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Monday, December 15, 2014

Lajjun Fortress - The Limes Arabicus

Roman Infantry (Roman-Empire.net)

The Limes Arabicus was a desert frontier of the Roman Empire, mostly in the province of Arabia Petraea. It ran northeast from the Gulf of Aqaba for about 1,500 kilometers (930 mi) at its greatest extent, reaching Northern Syria and forming part of the wider Roman limes system. It had several forts and watchtowers.
The reason of this defensive "Limes" was to protect the Roman province of Arabia from attacks of the barbarian tribes of the Arabian desert. The main purpose of the Limes Arabicus is disputed; it may have been used both to defend from Saracen raids and to protect the commercial lines from desert-based robbers.
Next to the Limes Arabicus Trajan built a major road, the Via Nova Traiana, from Bostra to Aila on the Red Sea, a distance of 267 miles/430 kilometres. Built between 111 and 114 AD, its primary purpose may have been to provide efficient transportation for troop movements and government officials as well as facilitating and protecting trade caravans emerging from the Arabian peninsula. It was completed under Hadrian.

With Emperor Diocletian's restructuring of the empire in 284-305, Arabia Petraea province was enlarged to include parts of modern-day Israel. Arabia after Diocletian was a part of the Diocese of Oriens ("the East"), which was part of the Prefecture of Oriens and was largely Christian.

Among the units stationed in Arabia was the Legio III Cyrenaica which was responsible for the creation of the Limes Arabicus.

Under The Eastern Empire

In 395 AD the Empire made its final split into eastern and western political units.

From that point on the legions manning the defenses in the east came under full control of Constantinople.

Details on the organization of the Limes are thin at best.  But because there was little to no threat from Arabia, it is fair to say that the forts in the Palestine region were probably neglected, allowed to decay and were under staffed with troops.  What military action took place happened further north against the Persians on the Mesopotamian and Armenian frontiers.

By late antiquity the Limes Arabicus was effectively being dismantled.  Tight imperial budgets and chronic manpower shortages were important factors. Wars raged endlessly on the Persian, Balkan, Italian and African fronts. Constantinople's need for troops made them look to the "quiet" sector of the Limes Arabicus.

To fill the need for frontier troops the Eastern Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (491-518) recognized a federation of tribal warriors from Yemen, the Ghassanids, as a Roman ally under the condition that they would protect the eastern frontier. They did their job well and occasionally fought the Lakhmids who were allies of the Persian Empire.

In 529 the Emperor Justinian recognized the Ghassanid leader Harith as king of all Arabs gave hime the rank of patricius.  In return the Ghassanids were to protect all the southeastern provinces.

There Arab soldiers were no longer just tribal warriors but professional who knew how to fight in a regular army. However, the Byzantine emperors sometimes suspected their ally because they were Monophysite Christians.

The Ghassanids remained a Byzantine vassal state until its rulers and the eastern Byzantine Empire were overthrown by the Muslims in the 7th century, following  of Yarmuk in 636 AD. 

Lajjun reconstruction.
Reproduced from: Campbell DB, Roman Roman Legionary fortresses 27 BC - AD 378. Fortress Series 43. Osprey Military Publishing, 2007. P. 63.

Legio - Camp of the 6th Roman Legion

Lajjun was established after the Bar Kochba Revolta Jewish uprising against the Romans—had been suppressed in 135 CE. 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered a second Roman legion, Legio VI Ferrata, ("Ironclad"), to be stationed in the north of the country to guard the Wadi Ara region, a crucial line of communication between the coastal plain of Judea and the Jezreel Valley. 

The place where it established its camp was known as Legio

Then in the 3rd century CE, when the army was removed, Legio became a city and its name was augmented with the adjectival Maximianopolis.

The site of Legio (el-lajjun) is a vital geographical position making it a strategic crossroads for coastal, valley and hill country trade as well as the movement of troops from Egypt to Mesopotamia.

From the first to the seventh centuries the area was controlled by the Roman Empire.

Historical records show three settlements:  the Jewish village of Kefer Othnay, the Roman Sixth Legion Ferrata and the Roman-Byzantine city of Maximianopolis.

Research has discovered a Roman-Byzantine theater and fragments of Roman aqueducts.

