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Coins of the Nabataean Kingdom

Nabataean coins for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins shop.

The early Nabataeans forsook all building and agriculture because those who possess these things, in order to retain them, are easily compelled by the powerful to do their bidding. Rather than fight invaders, they would go into the desert, where only they could survive and wait for the invaders to leave. Aretas II was a contemporary of Alexander Jannaeus. Aretas III was the first to issue coins, which he began after he defeated the Seleucid army in 84 B.C. and the council of Damascus asked him to govern their city. A Roman army under Marcus Aemilius Scaurus defeated Aretas III and besieged Petra, but paying a tribute, Aretas received formal recognition by the Roman Republic. The kingdom was slowly surrounded by the expanding Roman Empire, who conquered Egypt and annexed Judea, but wealthy from incense trade, Nabataea paid tribute and retained independence. The Nabataeans fought against Herod and also provided forces to the Romans during the Second Jewish Revolt. After the last Nabataean king, Rabbel II, died in 106 A.D., Trajan incorporated Nabataea into the Roman province Arabia Petraea. One of the latest known Nabataean language inscriptions, from 191 A.D., records "...This in the year 85 of the Eparchy [Roman Rule], in which Arabs destroyed the land." It seems likely that raiding Arab tribes extinguished what remained of a weakened Nabataean culture. In 747 A.D. what was left of the Nabataean cities was destroyed in a major earthquake.

Also see:
Nabataean Alphabet
Nabataean Numbers


Al-Qatanani, Y. Nabataean Coins. (Jordan, 2020).
Barkay, R. "New Nabataean Coins" in INJ 16 (2007-8).
Barkay, R. "Seven New Silver Coins of Malichus I and Obodas III" in NC 2006, pp. 99 - 103.
Barkay, R. "The Coinage of the Last Nabataean King, Rabbel II (AD 70/1-105/6)" in NC 174 (2014). Available Online
Barkay, R. The Coinage of the Nabataeans. Qedem 58. (Jerusalem, 2019).
Barkay, R. "The Coinage of the Nabataean King Malichus II (40–70 CE)" in INJ 18 (Jerusalem, 2014). Available Online
Barkay, R. "The Coinage of the Nabataean Usurper Syllaeus (c. 9–6 BC)" in NC 177 (2017). Available Online
Barkay, R. "The Earliest Nabataean Coinage" in NC 2011.
Bowersock, G. Roman Arabia. (Cambridge, 1983).
Bowsher, J. "Early Nabataean Coinage" in ARAM 2:1-2 (1990), pp. 221-228.
Cohen, E. Dated Coins of Antiquity: A comprehensive catalogue of the coins and how their numbers came about. (Lancaster, PA, 2011).
Dussad, R. "Numismatique des rois de Nabatene" in Journal Asiatique 12 (1904), pp 189 - 238.
Hill, G. A Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum - Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia. (London, 1922).
Hoover, O. "A Reassessment of Nabataean Lead Coinage in Light of New Discoveries" in NC 2006.
Hoover, O. Handbook of Coins of the Southern Levant: Phoenicia, Southern Koile Syria (Including Judaea), and Arabia, Fifth to First Centuries BC. HGC 10. (Lancaster, PA, 2010).
Hoover, O. & R. Barkay. "Important Additions to the Corpus of Nabataean Coins since 1990" in Huth CCK. (New York, 2010).
Huth, M. Coinage of the Caravan Kingdoms, Ancient Arabian Coins from the Collection of Martin Huth. ACNAC 10. (New York, 2010).
Huth, M. & P. van Alfen. Coinage of the Caravan Kingdoms. Studies in the Monetization of Ancient Arabia. ANSNS 25. (New York, 2010).
Meshorer, Y. Nabatean Coins. Qedem 3. (Jerusalem, 1975).
Meshorer, Y., et al. Coins of the Holy Land: The Abraham and Marian Sofaer Collection at the American Numismatic Society and The Israel Museum. ACNAC 8. (New York, 2013).
Milik, J. & H. Seyrig. "Trésor monétaire de Murabba'at" in Revue Numismatique 1 (1958), pp. 11 - 22.
Plant, R. The Coinage of the Nabataeans, Seaby Coin and Medal Bulletin, March 1979, pp. 81-84.
Robinson, E. "Coins from Petra etc." in NC 1936, pp. 288-291, pl. XVII.
Schmitt-Korte, K. & M. Cowell. "Nabatean Coinage - Part I. The Silver Content Measured by X-ray Fluorescence Analysis" in NC 1989, pp. 33-58, pl. 11-17.
Schmitt-Korte, K. "Nabatean Coinage - Part II. New Coin Types and Variants" in NC 1990, pp. 105-133, pl. 10-15.
Schmitt-Korte, K. & M. Price. "Nabatean Coinage - Part III. The Nabatean Monetary System" in NC 1994, pp. 67-131, pl. 10-12.
Spikerman. A. The coins of the Decapolis and Provincial Arabia. (Jerusalem, 1978).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, The Collection of the American Numismatic Society, Part 6: Palestine - South Arabia. (New York, 1981).
Tal, O. "Coin denominations and weight standards in fourth-century BCE Palestine" in INR 2, pp. 24 - 28.

