The only republic in the peninsula, it is known for the verdant Sarawat Mountains, the longest and highest in the region, which crisscross the western coast, earning from Strabo the title Arabia Eudaimon, "Lucky Arabia". The fertility allowed the land to cultivate advanced civilizations that exerted tremendous influence to their then-nomadic neighbors. Ironically, Yemen is currently the poorest among the Arab countries, even before the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, having spent the last century in a constant state of civil war involving intricate clan politics, secular and fundamentalist factions, and occasional foreign intervention, which has succeeded in defining the country as a stereotypical Qurac in the minds of westerners.
Yemen is regarded among Arabs as the quintessential Arab country. In traditional Arab historiography, Arab clans are divided into two confederations: the Qahtanites, who are "pure, undiluted" Arabs from Southern Arabia, and Adnanites, who are descended from Adnan, a man of Hebrew-Arab descent. The Hebrew part comes because Ishmael, son of Abraham (yes, that one) is regarded as the ancestor of Adnan; sometime after his exile from Canaan, Ishmael went to Mecca and married a Yemenite woman with whom he bore the lineage that produced Adnan. For that matter, Ishmael is very important for Arabs, just as Isaac is important for Jews, and most importantly, this allowed Muhammad to claim descent from Ishmael (the Quraysh were an Adnanite tribe).
History began in Yemen when the native Sabaeans adopted the Sinaitic script to write their Semitic language at the turn of the 1st millennium BCE. This script was borrowed by the neighboring peoples as well as the D'mt across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa, where it is known as Ge'ez and is still used to the present day. The Sabaeans were most likely the nation referred to in The Bible as "Sheba". Other than the Sabaeans, there were also the Himyarites, Qataban, the Minaeans, and Hadhramaut. These states, especially the Sabaeans and Himyarites, competed over the right to claim the lucrative Red Sea/Indian Ocean trade while ferociously defending their lands from being annexed by foreign powers. The Romans recorded only a single serious invasion attempt in 25 BCE, which ended in a Curb-Stomp Battle at their expense. Of note, ancient Yemen's domain extended beyond the modern country's borders, with Saudi Arabia's Asir, Jizan, and Najran Provinces as well as Oman's Dhofar Governorate being undisputed parts of Greater Yemen. People of these places have more in common with Yemen than their host countries.
The ancient Yemenites practiced a polytheistic religion with the moon god Almaqah as the Top God. However, it was also known for its large and prosperous Jewish community, probably the oldest outside the Levant. Patronized by Persia, they succeeded in converting many kings, who were hostile to the nascent Christian kingdoms that sprang up around them, first Aksum in the Horn of Africa and then the Romans/Byzantines and their Arab Ghassanid vassals in the north. Although the Himyarites were allied with Aksum, factionalism brought them down in the 6th century CE. In their wake, a Jewish warlord called Yusuf ibn Shaharbeel, better known by his nickname Dhu Nuwasnote attempted consolidation, but his massacre of the Christians of Najran angered the Byzantines enough to call for a united Christian front against him. Himyar then became a vassal of Aksum until the Sassanids invaded and claimed it as one of its provinces.
Two years before his death in 632, Muhammad sent some of his generals to Yemen for proselytization. The campaign was successful and uprooted Sassanid control. Yemenite clans played a major part in the expansion of the Caliphate. The Caliphate gradually lost control of Arabia to other rival Arab clans in the following centuries, however. In the 9th century, Yahya ibn al-Husayn settled in the Sarawat Mountains and preached Zaidi Shia Islam. This started the over a thousand years long reign of Shia monarchy in the highlands, while the coast remains a bastion of Sunni Islam. Their border cut through Sana'a, which is still a mixed Sunni-Shia community.
The Ismaili Shia Sulayhid dynasty, founded in the 11th century, is famous for producing the only two women in the history of Islam to have khutbah (sermon) proclaimed under their name: Asma bint Shihab, and her daughter-in-law Arwa al-Sulayhi. The Sulayhids had the also Ismaili Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt as patron, but their rule ended when the Ayyubids ousted the Fatimids in 1171. However, even the might of Saladin couldn't beat back the Zaidis, who remained independent when the next major dynasty rose in the 13th century: the Rasulids. The Rasulids reigned for over 2 centuries and, though of Turkic extraction, is regarded as the greatest Yemenite power since the pre-Islamic era, having managed to re-conquer all lands that originally belonged to Yemen. Coffee was added as a chief cash crop, a tradition that would be followed in the later Zaidi dynasties and remains a staple of Yemen. The Rasulids were also responsible for reinforcing Shafi'i Sunni Islam in Southern Arabia, which at that time was slowly eroded with the arrival of the Seljuk Turks (who followed Hanafism).
In the early modern era, the Ottomans as the new Caliphate wanted to secure the holy cities of Mecca and Medina by consolidating Southern Arabia. Despite many, many attempts, however, due to the fierce resistance of the Zaidis, they only managed to take the Sunni strongholds of Zabid and Mocha on the Red Sea coast and even those were lost in 1636. Yemen retained its independence until the British decided to secure their access to the Suez Canal and adopted treaties in 1874 granting protectorate status to the Sunni Sultanate of Lahej encompassing Aden and Hadhramaut. Fearing for their diminished influence in the Middle East, the Ottomans again attempted an invasion. This time they succeeded and annexed the Zaidi highlands and Sana'a, although the Zaidi imamate itself was allowed freedom.
