Cultures > Nabataean Kingdom

Nabataean Kingdom


The Nabataean Kingdom was a kingdom located in the southern Levant, specifically in the region of modern-day Jordan, southern Israel, and parts of Saudi Arabia. It emerged as a prominent political entity during the Hellenistic period. The Nabataean Kingdom was situated in the rugged desert terrain of the southern Levant, with its capital city at Petra, which later became famous for its elaborate rock-cut architecture. The Nabateans were originally a nomadic tribe that inhabited the region, known for their skill in trading and navigating the desert. The Hellenistic period, which began after the conquests of Alexander the Great, saw the spread of Greek culture and influence throughout the eastern Mediterranean and beyond. While Nabatea was not directly under Alexander's control, it came into contact with Hellenistic culture through trade and interaction with neighboring regions that were part of Alexander's empire or influenced by Greek culture.

Conflicts with Antigonid

Origins and Early Conflicts with the Nabataeans

After Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC, his empire split among his generals. During the conflict between Alexander's generals, Antigonus I conquered the Levant, bringing him to the borders of Edom, just north of Petra. According to Diodorus Siculus, Antigonus sought to add "the land of the Arabs who are called Nabataeans" to his existing territories of Syria and Phoenicia. The Nabataeans were distinguished from other Arab tribes by their wealth. They generated revenues from the trade caravans that transported frankincense, myrrh, and other spices from Eudaemon (in today's Yemen), across the Arabian Peninsula, passing through Petra, and ending up in the Port of Gaza for shipment to European markets.

First Antigonid Attack on the Nabataeans

Antigonus ordered one of his officers, Athenaeus, to raid the Nabataeans with 4,000 infantry and 600 cavalry to loot herds and processions. Athenaeus learned that every year, the Nabataeans gathered for a festival, during which women, children, and elders were left at "a certain rock" (later interpreted by some as the future city of "Petra," meaning "rock" in Greek). The Antigonids attacked "the rock" in 312 BC while the Nabataeans were away trading. The inhabitants were taken by surprise, and tons of spices and silver were looted. The Antigonids departed before nightfall and made camp to rest 200 stadion away, where they thought they would be safe from a Nabataean counter-attack. The camp was attacked by 8,000 pursuing Nabataean soldiers, resulting in the slaughter of all 4,000 foot soldiers, with about fifty of the 600 horsemen escaping, most of whom were wounded. Athenaeus himself was killed. The Antigonids had deployed no scouts, a failure that Diodorus ascribes to Athenaeus's lack of anticipation of the rapid Nabataean response. After the Nabataeans returned to their rock, they wrote a letter to Antigonus accusing Athenaeus and declaring that they had destroyed the Antigonid army in self-defense. Antigonus replied by blaming Athenaeus for acting unilaterally, intending to lull the Nabataeans into a false sense of security. The Nabataeans, though pleased with Antigonus's response, remained suspicious and established outposts on the edge of the mountains in preparation for future Antigonid attacks.

Second Antigonid Attack and Demetrius' Campaign

The Antigonids' second attack involved an army of 4,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry led by Antigonus's son, Demetrius "the Besieger." Nabataean scouts spotted the approaching enemy and used smoke signals to warn of the approaching Antigonid army. The Nabataeans dispersed their herds and possessions to guarded locations in harsh terrain, such as deserts and mountaintops, which would be difficult for the Antigonids to attack, and garrisoned "the rock" to defend what remained. The Antigonids attacked "the rock" through its "single artificial approach," but the Nabataeans managed to repulse the invading force. A Nabataean called out to Demetrius, pointing out that Antigonid aggression made no sense, as the land was semi-barren and the Nabataeans had no desire to be their slaves. Realizing his limited supplies and the determination of the Nabataean fighters, Demetrius eventually was forced to accept peace and withdraw with hostages and gifts. Demetrius drew Antigonus's displeasure for the peace, but this was ameliorated by Demetrius's reports of bitumen deposits in the Dead Sea, a valuable commodity essential for the embalming process.

Hieronymus' Expedition and the Arab Resistance

Antigonus sent an expedition, this time under Hieronymus of Cardia, to extract bitumen from the Dead Sea. A force of 6,000 Arabs sailing on reed rafts approached Hieronymus's troops and killed them with arrows. These Arabs were almost certainly Nabataeans. Antigonus thus lost all hope of generating revenue in that manner. The event is described as the first conflict caused by a Middle Eastern petroleum product.

Expansion and Piracy in the Red Sea

The series of wars among the Greek generals ended in a dispute over the lands of modern-day Jordan between the Ptolemies based in Egypt and the Seleucids based in Syria. The conflict enabled the Nabataeans to extend their kingdom beyond Edom. Diodorus mentions that the Nabataeans had attacked merchant ships belonging to the Ptolemies in Egypt at an unspecified date but were soon targeted by a larger force and "punished as they deserved." While it is unknown why the wealthy Nabataeans turned to piracy, one possible reason is that they felt that their trade interests were threatened by the gradual understanding of the nature of monsoon in the Red Sea from the third century BC onward (see Periplus of the Erythraean Sea).

