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.

They were no doubt attracted initially, as previous occupants had been, by the plentiful water supply and the natural defensive position of the land surrounded by mountains. By the late 4th century BC the Nabataeans were firmly established in the Petra area, though with their nomadic traditions it is unlikely that they began building until they had been settled for some time.

The Nabataeans growing prosperity came from Petra’s location at an important junction on the incense, spice and silk trade routes, which linked China, India and Southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.

As a caravan city, Petra provided a perfect stopping place with a plentiful supply of water and became a vast entrepôt for exotic goods from all over the World. Its inhabitants grew wealthy by imposing taxes on goods which passed through the city and in return offered protection from marauding tribes. There is a certain irony in this, as no doubt in their earlier nomadic days, the Nabataeans themselves would have been caravan raiders.

Once settled, the Nabataeans realized that trade required peace and security, so they adopted a policy of avoiding confrontation wherever possible with neighbors jealous of their wealth. An interesting local product in which the Nabataeans traded was bitumen from the Dead Sea. This was used for caulking ships and by the Egyptians for embalming the dead.

The last Nabatean monarch, Rabbel II, made peace with the Romans that lasted for his lifetime, Upon Rabbel’s death in 106 CE, the Romans claimed the Nabatean Kingdom and renamed it Arabia Petrea, 70 C.E. Nabatea would fall under direct Roman rule, and the final period of Nabataean history was one of peaceful prosperity as allies of Rome

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