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Petra’s Hinterland from the Nabataean through Early Byzantine Periods

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Traditionally, research on Nabataea and Roman Arabia has focused on larger cities, centers of trade, and military sites. Hinterland sites, on the other hand, remain almost completely unexcavated. This means that little is known about non-elite or non-urban life from the Nabataean through the Early Byzantine periods (ca. 63 BC-AD 500), nor is Petra’s true economic relationship with its periphery understood. When extensive excavation is impossible, surveys provide the best remedy for this knowledge gap, identifying smaller villages and even single farmsteads, examining field and water-management systems, and tracing general changes in landscape use over time. All three topics are being explored by a Dutch-Jordanian team currently surveying the area around Udhruh, 15 km east of Petra in southern Jordan. In ca. AD 300, the Roman army built a legionary fortress for legio VI Ferrata in Udhruh, but the site’s history began long before its construction, with significant occupation beginning in the Nabataean era. In the 1980s a British team led by Alistair Killick conducted a regional survey and excavated both the fortress and an associated pottery kiln, the latter only briefly mentioned in preliminary reports. A final report from this project was never published and, as a result, little is known about the site, which is now experiencing rapid development. Partially in response to this growing threat, a Dutch-Jordanian team began an ongoing survey in 2011. This thesis uses ceramic data collected by the Udhruh Archaeological Project and other regional surveys, as well as other archaeological and documentary evidence, to address changes in land use within Petra’s hinterland between the Nabataean and Early Byzantine periods. It includes an analysis of various survey methodologies, a critical examination of recent surveys in Petra’s hinterland, and a historical and archaeological study of diachronic change in Udhruh’s settlement patterns from the Nabataean to the Early Byzantine periods using original survey data. On this basis, it becomes clear that Petra had an intimate relationship with the marginal desert environment, which in turn was connected not just to the Nabataean kingdom’s core but also to the eastern Roman Empire based on the presence of fine wares and amphorae in Petra’s hinterland. Upon Rome’s annexation of Nabataea, it was not only Petra but also the hinterland that contracted, reflecting the close relationship between the Petra region and the larger Roman Empire. Petra’s declining population only accelerated the process of nucleation that likely existed already in the Nabataean period. When Udhruh’s legionary fortress was constructed ca. 300, the new urban city (later called Augustopolis) drew inhabitants away from the former Nabataean capital towards Rome’s eastern frontier and back into Petra’s hinterland.

Wenner, Sarah E. “Petra’s Hinterland from the Nabataean through Early Byzantine Periods (ca. 63 BC-AD 500).” (Under the direction of Dr. S. Thomas Parker, Jennifer Gates, Garry Mathews.)

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