Teams have been excavating Legio. Over the course of only ten full excavation days, with the assistance of American and European students working side-by-side with members of local youth and community service groups, the team dug test trenches measuring approximately 295 feet by 16.5 feet that revealed clear evidence of the camp

At the north end of this line, was found that the depressions evident in aerial photography were in fact part of a Roman camp’s typical defensive trenching earthworks, the fosse. Next to this 6.5-foot-deep ditch was the foundation of a great wall nearly 20 feet wide, evidently the main circumvallation rampart of the camp. 

Inside of that wall in the remaining 230 feet of test trenches, the team exposed rooms likely belonging to one of the barracks areas of the camp. Much of the architectural remains had long been stripped away, but within the rooms were numerous ceramic roof tiles with the legion’s mark, coins, fragments of scale armor, lead ingots and a stone table leg sculpted with the three-dimensional visage of a panther. Near the southern extent of our excavation, the putative barracks were bounded by a wide street carved in bedrock and flanked by drainage channels. 

Crossing the camp at about one-third of the length of the north-south walls, as estimated via aerial photography, this important street was probably the camp’s Via Principalis, “Main Street,” a typical feature of such castra. Considering the regular structure of Roman camps, the Porta Principalis Dextra, the main eastern gate of the camp, should lie just outside of our excavation area.

A Reflectance Transformation Image scan (RTI) in
the center shows the legion's insignia.

The degree to which the fort was manned in the later period is not known. Palestine was considered a quiet sector with many Roman troops removed and frontier defenses largely given over to the allied Ghassanid Christian Arabs.

Even with the Ghassanids patrolling the frontier there would have been regular army Roman troops stationed in Palestine and units passing through to Egypt or to Mesopotamia.  Lajjun and the other limes fortresses, if not permanently manned, would have been used on and off for temporary shelter or as a local strong point for police actions. 

Information on the Roman legions and other units stationed in the area is also minimal.  

The area was conquered by the Arab Muslims under Caliph Umar in the 7th century: the Legio III Cyrenaica was destroyed defending Bosra in 630, ending the Roman presence in Arabia.

According to some Muslim historians, the site of the 634 AD Battle of Ajnadayn fought between the army of the Rashidun Caliphate under generals Khaled ibn al-Walid and Amr ibn al-'As, and the Byzantine Empire in 634 CE was at Lajjun. 

Following the Muslim Arab victory, Lajjun, along with most of Palestine, and southern Syria were incorporated into the Caliphate. According to 9th-century Persian geographer Estakhri, Lajjun was the northernmost town in Jund Filastin (District of Palestine). Arab geographer Ibn Hawqalsupports this claim in 977.

The Crusades

When the Crusaders invaded and conquered the Levant from the Fatimids in 1099, al-Lajjun's Roman name was restored and the town formed a part of the lordship of Caesarea. During this time, Christian settlement in Legio grew significantly. 

John of Ibelin records that the community "owed the service of 100 sergeants". Bernard, the archbishop of Nazareth granted some of the tithes of Legio to the hospital of the monastery of St. Mary in 1115, then in 1121, he extended the grant to include all of Legio, including its church as well as the nearby village of Ti'inik

By 1147, the de Lyon family controlled Legio, but by 1168, the town was held by Payen, the lord of Haifa. Legio had markets, a town oven and held other economic activities during this era. In 1182, the Ayyubids raided Legio, and in 1187, it was captured by them under the leadership of Saladin's nephew Husam ad-Din 'Amr and consequently its Arabic name was restored.

Lajjun Fortress
Two hypothetical reconstructions of the legion camp based on ground penetrating radar.  The smaller option appears in white.  The larger option extends out in black.
(Jezrel Valley Regional Project)

Map showing the location of Legio in the Jezreel Valley (Israel). 
Hilly/mountainous regions in grey.

Aerial photo of Legio/Lajjun

Cut away of a Roman fortress wall.

In AD 106 the Romans under Emperor Trajan achieved control of the region east of the Jordan River, which was previously ruled by the Nabataeans. Until then, the Nabataean kingdom had provided a buffer between the Roman Empire and the threat of enemies to the east.

Historians do not know how and why the Romans took direct control. Perhaps the lack of a legitimate successor to the deceased Nabataean king resulted in a power vacuum. The Romans annexed the area and called it 
Provincia Arabia. It was governed by a senatorial legate appointed by the emperor, and its capital was Bostra (or Bosra) in southern Syria.

(Academia.edu)      (Lajjun)      (Legionary Fortresses)      (Legio III Cyrenaica)

(Biblical Archaeology)      (Romans in Arabia)      (Livius.org)

(xlegio.ru)      (Ancient worlds)      (Limes Arabicus)

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