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Anderson, “Constructing Nabataea: Identity, Ideology, and Connectivity” (2005)

Björn Anderson, “Constructing Nabataea: Identity, Ideology, and Connectivity” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 2005)

Thesis: Anderson argues that the Nabataeans existed in several contexts (which he calls “matrices”) at once, and that there was “considerable flux and negotiation in what it meant to be ‘Nabataean’ in different contexts” (197).

Ch. 1, “Framework”: Anderson argues that “a strict historical approach” to studying Nabataean prehistory “is meaningless, as the Nabataeans cannot be identified as the clear ‘descendants’ of any single group or culture’” (18), and that, even in the Nabataean period (end of the fourth century BCE through the end of the first century CE), no unified Nabataean identity existed. Instead, he proposes that we study the Nabataeans in light of the different geographical, environmental, and cultural contexts (“matrices”) in the regions they inhabited: the Negev, greater Edom, the Hauran and Northeast Arabia, and Northwest Arabia.

Ch. 2, “Geography, Environment, and Identity”: In this chapter, Anderson presents the results of his analysis of the JADIS GIS database. In Jordan, he finds that settlement activity increased dramatically during the period when the Nabataean kingdom flourished (c. 100 BCE to 106 CE) and that the settlements concentrated in “a 150 km strip along the King’s Highway” (65), near Petra and Madaba. In the Negev, the major Nabataean settlements were located beside wadis, and “each was positioned at the junction of at least two roads through the region,” operating “as an elaborate toll-collection system covering all the accessible routes through this portion of the Negev” (71). In the Hejaz, settlements are spaced far apart along caravan routes, but were still close enough together “to afford convenient breaks in the journey” (71). The Negev likely received more attention from the Nabataean kings, due to its proximity to Judaea, while the Hejaz was probably only nominally under Nabataean control (even though the settlements in the Hejaz show a closer cultural affinity to Petra than the settlements in the Negev do). Few Nabataean ceramics are found in the Hauran (in Syria), suggesting a cultural difference between the Jordanian Nabataeans and those of the Hauran; however, the Nabataeans held Baalshamin—originally a Syrian deity—as one of their chief deities., indicating that religious ideas flowed from Syria to Nabataea (and possible vice versa). Anderson concludes that “ethnicity, while surely significant in some cases, was by no means the only criterion for the assumption of allegiance to the ideology of being Nabataean” (89).

Ch. 3, “Women and Family in Nabataea”: Nabataean commoner women, at least at Meda’in Saleh, “were able to purchase property in their own names, and to designate their own beneficiaries” (94), and possibly had control of their own finances, but did not hold civic office. Royal women, however, frequently “occup[ied] a prominent position in publicly visible inscriptions” (99), and queens were portrayed on coins starting during the reign of Obodas III (30 BCE–9 BCE)—an uncommon practice in the Hellenistic and Roman Near East. Royal women were also honored with ‘l ḥyy (‘for the life of”) inscriptions and ‘bd-names (e.g., ‘bdḥldw—“servant of [Queen] Ḥuldu”). Another Nabataean practice—that took place at least among the royals—was sibling marriage. wherein kings married their sisters.

Ch. 4, “Kingship Ideology”: “Royal propaganda [like names, epithets, and coinage] was carefully chosen and manipulated. Traditions of rule established under the Hellenistic kingdoms and Roman empire were certainly influential, but were not simply imitated. Rather, they were recast into a context more in keeping with the priorities of the kings. While some variability in this regard is observed from one ruler to the next, the primary objective seems to have been to stabilize and maintain the dynasty. At times, this was necessitated by internal events, at others it seems to have been directed toward the other regional powers” (166).

Ch. 5, “Elite Tombs and their Significance”: Anderson argues here that “the crenelated design [of Nabataean elites’ tombs] was not employed solely on account of its simplicity, or its general appeal to local taste” (168), but represented a conscious rejection of Roman ideology in favor of “generally, Near Eastern traditions of empire, and specifically, the legacy of Achaemenid Persia [Rome’s arch-enemy to the East] as a powerful state that exercised widespread and enduring hegemony” (192).

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