LONDON (Agencies): Archaeologists using Google Earth have made a ‘spectacular’ find of three Roman military camps in the Arabian desert that could change understanding of the region’s history.
The discovery, by University of Oxford researchers, identified three Roman fortified camps spread across northern Arabia.
Laid out in the traditional ‘playing card’ shape, the camps may be evidence of a previously unknown military campaign linked to the Roman takeover of the Nabataean Kingdom in 106 CE, a civilisation centred on the city of Petra, located in Jordan. The surviving Roman history argues the transfer of power was a peaceful event at the end of the reign of the last Nabataean king.
‘We are almost certain they were built by the Roman army, given the typical playing card shape of the enclosures with opposing entrances along each side,’ said Dr Michael Fradley, who led the research.
‘The only notable difference between them is that the westernmost camp is significantly larger than the two camps to the east.’
Oxford’s Dr Mike Bishop, an expert on the Roman military, said: ‘These camps are a spectacular new find and an important new insight into Roman campaigning in Arabia.
‘Roman forts and fortresses show how Rome held a province, but temporary camps reveal how they acquired it in the first place.’
The researchers suggest the camps would have been built by the army as temporary defended stations when they were marching on campaign.
‘The level of preservation of the camps is really remarkable, particularly as they may have only been used for a matter of days or weeks,’ said Dr Fradley.
‘They went along a peripheral caravan route linking Bayir and Dumat al-Jandal. This suggests a strategy to bypass the more used route down the Wadi Sirhan, adding an element of surprise to the attack.
‘It is amazing that we can see this moment in time played out at a landscape scale.’
Professor Andrew Wilson, a co-author on the paper, said: ‘These marching camps – if we are correct in dating them to the early second century – suggest the Roman annexation of the Nabataean Kingdom following the death of the last king, Rabbel II Soter in AD 106, was not an entirely straightforward affair, and that Rome moved quickly to secure the kingdom.’
The distance between each camp is 23 miles to 27 miles, leading the researchers to speculate it was too far to be crossed by infantry in a day. They suggest the camps were instead built by a cavalry unit who could travel over such barren terrain in a single day, possibly on camels.
On the basis of the distance between the camps there is also a suggestion that another camp may have been located further west at the later Umayyad fort and well station at Bayir.
The study sets out that the newly discovered camps run in a straight line towards Dumat al-Jandal in what is now Saudi Arabia, but which was then a settlement in the east of the Nabataean kingdom.

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