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Atlas of Jordan

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Myriam Ababsa

Chapter three - The Time of Two Great Cities: Petra and Jerash (323 BC - 629 AD)

The Nabataean Age (4th century BC - 1st century AD)

Christian Augé

Texte intégral

1We do not know the exact origins of the Nabataeans; they are a nomadic people from Arabia who settled in present-day Jordan between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. In 312, they already occupied the former lands of the Edomites, between Wadi al-Hasa (Zered) and the Gulf of Aqaba (Aila), and resisted Antigone, one of Alexander’s successors. The control of trade routes ensured their wealth. During the Hellenistic period, Petra, a storage area and shelter, became the capital of a kingdom that extended, in the 1st century BC, from the Sinai to the Hijaz (Medain Saleh / Hegra) and to southern Syria - the Nabataeans even controlled Damascus temporarily - including agricultural areas as well as pastoral areas. This vast area, which did not always have precise limits, covered most of present-day Jordanian territory except the north-west (fig. III.6).

Figure III.6 — The Nabataean Kingdom.

Figure III.6 — The Nabataean Kingdom.

Villeneuve Nehme

2The last two centuries of the Nabataean kingdom (1st century BC – 1st century AD) are better known thanks to archaeological progress and through historical and epigraphical sources and inscriptions, which mention, notably, the successive kings. Nabatene established itself as a regional power, which neighbouring states and the Romans had to reckon with. They imposed themselves in the Near East and in 64 BC, created the province of Syria, where the Decapolis adjoins the kingdom. The latter soon supported Rome. The development of Petra during the reigns of Obodas III (30-9 BC) and Aretas IV (9 BC-40 AD) showed the prosperity of a Hellenized high society which was open to Mediterranean influences. Subsequently, the South of the country seemed to lose its importance: the last Nabataean king, Rabbel II (70‑106 AD) may have made Bostra his capital. The Emperor Trajan finally annexed the kingdom militarily in 106 AD and created the Roman province of Arabia.

Plate III.2 ­— Nabataean Drawing and Inscriptions in Wadi Mukatab, Sinai.

Plate III.2 ­— Nabataean Drawing and Inscriptions in Wadi Mukatab, Sinai.

Laborde and Linant, 1830

Caravan and maritime routes

3In the Hellenistic period, the Nabataeans were already renowned for their business activities. Masters of the routes in the Negev and Sinai, they exported their products to Alexandria and Gaza (the main market for their capital Petra), such as bitumen from the Dead Sea, used in Egypt for mummification and the caulking of boats, and luxury goods (incense, myrrh, balsam and spices) transported by land and sea from “Arabia Felix” (the Yemen), the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. These products were popular throughout the Mediterranean region, and there is evidence of Nabataean traders as far as the West (fig. III.7).

Figure III.7  — Main Trade Routes (3rd B.C. - 2nd A.D.).

Figure III.7  — Main Trade Routes (3rd B.C. - 2nd A.D.).

4The Nabataeans controlled caravan trade along the routes through present-day Saudi Arabia, and trade in the Red Sea through several ports including Aila (Aqaba) and Leuke Kome. These routes were marked by the distribution of: objects with characteristic craftsmanship: painted pottery and lamps; silver and bronze coins; and a particular architectural motif borrowed from the Ptolemaics: capitals which are known as ‘Nabataean’ (plate III.3 to III.5).

Plate III.3  —  Nabataean Pottery.

Plate III.3  —  Nabataean Pottery.

Plate III.4  —  Nabataean Silver Coin, Arethas IV and Queen Huldu, Paris, BNF.

Plate III.4  —  Nabataean Silver Coin, Arethas IV and Queen Huldu, Paris, BNF.

Plate III.5  —  Tyche sculpture found near Qasr al-Bint, Petra.

Plate III.5  —  Tyche sculpture found near Qasr al-Bint, Petra.

5From the time of Augustus, Roman rule in Egypt led to the decline of Nabataean maritime activity. As the centre of caravan trade, Petra soon lost its pre-eminence in favour of Palmyra.

Petra

6Petra lies in a hollow surrounded by steep sandstone cliffs, accessible only by paths and a winding gorge dug by the torrent of Wadi Musa: the Siq. It lies away from the major traffic arteries of the Wadi Araba and the Kings’ Highway. The site is still only partially explored; the limits of the city and the distribution of areas are difficult to determine, as is the date of the oldest facilities and systems after the Paleolithic period. However, on the flat summit of Umm al-Biyara overlooking the ancient city, we do know of an Edomite settlement dating from the 7th - 6th centuries BC, and in several areas there are possible remains of the high Hellenistic period; sites of worship in caves and systems inherited from a nomadic lifestyle, such as ‘water traps’, which could be Nabataean. In this natural fortress, it was easy to shelter residents and wealth accumulated through caravan trade (fig. III.9).

