The Nabatean Kingdom was a powerful political entity which flourished in the region of modern-day Jordan between the 4th century BCE and c. 106 CE and is best known today for the ruins of its capital city of Petra. Although it is clear that a wealthy community was thriving in the immediate vicinity of Petra by 312 BCE (attested to by the Greek expedition mounted against it), scholars usually date the Nabatean Kingdom from 168 BCE, the date of their first known king, to 106 CE when it was annexed by the Roman Empire under Trajan (98-117 CE).
Nabateans were Arabian nomads from the Negev Desert who amassed their wealth first as traders on the Incense Routes which wound from Qataban (in modern-day Yemen) through neighboring Saba (a powerful trade hub) and on toward Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea. Their constant travel on these routes intimately familiarized them with the area and their skill in finding, and preserving, sources of water enabled them to transport goods more quickly and efficiently than others.
The site of their city of Petra, carved from the sandstone cliffs of mountains and not easily accessible, would have been built after they were already wealthy from trade. Their decision to build in that particular area has mystified scholars and historians for centuries because there was no natural source of water there and the locale was far from hospitable. The location actually makes a great deal of sense, however, as their position at Petra allowed them to monitor the Incense Routes and tax caravans passing through their territory, thus enriching them further, and its inaccessibility provided protection.
Following annexation by Rome in 106 CE, Petra and other Nabatean cities such as Hegra steadily lost their hold over the Incense Routes and their control over the region generally. The rise of the Syrian city of Palmyra as a center of trade diverted caravans from the Nabatean cities which then declined in wealth and prestige. The emperor Aurelian’s destruction of Palmyra c. 272 CE came too late to resuscitate the Nabatean economy, and by the time of the Arab Invasion of the 7th century CE, the Nabatean Kingdom had been forgotten.
Credit : Joshua J. Mark for www.ancient.eu