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Nabataean Aila (Aqaba, Jordan) from a Ceramic Perspective

Local and intra-regional trade in Aqaba Ware during the first and second centuries AD. Evidence from the Roman Aqaba Project

Benjamin J. Dolinka


For the history of Nabataean Aila, the importance of antiquities cannot be underestimated: the pottery recovered from the excavations of the Roman Aqaba Project (RAP) has provided much more information about the society and economy of the site than the writings of the ancient authors. The port of Aila is located at the northern head of the Gulf of Aqaba, on the Jordanian side of the modern Israeli/Jordanian border. From the mid-1st century BC through the early-2nd century AD, Aila was an important Nabataean entrepôt serving a variety of commercial and economic functions. In this volume the author focuses on the ceramic assemblage from the RAP excavations in an attempt to better understand the socio-economic conditions at the site during this period, as seen through its pottery. Subsequent investigation of this material, combined with a thorough examination of excavation reports and a detailed comparative analysis of ceramic assemblages scattered throughout Jordan and Israel, was carried out by the authorand the results of this research have brought to light a great deal of new information regarding the society and economy of Nabataean Aila. The study examines the historical sources and archaeological evidence regarding Aila during the Nabataean period. Analysis of these sources provides important clues as to the rôle of Aila during the height of the Nabataean kingdom and shortly thereafter: this information both confirms and supplements the ancient authors and offers new insights into Aila’s socio-economic history of Aila. Also included is a detailed analysis of the Nabataean and Early Roman pottery uncovered by the excavations. A discussion of the various wares and vessel types offers insights into the local pottery industry attests to the thriving trading activities of the ancient polis, amply demonstrated by the numerous imports recovered. The final chapter offers some preliminary conclusions regarding the society and economy of Nabataean Aila, including its strategic location as a nexus of trade, the goods and other possible commodities that the site may have produced and exported, and its role as a regional oasis that supplied its rural hinterland with a variety of products. Taken together, information provided by the present study sheds much lighton the socio-economic history of Nabataean Aila. (Includes as an Appendix a catalogue of 44 selected examples of early Roman and Nabataean ware.)