History Files


Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Arabic States




Nabataea / Nabatu

Prominent during Rome's occupation of Judea were a people known as the Nabataeans. They are famous to much of the world for their creation of Petra (the Greek word for 'rock'), a unique city which was carved into the rose-red rocks of present day Jordan and accessed via a narrow one kilometre gorge known today as the Siq. The city combines eastern artwork with the Hellenistic culture which was still prevalent in the Levant of the time.

The Nabataeans probably originated as a nomadic Arabic tribe known as the Nabatu, who emerged out of the region which today forms parts of Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia. The Assyrians knew them as allies of the Kedarites, although little else has been recorded about them. As their ancestor figure, the Nabataeans claimed Ismael, one of the twelve sons of Isaac, whom they shared with the Kedarites. The truth of the claim is debatable, of course, as Isaac's sons are claimed as the founding fathers of many of the kingdoms which existed on the borders of ancient Israel.

fl 650s BC


Nuhuru ibn Natnu


after 539 BC

During the Persian period, Moab disappears from the historical record. Subsequently, the territory is overrun by tribes of Arabs, including the Kedarites and then the early Nabataeans, allies of the Ammonites.

6th century BC

The Nabatu apparently disappear from the historical record, as nothing more is heard of them until they resurface as the Nabataeans in the second century BC. During that time they are busy developing a culture and society that creates the stone city of Petra in the sixth century BC. This flourishes from the third century onwards, as the Nabataeans' trading kingdom becomes prosperous.

312 BC

A cuneiform inscription records the defeat of a Syrian army by the Nabataeans. The Greeks of Seleucid Syria, under the control of the Empire of Antigonus, attempt to attack and plunder the Nabataeans living in Edom on two occasions, but on one of those occasions the Nabataeans choose to buy off Antigonus with expensive gifts.

Kingdom of Nabataea
169 BC - AD 106

The Nabataean kingdom arose in the ancient territory of Edom during a period of depressed fortunes for the two regional empires, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. Essentially traders, the Nabataeans expanded their territory into ancient Moab and dealt extensively with the Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires from a kingdom which stretched from Damascus to the Red Sea, and from Sinai to the Arabian Desert.

Their capital city of Petra was founded some time in the sixth century BC, although a settlement had existed in the area (which is in present day Jordan) since perhaps the eighteenth century BC. Petra flourished as an economic and religious centre from the third century BC, surviving as such for about four hundred years. Its site, in the Shera Mountains, was an important crossroads for Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. As recently as 2010, new surprises were being discovered there when experts from the Courtauld Institute in London restored 2,000 year-old Hellenistic-style wall paintings, removing centuries of soot and layers of grease to reveal exquisite artwork that rivals the Roman paintings of Herculaneum.

The names of kings are shown in their Arabic form, along with the Hellenised version, Greek culture remaining dominant at the time of the kingdom's founding.

(Additional information from External Link: Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org.)

169 - c.150 BC

Harithath I / Aretas I

'Tyrant of the Arabs' & 'King of the Nabatu'.

c.165 BC

Idumaea gains its freedom from Seleucid rule, probably at the same time as Judea achieves its own independence by fighting a brief but successful struggle against the Seleucids. By this time, the Nabataeans already control the Kedarites to the south.

The city of Petra
Petra was founded in the sixth century BC, but grew to its full magnificence as the Nabataean capital in the second century BC

c.150 - ? BC


Name uncertain. Mentioned by Josephus as king about 145 BC.

146 - 145 BC

The son of Demetrius, Demetrius II, begins a revolt against Alexander Balas, ruler of the Seleucid empire. Demetrius' general, Apollonius, is defeated by Jonathan Apphus of Judea, but Alexander's position grows increasingly tenuous. He attempts to flee at the start of 145 BC but is killed by Nabataeans.

? - 110 BC


Name uncertain.

110 - 96/92 BC

Harithath II / Aretas II

'Erotimus, King of the Arabs' mentioned by Alexander Jannaeus.

c.110 - c.100 BC


96/2 - c.88/6 BC

Ubaidah I / Obodas I

Son of Harithath II. 'King of the Arabs'.

93 BC

Obodas defeats Alexander Jannaeus and gains control of the Hauran and Jebal Druze from Judea.

c.88 - 87 BC

ar-Rabil I / Rabbel

Brother. Reigned for less than a year.

87 BC

Seleucid ruler Antiochus XII attacks the Nabataeans from 87 BC, intent on recapturing former imperial territory that has gradually been lost to them. However, the empire is far from being the power it had once been, so that although he kills ar-Rabil I, the Nabataeans resist his advance.

c.87 - 62 BC

Harithath III / Aretas Philhellen

87 - 85 BC

Harithath III makes an immediate impact, conquering Ammon from the tyrant of Philadelphia and southern Syria from the Seleucids. In 85 BC, the inhabitants of Damascus invite the Nabataean king to become their ruler.

64 - 62 BC

Pompey conquers Syria, including Ammon, making it a Roman province in 63 BC. The following year, Pompey's general, Scaurus, devastates the area around Petra but is unable to capture the city. The Nabataeans apparently buy their freedom by paying tribute.

62 - 59 BC

Ubaidah II / Obodas I

59 - 30 BC

Maliku I / Malichus I

30 - 9 BC

Ubaidah III / Obodas III

'The Divine Obodas' & 'Zeus-Obodas'.

9 BC - AD 40

Harithath IV / Aretas Philopatris

'King of the Nabatu, who loves his people'.


Harithath IV's reign sees the greatest of Petra's tombs created, as well as possibly adding the great High Palace.

40 - 70

Maliku II / Malichus II


c.40 - 60


Female co-ruler.


Maliku sends an army to help the future Roman emperor, Vespasian, in the siege of Jerusalem in Judea. Maliku later loses control of Damascus but retains the territory to the east and south-east of it. Nomadic tribes from Arabia begin to attack the southern regions of the kingdom, penetrating into the Negev where they destroy Oboda and forts on the Petra-Gaza road.

70 - 106

ar-Rabil II / Rabbel Soter

'He who gives life and salvation to his people'.

c.71 - 90


Female co-ruler.


An inscription of this date gives ar-Rabil II his title, perhaps because he has concentrated on subjugating the Arab tribes which have recently caused the kingdom some trouble. He also lays the basis for dry-farming and horse rearing in the region.


Maliku III / Malichus III


Nabataea is conquered by the Roman empire, becoming the capital of the province of Arabia Petraea. Petra remains inhabited during the subsequent Byzantine period, but thereafter declines in importance. The Crusaders construct a fort there in the twelfth century but this is soon abandoned, leaving Petra to the local peoples who completely abandon it by the fourteenth century. The city is forgotten until it is rediscovered by the Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. By the twentieth century, the region is part of Hashemite Transjordan.