropriate to them. Wherever Arabs have conquered, the lands became deserted; the Arabian peninsula itself was not so dry, and Yemen had an irrigation network that allowed the land to be fruitful before Northern Arabs invaded and subdued the Sabean kingdom. Spain and Sicily were fertile lands in Roman times; they became dry during the Arab occupation. Only Eretz Yisrael recovered fertility after hard work done by Jews - the pieces of land still occupied by Arabs remain arid.
The second term is also suitable to define Arabs, as they are indeed a mixture of different peoples. Arabs themselves recognize to come from two patriarchs: Qahtan (Southern Arabs) and Adnan (Northern Arabs), to be identified with a Sabean and an Ishmaelite ancestor. The actual founders of the Arab nation were Ishmaelites, who conquered the whole peninsula and assimilated all peoples dwelling there, transferring their character to their descendants. Ishmaelites (and Arabs in general) are considered as Semitic peoples, yet, this is an inexact concept: they are Semitic only by language and in a certain degree also by culture, but ethnically they are mainly Hamitic. Yishmael himself, their patriarch, was the son of an Egyptian woman, and his wife was Egyptian, too. This means that Ishmaelites were 75% Hamitic! They mixed with the peoples they subdued and assimilated their culture as well, yet, the Semitic peoples kept distinct from their Arab conquerors (for example, Jews and Assyrians, who never became Arabs), while the others did not. Sabeans themselves were a mixed Semitic and Hamitic people, therefore, they accepted Arab culture more easily.
It is important to notice that within the pre-Islamic peoples of Arabia women had a social status that now is them denied; it was also common for them to have queens instead of kings, and this is an evidence of how much Kushite those peoples were.
Today the definition "Arab" includes all North-African peoples - of course, they are not Semitic at all. The only Arab people that can be properly considered Semitic are Syrians, where Ishmaelites intermarried with Arameans.
For more details see: "Myths, Hypotheses and Facts Concerning the Origin and Identity of the Arabs"