Few people have ever heard of the Nabataean Empire. Yet, this small desert kingdom stood against the Greeks, and almost brought the Roman Empire to its knees. Their secret was not so much a powerful army, but rather, economics. Using their monopoly on the supply of frankincense to Europe's temples, the Nabataeans built an empire of wealth and opulence never before seen in the deserts of Arabia. Their secret to survival lay, not in their powerful military, but in their secrecy and deception.
Today tourists are awed by the spectacular ruins left in the ancient city of Petra, the most famous city in the Nabataean Kingdom. Across the deserts of Arabia, other Nabataean cities lie beneath the dust and sands of time. For thousands of years the Nabataean Kingdom has been lost and forgotten. Today, however, thanks to the renewed efforts of archeologists and historians, the extent of the kingdom is finally becoming known.
For over twenty years, I have made repeated visits to many Nabataean sites, seeking to understand these ancient people and their culture. I have visited the frankincense fields of Yemen, traced their caravan routes through the Arabian deserts, visited the caves and temples of Petra, and followed the frankincense route on to the ancient cities of Syria. I have also studied and lived among the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, endeavoring to understand their cultural and social makeup. Admittedly, my interest has been more sociological than archeological, and this has influenced my writing considerably.
My quest has always been focused
on discovering what motivated the Nabataean to try to conquer
the desert. Other Arabian tribes simply chose to live within the
limitations that the desert put upon them. So, what was it that
motivated these people to leave their pastoral, nomadic lifestyle
and build cities and monuments of staggering proportion? Lastly,
I have sought to discover, why there are so many anomalies between
the historical records and the interpretations that modern day
archeologists take from the scant Nabataean artifacts we have
This book is the culmination of my research. Much of what I write is taken from the pages of history. The rest is based on my opinions of Nabataean life; taken from my observations of their cities, inscriptions, and graffiti. In this book I have endeavored to mention the historical sources whenever possible. However, since I feel that extensive footnoting robs the text of its readability, I have placed the footnotes and other background information on a web page where those who are academically inclined can access it. You can find a links to this information from the publisher's web pages: (http://nabataea.net) (http://canbooks.ca)
It is my opinion that the Nabataeans have been greatly misunderstood as a people. Powerful sociological factors drove these people leave their desert based life to become masters of the sea, allowing them to travel where other civilization could not. These factors motivated them to develop desert water-management systems that allowed them to thrive where others died of thirst. These same factors were involved when they left their nomadic lifestyle and began to erect cities and monuments to match any civilization up to their time, including the Romans.
On top of this, they were masters at profiteering, deception, and diplomacy. This allowed them to survive for hundreds of years with only a token army, while draining the coffers of the Greek and Roman Empires. They were truly a unique civilization, and this is their story.
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