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Les vaisseaux du désert et des steppes

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Damien Agut-Labordère
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Bérangère Redon

The camel in the Nabataean realm

Laïla Nehmé

Texte intégral

  • 1 For the rock drawings, see Monchot and Poliakoff 2016, p. 77‑80. Camel reliefs were recently disco (...)
  • 2 A small synthesis on the camel in Nabataean iconography was already proposed by Z. al‑Salameen (20 (...)

1The present contribution aims at presenting a synthesis on what we know about the uses of the dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) in the Nabataean realm from the archaeological and epigraphic sources. It is based on various categories of material, including Nabataean inscriptions, terracotta figurines and rock cut reliefs but excluding rock drawings which should be the object of a separate study (fig. 1).1 The results of these investigations will not be presented by category of material but according to four themes which are the following: practical uses of the camel (i.e. domestic and utilitarian), the camel in funerary and religious contexts, the camel in the caravan trade, and the military and symbolic aspects of the camel.2

Fig. 1– Drawings of camels and other animals associated with Nabataean inscriptions JSNab 163 and 164 north of the eastern side of Jabal Ithlib in Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).

Fig. 1– Drawings of camels and other animals associated with Nabataean inscriptions JSNab 163 and 164 north of the eastern side of Jabal Ithlib in Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).

Practical, domestic and utilitarian uses

  • 3 This may be shown, for instance, by the existence of exostosis on a second camel phalanx from Hegr (...)

2We know from the ancient sources that the Nabataeans raised dromedaries. Diodorus of Sicily, who describes the way of life of the Nabataeans in the 4th century BCE, says that “some raise camels, others sheep, pasturing them in the desert” (19.94.4, transl. Bizière 1975). In the second half of the 1st century BCE, Strabo says that their “country produces no horses” and that “camels afford the service they require instead of horses” (transl. Jones 1932). We have no idea as to how camel raising was organised, who was in charge of it and the proportion of people who were involved in it, but it is certain that camels were part of the Nabataean economy and were used for riding, fighting (if not directly from camel back), as well as draught animals and beasts of burden.3

  • 4 See Monchot 2014, p. 199‑202.
  • 5 Studer and Schneider 2008, p. 585‑586, 594; see also Studer 2007, p. 258.
  • 6 For example, when compared to the percentage of butchery marks on the bones from Dûmat al‑Jandal: (...)

3Camel meat was also part of the diet of the people who lived in Petra and Hegra in the Nabataean period (fig. 2). This was amply demonstrated by J. Studer, who studied both the material from the domestic quarters of the Ez Zantur terraces in Petra, excavated between 1988 and 2001, and the faunal assemblages of the intra muros excavation areas of ancient Hegra, modern Madâ’in Sâlih, in North‑West Arabia, excavated between 2008 and 2017 (the excavations are still ongoing). In Hegra, domestic but also defensive installations – the city wall and a Roman fort – were put to light. To these two sites can be added the faunal remains from the excavations undertaken at Dûmat al‑Jandal (modern al‑Jawf) although it is more difficult to get an idea of the results by time period.4 The consumption of camel meat will only be addressed briefly here, for sake of completeness. Despite the fact that camel bones represent less than 2% of the total number of animal bones collected during the Ez Zantur excavations – 90% are sheep and goats – J. Studer5 was able to show that the percentage of camels was higher in the Nabataean period than in the Roman period and was particularly high (reaching 15%) in the earliest Nabataean period, which corresponds in Ez Zantur to the 1st century BCE. She also observed that since all body parts are represented, including those which have little meat such as foot and cranial elements, on-site butchering was practiced and 48% of the camel bones bear butchering marks, which is a high percentage.6 Finally, most animals were adults when they were slaughtered; they were more than four years old, with a few younger individuals.

Fig. 2 – Map showing the location of some of the sites mentioned in the text.

Fig. 2 – Map showing the location of some of the sites mentioned in the text.
  • 7 Studer 2016 forthcoming, p. 106‑107.
  • 8 Studer 2014, p. 291. See also, now, Studer in Charloux et al. forthcoming b.

4In Hegra, J. Studer’s analyses revealed that the quantity of camel remains in Areas 1, 2 and 9 (all domestic) ranges between 1% (Area 9) and 20% (Area 1) depending on the context and the period.7 In Area 1, for example,8 she noted that camels represent 15.5% of the faunal assemblage in the last occupation phase (Phase 6) of the site, now dated to the late 4th (possibly early 5th) century AD, but are rare in the earlier periods, which contrasts with what was observed in Petra. She also noted that the assemblages found in the Roman fort, in the southern part of the residential area, contain a higher proportion of camel bones, both in the Nabataean and the Roman periods (30 to 40%) although this has to be confirmed by further excavation as well as by complementary methods of quantification. This is very interesting because it shows that consumption habits were not the same throughout the ancient city and that the soldiers ate probably more meat camel than the people living in the domestic quarters.

  • 9 Erickson‑Gini 2014, p. 95. The inscribed bones have not been published yet.
  • 10 Erickson‑Gini 2012, p. 53, fig. 5; Negev 1977.

