DASI

digital archive for the study of pre-islamic arabian inscriptions

Editor: Jérémie Schiettecatte


View of the 'Acropolis'
AA. VV. 2000: 147

SITE INFORMATION

Ancient nameMryb / Mrb
CountryYemen
Geographical areaMaʾrib
GovernorateMaʾrib
KingdomSaba
Himyar
CoordinatesLatitude: 15° 25' 39.6"    Longitude: 45° 20' 5.8"    
Coordinates accuracycertain
Type of siteSettlement
TribeTribe: Fys²n
Tribe: S¹bʾ
Tribe: ʾs¹bʾn (nisba)
Tribe: S¹bʾ Khln
Lineage: ʾnwyn
Lineage: ʿṯkln
Lineage: ʿṯkln ʿṣyt
Lineage: Gdnm
Lineage: Grt
Lineage: Hmdn
Lineage: Ḥbtlm
Lineage: Ḥlḥlm
Lineage: Ḥzfrm
Lineage: Kbr ʾqynm
Lineage: Kbr Ḫll
Lineage: Krbm
Lineage: Mqrm
Lineage: Mwḍʿm
Lineage: S¹ḥr
Lineage: Tḥyʿz
Lineage: Yhʿn
Lineage: Zbnr
Deitiesʾl
ʾlhn
ʾlmqh(w)
ʾlmqh bʿl Ms¹kt w-Yṯw Brʾn
ʾlmqh bʿl ʾwm
ʾlmqh bʿl Ḥr(w)nm
ʾlmqh(w) bʿl Ms²rʿm
ʾlmqh ḏ-Mryb
ʾlmqh Ṯhwn bʿl ʾwm
ʾlmqh Ṯhwn bʿl Ḥrwnm
ʾlmqh Ṯhwn bʿl Ms¹kt
ʾlmqh Ṯhwn bʿl Ms¹kt w-Yṯw Brʾn
ʾlmqh Ṯhwn w-Ṯwr Bʿlm
ʾlmqh Ṯhwn w-Ṯwr Bʿlm bʿl Ḥrwnm
ʾybm
ʿṯtr
ʿṯtr ḏ-Ḏbn
ʿṯtr ḏ-Ḏbn bʿl Bḥr Ḥṭbm
ʿṯtr ḏ-Gwftm
ʿṯtr S²rqn
Bʿlt Qnyn
ḏ-S¹mwy
ḏ-S¹mwy ʿdy Wtrm
ḏ-S¹mwy bʿl Wtrm
ḏ-S¹my bʿl Wtrm
ḏt-Bʿdn(m)
ḏt-Ġḍrn
ḏt-Ġḍrn bʿlt S¹fly
ḏ-Ġmmm
ḏt-Ḥmym
Hbs¹
Hwbs¹
Krwm
Rbʿn Yhʿn
Rḥmnn
Rḥmnn Mlkn
Rḥmnn mrʾ S¹myn
Rḥmnn mrʾ S¹myn w-ʾrḍn
S¹ḥr
S¹mʿ
S¹mydʿ
S²ms
S²ms mlkn Tnf
S²ms¹ Ḥmt
S²ms¹-hmw Tnf bʿlt Ġḍrn
Tʾlb Rymm
Ṯwn Ṯr Bʿlm
Wd(m)
Wll
StructuresDwelling (indeterminate)
Dwelling (concentrated)
Workshop
Market place
Quarry
Light hydraulic structure (ex. canal, well)
Large hydraulic structure (ex. dam)
Wells, cisterns
Building with political function
Rampart
Small temple
Large temple
Pilgrimage temple
Church
Synagogue
Graveyard
Paved road
Rock inscriptions
LanguageSabaic
General descriptionExtension: 100 ha (approx. intra muros). The great oasis of Mārib lays on the biggest hydrographical plain of all Yemen, being irrigated by three courses: the wādī Dhāna (the main and the central one), the wādī Jufayna (N) and the wādī ʿAlīb (S). To SW the area is bordered by Jabal Balaq al Awsaṭ, which has been extensively used in antiquity for its quarries and for burials. Northwards Mārib is facing the Ramlat as-Sabʿatayn desert sands.
ChronologyThe thick stratum of limes (up to 20 m) which deposited for centuries on this area has rendered particularly difficult the discovery of proto-historic or even prehistoric sites in the plain but, according to surveys in the surrounding areas, this region is one of the most ancient to have been inhabited. Prehistoric microliths have been in fact found, and many stone alignments (mainly concentrated in the northern volcanic rocks) can be assigned to a long proto-historic phase. A continuous settlement can be hypothesized in the area, given the political and economic attractiveness of the area. This continued to be at least until the city of Mārib maintained its political supremacy. Signs of decadence are in fact clear since the 4th century BC. From now on Mārib begun loosing its centrality and power within South Arabia. The definitive crisis has its most clear sign at the beginning of 7th century AD when the last break of the Great Dam was not repaired any more.
Classical sourcesEratosthenes of Cyrene, in Strabo Geogr., 16, 4, 2 (3rd cent. BC): Μαρίαβα
Strabo, Geogr. 16, 4, 19 (1st cent. BC): Μαρίαβα
Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. VI, 32, 160 (1st cent. AD): Mariba
Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. VI, 32, 155 (1st cent. AD): Mareliabata
Claudius Ptolemy, Geogr. 6.7.37 (2nd cent. AD): Μαράβα/Μαρά
Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 23, 6, 47 (4th cent. AD): Baraba
Travellers1843: T. Arnaud
1870: J. Halévy
1888: E. Glaser
Archaeological missions1947: A. Fakhry (Egypt)
1951 / 52: AFSM (USA)
1975: C. Robin (France)
1979: J. Dayton and R. Serjeant (UK)
since 1975: DAI (Germany)
since 1997: AFSM (USA)

