Jordan, Day 6: The Ancient Nabatean City of Petra

The “rose-red city”! Petra is the historical city of the Nabatean civilization, one of Jordan’s most famous landmarks, as well as one of the 8 wonders of the modern world. My mom would like very much to see Petra, but these pictures will have to do for now. 

Near the entrance of the site, we immediately began to see the architecture of the Nabateans, carved directly into the sandstone hills. This is a tomb of a very rich family. The four pyramid towers on top mean that there are four people buried within the tomb. 

Daisy looks a bit too happy about being stopped by the gaurds.

We entered the high walls of the city around 9 in the morning, which is the best time to see the colours of the walls in the early sun. Later in the day the rock changes colour many times. 

In some places the walls of the Siq (the pathway to the city) are up to 80 feet high.  

The first glimpse of the Treasury through the rock walls.

The Treasury at Petra! Locals and explorers believed that it held treasures, hence the name. Once it was excavated they realized that it held no secret treasure hoard. You can see where the pillars have been restored by modern artists. Near the top left of the picture you can see the groves in the wall that would have acted as scafolding for the carvers. Sandstone is very easy to carve, but I can’t imagine being up that high to do it! 

Past the Treasury, in the city. 

SO many locals call Petra home. They live there full time selling their wares to tourists, including postcards, jewelry, and many other souvenirs. Small children came up to us dozens of times trying to sell us things. It’s very hard to say no to them. 

Those of us who were brave climbed the 800 step descent to the Monastery at the highest point of the city of Petra. Only 4 of us (including me!) climbed the whole way to the top. The rest took donkeys to get there. My reward for the hike up was a ride down the mountain on a donkey, which was an experience in itself. 

Daisy and Ciara standing in the mouth of the Monastery, which is 47 feet high. 

I wish I could post every picutre I took in Petra. I pick about 1 out of 30 photos to post on my blog every day, and there are so many more experiences that I just don’t have time to convey here. There’s really no way to understand it unless you experience it first hand. Petra was easily among the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. 

My experience at Petra, however, pales in comparison to my night camping in the desert of Wadi Rum. Next post! 

The Sings As Lost Cultures

The Mycenaean Civilization, Greece - Aries

The Mycenae didn’t flourish by trade alone – they set out to conquer, and expanded into an empire that overtook much of Greece. The Mycenaean civilization enjoyed five centuries of domination before vanishing sometime around 1100 BCE. Hellenic legend holds that the Mycenae defeated the possibly mythological Troy, and the empire’s artifacts have been found as far away as Ireland. In fact, this culturally and economically wealthy civilization has left behind a wealth of art, architecture and artifacts.

Cahokia, Illinois, United States - Taurus

Cahokia was once the largest urban center north of the great Mesoamerican cities of Mexico and may have once been home to as many as 40,000 people – greater, in the year 1250 CE, than the population of London, England, or that of any American city that was to come until Philadelphia around the year 1800.

The Anasazi, New Mexico, United States - Gemini

Remains best known for stone and adobe structures built along cliff walls, which evolved into amazing multi-story dwellings that were often only accessible by rope or ladder.

Clovis Culture, North America - Cancer

Very little is known about the Clovis culture, a prehistoric Paleo-Indian people that were thought to have been the first human inhabitants of North America. The artifacts, bone and stone blades known as Clovis points, are among the only clues we have that this group – technically not a civilization – ever existed.

The Aksumite Empire, Ethiopia - Leo

Theorized to be the home of the Queen of Sheba, the Aksumite Empire had its own alphabet and erected enormous obelisks including the Obelisk of Axum, which still stands. It was the first major empire to convert to Christianity.

The Indus Valley Civilization, Pakistan - Virgo

Sophisticated and technologically advanced, this civilization featured the world’s first urban sanitation systems as well as evidence of surprising proficiency in mathematics, engineering and even proto-dentistry.

The Minoans, Crete - Libra

Centers of commerce appeared around 2700 BCE, and as the civilization advanced, palaces of greater and greater complexity were built and rebuilt following series of disasters – likely earthquakes and eruptions of the Thera volcano. One of these palaces was Knossos, the ‘labyrinth’ associated with the legend of Minos, which is now a major archaeological site and tourist attraction.

