The Nabateans

The Nabataeans, an Arab tribe, first appeared in the sixth century BC in the desert located to the east of Jordan, and came from the south-east of the Arabian Peninsula. They settled first in Petra and subsequently expanded their territory to the Horan and Levant and finally announced Bosra as their capital.

According to historical records, they are descendants of (Bnayut) the son of Ismail bin Ibrahim. Ismail had twelve boys who formed a tribe, most of whom were located in Najad. The father of the Nabataeans remained at Mount Shammar but was forced to run from the Ashurbanipal to Wadi Araba between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.

During the fourth century BC the Nabataeans lived as nomads in tents, spoke Arabic, loathed wine and did not have any interest in agriculture, but by the second century, they developed into an organized society.

The Greek historian Herodotus referred to Nabataean history in his writing, where the Nabataeans fist appeared in 312 BC and prayed to Oratol.

As the Nabataeans grew in power and wealth, they attracted the attention of their neighbors to the north.
The Seleucid King Antigonus, who had come to power when Alexander’s empire was divided, attacked Petra in 312 BC. His army met with relatively little resistance, and was able to sack the city.

The quantity of booty was so great, however, that it slowed their return journey north and the Nabataeans were able to annihilate them in the desert. Records indicate that the Nabataeans were eager to remain on good terms with the Seleucids in order to perpetuate their trading ambitions.

Throughout much of the third century BC, the Ptolemies and Seleucids warred over control of Jordan, with the Seleucids emerging victorious in 198 BC. The Nabataeans remained essentially untouched and independent throughout this period.

The art of Nabateans

Although the Nabataeans resisted military conquest, the Hellenistic culture of their neighbors influenced them greatly. Hellenistic influences can be seen in Nabataean art and architecture, especially at the time that their empire was expanding northward into Syria, around 150 BC. However, the growing economic and political power of the Nabataeans began to worry the Romans.

In 65 BC, the Romans arrived in Damascus and ordered the Nabataeans to withdraw their forces. Two years later, Pompey dispatched a force to cripple Petra. The Nabataean King Aretas III either defeated the Roman legions or paid a tribute to keep peace with them.

The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC augured a period of relative anarchy for the Romans in Jordan, and the Parthian kings of Persia and Mesopotamia took advantage of the chaotic situation to attack. The Nabataeans made a mistake by siding with the Parthians in their war with the Romans, and after the Parthians’ defeat, Petra had to pay tribute to Rome.

When they fell behind in paying this tribute, they were invaded twice by the Roman vassal King Herod the Great. The second attack, in 31 BCE, saw him take control of a large swath of Nabataean territory, including the lucrative northern trading routes into Syria

Nonetheless, the Nabataeans continued to prosper for a while. King Aretas IV, who ruled from 9 BCE to 40 CE, built a chain of settlements along the caravan routes to develop the prosperous incense trade. The Nabataeans realized the power of Rome, and subsequently allied themselves with the Romans to quell the Jewish uprising of 70 CE.

However, it was only a matter of time before Nabataeans would fall under direct Roman rule. The last Nabataean monarch, Rabbel II, struck a deal with the Romans that as long as they did not attack during his lifetime, they would be allowed to move in after he died.

Upon his death in 106 CE, the Romans claimed the Nabataean Kingdom and renamed it Arabia Petrea. The city of Petra was redesigned according to traditional Roman architectural designs, and a period of relative prosperity ensued under the Pax Romana.

The Nabataeans profited for a while from their incorporation into the trade routes of the Roman Near East, and Petra may have grown to house 20,000-30,000 people during its heyday. However, commerce became less profitable to the Nabataeans with the shift of trade routes to Palmyra in Syria and the expansion of seaborne trade around the Arabian Peninsula.

Sometime probably during the fourth century CE, the Nabataeans left their capital at Petra. No one really knows why. It seems that the withdrawal was an unhurried and organized process, as very few silver coins or valuable possessions have been unearthed at Petra.

Th Nabateans in the Bible

From Asafaha -Dana to Petra trek

The Nabateans are not directly spoken of in the Bible, though there are a few references of their existence. They are most commonly identified as descendants of Ishmael (Abraham’s oldest son by his wife, Sarah’s, handmaid, Hagar) and his oldest son, Nebajoth (Genesis 25:13 ). Such lineage would mean they were Canaanites.

Ancient historian Josephus, a highly respected historian during the time of Jesus, also refers to their Ishmaelite descent in his book, The Antiquities of the Jews (1.12.4). Both living in the same area at the same time, it is likely he obtained his information directly from the Nabateans. His information matches with (Genesis 21:21 and 25:13 )

“When the lad (Ishmael) was grown up, he married a wife, by birth an Egyptian, from whence the mother (Hagar) was herself derived originally. Of this wife, were born to Ismael twelve sons: Nabaioth, Kedar, Abdeel…These inhabited all the country from Euphrates to the Red Sea and called it Nabatene. They are an Arabian nation and name their tribes from these, both because of their virtue and because of the dignity of Abraham their father ” (Josephus 1.12.4)

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archaeological site of Petra Jordan

How big is Petra inside

Petra is a huge city that covers an area of 264 square kilometres, roughly 50,000 footballs fields. Usually, you only see the photo of the Treasury which is at least a 30-minute walk to get to itself . However, there is so much more to Petra than just the (Al khaznah) Treasury.

Now, tourists are not covering all (264 km2 (102 sq mi))of those – but you will be doing a significant amount of walking before you get to the main attractions!

The farthest attractions in Petra are Little Petra and the Tomb of Prophet Aaron. Little Petra is 10 km from the visitors’ centre, while Aaron’s Tomb is 5 km away.

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