Yemeni tribes and their politico-legal systems , £26.99
Height: 20.800 cm
Width: 17.500 cm
Depth: 18.500 cm
On loan from the Royal Collection, Copyright H.M. Queen Elizabeth II (ANE 127409; L26)
Bronze head of a man
From Ghayman, Yemen, possibly 2nd century AD
This exceptional piece is evidence of the great skill of South Arabian metalworkers. The site where it was found, Ghayman, south-east of Sanaa, has not been properly investigated, but a number of other bronze objects have been reported from here following unscientific excavations carried out before the Second World War. Interest was probably due to the tenth-century writer al-Hamdani's description of the 'wonderful castle [which] also is the necropolis of the famous kings of Himyar [and] should a tomb be discovered and unearthed, precious stones and money would be found therein'.
Also discovered here (in 1929, now in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Washington, D.C.) was a large rearing horse, originally with a rider. The horse had an inscription referring to the dedication of two bronze horse and riders. Part of a second bronze horse was found in 1931 along with a second, fragmentary, bronze head of the same style as this example. We can only speculate that the heads belong to the missing riders. The faces are very idealized, which suggests that they represent gods rather than mortals. If the pieces did form a group, it is possible that this was a depiction of the young Dioscuri, the divine twins Castor and Pollux, who are often depicted riding horses.
The head was presented by Imam Yahya (died 1948) to King George VI (1895-1952) on the occasion of his coronation on 11 December 1936, an event which was celebrated with fires of incense on the beach at Mukalla, east of Aden.