Nabataean Kings

Here's a comprehensive table of the Nabatean Kings, including their years of reign, consorts (where known), successors, predecessors, and contributions:

Reign YearsNameConsortsSuccessorPredecessorContribution
c. 169 BCAretas IUnknownUnknownUnknownFirst known king of Nabataea, established the early Nabatean Kingdom.
120/110 to 96 BCAretas IIUnknownObodas IRabbel I (?)Expanded the kingdom, increased trade routes, and secured the kingdom's borders.
c. 96 to 85 BCObodas IUnknownRabbel IAretas IIDefeated the Hasmoneans and expanded Nabataean influence in the region.
c. 85/84 BCRabbel IUnknownAretas IIIObodas IBrief reign, limited information available.
84 to 60/59 BCAretas III PhilhellenUnknownObodas II (?)Rabbel IKnown for Hellenistic influences, recognized by Rome in 62 BC.
62/61 to 60/59 BCObodas II (?)UnknownMalichus IAretas IIIExistence uncertain until recently, probably ruled a few months.
59 to 30 BCMalichus IUnknownObodas IIIObodas II (?)Consolidated Nabataean control, strengthened economic and military power.
30 to 9 BCObodas IIIUnknownAretas IVMalichus IPromoted agriculture and construction, stabilized the kingdom's economy.
9/8 BC to 39/40 ADAretas IV PhilopatrisHuldo, ŠagīlatMalichus IIObodas IIILong and prosperous reign, expanded trade routes, significant construction projects.
39/40 to 69/70 ADMalichus IIŠagīlat IIRabbel IIAretas IVContinued expansion and consolidation, faced Roman pressures.
70/71 to 106 ADRabbel II SoterGāmilat, HagaruAnnexed by RomeMalichus IILast Nabatean king, faced annexation by the Roman Empire in 106 AD, marked end of the kingdom.

Contributions of Notable Kings:

List of Settlements

Here is a table of some known Nabataean settlements with their respective latitude, longitude, estimated year founded, and population (where available):

SettlementLatitudeLongitudeYear FoundedPopulation
Petra30.328535.4444~400 BC20,000-30,000
Hegra (Madain Saleh)26.796437.9533~3rd century BC1,000-2,000
Avdat30.792034.7800~3rd century BC1,500
Bosra32.516736.4833~2nd century BC80,000 (peak)
Gadara32.663135.6817~4th century BC20,000
Rabba (Areopolis)31.216735.7500~1st century BCUnknown
Sobata (Shivta)30.885634.6281~1st century BC2,000
Al-Ula26.674137.9263~6th century BC3,000-5,000


List of Structures

Certainly! Here are a few more notable structures from the Nabatean Kingdom that can be added to the table:

1. Obelisk Tomb and Bab as-Siq Triclinium

2. The Colonnaded Street

3. The Nymphaeum

4. The Tomb of Uneishu

5. Qasr al-Bint

Adding these structures to the table will provide a more comprehensive overview of the architectural achievements of the Nabataean Kingdom.

Updated Table

StructureLatitudeLongitudeBuilderYear BuiltDescription
Petra30.328535.4444Nabataeans4th century BCECapital city of the Nabatean Kingdom, known for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system.
Al-Khazneh (The Treasury)30.322035.4515Nabataeans1st century CEIconic rock-cut tomb and temple, known for its elaborate facade.
Ad Deir (The Monastery)30.331835.4330Nabataeans1st century CELarge rock-cut monastery, known for its impressive facade and size.
Qasr al-Bint30.322735.4442Nabataeans30 BCE - 50 CETemple dedicated to the Nabatean gods, one of the most significant religious buildings in Petra.
The Great Temple30.324435.4475Nabataeans1st century BCELarge complex with a grand staircase, colonnades, and a temple.
The Siq30.324435.4458Nabataeans4th century BCENarrow gorge that serves as the main entrance to Petra.
Little Petra30.362335.4420Nabataeans1st century CESmaller site north of Petra, known for its rock-cut buildings and frescoes.
Al-Hijr (Madain Salih)26.796537.9529Nabataeans1st century BCE - 1st century CEArchaeological site featuring rock-cut tombs and monuments, similar to Petra.
The Royal Tombs30.324135.4478Nabataeans1st century CESeries of elaborate rock-cut tombs belonging to Nabatean royalty.
The Roman Theater30.322635.4486Nabataeans1st century CEAncient theater carved into the rock, capable of seating thousands.
Obelisk Tomb and Bab as-Siq Triclinium30.324035.4560Nabataeans1st century BCEFeatures four pyramidal obelisks and a ceremonial banquet hall.
The Colonnaded Street30.324535.4500Nabataeans2nd century CEMajor thoroughfare lined with columns and important buildings.
The Nymphaeum30.324635.4521Nabataeans1st century CEPublic fountain and social gathering place, showcasing advanced water management.
The Tomb of Uneishu30.323835.4470Nabataeans1st century CEWell-preserved tomb with intricate carvings and inscriptions.

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