Life in ancient South Arabia

The people of ancient South Arabia lived in farming villages and small cities surrounded by defensive walls. French archaeologists have discovered that the houses at Shabwa were multi-storeyed and very similar to the tower houses that are seen in Yemen today. South Arabian society was divided into large family groups and communities which occupied specific territories. Each communtity collectively managed the irrigation of their land. The communities were ruled by kings. At various times in South Arabian history one tribe would become more powerful than the others and a confederation would be formed - Saba, Qataban, Ma'in, Hadramawt and Himyar.

This funerary stela provides us with a rare depiction of daily life. The Sabaean inscription reads 'Image of Ghalilat, daughter of Mafaddat and may Athtar destroy he who breaks it'. The scene appears to be a domestic one; an amply proportioned lady wearing a long dress (probably Ghalilat herself) is playing a lyre and sitting on a straight-backed chair with her feet resting on a matching stool. This figure is flanked by two girls or women, one holding a drum. On the lower register is a woman lying on an elegant couch with an attendant beside her.

The other artefacts in this section illustrate the clothing, jewellery, metalwork, writing and religion of ancient South Arabia.