5Because they are large and flat, camel scapulae were used as writing material. Camel bones bearing writings in ink in Greek and Nabataean were discovered in 2000 in Avdat, ancient Oboda, in the Negev. They were discovered during the excavations of a kitchen pantry which was abandoned in the first half of the 3rd century AD and they were probably used for listing inventory in the pantry.9 One of them was perforated, which shows that it was hung. These bones can be compared to the one inscribed in Greek which was discovered in the mid‑1970s in a 4th century AD winepress from Avdat.10 The inscription on this bone mentions the hiring of camels and donkeys to bring grapes from nearby vineyards to the winepress.

  • 11 Shamir 2003, p. 36.
  • 12 Shamir 2014, p. 20.

6Camel hair was used by the Nabataeans for textile industry. In ʿEn Rahel, an eight‑room fort occupied from the mid‑2nd century BCE to the 1st century AD located on one of the branches of the road joining Petra and Gaza in the Negev, camel hair fibres were mixed with goat fibres in ca 10 pieces of textiles.11 According to O. Shamir, camel hair is softer and has longer fibres than goat hair, which increases the elasticity and strength of the latter and makes spinning easier. Two fragments of cordage were made of goat hair mixed with camel hair and two others of camel hair fibres alone. This represents however a small proportion of the fibres used for the cordage.12

  • 13 See the text in Hackl et al. 2003, p. 462.
  • 14 Bonnot‑Diconne 2009; Leguilloux 2006, p. 84.
  • 15 Bouchaud et al. 2015, p. 35.

7As for the use of camel skin, we know from Herodotus that the Arabs in the 5th century BCE used camel skin for water containers13 and it is likely that the Nabataeans did the same. Some of the leather fragments discovered in the rock cut tombs excavated at Madâ’in Sâlih were assembled and sewed together in the same way as were the leather water containers found in Didymoi in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, i.e. with junction leather strips covering the stitching of two leather fragments sewed together in order to improve the waterproofness of the containers (fig. 3).14 It is difficult to be sure but it seems, however, that the water containers as well as the other leather fragments from Madâ’in Sâlih, mainly the leather shrouds, were made of goat or sheep skin.15

Fig. 3 – Goat or sheep (?) leather fragment 50054_L01 with junction leather strips discovered in a tomb in Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).

Fig. 3 – Goat or sheep (?) leather fragment 50054_L01 with junction leather strips discovered in a tomb in Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).
  • 16 Studer and Steiner 2008, p. 590.
  • 17 According to J. Studer, the formers were possibly used to clear away the mush which accumulated du (...)

8Many objects were made out of camel bones. In the Ez Zantur excavations, out of the 237 modified bones, J. Studer identified 78 objects made of camel bone, and these represent 38% of all the bone artefacts from the Zantur terraces.16 Among them are scoops and bone rings.17

  • 18 The statistics of these findings are presented in tables published by C. Bouchaud at the end of th (...)

9Finally, it is probable that camel coproliths were used as fuel in the residential area of Madâ’in Sâlih. C. Bouchaud, who is in charge of the study of the archaeobotanical remains, has indeed identified, in several excavation areas, camel coproliths (on top of sheep and goat ones).18

Funerary and religious contexts

  • 19 This text was first published in Hayajneh 2006.
  • 20 Lane 1863‑1893, p. 257a: Classical Arabic baliyyatun, “A she‑camel that has her fore shank bound t (...)
  • 21 Winnett and Harding 1978, cairn no. 7, inscriptions no. 163, 164, 165, and 166 (WH 163 mentions th (...)

10The dromedary is not much represented in funerary contexts in the Nabataean realm. The most important example is probably the Nabataean epitaph discovered during the excavations undertaken by D. Kirkbride in Wadi Ramm in the 1950s (fig. 4). According to Kirkbride, the stone which bears the inscription was part of a cairn built on top of a pit which contained a coffin and carbonised camel bones. The text begins with dnh ʾgmʾ w blwʾ dy ʿbd..., “this is the tumulus and the camel burial made by...”.19 The word blwʾ is an hapax in Nabataean and it probably refers to the pre‑Islamic custom which consists in leaving a dromedary bound to the tomb of his master until he dies.20 The Safaitic inscriptions offer good parallels of this practice. For example, in a cairn from the Jordanian Ḥarrah, ca 250 km east‑north‑east from Amman, three inscriptions contain the word bly while a fourth one mentions it implicitly.21

Fig. 4 – Facsimile of the blwʾ inscriptions from Wadi Ramm (Hayajneh 2006, p. 105).

Fig. 4 – Facsimile of the blwʾ inscriptions from Wadi Ramm (Hayajneh 2006, p. 105).
  • 22 Mairie d’Amman 2002, no. 107.

11The second element which needs to be mentioned in relation with the camel in funerary context is a small leather fragment, 4x4.5 cm, which belonged to a shroud, dated to around AD 100‑110 (fig. 5).22 It was discovered in the 1990s in a tomb of the so‑called north necropolis of Khirbat adh‑Dharīḥ. No photograph is available but on the existing drawing, one can guess a passing dromedary, head to the right, as well as a border with a checked pattern.

