- Museum number
Calcite incense-burner; carved with the scene of a nude man seated in front of the hump of a camel; shallow rectangular hollow at the top; inscribed; 2ll.; polished.
- Production date
- 3rdC (?)
Height: 32 centimetres
Thickness: 8 centimetres
Width: 15 centimetres
Volume: 30 millilitres (of receptacle at the top)
- Curator's comments
The individual mentioned in the inscription, Adhlal, son of Wahab'il, is possibly the same as that shown on the burner, that is, a man seated in front of the hump of a dromedary camel, with a circular shield or waterskin slung above the camel's left rear leg. This style of camel riding is also illustrated on north Arabian desert graffiti and contrasts with the use of a constructed pack-saddle. The interpretation of the circular object - also represented on a stela in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (Calvet and Robin et al. 1997, 109-10, no. 20) - is ambiguous, as Palmyrene sculptures indicate this to be a shield (Tanabe ed. 1986, 128, 174, pls 92-3, 141), whereas glazed ceramic pilgrim flasks made in imitation of leather flasks have been found interred with camel burials at Mleha in south-east Arabia (Jasim 1999, 88). The dromedary is indigenous to Arabia but, although hunted as a source of meat, was not domesticated until the early first millennium BC. This development greatly increased the value of camels, not only as a new source of transport but also as a valuable source of milk and hair, important secondary products that came to economically outweigh the value of these animals as a potential source of meat. The site where this object was acquired is located at the mouth of the Wadi Irma in the Hadramawt (Eastern Yemen) and may have been occupied as early as the mid-second millennium bc; it grew to become the capital of the Hadramawt between the fifth century BC and fifth century AD (Breton 1999, 47). It was known to Classical writers as Sabata or Sabota and according to Pliny (Nat. Hist. 6.155) was famed for its sixty temples. Philby visited Shabwa in 1936 during his journey from Mecca to Mukalla and described what he mistook for the Himyarite capital as "disappointingly small and insignificant . . . with not a pillar of the sixty temples erect" (Philby 1939, 85, 88-90). He bought eight inscriptions, later donated to The British Museum, and copied five others. Brief amateur excavations were conducted here over "a busy six weeks" in 1938 by R.A.B. Hamilton (see Simpson 2002a, cat. 193) and a fine sculpture of a goddess holding a cornucopia was acquired here in 1939 by W.H. Ingrams (see Simpson 2002a, cat. 234). In 1975 the French Archaeological Expedition initiated serious excavations at the site, initially directed by J. Pirenne and subsequently by J.-F. Breton. These investigations have revealed the palace, great north gate, structures along the main street within the city and a number of tombs. A monumental temple (Chantier II) dedicated to Sayin, the chief deity of the Hadramawt, was located at the southern end of the main road (Breton and Darles 1998, 92-290). During the final temple phase in the first to third centuries AD, the entrance consisted of a monumental stairway, which led up to four bronze statues in front of four bronze covered pillars. No inscriptions were found in situ but one was found nearby which mentions a temple dedicated to Sayin dhu-Alim in the city of Shabwa; this was presented to The British Museum by Brigadier-Colonel Coghlan in 1862 (Breton 1997b, 146). There were a number of other temples in addition to an extramural temple on a nearby hill. The eastern part of the city was crowded with multi-storey tower houses with rectangular stone foundations and superstructures constructed of wood and unfired mudbrick (Breton ed. 1998, 48). The stone foundations reached a height of 2-4 m above the ground and were 1-2 m thick in order to support the superstructure. The first floor was accessed via a staircase, which was built against the exterior of the foundation wall. Although there is no archaeological evidence to suggest the original height of the buildings, there are inscriptions that mention four or even six storeys (Breton 1999, 82-3). Shabwa was almost completely surrounded by a circle of low hills upon which were built the outer fortification walls. Although there were not as many natural resources in the Wadi Hadramawt compared to the Wadis Jawf, 'Adhana and Bayhan, and the floods near Shabwa were relatively small and infrequent, the city was built on an extensive salt dome which was mined in antiquity. This provided it with a major source of income as salt was extensively traded and taxed in antiquity, and this continued to be "prized all over the country" (Stark 1936, 131; Breton et al. 1998, 130; see also Simpson 2001a). Shabwa was also strategically located on several important trade routes that led to Ma'in or Najran and to the coast at Qana', although there is very little in the archaeological record that specifically relates to the incense trade (Breton 1987, 15; 1999, 47).
