Calcite incense burner showing a camel rider

Sabaean, 3rd century BC
From Shabwa, Yemen

This is an incense burner with an inscription 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. It refers to 'Adhlal, son of Wahab'il', who had presumably dedicated the burner in a temple as an act of piety.

Hadramawt was one of the rival kingdoms of South Arabia, the others being Saba (the oldest and most powerful), Himyar, Qataban and Ma'in. There was often warfare between them over control of frankincense and myrrh: highly prized aromatics burnt on altars all over the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world. These two resins only grow in eastern Yemen, southern Oman and Somaliland. Their production and trade were in the hands of the ancient South Arabians, who became extremely wealthy as a result.

By the end of the first millennium BC there was increasing reliance on Bedouin camel riders, and later horse riders, both in the trade network and also for their strategic value in battle. As the empires of Saba and Hadramawt expanded they also clashed with the camel riding Arab tribes to the north.

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More information


St J. Simpson (ed.), Queen of Sheba: treasures from (London, The British Museum Press, 2002)

W. Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 years of art and c (Penguin, 1988)

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


Height: 32.000 cm
Width: 15.000 cm
Thickness: 8.000 cm

Museum number

ME 125682


Gift of H. St J.B. Philby


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