Moche Civilization, Peru - Scorpio

The Moche civilization developed an agriculturally-based society complete with palaces, pyramids and complex irrigation canals on the north coast of Peru. In 2006, a Moche chamber was discovered that was apparently used for human sacrifice, containing the remains of human offerings.

The Khmer Empire, Cambodia - Sagittarius

Once one of the most powerful empires of Southeast Asia, the Khmer civilization spread from modern-day Cambodia out into Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia and is best known today for Angkor, its capital city.

The Olmec Civilization, Mexico - Capricorn

Once a grand Pre-Columbian civilization that constructed incredible ‘colossal heads’, practiced bloodletting and human sacrifice, invented the concept of the number zero, possibly invented the compass, and essentially laid the foundation for every Mesoamerican culture that was to follow.

The Cucuteni-Trypillians, Ukraine & Romania - Aquarius

This mysterious civilization is characterized by its uniquely patterned pottery and by its bizarre habit of burning its own villages to the ground every 60 to 80 years. The villages were rebuilt again and again, on top of the ashes of the old ones.

The Nabateans, Jordan - Pisces

Their legacy is epitomized by the breathtaking city of Petra, carved into the solid sandstone rock of Jordan’s mountains, and they are remembered for their skill in water engineering, managing a complex system of dams, canals and reservoirs which helped them expand and thrive in an arid desert region.

Endgame D&D

Hosting an Endgame D&D and we need players!!
Currently the cast includes:
Minoan: Keegan
Koori: Elijah
Harrapan: Utem
Nabatean: Adlei
Aksumite: Eikon
Donghu: Chi
Shang: Bo
Celt: Dara

Sumerian: Azazle Cahokian: N/A Olmec: In need of player

Its being held on discord so let me know if you’re interested! We still need a Mu, Sumerian, Cahokian, and Olmec
Like all games the first move is essential


Temple of Dushares (Qasr al-bint Firaun- Palace of Pharaoh’s Daughter)

Petra, Jordan

~30 BCE

23 m. high

The monument was built in the Nabataean period. Most of the blocks are of yellow sandstone were transported from a quarry a few hundred meters downstream in the wadi es-Siyagh.

It was in fact the largest place of worship of the city, and consecrated to the god Dushares, and May also be to the goddess Al-Uzza.

After the Roman conquest , it was modified and adapted to the Roman gods, perhaps to Apollo, and maintained a central position in the city at the end of the main street (Cardo Maximus) and in the immediate vicinity of the main Roman temple and of the market.

The temple of Dushares also has the largest facade in Petra — 4 m wider than the Khazneh and the Great Temple. It belongs to the Parthian ‘flight’ type of temples with two staircases giving access to a flat roof. The central interaxial column spacing of this temple is around 8.00 m, a very impressive span, if one takes into consideration that the same span in the Artemis temple at Jerash is 'only’ 4.90 m, and in the Hercules temple in Amman it is 5.18 m. Each of the column drums of the temple must have weighed around 7 tons. The masonry, the craftsmanship and the ergonomics of its construction indicate that Qasr el-Bint was a very costly project. Wooden courses inside the masonry secured the elasticity of its walls.

In the bluescript:  (A) The Pronaos delimited by four columns in antis. It then reaches the barlong room of the cella (B) which consists of three adjoining rooms. The middle one © sheltered the beast of Dushara, represented by a rectangular stone, twice as high as it was wide on a golden base. This stone was destined to receive libations of blood from the little cattle or from the sacrificed camels.

The two lateral chapels (D) had a staircase (E) to reach the top of the temple. The presence of a higher terrace for outdoor religious ceremonies is not proved, however, even if Strabo mentions that the Nabataeans worshiped an altar on the top of the temple. The lateral chapels were to be rooms for the rest of the priests officiating or could be used for ritual banquets.

