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A Late Antique Christian king from Ẓafār, southern Arabia

  • Paul Yule (a1)

Southern Arabia was an important trading partner for the Roman world but owing to geography and politics its archaeology has been less intensively studied than that of neighbouring regions. A succession of kingdoms rose and fell in the last centuries BC and first centuries AD, but in the late Roman period the dominant power was Ḥimyar, with its capital at Ẓafār. In 2008 a relief sculpture was discovered at the site depicting a crowned ruler accompanied by symbols of office. This study reviews the arguments surrounding the date of the sculpture, but more importantly throws light on the cultural and political connections that it embodies. The proposal is that it represents an Aksumite puppet-ruler of the sixth century, at a key moment in the history of the Ḥimyarite kingdom. The crowned king of Ẓafār is significant not only in itself but also in helping to delineate the cultural and political stage on to which Islam was shortly to emerge.

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