General framework around the 1st century A.D.

The determining factor of the Roman action towards the Arabs, Semites in general, Hellenes and Iranians located in the Near East is inaugurated by the reordering of that region formulated by Gneo Pompeyo Magno, which meant the recognition by Rome of a list of regimes and states in the regions adjacent to the nucleus of the newly formed Roman province of Syria in the quality of clients and allies.

 Gneo Pompeyo Magno
Gneo Pompeyo Magno

Clientelily linked to the person of Gneo Pompey the Great, they entered the Roman Civil War on the Pompeian side, and participated in civil conflicts between 49 BC and 30 BC. But their position won them the race to avoid assimilation and absorption. Ten years after the end of the Roman Civil War that brought Octavian Caesar to power without discussion, 20 B.C., in addition to Comagene and Nabatea, one could find a pleiad of rhenies and dynasties surrounding the Roman province of Syria, being of great political, military and diplomatic use to Rome's interests, as they cemented their power in the region and were a vector pointing towards the expanding Parthian Empire.

The role played by the Jews among the Arabs

To simplify, we will only point out the role played by Antipater, Edomite or Idumean and convert to Judaism as well as being an old servant of the Hasmonean reigning house. Antipater used his circles of relations with the Arabs to enter the open conflict in Alexandria (Egypt), where Julius Caesar was besieged. Antipater entered into cooperation in favor of Caesar with Mithridates of Pergamon, who was sent to Syria and Palestine. Antipater's role was key in convincing the local Arab tribes to allow Mithridates and himself to pass to Pelusius, a decisive action for Caesar's victory in Alexandria, and with it Antipater secured the future of his family. Antipater mobilized 1,500 hoplites and Arab tribal chiefs, bringing all the dynasties of Syria together to help Caesar. Moreover, not only did Antipater allow Mithridates to reach Pelusius by convincing the tribes that were blocking his way, but he also ended up mobilizing the whole of Arab Syria to militarily support Caesar; additionally, he convinced the Jewish community of the Nile Delta to move to the Caesarian cause using the prestige of the high priest Hyrcanus. The policy of Antipater soon gained a strategic victory: Memphis took the Cesarean side and Mithridates and Antipater fought in the open field in the "Field of the Jews" against the Egyptian army, defeating it without palliatives. March 27, 47 B.C. Caesar joined the contingents of Mithridates and Antipater, and together they defeated Ptolemy by defeating Caesar in the Alexandrian war.


The Roman strategy for managing the region

To facilitate its interests, Rome pushed for a reduction in the number of such states, while at the same time expanding the size, and hence the power and capacity to respond to the challenges it had to face. Some tetrarchies were forced to cede territory to strengthen other agents, while others were integrated into Arab kingdoms, such as those placed under the control of Emesa. The rulers who exercised theoretical power in such kingdoms actually had limited action, defined by their location and the extent to which they had within their domains. However, the proximity or remoteness of the Roman power influenced the practical possibilities that these sovereigns handled. Comagene, whose capital, Samosata, was 260 kilometres from the capital of the Roman province of Syria, i.e. Antioch, was about 4 days' march from the nearest Roman garrisons; to this must be added the fact that the powerful kingdom of Osrhoene, which was a vassal of the births after the defeat of Crassus in Carras in 53 BC, was located exactly on the other side of the Euphrates. This meant that the sovereigns of Comagene were more sympathetic to childbirth, with reluctant suspicions on the part of Rome as to their true loyalty. How did Rome act? In 17 A.D., it was decided to take direct control of the main crosses and fords of the Euphrates and to annex Rome, Cappadocia and Comagene, although the latter kingdom was later refounded and again definitively absorbed by Rome in 72 A.D., after being linked to a conspiracy in favour of childbirth.

mosaicos de época del rey Abgar V (4 a.C -7 d.C.)
Antique mosaics of King Abgar V (4 BC-7 A.D.) in Sanliurfa, Turkey

Emesa, which was ruled by a dynasty of Baal priests, was annexed shortly thereafter. One of the features that we could highlight about the success of Romanization and the success in these annexation processes has much to do with the way in which the elites of these realm acted, since their dynasties did not stop thriving through matrimonial alliances with the different power groups of the Roman Empire, for example, the case of Julia Domna, direct heiress of the sovereigns of Emesa, and then, wife of Emperor Septimus Severus when more than one hundred years had passed since the absorption of the kingdom.

