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Nabataean hall

Nabataean exhibits from different sites, and information about the society and architecture of the Nabataeans.

Part of the visual informative tour through the Jordan Museum, Amman, in the frame of Art Destination Jordan.

The Nabataeans in History  


The Nabataeans in History (312 BC - around AD 500)

The Nabataean Arab tribes spread north from the Arabian Peninsula into southern Jordan during the 6th century BC, however their first concrete mention in history was centuries later, in 312 BC, when they repelled the attack of Antigonos Monophthalmos, one of Alexander's generals. This occurred at 'Sela — the Rock,' which is probably the mountainous stronghold of as-Sala' near at-Tafila. According to the historian Diodorus of Sicily, the attack was initially successful because the Nabataean men were away at a trade fair, thus trade was important in their lives even at this early stage.

By the third century BC, these nomadic tribes spread further north into Hawran (northern Jordan - southern Syria), and west into the Naqab area of southern Palestine, and to Sinai. The Nabataeans took advantage of the political vacuum in this area because of the disputes between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria.

They established their kingdom with its capital at Raqmu (Petra), and Aretas I was their first king in 168 BC. The nomadic Nabataeans started settling down in cities and towns, which the state supplied with hydraulic systems, and by the end of the 2nd century BC, they started producing their distinctive Nabataean art, architecture and writings.

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The Nabataean monopoly of the trade of frankincense, myrrh and spices, which they took over from the Minaeans of southern Arabia, was behind their economic prosperity and subsequently their political power. Their quest for peace was essential to keep the trade routes safe, but they were sometimes obliged to defend their land against aggressors, such as their fight against the expansions of Alexander Jannaeus in 85 BC, and against Cleopatra of Egypt who wanted to control the bitumen trade of the Dead Sea.

The Nabataeans reached Damascus during the reign of Aretas III 'Philhellene' (84-60 BC), whose title means 'admirer of the Greeks' and reflects his quest for modernisation and desire for close relations with the great powers. The height of the Nabataean civilisation was attained at the time of Aretas IV 'Philodeme' (9 BC-AD 40) whose title 'lover of his people' was a reflection of the people's cultural and economic achievements.

The Romans alteration of the trade routes to cross the Red Sea weakened the Nabataeans, lords of the land caravans. In an attempt to take advantage of the northern routes, they relocated their capital to Busra in Hawran at the time of Rabel II (AD 75-106), their last king.

Trajan annexed the Nabataean kingdom into the 'Provincia Arabia' of the Roman Empire in AD 106, thus they were the last people in the region to succumb to Rome. Their culture continued despite the Roman control, and their capital - then officially called by its Greek name "Petra" - became the metropolis of 'Palestina Tertia,' at the end of the 3rd century.

The Nabataeans adopted Christianity in the 4th century, and "Petra" became a Bishopric See. Its importance however declined, and by the time of the Muslim Conquests in the 630s, the region was so insignificant that it was not mentioned in the 'Annals of the Conquests.' Raqmu-Petra remained obscure for centuries later, although 12th century historians mentioned it during the Frankish Wars.

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© From a wall text in The Jordan Museum

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