The Sabean Collection

By: L. L.

Originally Published in 1932

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THE recent reinstallation on the upper floor of the Museum has permitted the display of a collection, purchased several years ago, of objects from the ancient Sabean kingdom in southern Arabia. According to Dr. Legrain, who has prepared a monograph to be published on this collection: the key to Africa and the mother of Abyssinia, the kingdoms of South Arabia bordered on the oldest civilizations of Babylon and Egypt and commanded the sea roads from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf and to India. Of the four Arab kingdoms of the south known to the Romans: the Sabean, Minean, Hadhramut and Kataba, scarcely more than the names of their principal cities and of a few of their kings have survived. Practically a forbidden country, the region is made inaccessible both by the intense heat and by the fanaticism of semi-barbarous, nomadic tribes intolerant of all foreigners.

Statuette of a bearded man wearing a loincloth, with hands extended, arms broken off
Plate VIII — Sabean Funerary Statuette, South Arabia
Museum Object Number: 30-47-7
Head and part of a shoulder of a statuette with incised eyes and eyebrows
Plate IX — Alabaster Head From the Sabean Kingdom, South Arabia
Museum Object Number: 30-47-18

The few objects recovered by local Arabs in modern times are, for the most part, funeral monuments, in stone or metal, buried with the dead and found in their graves. They may be dated between 150 B. C. and A. D. 200. Historically, they belong to the last period of the South Arabian independent culture before the birth of Islam, which sternly proscribed and destroyed them. The sculptures are inscribed in the South Arabian Sabean, or Himgarite.

The characteristics of the Sabean sculptures are absence of proportions, short legs, thick neck, and broad shoulders. Much finer in execution and richer in detail than some of the other examples is the limestone statuette shown in Plate VIII. It is completely carved in the round and is probably the best and the oldest piece in the collection. The Sabean art is reminiscent of the Sumerian sculpture of the lower Euphrates-as is well illustrated by the very interesting head shown in Plate IX. The statuettes are always symbols, never real portraits; they, together with the other sculptures and the inscriptions on them, present an important addition to our knowledge of Sabean art and history.

Cite This Article

L., L.. "The Sabean Collection." Museum Bulletin IV, no. 1 (December, 1932): 16-17. Accessed July 15, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/1015/


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