Nabatea's situation in the 1st century A.D. was very different: he had no superpower in his immediate vicinity capable of mediatizing it, his cores of power being quite far from the reach of any potential threat. Thus, in the 1st century A.D. Nabatea found himself in a situation that allowed him to avoid any kind of attempt at direct control or interference by other states. However, such freedom of action had its limits: the political upheavals of the enthronement of Aretas IV (8 BC-40 AD) in Nabatea led to the brief annexation of the kingdom to the Roman Empire as a province around 4 BC, being restored in 1 AD and placed back under the sovereignty of the king. The same sovereign declared war on his neighbor, Herod Antipas, in 37 A.D., triggering the Roman military intervention by order of Emperor Tiberius; fortunately for Aretas IV, on this occasion the commander in chief of the expedition, Vitellius, withdrew with his forces to Roman territory as soon as he heard of Tiberius' death. However, despite these brief ruptures, Nabatea generally maintained a friendly policy towards the Roman Empire: in 4 B.C. he sent an expeditionary force to accompany Quintilio Varo's army in Judea, and in 18 A.D. He sent an expeditionary force to accompany Quintilio Varo's army in Judea. Aretas IV paid tribute to Germanicus.

By 69 A.D., many of the kingdoms and client states of Roman power in the Near East had managed to survive the events under the rule of the Julius-Claude dynasty. Comagene continued under the rule of a dynasty of Iranian origin on the basis of provisions made by Tiberius for the restoration of this kingdom after its temporary dissolution in 17 AD. The Sampsigerami dynasty controlled Emesa and Aretusa in the middle course of the Orontes, and Palmira had been integrated into the select "club" of vassals of the Roman Empire in 19 A.D. The Sampsigerami dynasty controlled Emesa and Aretusa in the middle course of the Orontes, and Palmira had been integrated into the select "club" of vassals of the Roman Empire in 19 A.D. The Sampsigerami dynasty controlled Emesa and Aretusa in the middle course of the Orontes, and Palmira had been integrated into the select "club" of vassals of the Roman Empire in 19 A.D. The Nabataean Kingdom was then under the rule of Malicho II (A.D. 40-70), and extended over the fertile lands of South Hauran and the oases of Hedkhaz and Negev, covering virtually the entire space between Bostra and Hegra, and from Dumat al-Jandal in Central Arabia to Rhinocolura on the Mediterranean coasts. The last decades of the 1st century A.D. and the whole of the 2nd century A.D. would see the gradual disappearance of these kingdoms, absorbed and assimilated into the Roman provinces of Syria and Judea, or converted into new provinces themselves. The first victim of this process was, as we have already pointed out, the kingdom of Comagene in 72 A.D., annexed under the pretext of having plotted an international conspiracy in connivance with the Parthian Empire. Between 72 and 78 A.D. Sampsigeramo of Emesa was overthrown and his state incorporated into the province of Syria. The nearby tetrarchies probably also suffered a similar fate, although it is currently impossible to establish a precise chronology of their respective annexations.

Image result for Reino nabateo"The 2nd century A.D.

The last of the most powerful client kingdoms of Rome to disappear was Nabatea: in 106 A.D., at the death of its last king, Rabbel II (70-106 A.D.), the Kingdom of the Nabateans was occupied by the Roman army by order of Emperor Trajan and became the new province of Arabia, which also incorporated several localities of neighboring Decapolis such as Gerasa, Dion, or Philadelphia. The new administrative headquarters of the province, however, was not placed in Petra, but in Bostra. Arabia was placed under the responsibility of a legacy of Praetorian rank, receiving legion III Cyrenaica and several auxiliary units as garrison. Lucio Vero's campaigns against childbirth in 164-165 A.D. resulted in the annexation of Dura Europos in the middle course of the Euphrates.