Shushtar - Ancient Water Fortress of Iran

One of the oldest cities in the world at 6000 BCE

As described by UNESCO:

Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System
Shushtar, Historical Hydraulic System, inscribed as a masterpiece of creative genius, can be traced back to Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C. It involved the creation of two main diversion canals on the river Kârun one of which, Gargar canal, is still in use providing water to the city of Shushtar via a series of tunnels that supply water to mills. It forms a spectacular cliff from which water cascades into a downstream basin. It then enters the plain situated south of the city where it has enabled the planting of orchards and farming over an area of 40,000 ha. known as Mianâb (Paradise). The property has an ensemble of remarkable sites including the Salâsel Castel, the operation centre of the entire hydraulic system, the tower where the water level is measured, damns, bridges, basins and mills. It bears witness to the know-how of the Elamites and Mesopotamians as well as more recent Nabatean expertise and Roman building influence.

Kufic script is a lovely and ancient variant of the Arabic alphabet that developed out of the Nabatean alphabet of Classical-era Petra.

To Helios, with fumigations from frankincense and... frankincense?

Alright, forgive the sarcastic title, but I have a bone to pick with the generic Hellenic friendly online community (I’m not even bothering with specific titles at this point): lazy scholarship breeds misinformation.

There is one small point of contention for me when it comes to misinformation. I see it all over the place in various Hellenic sites, conversations on blogs, and even amongst the Hellenic polytheists I know personally. The title there is a bit of a spoof, it’s referencing the seventh (according to Taylor) Orphic hymn, To Helios. The next line states appropriate offerings: fumigations from frankincense and manna. And I see it, over and over again: “our best guess is that manna is powdered frankincense” or “manna, which is sweet frankincense”, and so on, in a thoroughly bothersome manner. Please ask yourself, why would the Orphic hymn to Helios require you burn frankincense and… frankincense? That little tidbit alone obviously does not discredit the theory, however it does help me highlight the flaw in said theory.

Manna as frankincense is not sound, or at least, not for early Greeks. I will concede that perhaps in the Hellenistic era, when frankincense was readily available in mass quantities due Eurasian trade routes was frankincense considered a replacement for manna (the ancient world has always made due with what was available) since frankincense was so highly regarded; its name does mean “truest incense”, but it was not always so. I find it to be lazy scholarship to call manna frankincense when we know what manna is and even still have manna in the modern day. At this point, I’ve probably lost you, but bear with me, I will explain.

May 8th of 2013, I wrote my post on honey in the ancient Hellenic world. In it, I described the origin of the word, some of the origins of apiculture, and some of its use in worship and relation to various Theoi. What I did not do, was explain the other words which share its origins in honey—the other substances which the Greeks considered honey, and how they all relate to manna. In Greek, the word Μέλι or “meli” is translated to honey, but the ancient Greeks knew three types of honey, or rather referred to three different substances all as honey. It is my belief that for much of Hellenic history, manna was the weepings of the ash tree. After all, the Μέλισσα were the bee nymphs, but also the nymphs of ash trees in the First Age. 

The ash tree holds a strange prominence in Greek mythology that many do not talk about today. It’s easy to focus on the obvious, the oaks belong to Zeus, pines to Pan, olive to Athene, myrtle to Aphrodite, vine to Dionysos, but the ash, if we were to simplify such things, belongs to the nymphoi. Hesychius in his lexicon contains this entry: melías karpós: tò anthrópon génos. (“Seed of ash: the race of men”), and is referring to the castration of Ouranos, when his bled fell to the earth and created the ash nymphs.  Various authors translate  the nymphs as either bee nymphs or honey gatherers or eaters, or as ash tree nymphs, but rarely are they both. To the ancient Greeks, however, a distinction of that sort would never need to be made. The ash trees, of which ancient Greece was home to at least four varieties, hold a particular attribute about which many people don’t know. I would surmise many anthropologists, philoligists, and translators would not know what naturalists, culinarians, and the ancient Greeks do/did: they secrete a pale sugary substance from their bark and leaves, similar to the resins of other trees, and which is sold commercially even today. Up until the last century, it was sold as a pharmaceutical, although today it is little more than a novelty or candy. nd do you know what this substance is called? Manna.

