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Pre-Dedanite Era Edit
In the Qur'an Edit
According to Islamic tradition the site of Al-Hijr was settled by the tribe of Thamud, who "(took) for (themselves) palaces from its plains and (carved) from the mountains, homes".
The tribe fell to idol worship, and oppression became prevalent. Salih, to whom the site's name of "Mada'in Salih" is often attributed, called the Thamudis to repent. The Thamudis disregarded the warning and instead commanded Salih to summon a pregnant she-camel from the back of a mountain. And so a pregnant she-camel was sent to the people from the back of the mountain, as proof of Salih's divine mission.
However, only a minority heeded his words. The non-believers killed the sacred camel instead of caring for it as they were told, and its calf ran back to the mountain where it had come from, screaming. The Thamudis were given three days before their punishment was to take place, since they disbelieved and did not heed the warning. Salih and his Monotheistic followers left the city, but the others were punished by God —their souls leaving their lifeless bodies in the midst of an earthquake and lightning blasts.
According to the Quran and tradition, the Thamud existed much earlier than the 715 BC inscription of Sargon II would suggest.
However recent research in Islamic Studies asserts that a definitive chronology of the Thamūd cannot be attained from the quranic context and that this narrative does not "depict a continuous history of the ancient people, because these are not in any genealogical succession, nor do they interact with one another."
Robert Hoyland suggested that their name was subsequently adopted by other new groups that inhabited the region of Mada'in Salih after the disappearance of the original people of Thamud. This suggestion is also supported by the narration of Abdullah ibn Umar and analysis of Ibn Kathir which report that people called the region of Thamud Al-Hijr, while they called the province of Mada'in Salih as Ardh Thamud (Land of Thamud) and Bayt Thamud (house of Thamud).
So the term ‘Thamud’ was not applied to the groups that lived in Mada'in Salih, such as Lihyanites and Nabataeans, but rather to the region itself, and according to classical sources, it was agreed upon that the only remaining group of the native people of Thamud are the tribe of Banu Thaqif which inhabited the city of Taif south of Mecca.
Rock Writings Edit
Recent archaeological work has revealed numerous rock writings and pictures not only on Mount Athleb, but also throughout central Arabia. They date between sixth century BC and the fourth century AD and are labelled as being Thamudic. "Thamudic" was the name invented by nineteenth-century scholars for these large numbers of inscriptions which had not yet been properly studied and so does not necessarily relate to the Thamud of the Quran.
Lihyan/Dedanite era Edit
Archaeological traces of cave art on the sandstones and epigraphic inscriptions, considered by experts to be Lihyanite script, on top of the Athleb Mountain, near Mada’in Salih, have been dated to the 3rd–2nd century BCE, indicating the early human settlement of the area, which has an accessible source of freshwater and fertile soil. The settlement of the Lihyans became a center of commerce, with goods from the east, north and south converging in the locality.
Nabatean era Edit
The extensive settlement of the site took place during the 1st century AD, when it came under the rule of the Nabatean king Aretas IV Philopatris (Al-Harith IV) (9 BC – 40 AD), who made Mada'in Salih the kingdom's second capital, after Petra in the north. The place enjoyed a huge urbanization movement, turning it into a city. Characteristic of Nabatean rock-cut architecture, the geology of Mada'in Salih provided the perfect medium for the carving of monumental and settlements, with Nabatean scripts inscribed on their façades.
The Nabateans also developed oasis agriculture—digging wellsand rainwater tanks in the rock and carving places of worship in the sandstone outcrops. Similar structures were featured in other Nabatean settlements, ranging from southern Syria (region) to the north, going south to the Negev, and down to the immediate area of the Hejaz. The most prominent and the largest of these is Petra.
At the crossroad of commerce, the Nabatean kingdom flourished, holding a monopoly for the trade of incense, myrrh and spices. Situated on the overland caravan route and connected to the Red Sea port of Egra Kome, Mada’in Salih, then referred to as Hegra among the Nabateans, reached its peak as the major staging post on the main north–south trade route.
Roman era Edit
In 106 AD, the Nabatean kingdom was annexed by the contemporary Roman Empire. The Hejaz, which encompasses Hegra, became part of the Roman province of Arabia.
"The Hedjaz region was integrated into the Roman province of Arabia in 106 AD. A monumental Roman epigraph of 175 - 177 AD was recently discovered at al-Hijr (then called "Hegra" and now Mada'in Salih)."
The trading itinerary shifted from the overland north–south axis on the Arabian Peninsula to the maritime route through the Red Sea. Thus, Hegra as a center of trade began to decline, leading to its abandonment. Supported by the lack of later developments based on archaeological studies, experts have hypothesized that the site had lost all of its urban functions beginning in the late Antiquity (mainly due to the process of desertification). Recently evidence has been discovered that the Roman legions of Trajan occupied Mada’in Salih in northeastern Arabia, increasing the extension of the "Arabia Petraea" province of the Romans in Arabia.
The history of Hegra, from the decline of the Roman Empire until the emergence of Islam, remains unknown. It was only sporadically mentioned by travelers and pilgrims making their way to Mecca in the succeeding centuries. Hegra served as a station along the Hajj route, providing supplies and water for pilgrims. Among the accounts is a description made by 14th-century traveler Ibn Battuta, noting the red stone-cut tombs of Hegra, by then known as "al-Hijr." However, he made no mention of human activities there.
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