Monday, 20 October 2014

Flight 20141019 - The Via Nova Traiana in Central Jordan

The great Roman highway ran from Syria down the length of the Emperor Trajan’s new province of Arabia to Aila (Aqaba) on the Red Sea. Nineteenth century western travellers and explorers ‘east of Jordan’ regularly reported following it for mile after mile and noting many of the hundreds of milestones still to be seen. In the twentieth century it suffered badly with great stretches disappearing beneath modern roads or ploughed away by farmers and developers; milestones have been smashed or bulldozed aside. Happily there are still places one can see stretches surviving, usually in the more remote parts of modern Jordan.
Bulldozing damage to Rujm el-Faridiyyeh. © APAAME_20141019_DLK-0180
Our flight yesterday (Sunday) included Rujm el-Faridiyyeh, a Roman road-station on the Via Nova just south of the Wadi el-Hasa. It was the subject of a striking RAF aerial photograph of 1937 and was drawn in the course of Burton MacDonald’s Wadi el-Hasa Survey (1988) 30 years ago (Kennedy and Riley, Rome’s Desert Frontier, 1990: 86-9). Sadly we found that even on this fairly isolated stretch of the plateau, a bulldozer has (again) been at work – for no apparent reason as there is no development at that point.
Milestation along the VNT. © APAAME_20141019_DLK-0203.
On the other hand, the road appears today almost intact and showing far more strikingly as a classic Roman road than even the old RAF photo had suggested. Our experience in Jordan over the course of several attempts since we began in 1997, is that Roman roads are often quite difficult to re-discover from the air unless well-preserved. Not so this time. From the air we could clearly trace the road running for at least 5 kilometres (about 3 Roman miles) and with intermittent stretches thereafter. As MacDonald could describe from his ground visit in the 1980s, you can still see the side kerbs and the central spine of the substructure (which is what survives). Particularly interesting was the cluster of milestones at one Milestation, some still standing after some 1800 years.
VNT and Tower. © APAAME_20141019_DLK-0189.
There is a need to re-visit on the ground this superb stretch of road which is coming under increased threat from agriculture and some building nearby. Even more important is to trace it beyond the remains of the bridge across the stream of the Wadi el-Hasa and up the steep slope to the northern plateau. Hints of the line reported over a century ago are still visible from the air. More striking are the collapsed towers in its vicinity and – best of all, an apparently newly discovered fort. As it lies on a promontory overlong the Roman road it may be Nabataean and/ or Roman.

Aina Fort 1. © APAAME_20141019_DDB-0137.
- David Kennedy

Edit November 26, 2014: Aina Fort 1 is Kh. al-Medeineh (on the Wadi al-Hasa) - Glueck's site 222 in Explorations of Eastern Palestine II (1935): 104-5. Thank you to Dr. Haim Ben David for the info.

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