However, the policy of maintaining Arab client states (or at least partially populated by Arab populations) would not disappear altogether: annexed the states to the west of the Euphrates, the expansion of Roman power further east would have the effect of snatching from orbit several important vassal kingdoms: during their campaigns against childbirth (114-117 A.D.), they would be able to use the orbit of the Roman Empire as a basis for the expansion of Roman power to the east.C.), Trajan received homage and oaths of allegiance from Abgar of Edesa and Sanatruq of Hatra (although the latter's allegiance was short-lived). Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Vero wielded the overthrow of Ma'nu VIII, king of Edessa, at the hands of a vassal of the Parthian Empire, Wael bar Sahru, to intervene militarily on the other side of the Euphrates. On a smaller scale, the governor of Arabia, Q. Antistio Advento, had to intervene to restore peace within the tamudea confederation, erecting a sanctuary for the imperial cult on the occasion of its success.

Thus, Arab or predominantly Arab states, kingdoms and tribal federations continued to be the spearhead of Roman power in the East, confronted in turn by the respective allies and vassals of the Empire. From the last decades of the 2nd century A.D., this new generation of client states will know the beginning of their apogee, mainly thanks to the serious weakening of the power of the Parthian Empire and the increasingly liberal patronage of Rome: the Roman power would be delighted to use the loyalty of these kingdoms to ensure control and supremacy beyond their limes, without the need to manage large spaces directly. The weakening of Roman power due to internal political instability and the direct challenge posed by the Sassanid Persian Empire would lead to the disappearance of some client states, but would open the doors of a brilliant race for power to one of them: Palmira.

Abgar X Frahad"
The Legend of King Abgar of Edessa and the Holy Visage , ca. 1700

The cases of Hatra, Edesa and Palmira, from 165 A.D. to 272 A.D. 

Edesa, a Greek town under the rule of an Arab dynasty, was an ally of Rome from 165 A.D. Ma'nu VIII Philohormaios was sovereign not only of Edesa, but maintained control of the Bedouin tribes of the region. During the civil war between Septimius Severus and Pescenio Niger in 193-194 A.D. Edesa stood next to the second, who represented the closest factual power of Rome. After Niger's defeat, Severo turned against those who had supported his rival, including the Childbirth Empire, a reason that served to launch a large-scale campaign in the East. Edesa was besieged and conquered in 195 A.D., although the client kingdom was not dissolved: King Abgar VIII was left in charge of his kingdom, while in his vicinity the principates of Carras and Batnae served to create the new Roman province of Osrhoene. After Severo's second parish campaign (197-198 AD), Abgar VIII maintained his privileged status as sovereign client of Rome, even receiving the title of "king of kings" from the hands of the emperor. Abgar VIII the Great was succeeded in 212 A.D. by his son, Abgar IX Severo. The following year he was deposed by order of Emperor Caracalla with the excuse that he was exercising a bad government over his subjects. The kingdom was integrated into Roman territory and Edessa received Roman colony status in 214 AD. Monetary mints testify, however, to the existence of Abgar X Frahad as king of Edessa around 240-242 A.D. Abgar X probably recovered his throne around 239 A.D., declaring himself loyal to the Roman emperor Gordian III. In 242 A.D. the sahanshah Shapor I occupied Edesa, which was temporarily reconquered by Gordian III shortly thereafter. In 244 A.D., the peace imposed by Shapor I on Philip the Arab led to the Persian reoccupation of Edessa, forcing Abgar X to seek refuge in Rome. The city would escape Arab control until the fall of the Persian Empire. Hatra, like Edesa, would know the apogee of its power shortly before its definitive disappearance as an independent state. The main difference between the two kingdoms lay in the fact that Hatra was militant mainly on the side of the disputes for hegemony in the Middle East until the fall of the Arsácida dynasty. In 193 A.D., King Barsemias of Hatra provided a contingent of archers to Pescenio Niger during the civil war that pitted him against Severo. Consequently, the victor besieged the city twice during his second campaign against the Parthian Empire (197-199 AD), failing miserably on both occasions, just as Trajan had done almost a century ago: the city's solid defences kept the Kingdom of Hatra free from Roman control until the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