I’m sure you’re thinking this couldn’t possibly be the same manna that the ancient Greeks used, but I do believe it is. The origin of the word manna has not been sufficiently explained yet. The word is a fine example of Indo-European language, easily translatable and understood in the varying languages across Europe and Western Asia. If the tales of manna from the sky come to mind, you would not be remiss. In early Hebrew, we have the word mân (what?). The Israelites in the Wilderness of Sin, seeing manna for the first time, are said to have exclaimed mân-hû, “what is this? This seeming foodstuff which fell from the sky and onto the rocks and trees. Mân passed into Egyptian (mennu), Arabic (mann), of course to Greek (μάννα) and Latin (manna).Modern authorities have pointed out that the Arabic mann also means “gift,” in the sense of “free gift,” “gift from God” or “gift from heaven” (mann as-samā). This is what I was taught in my many years in Catholic education, manna means gift, (as that is what we were taught was the best translation from Sinaitic dialects of Hebrew). It is my belief that throughout the ancient world, manna was understood to be sweet secretions from trees, most commonly  Fraxinus ornus, or Fraxinus excelsior. Also of not, is the Indo-European word for ash, os, which not only is the father of our word for the tree, but is also related to the word for beech, oxúe, as well as ox, which brings about a fascinating parallel with the ox-born bees of the Egyptian born rituals of bugonia.

Now you may be thinking that while this is al very interesting, the etymology of one word in various languages doesn’t prove that the ancient Greeks thought manna was some weird sap. You are correct, fortunately, there are plenty of other sources which do prove exactly what I’m claiming. The Lidell-Scott-Jones Greek English Lexicon does a very good job of defining melí as”honey”as well as a “sweet gum collected from certain trees, manna” The definition is followed by the definition for melía as “manna ash, Fraxinus ornus”. It is taken for granted that “ía” is commonly used as a suffix denoting a plant which is named after some other root word. Even if we throw etymology out the window, the mythology and other literature cannot be denied. Classical writers used one word to describe three substances, to the Greeks, they were essentially all the same: honey made by bees, honeydew (which we now know is produced by aphids and certain other insects), and manna secreted by trees. Both the Greeks and the Romans felt that bees’ honey resulted from the bees’ collection of the other two substances. The belief that honey was one of the divine foodstuffs of the Theoi, and falls from the skies to be collected by bees, not only from flowers, but also from tree leaves, fields, etc. is attested by Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, and several other sources.

Aristotle wrote:

The honey is what falls from the air, especially at the risings of the stars and when the rainbow descends. On the whole there is no honey before the [morning] rising of the Pleiad… Honey [the bee] does not make, it fetches what falls.

In many counrties, until regulations were placed on the labeling and production of honey, honeydew was still regarded as true honey, even though it is a byproduct of an entirely different creature. The actual source of honeydew would probably be bewildering to ancient Greeks, nevertheless, they regarded all three substances as equal in sweetness, in making kindly, in sacredness. There is even texts that the Greeks wrote about foreigners eating their foreign manna”! Aelian mentions honey from box trees in Pontus and reports of honey from plants in Thrace. He claims that there are rains of honey in the spring in India. Diodorus Siculus says that the Nabateans ate “plenty of so-called honey from trees”, probably the Biblical tamarisk manna. Herodotus mentions the town of Callatebus in Lydia, “where craftsmen make honey from wheat and tamarisks”. Polyaenus describes the Persian king’s daily requisition of food, inscribed on a brass column. It includes 100 cakes of “raining honey”. This early manna, is still sold is some countries today, though mostly Iran. Some culinarians believe it is manna which inspired the invention of Turkish nougat. And a rare few believe it was fermented manna (as manna does deepen and mellow in color and flavor with age and eventually ferment) which was the first honey wines of the ancient Greeks.

Manna represents to the ancient Greeks, the edible secretions of trees, archetypally the ash, but also others, but it would not be merely frankincense. That isn’t to say manna and frankincense don’t have much in common,they do in ters of associations with gathring, harvesting, heat, and certain celestial associations. And given the ancient worlds absolute fascination with frankincense it is an easy conclusion to make, that manna would be another word for frankincense, but it is simply not so. I think the ash tree and its importance in Greek mythology deserves to have its moment in the spotlight again.