Nabataeans, an ancient Semitic people who lived in what is now Jordan. Between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D., the Nabataeans maintained a flourishing kingdom based on commerce and agriculture. From Petra, their capital, the Nabataeans dominated the rich caravan routes leading to Greece, Rome, Syria, Persia, Egypt, southern Arabia, India, and China. They surpassed their Middle Eastern neighbors in agriculture, improving the yield of oases and turning vast areas of the desert into productive farmland by building irrigation systems. The Nabataeans were also noted for their thin, fine pottery and their ability to carve buildings, monuments, and tombs out of mountains.

The Nabataeans were originally nomads living in southern Arabia. By the fourth century B.C., they had moved northward and settled at Petra. The Nabataeans grew wealthy by collecting tolls from caravans for safe conduct through their territory. Petra became a cosmopolitan city, reflecting both Greco-Roman and Eastern influences in its art and architecture. Many Nabataeans spoke Greek and Latin in addition to their native Aramaic dialect.

By the first century B.C., Nabataean settlements extended north to Damascus (Syria), south to the Red Sea, east through most of what is now Jordan, and west to the Mediterranean Sea. The kingdom reached its greatest development under the leadership of Aretas IV (9 B.C.–40 A.D.). It was annexed by Rome during 105–106 A.D. and was made the province of Arabia.

Little was known about the Nabataeans until the 20th century, when the American archeologist Nelson Glueck devoted more than 30 years of study to their remains.