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History of the Nabataeans


The Nabataeans, one of the nomadic tribes roaming the desert of North Saudi Arabia and South Jordan around 600 b.c. At that time tribes used to raid and plunder from each other often. The Nabataeans were able to protect themselves by constructing an intricate and well-hidden system for containing rain water in the desert. These containers were dug, hidden, and covered with signs that only the Nabataeans recognized, allowing them to travel deep into the desert for long periods of time. Anyone chasing the Nabataeans would be forced to give up once they ran out of water.

As the Nabataeans gained respect and great wealth over time, they started appointing representatives in big cities and even started doing some trading themselves. The Nabataeans also provided protection for trade caravans going from Yemen and India to the rest of the ancient world.

It took the Nabataeans a few hundred years to start settling down in Wadi Musa, in the south of Jordan which was very close to their future capital Petra. Here they coexisted with the Edomites who were already settled in the earea. Petra and specifically Um al Biara mountain soon provided a perfect protected place for the storage of goods and supplies, as well as a place for living.

In the year 312 b.c. they were first officially mentioned when they were attacked by Antigonus. During a religious celebration outside Petra, Antigonus and his army tried to steel the goods stored in Petra and kidnapped a lot of the people. However, this ended up being an unsuccessful endeavor and served only to prove the underlying strength of the peaceful Nabataeans.

trade routs and the Nabataean kingdom

With Petra as their capital and the control of the trade routs, the Nabataeans expanded their kingdom to include north Saudi Arabia and the desert of Sinai, with some ports and Nabataean made ships in the Red Sea, they controlled the port of Gaza and parts of Negev desert. To the north of Petra, the kingdom expanded to include most of modern-day Jordan and even Damascus for some time. The Nabateans had good relations with their neighbors, and Petra had many foreigners living there enjoying the peace and beauty of the place.

The Nabataeans had their own language, Arabic letters were taken from the Nabataean. Aramaic and Greek were used for international communications. They worshipped the goddess the LAT (who was simply represented by a cube, and was called Ka'bo, from the word cube) as their main goddess. Her son DU SHARA later became the main god. Nabataean kings were democratic, and used to personally serve themselves and their guests, they were assisted by the minister, and the Queen. Women in the kingdom held important roles and were highly respected. Their art was as simple as can be, consisting of very simple eliments. Not only they were skillful sculptors, but they also produced magnificent pottery. Their capital had a unique architecture that was later on influenced by the Greecs and the Romans. Within the sheltered mountains of Petra, the Nabataeans used their mastery of water to build a very advanced water system, and enjoyed water falls, fountains and pools.

detail from capitals from the  Great Temple detail from capitals of the Great Temple
The Romans, with their huge military forces, came into the region in the year 63 A.D. and it took them until 106 A.D. to take over the Nabataean kingdom (which had Busra in Syria as a capital at the time) and included it under the Roman rule. Eventually the trade routes were driven away from Petra, so it lost its importance in trade, but staid as a religious center. People continued living in Petra even after it suffered from a serious earthquake in the year 363 A.D., but it suffered from another earthquake two hundred years later that caused it to be abandoned. Petra had been forgotten by the world, inhabbited only by Bedouins, who kept it a secret until 1812 when a Swiss traveller named Burckhardt managed to visit the ruins of Wadi Musa during his trip from Syria to Cairo, and spread the news to the west. The lost city was lost no longer. Since then a lot of people have visited Petra and a lot of studies and archaeological digs have been done. There remains a lot to discover and Petra is still hiding many secrets... To discover some of them you have visit Petra...
Related Topics:
Nabataean alphabet  
Nabataean Alphabet: One of the Aramaic languages, Arabic letters were derived from the Nabataean.. More
Burckhardt: A Swiss traveler, during his travels in the Middle East, he stumbled upon Petra and thought it might be the city mentioned in classical texts.. More
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