At the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. Hatra changed sides aligning itself with Roman power against the agonizing arsácida power, as witnessed by the epigraphy of the city and the discovery of several Roman castles located to the east of the city as a defense against the Persian neighbors, dated around 231-232 d.C. Sanatruq II, the last king of Hatra, entered the power orbit of Rome under conditions similar to those of the sovereigns of Edessa, extending his authority over various principalities, local dynasties and nomadic Arab tribes in the region. Although the Roman military administration expanded roads and built fortresses in places such as Singara and Resaina, spaces under Hatra's control, this did not diminish the power of Sanatruq II, who soon became simply the master and lord of the Arab allies of Rome, and the spearhead of the Empire in Upper Mesopotamia against the young Sasanian dynasty. However, this leading role would earn him the hostilities of the Persian Empire at once. In 227 A.D. Hatra was first attacked by the Persian armies. Towards 240-241 A.D. Hatra was conquered by Shapor I, being quickly abandoned after its fall. The city did not issue any inscriptions after these dates and according to the testimony of Amiano Marcelino. In 364 A.D. the square that once resisted the fist of several Roman emperors was nothing but ruins.

Part of the Roman theater of Palmira

On the other hand, Palmira was part of the orbit of the Roman Empire since the 1st century AD. This city had pilgrimage status within the province of Syria, representing an authentic quasi-independent polis. The city experienced a remarkable development as a result of trade, notably favoured by the peace and stability enjoyed by the region during most of the 2nd century AD. Between 213 and 216 A.D. the city received the rank of colony and the ius italicum from the hands of Emperor Caracalla. Throughout the first half of the 3rd century AD, one of the city's most notable families would gradually monopolize the springs of power in the city: Septimio Odenato (whose ancestors had obtained citizenship under the reign of Septimio Severo) and his son, Septimio Hairan, had both been titled around 251 A.D. as ras Tadmor and exarchos of Palmira, obtaining a practical semi-independence of Roman power thanks to the problems posed by the death of Emperor Decius that same year in battle against Gothic King Kniva. Towards 257-258 A.D., Odenate receives the title of ho lamprotatos hypatikos, while his son keeps only the title of ho lamprotatos. Shortly thereafter, Odenate received the title of consularis from the Emperor, although this rank did not imply that he had been unofficially placed in command of the Roman provinces of Syria-Phoenice. Odenate woven his own interests from this fortress position and tried an alliance with the Shahanshah Shapor I after the Persian occupation of Dura Europos, but it should not have reached a good port, as in 259 A.D. he was fighting in Babylon next to Rome and, after the defeat and capture of Valerian, he intercepted and defeated the Persian armies that had penetrated deep into the eastern Roman domains. From that moment on, Odenato proclaims himself "king of kings" and associates his son Hairan to the throne, while maintaining the balance and looking after his interests by defeating the Roman usurpers in Emesa in the East: Still and Ballista, with which he reached the degree of champion of Rome for the East, while Galieno was defending the Danube border and Italy, which forced the emperor to recognize this role and give him freedom of action, from which Galieno benefited, as he could be called Persicus Maximus in 260 A.D., but Odenato had reached its glass ceiling and were killed both him and Hairan in Edesa, with the acquiescence of Galieno. This brought to power his wife, Zenobia, who was to act as regent in favour of Vabalato, a minor, who handled himself in this situation of weakness extraordinarily well, saving not only the annexation by Rome, but again the audacity was excessive and, after the death of Claudius II in 270 AD, and refusing to recognise Quintile as emperor, led Zenobia to a war of conquest in which Palmira controlled Egypt, Syria and part of Cappadocia. However, Aureliano ended up imposing Rome's interests on the region.

