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3 November 2015

At http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/yemens-ancient-city… … concerns damage caused to the ancient city of Sirwah in the prolonged war between rival factions in Yemen. The ruins are as impressive as those of another Sabaean city, Marib, 30 miles to the east. Sa'ba (biblical Sheba) existed approximately between 1000BC to AD290, contemporary with the Iron Age in the Levant. It would probably be true to say there is little evidence of anything in particular going on in Yemen around 1000BC but when we come to 800BC and 700BC there is lots of evidence of activity as Sa'ba become associated with the incense trade. In other words, although the Solomon and Queen of Sheba story is supposed to place this trade around 1000BC there is some reason to think this is a late embellishment (from the 7th century AD). However, if you place Solomon in the Late Bronze period and then a raft of possibilities opens up.

Sirwah was a major trading post on the incense route that connected Arabia and East Africa (Saba in what is today the Sudan) to the outside world (particularly Assyro-Babylonia, Persia, and the Hellenistic and Roman ascendancies). It was also a religious centre too with it main temple devoted to the god Almaqah (Ba'al Awa'el), the master of the ibex. Many carved ibex, he adds, are found at Sirwah. The sanctuary was in use until the end of the 3rd century AD. It had a floor of white stone slabs and six pillars stood at the portico (entrance way).

For some reason the temple is known as Bilquis' castle – from Bilquis, which has become the Arabian name for the Biblical Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon in Jerusalem accompanied by a load of frankincense and myrhh. The origin of the name Bilquis is a mystery, he adds, as it has not been found on any of the thousands of Sabaean inscriptions known to historians and archaeologists. This tends to suggest the name Bilquis was applied to the temple after it was abandoned. The came about after the defeat of Sa'ba by the Himyarites, a tribe from further south. They went on to control all of Yemen under a single ruler in the 4th century AD and one can see this as a process of decline as a result of environmental factors in the 3rd century AD (which affected the Roman empire and all its satellite kingdoms) with the added impact of Christianity. When this took hold in the Roman empire the need for burning incense in temples went quickly out of fashion.

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