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HOME : Biblical Antiquities : Sabean Art : Sabean Funerary Stone Plaque
Sabean Funerary Stone Plaque - SF.366
Origin: Yemen
Circa: 400 BC to 100 BC
Dimensions: 13.50" (34.3cm) high x 8.25" (21.0cm) wide
Collection: Biblical Antiquities
Medium: Limestone

Location: Great Britain
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The ancient kingdom of Saba ruled over the lands of southern Arabia, centered in modern day Yemen. Saba is perhaps better known as Sheba, the Hebrew word for the kingdom, whose famous Queen was recounted as having visited Solomon in the pages of the Old Testament. Biblical accounts speak of the wealth of this ancient civilization of traders and merchants, and modern archaeological excavations confirm these reports. Ruins of fortresses and walled towns are evident and remnants of their extensive irrigation system that turned the desert into a paradise still cover the land. Although gold and silver deposits were present, the chief source of their vast wealth was derived from their veritable monopoly of two of the most coveted materials in ancient times: frankincense and myrrh, resinous gums obtained from certain trees that only grow in Southern Arabia and were literally worth their weight in gold. There was not a temple or wealthy house in the ancient world, from Babylon to Rome, where one would not smell the fragrant scents of these incenses. In addition, a trade route that connected India to Egypt that passed through their capital of Marib was another major source of wealth. In the 1st Century A.D., the Ptolemaic Greeks discovered a sea route from India directly to the port of Alexandria, eliminating Saba from her lucrative trade and ushering in the decline of Sabean prosperity.

This magnificent stone funerary plaque is a stunning example of the sophistication of Sabean art. The following is a transcription of the analysis kindly provided by Professor Kitchen (University of Liverpool).

‘This ‘headpiece’ was originally inserted into a matching rectangular recess, cut into a tall stela (like a narrow quadrangular pillar), to form a tombstone plus ‘formal’ portrait. For intact examples, cf. St. John Simpson (ed.), ‘Queen of Sheba, Treasures from Ancient Yemen,’ (London, British Museum, 2002), p. 198, nos. 277-278.

Facial tombstone in high relief. Schematic face with curving, dominating eyebrows, natural eye- hollows and having semi-circular ears (with lobes merging into the side of the face). Again, below, a 5-letter name, T w b – ‘l, Thawb-il, a very well known Old South Arabian name (cf. G.L. Harding, ‘Index & Concordance of Pre-Islamic Old-South-Arabian Names…’, (Toronto, 1971), p. 149), especially in Saba and Qataban. These letter forms would probably suit about the 3rd century BC. This piece is comparable with the piece TC.2259 from the Timna cemetery in Qataban, cf. R. L. Cleveland, ‘An Ancient South- Arabian Necropolis…Timna Cemetary,’ (Baltimore, 1965), pl. 23. This example, however, (and others from Timna), have the eyebrows incised, not in raised relief as in this case.’ - (SF.366)


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