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Ancient Petra. A desert city with rock-cliffs, capital of the Idumean and Nabataean kingdom. Petra is famous for its rock cut architecture system of water conduits which created an artificial oasis. It was an important center on ancient trade routes. The Romans made it capital of Arabia Petraea. Petra was the Selah of the Old Testament, 2 Kings 14:7; Isaiah 16:1.
2 Kings 14:7 - He slew of Edom in the valley of salt ten thousand, and took Selah by war, and called the name of it Joktheel unto this day.
Isaiah 16:1 - Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion.
Petra (πέτρα). The name of several cities built on rocks, or in rocky places, of which the most celebrated was in Arabia Petraea, the capital, first of the Idumaeans, and afterwards of the Nabathaeans. It lies in the midst of the mountains of Seir, just half way between the Dead Sea and the head of the Aelanitic Gulf of the Red Sea, in a valley or, rather, ravine, surrounded by almost inaccessible precipices, which is entered by a narrow gorge on the east, the rocky walls of which approach so closely as in some places hardly to permit two horsemen to ride abreast. On the banks of the river which runs through this ravine stood the city itself, and some fine ruins of its public buildings still remain. These ruins are chiefly of the Roman period, when Petra had become an important city as a centre of the caravan traffic of the Nabathaeans. It maintained its independence under the Romans till the time of Trajan, by whom it was taken. It was the chief city of Arabia Petraea; and under the later Empire the capital of Palaestina Tertia. The rocks about it were honeycombed with tombs. Other cities of the name were situated in Sicily (Verr. iii. 39), Elis (Pausan. vi. 24, 5), Macedonia (Livy , xlv. 41), and Illyricum (B. C. iii. 42). - Harry Thurston Peck. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers. 1898.
Petra (Greek "πέτρα" (petra), meaning rock; Arabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ)
is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma'an
that is known for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system.
Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the
Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourism
attraction. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the
mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley
running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba.
Geography of Petra. Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans and the center of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf. Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, and enabled the city to prosper from its sale.
Roman History. In 106 AD, when Cornelius Palma was governor of Syria, that part of Arabia under the rule of Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire as part of Arabia Petraea, becoming capital. The native dynasty came to an end. But the city continued to flourish. A century later, in the time of Alexander Severus, when the city was at the height of its splendor, the issue of coinage comes to an end. There is no more building of sumptuous tombs, owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe, such as an invasion by the neo-Persian power under the Sassanid Empire. Meanwhile, as Palmyra (fl. 130–270) grew in importance and attracted the Arabian trade away from Petra, the latter declined. It seems, however, to have lingered on as a religious centre. A Roman road was constructed at the site. Epiphanius of Salamis (c.315–403) writes that in his time a feast was held there on December 25 in honor of the virgin Khaabou (Chaabou) and her offspring Dushara (Haer. 51). - Wikipedia
Maps are essential for any serious study, they help students of Roman history understand the geographical locations and historical backgrounds of the places mentioned in historical sources.
PETRA (πέτρα), “rock,” the name of several towns.
1. (Πέτρα, Ptol. 5.17.5, 8.20.19; Πέτρα or Πέτραι, Suid. s. v. Ἱ᾽ενέθλιος; the SELA of the Old Testament, 2 Kings, 14.7; Isaiah, 16.1: respecting its various names see Robinson, Biblical Researches, vol. ii. Notes and Ill. p. 653), the chief town of Arabia Petraea, once the capital of the Idumaeans and subsequently of the Nabataei, now, Wady Musa. [NABATAEI]
Petra was situated in the eastern part of Arabia Petraea, in the district called under the Christian emperors of Rome Palaestina Tertia (Vet. Rom. Itin. p. 721, Wessel.; Malala, Chronogr. xvi. p. 400, ed. Bonn). According to the division of tile ancient geographers, it lay in the northern district, Gebalene; whilst the modern ones place it in the southern portion, Esh-Sherah, the Seir, or mountain-land, of the Old Testament (Genesis, 36.8). It was seated between the Dead Sea and the Elanitic gulf; being, according to Diodorus Siculus (19.98), 300 stadia S. of the former, whilst the Tab. Peut. places it 98 Roman miles N. of the latter. Its site is a wilderness overtopped by Mount Hor, and diversified by cliffs, ravines, plains, and Wadys, or watered valleys, for the most part but ill cultivated. Strabo (xvi. p.779) describes it as seated in a plain surrounded with rocks, hemmed in with barren and streamless deserts, though the plain itself is well watered. Pliny's description (6.32), which states the extent of the plain at rather less than 2 miles, agrees very nearly with that of Strabo, and both are confirmed by the reports of modern travellers. “It is an area in the bosom of a mountain, swelling into mounds, and intersected with gullies.” (Irby and Mangles, ch. viii.) It must not, however, be understood to be completely hemmed in with rocks. Towards the N. and S. the view is open; and from the eastern part of the valley the summit of Mount Hor is seen over the western cliffs. (Robinson, ii. p. 528.) According to Pliny (l.c.) Petra was a place of great resort for travellers.
Petra was subdued by A. Cornelius Palma, a lieutenant of Trajan's (D. C. 68.14), and remained under the Roman dominion a considerable time, as we hear of the province of Arabia being enlarged by Septimius Severus A.D. 195 (id. 75.1, 2; Eutrop. 8.18). It must have been during this period that those temples and mausoleums were made, the remains of which still arrest the attention of the traveller; for though the predominant style of the architecture is Egyptian, it is mixed with florid and over-loaded Roman-Greek specimens, which clearly indicate their origin. (Robinson, ii. p. 532.)
