The collection includes about 900 inscriptions which date from between the 7th century BC and the end of the 3rd century AD. After an early period of formation characterised by a strong Sabaean cultural and linguistic influence, around the 5th-4th century Ḥaḍramawt became a kingdom with its own political importance. Its main activity was trading in incense, which grew in various regions of the country.
The capital Shabwa was situated in the very west of the kingdom. Its position at the crossroads of the routes leading to the north enabled it to become an important centre for collecting and distributing incense along the ancient caravan routes.
Similarly to Qataban, the king of Ḥaḍramawt controlled the whole kingdom and made alliances with the various tribes, in particular with those of the southern highlands and the coastal region.
In the 4th century, this led to the foundation of Naqb al-Hajar and, in the 3rd century, of Sumhuram, a harbour city in far-off Dhofar. In these sites were found the most important inscriptions commemorating the construction of city walls and gates under the king's authority. In order to control and manage trade, Ḥaḍramawt established diplomatic relations with the kingdom of Maʿīn in the second half of the 1st millennium: a Ḥaḍramitic king wrote an inscription on the wall of the Minaean capital Qarnaw, in which he dedicated a tower to his ally.
In the first century BC Ḥaḍramawt founded a second port on the Indian Ocean, Qana, which at that time had trade links with Sumhuram. The majority of dedicatory inscriptions come from Raybūn and the other towns of the valley of wādī Ḥaḍramawt that from the beginning of the 1st millennium BC were engaged in agriculture, and had a marked religious life.
Epigraphic documentation is not homogeneous throughout the history of Ḥaḍramawt, as it follows the political fortunes of the kingdom. Phase B is the richest: the most interesting texts of Raybūn and the inscriptions on the city wall of Shabwa are dated to between the third and first centuries BC. There are few inscriptions of phase C (except for the important texts of Eleazos in Sumhuram), but there are many texts from the last chronological phase from Shabwa and its outskirts.
From the linguistic point of view, the vastness of the kingdom introduced several local features into the inscriptions, such as the formularies, the lexicon and especially the paleography.
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