Let’s talk about the rise of the Nabataean Kingdom. But wait before that let talk about who were the Nabataeans? well, First some background about the Nabataean Kingdom. Today we know they controlled much of the trade routes of the region, amassing large wealth and drawing the envy of its neighbors. Also, we know it stretched south along the Red Sea coast into Hejaz; up north as far as Damascus. Another interesting fact is that Nabataea remained independent from the 4th century BCE; until it was annexed in 106 CE by the Roman Empire. Furthermore, the Nabataeans were one among several nomadic Bedouin tribes that roamed the Arabian Desert. And they moved with their herds to wherever they could find pasture and water.
The Rise of the Nabataean Kingdom: First Historical Records of the Nabataeans
Now we know that the literate Nabataeans left no lengthy historical texts. However, thousands of inscriptions have been found in their settlements, including graffiti and on minted coins. Also, the Nabataeans appear in historical records from the fourth century BCE. But the first historical reference to the Nabataeans is by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus who lived around 30 BCE. Moreover, Diodorus refers to accounts made 300 years earlier by Hieronymus of Cardia. He was one of Alexander the Great’s generals, who had a first-hand encounter with the Nabataeans.
Read More About: The Decline of the Nabataean Kingdom
In fact, Diodorus relates how the Nabataeans survived in a waterless desert. And managed to defeat their enemies by hiding in the desert until the latter surrendered for lack of water. Moreover, what helped the rise of the Nabataeans Kingdom is the fact they dug cisterns that were covered and marked by signs known only to themselves. Also, Diodorus wrote about how they were “exceptionally fond of freedom”. And includes an account about unsuccessful raids that were initiated by Greek general Antigonus I in 312 BCE.
Diodorus goes on and elaborates: “neither the Assyrians of old, nor the kings of the Medes and Persians, nor yet those of the Macedonians have been able to enslave them, and […] they never brought their attempts to a successful conclusion.”
Clashes Between the Nabataeans and Alexander the Great’s Generals
After Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BCE, his empire split among his generals. During the conflict between Alexander’s generals, Antigonus I conquered the Levant, and this brought him to the borders of Edom, just north of Petra. According to Diodorus Siculus, Antigonus sought to add “the land of the Arabs who are called Nabataeans” to his existing territories of Syria and Phoenicia.
The Nabataeans were distinguished from the other Arab tribes by wealth. The Nabataeans generated revenues from the trade caravans that transported frankincense, myrrh, and other spices from Eudaemon in today’s Yemen; across the Arabian peninsula; passing through Petra and ending up in the Port of Gaza for shipment to European markets.
The Rise of the Nabataean Kingdom: Hieronymus of Cardia
Antigonus orders attack multiple times on the Nabataeans, they all failed. But one interesting incident worth mentioning is involving Hieronymus of Cardia. Antigonus sends an expedition, this time under Hieronymus of Cardia to extract bitumen from the Dead Sea. We know that the Nabataeans used to trade Bitumen with the Egyptian embalmers that used it to mummify their dead in Egypt. A force of 6000 Arabs sailing on reed rafts approached Hieronymus’ troops and killed them with arrows. These Arabs were almost certainly Nabataeans. Lately, I’ve written a super interesting post about the decline of the Nabataean Kingdom! So you’re more than welcome to read it!
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