The Nabataeans, also Nabateans (/ˌnæbəˈtiːənz/; Arabic:
الأنباط al-ʾAnbāṭ , compare Ancient Greek:
Ναβαταῖος, Latin: Nabataeus), were an
Arab people who inhabited northern
Arabia and the
Southern Levant. Their settlements, most prominently the assumed
capital city of Raqmu, now called Petra, gave the name of Nabatene
to the borderland between
Arabia and Syria, from the
Euphrates to the
Red Sea. Their loosely controlled trading network, which centered on
strings of oases that they controlled, where agriculture was
intensively practiced in limited areas, and on the routes that linked
them, had no securely defined boundaries in the surrounding desert.
Trajan conquered the Nabataean kingdom, annexing it to the Roman
Empire, where their individual culture, easily identified by their
characteristic finely potted painted ceramics, was adopted into the
larger Greco-Roman culture. They were later converted to Christianity.
Jane Taylor, a writer, describes them as "one of the most gifted
peoples of the ancient world".
6 Nabataean Kingdom
7 Roman period
8 Archeological sites
9 See also
12 External links
Nabataeans were one among several nomadic tribes that roamed the
Arabian Desert, moving with their herds to wherever they could find
pasture and water. These nomads became familiar with their area as
seasons passed, and they struggled to survive during bad years when
seasonal rainfall diminished. Although the
initially embedded in
Aramaic culture, theories about their having
Aramean roots are rejected by modern scholars. Instead; historical,
religious and linguistic evidence confirm that they are a northern
The precise origin of this specific tribe of
Arab nomads remains
uncertain. One hypothesis locates their original homeland in today's
Yemen, in the south-west of the Arabian peninsula; however, their
deities, language and script share nothing with those of southern
Arabia. Another hypothesis argues that they came from the eastern
coast of the Peninsula. The suggestion that they came from Hejaz
area is considered to be more convincing, as they share many deities
with the ancient people there, and "nbtw", the root consonant of the
tribe's name, is found in the early
Semitic languages of Hejaz.
Similarities between late
Nabataean Arabic dialect and the ones found
Mesopotamia during the Neo-Assyrian period, and the fact that a
group with the name of "Nabatu" is listed by the Assyrians as one of
Arab tribes in the region, suggests a connection
between the two. The
Nabataeans might have originated from there
and migrated west between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE into
Arabia and much of what is now modern-day Jordan.
Nabataeans have been falsely associated with other groups of people. A
people called the "Nabaiti" which were defeated by the Assyrian king
Ashurbanipal and described to have lived "in a far off desert where
there are no wild animals and not even the birds build their nests",
were associated by some with the
Nabataeans due to the temptation to
link their similar names and images. One claim by Jane Taylor alleges
a misconception in their identification with the
Nebaioth of the
Hebrew Bible, the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham's son.
Unlike the rest of the Arabian tribes, the
Nabataeans later emerged as
vital players in the region during their times of prosperity. However,
they later faded and were forgotten. The brief Babylonian captivity
of the Hebrews that began in 586 BCE opened a minor power vacuum in
Judah (prior to the Judaeans' return under the Persian King, Cyrus the
Great), and as Edomites moved into open Judaean grazing lands,
Nabataean inscriptions began to be left in Edomite territory. The
first definite appearance was in 312/311 BCE, when they were attacked
at Sela or perhaps
Petra without success by Antigonus I's officer
Athenaeus as part of the Third War of the Diadochi; at that time
Hieronymus of Cardia, a
Seleucid officer, mentioned the
a battle report. About 50 BCE, the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus
cited Hieronymus in his report,[clarification needed] and added the
following: "Just as the Seleucids had tried to subdue them, so the
Romans made several attempts to get their hands on that lucrative
Nabataeans had already some trace of
Aramaic culture when they
first appear in history. They wrote a letter to Antigonus in Syriac
Aramaic continued to be the language of their coins and
inscriptions when the tribe grew into a kingdom, and profited by the
decay of the Seleucids to extend its borders northward over the more
fertile country east of the
Jordan river. They occupied Hauran, and in
about 85 BCE their king
Aretas III became lord of
Coele-Syria. Proper names on their inscriptions suggest that they were
Arabs who had come under
Aramaic influence. Starcky
identifies the Nabatu of southern
Arabia (Pre-Khalan migration) as
their ancestors. However different groups amongst the
their names in slightly different ways, consequently archaeologists
are reluctant to say that they were all the same tribe, or that any
one group is the original Nabataeans.