*Reference not held by Forum.  Please let us know if you see a copy for sale.

The Nabatean Kings

The Nabataean kingdom was located in present-day Jordan, southern Syria, southern Israel and north-western Saudi Arabia. The fall of the kingdom of Judea was followed by the rise of the Nabateans beginning in the fourth century B.C. These traders traveled in caravans from Arabia and made their capital Petra, in what is now southern Jordan. They eventually controlled trade in perfumes and spices and built numerous fortresses along the branch of the Spice Route in the Negev Desert.

Aretas I (c. 170 - 140 BCE)

The first known Nabatean king. His name appears on the earliest Nabatean inscription discovered to date, a 168 BCE carving found in Halutza. He is also mentioned in 2 Maccabees 5:8. The passage relates that Jason, the high priest who established a Hellenistic polis in Jerusalem, was held prisoner by Aretas I after being forced to leave the city. No known coinage.

Rabel I (c. 140 - 120/110 BCE)

Aretas I's successor, whose reign began c. 140 BCE. His name is known from a statue dedicated to him in Petra. No known coinage.

Aretas II (c. 120/110 - 96 BCE)

Rabel I's successor. His reign began in 120 or 110 BCE and he ruled until 96 BCE. Aretas 11 was a contemporary of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus, whose expansionist policies were a direct threat to the Nabatean kingdom.

Obodas (Avdat) I (c. 99 - 82 BCE)

Obodas I ascended the throne in 90 BCE and defeated Alexander Jannaeus in a battle on the Golan Heights-probably the key to the Nabatean return to the Negev. The town of Oboda (Avdat) was named for the victor, who was worshiped as a god even after his death.

Aretas III (87 - 62 BCE)

Hostilities between the Hasmoneans and the Nabateans came to a head with the rise to power of Aretas III. In 84 BCE he conquered Damascus. He later invaded the Hasmonean kingdom and defeated Alexander Jannaeus at Hadid (a few kilometers east of Ben-Gurion Airport). The latter retaliated by capturing Nabatean cities in Moab and attacking the Bashan and Gilead. Alexander was succeeded by his wife Shlomtzion; after her death, her sons Hyrcanus and Aristobolus fought over the throne, which the latter finally ascended.

Hyrcanus fled to Aretas III, with whom he forged an alliance. In 65 BCE the Nabatean army besieged Jerusalem, but its attack was to end the following year when the Romans appeared in the East. The two Hasmonean brothers took their case to Pompey, who sent Scaurus to Jerusalem to force a Nabatean retreat.

Obodas II (c. 62 - 60 B.C.)

Obodas II's existence was uncertain for years, until an inscription recently found east of the Suez Canal confirmed it.

Malichus I (59/58 - 30 BCE)

Obodas II's son. In 40 BCE he helped the Parthians overrun Syria and Palestine. After the Romans expelled the Parthians in 34 BCE, they confiscated Malichus's date groves around Jericho and his Red Sea harbors. Herod also fought Malichus, defeating his army near Philadelphia (present-day Amman).

