According to ancient sources such as Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE) and Strabo (64 BCE-24 CE), there was a war in the Sinai Peninsula between two peoples known to Greco-Roman observers as the Maranitae and the Gerindaei (or the Gerindanes). In particular, the two groups feuded over a region that was simply known as the Palm Grove. According to legend, the Palm Grove was a wonderful oasis filled with fresh water and fruit-bearing trees. The very water in the region was supposedly coveted for perceived supernatural qualities. A shrine of sorts was said to have been constructed at the site, and two religious leaders (a man and a woman) reportedly lived at the Palm Grove, where they supposedly slept in the trees. Both the Maranitae and Gerinaei wanted to control the region, but it was the Maranitae who had the greatest attachment to the Palm Grove. As the story goes, great gatherings of Maranitae people met at the Grove regularly for an important religious festival, which was supposedly held every four or five years. Unfortunately, the Gerinaei knew about this festival, too, and they used their knowledge about the sacred event to deal a devastating blow to the Maranitae.
Diodorus Siculus and Strabo presented slightly different narratives, but the stories unfortunately ended the same way—the annihilation of the Maranitae people. Both sources agreed that the Gerinaei ambushed their foes during the time of the sacred festival, yet the timeline of events is different depending on the writer. Strabo claimed that the Gerinaei carried out a genocidal massacre at the site of the Palm Grove, destroying most of the Maranitae manpower, and afterwards conquered the undefended territory of their annihilated foe. He wrote, “They attacked those who were assembled to celebrate some quinquennial festival, and put them to death; they then attacked and exterminated the rest of the tribe” (Strabo, Geography, 16.4.18).
Alternatively, Diodorus Siculus claimed that the massacre at the Palm Grove came later in the timeline of the Gerinaei people’s dismantling of Maranitae power. This second historian claimed that the Gerinaei military purposefully let the Maranitae population start migrating toward the Palm Grove for their festival. When the Maranitae territory was therefore depopulated and unguarded, the Gerinaei invaded and conquered the region. It was after this conquest occurred that the Gerinaei army, according to this second account, set up their ambush for the remaining Maranitae people who were celebrating their sacred festival. On this brutal one-two punch, Diodorus Siculus wrote, “When for these reasons, then, the Maranitae gathered to the festival, the Gerindanes, putting to the sword those who had been left behind in the country, and lying in ambush for those who were returning from the festival, utterly destroying the tribe, and after stripping the country of its inhabitants they divided among themselves the plains…” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, 3.43).
Such, then, are the two accounts of the Gerinaei (or Gerindane) conquest of the Maranitae people. Although Diodorus Siculus and Strabo did not agree on how the sacred Palm Grove festival was utilized by the conquerors, they both agreed that exploiting the opportunities provided by the holy event was key to the military strategy that the Gerinaei campaign employed. Unfortunately, the ancient historians were not able to provide a date for the war between the Gerinaei and the Maranitae. They merely claimed the conflict occurred before the 1st century BCE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Aaron and Nadab Taking Leave of Elisheba (?), with the Israelites Camped before Mount Sinai and Moses Ascending the Mountain, by Adam van Noort (c. 1561–1641), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).
- Strabo’s Geography, translated by H.C. Hamilton and W. Falconer (1903 edition), republished in The Complete Works of Strabo (Delphi Classics, 2016).