Main article: Incense Route
Nabataean trade routes.
Many examples of graffiti and inscriptions—largely of names and
greetings—document the area of Nabataean culture, which extended as
far north as the north end of the Dead Sea, and testify to widespread
literacy; but except for a few letters no Nabataean literature has
survived, nor was any noted in antiquity. Onomastic
analysis has suggested that Nabataean culture may have had
multiple influences. Classical references to the
Nabataeans begin with
Diodorus Siculus; they suggest that the Nabataeans' trade routes and
the origins of their goods were regarded as trade secrets, and
disguised in tales that should have strained outsiders' credulity.
Diodorus Siculus (book II) described them as a strong tribe of some
10,000 warriors, pre-eminent among the nomads of Arabia, eschewing
agriculture, fixed houses, and the use of wine, but adding to pastoral
pursuits a profitable trade with the seaports in frankincense, myrrh
and spices from
Arabia Felix (today's Yemen), as well as a trade with
Egypt in bitumen from the Dead Sea. Their arid country was their best
safeguard, for the bottle-shaped cisterns for rain-water which they
excavated in the rocky or clay-rich soil were carefully concealed from
Main article: Nabataean religion
The extent of Nabataean trade resulted in cross-cultural influences
that reached as far as the
Red Sea coast of southern Arabia. The gods
Petra were notably
Dushara and al-‘Uzzá.
the supreme deity of the Nabataean Arabs, and was the official god of
Nabataean Kingdom who enjoyed special royal patronage. His
official position is reflected in multiple inscriptions that render
him as "The god of our lord" (The King). The name
mean the one of Shara, mountains near Petra. Nabataean inscription
from Hegra, give us an understanding of the cosmic function of
Dushara: "He who separates night and day" suggest that he was linked
with the sun, or with Mercury, which another Arabian god, called Ruda,
was identified with. Although when the Romans annexed the
Dushara still acquired important role despite
losing his former royal privilege. The greatest testimony to the
status of the god after the fall of the
Nabataean Kingdom is in the
1000th anniversary of Rome where
Dushara was celebrated in Bostra by
strucking coins in his name that was called Actia Dusaria (linking the
Augustus victory at Actium). He was venerated in his Arabian
name with a Greek fashion and in a reign of an Arabian emperor.
Nabataeans used to represent their gods as featureless pillars or
blocks. Their most common monuments to the gods, commonly known as
"god blocks", involved cutting away the whole top of a hill or cliff
face so as to leave only a block behind. However, the Nabataeans
became so influenced by other cultures such as those of Greece and
Rome that their gods eventually became anthropomorphic and were
represented with human features.
The official language of the Nabataean inscription, attested from the
2nd century BCE, shows a local development of the
under a heavy influence of
Arabic forms and words demonstrated in
numerous Nabataean inscriptions, which reflect the local tongue of the
Nabataeans. For medium and mutually comprehensive communication
with Middle Eastern ethnic groups the Nabataeans, likewise their
neighbours, had to rely on
Aramaic as middle bridge between the
different polities of the region. Therefore
Aramaic was used for
commercial and official purposes across the Nabataean political
Nabataean alphabet itself also developed out of the
Aramaic alphabet, although used distinctive cursive script of which
Arabic alphabet emerged from.
While the principal inscriptional language of the
Aramaic, the lingua franca of the time, the
Nabataeans were, however,
Arabic speakers. In surviving Nabataean documents, Aramaic
legal terms are followed by their equivalents in Arabic. This could
suggest that the
Arabic in their legal proceedings,
but recorded them in Aramaic.
Remains of a Nabataean cistern north of Makhtesh Ramon, southern
Although not as dry as at present, the area occupied by the Nabataeans
was still a desert and required special techniques for agriculture.
