Calcite relief with a portrait of Ghalilat
Sabaean, 1st century AD
Possibly from near Marib, Yemen
A stone marker showing a wealthy South Arabian woman
This calcite slab was either a gravestone or was deposited in a temple as a votive offering, hoping to invoke the favour of the god. The two lines of inscription identify the main figure: 'Image of Ghalilat daughter of Mafaddat and may Attar destroy him who breaks it.' The text is in Sabaean, one of several related Semitic languages spoken in ancient South Arabia. It was written using an alphabet which changed little between its origins in the sixth century BC and its disappearance in the seventh century AD.
The gods of South Arabia are only incompletely understood, but it is clear that Attar was one of the principal deities. He was the god of irrigation brought about through thunderstorms.
The upper register presumably shows Ghalilat. The fact that she is seated on a large chair with a foot-stool shows that she must have been an important person. The H-shaped and square panels decorating her robes are also found on contemporary Roman textiles. The lower register shows a woman reclining on a couch.
The wealth of ancient south Arabia was based on control of the production and trade of frankincense and myrrh: two of the most prized materials in antiquity, burnt on all the altars of the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world. These two resins only grow in eastern Yemen, southern Oman and Somaliland.
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
W. Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 years of art and c (Penguin, 1988)
, Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticar, vol. 4 (Paris, 1881)
St J.H. Philby, The Queen of Sheba (London, Quartet, 1981)
Width: 27.500 cm
Width: 27.500 cm