MONUMENTS

The main ancient settlement lays at about 10 km from the Great Dam (see here below), centred on the Northern Oasis (together with the Southern Oasis, one of the 'Two Gardens'). The city walls gave the city a trapezoid shape and were originally 4.5 km long, thus representing the largest town of all ancient South Arabia. The wall was regularly punctuated by towers and curtains. Seven gates were giving access to the interior. This walled structure was the result of multiple interventions and modifications, which are clear from different techniques and material assemblages. Works on the structures falls within a very long period, spanning from the 8th century BC until the 3rd century AD. Inside this large walled area four mounds are detectable, having been places of more intense and continuous dwelling. The most impressive is the so called Acropolis, which stands out also because it was reused in Medieval times and its tower houses have been inhabited until the Sixties of 20th century. Nevertheless, traces of the pre-Islamic settlement are still detectable and, among these, there are the pillars later reused in the Sulaymān mosque but originally coming from one of the several intra-muros temples (probably 7). This mound was also probably the spot were the Royal Palace Salḥīn was standing.

  • photoAerial photo of the city walls
In view of the particularly fortunate environmental setting of the area, it has been estimated that human interventions, in order to manage and control the water resources, can go back to the 3rd millennium BC. Analysis if the silt deposits, although still controversial, should sustain such a high dating. The ruins of this mighty hydraulic complex are scattered in a very ample area. The most important are the Southern and Northern Sluices. The latter is the more impressive, and consists of massive walls with internal casemates packed with rubble and earth. The outer faces are however refined with limestone blocks. Its original measures have been estimated in 145 m in length and 14 m in height, this implies that a big portion of the structure is now submerged by the thick stratum of debris and silt. This increasing level of deposits is the reason why these structures needed frequent restorations and adaptations to the new environmental conditions. The last phase of the sluice is in fact realized with blocks reused from older stages. During this very long time span construction techniques evolved: in the last phase in fact metal clamps and cement are frequently used, while they seem absent in the more ancient portions of the structure, like the Southern Sluice, for instance, which seems to have been less involved in rehashes, still having many parts to be dated back to the 6th century BC.

  • photoDam, south sluice
  • photoDam, north sluice
This important sanctuary is located to the SE from the Old Town. It has been the focus of the AFSM in the Fifties and again in the last years. The most imposing feature of this temple is the large oval area (perimeter 300 m) which is encircled by a massive wall (originally 13 high) built with fine ashlar masonry and casemate technique. This oval should have been the real fulcrum of the temple. The main access was through a monumental entrance, formed by a 8-pillars propylon followed by a squared building (24 x 19 m). The latter has an internal courtyard framed by 32 monolithic pillars. The perimeter walls are covered by stone slabs showing the 'false windows' motive. This area was probably full of inscriptions and dedicated objects and statues. A canal and a bronze basin should have been connected with purification rites to be attended before the ceremonies. A secondary entrance opens at W into the oval wall and allows direct access to the open precinct. Excavations have revealed many written texts, inscribed both on the external wall as well as in statue bases. The majority of them are concentrated in the second quarter of the 1st millennium BC, at the time of Sabaean apogee, but a second consistent group of inscriptions is however to be dated to the 4th century AD (western façade of the atrium) and within the 4th – 6th centuries AD (eastern façade). This indicates that this temple has been used throughout the pre-Islamic period and it have been regarded as the main South Arabian sanctuary, still being the pilgrimage destination (to be attended at the end of the summer) during the Himyaritic Empire.