Fig. 5 – Leather fragment from Khirbat adh-Dharīḥ (Mairie d’Amman 2002, no. 107).

Fig. 5 – Leather fragment from Khirbat adh-Dharīḥ (Mairie d’Amman 2002, no. 107).
  • 23 Wadeson 2011, p. 222.
  • 24 Farajat and Nawafleh 2005, p. 392.

12The third element is a small bronze camel foot (2.5x2.5 cm) which was put to light during the excavation of the main burial of tomb no. 779 in the Jabal al‑Khubthah in Petra.23 This foot was part of a bronze figurine which was probably placed in the tomb with the deceased. Finally, one should probably mention the discovery of camel bones in one of the tombs which were excavated in 2003 below the Khaznah in Petra.24 According to J. Studer (2007, p. 267), who studied them, however, it is not clear whether they “represent remnants of a funerary banquet or offerings interred with the deceased”.

  • 25 See the small synthesis in Healey 2001, p. 161.
  • 26 This rock cut chamber bears no. 466 in Brünnow and Domaszewki 1904‑1909 (no. 463 in Dalman 1908). (...)

13The evidence for the camel in religious contexts is more substantial.25 The camel reliefs from the Sīq in Petra, which have sometimes been interpreted as having a religious significance, have not been retained here and will be presented in the next category (on the caravan trade). The first evidence is therefore the so‑called camel relief (fig. 6), carved in a small wadi north of the monument known as ad‑Dayr in Petra, outside and to the right of a rock cut chamber in the back wall of which is cut a niche with a betyl inside it.26 The presence of the niche inside the chamber gives the latter, whatever its exact function, a religious significance. The relief has a symmetrical composition, being organised on each side of a central figure: two camels face each other, and the one on the right seems to have two humps. Each one of them is preceded by a standing figure which, according to Patrich (1990, p. 148), wears Parthian trousers. Between the two figures, laid on the ground, one distinguishes the remains of two altars with a niche carved above them. At the beginning of the 20th century, Dalman observed a betyl inside the niche but it is so worn away that its presence remains uncertain. Since the general context is religious, with the chamber and its betyl in the immediate vicinity, one may suggest that we are indeed dealing with a religious ritual of some sort, with two animals brought by their cameleers (for sacrifice?).

Fig. 6 – The so-called camel relief near the Dayr in Petra (L. Nehmé).

Fig. 6 – The so-called camel relief near the Dayr in Petra (L. Nehmé).
  • 27 Terpstra 2015, p. 81.
  • 28 It was subsequently published in Tran Tam Tinh 1972, no. S.2 and Lacerenza 1988‑1989.

14This relief has an epigraphic parallel to which it has already been compared: a Nabataean inscription from Puteoli, near Naples. Puteoli, modern Pozzuoli, was a Nabataean trading post and a Nabataean temple was maintained there by a Nabataean religious community.27 This temple, now under water, was dedicated to the main Nabataean god, Dūšarā, as we know from several texts, in both Nabataean and Latin. One of them, CIS II 157,28 carved on a Carrara marble plaque, is dated to AD 11 (fig. 7). It mentions the offering of two dromedaries to Dūšarā, by two men who bear typically Nabataean names, Zaydū and ʿAbdalgā. The word for “camel”, gml, is the same as in Arabic, jamal.

[ʾl]h try gmlyʾ dy

qrbw zydw w ʿbdʾlgʾ

bny tymw l‑dwšrʾ dy

br hnʾw

[...]nt 20 l‑ḥ[rtt]

[...]

These are the two camels which Zaydū and ʿAbdʾalgā the sons of Taymū who is the son of Haniʾū offered to Dūšarā, [y]ear 20 of Ḥāri[ṯat] [...].

Fig. 7 – Nabataean inscription CIS II 157 from Pozzuoli (Lacerenza 1988‑1989, fig. 6).

Fig. 7 – Nabataean inscription CIS II 157 from Pozzuoli (Lacerenza 1988‑1989, fig. 6).
  • 29 See Healey 2001, p. 161: they are more likely clay models than living animals.
  • 30 For examples, see Healey forthcoming: for altars, (incense) burners, lamps, benches (?), etc.
  • 31 Healey forthcoming.

15The main question is whether the animals offered to the deity were living animals or not. There is no scholarly consensus on this issue and it has been suggested that they were either living animals, or ex‑votos in precious material, or terracotta figurines.29 The verb which is used in the inscription, qrbw (3rd person plural of the perfect) is derived from the root QRB which means “to offer, to present”. It is used in Petra and elsewhere to express the offering of objects of various kinds to deities.30 The fact that the text starts with a demonstrative, ʾlh (plural form of dnh in Nabataean) was called upon to say that the gmlyʾ were ex‑votos. It is true, as J. Healey has recently pointed out,31 that the use of the demonstrative suggests that whatever comes after (tombs, steles, altars, statues, etc.) either was the object on which the text was inscribed or was visible nearby, because “the clarity of this kind of deixis is determined by the proximity of the object being referred to”. It is likely, therefore, that the two camels referred to in the text were not living animals but images of camels, whatever their form. It is worth recalling here that the Nabataean inscriptions have not provided so far a word for “sacrifice” which would be the equivalent of Arabic ḏabaḥa. The root QRB may therefore have been used to express this action, as it does for instance in Syriac (Sokoloff 2009, s.v.).

