Incense burner

Date: ca. mid-1st millennium B.C.

Geography: Southwestern Arabia

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: H. 10 7/8 × W. 9 5/16 × D. 9 1/8 in. (27.7 × 23.7 × 23.2 cm)
Base: 5 13/16 in. (14.8 cm)
Lip diameter: 6 9/16 in. (16.6 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Vessels

Credit Line: Gift of Dr. Sidney A. Charlat, in memory of his parents, Newman and Adele Charlat, 1949

Accession Number: 49.71.2


This bronze incense burner from southwestern Arabia consists of a cylindrical cup set on a conical base. A rectangular architectural form suggesting a facade extends upward from the cup’s front. Its face is decorated with two serpents flanking a round disk set within a crescent, all in low relief. Cast separately, an ibex standing on a plinth projects from the front of the incense burner and may serve as a handle.

From the middle of the first millennium B.C. until the sixth century A.D., the kingdoms of southwestern Arabia gained considerable wealth and power through their control of the trade in incense between Arabia and the lands of the Mediterranean seacoast. Frankincense and myrrh, gum resins that are native to southern Arabia, were widely valued in the ancient world for the preparation of incense, perfumes, cosmetics, and medicines, as well as for use in religious and funerary ceremonies.

The importance of incense in the religion of southwestern Arabia is reflected in this object; the ibex and snakes are powerful apotropaic symbols representing virility and fertility, and were frequently associated with local gods. The disk-and-crescent symbol, likewise, probably represents the moon god, the chief god of their pantheon. Given this religious imagery, the building facade depicted here is probably that of a temple.

Adapted from, Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators (2010)