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South Arabian funerary stelae from the British Museum collection

Alessandra Lombardi 2016 (with contributions by F.E. Betti), L'ERMA di BRETSCHNEIDER, 204 pp., ISBN 978-88-913-1126-9

The funerary field is particularly interesting and rich in stimuli allowing us knowledge of religious thought and art of ancient civilisations.

Pre-Islamic South Arabia (8th century BC – 6th century AD) produced a large amount of objects related to this field and, among them, the funerary stelae are the most important for their large number, the variety of subjects and decorations represented on them.

Starting from the rich British Museum collection, this study organizes and classifies material for the most part from the international antique trade. Often information regarding provenance and archaeological context is lacking here. However, the analysis of these stelae allows us to reconstruct a picture rich in regional styles, with reciprocal influences. From the archaic and more traditional stylized expressions – typical of the Minaean region – to the more recent complex and figurative representations of the Sabaean area, this book shows the originality and specificity of South Arabian art, paying particular attention to the contacts with foreign cultures, especially with the Hellenistic and Roman world.

Such foreign influences are analysed in depth in the rich Appendix, edited by Fabio E. Betti, where specific topics in relation to the changes in ancient South Arabian art during the first centuries AD are studied. They were changes of ‘fashion’, evident especially in decorative motifs within the architecture and the daily life of the South Arabian élites, as shown by the clothes, hairstyles and jewellery of the women of that time.