- Museum number
Fragment of a veined calcite-alabaster arched block with relief sculpture on front with depiction of an eagle grasping a snake, with a South Arabian monogram on the left, a dividing symbol on the right and the paw of a lion with the rest of the animal broken off; old defacement to the face of the eagle
- Production date
- 3rdC BC-3rdC
Height: 26.50 centimetres
Length: 46 centimetres
Thickness: 15 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This central portion of an arch shows an eagle fighting a snake with a monogram, division line and the paw of a lion; the remainder is unfortunately missing. The presumed mythological significance of this scene is unclear; the eagle is illustrated on a South Arabian seal in The British Museum where the eagle god is shown grasping a snake - which according to the file card was the attribute of the South Arabian deities Nasr and Wadd (ANE 1854-4-1,23 = 120304; J Walker 1962a, 455-8). According to de Maigret and Breton, the snake was actually the animal attribute of Wadd and the animal attribute for Sayyin, the chief diety of the Hadramawt, was the eagle (de Maigret 2002a, 263-264; Breton 1999, 125). The connection between the eagle and the god Sayyin is reinforced because an eagle and the name Sayyin and Skr appear on coins given to The British Museum by Freya Stark (J Walker 1962a, 457; Num. Chron 1937, p 260 ff.). Costa suggests that the theme of an eagle and two snakes, the eagle biting one and the other snake biting the bird is symbolic of the circle of life and that the eagle and snake represent the sun and the moon (P Costa 1978a, 36-7, pl. XVI, no. 67). The same motif recurs on other architectural fragments including several belonging - like this piece - to the architrave (Rossini 1927, 743; Fakhry 1952, vol. I, 128-9; B Doe 1967, 7; P Costa 1978a, 36-7, pl. XVI, no. 67; J Pirenne 1980, vol. II, 357-8; Christie's 2001, 12, lot 218).
Costa, P., 1978a. The Pre-Islamic Antiquities at the Yemen National Museum, Rome: 'L'Erma' di Bretschneider.
Doe, B., 1967. Tawahi Museum, Aden: Government Printer.
Fakhry, A., 1952. An Archaeological Journey to Yemen (March-May, 1947), Cairo: Government Press; three volumes.
Pirenne, J., 1980. 'Prospection historique dans la region du royaume de 'Awsan', Raydan 3, 213-55.
Rossini, C. C., 1927. 'Dalle Rovine di Ausàn', Dedalo 7, 727-54.
Walker, J., 1962a. 'A South Arabian gem with Sabaean and Kufic legends', Le Muséon 65/3-4, 455-58.
Bowers catalogue entry
Voussoir of an arch
Possibly 1st - 3rd century AD
Height 26.5 cm, width 46 cm, thickness 15 cm
Probably from Marib
ANE 1985-2-23,1 = 141532
Presented by Brian Doe
This central portion of an arch shows, from left to right, an eagle fighting a snake with a monogram, a vertical division line and the paw of a lion; the remainder is unfortunately missing. The presumed mythological significance of this scene is unclear, yet the eagle has been controversially interpreted as a symbol of the gods Sayyin, Nasr and Wadd, and is illustrated on a South Arabian seal in the British Museum where the eagle god is shown grasping a snake. The same motif recurs on other architectural fragments including several belonging - like this piece - to the architrave, and a 1st-3rd century AD date has been suggested for it.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004-2005 17 Oct-13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
2002 5 Jun-13 Oct, BM, 'Queen of Sheba: Treasures from ancient Yemen'
- Incomplete; part of object only; old defacement of the face of the eagle.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Collected by Brian Doe, Ailsa and Alan Meldrum in 1965 from South Yemen (see curator's comments).
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number