- Museum number
Copper alloy plaque; cast; no guide lines above or below the inscription; raised two line Sabaean dedicatory inscription to 'Almaqah on the face, large monogram on the left; decorated along the bottom; reverse has a cross-pattern in low relief accidentally left by the casting; two circular perforations, above and below the monogram at the left; only the left portion survives.
- Production date
- 1stC BC-2ndC (probably)
Height: 8.00 - 8.20 centimetres (of letters)
Height: 19 centimetres (of monogram)
Height: 32.40 centimetres
Length: 78.80 centimetres
Weight: 11.30 grammes
Thickness: 0.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Typed description on the record card thus:
"Left half of plate bearing inscription in two lines in raised Himyaritic characters; below, fretted edge in form of fringes. Text (restored) = Dedication to Ilmakkah of Hirran by Watr of tribe of Marthad, "because I heard him, the sons of Marthad and their prince"; in panel to l., monogram representing name Watr".
Bowers catalogue entry
The right portion is missing but the front carries a two-line Sabaean inscription referring to a dedication to Almaqah, with a large monogram at the left. The two small holes above and below the monogram were to secure the plaque onto a wall. Unusually, there are no guide lines traced on the front to help the craftsman design the letters.
The frequency with which these plaques were used in antiquity is not only demonstrated by the large number which survive, but also by the attachment holes and iron nails found in situ on the facades and pillars of public buildings such as the Awwam temple at Marib. Very few have been found in archaeological contexts and those reportedly found at Amran are believed to date between the 1st century BC and 3rd century AD, although palaeographic dating suggests a date as early as the 5th century BC for a similar example dedicated to Almaqah and excavated near the peristyle hall of the Awwam Temple at Marib. These inscriptions were made not by simply casting in an incised mould but instead made use of the so-called “lost wax technique”, whereby the individual letters were formed by adding, trimming and punching where necessary separate threads of wax between incised lines on the face of a thick wax plaque which was then covered in several layers of clay, baked with molten bronze poured in through the side to replace the wax, before cracking off the clay shell and polishing the metal. The incurved edges reflect shrinking of the wax original. The essentially rectangular shape with the flat raised frame around the recessed page indicates that they were influenced by the shape of hinged wooden or ivory writing-boards where the inscriptions were incised into wax-filled pages, the raised borders of which prevented the contents from smudging when the pages were folded together. This form of writing-board was widely used throughout the Near East from at least the 14th century: the earliest example to survive is an ivory-hinged example found on the site of a shipwreck at Ulu Burun off south-west Turkey. Clay sealings of the same period which were excavated at the Hittite capital of Hattusha are believed to have originally been attached to similar wooden writing-boards, and these boards are illustrated on 8th century Late Assyrian reliefs as well as being described in contemporary texts as being used alongside parchment scrolls and clay tablets. Mesopotamian texts refer to the beeswax on these boards being coloured yellow with orpiment, which appears to have been a practical device of rendering the incised wax inscription easier to read in the sun; equivalent Roman scribes who continued to use writing-boards coloured the wax with crushed charcoal.
This bronze plaque was among a collection of 26 inscriptions presented to the Museum in 1862 by Colonel (later Brigadier-General) William Marcus Coghlan (1803-1885), who was then serving as the East India Company Political Resident and Commandant in Aden. However, as early as about 1870, a Jew in Sanaa appears to have been making fake bronze inscriptions, but these are technically easily distinguishable from the originals as they were cast in sand rather than clay (and therefore have a rougher finish), the lines are separated by raised lines (as on the stone inscriptions), the letters are not individually modelled, and the inscriptions themselves do not make sense. It is indicative that although the decipherment of the South Arabian script was still in its very infancy, questions were raised over the authenticity of these other plaques in correspondence between Samuel Birch (1813-1885), then newly appointed Keeper in the Museum’s former Department of Oriental Antiquities, and Captain W.F. Prideaux (1840-1914) and Reverend Charles Kirk, the East India Company chaplain in Aden.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004-2005 17 Oct-13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
1982-1990s Easter-, BM, G57: Ancient Syria [Syrian Room], Bay A
- Only the left portion survives; old scratches on the front and back, partly from the previous removal of hard corrosion
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This group "were discovered at Amran, near San'a, in or before the year 1855" (S. Birch, 'Inscriptions in the Himyaritic character now deposited in the British Museum, chiefly discovered in South Arabia', London 1863). Trustees Papers, Miscellaneous Communications, 29 October 1862, no. 10172, on the presentation of "copper plates from Amran"; Report of Donations, 5/11/62 (received 6/11/62), no. 10370: report of receipt of Coghlan's suggestion that inscriptions be published; General Reports, 5/11/62, no. 10370, on the publication of Himyaritic inscriptions and a bowl; 10/12/62, no. 11462, likely publication cost estimated at £100.
Donation acknowledged with thanks by Birch, letter dated 30/12/62 (ANE Correspondence).
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: CIH 70 (siglum)