One was to contour an area of land into a shallow funnel and to plant
a single fruit tree in the middle. Before the 'rainy season', which
could easily consist of only one or two rain events, the area around
the tree was broken up. When the rain came, all the water that
collected in the funnel would flow down toward the fruit tree and sink
into the ground. The ground, which was largely loess, would seal up
when it got wet and retain the water.
In the mid-1950s, a research team headed by
Michael Evenari set up a
research station near
Avdat (Evenari, Shenan and Tadmor 1971). He
focused on the relevance of runoff rainwater management in explaining
the mechanism of the ancient agricultural features, such as terraced
wadis, channels for collecting runoff rainwater, and the enigmatic
phenomenon of "Tuleilat el-Anab". Evenari showed that the runoff
rainwater collection systems concentrate water from an area that is
five times larger than the area in which the water actually
Another study was conducted by Y. Kedar[who?] in 1957, which also
focused on the mechanism[vague] of the agriculture systems, but he
studied soil management, and claimed that the ancient agriculture
systems were intended to increase the accumulation of loess in wadis
and create an infrastructure for agricultural activity. This theory
has also been explored by E. Mazor,[who?] of the Weizmann Institute of
Main article: Nabataean Kingdom
The Roman province of
Arabia Petraea, created from the Nabataean
Further information: Petra
Petra was rapidly built in the 1st century BCE, and developed a
population estimated at 20,000.
Nabataeans were allies of the first
Hasmoneans in their struggles
Seleucid monarchs. They then became rivals of the Judaean
dynasty, and a chief element in the disorders that invited Pompey's
intervention in Judea. Many
Nabataeans were forcefully converted to
Judaism by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus. It was this king
who, after putting down a local rebellion, invaded and occupied the
Nabataean towns of
Gilead and imposed a tribute of an unknown
Obodas I knew that Alexander would attack, so was able to
ambush Alexander's forces near Gaulane destroying the Judean army (90
The Roman military was not very successful in their campaigns against
the Nabataeans. In 62 BCE, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus accepted a bribe of
300 talents to lift the siege of Petra, partly because of the
difficult terrain and the fact that he had run out of supplies.
Hyrcanus II, who was a friend of Aretas, was despatched by Scaurus to
the King to buy peace. In so obtaining peace, King Aretas retained all
his possessions, including Damascus, and became a Roman vassal.
In 32 BCE, during King Malichus II's reign, Herod the Great, with the
support of Cleopatra, started a war against Nabataea. The war began
with Herod plundering Nabataea with a large cavalry force, and
occupying Dium. After this defeat, the Nabataean forces amassed near
Canatha in Syria, but were attacked and routed. Cleopatra's general,
Athenion, sent Canathans to the aid of the Nabataeans, and this force
crushed Herod's army, which then fled to Ormiza. One year later,
Herod's army overran Nabataea.
Colossal Nabataean columns stand in Bosra, Syria.
After an earthquake in Judaea, the Nabateans rebelled and invaded
Israel, but Herod at once crossed the
Jordan river to Philadelphia
(modern Amman) and both sides set up camp. The
Elthemus refused to give battle, so Herod forced the issue when he
attacked their camp. A confused mass of
Nabataeans gave battle but
were defeated. Once they had retreated to their defences, Herod laid
siege to the camp and over time some of the defenders surrendered. The
remaining Nabataean forces offered 500 talents for peace, but this was
rejected. Lacking water, the
Nabataeans were forced out of their camp
for battle, but were defeated in this last battle.
An ally of the Roman Empire, the
Nabataean kingdom flourished
throughout the 1st century. Its power extended far into
Red Sea to Yemen, and
Petra was a cosmopolitan marketplace, though
its commerce was diminished by the rise of the Eastern trade-route
Myos Hormos to
Coptos on the Nile. Under the Pax Romana, the
Nabataeans lost their warlike and nomadic habits and became a sober,
acquisitive, orderly people, wholly intent on trade and agriculture.
