Tag Archives: Petra

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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Humphrey, ed., The Roman and Byzantine Near East, vol. 3

H. Humphrey, ed., The Roman and Byzantine Near East: Some Recent Archaeological Research, vol. 3 (2003).

1. Yoram Tsafrir and Boaz Zissu, “A Hiding Complex of the Second Temple Period and the Time of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt at ‘Ain-‘Arrub in the Hebron Hills”: Between the two Jewish revolts, Judeans dug tunnels between disused underground installations (like cisterns, columbaria, etc.) in order to use them as hiding places in the case of Roman assault. Bar Kokhba was possibly born about 2 km south of ‘Ain-‘Arrub, ‘Ain-‘Arrub may also be the Kiryat ‘Arbayyah mentioned in one of Bar Kokhba’s letters.

2. Alla Kushnir-Stein, “New Inscribed Lead Weights from Gaza”: An edition of 7 previously unpublished lead weights from Roman Gaza. Five bear the Phoenician mem (the first letter of the name of Marnas, who was the patron deity of Gaza).

3. Doron Bar, “Was There a 3rd-c. Economic Crisis in Palestine?”: Even though the Western Roman Empire saw an economic crisis between 235 and 284 CE, archaeological evidence shows that Palestine experienced a period of growth then. The rabbinic writings record nothing that unambiguously points to economic decline in the 3rd century.

4. Zeev Weiss and Rina Talgam, “The Nile Festival Building and Its Mosaics: Mythological Representations in Early Byzantine Sepphoris”: The two artists who created the mosaics were probably from Alexandria. The main mosaic shows scenes from the Nile Festival, which was still practiced in Egypt (although in a Christianized form) as late as the 7th century. The Nile scenes were chosen for the main mosaic “because of [the Nile’s] fertility, abundance, and prosperity, the exotic appeal of the theme, and the decorative value of the composition” (72). Similarly, another mosaic shows Amazons dancing, not as part of a ritual (as in Callimachus’ Hymn to Artemis), but as part of a banquet. The mosaics are another example (along with the mosaics at Madaba, for instance) of Byzantine culture not being afraid of Classical themes.

4a. Leah Di Segni, “Appendix: Greek Inscriptions in the Nile Festival Building”: Editions of and commentaries on the Greek inscriptions from the mosaics at the Nile Festival building.

5. Douglas R. Edwards, “Khirbet Qana: From Jewish Village to a Christian Pilgrim Site”: Kh. Qana was inhabited off and on from the Neolithic through the Ottoman periods. Its population grew from the 1st century BCE through the Roman period, and it flourished during the Byzantine period, after Christian pilgrims identified it with Cana of Galilee in the 5th century. A shrine was built in a series of caves on the south slope of the hill, which “saw considerable foot traffic” (126), as evidenced by the high polish on the steps leading into the shrine and on the top of the altar inside one of the caves.

6. Cèsar Carreras Monfort and David F. Williams, “’Carrot’ Amphoras: A Syrian or Palestinian Connection?”: Opens the question whether carrot amphorae, which are only found at sites from the western Roman Empire, may have been produced in Syria or Palestine, owing to similarities in fabric between carrot amphorae and Syrian-Palestinian ceramics and that they typically contained dates of a type produced near Jericho.

7. Peter Fabian and Yuval Goren, “A New Type of Late Roman Storage Jar from the Negev”: Elusa jars were produced at a single site (Elusa) and used all over the Negev during the late Roman period.

8. Yizhar Hirschfeld, “Deir Qal’a and the Monasteries of Western Samaria”: “The monasteries of W Samaria have a number of common characteristics. They are all coenobia with walls generally enclosing a church, refectory, and living quarters. They are all built of large ashlars, usually with dressed margins, and decorated with crosses and classical motifs. It is a compact group, with a distance of no more than 2-3km between them” (187), founded near a Christian pilgrimage route to Jerusalem, probably after the Samaritan revolt (529/530) was put down and Christian sites were rebuilt with tax revenue.

9. Zbigniew T. Fiema, “Late-Antique Petra and Its Hinterland: Recent Research and New Interpretations”: “The most important conclusion derived from recent archaeological work and the Petra papyri is that Petra continued to exist through the 6th c.” (213). It was capital of Palaestina Tertia through the 6th century, and the Petra papyri attest to the administrative infrastructure there. The church (specifically the bishop) was an integral part of government in Byzantine Petra. However, Petra’s residents also held to traditional Nabataean practices. Residents of Petra spoke pre-Islamic Early Arabic, and Greek was the language of the administration. The settlement grew smaller from the 3rd century to the 6th century; an earthquake in 363 accelerated the process. During the same time, Petra “lost its importance as a major market for goods exchanged between regions” (225), though local trade still occurred. As in Palestine, Petra saw an economic downturn in the 5th century. Petra’s economy rallied briefly in the early 6th century, before a collapse in the mid-to-late 6th century. By the 6th century, major trade routes had shifted away from Petra. The population may have ruralized by the 7th century, since the Crusaders found the area inhabited by small villages.

