Nabataean Period 312 BC- 106 AD   
The Nabataeans in History
The Nabataean Arab tribes spread north from the Arabian Peninsula into southern Jordan during the sixth century BC, however their first concrete mention in history was centuries later, in 312 BC, when they repelled the attack of Antigonos Monophthalmos, one of Alexander’s generals. This occurred at "Sela – the Rock", which is probably the mountainous stronghold of as-Sala‘ south of Tafila.
By the third century BC, these nomadic tribes spread further north into Hawran, west into the Naqab of southern Palestine, and to Sinai. The Nabataeans took advantage of the political vacuum in the area due to the disputes between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria, and established their kingdom with Aretas I as their first king in 168 BC, and their capital at Raqmu (Petra in Greek). Around the same time, the nomadic Nabataeans started settling down in towns, which the state supplied with hydraulic systems, and started producing their distinctive Nabataean art, architecture and writings. The Nabataeans spoke a form of early Arabic, and used a late form of Aramaic for their inscriptions. Gradually certain letters in their script became connected and their forms changed depending on the position of the letter within the word, thus forming the basis of the Arabic script.
The Nabataean monopoly of the trade of frankincense, myrrh and spices was behind their economic prosperity and subsequently their political power. Their quest for peace was essential to keep the trade routes safe, but they were sometimes obliged to defend their land against aggressors, such as their fight against the expansions of Alexander Jannaeus in 85 BC, and against Cleopatra of Egypt who wanted to control the bitumen trade of the Dead Sea.
The Nabataean Kingdom expanded over northern Arabia, all of Jordan except for the northwestern corner (the Decapolis), southern Palestine, the Sinai, and reached Damascus during the reign of Aretas III "Philhellene" (84-60 BC), whose title means ‘admirer of the Greeks’ and reflects his quest for modernisation and desire for close relations with the great powers.The height of Nabataea was attained at the time of Aretas IV "Philodeme" (9 BC-AD 40), whose title "lover of his people" was a reflection of the people’s cultural and economic achievements.
The Romans'diversion of the trade routes from South Arabia to Egypt across the Red Sea weakened the Nabataeans, lords of the land caravans. In an attempt to take advantage of the northern routes, they relocated their capital to Busra in Hawran at the time of Rabel II (AD 75-106), their last king upon whose death Trajan annexed the Nabataean kingdom into the ‘Provincia Arabia’ of the Roman Empire. The Nabataean culture continued under Roman control, and their capital – then officially called by its Greek name “Petra” – became the metropolis of Palestina Tertia at the end of the third century AD.
The Nabataeans adopted Christianity in the fourth century, and Petra became a Bishopric See. Its importance however declined, and by the time of the Muslim Conquests in the 630s, the region was so insignificant that it was not mentioned in the Annals of the Conquests. Petra remained obscure for centuries later, although 12th century historians mentioned it during the Frankish Wars.

Nabataean Hydraulic Systems and Agriculture
The Nabataeans were remarkable water engineers who developed complex water control and storage systems for managing the scarce water resources in their arid regions.The complexity and extent of these systems indicate that they were under governmental control.
The Nabataeans made use of and developed on the earlier Edomite technologies, as well as those of neighbouring Arabia and the Mediterranean. They constructed systems of channels and diverting tunnels along mountainsidesto catch water during the short wet seasons. Additional channels and aqueducts were built to transport water from distant springs, and carry runoff water from hills and mountains, to be stored in cisterns and wells for use afterwards at agricultural fields and habitation areas. The remains of such hydraulic systems are evident in all Nabataean sites, such as at al-Humayma in the arid Hisma Desert, where there are 27km of channeling and more than 50 cisterns in an area with no natural water sources.
The engineers also designed hydraulic installations for protection from flash floods, through controlling the water flow by barrages and diversion tunnels.Such a system protected Petra and its monuments, cut into soft sandstone, for many centuries.

Nabataean Architecture and Sculpture
Nabataean inscriptions provide us with the names of architects, carvers, masons, surveyors and painters; who were all Nabataean.
There were two kinds of Nabataean monuments; the first was carved out of the natural rock, and the second was free-standing or built structures.Carving was widely employed for tombs and some of the domestic houses. The unfinished tombs in Petra illustrate that carving started from top to bottom and followed a pre-planned formula.
The materials for the built structures depended on their availability in the region. They used mud bricks to construct the houses of Aila (Aqaba), basalt in Hawran, limestone in the Sharah, and sandstone in the Petra region, where the hollowed-out interiors of rock-cut monuments were also used as building blocks. Supplementary materials such as concrete and gypsum were also widely used. The floors were paved with stones, marble, mosaic or opus sectile.
Like all aspects of Nabataean culture, the figurative art brought together elements from the neighbouring cultures but the products had a distinctive Nabataean character.
The Arabian style came along with the Arabian origins and ethnic affiliation of the Nabataeans. Most Pre-Islamic Arabian gods were represented in this style, which was characterised by the rectangular anthropomorphic stelae with stylized features.
The Oriental style developed from Syrian Aramaic traditions, with clear Parthian and Hellenistic elements. This style is characterised by the symmetry of facial features, prominent eyes and thick hairstyles with plaits or curls. It represents the peak in cultural fusion by the Nabataeans, and is represented in the sculptures of the temples at Khirbat adh-Dharih and Khirbat at-Tannur.
The Graeco-Roman style grew in popularity in Provincia Arabia after the annexation of the Nabataean Kingdom in AD 106, but was produced well before that date. The sculptures of al-Khazna and the Qasr al-Bint temenos gate in Raqmu/ Petra are the most famous examples of this style.

Nabataean Pottery
The fine "eggshell" wares are the most distinctive of all Nabataean products, and they were among the lightest and most delicate pots ever produced. The large workshop at az-Zurraba, currently near the entrance to the Petra archaeological site, was a main producer of this pottery.
The Nabataean fine wares were all wheel-made. The vessels were either plain, slipped or decorated with painting, impressing or rouletting, while the forms and designs were limited.
The first distinctive Nabataean products appeared at the turn of the first century BC, with pure but relatively thick ware. The typical Nabataean thin wares started to emerge by the late first century BC, when their drawings were in red paint that gradually changed to black by the end of the second century AD, when the quality of the Nabataean pottery also started to decline. Production continued until the sixth century AD but the wares were coarse and thick, they lost their distinctive finesse from the fourth century onwards.