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Height: 23.900 cm
Width: 18.000 cm
Diameter: 13.500 cm
Weight: 2388.000 g
Gift of Dr Sidney E. Croskery
The kingdoms of ancient South Arabia
Bronze incense burner with ibex figure
The kingdoms of South Arabia were located around the edge of a desert called the Ramlat as-Sab'atayn. They were sustained through elaborate irrigation systems that managed the annual floods running from the highlands. The most famous of these was the dam at the Sabaean capital, Marib, which enabled the cultivation of up to 10,000 hectares. The dam had huge stone sluices positioned on either side of the Wadi Dhana, which were originally linked by a 14-metre high, 680-metre long dam.
According to Arab historians, the Marib dam was built by the Queen of Sheba and its final destruction (which occurred around AD 580) came about as divine punishment of her people. Having converted the Sabaeans to Islam after her return from Solomon's court, they soon turned against God. Red rats with iron teeth and claws were sent in retribution; the creatures burst the dam by gnawing through its foundations. The trees were ruined and the land was devastated.
This cast bronze incense burner was probably given as a dedication in the Awwam or Bar'an temple at Marib; these temples were located in the southern garden that was irrigated with water controlled by the dam. The front of the burner is decorated with the figure of an ibex, which presumably served as a handle. The ibex was sacred and was widely depicted in South Arabian art; it has been associated with rain and fertility. Almaquh, the national god of the Sabaeans, was 'the master of the ibex' and Sabaean rulers participated in sacred ibex hunts.