- Museum number
Yellow limestone slab with complete carefully engraved 4 line South Arabian inscription, translated as "Lahay'athat Satran, Great Man of Fayshan has constructed and founded and covered the two aqueducts of the three terraces for the two palm groves Matran and Mawharah. By Athtar and by 'Almaqah"; top and left side of the stone block with original trimming, but right edge and back apparently untrimmed.
- Production date
- 199BC-150BC (possibly)
Height: 32.50 centimetres (on stone base)
Height: 24.50 centimetres
Thickness: 10.50 centimetres (on stone base)
Thickness: 8 centimetres
Width: 57.50 centimetres (on stone base)
Width: 53 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Bowers catalogue entry
Sabaean inscription referring to irrigation
2nd century BC
Height 24.5 cm, width 53 cm, thickness 8 cm
ANE 1909-6-12,1 = 103021
Purchased from Charles Albert Brenchley through George Hallett
The four-line Sabaean inscription on the face of this yellow limestone block reads:
“Lahayathat Satran, Great Man of Faysan has constructed and founded and covered the two aqueducts of the three terraces for the two palm-groves Matran and Mawharah. By Athtar and Almaqah”.
This carefully cut inscription commemorates the construction by one Lahayathat Satran of a pair of gravity-flow waterworks which were apparently designed to irrigate adjacent palm-groves belonging to the two named individuals, Matran and Mawharah. It also acknowledges the divine protection of the gods Athtar and Almaqah as a means of ensuring that the construction (and therefore the produce of the palm-groves) will not be harmed. These two deities were often invoked together in offerings connected with the fertility of irrigated lands dedicated to the temple, and particularly at Marib.
Irrigation formed a fundamental basis of the agricultural economy of ancient Southern Arabia and reached its most spectacular level of development with the construction of the famous dam at Marib. The origins of this lie in the 6th century BC with the construction and periodic repair after floods of an earth dam measuring some 620 m. in length and 8 m. in height, which enabled an 8 km. long reservoir within the gorge of the Wadi al-Sudd behind. Annual flooding led not only to increasing damage of the dam but also to a massive buildup of coarse sediment within the reservoir. The solution was to build a pair of massive stone sluices which diverted the flood water through spillways and distributor canals into so-called northern and southern oases, later described in the Quran as “a garden on their left and a garden on their right”, where the fields were flooded to a depth of up to half a metre and yielded two crops a year. The destruction of these sluices in the late 6th century AD led to the collapse of the irrigated field systems supporting the former Sabaean capital, and triggered an abandonment of this city. This event was later seized upon in the Quran as evidence for divine retribution for the pagan beliefs of the inhabitants of Saba (34:16-17), and was even popularly attributed in one medieval story to be the direct result of “red rats, as fat as porcupines but much stronger, gnawing at the wooden beams shoring up the dam” (Abu Mohammed ibn Abdallah al-Kisai, c. 1100).
Hitherto, the dam at Marib has been regarded as one of the great architectural achievements of the Sabaean state and even dated as early as the 6th century BC on the basis of dated inscriptions. However, excavations as part of a reconstruction project conducted as recently as 2002 have provided dramatically different evidence for the date of this structure. It now appears that the early inscriptions were simply reused in later construction following two disastrous breaches of the dam in 454 and 455 AD. The dam, or at least the northern sluice, was completely rebuilt by the Sabaean king Shurahbil Yafur, who is said to have employed a workforce of 20,000 men for this purpose. The building inscription itself refers to the logistics of feeding this number of men as they are said to have required “285,340 measures of fine flour, milled wheat, barley, corn and dates; 1363 slaughter camels, sheep and cattle; 1000 pairs of oxen and 670 camels carrying drink of different types of grapes and 42 loads of honey and butter”. A pair of second inscriptions record further monumental repairs and new construction by king Abreha in AD 548 but the entire system was finally abandoned when rising sedimentation blocked the canal and distributor and prevented the floodwaters from reaching the fields beyond.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004-2005 17 Oct-13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
2000 14 May-29 Oct, Germany, Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Seven Hills – Images and Signs of the 21st Century
Room of Writing [RW], N.Wall (according to record card)
- Crack running horizontally across the face, beginning at the right edge; old restoration at the back to secure object to stone base
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: RES 3913