16Whatever the case (living animals or ex‑votos), very many examples of Nabataean terracotta figurines representing camels were discovered in Petra since the excavations started in the Nabataean capital in the 1930s. They come from various archaeological contexts but, to my knowledge, none of them is religious. The scholarly literature on the Nabataean terracotta is relatively abundant although two recent works emerge, one by Lamia el‑Khoury (2002) and one by Christopher Tuttle (2009), both based on PhDs. Tuttle counted 63 camel figurines, which represent 8% of the total number of terracotta objects. Almost all are moulded and three only are modelled. The complete examples show camels with harnessing and saddlery (11 examples) or saddlery and weapons (23 examples), sometimes only some of these elements. On the examples shown on fig. 8, one can see the straps, the saddle and the way it was fixed, the saddle bag and the weapons (a dagger, a slightly curved sword and a shield). Six figurines represent mounted camels.

Fig. 8 – Nabataean camel terracotta figurines (El-Khouri 2002, fig. 79‑81).

Fig. 8 – Nabataean camel terracotta figurines (El-Khouri 2002, fig. 79‑81).
  • 32 Kehrberg 2018.

17It is possible that these figurines were used as ex‑votos, even if they were not made in precious material, but none of them was found in a context which makes this interpretation certain and other interpretations have been suggested. According to Tuttle, the mounted examples show perhaps individuals engaged in military or sportive actions. One of them, discovered in the tomb of a child, may be a toy, like the recently published one discovered in a tomb in Jerash.32

  • 33 See references in Kropp 2011, p. 181.

18It has also been suggested that the figurines represent a mounted deity, which could then be compared to the divine figure which appears on coins from Bostra struck during the reign of Elagabalus, at the beginning of the 3rd century AD (fig. 9).33 Since Morey (1914), the figure standing on the camel on these coins has been interpreted as representing Dūšarā. In an article on Dūšarā as a cuirassed god, however, A. Kropp (2011, p. 180‑182) suggested that the divine figure represented on these coins is Arṣu/Ares because this well‑known Syrian steppe god is attested in the Ḥawrān. Also, considering that Arṣu and Dūšarā are represented with the same iconographic details, i.e. they wear a cuirass, he suggests an equation between Arṣu and Dūšarā. More recently, P. Alpass (2013, p. 197, n. 128) rightly draws attention to the fact that since there is no legend identifying the god on the coins, it may be better to adopt a more cautious attitude and he suggests to consider these coins in relation with the depiction of the camel as the symbol of Provincia Arabia, for which see the section below, “Military and symbolic aspects”. Neither of these interpretations is certain.

Fig. 9 – Elagabalus coin from Bostra, AD 218‑222 with divine (?) figure on a camel (Kropp 2011, fig. 5).

Fig. 9 – Elagabalus coin from Bostra, AD 218‑222 with divine (?) figure on a camel (Kropp 2011, fig. 5).

19The only interpretation which is completely ruled out by Tuttle is that of dromedaries engaged in caravan activities because none of them is represented carrying goods. The small saddle bag is part of the basic equipment of the mounted camel. This brings me naturally to what is usually considered as the main activity of the Nabataeans, the caravan trade.

Camels in the Nabataean caravan trade

  • 34 Nehmé 2012, p. 151‑152 and earlier bibliography there.
  • 35 Bellwald 2003, p. 40‑43.
  • 36 Knauf 1998, p. 95‑97; Zayadine 1999, p. 52.

20The two groups of camel reliefs carved in the rock on the left bank of the Sīq in Petra were put to light in 1997 during clearing works. The two groups are about 25 m far from each other and each one is composed of two loaded camels driven by a cameleer, a little over life‑size (fig. 10). They have been numbered S5‑S6 and S8 in the archaeological Atlas of Petra,34 and are probably dated to before the turn of the Christian era. There has been a discussion, among scholars, as to whether they represent a caravan35 or a religious procession.36 Recently, E. Seland (2017, p. 111) has argued that these reliefs are among the five depictions of camels known in the Roman Near East that can be interpreted as representing almost certainly a caravan. Most of the monuments carved in the Sīq, however, are niches, or niches with betyls, and three of them (with betyls) are carved on the same side as the camels, between the two groups (no. 1162, 1163 and S7 in the Atlas). It is therefore possible that the camel reliefs had a religious significance as well. The only decisive argument for one interpretation or the other would be the identification of the camel loads, but the reliefs have badly suffered from erosion and the only load which is still visible does not allow for a certain identification. Whatever the case, we can consider that whether the scene depicts a caravan carrying goods or camels carrying betyls in a symbolic procession to Petra, it shows camels carrying objects led by cameleers, and that is the most important.

