Annegret Luening for

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Three unknown Roman fortresses
east of the Jebel Druz

Whereas the great Limes Arabicus project directed by T. S. Parker resolved a lot of questions concerning the development of Roman military organisation and building policy in Jordan the situation in the South Syrian Hauran, the ancient Auranitis (fig. 1), the northernmost part of the Arabian frontier, is far less known. Apart from the big fortress of the leg III Cyrenaica in Bostra (fig. 2) – recognized only in the last years by aerophotographical and geomagnetical prospections north of the ancient city – the great expeditions of Rudolf Bruennow and Adolf Domaszewski, Howard C. Butler, Enno Littmann, Sir Aurel Stein and Antoine Poidebard (early years of the 20th century) recognized Roman points in Nemara (fig. 3-5), Ad Diyatheh (fig. 6a, b), Sa’aneh (fig. 7), and Imtan (fig. 8).

Our prospections with google Earth in the borderland between the arable zone of the Hauran and the Eastern Harra desert discovered three unkown Roman fortresses (fig. 1, red; 9c, 10, 11, 12) at strategical points in resp. above the great wadis which were the main ways for raids of the nomads of the Syrian desert and even from the Arabian peninsula into the fertile regions of Arabia and Syria. The forts appear to have been rather temporary camps – there are only few traces of internal buildings.

The plan of the big fortress of Deir Nasrani (ca. 5 ha., for ca. 2000 men) is located beneath an Early Byzantine monastery incorporating an older Nabataean watchtower on a high conical hill (fig. 9 a-c). The fort seems to be older than that of the Diocletianic legionary fortresses in Lejjun (Betthorus) and Udruh (Adroa) in Jordan (fig. 13). It could have been a camp connected with the expedition of Septimius Severus against nomads in the beginning of his reign (SHA Sev. 9.9; 18.1) but even the activities of Aurelian against Zenobia of Palmyra (270-272) should be regarded as a possible impetus for the construction of the fortress beneath the Nabataean tower which overlooked the wide plain southeast of the Jebel Hauran.

Even the fortress east of the long known but never investigated fort of Sa’aneh (fig. 10) and the fortress on a loop of Wadi Sham (fig. 11) – which has similarities with the Severan temporary camp in Ain Sinu/North Iraq (fig. 13) – seems to have been not very permanent garrisons. In the third century there are reported different Roman expeditions against nomadic races. In the early fourth century the Romans made a peace treaty with Imrulqais, “King of all Arabians”, who was buried near the Roman outpost Nemara in 328 AD. So there was no necessity else for permanent garrisons in the desert.

Figures (see left):

Fig. 1: The Hauran from Southeast, with the places mentioned in the text

Fig. 2: Bostra, traces of the Legionary fortress in the modern town (Lenoir 2002)

Fig. 3: Nemara, Roman outpost in the Harra desert northeast of the Jebel Hauran (Druz): Watchtower with enclosure wall on a high conical hill from the air(Poidebard 1928)

Fig. 4: Nemara, Roman outpost in the Harra desert northeast of the Jebel Hauran (Druz): Watchtower with enclosure wall on a high conical hill (Poidebard 1934)

Fig. 5: Roman inscriptions concerning garrison in Nemara (Poidebard 1934)

Fig. 6a, b: Ad Diyatheh, fortress and settlement of (Plan Villeneuve 1989, photo Restle 1978)

Fig. 7: Sa’aneh, Fortress from the air (Poidebard 1934)

Fig. 8: Imtan, new inscription (re-used as door post) of M. Aurelius and L. Verus (162 n. Chr.) concerning road building works (Kissel 2002)

Fig. 9 a: Deir Nasrani, Hill with the monastery and the fortress
Fig. 9 b: Plan of the monastery (Butler)
Fig. 9 c: Deir Nasrani, the fortress in google Earth

Fig. 10: Fortress east of Sa’aneh. In the West it seems to incorporate an (older?) tower

Fig. 11: Fortress in the Wadi Sham. The SE wall is defect, it seems that the material was re-used for the small enclosures in the NE (fortlets or reclusiones?)

Fig. 12: The newly recognized fortresses in Hauran: Der Nasrani, Sa’aneh East and Wadi Sham

Fig. 13: Roman fortresses, 2nd-4th c. A. D.

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