10. David Stacey, “The Later Synagogues at Hammath Tiberias and Problems of Dating the Islamic Phases and Pottery”: A review of Moshe Dothan (ed. By Barbara L. Johnson), Hammath Tiberias vol. 2: The Late Synagogues.

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Humphrey, ed., The Roman and Byzantine Near East, vol. 1 (1995)

J. H. Humphrey, ed., The Roman and Byzantine Near East: Some Recent Archaeological Research, vol. 1 (1995).

1. Alla Kushnir-Stein, “The Predecessor of Caesarea: On the Identification of Demetrias in South Phoenicia”: The city of Demetrias, attested only on coins, was the Seleucid name for the city of Strato’s Tower, a well-established polis that Octavian gave to Herod, who renamed it Caesarea.

2. Yosef Porath, “Herod’s ‘Amphitheatre’ at Caesarea: A Multipurpose Entertainment Building”: The building that Josephus calls an “amphitheatre” is closer in form to a hippodrome; “in Herod’s day there was no clear functional distinction between the institutions that we call today the canonical amphitheatre, stadium, and hippodrome” (25).

3. Yizhar Hirschfeld, “The Early Roman Bath and Fortress at Ramat Hanadiv Near Caesarea”: The city was a Hasmonean fortified village (a chorion), which Herod inherited, and which persisted as a Judean fort until the Great Revolt. The bath was a public bath near Caesarea that was in use by Jewish residents from the end of the 1st century BCE until the 67 CE revolt. In the Byzantine period, an aqueduct ran from the spring (at that point considered magical) to Shuni, where it was used for the Maiumas (Shuni’s water festivities).

4. Boaz Zissu, “Two Herodian Dovecotes: Horvat Abu Haf and Horvat ‘Aleq”: The towers at these two sites were columbaria that also probably functioned as watchtowers. Pigeons were raised as a source of food and fertilizer, and were very valuable. Columbaria are attested in Roman and Jewish literature.

5. Adam Zertal, “The Roman Siege-System at Khirbet al-Hamam (Narbata)”: The tel (located in northwest Samaria) was partially surrounded by a circumvallation wall with three (possibly four) Roman camps situated along it. The siege ramp made partial use of the road that ran into the town. Narbata was an influential regional capital. In 66 CE, Jews from Caesarea garrisoned themselves in the city, prompting the Roman general Gallus to lay siege to (and defeat) the city before heading to Jerusalem.

6. Benny Arubas and Haim Goldfus, “The Kilnworks of the Tenth Legion Fretensis”: The site served as the Roman army factory for pottery, bricks, and roofing tiles when Jerusalem was rebuilt as Aelia Capitolina. It was in use from the 1st through 3rd centuries CE.

7. Rivka Gersht, “Seven New Sculptural Pieces from Caesarea”: 1) A male figure that is probably Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161; the first sculpture of a Roman emperor from Caesarea); 2) A 4th-century woman, a private individual; 3) Aphrodite; 4) The base of a standing male; 5) The base of a standing figure; 6) and 7) Fragment of two garland sarcophagoi.

8. Moshe Fischer, with Antje Krug and Ze’ev Pearl, “The Basilica of Ascalon: Marble, Imperial Art, and Architecture in Roman Palestine”: The monumental decorations of the basilica show various deities. Four pilasters show Victory in various poses. Another shows Isis and a priest of Sarapis, “who seems only just to have emerged from childhood” (136). The building also likely housed Roman imperial cult.

9. Yoram Tsafrir, “The Synagogues at Capernaum and Meroth and the Dating of the Galilean Synagogue”: The synagogue at Capernaum was built in the 3rd century, during the time that the Galilean style of synagogue flourished. The synagogue at Meroth is in imitation of the Galliean-style synagogue and dates to the late 4th or early 5th century.

10. Ze’ev Weiss and Ehud Netzer, “New Evidence for Late-Roman and Byzantine Sepphoris”: During the Byzantine period, Sepphoris was a flourishing city. Most of the population was probably Jewish. One house (the “Nile festival house”) contains several mosaics, one of which commemorates the flooding of the Nile. At the intersection of the cardo and decumanus, under Bishop Eutropius, “the sidewalks were renovated and repaved with mosaics that featured geometric designs, and some changes were made to the entrances of the shops” (171); Eutropius also built a church. Several synagogues were also built in the city; one contains an ornate mosaic floor, the features of which all point along the axis that leads to Jerusalem. The city burned down toward the end of the Byzantine period.

