Petra, from the Latin word 'petrae', meaning 'rock', lies in a great rift valley east of Wadi Araba in Jordan about 80 kilometers south of the Dead Sea. It came into prominence in the late first century b.C., through the success of the spice trade. The city was the principal city of ancient Nabataea and was famous above all for two things: its trade and its hydraulic engineering systems. It was locally autonomous until the reign of Trajan, but it flourished under Roman rule.
According to tradition, in 1200 b.C., the Petra area (but not necessarily the site itself) was populated by Edomites and the area was known as Edom "red". Before the Israelite incursions, the Edomites controlled the trade routes from Arabia in the south to Damascus in the north. Little is known about the Edomites at Petra itself, but as a people they were known for their wisdom, their writing, their textile industry, the excellence and fineness of their ceramics, and their skilled metal working.