Three previously unknown Roman military camps discovered on Google Earth

On Google Earth, a British archaeologist discovered a total of three previously unknown Roman forts in the Jordanian desert. They could be evidence of a forgotten military operation around the year 106, writes the University of Oxford. Given the history of the Roman Empire, there is almost no doubt about the dating, because the remains fit perfectly with already known traces. The only unusual thing is that the westernmost of the three camps was significantly larger than the two eastern ones. From this and from the distance between the two, the researchers can already reconstruct possible details of the military operation.

As Michael Fradley’s team explains, the tracks were discovered during a systematic search of publicly available satellite images. The clearly recognizable playing card shape of a former Roman fort caught the eye, and two more were discovered during the subsequent search. As part of a Jordanian research project, aerial photographs of the tracks were then taken in November last year. The condition is impressively good, especially when you consider that almost 2000 years ago the forts were only used for a few days or weeks. The easternmost of the three lies almost directly on what is now the Jordan-Saudi Arabia border.

From the location, archaeologists conclude that forts were built in the course of military campaigns against the Nabatean kingdom. This had its center in the rock city of Petra and was incorporated after 106 under Emperor Trajan. The forts’ location away from the main caravan route in the area suggested that evidence of a surprise attack might be seen here. The distance of around 40 km between the camps also indicates that they were not set up by foot soldiers but by mounted cavalry, which could cover such a distance in one day. That the westernmost camp was twice the size of the others may be due to the army being divided or suffering heavy casualties on its way east.

The finding of the military camps suggests that the conquest of the Nabataean Empire was not as peaceful as recorded in the history of the Roman Empire. There is talk of a non-violent transfer of power after the death of the last king of the Nabataeans. However, more research is needed before such far-reaching conclusions can be drawn. The find and the aerial photos are presented in the current issue of the specialist magazine Antiquity. It is obvious that there could have been another fort further west, the researchers write, so Google Earth may still have a find ready.


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