Height: 74.500 cm
Width: 33.000 cm (at shoulder)
Thickness: 24.000 cm
Room 53: Ancient South Arabia
Calcite statue of a standing female figure
Sabaean, 3rd-2nd century BC
From Marib or Qataban, Yemen
Calcite sculptures such as this are typical of South Arabia, and most known examples seem to have been dedicated in temples as votive offerings. These were donations made in the hope of gaining the favour of the god, and perhaps also intended to show publicly the wealth of the donor. Small human statues were the most common type. This standing woman may originally have held an offering. The tendency to abstraction and to rather squared shapes is noticeable. We cannot tell how such sculptures relate to cult images, as we do not know what form the divine image in a temple took.
The wealth of the donors of such statues must in some cases have derived from the fact that the southern Arabians had the monopoly for two of the most prized materials of ancient times: frankincense and myrrh. These two aromatic resins only grow in eastern Yemen, southern Oman and Somaliland. Their production and trade was in the hands of the ancient south Arabians. Every temple or wealthy home in the Mediterranean and Near East required them, and purchasers were prepared to pay their weight in gold. This is the historical background to the legendary account in the Old Testament of the Queen of Saba making a caravan journey to Jerusalem.
During the first millennium BC, a number of independent states appeared in southern Arabia. Apart from the spices, an important factor in the wealth of these cities was that they were on the great trade routes linking the Middle and Far East to Europe and Africa.
W. Seipel and others, Jemen: Kunst und Archäologie i (Vienna, 1999)
B. Doe, Southern Arabia (London, Thames and Hudson, 1971)
St J.H. Philby, The Queen of Sheba (London, Quartet, 1981)