Figure III.9 — Petra localisation and main monuments.

Figure III.9 — Petra localisation and main monuments.

Villeneuve-Nehme

Figure III.8 — Map of Petra.

Figure III.8 — Map of Petra.

Laborde and Linant, 1830

Plate III.6 — Drawing of the Khazne.

Plate III.6 — Drawing of the Khazne.

Laborde and Linant, 1830

When Petra flourished (during the 1st century BC and 1st century AD), the site’s scarce water resources no longer sufficed. Significant adjustments were necessary to bring water from several springs in the area and to organise a town on both sides of Wadi Musa. With a theatre, a colonnaded street lined with huge buildings and luxurious residences, Petra looked like a Hellenistic city with original features, such as monuments carved in sandstone, necropoles, al-Khazna, the series of ‘royal tombs’ and the ‘Deir’. But the Nabataeans also showed their ability to master a difficult environment through their settlement of populations and agricultural development in the area, especially in Wadi Musa and Beidha, which continued during the Roman and Byzantine periods and for a long time ensured the life of the city (fig. III.10).

Figure III.10 — Map of Petra.

Figure III.10 — Map of Petra.

Talal Akasheh, Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos, American Center of Oriental Research – ACOR

The Sanctuary of Qasr al-Bint

7Built in the heart of the ancient city, at the end of the colonnaded street which marks the main thoroughfare, Qasr al-Bint is the major shrine of Petra, perhaps dedicated to the great Nabataean god Dushara. It comprises a long paved esplanade directed east-west, and an imposing cubic temple open to the north, never fully excavated but studied from an architectural point of view (by Francois Larché). The four columns in antis of the facade supported a triangular pediment. Inside, the oblong cella opened onto three juxtaposed rooms: the middle room probably housed the idol. A peristyle gallery ran around the outside walls, covered with stucco decoration and surmounted by a frieze in relief (plates III.7 and III.8).

8Since 1999, a French archaeological mission has been excavating and studying the sacred space linked to the temple, the “temenos”. It appears that several visible structures, including the great altar, were built during the construction of the temple during a monumental phase of construction, datable to the late 1st century BC or early 1st century AD, like most major buildings in the city centre. After the Roman conquest, in the 2nd century, the shrine was restructured by the construction of a door with three openings and a richly decorated rear wall; it served as an imperial monument, which collapsed in late Roman times while the temple remained standing. Excavations have revealed Byzantine houses built over the ruins, and other remains of houses dating from the Hellenistic period, which in this sector are the oldest evidence of Nabataean occupation (fig. III.11).

Plate III.7  —  Qasr al-Bint in 1830.

Plate III.7  —  Qasr al-Bint in 1830.

Laborde and Linant

Plate III.8  — Qasr al-Bint in 1976.

Plate III.8  — Qasr al-Bint in 1976.

Dentzer

Figure III.11  —  Qasr al-Bint Map.

Figure III.11  —  Qasr al-Bint Map.

French Mission to Petra, L. Borel, Ch. March.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure III.6 — The Nabataean Kingdom.
Crédits Villeneuve Nehme
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Plate III.2 ­— Nabataean Drawing and Inscriptions in Wadi Mukatab, Sinai.
Crédits Laborde and Linant, 1830
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Titre Figure III.7  — Main Trade Routes (3rd B.C. - 2nd A.D.).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 208k
Titre Plate III.3  —  Nabataean Pottery.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Titre Plate III.4  —  Nabataean Silver Coin, Arethas IV and Queen Huldu, Paris, BNF.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Plate III.5  —  Tyche sculpture found near Qasr al-Bint, Petra.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Titre Figure III.9 — Petra localisation and main monuments.
Crédits Villeneuve-Nehme
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 188k
Titre Figure III.8 — Map of Petra.
Crédits Laborde and Linant, 1830
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-8.png
Fichier image/png, 80k
Titre Plate III.6 — Drawing of the Khazne.
Crédits Laborde and Linant, 1830
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Titre Figure III.10 — Map of Petra.
Crédits Talal Akasheh, Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos, American Center of Oriental Research – ACOR
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 184k
Titre Plate III.7  —  Qasr al-Bint in 1830.
Crédits Laborde and Linant
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Plate III.8  — Qasr al-Bint in 1976.
Crédits Dentzer
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 196k
Titre Figure III.11  —  Qasr al-Bint Map.
Crédits French Mission to Petra, L. Borel, Ch. March.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4896/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k

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