On another note, the early modern period was the time when many Yemenis mass-emigrated through the Indian Ocean. Most were dealing with trade (as they had done for centuries), others wanted to escape political persecution, while still others preached Islam. They settled in South Asia and Southeast Asia, where their communities are still present; Indonesia in particular hosts 5 million people claiming Arab ancestry, the third largest Arab diaspora in the world. If someone talks about "Arab" in casual terms there, most likely they mean Hadhramaut (which contributed the largest immigrants).
In the aftermath of the Great War and the Ottomans' breakup, the Zaidis regained control and created the Kingdom of Yemen, which is recognized to be the antecedent of the modern country. It was involved in a brief war in 1934 with Saudi Arabia that saw the loss of Asir, Jizan, and Najran, therefore forming the current border between the two. Like other Arab kingdoms of that time, it was highly isolationist. Arab nationalism spurred by the pro-Soviet Egypt spread to Yemen in the 1950s. The kingdom joined the short-lived United Arab Republic in 1956 alongside Egypt and Syria to mitigate the problem. It managed to fend off the communist influence, but it couldn't control the republican movement, which overthrew the monarchy a year after the UAR disintegrated. They established the Yemen Arab Republic in 1962.
Meanwhile, the British kept the Aden Protectorate until 1967, when a pro-communist guerrilla war known as the Aden Emergency hastened their leave. The communists took over their turf and proclaimed the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. Despite the divide, relations between the YAR (North Yemen) and PDRY (South Yemen) were friendly.
In 1990 and following The Great Politics Mess-Up, the two Yemens decided to patch things up and merge, becoming the Republic of Yemen, with Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of YAR, as its first president. Immediately after that, however, tensions rose between the former republics as the south complained of marginalization. A civil war ensued that was won by the northern government, but despite the purge of ex-South Yemen figures, tensions remained that would culminate in the 2011 revolution. The Zaidis, now having formed the Houthi movement as their political wing, also emerged to claim their rights, leading to an insurgency that started in 2004 and continues today. And as if those were not enough, at the turn of the millennium, Wahhabi insurgency further troubled the largely incompetent government. After all, Osama bin Laden's family is from Hadhramaut (although the man himself was born in Saudi Arabia). A large portion of South Yemen was effectively controlled by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula until U.S. intervention in 2009-2010 stamped them out.
Following the Arab Spring, Saleh was ousted after 21 years in power, to be replaced by his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi was never able to exercise control over the entire country, however, and, under the Houthis' pressure, he was forced to flee Sana'a and eventually the country in 2015; he is currently living in exile in Riyadh. As of right now, the UN-backed government's rule over Yemen, with the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council (minus Oman) is confined in the former South Yemen with Aden as the de facto capital, while Sana'a was ruled by a coalition of the Houthis and Saleh, until the Houthis killed Saleh following his betrayal of their alliance. This Civil War is still ongoing (albeit currently devolving into an uneasy war of attrition), and has killed more than 13,000 people, displaced millions, and starved and exposed others to numerous illnesses that would have been easily prevented through modern medicine, due to the coalition's policy of destroying infrastructure, including hospitals, and blockading the country. The conflict has been spilling over to southern Saudi Arabia as well, where there seems to be a monthly (sometimes weekly) rate of Houthi missiles homing into strategic targets, although most have been swiftly intercepted by the Saudi AF.
On a positive note, Yemen is the location of a fledgling touristic spot, Socotra Island, just off the coast of Somalia. It is the most remote continental landmass (that is, it's not of volcanic origin) in the world. Accordingly, it has many flora and fauna not found anywhere else, such as the alien-looking dragon blood tree◊. The island was previously Christian until the 16th century; however, the Christianity practiced was not your typical Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox branches; they followed the teachings of Nestorius, who was condemned by mainstream Christians in the third ecumenical council in 431 AD, which meant that the islanders were long isolated from other Christians even before Islam took over.
- An al-Qaeda meeting takes place there at the start of the 2004 mini-series The Grid.
- In the Friends episode "The One with All the Rugby", Chandler makes up a story about his company transferring him to Yemen to get rid of his annoying ex-girlfriend, Janice. Joey doesn't realise it's a real place.
- The mission "Achilles' Veil" in Call of Duty: Black Ops II takes place on Socotra Island.
- Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has a middle section and finale set in Yemen.
- Mission 2 of the USA campaign in Command & Conquer: Generals is in Yemen, serving as a kind of homage to Black Hawk Down where the mission is to rescue 3 helicopter pilots who have been shot down by GLA forces.
- In SEAL Team, the entirety of episode 6 is spent training for a mission to capture an al-Qaeda commander in Yemen, although the mission gets scrubbed when the target ends up leaving the country and disappearing. The team ends up going to Yemen for real in episode 10 when they break into a house in Sana'a to capture a terrorist whose cell phone signal was pinpointed in that area.
- The 2018 Chinese military action film Operation Red Sea is based off of the actual 2015 evacuation of hundreds of Chinese civilians from Yemen during the civil war. The plot is basically a "what-if" scenario where things go horribly wrong when the evacuation convoys come under massive attack by terrorists. The film refers to the country as "Yewaire."
The Yemeni flag