Tag Archives: Nabataeans

Schmid, “The ‘Hellenisation’ of the Nabataeans: A New Approach” (2001)

Stephan G. Schmid, “The ‘Hellenisation’ of the Nabataeans: A New Approach,” Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 7 (2007): 407-419.

In this article, Schmid “give[s] a short overview on what is known about Nabataean material culture in its best understandable categories today and to look for whether there is any common line of development or even a model that could fit to most of these categories” (407). He notes that, although the Nabataeans are historically attested from 312 BCE, there is no evidence of a Nabataean material culture until around 100 BCE; moreover, when it appears, it is thoroughly Hellenistic. Schmid argues, following Diodorus Siculus, that the Nabataeans were “nomads or semi-nomads frequenting once or twice a year the same place for trade and business” (415) until ca. 100 BCE, after which they sedentarized. Their sedentarization lead them to develop a material culture. In the absence of an existing material culture, the Nabataeans simply “oriented their new material culture according to the mainstreams of the contemporary Hellenistic world in its Near Eastern variant” (415), into which they gradually incorporated Roman and “proper Nabataean” (416) elements.

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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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Bowersock, “The Nabataeans in Historical Context” (2003)

Glen W. Bowersock, “The Nabataeans in Historical Context,” in Petra Rediscovered: Lost City of the Nabataeans (ed. Glenn Markoe; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 19-26.

This brief chapter gives an overview of Nabataean history. The origin of the Nabataeans is unknown, though they are attested in Syria and the Negev in the third century BCE. They had probably already come to prominence by the end of the fourth century, controlling the trade routes between the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. Their early administrative language was Nabataean Aramaic (later eclipsed, but not totally replaced, by Greek), and some evidence exists that they also spoke an Arabic dialect.

The Nabataean kingdom flourished under Aretas (Ḥāritat) IV, who reigned from 6 BCE until 40 CE. He was highly regarded at home (coins and inscriptions record that he “loved his people” [rḥm ‘mh]), built several monuments, and sent envoys to Rome.

The last Nabataean king was Rabbel II. He moved the capital from Petra to Bostra. After Rabbel’s death, Trajan annexed the Nabataean kingdom in 106 CE. He stationed a legion (III Cyrenaica) in the new province and built a Roman road from Bostra to Aqaba. Though it is a matter of debate, Bowersock thinks it is likely that Bostra was the provincial capital during the Roman period.

The Nabataeans maintained their cultural heritage under the Romans. In the fourth century, coins at Bostra show the Nabataean god Dusares, and the cult of Obodas (a deified Nabataean king) was revived at ‘Avdat in the Negev. Even in the sixth century, the residents of Petra still had Nabataean names (like Obodianus and Dusarios).

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