- Museum number
- Object: Aylward stela
Funerary stela; calcite; roughly trimmed back and sides, face carved with a scene showing a woman seated on a straight-backed chair, feet resting on a foot stool, playing a lyre; flanked by two smaller female figures, one holding a drum; all figures set beneath an arch terminating in dragon's heads (possibly representing Athtar and Sahar, deities possibly representing representative aspects of the god Athtar as evening and morning star respectively) and supported by fluted columns with acanthus-leaf capitals; erased inscription along the top.
- Production date
- 1stC BC-1stC (about)
Height: 29 centimetres
Thickness: 6.30 centimetres
Width: 27 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Dragon's heads discussed by J. Ryckmans 1996 in New Arabian Studies vol. 3. This stela, although lacking an inscription to indicate the name of the deceased, closely resembles other stelae found at or said to come from Heid bin 'Aqil, the main cemetery of Timna. It depicts an amply proportioned lady wearing a long dress, playing a lyre and sitting on a straight-backed chair with her feet resting on a matching foot-stool. This figure is flanked by two girls or women, one holding a drum. The latter probably belongs to a type constructed by tightly stretching a piece of skin over a wooden frame, a method which is now copied in ceramic in parts of the Near East today. Formerly known as the Aylward stela, this object resembles a second stela in the British Museum collection which has a very similar upper register with the addition of a Sabaean inscription that reads "Image of Ghalilat, daughter of Mafaddat and may Athtar destroy he who breaks it' (ANE 125041/CIS IV, 419).
W.D. Glanzman noted (pers. comm. 7/6/04) while commenting on a draft of the Bowers catalogue that this style of presentation is more common in Alexandria and elsewhere in Syria and especially late Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt than in South Arabia; it thus reflects exchange of funerary art probably as a result of the intense commercial activity between those regions during the days of the Roman Empire. Also, the fluting on the columns and the type of capital depicted is most reminiscent of similar stelae in Roman Egypt]. Banqueting or funerary feasts were also a common element of the funerary ritual for elites among many cultural groups in the ancient Near East during the first several centuries, from Palmyra and Nabatene to Judah, Egypt, and South Arabia.
Bowers catalogue entry:
1st century AD
Height 29 cm, width 27 cm, thickness 8 cm
Said to be from Hajar ibn Humayd
Presented by Jonathan Hassell
This stela was formerly known as the “Aylward stela” after a previous owner, Captain John Aylward (1929-1986), who acquired it and a collection of other antiquities during military service with the Royal Artillery in the Wadi Bayhan from September 1958 - November 1959. It depicts an amply proportioned lady wearing a long dress decorated down the front with two narrow vertical panels, who is depicted playing a lyre while sitting on a straight-backed chair with her feet resting on a matching foot-stool. This figure is flanked on either side by a smaller figure either representing a girl or woman, one of whom may be singing while the other is holding a drum. This probably belongs to a type constructed by tightly stretching a piece of skin over a wooden frame, a method which is still found in parts of the Near East today. The figures are depicted below a curving arch ending in dragon’s heads with foliage above, and supported by fluted columns with decorative capitals and flared fluted bases. The identity of the seated figure is uncertain: she has been identified as a goddess but the funerary context of this series instead suggests that she is the subject of the dedication.
This stela resembles another example in the British Museum which was found at or near the Awwam Temple (or the adjoining cemetery) at Marib prior to 1870 and which has a very similar upper register, plus a Sabaean inscription which reads: “Image of Ghalilat, daughter of Mufiddat and may Athtar destroy he who breaks it”. Another stela of this type in the Musée du Louvre shows a woman with a similar “H”-pattern dress seated on a folding stool in front of a folding table loaded with vessels presumably filled with food and drink, and being waited on by another figure to the sound of music being played on a lute. The series therefore appear to represent banqueting scenes. Although it has been suggested that these were originally fixed onto the walls of temples, the inscription on the Musée du Louvre stela proves a funerary context as it reads: “Image and funerary monument of Iglum son of Saadillat the Qaryote but Athtar Shariqan smites those who damage it”.
- Bibliographic references
Grohmann A 1963a / Arabien (p.226, taf.XVII: 3)
Pirenne J 1965a / Notes d'archéologie sud-arabe IV. La déesse sur les reliefs sabéens (pp. 110-11, pl. IX,a)
Sotheby's 1991a / Antiquities: Ancient Glass, Ancient Jewellery, Anglo-Saxon, Bronze Age, Celtic, Romano-British, Irish, Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Neolithic, Cycladic, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities (p.55, lot 128)
Ryckmans J 1996a / The Old South Arabian so-called Bulawayo Stone (CIH 458) Recovered (pp. 137-39)
Simpson 2002a / Queen of Sheba: Treasures from Ancient Yemen (p.125, cat.142)
Simpson 2004a / Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality. Treasures from the British Museum (pp. 110-11)
Gunter A C 2005a / Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the ancient incense trade (p. 87)
Matteini 2006b / Note di storia dell'arte sudarabica II "La déesse en parque (?)" una proposta interpretativa (pp. 321, 322, 324, fig. 8)
Lombardi 2016 / South Arabian Funerary Stelae from the British Museum Collection (89)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017-2018 17 Jan-2 Jul, Basel, Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, 'Arabia Felix: Treasures from Ancient South Arabia'
2006 13 Apr-Dec, BM, G2/63
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 5 Jun-13 Oct, BM, 'Queen of Sheba: Treasures from ancient Yemen'
- Defaced inscription at the top; some old scratches and chips around the edges.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Acquired by Aylward at Haid bin Aqil in 1959. It was purchased by Jonathan Hassell at London auction by Sotheby's, 8 July 1991, lot 128, to which it had been assigned by Mrs J.P.R. Aylward, following the death of Captain John Aylward.
- Middle East
- Registration number