The kingdom was a bulwark between Rome and the wild hordes of the
desert except in the time of Trajan, who reduced
Petra and converted
the Nabataean client state into the Roman province of
By the 3rd century, the
Nabataeans had stopped writing in
begun writing in Greek instead, and by the 5th century they had
converted to Christianity. The new
Arab invaders, who soon pressed
forward into their seats, found the remnants of the Nabataeans
transformed into peasants. Their lands were divided between the new
Arab tribal kingdoms of the
Byzantine vassals, the Ghassanid
Arabs, and the
Himyarite vassals, the
Arab Kingdom in North
The city of
Petra was brought to the attention of Westerners by the
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
Petra and Little
Petra in Jordan
Bosra in Syria
Mada'in Saleh in northwest Saudi Arabia.
Shivta in the Negev Desert of Israel; disputed as a Nabataean
precursor to a
Avdat in the Negev Desert of Israel
Mamshit in the Negev Desert of Israel
Haluza in the Negev Desert of Israel
Dahab in South Sinai, Egypt; an excavated Nabataean trading port.
Ancient Near East portal
List of rulers of Nabatea
Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia
^ a b "Nabataeans". livius.org. Retrieved August 31, 2015.
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Petra and the Lost Kingdom of
the Nabataeans. London, United Kingdom: I.B.Tauris.
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Arabs, one of the most gifted peoples of the ancient world, are today
known only for their hauntingly beautiful rock-carved capital —
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Arabs in the Shadow of Israel: The Unfolding
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^ The Leon Levy
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Petra Papyri", Studies in the History and
Archaeology of Jordan
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Petra Papyri", Near Eastern
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in the Greco-Roman Near East. Princeton University Press. p. 83.
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Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the
Nabataeans. I.B.Tauris. p. 124.
ISBN 978-1-86064-508-2. Cite error: Invalid <ref>
tag; name "Taylor2001" defined multiple times with different content
(see the help page).
^ Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2016, page 20
^ John F. Healey (1990). The Early Alphabet. University of California
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^ Tony Maalouf.
Arabs in the Shadow of Israel: The Unfolding of God's
Prophetic Plan for Ishmael's Line. Kregel Academic. p. 172.
^ Roger D. Woodard (10 April 2008). The Ancient Languages of
Syria-Palestine and Arabia. Cambridge University Press. p. 2.
Arabic in Context: Celebrating 400 years of
Arabic at Leiden
University. BRILL. 21 June 2017. p. 79.
^ "A City Carved in Stone". Petra: Lost City of Stone. Canadian Museum
of Civilization. 7 April 2006. Retrieved 7 February 2011.
^ Johnson, Paul (1987). A History of the Jews. London: Weidenfeld and
Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-79091-4.
^ Josephus, Flavius (1981). The Jewish War. 1:87. Trans. G. A.
Williamson 1959. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin.
p. 40. ISBN 978-0-14-044420-9.
Josephus 1:61, p. 48.
Josephus 1:363–377, pp. 75–77.
Josephus 1:377–391, pp. 78–79.
^ Rimon, Ofra. "The Nabateans in the Negev". Hecht Museum. Retrieved 7
^ Nabataea: Medain Saleh
Graf, David F. (1997). Rome and the Arabian Frontier: From the
Nabataeans to the Saracens. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Healey, John F., The Religion of the Nabataeans: A Conspectus (Leiden,
Brill, 2001) (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, 136).
Krasnov, Boris R.; Mazor, Emanuel (2001). The Makhteshim Country: A
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"Nabat", Encyclopedia of Islam, Volume VII.
Negev, Avraham (1986). Nabatean Archaeology Today. Hagop Kevorkian
Series on Near Eastern Art and Civilization. New York: New York
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Schmid, Stephan G. (2001). "The Nabataeans: Travellers between
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Hecht Museum - Catalogues The Nabateans in the Negev
Hecht Museum - Exhibitions The Nabateans in the Negev
The Bulletin of Nabataean Studies online—links on
Petra and the
NABATÆANS in the Jewish Encyclopedia
Cincinnati Art Museum—the only collection of ancient Nabataean art
outside of Jordan
Archaeological Studies—Ancient Desert Agriculture Systems Revived
Petra: Lost City of Stone Exhibition—Canadian Museum of Civilization
"Solving the Enigma of
Petra and the Nabataeans", Biblical Archaeology
Nabataeans a nation civiliza