|THE SPHINXES of SHEBA by Antoine GIGAL
In the mysterious Kingdom of Sheba/Saba mentioned by many sacred books (1) and different ancient authors, was found years ago, an incredible bronze altar depicting rows of sphinxes...
Modern archaeological findings are showing that the Sheba/Saba Kingdom with its capital Marib was located in the today Yemen between 1200 BC until 275 AD even if in that time we suspect that this kingdom was a much larger realm that the current borders of today Yemen. Some authors are speaking about Ethiopia for the kingdom of Sheba but some of them forgot that to the ancient Greeks and to others before them, « Ethiopia » referred to an empire that encompassed a vast territory,extending to Arabia, Syria, Armenia and the territory between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf... This is the empire that the Queen of Sheba was said to have reigned over: a very huge empire indeed...
If the earliest sources of texts referring to the people of Saba are annual military chronicles written at the time of Assyrian King Sargon II (722-705 BC), this king wrote the name of the King of Saba, Yith'i-amara(It'amara) in his tax people list. Yet it would be wrong to conclude from this single document that the culture of Saba has emerged around 700 BC, because we have today the archaeologic proof that Saba/Sheba had existed for a long time. Moreover, in the inscriptions of Arad-Nannar, one of the ancient kings of the state of Ur, the word 'Sabum', which is believed to mean'the land of Saba', was used. If this term actually refers to Saba, then this is also evidence that the history of Saba back until around the year 2500 BC and for me: more... Also the Sabaeans (the people of Saba/Sheba, same people than Nabateans for Strabo) colonized northern Ethiopia during the rule of Karibill Watar I in the 7th century BCE and established several other colonies to control the trade routes that stretched from their capital Marib to Aqaba and to shorten the long journeys of the caravans…
And this incredible altar with sphinxes coming from possibly the 6th century BC, is thought to come from Marib, the oldest city of Yemen and in that time the most powerful of the states in the South Arabian region, lying in the Sabean plains on the outskirts of the east Yemen desert "Mafazet Saihad". Controlling the ancient incense routs, a meeting point for caravans coming from the Qana port on the Arabian Sea coast, crossing the Wadi Hadhramout. The Kingdom of Saba/Sheba was very rich because the trade of two resins: frankincense and myrrh only growing in eastern Yemen, southern Oman and Somaliland and that were in great demand everywhere in that time not only in the temples as in ancient Egypt and in roman empire but also for a daily private use. Also the kingdom was very rich because their agriculture and sophisticated hydraulic systems. Evidence of the extraordinary engineering skills of the Sabeans still remains, including a huge Dam at Marib which turned the sandy plains into fertile wellknown beautiful gardens.Sabaeans were known also as remarkable astronomers. The Magi, the learnedastronomers who saw a new star and set off on a journey to find a newruler connected to the new star, that led them to Bethlehem... they were supposed to be from Sheba...
This altar (Height: 66.000 cm width: 110.000 cm thickness: 34.500 cm) that you can go to see today at the British Museum is made of bronze and is cast in relief. It is decorated with three rows of sphinxes shown frontally below a Sabaean dedicatory inscription to the god Rahmaw. The raised letters were made by applying individual wax threads onto the panel before it was cast; the same technique was used to make bronze dedicatory tablets (Simpson St J 2002a, cats31, 219). The panels of this altar were attached to a wooden frame using small nails made of almost pure copper. Two joining portions survive. The three rows of standing sphinxes set below a lightly projecting cornice around which runs the beginning of a Sabaean inscription: 'l bn 'm'nsh rsw rhmw hqny rhmwlhy'Inscription.
