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Arab Relief with Armoured Warrior, 3rd-5th Century, Shabwa, Yemen.
British Museum, 2014,6002.1.
Museum number: 2014,6002.1
Sculpture; carved calcite; depicts warrior wearing full body armour (scale or chainmail), extending as a coif over his head, oval shield on left arm with a representation of a raised boss with cruciform device in the centre, with a sword tip projecting behind his back; riding a rearing horse to the left but facing viewer with his right hand raised.
A second individual walking left in front with sword and shield behind his left shoulder. Above, the remnants of a rectangular border are cut off on the left side and the hooves of a missing animal are carved. Tool marks on reverse; incomplete.View less about description
Cultures/periods: Ancient South Arabian
Production date: 3rdC-5thC
Made in: Yemen
Asia: Middle East: Arabia: Yemen: Aden Protectorate: Eastern Aden Protectorate: Hadramawt: Shabwa (governate): Shabwa
Height: 26.50 centimetres
Length: 28.40 centimetres
Weight: 5.86 kilograms
Thickness: 3.30 centimetres
Donated by: Douglas Gordon
Acquisition date: 2014
Acquisition notes: Given to the donor by Sheikh Jabir, the owner of the land where this object was found.
British Museum, London.
Very recently I have been made aware of a remarkable stone plaque from the region of Shabwa in Yemen (photograph 3), now in the British Museum and described as Late Antique.
It shows a fully armoured man riding upon a fully armoured horse.
The style of carving suggests a late pre-Islamic date and the presence of such a heavily armoured cavalryman surely points to the period of the Sassanian occupation of Yemen immediately prior to the coming of Islam (c. 570–630 AD).
A particularly interesting feature is the fact that the horseman is riding with his legs largely inside the horse armour.
Indeed his horse armour is almost identical to that on otherwise seemingly unique Hoysala carvings from 12th–13th century south-western India (figures 40-44).
I would therefore like to suggest that the man shown on the Shabwa carving was one of the asvārān (asāwira) who, having been sent by the Sassanian ruler to garrison Yemen,
became the first known “heavy” or fully armoured cavalry in the Muslim army even before the expansion of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula.
Furthermore, it seems likely that the very unusual style of horse armour shown in the Hoysala carvings also owed its origins to the late Sassanian Empire,
or to early Muslim armies which, having overrun the Sassanian Empire, adopted many aspects of Sassanian Iranian cavalry technology,
before introducing these to early medieval India.
“Horse Armour in the Medieval Islamic Middle East” by David Nicolle, in the International Journal of Archaeology and Social Sciences in the Arabian Peninsula
See also Arab Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers
Other Ancient Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers