arc Brown University Petra Excavations elephant elephant
  arc Phasing and Conclusions elephant elephant

Since 1993, every year of our excavations we have revised our phasing of the site and the 1998 season was no exception. Based on the 1988 site deposition, our excavations have determined the general sequence of four phases (0-III) of Great Temple construction.

Phase 0 is reserved for the preparation of the site by its Nabataean builders with a vast subterranean canalization system which has been charted from the Temple rear to the Propylaeum.

Phase I or Nabataean I represent a major construction of the Temple precinct. The major goal was to construct a building of importance in central Petra and to orient it toward the main thoroughfare of the city. The dramatic rocky backdrop of Al-Katute provided a perfect setting for an imposing structure set on a high terrace platform. Phase I included the erection of the four porch and the two Pronaos columns, plus the eight interior bichrome plastered columns on the building's flanks and six columns at the rear. Decorated with deeply carved fine sculpted limestone Nabataean Corinthian capitals, their column shafts were embellished with flat, red or yellow plaster until 3.76 meters from their attic bases, and above, with white ridged plaster until the beginning of the capital. From the style of the floral decoration of the limestone capitals, the iconography appears to be similar to that of the Al-Khazna. Also decorated with multi-colored plaster, corridors were also constructed to flank the structure. The evidence suggests these elements and lateral corridors were constructed sometime in the last quarter of the first century BCE or during the reigns of either King Malichus I (62-30 BCE) or Obodas II (30-9 BCE), or perhaps both.

Phase II is what we refer to as Nabataean II. There was a completely new, monumental rebuilding program — an architectural metamorphosis was launched in this phase. The architects wanted to make a strong statement, and epitomize the architecture of a great city. It is obvious that the rulers of Petra took pride in the embellishment of their precinct while providing for its functional demands with a sense of spatial logic. The precinct had to emanate a sense of power befitting Nabataean wealth. So, what did these Phase II architects have in mind? To begin with, there had to be the building of an elegant, columnar Propylaeum for access to the precinct, and a series of new steps had to be laid to be built up to the level of the Lower Temenos. At the same time, the Lower Temenos was conceptualized as a symmetrical, formal presence that purposefully emphasized the Great Temple.

There was, however, a challenging and exasperating problem confronting the planning of the area — the Canalization System had to be reconfigured and rebuilt. This set in motion a completely new series of changes that radically transformed the design of the Lower Temenos — for how were people going to access the Upper Temenos from the Lower Temenos? This may have provided the impetus for a scheme that would involve the precise planning for the complete remodeling of the Lower Temenos, approaching all aspects of the Lower Temenos design simultaneously — from the laying out of stairways and exedrae to enhancing the area with triple colonnades. In short, the area was converted to create a vast architectural foreground for the Great Temple. (These lateral staircases had to have accompanying luxurious exedrae and other appurtenances to complete the finished look of the ensemble.)

A massive east-west retaining wall had to be built on the same line as the twin lateral stairways and the exedrae, which delimited the Lower Temenos on its south. This Lower Temenos court-plaza was then embellished with a sweeping, white, limestone hexagonal pavement, which tied all the elements together. These architectural components were all interconnected features that boldly defined the area's spacious importance. For Phase II we have two reconstruction schemes suggested by Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos.

The Phase II Temple continued to crown the composition of space, and the edifice we know today as the Great Temple emerged. Its transformation must have reflected the changed circumstances of Petra royalty. The exterior was enlarged with exterior walkways on its flanks. Also at this time, there was the major reconfiguration of the Temple interior with the elegant construction of inter-columnar walls with arched doorways, windows and staircases. The building of these casemate walls all but destroyed the plaster decoration of the Phase I stuccoed columns (these walls fell short of covering the capitals— it is extraordinary they are preserved to a 5+ meter height).

