Mounted Combat Scenes on the Bronze Plaque from Sana’a, Amazonomachia in Yemen?

Document Type : Original Research Article


PhD Student, Siedlce University, Institute of History, Poland


The cavalry battle scene depicted on the Himyarite bronze plaque, being possibly a part of horse harness, reveals some relation with Iranian iconography of Parthian and Sasanian times. The relation is not direct and there are numerous differences with the Iranian fighting scenes. The composition does not directly refer to any of the Parthian or Sasanian battle reliefs or toreutics and seems to follow earlier, Hellenistic traditions, enriched by the Iranian and local detail. The direct confrontation, without immediate determination of the victorious and defeated sides, was avoided in Iranian iconography which aimed in glorification of royal heroism, being always victorious and only victorious cosmic power. The differences between the equipment of the depicted personages, clashing in cavalry combat, allow to identify the scene as a local version of classical amazonomachia with some Iranian iconographic elements added. Generally, the long lances were in Parthian and Sasanian times perceived as Iranian element of warfare and included to Iranian iconography of royal power, even if the tactical idea of employment of long lances, most likely, reached Iran with the Macedonians. It is possible that the female warriors in capalin/morion types of helmets of post Hellenistic origin clash with the warriors wearing scale armour covering entire body. The possibly-female warriors are shown in garments or nude and they seem to refer to iconographies of Athena-type goddesses in oriental environments. The latter motif of naked Amazon in combat is not popular in main-stream classical art but is occasionally attested. Scale overalls may refer to Roman imagery of heavy cavalry of Sarmatian origin. The piece, together with another rock relief, prove knowledge of Iranian-type heavy cavalry among Himyarites who attempted to follow or imitate the prestige of both great empires of the time.


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