Bahrain's history goes back to the roots of human civilisation. The main island is thought to have broken away from the Arabian mainland sometime around 6000BC and has almost certainly been inhabited since prehistoric times. The islands of Bahrain, positioned in the middle south of the Persian Gulf, have attracted the attention of many invaders throughout history. Bahrain is an Arabic word meaning "Two Seas", and is thought to either refer to the fact that the islands contain two sources of water, sweet water springs and salty water in the surrounding seas, or to the south and north waters of the Persian Gulf, separating it from the Arabian coast and Iran, respectively.
The archipelago first emerged into world history sometime around 3000BC as the seat of the Dilmun trading empire. Dilmun, a Bronze Age culture that lasted some 2000 years, benefited from the archipelago's strategic position along the trade routes linking Mesopotamia with the Indus Valley. In the midst of a region rapidly becoming arid, Dilmun's lush spring-fed greenery gave it the image of a holy island in the mythology of Sumeria, one of the world's earliest civilisations, which flourished in what is today southern Iraq. Dilmun had a similar cachet with the Babylonians, whose Epic of Gilgamesh mentions the islands as a paradise where heroes enjoy eternal life. Some scholars have suggested that Bahrain may be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden. Historical records also referred to Bahrain as the "Life of Eternity", "Paradise", etc. Bahrain was also called the "Pearl of the Persian Gulf".
Though Dilmun enjoyed considerable power and influence, it is difficult to gauge exactly how much. There is no question that at one time, Dilmun controlled a large part of the western Gulf shore (what is now eastern Saudi Arabia). But there is dispute over how far north and inland its influence was felt. At various times in its history, Dilmun probably extended as far north as Kuwait and as far inland as the oasis of Al-Hasa in modern Saudi Arabia.
Dilmun eventually declined and was absorbed by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. The Greeks arrived, in the form of Nearchus, a general in the army of Alexander the Great, around 300BC, giving the islands the name Tylos. He established a colony on the island of Falaika off the coast of Kuwait in the late 4th century BC. It is known that he explored the Gulf at least as far south as Bahrain. Bahrain remained a Hellenistic culture for some 600 years.
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