Fig. 10 – Camel reliefs S5 and S6 from the Sīq in Petra (P. Clauss‑Balty).

Fig. 10 – Camel reliefs S5 and S6 from the Sīq in Petra (P. Clauss‑Balty).

21There is, of course, other evidence showing that the camel was used by the Nabataeans for the caravan trade. First, Strabo (Geography, 16.4.23) explains that the reason why the expedition of Aelius Gallus to South Arabia in 25 BCE failed is because their Nabataean guide, Syllaeus, said that there was no way, for an army, to reach Leuke Kome by land whereas he (Strabo) knows that cameleers (kamelemporoi in Greek) come and go from Petra to Leuke Kome safely and easily with a number of men and camels comparable to those of an army. A little further (24), he adds that the regions they crossed were so dry that water had to be transported on dromedaries.

22The epigraphic sources also give information on the use of these animals by the Nabataeans in the context of the caravan trade. The first is given by two Nabataean inscriptions from the site of Umm Jadhāyidh, 150 km north‑west of Madâ’in Sâlih, along the so‑called Darb al‑Bakrah which is the name given to the Saudi Arabian section of the ancient road between Hegra and Petra. These two inscriptions are the following:

23UJadhNab 5 (= ThNUJ 89, but with a different reading) (fig. 11):

Fig. 11 – Photo and facsimile of inscription UJadhNab 5 (L. Nehmé).

Fig. 11 – Photo and facsimile of inscription UJadhNab 5 (L. Nehmé).

šlm kl gbr dy ʾzl

l‑ḥgrʾ w kl {gm}l w šlm

gdyw br gb----

br ḥyw

May any man who went to Hegra and any {cam}el be safe, and may Judayyū son of Gab‑‑ son of Ḥayyū be safe.

24UJadhNab 199 (fig. 12):

Fig. 12 – Photo and facsimile of inscription UJadhNab 199 (L. Nehmé).

Fig. 12 – Photo and facsimile of inscription UJadhNab 199 (L. Nehmé).

šlm kl <g>

gbr dy ʾzl

l‑ḥgrʾ w kl

gml

May any man who went to Hegra and any camel be safe.

25These two texts are very interesting because they commemorate men and camels who went to Hegra and came back. The verb ʾazal is indeed attested in Aramaic with the meaning “to be gone, to leave, to go” (Jastrow, s.v.). They also show that there was indeed a caravan track between Hegra and the north, as we also know from the fact that some individuals left their signature in different places along it. They finally prove the importance of the camel, which is mentioned alongside the man who leads it, although the two are separated in the text.

  • 37 Nehmé 2010, p. 268‑269, fig. 21‑26.

26The only other attestation of gml in a comparable context, i.e. in a signature left by an individual on a rock face, is an inscription from Madâ’in Sâlih copied by Jaussen and Savignac in the early 1900s, which I photographed recently: JSNab 109 (fig. 13). It belongs to an epigraphic point (no. 82) which contains ten inscriptions carved near a niche with a betyl, Ith53. This point is associated with several other groups of inscriptions, that are the signatures of the members of religious fraternal societies which met in a nearby triclinium excavated a few years ago.37 The reading of this text, partly damaged, is difficult but in lines 2 and 3, one can read dy ‑‑‑‑ w ʾbd/ʾbr gml, “who [the author of the text] ‑‑‑‑ and made a camel take a fright / gave the camel a needle to eat”. One of the difficulties lies in the fact that the subject of the verb ʾbd/ʾbr is the author of the text and therefore gml, “camel”, is the direct object. Yet most meanings of the radical ʾBD are intransitive, except for one, in Arabic: “he made [a beast] to take a fright; to become wild, or shy” (Lane 1863‑1893, p. 4b). ʾBR, on the other hand, is transitive, but the animals which are mentioned in Lane (p. 5c) are the dog, the sheep, and the goat, not the camel. There is therefore no much hope to determine what happened exactly to the camel in this text. The latter is certainly not very informative but it provides evidence for the camel in the context of the Hegra fraternal societies.

Fig. 13 – Inscription JSNab 109 from Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).

Fig. 13 – Inscription JSNab 109 from Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).
  • 38 Lane 1863‑1893, p. 2485.

27If the dromedaries were used by the Nabataeans, which is doubtless, it means that there were also cameleers. It has been suggested in the past that three inscriptions from sites in the Egyptian Eastern Desert published by E. Littmann and D. Meredith in 1953 (no. 34, 37 and 46a, fig. 14) contain the word mqtryʾ (or mqtdyʾ). This would have been derived from Arabic QTB, from which are derived words such as ʾaqtaba, “he bound upon the camel the [saddle called] qatab; qatab, “a small camel saddle”; qatūbah, “camels upon which the [kind of saddle called] qatab is bound”, i.e. working camels.38 When one looks at the facsimiles of the texts, however, it is clear that the medial letter is not a b but either a d or a r, thus mqtdyʾ or mqtryʾ, derived from the roots QTD or QTR, both of which have nothing to do with cameleers.

