Archeological artifacts from Yemen or as it was named in antiquity, Felix or Southern Arabia are rare as hens' teeth. Moreover, given the political situation in Yemen, Ethiopia and Eutria it may be a long time until real scholarship resumes on this subject. The south and the north were homes to two entirely separate Semitic peoples: the Sabaeans in the south and the Arabs in the north. The Sabaeans were also called the Himyarites or the Yemenites, the Sabaeans had from a very early period adopted a sedentary way of life in the relatively lush climate of southern Arabia. The Sabaeans lived on two major two trade routes: one was the ocean-trading route between Africa and India. The harbors of the southwest were centers of commerce with these two continents and the luxury items, such as spices, imported from these countries. But the Sabaean region also lay at the southern terminus of land-based trade routes up and down the coast of the Arabian peninsula. Goods would travel down this land-route to be exported to Africa or India and goods from Africa and India would travel north on this land-route. This latter trade route had tremendous consequences for the Arabs in the north and the subsequent history of Islam. For all along this trade route grew major trading cities and the wealth of the south filtered north into these cities. It was in one such Arabian city, Mecca, that Islam would begin.
We decided to visit the Istanbul Archaeology Museums on the grounds of the Topkapı Palace outer gardens. Inside, they have a breathtaking collection of glazed brick reliefs from ancient Babylon. Many major museums around the world have lion reliefs from the processional way but in Istanbul they have bulls and “dragons from the actual gate. The Ishtar Gate, named after a Mesopotamian goddess of love and war, was one of eight gateways that provided entry to the inner city of Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (reign 605-562 BC). It was decorated with glazed blue bricks that depicted alternating rows of bulls and dragons. A processional way went through this gateway and was decorated, in part, with reliefs of lions. Every spring a procession that included the king, members of his court, priests and statues of the gods traveled to the “Akitu” temple to celebrate the New Year’s festival. The Processional Way was paved with red and yellow stones inscribed with a prayer from Nebuchadnezzar to Marduk and flanked by soaring walls of enameled tiles decorated with lions and flowers.