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The Economy of Petra from the First Century BC through the Fourth Century AD: An Analysis of the Perfume Industry

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This thesis is an attempt to reconstruct the economy of Petra during the third century AD, a period that can be described as a “miniature dark age.” This analysis is made through the lens of a particular type of ceramic vessel, the Nabataean piriform unguentarium or perfume bottle. The Nabataean Kingdom (mostly within what is today Jordan) was first a client state of the Roman Empire. However, it was annexed as Provincia Arabia in AD 106. The Nabataean perfume industry began ca. the late first century BC and flourished through the first and second centuries AD. It declined and apparently disappeared in the third century. Yet, what happened to this perfume industry? This thesis suggests that the perfume industry failed to revive at Petra due to the lack of sufficient quantities of key imported ingredients, frankincense and myrrh, thus halting production at Petra. The major routes for importation of these key ingredients shifted north and south (of Petra). The reduced quantities which did reach Petra after the third century were apparently only for local consumption. The perfume industry after the third century continued elsewhere at major urban centers such as Alexandria, when unguents were henceforth shipped primarily in glass unguentaria.

Koulianos, Pamela Katerina. “The Economy of Petra from the First Century BC through the Fourth Century AD: An Analysis of the Perfume Industry.” (Under the direction of S. Thomas Parker).

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