Bowers Catalogue entry:
Incense-burner showing a camel rider
c. 3rd century AD
Height 32 cm, width 15 cm, thickness 8 cm; capacity 30 ml
ANE 1937-5-7,1 = 125682
Presented by H. St J.B. Philby (1885-1960)
This incense-burner was acquired in 1936 at the ancient city-site of Shabwa by the famous Arabian traveller and explorer H.St J.B. Philby. The two-line Sabaean inscription implies that it was dedicated to a temple by “Adhlal, son of Wahabil”. This individual is possibly the same as that shown on the front, that is, a man seated in front of the hump of a dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius), with a circular shield or a waterskin slung above the camel’s left rear leg. This style of camel riding is also illustrated on north Arabian desert graffiti. The dromedary is indigenous to Arabia but, although hunted as a source of meat, was not domesticated until the early 1st millennium BC. This development greatly increased the value of camels, not only as a new source of transport but also as a valuable source of milk and hair, important secondary products that came to economically outweigh the value of these animals as a potential source of meat.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2019 11 Mar-23 Jun, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Between Parthia and Rome
2017-2018 17 Jan-2 Jul, Basel, Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, 'Arabia Felix: Treasures from Ancient South Arabia'
2010 29 May-15 Oct, USA, Kentucky Horse Park, 'A Gift from the Desert'
2007 11 Jun-, BM, G53/South Arabia/1
2006 13 Apr-Dec, BM, G2/68
2005 25 Jun-11 Sept, Washington, Smithsonian (Arthur M Sackler Gallery), 'Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the ancient incense trade'
2004 17 Oct-2005 13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
2002 5 Jun-13 Oct, BM, 'Queen of Sheba: Treasures from ancient Yemen'
2000 26 Sept-2001 7 Jan, Torino, Palazzo Bricherasio, 'La Regina di Saba, Arte e Leggenda Dallo Yemen'
2000 4 Apr-30 Jun, Rome, Fondazione Memmo, Palazzo Ruspoli, 'Nel paese della Regina di Saba'
1997 20 Oct-1998 28 Feb, France, Paris, Musee de L’Institut du Monde Arabe, Yemen, Pays de la Reine de Saba
1999 7 Jul-2000 9 Jan, München, Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, 'Im Land der Königin von Saba'
1998 9 Nov-1999 21 Feb, Vienna, Künstlerhaus, 'Jemen. Kunst und Archäologie im Land der Königin von Saba'
1997 25 Oct-1998 28 Feb, Paris, Institute du Monde Arabe, 'Yemen, au pays de la reine de Saba'
1997- BM, G51/PSA/3
1995 25 Oct-1996 21 Jan, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire County Museum, We Three Kings: The Magi in Art and Legend
1976-1997, BM, West Stairs: South Arabian Landing [SAL], wall-case 1 [WC1]
- Almost complete; previously coated with a consolidant, hence giving a slightly waxy appearance (noted 2004).
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Acquired at Shabwa by Philby; part of collection of "36 stone frags, 6 shells, 1 glazed frag." received for study via the Ethnographic Dept on 7 May 1937 (WAA deposit book entry; annotated "a box containing similar material received in Sept. and added to above", and "9 objects [i.e. 1937-5-7,1-9] for Nov. meeting [of Trustees]".
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: RES 4690 (siglum)