Temple of As-Sawda’: A South Arabian pantheon [Archives:2006/910/Culture]

January 9 2006

A survey was organized in March 2004, in Al-Jawf area. The main objective was to record the location and the state of destruction and looting in archaeological sites in the region. Part of the job was to bring to the attention of the Yemeni authorities and international organizations the disastrous state of archaeological sites in Al-Jawf in general and the site of As-Sawda' in particular.

It was realized that all historical sites of Al-Jawf, with the exception of Baraqish, had been in the last few years the subject of illegal excavations, which are supporting a prosperous trafficking of antiquities. Archaeologists visited historical sites of Kamna, Ma'in, As-Sawda', Shaqab Al-Manassa, and Darb As-Sabi.

An urgent salvage operation for As-Sawda temple was required. The task was undertaken by Remy Audouin, a member of the French Archaeological Mission in Yemen and an expert for the UNESCO, and Mounir Arbach, a researcher at the Sana'a-based French Institute for Archaeology and Social Sciences (CEFAS). The expedition was financed by the Social Fund for Development. In a report entitled “Temple I of As-Sawda': a South Arabian pantheon,” the operation unveiled the hierarchy of divinities in ancient Al-Jawf, especially in As-Sawda' city. It also revealed the horrible pillage of archaeological sites.

Historical Background:

The city of Nashshan, the old name of As-Sawda', appeared towards the eighth c. BC as a city-state. Like other small kingdoms of Al-Jawf, such as Haram, Inabba', and Kamna, it formed a politically autonomous entity with its own pantheon. It had its own temple, the so-called “Banat 'Ad,” attested in Al-Jawf alone.

Based on information from the eighth c. BC, there are several dedicatory and commemorative inscriptions left by the rulers of Nashshan. Their title is not mentioned but it is probably “king” and not “mukarrib”.

At the beginning of the seventh c. BC, Nashshan suffered two military campaigns waged by the Sabaean army. Nashshan was eventually integrated into the Sabaean kingdom.

The site of As-Sawda' is located at approximately fifteen kilometers away from Al-Hazm, on the left side of Mathab Valley. The site consists of a hill, approximately fifteen meters high. The wall of the city runs for 1500 meters, of which only a few vestiges remain including one well-preserved gate and a few scattered ruins.

Temple I of As-Sawda':

This temple, named Temple I, is located to the north- east of the city of As-Sawda'. It is 6m in length, 4m in width at its summit, 7m in depth and 2m wide at the base. Twelve pillars were excavated, six of which were decorated with bas-reliefs. Two of these pillars are partially fallen with the decoration face down.

The entrance portion to the temple consists of six in situ pillars measuring more than 7m in height. Following the entrance axis at approximately 1.5m to the rear of it are two pillars. They are fallen over and broken.

Following approximately the same alignment, towards the north, are two pillars. Two other pillars located at a distance of 1.5m to 2m from the previous pillars, lie on the same axis, oriented northwards.

The pillars are covered with images and inscriptions. A reading of them reveals the hierarchy of divinities in Nashshan. The names include Aranyada and Almaqah, Yada'sum and Nab'al, Nakrah and Hawar as well as Athtar and probably Il. Athtar is one of the principal divinities of Nashshan and dominates the assembly of South Arabian pantheons.

The names of goddesses Banat'il appear at the bottom of the pillars and above the scene of the dancing girls. They are the only female divinities attested on these pillars. Their location at the bottom of the pillars suggests their rank in the hierarchy of the South Arabia pantheons in general. There are other divine heroes mentioned for the first time such as Hamat, Hawar and Yatha'an.

Almaqah, the official divinity of the kingdom of Saba', is present in the pantheon due to a strategic alliance between Saba' and Nashshan during the eighth c. BC. The alliance with Saba' ended with Sabaean domination under the reign of Karib'il Watar.

The reading from top to bottom of the cultic scenes with names of divinities, demonstrates the hierarchy of the divine world during that epoch: At the top are 'Athtar and perhaps Il. The proper divinities of the city-states of Al-Jawf are ordered as follows: Aranyada' and Wadd (principal divinities of the kingdom of Nashshan); Almaqah (the official divinity of the kingdom of Saba') accompanied by Aranyada'; Hawar (the divinity of the kingdom of Inabba'); Nakrah (the divinity of the kingdom of Ma'in and of the city of Baraqish); Nab'al (the divinity of the kingdom of Kamna); Yada'sum (the divinity of the kingdom of Haram). Then comes the king of Nashshan, Ilmanbat Amar. At the end is Banat'il or “Daughters of Il.”

Obliteration of History:

According to the report, in 2004, the site of As-Sawda' witnessed a partial destruction of its remains by illegal excavators and looters of objects. Looters have dug holes at every other two meters, walls were destroyed, pillars were pulled down, and numerous statues were uprooted from their inscribed pedestals.

The history of Nashshan has only begun to be written. Researchers hope for large-scale excavations to begin in order to understand the missing millennium in the history of Yemen.