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Work The Yehawmilk Stele
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant
Stèle de Yehawmilk
© 2007 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Near Eastern Antiquities
The stele known as the Yehawmilk or Byblos stele has been famous since it was first discovered. It is a perfect example of Phoenician art from the 1st millennium - a scene with iconographic characteristics close to contemporary Egyptian representations, illustrating a text written in Phoenician. With these features, the Byblos relief is one of the key documents in the reconstruction of Phoenician history.
A chance discovery
Ernest Renan missed the stele during his first campaign of excavations on the site of Byblos in 1860-61, during the exploration of ancient Phoenicia commissioned by Napoleon III. It was unearthed by chance in 1869. The actual site of the discovery remains unclear. Most probably it was found about 25-30 meters from the southwest corner of the fortress. It was standing upright, between two stone lions. As it was bought shortly afterwards by the great collector Louis de Clercq, it also became known as the "De Clercq stele." At the time it was still incomplete because the lower right corner was missing. This fragment was not found until 60 years later (1920-24) by Maurice Dunand, on the site of an Egyptian temple and is still in the Beirut Museum. However, an imprint has been made to complete the stele and allow a more accurate translation. Given the importance of the monument, a mold was bought by the Louvre in 1874 and exhibited with the Phoenician collections.
The original work entered the Louvre not long ago, when De Clercq's heir Count Henri de Boisgelin offered it on permanent loan to the Department of Near Eastern Antiquities in 1950. It became the property of the Louvre in 1967.
The engraved scene
The upper third beneath the arch is decorated with an engraved scene. The line is rather clumsily drawn because of the nature of the stone and some details are difficult to make out. The representation is surmounted by a motif commonly used in Phoenician art of the 1st millennium: the Egyptian winged disc that follows the curve of the top of the stele. There is also the mark of a vertical metal peg that would have held an emblem inserted at the top of the stele, perhaps a disc and a crescent, as the Marquis de Voguë believed.
On the left, a woman sitting on a throne is greeting a standing figure. She has all the characteristics of the Egyptian goddess Hathor: the headdress with a sun held by two horns, the wadj scepter, and the clinging gown. But there is nothing Egyptian about the figure on the right facing the goddess. He is dressed in a long pleated robe and wearing a cylindrical polos on his head, which suggests a Persian costume. He is bearded and long-haired, with a dagger thrust in his belt. He is holding a cup with handles and greeting the goddess with his free hand. The Phoenician inscription beneath the engraving identifies the characters.
Inscription and interpretation
The 14-line inscription in Phoenician, in alphabetic characters, has earned the stele pride of place in the corpus of Semitic inscriptions. Yet it has proved difficult to read, partly because the characters are clumsily carved on a hard stone, and partly because the lower right corner of the stele was missing for many years.
The Marquis de Voguë embarked upon the translation in 1874. This served to identify the characters and showed that Yehawmilk, the king of Gubal, ancient Byblos, dedicated this stele to the city's protective goddess "Baalat Gubal" or "Mistress of Byblos," who can be assimilated to the Egyptian goddess Hathor. Venerated in many sanctuaries in Egypt, particularly in Dendera, in the Middle Kingdom Hathor became the goddess specialized in mining operations, such as Serabit el-Khadin in the Sinai desert, and foreign countries, such as Byblos. The inscription describes the work performed by Yehawmilk in the temple of Baalat Gubal to ensure her protection: a bronze altar on the esplanade and a carved door and doorway. This stele gives us an image of Phoenician architecture that is very hard to see on the site itself.
BibliographyL'Art Phénicien, La sculpture de tradition phénicienne, catalogue du musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités Orientales, A. Caubet, E. Fontan, E. Gubel, 2002, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, p. 64-65.
Stèle de Yehawmilk
Vers 450 avant J.-C.
Byblos, ancienne Gbeil (Liban)
H. : 1,12 m. ; L. : 0,56 m. ; Pr. : 0,24 m.
Ancienne collection De Clercq, don H. de Boisgelin, 1967
Levant: the Phoenician kingdoms, 8th–2nd century BC
Room 17 a, temporarily closed to the public
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