Semitic tribe or group of tribes which overran the ancient Edomite country and established a kingdom which extended from Damascus on the north to Hegra (Al-Hajr) on the south. Their power at one period was felt in central Arabia as far east as Al-Jauf. They also occupied the Sinaitic Peninsula. The capital of their kingdom was Petra, the Selah of the Old Testament (comp. II Kings xiv. 7). The Nabatæans were in possession of some of this country as early as 312
It was formerly thought that the Nabatæans were identical with the Nebajoth of Gen. xxv. 13, and with the Na-ba-a-a-ti of the annals of Assurbanipal; but Glaser has shown ("Skizze der Gesch. und Geographie Arabiens," ii. 418 et seq.) that the two were distinct. The name of the Nabatæans was spelled with a ט; that of the Nebajoth, with a ה. According to R. Judah b. Hai the Nabatæans are to be identified with the Kadmonites of Gen. xv. 19 (Yer. Sheb. vi. 1).
A large number of inscriptions of the Nabatæans have been recovered (comp. "C. I. S." part 2, vol. i., pp. 183-486). They are written in the Aramaic language. The Nabatæans were, therefore, either of Aramaic extraction or Arabs who had come under Aramaic influence. Their inscriptions are for the most part funerary ones, and contain little historical material beyond the names of kings and the years of their reigns.
The commerce of the Nabatæans was very important. Caravans passed from Egypt and Gaza through Petra to central Arabia and even to Babylonia. Many other avenues of trade were opened by them. Some idea of their commercial enterprise may be gained from the fact that a colony of Nabatæans established themselves at Puteoli, an Italian port, where they existed in sufficiently large numbers to erect and maintain for more than fifty years a temple to their native deity (comp. G. A. Cooke, "North Semitic Inscriptions," pp. 256 et seq.). For this trade a coinage was developed as early as the second century
During the early part of the first century
Under Trajan the Romans terminated the Nabatæan kingdom, erecting the nearer portions of it into the Roman province of Arabia. Teima, Hegra, Al-Jauf, and other parts of the Nabatæan dominions in the interior of Arabia were then abandoned by the Romans.
- C. I. S. part 2, vol. i., pp. 183-486;
- G. A. Cooke, North Semitic Inscriptions, 1903, pp. 214-262;
- Head, Historia Nummorum, 1887, pp. 685, 686;
- F. H. Vincent, Les Nabatéens, in Revue Biblique, 1898, pp. 567-588;
- Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire, 1887, pp. 160-171.