11. David Adan-Bayewitz, “A Lamp Mould from Sepphoris and the Location of Workshops for Lamp and Common Pottery Manufacture in the Northern Palestine”: Lamp and figurine workshops were predominately located in cities, as is the pattern in the broader Roman world, whereas other pottery was produced, by and large, in rural areas. Rural areas certainly had the raw materials to make lamps and figurines, so it is likely that the smaller items were in higher demand in cities than in villages.

12. Rachel Hachlili, “Late Antique Jewish Art from the Golan”: The motifs in the art of Late Antique Jewish Golan were those of Jewish art more generally. They include:

  • Menorah (more common in synagogues than private houses)
  • Animals (including eagles, a peacock, a few birds, lions and lionesses, fish, and a snake)
  • Human figures (including people and mythological figures)
  • Geometric designs (rosettes, vine scrolls, wreaths, stylized “Trees of Life”)
  • Local variations on classical column capitals (mostly Ionic)

Most of the sculpture is carved out of basalt, as was the local tradition. The styles were in use for a long time, and no chronology can be established. In synagogues, the Torah shrine followed the style of the aedicula, with “a stone platform with columns surmounted by a lintel usually decorated by a Syrian gable” (189), inside of which a wooden Ark was placed. The aedicula pointed towards Jerusalem.

13. Clive Foss, “The Near Eastern Countryside in Late Antiquity: A Review Article”: A review of one work on Byzantine Syria and two on the Byzantine Negev. Syria flourished in the Byzantine period until the late 6th century, when it collapsed due to plague and the Persian invasion. The Negev, on the other hand, saw a peaceful transition between the Byzantine and Arab periods

14. Peter Fabian, “The Late-Roman Military Camp at Beer Sheba: A New Discovery”: Previously thought lost, the Roman military camp was located at the center of Byzantine Beersheba. In the Roman and Byzantine periods, it was a major fort (likely a headquarters) guarding the roads from the northern Negev to the Gulf of Eilat.

15. David F. Graf, “The Via Nova Traiana in Arabia Petraea”: Petra, not the Roman provincial capital Bostra, was the head of the Trajanic road. Two routes exist between Petra and Ṣadaqa, both of which attest milestones, either of which could be the Trajanic road. The road then continues south from Ṣadaqa to ‘Aqaba, again attested by milestones as well as by preserved stretches of pavement,

15. [sic] J. Wilson and Eleanor E. Myers, “Low-Altitude Aerial Photography at Petra”: A collection of photographs taken from an unmanned, tethered blimp at Petra showing archaeological features that were not otherwise visible.

16. Zbigniew T. Fiema, Robert Schick, and Khairieh ‘Amr, “The Petra Church Project: Interim Report, 1992-1994”: The church at Petra was built in the late 5th century and was in use until the mid-6th century, when it collapsed and burned down. It was subsequently robbed. The church contained several mosaics and a library of papyrus scrolls dating from the 5th-6th century (the Petra Papyri). Excavation also recovered extensive finds (metal building materials, some pottery dating to the 5th-7th centuries, stone and marble furnishings, wall mosaics and plaster, glass windows panes and lamps, some epigraphic finds dating from the Nabatean period to the Byzantine period, and animal remains).

17. Jean-Pierre Sodini, “L’organisation liturgique des églises en Palestine et Judée”: A review of Yoram Tsafrir, ed., Ancient Churches Revealed (1993).

18. Leah Di Segni, “The Involvement of Local, Municipal and Provincial Authorities in Urban Building in Late Antique Palestine and Arabia”: In Late Antiquity, churches were built by bishops and priests, but also by village officials. Municipal and provincial authorities usually built civil buildings; work was overseen by various aristocrats and local and military officials. Funding for public buildings came from city or provincial treasuries.

19. Kenneth G. Holum, “Inscriptions from the Imperial Revenue Office of Byzantine Caesarea Palaestinae”: Editions of three of the six inscriptions from the imperial revenue office at Caesarea Maritima. One is the text of Rom 13:3 (“If you would not fear the authority, then do good and you will receive praise from it” [339]). The second mentions two classes of civil servants working in the same administrative bureau. The third mentions another officer in the same bureau. One of the officials named is a numerarios (an accountant in the civil administration), meaning that the bureau dealt with the revenue and expenditures of Byzantine Palestine.

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