The disappearance of the great sedentary Arab states and kingdoms, which had kept the nomadic peoples of the Syrian-Mesopotamian desert under control until then, forced the Roman Empire (and the Sasanian Persian Empire) to inaugurate new measures to guarantee the security of their limes and gradually dominate these populations. The ruin of the Arab client states immediately meant the inauguration of the apogee of the Arab tribes and nomadic peoples of the desert, as well as the emergence of new states in more remote spaces, which would not take long to be the object of the struggle for their control at the hands of the two superpowers of the Near East between the 4th and 7th centuries AD.

La campaña contra Persia de Juliano.

Tribal confederations and hegemonies. Allies and clients between Rome and Persia.

Despite the frequent mediation of kingdoms and client states, the Roman Empire also maintained direct relations and treaties with nomadic Arab tribes since the 1st century AD. The fall of the client states and the Roman withdrawal of most of their outposts in the desert in the direction of the borders of the most populated spaces led to the intensification of dealings with these peoples to make them substitutes for Roman military power in the desert. In the Eastern Hauran, the Roman Empire maintained direct relations with the Safaítas Arabs from the 2nd century AD. These provided Rome with armed contingents under the command of their own leaders, designated with the titles of "nomadic strategists", "nomadic camp strategists", ethnarch or phylarchos by the Romans. Far from the areas of influence of the Parthian Empire and the later Persian Empire, the Roman Empire established solid alliances with the leaders of the most powerful tribes, combining its military garrisons with the military help of transhumant nomads. Rome encouraged the creation and recycling of tribal confederations, as happened in Hijaz in 166-169 A.D., where a sanctuary was erected for imperial worship as a symbolic meeting point of a federation of tribes. This type of pacts were viable in stable circumstances, although they did not always manage to keep raids and breeds in bordering areas at bay.

At the end of the 3rd century A.D., taking advantage of the emptiness bequeathed by Palmira, the so-called Kingdom of the Tanukh, an Arab tribe from the northeast of the Arabian Peninsula established later in Syria, to the southeast of Aleppo, was consolidated in the region. Under the command of their king, Gadhima, the tanukh faced the power of Palmira in the middle of the 3rd century A.D., benefiting directly (and perhaps participating) from his downfall. The need to defend the desert limes against Arab tribes allied with Sassanid power (such as that led by a descendant of the dynasties of Edessa, 'Amr ibn 'Adi, who took control of the boundaries of Lower Mesopotamia in Hira before entering the service of the Persians) led the Roman Empire to first place a whole series of forts on the desert limits and then recruit Gadhima as an ally against these new threats by means of a foedus. Recognized as rex, Gadhima was situated as lord of other Arab sheikhs and the tanukh tribe as hegemonic force over other tribes such as the quda'a, forming an authentic federation of allied tribes of Rome under centralized control in the region. Other groups and tribes may have enjoyed similar status and privileges in exchange for their alignment with Rome in other sectors of the Siro-Palestinian limes, beyond the Euphrates, in the Hijaz and in the Sinai.

