The ancient kingdom of Saba ruled over the
lands of southern Arabia, centered in
day Yemen. Saba is perhaps better known
Sheba, the Hebrew word for the kingdom,
famous Queen was recounted as having
Solomon in the pages of the Old Testament.
Biblical accounts speak of the wealth of this
ancient civilization of traders and merchants,
modern archaeological excavations confirm
reports. Ruins of fortresses and walled towns
evident and remnants of their extensive
irrigation system that turned the desert into a
paradise still cover the land. Although gold
silver deposits were present, the chief source
their vast wealth was derived from their
monopoly of two of the most coveted
in ancient times: frankincense and myrrh,
resinous gums obtained from certain trees
only grow in Southern Arabia and were
worth their weight in gold. There was not a
temple or wealthy house in the ancient
from Babylon to Rome, where one would not
smell the fragrant scents of these incenses.
addition, a trade route that connected India
Egypt that passed through their capital of
was another major source of wealth. In the
Century A.D., the Ptolemaic Greeks
sea route from India directly to the port of
Alexandria, eliminating Saba from her
trade and ushering in the decline of Sabean
This magnificent stone funerary plaque is a
stunning example of the sophistication of
art. The following is a transcription of the
analysis kindly provided by Professor
(University of Liverpool).
‘This ‘headpiece’ was originally inserted into
matching rectangular recess, cut into a tall
(like a narrow quadrangular pillar), to form a
tombstone plus ‘formal’ portrait. For intact
examples, cf. St. John Simpson (ed.), ‘Queen
Sheba, Treasures from Ancient Yemen,’
British Museum, 2002), p. 198, nos. 277-278.
Facial tombstone in high relief and with a
less conventional face than most. Here, the
are more lozenge-shaped with sharp, not
smoothly curved, angles. A stronger hairline
has a central quiff pointing onto the brow.
features (brows, eyes, nose) are standard but
small slit mouth is encased all round by
prominent, rounded lips.
The 3-letter name, S l m, is a simple Salim, a
very common Arabic name at any time (cf. R.
Cleveland, ‘An Ancient South-Arabian
…Timna Cemetary,’ (Baltimore, 1965), p.
but more common up north as in Safaitic,
some examples in Minean and Sabean.
three-letters are a precarious dating-base
probably somewhere broadly within the 4th-