Fig. 14 – Nabataean inscriptions from Egypt, Littmann no. 34, 37 and 46a (Littmann and Meredith 1953, pl. IV‑V).

Fig. 14 – Nabataean inscriptions from Egypt, Littmann no. 34, 37 and 46a (Littmann and Meredith 1953, pl. IV‑V).
  • 39 Nehmé 2000, no. 5, and the commentary p. 75‑76; CIS II 704 as reread in Nehmé 2000.
  • 40 I discovered these niches, the inscriptions and the possible open‑air triclinium in 2003. The nich (...)

28Two other Nabataean words may be worth mentioning. The first one is rkbʾ, which means “horse or camel rider” and is attested in two inscriptions,39 and the second is ngdʾ, which could be translated as “the (caravan) leader” on the basis of Aramaic naggādā, “one who tracks a vessel, a leader”. The latter occurs in three inscriptions from Petra: one under a nefesh at the entrance of the Sīq (MP 9), the second one among the signatures of the members of a fraternal society above the theatre (MP 125) and one in an area located between Petra and its northern periphery (MP 749, fig. 15), also in a group of signatures associated with two niches and a possible triclinium.40 MP 749, previously unpublished, reads šlm bʿlntn br šʿdw ngdʾ, “May Baʿalnatan son of Šaʿdū, the (caravan) leader, be safe”. The problem is that the word ngdʾ can also be read ngrʾ, “carpenter” (Arabic najjār) and that is how it was read in the Atlas of Petra. One argument only may speak in favour of a reading ngdʾ and that is the fact that two texts, MP 9 and MP 749, are located on a track, but this argument is not decisive.

Fig. 15 – Inscription MP 749 from Petra, photo and facsimile (L. Nehmé).

Fig. 15 – Inscription MP 749 from Petra, photo and facsimile (L. Nehmé).

Military and symbolic aspects

29We know from ancient literary sources that mounted camels took part in Nabataean military expeditions. This is already the case during the campaign of Demetrius Poliorcetes against the Nabataeans in 311 BCE. Plutarch says that “Demetrius was sent to bring into subjection the Arabs known as Nabataean, and incurred great peril by getting into regions which had no water; but he was neither terrified nor greatly disturbed, and his demeanour overawed the Barbarians, so that he took much booty and seven hundred camels from them and returned” (transl. Perrin 1920). Later, in 93 BCE, Alexander Jannaeus, king of Judaea, being engaged in a battle with the Nabataean king Obodas I in the Golan, “was cooped into a deep ravine and crushed under a multitude of camels” (Josephus, BJ 1.90, transl. Thackeray 1927‑1928).

  • 41 These have been listed recently: Nehmé 2017, p. 144‑147.
  • 42 P.‑L. Gatier is undertaking a study of the dromedarii attested in Arabia based on old and new evid (...)

30The Nabataean inscriptions have not provided so far a particular term to designate camel riders, as opposed to horse riders. Many horse riders are indeed mentioned in the Nabataean inscriptions, and the word used is naturally pršʾ (from Aramaic pārāš, horseman and Arabic fāris) or rb pršyʾ, “the chief of the horse riders”.41 It is probable, however, that Nabataean camel riders, dromedarii, served in the Roman army from the early 2nd century onwards and it may be possible to identify them in the Greek graffiti they left behind them if they bore typical Nabataean names.42

  • 43 Barkay 2006, p. 100‑101, fig. 5.

31It is surprising that the camel is so scarcely attested in the Nabataean imagery outside the terracotta figurines. Not a single camel appears on the Nabataean painted pottery, yet the latter shows many images of plants as well as birds and quadrupeds, and no examples of zoomorphic vessels in the shape of camels have been found so far. Besides, there is, to my knowledge, only one kind of Nabataean coin with a camel on it. It is a silver quarter‑shekel on which a new motif, the camel, appears instead of the usual eagle (fig. 16). This coin was struck before the reform of year 7 of the Nabataean king Obodas, during which the half‑shekel of 6.65 gr. was replaced by a silver coin of 4.4 gr. called the selaʿ. According to R. Barkay, this coin was struck to distinguish the quarter from the half‑shekel.43

Fig. 16 – Quarter-shekel of Obodas III showing a camel on the reverse (Barkay 2006, fig. 5).

Fig. 16 – Quarter-shekel of Obodas III showing a camel on the reverse (Barkay 2006, fig. 5).

32On the other hand, the image of the camel was indisputably picked up by others to symbolise the Nabataean kingdom and its successor, the Roman province of Arabia. This shows that the camel was strongly associated, in the Roman imaginary, to the Nabataeans and the Arabs. Two coins, one pre‑annexation (before AD 106) and one post‑annexation, use the camel to symbolise the Nabataean kingdom and the Roman province of Arabia. The first one is a coin struck by Scaurus, Pompey’s legate, in 58 BCE, which shows the surrender of the Nabataean king Aretas III following the expedition he launched against the Nabataeans in 62 BCE (fig. 17).44 The Nabataean king is kneeling beside his camel, from which he probably just came down. This shows that the animal was probably used as a royal mount.

