legio ii building stone

Mike Bishop

You know my method. It is founded upon the observance of trifles


A Soupçon of Jordan


[The triumphal arch at Jerash]Situated in the lush land of Gilead, half of the Roman city has been covered by the modern town, the other half exposed for visitors to see. A huge triumphal arch commemorates the visit of the Emperor Hadrian to the city in AD 129: he was the first (and one of the only) of the emperors to visit all the provinces in the empire, and a series of coins was minted to mark this achievement. It must have given him a bad case of galley-lag...

Umm el-Jimal

[Building at Umm el-Jimal]

'As soon as we had rounded the tell we saw it in front of us, its black towers and walls standing so boldly out of the desert that it was impossible to believe it had been ruined and deserted for thirteen hundred years.' Gertrude Bell, The Desert and the Sown.

Literally 'Mother of the Camel' (seems as good a name as any for a city), it is built of basalt and, although Roman (and possibly even Nabatean) in origin, what survives is mainly Byzantine in date. Looks to me like the aftermath of nuclear warfare, rather than an ancient ruin, but at least it has not been dismantled to make more recent housing, as was the fate of Umm el-Quttein.  [General view of Umm el-Jimal] I visited Umm el-Jimal when I had a bad dose of what polite people call the colly-wobbles: to this day it remains the only archaeological site upon whose spoil heap I have thrown up. Fond memories!


[Inside Azraq fort]

'Azrak lay favourably for us, and the old fort would be convenient headquarters if we made it habitable, no matter how severe the winter.

So I established myself in its southern gate-tower, and set my six Haurani boys... to cover with brushwood, palm-branches, and clay the ancient split stone rafters, which stood open to the sky.' T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Located in the northern desert, Azraq is a major oasis and the fort, which was probably built by the Romans in the 4th century AD (although there are hints of an earlier base), was rebuilt under the Ayyubids, and finally used by T.E. Lawrence as a base for his winter operations against the Turks. When Gertrude Bell visited the site, she noted that at the oasis 'there are thickets full of wild boar.'


[Qasr Bshir]This must be one of the best-preserved Roman forts anywhere, although it is badly damaged by earthquakes and in need of some attention. [Dedicatory inscription at Bshir] It is almost certainly the only Roman fort with its original dedicatory inscription, dated to AD 306, still in place over the gateway and this records the construction of Castra Praetorii Mobeni by Aurelius Asclepiades, praeses of the province of Arabia. Square in plan, with corner towers and buildings placed against the internal walls, the defences appear never to have been slighted by man. This site is not easy to find, even with someone who has been there before (eh, Phil?). Why not enjoy some more photos?

The Wadi Mujib

[Wadi Mujib]If the modern road is hair-raising, its Roman predecessor[Milestone in the Wadi Mujib] - the via nova Traiana - probably induced premature hair loss. As is the case at a number of places in Jordan, the original milestations still have their milestones in situ, and this particular example (sadly now blown up!) is important because it includes the phrase 'redacta in formam provinciae Arabiae' ('reduced to the form of an Arabian province'), marking the acquisition of Arabia by the Romans in AD 106 under the emperor Trajan. Another, later, stone stood next to it.


[The castle at Kerak]The crusader castle that is famed as the stronghold of Reynald de Chatillon, surely one of the most objectionable people of all time. One of the greatest services ever done to mankind occurred when Saladin had Reynald beheaded after the Horns of Hattin. Saladin had laid siege to the castle with eight siege engines in AD 1183, the inhabitants 'terrified by the crash and roar of the incoming missiles, which seemed like thunder' according to William of Tyre.


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This page was almost updated on February 8th 2007