- Museum number
Tin bronze altar; cast in relief; the rear of; section of upper panel with projecting central panel, between 2 projecting bulls heads; inscription continued from front section.
- Production date
- 1stC BC-1stC
Height: 20 centimetres
Thickness: 20 centimetres
Width: 75 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Part of 1970,0604.1 (BM.135323).
Compare with 1972,1101.1 (BM.135756).
Research lab report 14/9/72; atomic absorbtion analysis of a sample of this fragment and of one of the nails which pierce it showed that the nail is made of essentially pure copper while the body of the altar is a tin bronze.
Part of 1970,0604.1 (BM.135323).
This outstanding and thus far unique semi-complete bronze altar carries an incomplete Sabaean inscription (see Inscription). The name of the dedicant is unfortunately not preserved but the inscription, which commences on the most completely preserved side, describes how the altar was dedicated to a previously unattested local deity called Rahmaw following completion of a successful hunting trip (Lundin and Frantsouzoff 1997a). Robin (pers comm..) suggests that this inscription has been misread by Lundin and Frantsouzoff and that there is no reference to a hunt but to a dedication (as was originally suggested in the label). (A broken letter on the side with the bulls spouts has caused the problem). He also has questioned the origin of the piece on the basis of the inscription (AP written to Christian Robin regarding this).
Two joining portions of this altar survive, the first and largest of which consists of the front panel showing three rows of standing sphinxes shown frontally, set below a lightly projecting cornice around which runs the beginning of a Sabaean inscription. The raised letters were made by applying individual wax threads onto the panel before it was cast; the same technique was used to make bronze dedicatory tablets (Simpson StJ 2002a, cats 31, 219). The second fragment represents part of the corresponding back panel of the altar flanked by a projecting bull's head spout (Christie's 1970, no. 159; Barnett and Curtis 1973, 130, pl. LXIIb).
After acquisition in 1970, the thick heavy corrosion products which measured up to 5 cm thick in places and which obscured the surfaces were removed, not only revealing the inscription and decoration but also >blow holes= resulting from the original casting and the almost-pure copper nails which had been used in antiquity to attach the metal onto a wooden core or frame (see also Simpson StJ 2002a, cat. 167). Traces of burning mixed with the corrosion suggests that the remains of the altar may have been discarded in an ashy deposit. Technical examination within the Department of Scientific Research also indicated that the main part of the altar was probably made as a single casting from several separate melts poured successively into a mould; the metal composition is almost uniform with c. 11-14 per cent tin added to c. 83-90 per cent copper with the usual minor trace elements of lead, zinc, iron and nickel. Smaller fragments belonging to a second bronze altar also decorated with sphinxes but made with a slightly different metal composition exist in the British Museum collection (Seipel 1998a, 297-8, no. 172; see also Costa 1978, 43, pl. XXII, no. 82).1
1 Unpublished reports (R.L. and Conservation File No. 2987).
Barnett, R. D. and Curtis, J., 1973. 'A review of acquisitions 1963-70 of Western Asiatic Antiquities (2)', British Museum Quarterly 37, 119-37.
Costa, P., 1978. The Pre-Islamic Antiquities at the Yemen National Museum, Rome: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider.
Lundin, A. G. and Frantsouzoff, S. A., 1997. 'An Inscribed Sabaean Bronze Altar from The British Museum', St Petersburg Journal of Oriental Studies 9, 384 91.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2005 25 Jun-11 Sept, Washington, Smithsonian (Arthur M Sackler Gallery), 'Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the ancient incense trade'
2004-2005 17 Oct-13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
2002-2005 Nov-Dec, BM, G51, centre case
2002 5 Jun-13 Oct, BM, 'Queen of Sheba: Treasures from ancient Yemen'
1976-1997 BM, West Stairs: South Arabian Landing [SAL], centre case
- Clay core prone to flaking; face consolidated
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Christies 7 July 1970 lot 159; deposited 29/5/70 as item 2551.
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number