CULTURE: Kingdom of Sheba, Yemen
PERIOD: 2nd - 1st Century B.C.
MATERIAL: Limestone with pigmentation
SIZE: Height 40.6 cm
PROVENANCE: Private English collection, 1978.
CONDITION: The piece has been professionally repaired from two fragments. The line of breakage in the centre of the stele has been covered. There is some superficial wear and a slight graze to the nose. Some remains of red pigment can be seen on the surface.
This is a typical stele from the necropolis of the ancient kingdom of Sheba (or Saba), which was located in what is present-day Yemen. It is rectangular in form, with the face sculpted in the upper section in prominent relief in a very schematic manner. The eyebrows are joined, the nose elongated and triangular, while the eyes are rhomboid in shape with marked irises. The mouth is small with thick lips and the chin is rectangular. The ears are also clearly worked towards the sides of the stele.
The face is an idealized one representing the deceased. It has not been sculpted with the intention of depicting the real features of the dead but rather a human face. At times the sex of the person cannot be distinguished. Below the face the name of the deceased is written in Sabaean script. The lower part of the stele preserved 4 letters in language of this culture in which is inscribed the name.
The kingdom of Sheba was a rich one, thanks in great part to the famous “Queen of Sheba” named Makeda. The extension of this kingdom is unknown, although there are hypotheses that indicate that it was in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, in what is present-day Yemen. Others suggest that it was in the Horn of Africa and still others point to its extension over both zones.
The palace of the Queen of Sheba (also known by the name of Mahram Bilqus) is in the ancient Arabian Peninsula, in present-day Yemen. This city, built between the 2nd and 1st Century B.C., is believed to be the capital of the kingdom. Erected in a strategic position, Sheba flourished through the trading of merchandise both with Africa and Asia. It had a society based on matriarchy, with political power passing through the female line to royal descendants. Most probably the population represented a mixture of Ethiopian and Arabic peoples.