  • photoAwwām Temple, plan
  • photoAwwām Temple, peristyle plan
  • photoAwwām Temple, excavation of the peristyle
  • photoMaʿdīkarib Statue. Awwām Temple.
  • photoAwwām Temple. Miniaturist objects from the Necropolis.
Some monumental funerary structures have been unearthed by the German Mission in the southern area surrounding the Awwām Temple. The stone built structures define a sort of town of the death which has been estimated to host around 20.000 burials during the long period of its usage (spanning 1 millennium, and considering the reuse of chambers over time). The long time span in which the necropolis was used created a sort of settlement in which the several structures were divided by narrow passages and streets. The structures have been erected with a refined technique using ashlar limestone blocks and they are multi-storey (up to four, with one below the street level). The internal divisions used less refined tuff blocks and designed chambers of about 2 x 2.5 m. Access was through the upper storey and wood or stone movable stairs were in use. The external walls have been sometimes also decorated with dentil frieze as well as low relief figuration of the dead's face, but the most frequent representation of the dead were still the stone stelae along with the variant set into a big limestone pillar with un upper recess for the head insertion. Amongst the grave goods particular significance have the miniatures of vessels and objects, generally a close reproduction of the original ones (these kind of objects have been found also in the Qatabanian necropolis of Ḥayd ibn ʿAqīl). This funerary complex can thus be assigned to the Sabaean upper class and, like the near temple, was in use from the 7th century BC until the 4th century AD. One of these structures stands out for its monumentality, and has accordingly been interpreted as a Royal Mausoleum: it is in fact a squared building, with 5 central pillars and several burial niches around, some steps lead to the very refined access.

  • photoThe necropolis excavated near the Awwām Temple
  • photoNecropolis near the Awwām temple. Internal Street.
  • photoFunerary stelae from the necropolis of Awwām.
This temple lays on the SW from the Old Town. The complex is formed by several structures, in the whole it measures 62 x 75 m, while the main building was standing on a big platform, measuring 19.5 x 27.5 m (4 m high). A large paved courtyard is in front of it (36.5 x 31.5 m) and this is framed by a big gallery on three of its sides (each pillar measures 4 m), this lateral band is slightly raised up in respect to the court floor and big calcite-alabaster blocks are aligned along the wall and served as benches. Three accesses are through the court, and the main one was the western. Near to the centre of this area, a well has been cut and to which hydraulic devices have been connected for ablution rituals. A wide staircase is in centre of the NW side of the court, leading to a terrace on which the 6 pillared propylon gave access to the main shrine. Of these pillars, 5 are preserved in their original place and integrity (comprised the dentil decorated capitals) and, in view of their height (8.2 m), have been one of the most distinctive pre-Islamic monuments to have been seen throughout the times. Above the main building platform nothing remains of the shire's structure, because of destructions and pillaging. The basement allows however to reconstruct its original layout: again there is a court framed by a pillared portico, and a central isolated cella stood opposite to the entrance. A major destructions has been dated around the 1st century BC/AD, and the following reconstructions deeply changed this temple. In the last phase, 3rd or 4th century AD, the eastern and northern sides of the court were already been protected by a massive mud brick wall, to which bastions have been also added to the S and W corners. This large structure could now host also some service rooms, like ateliers and a kitchen. During this time, the main entrance to the court was moved from W to N, thus giving a bent-access to the complex.

  • photoBarān Temple.
  • photoBarān Temple after restoration.
  • photoBarān Temple, reconstruction.
  • photoBarān Temple, false window panel.
  • photoBarān Temple, decorated architectonic frieze.

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RELATED MATERIAL

Epigraphs in CSAI
Objects in CSAI

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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