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Calcite relief with the head of an oryx


Height: 26.500 cm
Width: 12.200 cm

ME 135307

Middle East

    Calcite relief with the head of an oryx

    Sabaean, 1st century BC - 1st century AD
    From Yemen

    A temple panel

    During the later part of the first millennium BC and into the Roman period a prosperous civilization, based largely upon trade in incense, grew up in south-west Arabia, the area of modern Yemen. Many of the objects surviving from this culture were votive offerings, dedicated in temples to invoke the blessing of the gods and to demonstrate the wealth of merchants and land owners. Sculpture was by no means confined to work in the round, as this relief shows. It depicts the head of an oryx. This was a common motif in Saba, the oldest and most powerful state in South Arabia, which had Marib as its capital. Although some sources perhaps refer to rulers of Saba as early as the seventh century BC the major monuments on the site date from the middle of the first millennium BC.

    The Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) is a large antelope. Today it is an endangered species, restricted to Arabia, though as recently as a hundred years ago the oryx was distributed much more widely, and was found in the deserts of the Levant and western Mesopotamia. It has been suggested that the legendary unicorn was based on this elegant animal.

    D. Harrison and P. Bates, The mammals of Arabia (Harrison Zoological Museum, 1991)

    St J.H. Philby, The Queen of Sheba (London, Quartet, 1981)


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