Lecture 1. The Nabatean World

These lectures cover the history and context of Petra, a site in Jordan. It was one of several sites that were created by the Nabateans, who came to dominate the area of west Jordan and the Sinai between the the 3rd century BCE and the 4rd century CE. Originally a nomadic Arabian tribe, they settled into the region to control and stabilize the trade routes between Africa and India to the south and the Hellenized and Roman world to the north. The managed to control land in effect bottleneck the trade between India and Rome and between 100 BCE and about 200 CE were the masters of cross desert trade. They were fabulously wealthy, and spent their money on water management, extravagant tombs, spas and a myriad of shrines transforming themselves not into a destination and trade center but also into a type of Delphi in the desert. It did not last long. Their wealth led them into conflict with the Judean and Roman rulers. In 110, they were officially subsumed into the Roman Empire, the Nabateans being given the rare privilege for non-Romans of becoming Roman citizens, so important were they to the Roman worldview. In the 4th century a set of earthquakes damaged the system and the site slowly became unusable. Nonetheless, Christians came and constructed churches there, some of the earliest in Christendom. By the 5th century, living in the site was no longer tenable, even for the hearty Christian monks, and the site drifted into obscurity and was only discovered by Europeans in the middle of the 19th century. Five original arguments not usually found in the literature:   The crow’s foot motif of some of the tomb fronts has puzzled archaeologists about its possible sources in Mesopotamian, Persian or Egyptian origins. That as it may, I suggest that it is a diagram of the water system and that those tombs were possibly the tombs of the water manager-engineers, who certainly held a high place in the society.   The High Places in Petra and elsewhere in the Nabatean world are usually not discussed enough. As Petra grew, these high places became an attraction of their own, similar to other important high place sanctuaries in Greek or Levant. Since we know so little about what went on here, a comparative analysis of mountain-top rituals has yet to be attempted on these sites.   The view west from in front of the Nymphaeum is startling. One sees against the setting sun a kneeling camel. I argue that this visual element is key to understanding the magic and the draw of Petra. It is at this spot that the caravan trail comes to an end and an important part of the urban design. I also try to understand the layout of the city from the perspective of the caravan route.   The Nabatean settlements in the Negev Desert were agriculture oriented by the first century BCE. This is sometimes seen as the desert nomads “settling down”. I see it as an extension of the emerging hospitality economy of Petra as people came to Petra for baths and ritual events. They obviously needed food. The villages produced the necessary food rather than importing them from elsewhere.   I discuss the social make-up of the city, which is rarely done. I also give a general ranking, though that is something can obviously be debated. My point is that as the city grew, the Nabatean elites were a controlling minority.     Nabatean Elites (clans and kings) Soldiers (The military extension of the elites) Ritual Specialists (and their dependents) Water controllers: “hydro-engineers” (water controllers and ritual specialists were probably connected in some way) Stone masons (and associated craft specialists) Performers (musicians and other elements of the entertainment economy) Farmers (mostly from outside of Petra, from other Nabatean sites that produced food)

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Lecture Notes