Translation:Originally published as: "...il, son of 'Amm'anis, priest of RHMW, hasdedicated to RMHW Lahy'atht" (Christie's 1970). Later published as:"[. . .]'il, son of 'Amm'anas, priest of Rahmaw, dedicated to RahmawLahay'a that and Sabahhumaw when [he performed the h]unt of 'Athtar dhu- Musawwa'tim. By 'Ath[tar] . .." (Lundin & Frantsouzoff)…The problem is that we don’t know who was the deity Rahmaw…was he linked to the sphinxes ? And to the egyptian name "Ramu"? Or to "Ra-mau"? Or to indu one? Or to "Rahman"? We only know that the worship of the heavenly bodies had really a great place in Yemen and that Sun-worship seems to have been peculiar to the Sabaeans. We know just a few things : the Sabaean « Shams » was a Sun goddess, and « Almaqah »according to Hamdani the arabian geographer, is the planet Venus (for others it is the Moon god ), and the moon god is « Sin » or » Haubas »…
|temple of Mahram Bilqis
Anyway it is fascinating to think that this sphinxes altar is coming from the same ground where is said was born the famous and mysterious Queen of Sheba in the 10th century BC. Sometimes she is called Saba, meaning "Host of Heaven", and "peace," « MalikatSaba » in arabic (also named Balqis) and named "Nicaule" by the Roman historian Josephus who gave to her the title of Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia, "Nakuti" by the Kenyans and "Makda", "Magda" meaning "Greatness." By the Ethiopians and also by some authors: "Candace" queen of Nubia… According de Volney a french researcher who made her genealogy, her descendants were also amazing travelers like her as the queen Sogd who took the name of Samar-Kand and El aqran who founded a colony in Tibet...
Recent archaeological discoveries in Mareb, Yemen and at Mahram Bilqis ("precincts of the Queenof Sheba." I), the biggest temple, and an important centre of pilgrimage of the time, are supporting the view that the Queen of Sheba ruled over this part of southern Arabia. The Mahram Bilqis, also known as The Awam Temple,was the main temple of the Sabaean national god, Almaqah. The wall of this huge temple , which is over 257 m long on theexterior and 3.5 m thick, must have been according researchers at least 16 m high when it was built.and is made of limestone, packed with basalt from a nearby volcanic outcropcalled Jabal Hamm. The enclosure and surroundings buildings form possibly theregion's largest known sanctuary built before the advent of Islam. The hallonce had 32 pillars, each about 4.25 m tall, surrounding its large open courtyard…
|Sphinx at Giza in 1878|
It is fascinating too to know that Sabaeans claimeddirect descent from an alleged son of Hermes in Egypt named « Sab »according the Abu'l-Fida's History.(translated into latin Abulfedae Peninsulam Arabum.) and according Al Maqrizi (Khitat 1 :334 and that it existed Sabaeans pilmgrims to Giza in the past…And accordinghim again) : " Sabaeans did not cease to worship Abul Hul (the Sphinx)…And according to Al Sayyar‘1995 :208f) « Saba »is derived from the egyptian word "Sba" meaning « Star » and « sbayt » meaning :« instruction of wisdom guiding to the right path » (Badawi and Knees1958 :Faulkner 1962 :219 ;Saleh 1966 :343F).And Al Masudi(in el Tanbih :161) is explaining to us that Sabaeans regarded themselvesas descendants of the egyptians asserting that they were co-religionists and that they came originally from Egypt... So are the sphinxes of the altar a « souvenir » depiction of the sphinx they saw in such pilgrimages to Giza ? Or were there sphinxes in the Sheba Kingdom ?
Text and Photos ©AntoineGigal2013
NOTE (1 )–The Quran , mentions the kingdom of the Queenof Sheba in the 34th Chapter. The Qur'anic narrative, from sura 27 (An-Naml). In the Quran, the peopleof Sheba are called the people of Tubba' because Tubba' was used as the title for Sheba's Kings. Muslim scholars,including Ibn Kathir, relatedthat the People of Tubba' were Arabs from South Arabia.
- Sheba and its Queen as the Queen of the South is referenced in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31 in theNew Testament. The two names Sheba (spelled in Hebrew with shin) and Seba (spelled with samekh) are mentioned several timesin the Bible.
- The apocryphal ChristianArabic text Kitāb al-Magall,"Bookof the Rolls and the Syriac Cave of Treasures mention alsoSheba..
- Kebra Negast the narrative of theEthiopians is mentioning Sheba a lot too.