Avdat and the Nabatean Empire

    September, 1998 - New Year Edition            
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Avdat and the Nabateans

By Arthur Rosen

One of the more interesting sites in this interesting country, is Avdat, a ancient site in the Negev, the south of Israel.. This former city was one of several that reached it's majestic splendor 200 to 300 years before the common era (200-300 BCE). Visitors are amazed at the grandeur of the former city amidst the stark and barren Negev deserts. How was it possible to create a beautiful city amongst the barren hills and rugged valleys which does not support agriculture? A land so barren and devoid of trees and bush, from what did the Nabatean inhabitants live?

To understand this, we must first understand the developments of the Nabateans. The Nabateans were an Arab tribe that wandered from place to place. Part of their culture was to forbid the planting of produce for this made them force to remain in one area. They were a nomadic tent dwelling group who roamed the harsh desert lands with their flocks. They lived a life of banditry raiding the traders who followed the trade route from Syria, Damascus, Jerusalem and Egypt. The traders brought expensive spices between the various countries.

At first the Nabateans would try to raid the traders, but later began selling their services to them to conduct them safely through the Negev. In addition, the Nabateans, who knew the value of water, had dug large underground reservoirs to store the precious rain water. This they began to sell to the caravans as they passed through the Negev. Slowly they renounced their robbery and nomadic live style and built cities along the trade routes. Avdat, Nitzana and Halutza and the best known cities.

Today, visitors come to the Negev and are amazed at the wealth and beauty that were once sitting in glorious splendor in the midst of the harsh Negev desert. The Nabatian cities lasted, until they were annexed into the Roman empire. They lost their strategic importance and with the emergence of the Arab empires, so the Nabateans, like so many empires, were no longer in existence.


from the September, 1998 - New Year Edition Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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