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Temple of ʿAthtar dhū-Qabḍ Agostini, Alessio


This imposing religious edifice was built in the late 5th century BCE in the sacred area present within the ancient South Arabian urban site of Yathill (now uninhabited and known as Barāqish, present-day Yemen). It was dedicated to the god ʿAthtar dhū-Qabḍ, supreme deity of the Minaeans, the people who inhabited the Jawf valley of ancient Yemen during the first millennium BCE and who also occupied this settlement from the 6th century onward. This temple was built later than the adjoining one dedicated to the god Nakraḥ, with which it shares some design elements, such as the entrance staircase, the imposing propylaeum made of monolithic pillars more than six meters high, a hypostyle room divided into five naves and here organized into four inner cenacles. However, the differences are also significant: the adyton here features a central cella with two large accessory rooms on either side, and it is also possible that there was an upper floor, which made this building sensibly bigger than the adjoining one. Although the temple has been reused since antiquity, partly collapsed and then also heavily looted, it is still possible to appreciate the grandeur of its layout and the refinement of its interior furnishings, as for the four decorated offertory tables placed inside the cenacles. The first reuse occurred shortly after the end of the Minaean kingdom, around the first century CE, by the Arabian Amīr tribe, who nevertheless continued to use the temple for religious purposes, rededicating it to their god Ḥalfān. Excavations have unearthed dozens of inscriptions written in ancient Minaic, a South Arabian language of the Semitic phylum, as well as a few other pieces written in Sabaic and in the Amiritic variety. The building was occupied continuously for different purposes from the early Islamic period until the 17th-18th centuries CE, when the site was abandoned indefinitely.

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