Documentary Film based on Gibson's book: Qur'anic Geography


The Sacred City from Glasshouse Media on Vimeo.

(40 AD - 600 AD) 

Damascus was finally lost to the Nabataeans under Malichus II (AD 40 -70 AD) son of Aretas IV. Little is known of him, but according to Josephus he sent Emperor Titus 1000 cavalry and 5000 infantry which took part in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

In that same year, Rabbel II, the last of the Nabataean rulers came to the throne. Rabbel II was a minor and his mother Shaqilath acted as his regent for six years. Rabbel, who seems to have preferred the city of Bostra in the north of his kingdom, was known as 'hyy wsyzb 'mh' or 'he who brings life and deliverance to his people'. Some feel this refers to his putting down a rebellion in Saudi Arabia. During Rabbel's reign, the kingdom enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. However, it was the final decades of the Nabataean kingdom before Rome took over.

At the height of its power, Nabataea stretched from Damascus southward into northern Arabia. It was bordered on the west by the Roman-held lands comprised of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Paraea, and the Decapolis and by Egypt. The Nabataeans' eastern border, being in the desert, was undefined but could be said to stretch to the borders of Parthia. Thanks to the extraordinary Nabataean genius for water management, their agriculture flourished in the desert. Their trading empire, dealing in luxury goods, linked the Mediterranean world with China, India, Parthia, and Arabia.

Rabbel II disappears from the scene in AD 106 when the Roman legate of Syria, Corelius Palma, annexed the Nabataean kingdom on behalf of the Emperor Trajan, and incorporated it as the new Province of Arabia. While historical records have not yet been discovered that describe this takeover, it is interesting to notice that after 106 AD the Nabataeans continued as a distinct people within the Empire and even enjoyed a period of economic prosperity in the later Byzantine era. Right after the Roman takeover, coins were minted referring to "Arabia adquista' or the acquired not captured Arabia. Under the Romans Once Roman rule was established, Claudius Severus built a new paved road which eventually linked the northern city of Bostra with the Red Sea port of Aila (Aqaba) in the south. The road was some 500 kilometers in length, and was known as the Via Nova Traiana. It was completed in 114 AD and followed much the same path as the ancient caravan routes and the King's Highway. Now troops as well as items of trade could be moved speedily from one place to another.

It is unclear if Petra was the capital of the Province of Arabia in its early years. The role was certainly passed to Bostra, which Trajan rebuilt and named after himself, Nea Traiane Bostra. Petra certainly was still of great eminence and was an important administrative center, the only city in the province to which Trajan gave the title 'metropolis.' However, it was Hadrian, who visited Petra in 130 AD on his grand tour of the eastern Roman Empire, who gave the city his name, Petra Hadriane.

Many years later (260 AD), the Sassanid Persians attacked the province of Syria and captured Antioch, taking the Emperor Galerian prisoner. The now rich and powerful Arab kingdom of Palmyra came to Rome's help and repelled the Persian invasion. This move placed the Palmyrans in the role as Rome's ally and buffer against the east, just as the Nabataeans had once been in the south.

The city of Petra flourished for at least a century more, thanks to her citizens who continued trade and agriculture. However, by the mid 3rd century AD, with the economy of the whole region under pressure, the city began a slow and irrecoverable decline. The Emperor Diocletian briefly checked the slide of the Roman provinces at the end of the third century by political reorganization, enlargement of the army and re-fortifying of the provinces. The northern half of the Province of Arabia retained its old name, but the south, including Petra and the lands below Wadi Hisa became part of the Province of Palestine, Palestina Tertia.

Byzantine Petra
In 330 AD Emperor Constantine the Great transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to the Greek city of Byzantium and rebuilt and gloriously embellished it. In 313 AD, Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of the empire, and Constantine formally dedicated his capital, New Rome (Constantinople) on May 11, 330. The Nabataeans and Petra in particular had already had its Christian martyrs during the persecution of Diocletian. These thought provoking examples must have had the de-Christianizing effect Diocletian desired, for very soon afterwards the Christian chronicler, Eusebius thundered against Petra for being filled with superstitious men who have sunk in diabolical error. However, churches were already being built there.

In the mid-4th century Bishop Asterius of Petra is named as a participant in the Arian controversy, that long and bitter dispute over whether Christ was of one nature with the Father, or merely shared a similar nature. Asterius started as an Arian but ended up on the orthodox side. For this he was banished by the pro-Arian Emperor Constantius, but later recalled by the more tolerant Julian the Apostate.

Pagan worship continued in the Nabataean areas, side by side with Christianity for a number of years. Then a certain monk, called Mar Sauma felt called upon to rectify this situation, so he and his forty brother monks, who were traveling around the Empire, destroying pagan temples, arrived in Petra in 423 AD to find the gates shut fast against them. Their demands to be let in, accompanied by threats of attack if they were not, coincided with a rainstorm of such intensity that part of the city wall was broken, and the monks managed to enter. The whole episode was deemed to be of truly miraculous significance as there had been an unbroken drought for four years and the impressed pagan priests duly converted to Christianity.

Over the following century or so, bishops from Petra took part in the various councils of the Church, convened to discuss the series of doctrinal disagreements which followed the Arian controversy with dizzying frequency. Petra also seems to have become a place of exile for troublesome or heretical priests, prelates, or prominent laymen who failed to agree with the Emperor or with the decisions of these councils. The most famous such exile, according to one contemporary document, was Nestorius, one of the promoters of the Nestorian heresy, which was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The city must have been in a prophetically lamentable condition by then, well chosen for those sentenced to contemplate the error of their ways, for an earthquake on 19 May 363 had destroyed half of it, and economic slide and decline continued after. It was during this time, (4th Century AD) that the Urn Tomb in Petra was transformed into a church.

In the early 1990s, archeologists uncovered the remnants of a Byzantine era church in Petra with intact mosaics and 50 letters written in Greek. The last reference to a resident bishop is to Athenogenus, a nephew of Emperor Maurice (582-602).

Coin evidence from around the Colonnade Street shows that shops were still in use there during the fourth century, but commercial activity had largely ceased by the fifth century.

A fourth century Syriac letter, attributed to Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem discusses major earthquake destruction at Petra on May 19, 363. Some parts of the city continued in use afterwards, but it seems that most of the civic buildings ceased to function.

During the fifth and sixth centuries, most of the forts that formed the Roman-Byzantine security belt east of Petra were abandoned. On 9 July 551, another devastating earthquake reduced most of what remained of Petra to heaps of rubble. It was never rebuilt, the bishops departed and all records came to an end as far as have been discovered to date.

copyright 2002 CanBooks

 Who were the Nabataeans?  The Muslim Invasion
 Arabia in Ancient History  The Crusades
 Early History  Rediscovery
 Middle History  The Hagarites/Gerrhaeans
 Late History  The Twelve Tribes of Ishmael
 The Fall of Petra
Nabajoth, Mibsam, Kedar, Adbeel, Mishma, Dumah,
Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, Kedemah