Chris Bradley – author, lecturer and ADFAS Travel tour leader – searches for the mysterious Queen of Sheba in the highlands of Ethiopia.

The Queen of Sheba is a difficult woman to pin down. She possibly lived in Ethiopia or Yemen about 3,000 years ago, might have become wealthy on the trade of frankincense and myrrh to Ancient Egypt, and perhaps visited King Solomon in Jerusalem. The problem is, we have no evidence that she ever existed, just a few intriguing stories that spice up the Bible and Koran. She carries identical gifts and plays the same role representing the pagan world in the Old Testament, as do the Magi of the Nativity in the New Testament. Maybe she is just symbolic, but after 30 years of study, I’m convinced that she really did exist.

The pagan-worshipping kingdom of Sheba (Ancient Saba) certainly existed and it had a great number of queens throughout its two millennia controlling the incense trade around the Red Sea and Arabia. The frankincense burnt by the high priests as offerings to the Gods of Ancient Egypt in the temples along the River Nile had to be of the highest possible quality. So did the myrrh used in the complicated process of mummifying a Pharaoh’s body before burial inside the lavishly decorated tomb. The best quality of both of these tree resins (Boswellia Sacra and Commiphora Myrrha) grows in the region of Dhofar in southern Arabia. To what extent Sabaean territory stretched across the Red Sea from South Arabia into Africa is debatable, but the corridors of this incense trade pushed deep into the Ethiopian highlands, en-route to the great natural highway of North-East Africa – the River Nile, running northwards into Egypt.