Women in Ancient Northern Arabia: Nabataea

UoM administered thesis: Phd


This study is comprised of five chapters. The first chapter is concerned with the rules of writing ancient history, critiquing the attitudes of ancient and modern scholars towards reading and interpreting the history of the 'Other', especially the 'Other's' women. The second chapter deals with two questions. The first is Nabataean ethnicity and identity, where I argue that the Nabataeans were an ethnie of cultural and social characteristics that marked Nabataeanness, and that one of the principal ethnie markers is the worship of the god Dushara. The second is about the elements that composed Nabataean society, which is a description of the components of the Nabataean ethnie: tribes, nomads and sedentaries, foreigners, slaves and clients. The third chapter is central to the thesis, for it is the one that establishes Nabataean woman's status, describing it from different aspects including the political, the legal and the sacred, i.e. what constitutes our evidence on Nabataean women's status. On the political level, the chapter elaborates on the first emergence of Nabataean women in history, taking the queen as the representative of this change. As for the legal aspect, that covers the domains where Nabataean women operated, including owning property, inheritance, guardianship, custody and parentage. This demonstrates a partially matrilinear society. In the third section, I provide evidence for the identity of the Nabataean priestess. The fourth chapter presents a survey of the contemporaneous ancient societies from Nile to Oxus and their attitude towards women, compared to the Nabataeans. I suggest that Nabataean women were distinguished, together with Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Syrians, from Greek and Roman women. Having guardianship is one of the principal markers of this difference. The final chapter analyses the comparisons made in order to be able to deduce and explain the reasons that allowed Nabataean society to be relatively different. I argue that there were two main factors that helped the change to happen: long male absence in long-distance trade, and the establishment of law and order by a strong state.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date3 Jul 2000