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terça-feira, 26 de abril de 2016

A Late Antique Christian king from Z. afar, southern Arabia.

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 H. imyar, with its capital at Z. afar. 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 H. imyarite kingdom. The crowned king of Z. afar 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.

The ancient site of Z. afar is located in the al-Nu ¯ gˇud highlands of the Yemen, close to the ¯ modern village of Qaryat Z. afar (14 ¯ ◦ 12 40 N, 44◦ 24 13 E, GPS). On the south-western slope of the mountain site 500m to the north is the substantial structure known as the Stone Building (Figure 1 and Figure S1 in the online supplement). 

It was here during excavation in 2008 that the upper half of a relief crowned figure with musnad letters (Old South Arabian) was discovered (Figures 2 and 3). In the previous season, four registers of reliefs 9m in length had been revealed in situ in the same building (Figure 4). The standing relief figure of 2008, designated z607, was situated in the courtyard of the building at the southern end of the eastern wall (Figure 5). A nearly identical but fragmented relief followed a year later. 

A range of potential historical associations came to mind in seeking to identify and contextualise the new figure, which measured 1.7m high. The subject of this paper is the dating of the sculpture. From a wide range of possibilities (Yule 2009, 2012) it is argued that the likely age range can be narrowed to the short period between the Aksumite victory over H. imyar in AD 525 and the downfall of Z. afar and the decline of the H ¯ . imyarite kingdom from around AD 541–543. Z. afar was the traditional capital of the H ¯ . imyarite tribal confederacy and the centre of an empire which, together with its allies, dominated 2.5 million square kilometres of Arabia (an area about three-quarters the size of Western Europe) for some 250 years (Gajda 1998; Muller 2007). 

It is the second-largest archaeological site in Arabia, although considerably ¨ smaller than Ma’rib, the core of which alone is larger than the entire mapped rectangle surface of Z. afar. H ¯ . imyarite tribes appear first at the end of the last century BC in an inscription in the defences in the Wadi al-Bana which protected the entrance to H. ad.ramawt from the port of Qani’. During the second quarter of the first century AD the anonymous ¯ Periplus Mari Erythraei, and at about the same time Pliny’s Natural History, make further note of H. imyar (Natural History 6.161; Healey 1991). These sources also briefly describe Z. afar (Sapphar), which is “ ¯ ...nine days’ march inland from the Red Sea, the residence of Charibael, the legitimate king of the two nations, namely of the Homerite and Sabaean” (Periplus Maris Erythraei 23; Casson 1989; Muller 2001). ¨ During and after its meteoric rise to power in the late third century AD H. imyar encountered vicissitudes from without and within, as illustrated by the interregna in the royal calendar and a growing list of royal territorial titles (Yule 2007: 49). 

Great member tribes vied with each other continually for position, as in more recent times in the Yemen. In the wider geographical context, H. imyar was caught between the world power of Christian Byzantium and the Sasanian empire, locked in a deadly struggle. Judaism had been adopted by the H. imyarite upper class before the early fourth century AD through the prestige of Jerusalem and its omnipotent paternal god (Yule 2013a: 48). 

Then, as now, politics intertwined inextricably with religion. The Byzantines and Aksumites sought influence in agriculturally rich south-western Arabia, and the local Jewish gentry were threatened by a flood of Christian Habaˇsites, that is, Aksumites. War broke out in AD 523 and resulted 18 months later in the defeat of the tribal coalition of the H. imyarite king Yusuf As’ar Yath’ar, the ‘Lord of the Curls’ of Arabic tradition. Following ¯ their victory, the Aksumites probably set about to break the power of the Jewish aristocracy of the H. imyarite tribes and their allies. As Christian Robin (2006) has observed, the H. imyarite Age has, until recently, been poorly understood; its late pre-Islamic inhabitants being purportedly poor, isolated, illiterate, lacking a stable political system and living as nomads in the desert. 

Patchy textual sources which often lapse into partisanship were the only available evidence for the history of Christianity in Z. afar and H ¯ . imyar. Conservative studies, written at a time when little material was available, denigrated the H. imyarite period and its culture as decadent (e.g. Schmidt 1997–98). Recent research contradicts this value judgement. Since the 1970s, the tempo of research in Old South Arabia (OSA) has accelerated, and with new archaeological studies there has come a general reinterpretation of H. imyar as a crucible of Judaism, Christianity and the nascent Islam.

Fonte: @edisonmariotti #edisonmariotti

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