A Shift to the North?

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Bostra, a city about 165 miles (265 km) north of Petra in present-day Syria, may have shared capital-city status with Petra during the reigns of the last two Nabataean kings. The largest settlement in the region where this altar was found, Bostra was on its way to becoming the second urban center of the Nabataeans even before Roman rule. Shortly after the takeover in AD 106, the first Roman emperor honored Bostra by calling it Nea Traiane Bostra--or Trajan's New Bostra. Within a few years Trajan's soldiers had built a 250-mile (400-km) road connecting Bostra, Petra, and the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea.

Surrounded by abundant farmland rather than rocky cliffs, and with much more rainfall than Petra, Bostra was a natural candidate for colonial capital. It was also near a major caravan route through Syria, already a Roman province. Yet Petra, perhaps deprived of some of the caravan trade by its northern counterpart, retained its prestige and even gained importance as an administrative center. In AD 114, Trajan gave Petra the coveted title of metropolis, or mother city.