Corpus of South Arabian Inscriptions

Editor: Alessio Agostini; Jérémie Schiettecatte; Jean-François Breton

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Avanzini 1995: tav. 3b
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Ancient nameNs²n
Geographical areaJawf - Wādī al-Buhayra
CoordinatesLatitude: 16° 10' 09"    Longitude: 44° 38' 2.6"    
Coordinates accuracycertain
Type of siteSettlement
TribeTribe: ʾmr
Tribe: Mʿn
Tribe: Mʿnm
Tribe: Nhm (nisba: Nhmyn)
Tribe: Ns²n (Nisba: ʾs²s²n)
Tribe: S¹bʾ
Tribe: S²zrm
Tribe: Yṯl
Lineage: ʾhln
Lineage: ʾmr
Lineage: ʾṯʾb
Lineage: ʾws³lm
Lineage: ʿḏb
Lineage: ʿḏq
Lineage: ʿmrtʿ
Lineage: ʿs²ḍ
Lineage: ʿṣbn
Lineage: ʿṯkln
Lineage: Bʿdʾl
Lineage: Brtn
Lineage: Bṯm
Lineage: Dʿm
Lineage: Dwrm
Lineage: Dwrn
Lineage: Ḏʾbm
Lineage: Ḏbyn
Lineage: Ḏḫrt
Lineage: Ḏḥm
Lineage: Ḍhrn
Lineage: Fḍlm
Lineage: Frʿm
Lineage: Frs³n
Lineage: Gdnm
Lineage: Gnʾn
Lineage: Gnd
Lineage: Gndn
Lineage: Grbm
Lineage: Grfm
Lineage: Ġtyb
Lineage: Ġwṯ
Lineage: Ġzt
Lineage: Hs²mr
Lineage: Ḫbln
Lineage: Ḫl
ʾlʾlt Mʿnm
ʾlmqh bʿl S²bʿn
ʾrnydʿ S²ym ʾs²s²n
ʾrnydʿ S²ymn
ʾrnydʿ Yṯʿn
ʿṯtr bʿl ʾḏnn
ʿṯtr ḏ-Ḏbn
ʿṯtr ḏ-Grb
ʿṯtr ḏ-Grbm
ʿṯtr ḏ-Grbm w-ḏ Rṣfm
ʿṯtr ḏ-Qbḍ
ʿṯtr ḏ-Qbḍm
ʿṯtr ḏ-Rṣf
ʿṯtr ḏ-Rṣfm
ʿṯtr Mtb Ḫmr
ʿṯtr Ns²q
ʿṯtr Ns²qm
ʿṯtr S²rqn
Bʿl ʾḏnn
Bhnt ʾl
ḏt-Ns²qm ʿṯtr Byḥn
Wd ḏ-Nṣb
StructuresDwelling (indeterminate)
Dwelling (concentrated)
Light hydraulic structure (ex. canal, well)
Wells, cisterns
Building with political function
Small temple
Large temple
Pilgrimage temple
Rock inscriptions
LanguageSabaic, Minaic
Location and toponomyThe site of as-Sawdāʾ is located in the middle valley of Jawf, 110 km north-west of Maʾrib, 16 km west of al-Ḥazm. It is on the left bank of wādī al-Buhayra, 4 km east of the site of al-Bayḍāʾ, the ancient Nashq.

As-Sawdāʾ was named in ancient times Nashshān (Ns²n); it is attested both as a city (hgr) and as a tribe.
The term hajarayn (“the two cities”), mentioned in the Book of Ḥimyarites and in RIÉth 195-II in relation to the events linked to the fall of the king Yūsuf Asʾar Yathʾar (v. 522-525) seems to indicate the cities of Nashq (al-Bayḍāʾ) and Nashshān (as-Sawdāʾ) (Robin 2004: 119-120).
The site is mentioned by al-Hamdānī in the 10th century as a fortress (maḥfad) (Ṣifa 167, 12 ; Iklīl X, 130, 12). In the 12th century it appeared with its ancient name, when the imām al-Mutawakkil Aḥmad b. Sulayman (1138-1171) expressed his wish to found a hijra there (Avanzini, 1995 : 12).
History of researchDiscovery
Attributed to J. Halévy, more probably resulting from the initiative of his guide H. Ḥabshûsh (Halévy 1872: 82-83; Ḥabshûsh 1995: 113). Copy of 71 inscriptions.

