Edom, Or Idumaea, the ancient name of a region intervening between Palestine and Egypt. The book of Genesis describes it as the field or land of Edom. The word signifies red, and probably refers to the color of the mountain range. It was previously called Mount Seir, signifying rugged. Most of the tract is a rocky desert; but there is a considerable amount of soil that admits of cultivation, and vegetation enough for the maintenance of numbers of camels, goats, and sheep. The plain rises gently from the Dead sea to an imperceptible watershed, about 14 m. from the wady Ghurundel. Adjoining the Arabah are low calcareous hills, which are succeeded by a range of igneous rocks, chiefly porphyry, overlaid with red sandstone, reaching the height of 2,000 ft. Further E. is a range of limestone, 1,000 ft. higher, which sinks down into the plateau of the Arabian desert. The principal part of the country was that situated between the Dead sea and the gulf of Akabah; the limits and extent of the whole, however, are not precisely ascertained. - According to the Biblical narrative, Esau took possession of this land immediately after the death of Isaac; and when his descendants increased they extirpated the Horites, the original inhabitants. (See Horites.) Eli-phaz, Esau's oldest son, was the father of Amalek, whose descendants took possession of the desert et-Tih, which was afterward absorbed by the Edomites. The Edomites were at first divided into ten tribes, and some of these adopted subsequently an elective monarchy, while those of Mount Seir preserved their patriarchal organization.
The list of the kings given in Genesis contains but eight names, and therefore does not carry us back more than two centuries before the exodus. The king of Edom refused the Hebrews permission to pass through his territory, and forced Moses to march round the edge of the desert, and turn the kingdom of Moab, to arrive at the Jordan. The power of the kings was subsequently extended over all divisions of the Edomites, and after the time of Gideon even over the remnant of the Midianites. After the settlement of the Hebrews the Edomites were constantly at war with them. Saul fought against them successfully, and David defeated them completely, and placed garrisons in their towns. Hadad, an Edomite prince, excited a rebellion against Solomon, which was suppressed. The Edomites remained thereafter a dependency of Judah, and revolting with the Moabites under Jehoshaphat, they sustained great losses without gaining their object. They were more successful in the time of Joram, and were once more ruled by their own kings. Amaziah defeated them in the Salt valley and took the city of Sela (afterward called Petra by the Greeks), the capital of the new Edomite monarchy.
The Edomites regained their independence during the reign of Ahaz by the help of Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, and laid waste the southern portion of Judah. The first king of the new monarchy is supposed to be the Kadumalka mentioned by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser II. as one of his tributaries. The Edomites continued dependent upon Assyria until the time of Nabopolassar, when Necho, king of Egypt, overran the whole of Syria, and took his share of the spoils of the Assyrian empire. After the defeat of the Egyptians by Nebuchadnezzar the Edomites were incorporated in the Chaldean empire. About this time the name Edomite begins gradually to disappear, and in its stead is found the hitherto unknown word Nabathean. This is ascribed by some to an internal revolution, a change of the royal race and of the dominant tribe, of which we have no record. The monuments of Asshur-bani-pal (about 660) are the first that speak of the "country of the Nabatheans." In 590 these Nabatheans, or Edomites, joined with the Moabites, Ammonites, and Tyrians in the revolt of Zedekiah, king of Judah, against Nebuchadnezzar, which proved fatal, and drew upon them a complete devastation of their country and their capital Sela or Petra. They soon recovered from its effects, and their trade regained even a greater activity, for the complete ruin of Tyre rendered Petra the chief station for caravans from southern Arabia and the great market of the produce of India. Their prosperity increased under the Persian kings, whose supremacy they peaceably acknowledged, and long survived the fall of Persia. After the time of Alexander the Great the Nabatheans formed an independent kingdom, which was often at war with the Jews. The prince of the latter, John Hyrcanus, annexed most of Idumaea. The Romans absorbed it under Trajan. Herod, who reigned in the time of the emperor Augustus, and the emperor Philip, surnamed the Arab, were Idumaeans. The country was overrun by the Arabs in the 7th century, and ceased to form a distinct political division. - Besides Petra, the principal inland town was Bozrah, their ancient capital; and on the sea were the ports of Elath and Eziongeber, both of which were captured by David, and Havara, afterward called Leucecome by the Greeks. The government was a kind of tribal system, each tribe having its chief, subject to the supreme authority of the king.
In the inscriptions recently found, persons are designated as scholars, doctors, and poets, revealing that they possessed some intellectual and literary culture. The monuments show that the supreme deity was Al or El, with a feminine counterpart under the name of Alath; other gods were principally the various Baalim, Baal Samim, Yarhi Baal, etc. Religious pilgrimages were very frequent, and the most important were to Wady Feiran, to Mount Serbal, and especially to Tor on the shores of the Red sea. - The history and topography of ancient Edom have recently been made subjects of careful investigation, and much important information may be found in Palmer's "Desert of the Exodus" (2 vols., London, 1872), Tristram's "Land of Moab" (London, 1872), and in "The Ordnance Survey of Sinai, with Notes, Plans, etc." (London, 1872).