Corpus of South Arabian Inscriptions

Editor: Jérémie Schiettecatte

General view
AA. VV. 2000: 224


Ancient nameẒfr
Geographical areaẒafār
CoordinatesLatitude: 14° 12' 39"    Longitude: 44° 24' 15"    
Coordinates accuracycertain
Type of siteSettlement
TribeTribe: ḏ-Rydn
Lineage: ʾbs²rn
Lineage: ʾflṯ
Lineage: ʾḥym
Lineage: Ḏʾln
Lineage: Ḏrḥ
Lineage: Gʾnn
Lineage: Ḥryn
Lineage: Hywtm
Lineage: Khnl
Lineage: Mbryn
Lineage: Mfzm
Lineage: Ms²ṭyn
Lineage: Mẓrn
Lineage: Nḥs¹n
Lineage: Rʿyn
Lineage: Rydn
Lineage: S²ddyn
Lineage: Ṣrf
Lineage: Yfʿm
ʿṯtr S²rqn
ʾlh-hmw rb-Yhd
ʾln bʿl s¹myn w-ʾrḍn
Mrʾ s¹myn
Rḥmnn bʿl s¹myn
Rḥmnn bʿl s¹myn w-ʾrḍn
Tʾlb bʿl Brrn
StructuresDwelling (indeterminate)
Dwelling (concentrated)
Light hydraulic structure (ex. canal, well)
Large hydraulic structure (ex. dam)
Wells, cisterns
Terrace cultivation
Building with political function
Small temple
Large temple
Paved road
Rock inscriptions
General descriptionExtension: 110 ha. The site lies on the Highland at 2800 m and is situated at 130 km from Ṣanʿāʾ. The whole settlement extended in a large area comprising four rock hills: al-Ḥuṣn at the Northern edge, Raydān in the centre, Ẓafār at S and al-ʿAṣabī at SE. Few ruins are visible on the surface, since the ancient stones have been pillaged from the site for centuries. The surrounding areas show deep traces of ancient human interventions which, thanks to dams and water reservoirs, have made possible an extensive agricultural exploitation. The strategic position on the Highland permitted a control over the major commercial routes in the interior and towards the coast.
ChronologyThe most ancient period of the site is obscure but, according to historical reconstruction, it is possible to surmise that the site was inhabited at least since 2nd century BC. During the 3rd century AD an Abyssinian assault is documented, followed by an intense reconstruction during the 4th and 5th centuries AD. This epoch was the peak of the Himyaritic Empire and of its capital. For Ẓafār this phase lasted until the political seat was transferred by Abraha to Ṣanʿāʾ at the middle of the 6th century AD (A. Agostini).
Classical sourcesPliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. vi, 26, 104 (1st cent. AD): Sapphar
Periplus Maris Erythraei § 23 (1st cent. AD): Σαφάρ
Claudius Ptolemy, Geogr. 6.7.41 (2nd cent. AD): Σάπφαρα
Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 23, 6, 47 (4th cent. AD): Taphra
Philostorgius, Hist. Eccl. iii, 4 (5th cent. AD): Tapharum
Identification[1810: U.J. Seetzen]
Archaeological missions1970: Deutsches Jemen Expedition
1970: P. Costa and G. Garbini
1980s: National Geographic Society (R. Tindel)
since 1994: Dhamār Archaeological Project (Oriental Institute Chicago)
1999 / 2000: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (M. Barcelò)
since 1998: Yemen Expedition (University of Heidelberg)


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The ancient settlement comprises a large area extending both inside and outside the ancient city defences, which have been estimated to be 4000 m in length. This was the larger ring which was embracing the whole site, while shorter fortifications have been also erected around the internal agglomerates.
City walls are better preserved on the southern edge of the site. They belong to the last phases of its history, even if some portion have reused some of the most ancient portions. Several restorations or enlargements have been probably carried out, during the 3rd century AD, following an assault from Abyssins.

The most central hill of the site, Ḥuṣn Raydān, is the area where the homonymous Royal Palace is expected to have been built. Investigations have unearthed some of the several structures that formed it on the SW flank of the hill, like an ashlar construction surrounding a stone-paved courtyard with fragmentary pillars ('Stone Building'). It should be dated to the beginning of our era and was in use for at least 400 years. Ancient texts recall several royal residences, and in fact another important administrative centre was probably located on al-Jāḥ according to the massive foundation structures and to some storage rooms.

Temples dating back to the polytheistic phase are not so far archaeologically recorded. Even if the main federative temple was still the Awwām of Mārib, it is very likely that sacral structures were standing both in the extra or intra muros of the site (probably one was standing on the hill al-ʿAṣabī). Moreover, from the 4th century AD, inscriptions are clearly referring to religious structures erected by the Christian and Judean communities.

Tombs have been cut on the hillsides of the surroundings (e.g. al-ʿUwār, al-Jāḥ) and the access to the burial chambers was through a narrow entrance. On the whole, they can reach the 12 m in length. They belonged to the earliest populace of a high social standard, still following a polytheistic religion, and this datum is confirmed by the grave goods which can be dated around the 2nd century AD.

Amongst the most outstanding findings is the architectonic relief. Many pieces in stone are in fact a clear example of the artistic taste which has spread since the first centuries AD. They show geometric and architectonic motives together with plant and figurative subjects, such as grapevines. Taken in a broader sense they denounce a mixture of influences, both from the Mediterranean and Partho-Sassanid culture (A. Agostini).


near Bayt al-Ashwāl (Unknown)
near al-ʿIrāfa (Unknown)
north of al-ʿUwār (Unknown)
south-west of dhī-aṣ-Ṣawlaʿ al-ʿUlyà (Unknown)
north of Jabal al-ʿAwd (ʿwdm)




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