Visits and surveys
- 1944-45: M. Tawfiq
- 1947: A. Fakhry (Fakhry 1952, p. 147).
- 1980-81: French archaeological mission in the Yemen Arab Republic (MAFRAY) : plan of the rampart.
- 1989-90: MAFRAY: archaeological excavations of the extra muros temple of ʿṯtr ḏ-Rṣfm (dir. J.-F. Breton).
- 2004: project to protect the sites and objects at risk from being destroyed in the region of Jawf (UNESCO, social development funds in Yemen): interrupted excavations of the intra muros temple of Aranyadaʿ (dir. M. Arbach & R. Audouin).
General descriptionAs-Sawdāʾ has a circular city-wall, with a total perimeter of 1100 m. The western gate is well preserved and protected by a massive fore tower. The site includes numerous mounds up to 10 m high. The central part forms a small depression. The remains of houses in stone with a superstructure in mud-bricks and a wooden frame are still visible. About 90 structures appear on the surface.
A rampart encloses the site; it includes two gates in the middle of the eastern and western sides. Two other passages probably existed in the northern and southern sides as well. The rampart was built in different stages. The most ancient dates back to the middle of the 8th century BC (as-Sawdāʾ 94). This rampart was destroyed at the beginning of the 7th cent. BC., following the campaign of the Sabaean mukarrib Krbʾl Wtr bn Ḏmrʿly (RÉS 3945). A second wall followed this first rampart. Evidence suggests that several construction phases took place, especially during the second half of the 1st century BC (as-Sawdāʾ 16). Moreover, Nashshān is mentioned as a garrison in the 1st and 4th centuries AD (Ja 643, Ja 665).
As-Sawdāʾ had been, at different times, an important political centre. Kings of Nashshān resided here from the 8th to the 5th cent. BC. At least one royal palace, the house ʿfrw, is attested by texts. It was destroyed during the expedition of the mukarrib of Sabaʾ Krbʾl Wtr bn Ḏmrʿly (RÉS 3945) in the 7th cent. BC.
The temples on this site are numerous. The remains of three of them were reported inside the defensive wall (Fakhry 1952: 147). The inscriptions suggest the presence of at least eight temples, either explicitly or through the mention of cults dedicated to certain deities :
- the temple S¹ywḍ consecrated to ʿṯtr Mtb Ḫmr, mentioned in the 8th cent. BC.
- the temple Nṣb consecrated to Wd mentioned between the 8th and 7th cent. BC.
- the temple ʾḏnn, probably consecrated to ʿṯtr ḏ-Grbm (Schiettecatte 2011 : 76).
- the temple Yfʿt consecrated to ʿṯtr S²rqn, mentioned in the 7th cent. BC.
- the temple consecrated to ʾlmqh, whose construction dates to the beginning of the 7th century BC (RÉS 3945).
- the temple of ʿṯtr ḏ-Ḏbn mentioned around the 7th cent. BC.
- a temple was in all probability devoted to ʿṯtr ḏ-Qbḍm, as witnessed by the numerous dedicatory texts found in situ that could be dated between the 6th and the 1st cent. BC.
- the temple consecrated to ʾrnydʿ Yṯʿn. It is characterized by a specific decoration: five scenes show nine deities appearing in a precise order: ʿṯtr, ʾl (?), Wd, ʾrnydʿ, ʾlmqh, Ydʿs¹m, Nbʿl, Nkrḥ et Hwr. The first four divinities probably belong to the pantheon of Nashshān ; the other five represent the different tribes existing in Jawf in the 8th cent. BC: ʾlmqh represents the kingdom of Sabaʾ, Ydʿs¹m symbolises the kingdom of Haram, Nbʿl of Kaminahū, Nkrḥ of Maʿīn and Hwr represented the kingdom of Inabbaʾ. This pantheon shows a confederation dominated by the tribes of Nashshān and Sabaʾ (Arbach, Audouin, Robin 2004: 31). The foundation of this temple dates back to no later than the kingdom of the sovereign mentioned on the pillars of the temple, ʾlmnbṭ ʾmr bn Lbʾn.
- the extra muros temple of S¹mʿ, in the place called Masājid az-Zarʿī, close by the village of al-Maṣlūb mentioned in the 8th cent. BC (as-Sawdāʾ 91).
- the extra muros temple of ʿṯtr ḏ-Rṣfm, located 700 m east of the site. This small temple (14.1 x 15.5 m) is composed of a court limited by a portico, preceded by a monumental portal to the west and closed by another portal to the east, opening on a stone semicircle. Its decorations recall the group of temples called “Banāt ʿĀd”. The excavations showed four architectural phases between the 8th and the 1st cent. BC (Breton 2011).
The areas surrounding the site included a large irrigated area, which today is interspersed with the ruins of hydraulic infrastructures.
ChronologyAs-Sawdāʾ, the ancient Ns²n, appeared as a major urban site.
According to descriptions, it has been present since the 8th century BC as a political, institutional, military and religious centre. The tribe of Nashshān was at that time an ally of Sabaʾ, keeping the tribes of Jawf united.
At the beginning of the 7th cent. BC, it became a common local administrative centre for the benefit of the mukarrib of Sabaʾ. The cult of the Sabaean god ʾlmqh began to thrive.
Around the 5th century BC, Nashshān is integrated in the kingdom of Maʿīn, with the subsequent acknowledgement of Minaean kings, and the substitution of ancient cults for the divinities of Maʿīn.
Following the disappearance of the kingdom of Maʿīn et after the passage of the Roman expedition under Aelius Gallus, the city is not mentioned any more in texts. It reappeared as a Sabaean garrison in the 1st and 3rd centuries AD.
Nashshān seems still occupied in the 6th cent. AD if we accept that it was one of the two cities qualified under the term hajarayn (“the two cities”) in the Book of Ḥimyarites and in the inscription RIÉth 195-II.
Classical sourcesPliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, VI, 32, 160 : Nestum (?)