The valley of Wady Musa, which leads to the town, is about 150 feet broad at its entrance, and is encircled with cliffs of red sandstone, which gradually increase from a height of 40 or 50 feet to 200 or 250 feet. Their height has been greatly exaggerated, having been estimated by some travellers at 700 and even 1000 feet (Irby and Mangles, ch. viii.; Stephens, ii. p. 70; see Robinson, ii. p. 517 and note). The valley gradually contracts, till at one spot it becomes only about 12 feet broad, and is so overlapped by the cliffs that the light of day is almost excluded. The ravine or Sik of Wady Musa extends, with many windings, for a good English mile. It forms the principal, and was anciently the only avenue to Petra, the entrance being broken through the wall. (Diod. 2.48, 19.97; Robinson, ii. p. 516; Laborde, p. 55.) This valley contains a wonderful necropolis hewn in the rocks. The tombs, which adjoin or surmount one another, exhibit now a front with six Ionic columns, now with four slender pyramids, and by their mixture of Greek, Roman, and Oriental architecture remind the spectator of the remains which are found in the valley of Jehoshaphat and in other parts of Palestine. The further side of the ravine is spanned by a bold arch, perhaps a triumphal one, with finely-sculptured niches evidently intended for statues. This, like the other remains of this extraordinary spot, is ascribed by the natives either to the Pharaohs or to the Jins or evil genii. Along the bottom of the valley, in which it almost vanishes, winds the stream mentioned by Strabo and Pliny, the small but charming Wady Musa. In ancient times its bed seems to have been paved, as many traces still show. Its stream was spanned by frequent bridges, its sides strengthened with stone walls or quays, and numerous small canals derived [p. 2.584]from it supplied the inhabitants with water. But now its banks are overspread with hyacinths, oleanders, and other flowers and shrubs, and overshadowed by lofty trees.
Opposite to where the Sik terminates, in a second ravine-like but broader valley, another monument, the finest one at Petra, and perhaps in all Syria, strikes the eye of the traveller. This is the Khuzneh,--well preserved, considering its age and site, and still exhibiting its delicate chiselled work and all the freshness and beauty of its colouring. It has two rows of six columns over one another, with statues between, with capitals and sculptured pediments, the upper one of which is divided by a little round temple crowned with an urn. The Arabs imagine that the urn contains a treasure,--El Khuzneh, whence the name,--which they ascribe to Pharaoh (Robinson, ii. p. 519). The interior does not correspond with the magnificence of the façade, being a plain lofty hall, with a chamber adjoining each of its three sides. It was either a mausoleum, or, more probably, a temple.
From this spot the cliffs on both sides the Wady are pierced with numerous excavations, the chambers of which are usually small, though the façades are occasionally of some size and magnificence; all, however, so various that scarce two are exactly alike. After a gentle curve the Wady expands, and here on its left side lies the theatre, entirely hewn out of the rock. Its diameter at the bottom is 120 feet (Irby and Mangles, p. 428), and it has thirty-three, or, according to another account, thirty-eight, rows of seats, capable of accommodating at least 3000 spectators. Strangely enough, it is entirely surrounded with tombs. One of these is inscribed with the name of Q. Praefectus Florentinus (Laborde, p. 59), probably the governor of Arabia Petraea under Hadrian or Antoninus Pius. Another has a Greek inscription, not yet deciphered. A striking effect is produced by the bright and lively tints of the variegated stone, out of which springs the wild fig and tamarisk, while creeping plants overspread the walls, and thorns and brambles cover the pedestals and cornices (Isaiah, 34.13). Travellers are agreed that these excavations were mostly tombs, though some think they may originally have served as dwellings. A few were, doubtless, temples for the worship of Baal, but subsequently converted into Christian churches.
Proceeding down the stream, at about 150 paces from the theatre, the cliffs begin to expand, and soon vanish altogether, to give place to a small plain, about a mile square, surrounded with gentle eminences. The brook, which now turns to the W., traverses the middle of this plain till it reaches a ledge of sandstone cliffs, at a distance of rather more than a mile. This was the site of Petra, and is still covered with heaps of hewn stones, traces of paved streets, and foundations of houses. There are remains of several larger and smaller temples, of a bridge, of a triumphal arch of degenerate architecture, and of the walls of a great public building--Kusr Faron, or the palace of Pharaoh.
On an eminence south of this is a single column (Zub Faron, i. e. hasta virilis Pharaonis), connected with the foundation-walls of a temple whose pillars lie scattered around in broken fragments. Laborde (p. 59) thinks that the Acropolis occupied an isolated hill on the W. At the NW. extremity of the cliffs is the Deir, or cloister, hewn in the rock. A ravine, like the Sik, with many windings, leads to it, and the approach is partly by a path 5 or 6 feet broad, with steps cut in the rock with inexpressible labour. Its façade is larger than that of the Khuzneh; but, as in that building, the interior does not answer to it, consisting of a large square chamber, with a recess resembling the niche for the altar in Greek ecclesiastical architecture, and bearing evident signs of having been converted from a heathen into a Christian temple. The destruction of Petra, so frequently prophesied in Scripture, was at length wrought by the Mahometans. From that time it remained unvisited, except by some crusading kings of Jerusalem; and perhaps by the single European traveller, Thetmar, at the beginning of the 13th century. It was discovered by Burckhardt, whose account of it still continues to be the best. (Robinson, ii. p. 527.) Laborde's work is chiefly valuable for the engravings. See also Irby and Mangles, Travels, ch. viii; Robinson, Bibl. Researches, vol. ii. p. 512, seq. [T.H.D] - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed.
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