A map of the Roman Empire, at its greatest extent, showing the territory of Trajan's Nabatæan conquests in the southeast.

Nabataean kingdom

An Arabic political state of the Nabataeans which existed during classical antiquity and was annexed by the Roman Empire in AD 106


Nabataean origins date from a time when they were nomadic pastoralists in the Negev and the Sinai Peninsula during Achaemenid Persian rule, around the 4th century BC.

Nabateans and Hasmoneans

The Nabataeans were allies of the first Hasmoneans in their struggles against the Seleucid monarchs. They then became rivals of the Judaean dynasty, and a chief element in the disorders which invited Pompey’s intervention in Judea. Many Nabataeans were forcefully converted to Judaism by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus. It was this King who, after putting down a local rebellion, invaded and occupied the Nabataean towns of Moab and Gilead and imposed a tribute of an unspecified amount. Obodas I knew that Alexander would attack, so was able to ambush Alexander’s forces near Gaulane (Golan) destroying the Judean army in 90 BC. Under the reign of Aretas III (87 to 62 BC) the kingdom seems to have reached its territorial zenith, but was defeated by a Roman army under the command of Marcus Aemilius Scaurus. Scaurus’ army even besieged Petra, but eventually a compromise was negotiated. Paying a tribute, Aretas III received the formal recognition by the Roman Republic.

The Nabatean kingdom saw itself slowly surrounded by the expanding Roman Empire, which conquered Egypt and annexed Hasmonean Judea. While the Nabatean kingdom managed to preserve its formal independence, it became a client kingdom under the influence of Rome.

Roman annexation

A map of the Roman Empire, at its greatest extent, showing the territory of Trajan’s Nabatæan conquests in the southeast. Main article: Arabia Petraea

In 106 AD, during the reign of Roman emperor Trajan, the last king of the Nabatean kingdom Rabbel II Soter died.This event might have prompted the official annexation of Nabatea to the Roman Empire, although the formal reasons, and the exact manner of annexation, are unknown.

Some epigraphic evidence suggests a military campaign, commanded by Cornelius Palma, the governor of Syria. Roman forces seem to have come from Syria and also from Egypt. It is clear that by 107 AD Roman legions were stationed in the area around Petra and Bostra, as is shown by a papyrus found in Egypt. The kingdom was annexed by the empire, becoming the province of Arabia Petraea. Trade seems to have largely continued thanks to the Nabataens’ undiminished talent for trading.

Under Hadrian, the limes Arabicus ignored most of the Nabatæan territory and ran northeast from Aila (modern Aqaba) at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. A century later, during the reign of Alexander Severus, the local issue of coinage came to an end. There is no more building of sumptuous tombs, owing apparently to a sudden change in political ways, such as an invasion by the neo-Persian power under the Sassanid Empire.

The city of Palmyra, for a time the capital of the breakaway Palmyrene Empire (fl. 130–270), grew in importance and attracted the Arabian trade away from Petra.

  • From: 168 BC
  • To: 106 AD

Useful Information

Nabataean kingdom, also named Nabatea
Arabic: نبطية‎


Located between the Sinai Peninsula and the Arabian Peninsula, its northern neighbour was the kingdom of Judea, and its south western neighbour was Ptolemaic Egypt. Its capital was the city of Petra in Jordan, and it included the towns of Bostra, Mada'in Saleh, and Nitzana.

Petra was a wealthy trading town, located at a convergence of several important trade routes. One of them was the Incense Route which was based around the production of both myrrh and frankincense in southern Arabia, and ran through Mada'in Saleh to Petra. From here the aromatics were distributed throughout the Mediterranean region.