Fig. 17 – Coin of Scaurus, 58 BC, showing on the obverse a camel and on the reverse the kneeling figure of Aretas III holding reins and an olive-branch tied with a fillet in his right hand (private collection).

Fig. 17 – Coin of Scaurus, 58 BC, showing on the obverse a camel and on the reverse the kneeling figure of Aretas III holding reins and an olive-branch tied with a fillet in his right hand (private collection).
  • 45 See examples in Mattingly and Sydenham 1926, p. 278, no. 465‑466 (5th consulate); p. 287, no. 610, (...)

33The second image belongs to a group of coins struck in Rome to commemorate the victories of Trajan and the creation of the new provinces. The first ones which commemorate the creation of the province of Arabia45 were struck possibly as early as AD 106‑108. On the reverse, one can see the personification of the new province, wearing a long dress (fig. 18). She holds her two usual attributes, a bundle of perfumed stalks and a branch of what has been interpreted as an incense tree. She is also identified thanks to the reduced figure of the camel which stands beside her. The legend is usually Arabia adquisita.

Fig. 18 – Roman coin commemorating the creation of the Roman province of Arabia in AD 106 (private collection).

Fig. 18 – Roman coin commemorating the creation of the Roman province of Arabia in AD 106 (private collection).

34In these examples, one can see that the camel is a royal and political symbol: royal because it is Aretas’ mount and his attribute on the Scaurus coins, political because the camel represents the province of Arabia on some coins of Trajan. It is however worth stressing that this symbol was used only once by the Nabataean kings themselves, by Obodas III. Most often, they preferred to use an eagle figure, which was probably more prestigious in their eyes. Conversely, the Romans, who had a more caricatural vision of the people they had authority on, used the camel as the symbol of the Arabs and of Arabia.

35All in all, despite my efforts to collect as many attestations of camels as possible in the Nabataean realm, it seems that the harvest remains in the end relatively meagre. Yet the camel is present in the daily life, in the army, along the caravan tracks, as religious offerings and as a symbol. To these should of course be added the numerous drawings of camels, which may offer other kinds of information on their use by the Nabataeans.

Bibliographie

Acronyms

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Notes

1 For the rock drawings, see Monchot and Poliakoff 2016, p. 77‑80. Camel reliefs were recently discovered north‑east of Sakākā in Saudi Arabia (Charloux et al. forthcoming a). The suggested date for them was the early centuries AD and the closest parallels seem to come from Hatra and Petra, thus from Parthian and Nabataean contexts, but very recent investigations point to their being possibly much earlier.

2 A small synthesis on the camel in Nabataean iconography was already proposed by Z. al‑Salameen (2012, 35‑38).

3 This may be shown, for instance, by the existence of exostosis on a second camel phalanx from Hegra although this pathology can also develop in old individuals (Studer 2014, p. 291).

4 See Monchot 2014, p. 199‑202.

5 Studer and Schneider 2008, p. 585‑586, 594; see also Studer 2007, p. 258.

6 For example, when compared to the percentage of butchery marks on the bones from Dûmat al‑Jandal: Monchot 2014, p. 202 (ca 1.5%).

7 Studer 2016 forthcoming, p. 106‑107.

8 Studer 2014, p. 291. See also, now, Studer in Charloux et al. forthcoming b.

9 Erickson‑Gini 2014, p. 95. The inscribed bones have not been published yet.

10 Erickson‑Gini 2012, p. 53, fig. 5; Negev 1977.

11 Shamir 2003, p. 36.

12 Shamir 2014, p. 20.

13 See the text in Hackl et al. 2003, p. 462.

14 Bonnot‑Diconne 2009; Leguilloux 2006, p. 84.

15 Bouchaud et al. 2015, p. 35.

16 Studer and Steiner 2008, p. 590.

17 According to J. Studer, the formers were possibly used to clear away the mush which accumulated during the crushing of olives to obtain olive oil, for loading grain, or for putting flour into sacks. See her fig. 6‑7.

18 The statistics of these findings are presented in tables published by C. Bouchaud at the end of the 2009 and 2010 excavation reports. See Nehmé et al. 2014a, p. 310 and Nehmé et al. 2014b, p. 323‑326.

19 This text was first published in Hayajneh 2006.

20 Lane 1863‑1893, p. 257a: Classical Arabic baliyyatun, “A she‑camel that has her fore shank bound to her arm at the grave of her master, and is left without food until she dies”. On the excavation of camel burials, see King 2009.

21 Winnett and Harding 1978, cairn no. 7, inscriptions no. 163, 164, 165, and 166 (WH 163 mentions the person in the tomb, WH 164 and WH 166 are written by two of his brothers who built the cairn for him – although WH 164 has only w bny and not w bny h‑bly, as WH 166 does – and finally WH 165 is by someone who is not an immediate relative but who also participated to the building of the bly). The fact that WH 164, 165, and 166 contain the verb bny, “he built”, in relation with bly suggests that in these inscriptions, the latter refers to something constructed either above or below the ground and not to the animal itself, as it does in Arabic. I am grateful to Michael Macdonald for helping me check the contents of these Safaitic inscriptions.

