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The Fall of Petra

On one memorable visit to the city of Petra during the summer of 2002, I happened to stop for a visit at the Great Temple site. Fortunately Dr. Artemis Joukowsky (Chancellor Emeritus, Brown University) was working at the site, and he took a few minutes to show me the latest discoveries that had been uncovered. In our walk around the temple, he pointed to a doorway in the structure. It had been blocked up, using rubble from the upper part of the structure. Dr. Joukowsky was careful to point out that it appeared that someone had barricaded themselves into the structure, after an earthquake. That piece of interesting information stuck in the back of my head.

Later I discovered that archeologists digging on the north side of the city along the city walls had discovered evidence that the city may have been attacked from that side, as the buildings seemed to be barricaded along the northern wall.

According to my research Petra was destroyed by an earthquake on July 9 551. In my book The Nabataeans, Builders of Petra, I wrote: "On 9 July 551, a devastating earthquake reduced most of what remained of Petra to heaps of rubble. It was never rebuilt, and soon the bishops departed and all records came to an end. This earthquake also destroyed many of the towns in the Negev. Many of these were never rebuilt." Gibson D. (2002), pp. 240-241.

However, John Hill, the scholar working on translating the Hou Han shu, the official history of the Later (or ‘Eastern’) Han Dynasty (25-221 CE), discovered something quite interesting from a Persian perspective. It appears that a major battle between the Byzantine - Lazic forces and the Persian army took place in Petra in the very same year as the earthquake! The following quote is from The Political History of Iran under the Sasanians.

"The truce {a 5-year truce arranged in 544} was broken in its fourth year by the Byzantine alliance with Lazica to expel the Persians. A Byzantine-Lazic force besieged Petra, but the city was relieved by a Sasanian army. Later two Persian armies were routed and finally after a memorable siege the strong fortress of Petra was retaken by the Byzantines in 551, and again a five-year truce was concluded between the two empires. Lazica was not included in the truce and hostilities continued there. Finally, the Persians had the worse of the conflict and negotiations were opened with Byzantium in 556 for a permanent settlement. After much discussion and passage of time, finally in 561 a fifty years' peace treaty was signed in which the Sasanians evacuated Lazica and in return received an annual payment of gold." Frye (1983a), p. 156. [From: "The Political History of Iran under the Sasanians." Frye, Richard N., CHOI, 3(1), 1983, pp. 116-180.]

One would suppose that an earthquake, a siege, being conquered and retaken, was enough to destroy much of the city.

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