In Phase II the Phase I central room, is reconstructed as an open-air theatron. The heart of the Great Temple was now the theater, and the architects blended the proportions of the cavea seating to conform with the Phase I architecture. The projected preserved diameter of the orchestra is approximately 6.4 m — it is too restricted and small for any large function, but may have been used for speeches, dramatic presentations, or simple religious rituals and ceremonies. Unfortunately the upper portions of the theatron are either in poor condition or are completely missing, but we project there may have been 20 original courses of seats, with a diazoma between the tenth and the eleventh rows. Thus, a conservative estimate of the seating capacity would be a minimum of 565 and a maximum of 620 persons. These calculations must remain tentative, however, until we can confirm the extent of the cavea to the south.

The flow Pattern, click here for a larger view.

Given the plan for this building, the flow pattern is extraordinarily well planned and efficient. Access was from the Lower Temenos, up the east or west stairways, to the east or west walkways and from the walkways into the east or west corridors. Multiple sets of new stairs were installed in the Temple rear — twin east and west, plus twin north and south stairways. These led to the lateral corridors and the East and West (north-south) stairways with adjacent east and west vaulted chambers. These four stairways directed traffic to the inner corridors, which led to the Temple exits — the walkways.

Alternatively, access might also have been though the front entrance. The participant was obliged either to turn to the right or left into the corridors, and the major route would be from the corridors through the arched doorways to a set of stairways. Once these rear stairs had been mounted, access to the cavea was via the paved platforms, which accessed an additional twin small flights of steps that probably led to arched passages that exited into the cavea at the middle diazoma.

This renovation we have placed sometime near the end of the reign of Aretas IV (ca. 40/44 CE) or to the rule of Malichus II (40/44-70 CE) and possibly to the reign of Rabbel II (70-106 CE). It is therefore suggested that these modifications took place sometime in the first or early second centuries CE. But questions persist: What was the transition between the earlier Nabataean structure and what we know as the Great Temple? Why was the transition from one type of installation to another so swift, in less than 100 or so years?

The next phase, Phase III, we identify as Nabataean-Roman. Serving as a buffer state against the desert tribes, Nabataea retained its independence but paid taxes to Rome. Completely subsumed by the Romans under the Emperor Trajan in 106 CE, Petra and Nabataea then became part of the Roman province known as Arabia Petraea. Under Roman rule, Roman classical monuments abounded at Petra, many with Nabataean overtones; thus, it is appropriate to identify this time (post-106 CE) as the Nabataean-Roman phase. As we know, Petra continued to flourish during the Roman period, with a Monumental Arch spanning the Siq and tomb structures either carved out of the living rock or built free-standing. There is no reason why the Great Temple should not have continued to serve the Romans as a principal monument of the city.

When Petra entered into the "Roman" world in the second century CE, we assume that Nabataean-Roman architects recycled the Great Temple, and this is our Phase III or Nabataean-Roman period. And if there were post-106 CE changes made to the Temple and its precinct, these changes are not altogether clear from the stratigraphy. We posit, however, that at some point during the Nabataean-Roman period — in the last half of the second century CE — the lower Stairs of the Propylaeum were modified to conform with the paving of the Colonnaded Street and were added to for ease of entry into the precinct.

As excavations continue, it must be borne in mind that this phasing is tentative and may be revised in light of future excavation. Our understanding of the site has been difficult, not because of the lack of dateable materials, but because the mixture within archaeological contexts of artifact stylistics ranges from the first century BCE to the early fifth century CE in date. Thus, we believe the Great Temple precinct was in use for approximately 500 years. There are few sealed deposits, and much more has yet to be explored before we can understand the archaeological deposition of these remains.


The excavation of the Great Temple at Petra by Brown University has been ongoing from 1993 through 1999. The temple covers an area of 7560 meters square and includes numerous monumental features ranging from an east-west triple colonnade and hexagonal pavement in the Lower Temenos, as well as exedrae on the east and west sides respectively, massive columns which in the Temple forecourt originally stood to a height of approximately 19-to-20 meters. Their drums were found to be covered in part with a red or white molded plaster-stucco decorative finish. Monumental stairways connected the various levels leading upwards to the Great Temple and a unique subterranean multi-branched canalization system was constructed south to north throughout the structure including the Lower Temenos.

In addition, the Temple is especially unique in that there is preserved, in the cella, a small theatron, the purpose of which is not yet determined.

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