Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The purpose of this thesis is to examine the cult of Dushara, the head of the Nabataean pantheon, in the Nabataean and Roman periods, in order to better understand Nabataean cultural identity following the Roman annexation of Nabataea by Trajan in AD 106. I explore Dushara's cult during the Nabataean and Roman periods by analyzing literary, archaeological, and artistic evidence. An important aspect ofDushara's worship is his close connection with the Nabataean king as lithe god of our lord (the king)" in inscriptions. A major question for this thesis is how Dushara's worship survived in the Roman period after the fall of the Nabataean king.
Greco-Roman, Byzantine, and Semitic sources attest to the worship of Dushara in the post-Nabataean period, but these sources are often vague and sometimes present misinterpretations. Therefore, we must necessarily look to archaeological and artistic evidence to present a more complete picture of Dushara's worship in the Roman period. Specific archaeological sites examined in this thesis include Oboda and Sobata in the Negev; Bostra, Umm el-Jimal, and Sī' in the Hauran; Hūrāwa, Khirbet edh-Dharih, and DhIban of central Jordan; Petra, Hawara, and Iram in southern Jordan; and Hegra in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Most of these sites contain some evidence for Dushara's worship, although much cannot be dated. Artistic evidence is also an important aspect in the study of Dushara's worship. In the Nabataean period, Nabataean deities, including Dushara, are generally depicted as a betyl, a rectangular, aniconic stone; however, given the relative lack of inscriptions and other datable evidence associated with betyls, their date is often difficult to determine. Numismatic evidence suggests that Dushara's cult continued into the Roman period. Aniconic imagery appears on coinage from Antoninus Pius in the mid-2nd century to Gallienus in the mid-3rd century, including coins from Bostra, Adraa, Charachmoba, Medaba, and Petra. However, anthropomorphic imagery of Dushara appears on coinage from Bostra for a brief span under Commodus in AD 177 and Caracalla in AD 209/210. This emergence of anthropomorphic imagery, which possibly reflects earlier portraits of Nabataean kings, may have been influenced by the Hellenized elites, the presence of the Legio III Cyrenaica, or the rise in power of the indigenous peoples.
This thesis demonstrates that a fundamental aspect of Nabataean culture survived following the fall of the kingdom. Although the evidence for Dushara's cult is erratic and often difficult to interpret, it is clear that the cult continued in some capacity well into the Roman period and possibly as late as the Islamic period. The worship of Dushara was perhaps one way in which the people of Arabia could associate themselves with the culture of the past stay and stay connected to their Nabataean roots.
Peterson, Stephanie Bowers, "The Cult of Dushara and the Roman Annexation of Nabataea" (2006). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5352.
McMaster University Library