Height: 45.000 cm
Width: 27.500 cm
Gift of Colonel Coghlan
Room 53: Ancient South Arabia
Inscribed cast bronze tablet
Sabaean, 1st century BC
From Amran, Yemen
A votive tablet recording a dedication
This cast bronze tablet was probably placed in a temple as an offering to the god Almaqah. He was the national god of the kingdom of Saba. He may have been a moon-god, or perhaps a male version of the important south Arabian sun-goddess Shams.
The inscription, in the Sabaean language, identifies Almaqah as the god of Hirran and records that the tablet was dedicated by Riyan and his brothers, the grandsons of Marthad of the tribe of Dhu Amran. The decoration at the top shows a pair of sphinxes flanking a lotus blossom and framed by date palms in full fruit.
The history of ancient South Arabia was marked by constant warfare between the rival kingdoms of Saba (the oldest and most powerful), Hadramaut, Himyar, Qataban and Ma'in. Conflict was often about control over frankincense and myrrh, two highly-prized aromatics 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. Their production and trade was in the hands of the ancient South Arabians who became extremely wealthy as a result.
Each kingdom spoke their own, though related, Semitic language which they wrote using a common alphabet. The script changed little between its origins in the sixth century BC and its disappearance in the seventh century AD. A version has been kept alive in the modern Ethiopian alphabet.
W. Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 years of art and c (Penguin, 1988)
St J.H. Philby, The Queen of Sheba (London, Quartet, 1981)