Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ancient Nabatean's Petra still fascinates today

Here's a really nice piece on Petra and the Nabateans.

"Although Petra was inhabited by the Edomites before the arrival of the Nabateans, the latter carved grandiose buildings, temples and tombs out of solid sandstone rock. They also constructed a wall to fortify the city, although Petra was almost naturally defended by the surrounding sandstone mountains. Building an empire in the arid desert also forced the Nabateans to excel in water conservation. They were highly skilled water engineers, and irrigated their land with an extensive system of dams, canals and reservoirs.

Detail of the Treasury in Petra.  Photo
courtesy of Richard White.
We still know comparatively little about Nabatean society. However, we do know that they spoke a dialect of Arabic and later on adopted Aramaic. Much of what is now known about Nabatean culture comes from the writings of the Roman scholar Strabo. He recorded that their community was governed by a royal family, although a strong spirit of democracy prevailed. According to him there were no slaves in Nabatean society, and all members shared in work duties. The Nabateans worshipped a pantheon of deities, chief among which were the sun god Dushara and the goddess Allat.The Nabateans were exceptionally skilled traders, facilitating commerce between China, India, the Far East, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. They dealt in such goods as spices, incense, gold, animals, iron, copper, sugar, medicines, ivory, perfumes and fabrics, just to name a few. From its origins as a fortress city, Petra became a wealthy commercial crossroads between the Arabian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. Control of this crucial trade route between the upland areas of Jordan, the Red Sea, Damascus and southern Arabia was the lifeblood of the Nabatean Empire.

As the Nabateans grew in power and wealth, they attracted the attention of their neighbors to the north. The Seleucid King Antigonus, who had come to power when Alexander’s empire was divided, attacked Petra in 312 BCE. His army met with relatively little resistance, and was able to sack the city. The quantity of booty was so great, however, that it slowed their return journey north and the Nabateans were able to annihilate them in the desert. Records indicate that the Nabateans were eager to remain on good terms with the Seleucids in order to perpetuate their trading ambitions. Throughout much of the third century BCE, the Ptolemies and Seleucids warred over control of Jordan, with the Seleucids emerging victorious in 198 BCE. Nabatea remained essentially untouched and independent throughout this period.

Although the Nabateans resisted military conquest, the Hellenistic culture of their neighbors influenced them greatly. Hellenistic influences can be seen in Nabatean art and architecture, especially at the time that their empire was expanding northward into Syria, around 150 BCE. However, the growing economic and political power of the Nabateans began to worry the Romans. In 65 BCE, the Romans arrived in Damascus and ordered the Nabateans to withdraw their forces. Two years later, Pompey dispatched a force to cripple Petra. The Nabatean King Aretas III either defeated the Roman legions or paid a tribute to keep peace with them..."

My friend and fellow photographer Richard White just returned from Petra not long ago with some great photos as always! His Flickr photostream on Petra can be viewed at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gauiscaecilius/sets/72157603279721696/?page=2

His photos of nearby Jerassa, Jordan can be viewed at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gauiscaecilius/sets/72157603435205495/

Like me, Richard offers his photos freely for non-commercial purposes with proper attribution through Creative Commons.
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