Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nabatean Towns In The Negev


Bedouin are nomads, or rather, used to be nomads, as all the Bedouin in Israel are now settled.  Some live in un-official settlements along the roadsides, in wooden or metal sided buildings.  They also have 7 towns with permanent buildings and infra-structure.

The Bedouin came to Israel in several waves, starting in the Nabatean era.  Further waves came in the Early Moslem period and again in the Ottoman period.  Before  independence in 1948 there were 60,000 Bedouin.  After the War of Independence only 12,000 remained as all the others had left.  Today their numbers have increased to approx 200,000 in the Negev around Arad, Dimona and Beersheva, 30,000 in the centre of the country and 60,000 in the north.  They were subject to military rule from 1948 to 1967.

There are 2 main lines of Bedouin, one descended from Ishmael and one from Yocton.  In 1952, the Bedouin lost their right to lands outside the Arad, Dimona, Beersheva triangle.  In 1974 they were granted Israeli citizenship.  Most Bedouin are poor, and they are moving away from farming.  There is a lot of crime.  They are polygamists and revenge is an essential part of their culture.

Bedouin tents are made of goat’s wool, which is very oily.  In summer the fabric breathes and in winter it becomes waterproof against the rain.  There are 2 areas in each tent, one for men and one for women.  A white flag flying outside a tent signals there’s a wedding inside.

The receiving of guests is most important to Bedouin.  The residents of the tent stand outside to greet guests.  A guest is welcome to stay for up to 3 days with no questions asked.


The Incense Route – Desert Cities of the Negev” was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.  The route runs from Moa in the Arava to Avdat in the Negev highlands (about 65 km), and includes the ancient cities of Avdat, Halutza, Shivta and Mamshit.  Most of the road is included in the Tzinim Cliff Nature Reserve and the cities are national parks.

The Incense route started in Oman and Yemen and extended 2,400 kms, passing through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Negev.  It ends at the port of Gaza.  It was a busy road from the 3rd century BCE to the 4th century CE.

The road was listed as a World Heritage site under the following UNESCO criteria:

The Incense Route is unique testimony to a culture that has disappeared.

The Nabatean cities and commercial routes constitute persuasive evidence of the economic, social and cultural significance of incense – frankincense and myrrh – and of spices and various merchandise transported from the Far East and Arabian Peninsular to the Hellenstic and Roman worlds.  In addition to the road’s commercial nature, it also impacted ancient cultures, bring people and worldviews together.

The road is a globally valuable and extraordinary example of traditional land use.

The silent remains of the cities, the forts, the road and the milestones, the caravansaries and the sophisticated agricultural systems along the Incense Route in the Negev are an extraordinary example of the hospitable desert environment that flourished here for 700 years.

The Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, described the route in the first century CE in “Historia Naturalis”:
“After the frankincense is collected, it is conveyed by camel to Sabota, and one of the gates of the city is opened to receive the merchandise.  The kings enacted a permanent law that it is a serious crime for a camel bearing frankincense to divert from the main road.  In Sabota, the priests levy a tithe on the frankincense for the god known as Sabis, and it is not permitted to bring the medicaments to the market before the payment of the tithe.  In fact, this was done to cover public expenses, because on certain days of the year, the god hosts grand feasts.  From here, the merchandise may be conveyed through the land of the Gebbanites only, and therefore, tax must be paid to the king of this people as well.  Their capital is Thomna, which is 1487 miles (2380 km) from Gaza in Judea, located on the coast of the Mediterranean.  The journey is divided into 65 stages (36.6 km each), at each of which is a rest station for the camels.  Regular portions of frankincense must be paid to the priests of the lands, their kings, and their scribes.  In addition, portions are also taken by guards at gates and their servants.  In addition to these, they must pay all the way, in one place for water, elsewhere for a place at the way station, and also for food.  Thus expenses come to 688 denarii even before reaching the Mediterranean.  Then our imperial tax official must be paid again.  Because of this, the price of good frankincense can be 6 denarii per litre, average frankincense can be 5 denarii, and the third type can be 3 denarii.”

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