Nabateans

Nabateans were an ancient tribe of people in Northern Arabia, living on the boundary between Arabia and Syria. The word “Nabatean” is derived from “Nabatene”, a tract of land going from the Red Sea to the Euphrates along the border of Arabia. They controlled (and probably took over) a large portion of the lands and trade previously belonging to the Ancient Edomite Kingdom. Their Kingdom covered parts of modern Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They were first mentioned in history around 312 BC, when they were unsuccessfully attacked by the Greek army of Antigonus I during the Third War of the Diadochi. Later on they conquered some additional territories in modern Syria, including Damascus and other important cities.

Nabateans grew rich on trade and built lasting monuments like the beautiful city of Petra. Their coinage started under Malichus I (ca.144-110 BC) or perhaps even earlier, though for the first 100 years their coinage was anonymous and difficult to attribute with much precision. Their early and common anonymous coinage was probably inspired by the Macedonian and other Greek coinage, depicting the head of Athena on obverse and Nike (Victory) on the reverse. Later, the bust of the King or the jugate busts of the King and his Queen (who was also his sister, in the Egyptian tradition) were placed on obverse, while the name of the King (and sometimes the Queen) in Aramaic was placed on the reverse, along with various devices such as cornucopias.

The coinage consists of scarce silver drachms, weighing around 4.1 grams or so. These were mostly issued under Aretas IV Philopatris (9 BC – 40 AD) (with his Queen Huldu or Chuldu), who also issued prolific bronze coins in various sizes. With the rise of the Roman Empire, Nabateans allied themselves with the Roman superpower and were allowed a certain degree of autonomy. As a centre of commerce, the Nabatean Kingdom flourished in the first century AD and Aretas’ successors also issued coins giving their names – Malichus II (40-70 AD) with his Queen Shaqilath and Rabbel II Soter (70-106 AD) with his Queen Gamilath. Most of these coins are common.

Finally, in 106 AD, King Rabbel II died, and the Roman Emperor Trajan invaded the Kingdom, conquering it practically without resistance and reducing the Kingdom to a status of a Roman Province. The new province was called Arabia Petrae, with a provincial capital in the city of Bosra. Over the next century and a half coins continued to be periodically issued in this province, but they are classified as “Roman Provincial” coins and are listed in that category.