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Under Roman Rule


Relief of goddess with diadem
Temenos Gate Area, Petra, Jordan
1st century AD

This graceful limestone relief bust of a veiled female deity probably represents the classical goddess Aphrodite/Venus, whose presence was well documented at Petra. According to a Nabataean dedication found on the Aegean island of Cos, the classical goddess was identified with the Nabataean goddess al-'Uzza, as both were associated with fertility and the planet Venus. The goddess's wavy hair, downcast gaze and softly modeled facial features point to an artist trained in a Greek Hellenistic workshop. The subject is dressed in a lightweight, V-necked Greek garment, or chiton.

Department of Antiquities, Amman, Jordan

Photo: © Cincinnati Art Museum; Photographer: Peter John Gates FBIPP, ARPS, Ashwell, UK

For centuries Petra thrived in its remote valley, queen city of a rich and fiercely independent kingdom. But while it flourished, a superpower 1,500 miles to the west gathered size and strength. Rome, with its great wealth, voracious appetite for territory and trade goods--and seemingly invincible army--cast a lengthening shadow over the affairs of the ancient Near East. And when the empire began expanding eastward in earnest, annexation of Petra was only a matter of time. In AD 106 Emperor Trajan laid claim to all of Nabataea, calling his prize Arabia Petraea.

For Rome, Nabataea completed a massive jigsaw puzzle. Once the kingdom was annexed, all Mediterranean trade fell under imperial control. The new province would also serve as a staging area for campaigns against Parthia, a hostile Iranian kingdom farther to the east. After the seemingly bloodless takeover, life for ordinary Nabataeans probably went on much as before. Sheltered by Rome's might, trade routes were safer, and--at least for a while--some caravans still stopped at Petra. For the next three centuries, the fate of the desert city would be yoked to the fate of Rome.

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