Limestone figurine

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

A votive statue

The southern Arabians had a monopoly on two of the most prized materials of ancient times: frankincense and myrrh. These two resins only grow in eastern Yemen and southern Oman and in some parts of Somalia. Their production and trade was in the hands of the ancient South Arabians, who became rich on the proceeds.

Their wealth was often displayed in the form of votive offerings left in temples. Such offerings were acts of piety, invoking the favour of the god, but were also a public display of the donor's wealth and status.

The most common type of sculpture of this region is small human statues which were placed in temples as votive offerings. Their style shows abstraction and a tendency to geometrical forms that can also be seen in contemporary buildings. Unfortunately we do not know whether cult images of gods were similar in style, as we have no evidence of what form the divine image in a temple took.

The oldest and most powerful of the South Arabian states state was Saba, with its capital Marib, where this figurine was found. 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. In the first century AD the state of Himyar rose to influence with its capital at Zafar and challenged Marib for supremacy.

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More information

Bibliography

B. Doe, Southern Arabia (London, Thames and Hudson, 1971)

Dimensions

Height: 68.500 cm
Width: 33.000 cm

Museum number

ME 134848

WCO48364

Location

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