Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Roman Limes in Armenia & Arabia - The Eastern Front

Persian Cavalry  

Rome vs Persia - The Eternal War

Though not spoken of, when you have 700 hundred years of war with the Persian Empire it only makes sense that a line of fortifications was built on the Eastern Front.

So while surfing the net I found a 2013 article titled "Military Infrastructure in the Eastern Roman Provices."  If you have trouble sleeping at night then articles like this are the cure. Still it brought forward some ignored information on a forgotten Roman Limes system in Armenia.

Rome's eastern defenses were remodeled from the 3rd century on to cope with the growing power of the Persian Empire under the Sassanid Dynasty.

The defensive system adapted to meet the terrain with fortified cities, fortresses, forts and fortified highland redoubts. All of these were supported by a series of Roman roads to speed the movement of troops.

Over time the Roman military focused more to the north in Armenia and the desert south was left to Christian Arab allied tribes. 

Very little infrastructure remains - - - What exists is largely tiny amounts of rubble.

The fortifications served two functions:  1) They provided a barrier against Persian invasion and 2) bases for offensive Roman military action against Persia.

The System of Roman Limes
War with Persia was the one constant of the Roman Republic and Empire. The Roman-Persian Wars lasted nearly 700 years from 54BC to 628AD.

But notice in the map above there is a giant hole in the Armenia/Eastern Anatolia sector where a limes system of fortifications should be listed. An article I ran across on Roman Military Infrastructure helped fill in that gap of a missing limes system.

In an article I found on military infrastructure in the Eastern Provinces we see a Limes system of fortresses (in yellow) facing Persia supported by Roman roads to speed the movement of troops.

Roman Road in Anatolia
The Roman road system in the east helped troops rapidly respond to the Persians but also stimulated the local economy.

Over the centuries Rome spent mountains of gold in the east building every possible type of defensive structure to hold off a Persian invasion.

The big problem is almost NOTHING remains to be seen. The limes system has virtually turned to dust.

The city of Satala in central Anatolia is a good example of the Anatolia Limes system of eastern fortifications.

As a frontline fortress against Persia, Satala was the Roman legionary base, used by XVI Flavia Firma and XV Apollinaris.

After the conquest of Mesopotamia by Septimius Severus in the last decade of the second century, Satala was still a front city, but the Armenian province across the Euphrates, the district known as Sophene, posed no direct military threat. However, occupation of this site remained vital, because Satala still was the main connection between the Black Sea, the river and Antioch near the Mediterranean in the south.

The border wars both larger and smaller continued on and on for centuries with little real change in the border.

Satala Fortress East Gate
Yes, I said the same thing, "That's a gate? How do they know?"
I guess when the Persians destroy a fortress they really destroy a fortress.  
From Livius.org

Satala shows us the vanished Armenian limes. and the endless money needed to keep the forts repaired.

The site was fortified again in 529 by the emperor Justinian. His historian Procopius writes:

  • "The city of Satala had been in a precarious state in ancient times. For it is situated not far from the land of the enemy and it also lies in a low-lying plain and is dominated by many hills which tower around it, and for this reason it stood in need of circuit-walls which would defy attack. Nevertheless, even though its surroundings were of such a nature as this, its defenses were in a perilous condition, having been carelessly constructed with bad workmanship in the beginning, and with the long passage of time the masonry had everywhere collapsed. But the Emperor tore all this down and built there a new circuit wall, so high that it seemed to overtop the hills around it, and of a thickness sufficient to ensure the safety of its towering mass. And he set up admirable outworks on all sides and so struck terror into the hearts of the enemy."

The fortress of Satala survived for almost a century after Procopius wrote, but was eventually captured and destroyed in 607/608 by the Sasanian King Khusrau II (r.590-628).

Roman fortresses (in yellow) on the Armenian eastern front up against the Persian Empire.

The Northern Most Limes Fortress
Ruins of the fortress Petra north of Armenia in Georgia. In the 6th century, under the Emperor Justinian I, it served as an important Eastern Roman outpost in the Caucasus and, due to its strategic location, became a battleground of the 541–562 Lazic War between Rome and Persia.

The name of Petra, literally, "rock" in Greek, was a reference to the rocky and precipitous coast where the city was built. Its location between the sea and the cliffs rendered the city inaccessible, except for a narrow and rocky stretch of level ground, which was defended by a defensive wall with two towers.

The Roman Fortress of Qasr Bashir in Jordan

The Limes Arabicus was a desert frontier of the Roman Empire, in the province of Arabia Petraea. It ran -at its biggest extension- for about 1,500 km, from Northern Syria to Southern Palestine and northern Arabia, 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.

It is likely that Qasr Bashir was originally home to an auxiliary cavalry unit, charged with defending the Roman frontier and keeping the peace in the surrounding area.

The soldiers at a limes were referred to as limitanei. Compared to the regular Roman military, they tended to be more likely to be of local descent, be paid less, and be overall less prestigious. However, they were not expected to win large scales wars, but rather deter small-to-medium-sized raiders.

Limes Arabicus
Selected forts are highlighted in yellow.

Until the Persian invasion of the 600s this southern sector of Rome's Eastern Front was largely a quiet backwater. But even so money was spent to fortify the area and man the sector with troops.

Troops were progressively withdrawn from the Limes Arabicus in the first half of the 6th century 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.

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