Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia

THE NABATAEANS (NABATEANS) IN SAUDI ARABIA are the subject of the second half of an article in the Arab News. Excerpt (there's more):
HEGRA (Madain Saleh)

Hegra, the Al-Hijr and Madain Saleh of the Holy Qur’an, is the most prominent archaeological site in Saudi Arabia, its international importance reflected by its registration as the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. In the Louvre exhibition, the grandeur of Hegra’s Nabatean monuments was conveyed by a series of impressive photographs that come near to conjuring the feel of Hegra for those who have not visited it.

The Nabateans were a north Arabian tribe, well established at their capital city of Petra in Jordan as early as the 4th C. BCE. Before the 1st C. BCE, the kings of Nabatea established a trading outpost at Hegra in the territory of the Lihyanite kingdom and when the Lihyanites fell, the Nabateans emerged as their successors, making Hegra their southern capital.

The wealth that the Nabateans gained from control of the international incense trade route between south Arabia and the Hellenistic and Roman world of the Mediterranean is reflected in the great carved tomb façades that the kings and high families of the Nabateans had carved from the red sandstone mountains of Hegra and Petra alike. The inspiration of their designs is a combination of the architecture of the Hellenistic world and elements deriving from Assyria, Iran and southern Arabia.

The inscriptions at Hegra are largely written in Nabatean script while some are in an early Arabic. They record precise legal dedications, showing a society ruled by law. A system of fines existed for those breaking the law. Greek and Latin sources describe the Nabatean kingdom as peaceable and well governed, and extremely prosperous and sophisticated in its tastes.

The Nabatean inscriptions on the tombs at Hegra are precisely dated and incised directly into the rock, thus ensuring their preservation. There are far fewer inscriptions that help dating at Petra and this has led to a complicated problem for archaeologists estimating the date of each Petra tomb. By contrast, the chronology of the surviving Hegra tomb façades is much clearer.