Surveying Umm at Tawabin, a Roman military site

By Alexandra Ariotti

Over the course of two to three days in January 2015, myself and Jordanian surveyor, Qutaiba Dasouqi, mapped the large Roman military camp of Umm at Tawabin (‘mother of bread ovens’ in Arabic) located on the south side of the Wadi al-Hasa, overlooking the town of Ghor as-Safi and the Wadi ‘Arabah in Jordan (Figs 1 and 2).

 

Figure 1. Myself and Qutaiba planning the site.

Figure 1. Myself and Qutaiba planning the site.

Figure 2. Umm at Tawabin on its west side facing north.

Figure 2. Umm at Tawabin on its west side facing north.

My goal was to document this historically significant site by photograph and by producing a topographical plan of its extensive enclosure wall encircling at least two forts, a possible observation post or tower, a likely barracks area, a citadel, and the numerous circular stone enclosures on the site’s west side, from which the site gets its name (Figs 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Planning the site with Qutaiba, the Jordanian surveyer.

Figure 3. Planning the site with Qutaiba, the Jordanian surveyer.

Figure 4. Main enclosure wall of Umm at Tawabin facing SE.

Figure 4. Main enclosure wall of Umm at Tawabin facing SE.

Over this period, I also collected some surface pottery, to be published, together with the site plan and photos, to learn more about the site’s chronology. Umm at Tawabin was first discovered in the 1980s and has since been described only briefly in a couple of past survey reports. We know it was an important site by virtue of its large size (880 x 453 m), by the number of its associated fortified structures made clear during the time we were planning the site, and by such historical sources as the Notitia Dignitatum Orientis (c. 400 C.E.) which lists the equites indigenae sagittarii, a Roman cavalry unit comprising native mounted archers based at Zoara (modern-day Safi) from the third to fifth centuries C.E. In this period, this military camp sat at the crossroads of the north-south and east-west communication routes flanking both sides of the strategically important Wadi ‘Arabah where the many east-west running arteries, roads and arable lands could be monitored, protected and policed.

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