Obodas III (30 - 9 BCE)

This king's reign was an era of cultural flowering for the Nabatean kingdom. Under him, most of its temples were built, including that at Avdat. It was during his days that the Romans attempted to discover the sources of the perfume and spice trade.

Syllaeus (Usurper, 9 - 6 BCE)

Syllaeus was chief minister for Obodas III and he briefly shared rule of Nabataea with Aretas IV after Obodas death. But Syllaeus had a powerful enemy. In 24 B.C. Syllaeus had betrayed Rome causing almost the complete destruction of an army sent into Arabia Felix. Syllaeus was twice called to the court at Rome, where in 6 B.C. he was convicted of treason and Obodas' murder. He was beheaded and his body was pitched from the Tarpeian Rock.

Aretas IV and Syllaeus, 9 - 6 BCE

Aretas IV (9 BCE - 40 CE)

Aretas IV was the greatest Nabataean king, ruling S. Palestine, most of Trans-Jordan, N. Arabia, and Damascus. He took the name Philopatris, lover of his people. Aretas married Shuqailat, his second wife, in 16 A.D. Aretas' daughter Phasaelis was married to, and divorced from, Herod Antipas. Herod then married his stepbrother's wife, Herodias. It was opposition to this marriage that led to the beheading of John the Baptist. After he received news of the divorce, Aretas invaded the territory of Herod Antipas and defeated his army. Paul mentions Aretas in connection with his visit to Damascus, when he had to sneak out of the city in a basket lowered from a window in the wall to escape (2 Corinthians 11:32). Al-Khazneh, one of the most elaborate buildings in Petra, is believed to have been his mausoleum.

Aretas IV and Syllaeus, 9 - 6 BCE
Aretas IV and his sister/wife Huldu, 9 BCE - 15/16 CE
Aretas IV and his son Phasael, 5 - 4 BCE
Aretas and Shuqailat, 16 - 40 CE

Malichus II (40 - 71 CE)

In Malichus's time, Nabatean trade dwindled as the Romans diverted the perfume and spice cargoes to Egypt. Malichus sent 5,000 horsemen and 1,000 soldiers to help Titus quash the Jewish revolt.

Malichus II and Shuqailat II, 40 - 71 CE

Rabbel II (71 - 106 CE)

Rabbel II Soter was the last Nabataean king, ruling from 70/71 to 106 A.D. Rabbel II is not mentioned in any historical sources; we know him only from inscriptions and his coins. One inscription dates the first year of his reign to 70/71 A.D., following the death of his father, and another says he ruled 36 years. Another inscription identifies Rabbel as the son of Malichus, who was the son of Aretas; it also identifies Gamilat and Hagaru as daughters of Malichus, thus sisters of Rabbel. An inscription dated to 93 A.D. notes that Rabbel II resided in Bostra. From the coinage, we know that when he was crowned, Rabbel II was too young to rule and his mother, Shuqailat II, ruled as regent for six years. Shuqailat appears on dated drachms and undated bronze coins. Rabbel's two sisters also appear on his coins confirming Rabbel married his own sisters and made them queens, a Nabataean royal tradition. His first wife, his sister Gamilat, appears on drachms dated from regnal year 11 to 22 and undated bronze coins. After Gamilat died, Rabbel married Hagaru, another sister. Gamilat was depicted on undated bronze coins. The style and execution of the coinage deteriorated through Rabbel II's reign. After Rabbel II's death in 106, Trajan took Nabataea with little resistance and made the Nabataean Kingdom part of the Roman province Arabia Petraea.

Rabbel II with his mother/regent Shuqailat II, years 1 - 6, 71 - 76 CE
Rabbel II with his sister/wife Gamilat, years 11 - 22, 80/81 - 102 CE
Rabbel II with his sister/wife Hagaru, year 22, 105 - 106 CE

Barkay, R. "The coinage of the last Nabataean King, Rabbel II (AD 70/1-105/6)" in NC 174 (2014), pp. 29 - 44, pl. 6 - 7.
Barkay, R. The Coinage of the Nabataeans. (Jerusalem, 2019).
Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, Scented Cities: The Nabatean Negev, (Israel: Eretz ha-Tzvi, 1999)

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