Ovdat – A Nabataean Settlement

Ovdat, also known as Avdat, Abdah, or Obodat, is a Nabataean settlement found in the Negev desert near the kibbutz, Sde Boker. It was used from somewhere in the 3rd century BCE until the beginning of the Islamic period in Palestine and has remnants of Hellenist, Roman, and Byzantine architecture and pottery.

Though the religion of the settlement was originally Nabataean pre-Islamic religion, worshipping a mix of different pre-Islamic Arabian gods, such as Dushara, as well as deified kings, for example, King Obadas I, which the settlement was named after, the Nabataean later accepted Christianity and eventually Islam. There are two Temples and two Churches in the settlement.

The settlement was part of an international trade network, which was the main preoccupation of the people living there, at least until the 4th century when the Nabataean culture seems to have switched to focus on agriculture. The trade reached its peak in the 2nd century CE and declined during the 3rd century CE.

There is also reason to believe that the settlement temporarily was under Hasmonean control, after an agreement between the Hasmonean and the Nabataeans of allowing the settlements of “Alusa” and “Orybda” to be given to the Hasmoneans in return for military support given to the Nabataeans. These two cities, mentioned in Josephus’ Antiquities (Book 14, chapter 1), were believed by the French archaeologist Félix-Marie Abel to be Elusa and Ovdat, and though this later was disputed by Israeli scholars, other later archaeologists, such as Tali Erickson-Gili, points to the discoveries of Hasmonean forts at Horvat Ma’agurah and Nessana as evidence for Abel being correct in his claims (see.Oboda and the Nabateans under suggested literature).

The settlement seems to have been hit by a number of earthquakes through its existence, in the early 2nd century CE, an earthquake in 363 CE, and two more devastating earthquakes in the early 5th century CE and early 7th century CE, the latter one being the worst of them. The settlement also seems to have suffered from an epidemic in the 3rd century CE, which seems to have been an epidemic which hit several Nabataean settlements and cities all the way to Petra, including Petra itself.

In the following, we will talk more about the various parts of the settlements.

Lower Settlement

The lower settlements are found below the caves and subsequently the western end of the fortress of the settlement. 

Cave Dwellings

The cave dwellings go back to early Nabataean settlement activity, where they originally were used as tombs. Later, during the Byzantine period, they were used as dwellings, storage, stables, and even monasteries.

The caves were fronted by buildings, some of them still remaining in place.

Temple of Obadas

Temple of Obadas

Southern Church

Southern church

Keywords: Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine

Alternative Names: Avdat, Abdah, Obodat


Pre-Islamic Arabia
Hellenistic period
Roman period
Byzantine period
Early Islamic period


Cave Dwellings
Temple of Oboda
Small Temple
Southern Church
Northern Church
Roman Camp
Byzantine Quarter
Roman Tower
Roman Villa
Burial Cave
Lower Dwellings
Pottery Workshop

Noteworthy figures:

Obadas II

Noteworthy archaeologists:

Michael Avi-Yonah
Abraham Negev
Rudolph Cohen
Tali Erickson-Gini
Tsvika Tsuk

Recommended Literature:

Oboda and the Nabateans, by Tali Erickson-Gini, in STRATA, Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, Vol 32, 2014, pages 81-108.