[By A. Agostini] The site was encircled by city walls 1100 m long, but now this circuit is very badly preserved. Traces are visible in some limited portions, especially on the northern edge, where a square tower (10 x 11 m) is also recognizable. The gates were probably four, positioned at the middle of each side of the walls. According to the small traces available, the defensive structure was achieved in different epochs, since it is formed by several segments not linked to each others. Inscriptions referring to this subject are moreover very scarce and for the moment it is not possible to connect the different phases of the structure to precise historical data.

  • photoCity Plan
[By A. Agostini] A recent survey has brought to public attention a temple intra muros dedicated to one of the principal deities of the town. The operation was carried out in order to preserve the site from an intense pillage – which is going on more intensely in these later years. The temple, which remains unexcavated for its major part, has a propyleaum of 6 pillars 7 m high. The entrance proper is enclosed by two more pillars, followed by the two door jambs. These 4 pillars have the outward face richly decorated with motives close to those used in other 'Banāt ʿAd' temples. However, here the repertoire has some new elements of the greatest interest. Some bearded human figures are seated in front of each other and above them proper names are inscribed. In some cases these are the divine names, but for the moment it is impossible to be more precise whether or not they are referring to the figures below. In any case, the figurative model, clearly locally realized and expressing a deeply elaborated tradition, is revealing some narrative intention. Moreover, the presence of Mesopotamian artistic influence is here particularly perceptible, as it has been in many other objects recently appeared in the antiques market and presumably coming from the Jawf region.

  • photoTemple of ʾrnydʿ
  • photoDecor of one of the pillars of the temple of ʾrnydʿ
[By A. Agostini] This temple lays at 700 m eastern from the town. Its perimeter walls are 15.5 x 14.1 m delimiting a relatively small courted hall. Two pillars (5 m high, 93 cm wide) flanked the monumental entrance at the western end of the temple. Access to the courtyard is given by a small antechamber, supported by two additional pillars. The internal court is flanked in its lateral sides by two rows of rectangular pillars (4 m high) which supported a roof constructed with stone lintels and slabs. Benches were positioned between the pillars at the western edge of the temple. The area at the opposite of the entrance is flanked by two more pillars, and here, on a raised platform, are seven inscribed stone blocks in a hemispherical arrangement which were delimiting the cellae area. A closed vane has been retained behind which, unique case so far, was used as a funerary chamber. The excavation have clarified that the building underwent four major phases: A (8th century BC), B (7th century BC), C (6th – 5th centuries BC), an abandonment follows, and D (2nd and 1st centuries BC). The monolithic pillars of the temple are decorated with incisions representing chevrons, ibexes, intertwined snakes, vessels, ostriches and human figures. This repertoire is that of the so called Banāt ʿAd Temples, which is also found in Haram and Qarnaw.

  • photoʿAthtar Temple. Cellae Area.
  • photoTemple of ʿAthtar dhū-Riṣafum (extra-muros).
  • photoReconstruction of the Temple of ʿAthtar.
  • photoPlan of the Temple of ʿAthtar.
  • photoTemple of ʿAthtar. Pillars A and B.


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The identification with Nestum (Wissmann & Höfner 1953 : 249) is contradicted by the thesis of H. von Wissmann who sees behind Nestum the ancient Manhiyat (today called Hizmat Abū Thawr) (Wissmann 1976 : 98)


near Masājid al-Zarʿī (Unknown)




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Arbach 2011 cArbach, Mounir 2011. Nouvelles inscriptions du site de Nashshân, l'actuel as-Sawdâʾ (Yémen) datant des VIIIe et VIIe s. av. J.-C. Egitto e Vicino Oriente, 34: 177-188.
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Arbach and Audouin 2004Arbach, Mounir and Audouin, Rémy 2004. Nouvelles découvertes archéologiques dans le Jawf (République du Yémen). Opération de sauvetage franco-yéménite du site d'as-Sawdâʾ (l'antique Nashshân). Temple intra-muros I. Rapport préliminaire. [Ṣanʿāʾ]: Centre français d'archéologie et de sciences sociales de Ṣanʿāʾ.
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Arbach and Schiettecatte 2006Arbach, Mounir and Schiettecatte, Jérémie 2006. Catalogue des pièces archéologiques et épigraphiques du Jawf au Musée National de Ṣanʿâʾ. Ṣanʿâʾ National Museum. Ṣanʿāʾ: Centre français d'archéologie et de sciences sociales de Ṣanʿâʾ. [Text in French and Arabic]
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