Jordan’s Roman Forts
GUIDE TO The Limes Arabicus – The Desert Frontier of the Roman Empire
The annexation of the Nabataean kingdom by the Roman Emperor Trajan in A.D. 106 brought yet another province, called Arabia, within the Roman Empire. To defend this new province, which essentially consisted of modern Jordan, the Sinai, and extreme southern Syria, the Romans followed their customary procedure and developed a limes, or fortified frontier, similar to others in the Empire. The limes consisted of several camps, forts, and watchtowers, which were linked together by a system of roads.
Stretching from the provincial capital of Bostra (modern Bosra in southern Syria) through Jordan to Aqaba (ancient Aila) on an arm of the Red Sea for about 1,500 kilometres at its greatest extent, the Limes Arabicus formed a part of the wider Roman limes system. It had several forts and watchtowers in Jordan including Qasr Bshir, Qasr Abu El-Kharaq, Qasr El-Al, Qasr Thuraia, Dajanya and legionary camps at El-Lejjun and Udhruh.
Next to the Limes Arabicus, Emperor Trajan built a major road, the Via Nova Traiana, from Bosra to Aila (Aqaba) on the Red Sea, a distance of 430 km. Built between 111 and 114 AD, the primary purpose of both may have been to provide efficient transportation for troop movements and government officials as well as to facilitate and protect trade caravans emerging from the Arabian Peninsula.
During the Late Roman period (135-324), the number of fort sites gradually increased. Some of the former Nabataean forts were expanded or rebuilt and several new forts were constructed, such as Qasr Al-Hallabat, Qasr Usaykhim, Deir El-Kahf, Qasr Uweinid and Qasr Azraq in the northwest region and Zona, Qasr Thuraia, Qasr Bshir, and Khirbet el Fityan in the central section of the limes. But especially important in this period was the construction of the two great camps at El-Lejjun, and at Udhruh, near Petra.
At the end of the 5th century, troops were progressively withdrawn from the Limes Arabicus and replaced with native Arab foederati, chiefly the Ghassanids. After the Muslim Arab conquest, the Limes Arabicus was largely left to disappear, though some fortifications were used and reinforced in the following centuries.
Limes Arabicus functioned effectively and with only rare failures in defending the long desert frontier for over half a millennium. Its presence secured the benefits for the Pax Romana to the inhabitants of Arabia and Palestine and security for the early spread of Christianity. Neither before nor afterwards, until modem times was Transjordan so thickly settled, was when protected by the limes. Thus the individual fort sites of the system must be preserved and protected.