This life-sized bronze head preserves the delicate features and neatly coiffed hairdo of a wealthy nobleman who may have lived in the Arabian market town of Qaryat al-Faw almost 2,000 years ago. The right side of the face has been damaged, causing it to appear somewhat askew. It dates to the first century B.C.–second century A.D. and shows the clear influence of Hellenistic styles and fashion on merchants and elites who grew wealthy from Arabia’s famed overland trade in spices and incense.
Excavations at Qaryat al-Faw, located on the western edge of the Rub’ al-Khali Desert (the “Empty Quarter”) in Saudi Arabia, have uncovered fashionably decorated palaces, homes and temples, together with an expansive necropolis and more than 120 wells that provided abundant water year round. As one of the main staging grounds of the Arabian incense trade, Qaryat al-Faw became a melting pot of peoples, tastes and beliefs. This bronze head will appear as part of the Roads of Arabia exhibit at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.