Conclusions on the period

Trade and the great caravan routes would end up creating, in the Kingdom of the Nabataeans and in other states, a booming economic class made up of great merchants and traffickers, who would form the dominant elite in charge of the management and administration of these states below the noble families (which, moreover, were also essentially sustained by trade). This merchant class accelerated the dynamism of these societies, accentuating their more cosmopolitan characteristics, while increasing their economic development and, therefore, their possibilities to develop their power. This power justifies its extended survival in the face of the great superpowers that surrounded these states: Rome and Ctesifonte preferred to keep them alive or "resurrect" them eventually rather than annex them definitively in the first instance; leaving the control and management of certain territories in the hands of wealthy local powers, as well as the creation and maintenance of political and military powers, was much more profitable than having to do so with the largest but much more dispersed (and requested) resources of the central power. Similarly, the wealth generated by trade is the main reason for the significant urban development of the regions bordering the Syrian, Mesopotamian and Arab deserts. Merchant societies and mercantile oligarchies stimulated the maintenance or creation of new fortified urban centres, whose presence guaranteed the safety of transactions and routes, creating a common space under the protection of a legality represented by institutions recognised by all the merchant families involved in the creation or promotion of a given city or state. Normally these institutions were under the direct control of these same families, the most powerful of which ended up becoming royalty.

The nomadic and semi-nomadic elites linked to these centres, cities and states also played a leading role from which it was very dangerous to exclude them. Gradually they were assimilated and integrated in these societies, being a very frequent way by which the Arabs ended up colonizing and seizing the spheres of the economic, social and political power in cities like Hatra, Damascus, Emesa or Edesa. When the disappearance of these states and kingdoms took place through their assimilation into the Roman Empire or their predominantly "peaceful" birth, these societies continued their particular development within Roman society, to which they would in turn be assimilated and to which they would make notable contributions. The process of romanization in these cases would take place through the gradual acquisition of citizenship, and the integration of local socio-political elites into the elites of the Roman Empire. However, the violent disappearance of other states, as well as the temporary decline of once safe trade routes due to the frequent wars and political instability of the 3rd century A.D. led to the destruction or disgrace of cities such as Palmira or Hatra. The tribes and groups that had been subject to their control lost the advantages of the alliance that they had maintained until then, having to return to the nomadic life. Nomadic tribes that had hitherto been restrained and kept apart by these powers now found themselves unimpeded in aspiring to play a leading role on their own. In this way, the disappearance of the client states, in one way or another, ended up provoking a radical transformation in the Arab space, in the form of a regression, re-adaptation and re-edition of the desert nomadism.


From what we have seen we can see the tendency of the Arabs to conceive of power in terms of tribe/family, a conception that still survives, despite the presence of states in the area. We have also seen the tendency to identify synergies of interests and power among them, to fight because of power or influence among them. Also another constant is to create their own spaces in an imperial sense pretending to use the interests of empires fighting in the strategic zone in which they live. If they cannot incarnate an imperial project, then what they do is identify the power in their area of influence that is determinant and collaborate with it, as long as they can preserve their power structures and management of it. It is also appreciated that they have no problem in using acculturation processes with respect to the dominant imperial power, they even use it as an excuse to relaunch their own imperial project in case of crisis of the Empire in which they are included (case of Zenobia de Palmira). An example of all this would be the struggle for power in the Arab world under the pretext of Palestine, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Iraq have maintained... and which now also knows Turkey or Iran, despite the fact that both states are not ethnically Arab, but occupy spaces of power already mentioned (Iran or Persia/Parthia; Turkey, and in the example dealt with in this document, Pergamon).

We have also been able to see how Jews have played a role in the area since antiquity, as a connector with Arab power circles, as long as Jews can exercise a space where they can project their domination and military power, as we have seen in the case of Antipater, but today as well, with the geopolitics of Israel, which moves in an ambiguous sense seen from the outside, but with a logic that explains the agreements with Saudi Arabia, but also the possible agreements with Turkey or Iran, as happened in the past with the Persians and that we have not been able to deal with here for the required extension.


SORIA MOLINA, D., "Arabia Petraea, de reino cliente a provincia romana (63 a.C.106 a.C.)", in Bravo, G. / González Salinero, R., Poder central y poder local. Dos realidades paralelas en la órbita política romana, Signifer Libros, Madrid-Salamanca, 2015, pp. 313-330.

CANFORA, L. "Julius Caesar. A democratic dictator". Ariel. 2000.

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