22 Mairie d’Amman 2002, no. 107.

23 Wadeson 2011, p. 222.

24 Farajat and Nawafleh 2005, p. 392.

25 See the small synthesis in Healey 2001, p. 161.

26 This rock cut chamber bears no. 466 in Brünnow and Domaszewki 1904‑1909 (no. 463 in Dalman 1908). The relief bears no. 464 in Dalman 1908 and is also published, with a drawing, in Musil 1907, p. 147‑148, fig. 117 and in Lindner et al. 1984, p. 176, fig. 10.

27 Terpstra 2015, p. 81.

28 It was subsequently published in Tran Tam Tinh 1972, no. S.2 and Lacerenza 1988‑1989.

29 See Healey 2001, p. 161: they are more likely clay models than living animals.

30 For examples, see Healey forthcoming: for altars, (incense) burners, lamps, benches (?), etc.

31 Healey forthcoming.

32 Kehrberg 2018.

33 See references in Kropp 2011, p. 181.

34 Nehmé 2012, p. 151‑152 and earlier bibliography there.

35 Bellwald 2003, p. 40‑43.

36 Knauf 1998, p. 95‑97; Zayadine 1999, p. 52.

37 Nehmé 2010, p. 268‑269, fig. 21‑26.

38 Lane 1863‑1893, p. 2485.

39 Nehmé 2000, no. 5, and the commentary p. 75‑76; CIS II 704 as reread in Nehmé 2000.

40 I discovered these niches, the inscriptions and the possible open‑air triclinium in 2003. The niches have subsequently been published in Berenfield et al. 2016, under no. wme10 (see map fig. 4) but the inscriptions were not recorded by the authors of this survey. The installation interpreted here as a triclinium may also be interpreted as a quarry, and that is how it was interpreted in Berenfield et al. 2016.

41 These have been listed recently: Nehmé 2017, p. 144‑147.

42 P.‑L. Gatier is undertaking a study of the dromedarii attested in Arabia based on old and new evidence (new Greek inscriptions from the region of Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ) ; see already the preliminary publication in Gatier 2018.

43 Barkay 2006, p. 100‑101, fig. 5.

44 See references to these coins in the coinage of the Roman Republic online: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_research_catalogues/rrc/roman_republican_coins.aspx (accessed 11/2017).

45 See examples in Mattingly and Sydenham 1926, p. 278, no. 465‑466 (5th consulate); p. 287, no. 610, 612 and 614 (6th consulate).

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1– Drawings of camels and other animals associated with Nabataean inscriptions JSNab 163 and 164 north of the eastern side of Jabal Ithlib in Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 514k
Titre Fig. 2 – Map showing the location of some of the sites mentioned in the text.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 808k
Titre Fig. 3 – Goat or sheep (?) leather fragment 50054_L01 with junction leather strips discovered in a tomb in Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 861k
Titre Fig. 4 – Facsimile of the blwʾ inscriptions from Wadi Ramm (Hayajneh 2006, p. 105).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 292k
Titre Fig. 5 – Leather fragment from Khirbat adh-Dharīḥ (Mairie d’Amman 2002, no. 107).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 328k
Titre Fig. 6 – The so-called camel relief near the Dayr in Petra (L. Nehmé).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 889k
Titre Fig. 7 – Nabataean inscription CIS II 157 from Pozzuoli (Lacerenza 1988‑1989, fig. 6).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Fig. 8 – Nabataean camel terracotta figurines (El-Khouri 2002, fig. 79‑81).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 597k
Titre Fig. 9 – Elagabalus coin from Bostra, AD 218‑222 with divine (?) figure on a camel (Kropp 2011, fig. 5).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 274k
Titre Fig. 10 – Camel reliefs S5 and S6 from the Sīq in Petra (P. Clauss‑Balty).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 872k
Titre Fig. 11 – Photo and facsimile of inscription UJadhNab 5 (L. Nehmé).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,0M
Titre Fig. 12 – Photo and facsimile of inscription UJadhNab 199 (L. Nehmé).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 584k
Titre Fig. 13 – Inscription JSNab 109 from Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ (L. Nehmé).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-13.JPG
Fichier image/jpeg, 213k
Titre Fig. 14 – Nabataean inscriptions from Egypt, Littmann no. 34, 37 and 46a (Littmann and Meredith 1953, pl. IV‑V).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 423k
Titre Fig. 15 – Inscription MP 749 from Petra, photo and facsimile (L. Nehmé).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 616k
Titre Fig. 16 – Quarter-shekel of Obodas III showing a camel on the reverse (Barkay 2006, fig. 5).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 284k
Titre Fig. 17 – Coin of Scaurus, 58 BC, showing on the obverse a camel and on the reverse the kneeling figure of Aretas III holding reins and an olive-branch tied with a fillet in his right hand (private collection).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 754k
Titre Fig. 18 – Roman coin commemorating the creation of the Roman province of Arabia in AD 106 (private collection).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8587/img-18.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 772k

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