Eastern Expansion

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Petra exhibition
© AMNH Photo Studio

In the fourth century BC, trade between the Mediterranean region and Asia existed on a small scale. But as Alexander the Great--who was attempting to conquer the East--led his army from Macedonia toward India around 330 BC, he opened up new trade routes along the way. Exotic Asian goods soon flooded the caravans bound for Arabia, Egypt, and Greece. But Asian imports were not limited to commercial goods. Contact with the East brought new cultural ideas and imagery to Petra, and the Nabataeans soon incorporated these elements into the art and architecture of their cities.

Asian elephants, for example, were perhaps one of the most spectacular sights of this new land. Alexander first encountered them in India in a battle against the Persians in 331 BC. The enormous size of the elephants served as a powerful scare tactic, frightening both horses and foot soldiers. As commercial contact with Asia grew, elephants became popular images of strength in the ancient Near East, especially at Petra.