Settlements > Leuke Kome

Leuke Kome


Leuke Kome and the Hellenistic Period

Location and Significance

Leuke Kome, meaning "White Village" in Greek, was a significant port town on the Arabian coast of the Red Sea. Its exact location remains debated, but it is generally believed to have been situated in the northern part of modern-day Saudi Arabia. During the Hellenistic period, Leuke Kome served as a crucial trading hub, connecting the Arabian Peninsula with the broader Hellenistic world, particularly Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean.

Historical Context

Pre-Hellenistic Period

Before the Hellenistic period, the region around Leuke Kome was inhabited by various Arab tribes engaged in trade, agriculture, and pastoralism. The area's strategic location along the Red Sea made it an important point of contact for maritime and overland trade routes.

The Nabataeans

During the Hellenistic period, the Nabataeans, a nomadic Arab tribe known for their expertise in trade and hydraulic engineering, expanded their influence over the region. Leuke Kome became one of their critical trading ports, facilitating the movement of goods between Arabia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean.

Role in Trade and Commerce

Maritime Trade

Leuke Kome's position on the Red Sea made it a vital maritime trading hub. The port facilitated the exchange of goods between the Arabian Peninsula and the Hellenistic kingdoms, especially the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. The Red Sea route was a safer and faster alternative to overland caravans, particularly for bulky and perishable goods.

Key Trade Goods

The primary commodities traded through Leuke Kome included spices, incense (like frankincense and myrrh), textiles, precious stones, pearls, and exotic animals. These goods were highly valued in the Mediterranean world and were transported from southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa.

Economic Prosperity

The trade passing through Leuke Kome brought significant wealth to the region. The port's prosperity is evidenced by the presence of Nabataean and Hellenistic architectural elements and artifacts found in the area. The town served as a collection and distribution point for goods destined for Mediterranean markets.

Cultural Interactions

Syncretism and Influence

The Hellenistic period was marked by extensive cultural interactions between the Greek world and local Arabian traditions. Leuke Kome, under Nabataean control, experienced a blend of Greek and Arabian cultural elements, particularly in art, architecture, and religious practices.

Architectural Style

The architecture in Leuke Kome likely reflected a combination of Nabataean and Hellenistic styles. Structures in the region may have included Greek-influenced facades, columns, and decorative elements, alongside traditional Nabataean rock-cut tombs and buildings.

Religious Practices

Religious practices in Leuke Kome during the Hellenistic period would have included the worship of Nabataean deities such as Dushara and Al-Uzza, along with possible influences from Greek religious practices. Temples and sanctuaries in the region might have featured elements from both cultures.

Political Dynamics

Nabataean Control

Leuke Kome was firmly under the control of the Nabataean kingdom during the Hellenistic period. The Nabataeans maintained their independence and control over their trade routes despite the political upheavals of the era, including conflicts between the Diadochi (Alexander the Great's successors).

Relations with Hellenistic Kingdoms

The Nabataeans, including the inhabitants of Leuke Kome, navigated complex relationships with neighboring Hellenistic powers such as the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires. These interactions were primarily driven by trade interests and diplomatic engagements, with the Nabataeans leveraging their control of key trade routes to maintain autonomy and influence.

Archaeological Evidence

Inscriptions and Artifacts

Archaeological findings in the region around Leuke Kome include inscriptions in Nabataean script, pottery, and other artifacts that provide insights into the cultural and economic life of the town during the Hellenistic period. These artifacts reflect the blend of Greek and Nabataean influences that characterized the area.

Maritime Infrastructure

Evidence of maritime infrastructure, such as docks, warehouses, and fortifications, indicates the importance of Leuke Kome as a trading port. These structures would have supported the bustling trade activity and facilitated the efficient handling and storage of goods.


Leuke Kome's significance during the Hellenistic period lies in its role as a vital trading hub along the Red Sea, connecting the Arabian Peninsula with the broader Hellenistic world. The town's prosperity from trade, its cultural syncretism, and its strategic political engagements highlight its importance in the ancient world. Leuke Kome's archaeological remains provide a valuable window into the rich and complex history of this period, illustrating the dynamic interactions between different cultures and economies.

The port is known from Strabo's Geography and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

"Now to the left of Berenice, sailing for two or three days from Mussel Harbor eastward across the adjacent gulf, there is another harbor and fortified place, which is called White Village, from which there is a road to Petra, which is subject to Malichas, King of the Nabataeans. It holds the position of a market-town for the small vessels sent there from Arabia; and so a centurion is stationed there as a collector of one-fourth of the merchandise imported, with an armed force, as a garrison."

Strabo mentions the village in his account of the failed Roman invasion of Arabia thus:

"After enduring great hardships and distress, he (Aelius Gallus) arrived on the fifteenth day at Leuce-Come, a large mart in the territory of the Nabataeans."


Andrea Manzo; Chiara Zazzaro; Diana Joyce De Falco (2018). Stories of Globalization: the Red Sea and the Gulf from Late Prehistory to Early Modernity. BRILL. p. 286. ISBN 9789004362321.

Gary K. Young, The Customs-Officer at the Nabataean Port of Leuke Kome ("Periplus Maris Erythraei" 19) Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik Bd. 119 (1997), pp. 266-268.

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea 19.


Dario Nappo, 'On the location of Leuke Kome' Journal of Roman Archaeology vol 23 2010 , pp. 335-348.

Ingraham et al. 1981 atlal 5, p. 76–78.

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