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Fieldwork campaign

Power in the Sands: A Monumental Desert Gateway to the Roman World at Udhruh (Jordan)

This project aims to excavate and date the setting of the east gate of the Roman fortress of Udhruḥ. This will be compared with other Diocletianic military installations from the region. We also hope to retrieve another gate inscription which can shed light on the function and political embedding of the fort and the Roman presence in the southern Levant.

2020 - 2021
Mark Driessen
Leiden University Fund, Chastelain-Nobach Fund

Petra College for Tourism and Archaeology, Al-Hussein Bin Talal University 

Department of Antiquities of Jordan 

Digitale Diensten voor Erfgoed en Archeologie (Digital Services for Heritage and Archaeology)

Centre for Isotope Research, Groningen University

3D reconstruction of Udhruh building inscription (made by Maarten Sepers - Udhruh Archaeological Project)

In the late 3rd - early 4th centuries AD a revitalization of military structures took place under Roman control in Jordan. The Roman legionary fortress of Udhruḥ measuring 4.7 hectares with its large external U-shaped towers was according to the west gate building inscription rebuilt by the Legio VI Ferrata in AD 303-304.

What surprised us – already since the start of the Udhruḥ Archaeological Project in 2011 – is that the Udhruḥ fortress was laid out in a more monumental way than its regional counterparts. This most probably has to do with its location near Petra, and Udhruḥ’s initial importance as an important Nabataean centre. We can hereby think of a Roman monumental gateway – via the refurbishment of an old Nabataean (caravanserai) post – to the capital of Petra. For this it is important to investigate and excavate the ‘exterior’ east gate of the fortress, which is laid out towards the antique caravan routes. In 2005 the ‘interior’ west gate towards Petra was cleared – not excavated – by the Department of Antiquites of Jordan. This resulted in retrieving an important Roman military building inscription. The partial rebuilding of this gate was however done erroneously, lacking archaeological knowledge and proper documentation/registration.

Southwestern corner tower Roman legionary base of Udhruh with Leica P30 Scanstation for 3D-reconstruction (picture by Kim Pollmann - Udhruh Archaeological Project)


The setting is promising as earlier excavations at the fort’s eastern curtain wall proved that we can encounter approximately 3-3.5 metres of undisturbed stratigraphic layers, walls and foundations at this location.

The process of excavating the east gate of the Roman fortress of Udhruḥ will be monitored by means of making 3D-reconstructions, with a mobile Arctec Space Spider (architectural elements) plus through photogrammetry (AgiSoft Photoscan: larger settings). These 3D-reconstructions will be used for virtually reassembling the gate building, but also to reconstruct the process of ruination and collapse of this. Our work process will be monitored continuously with two Go-Pro-cameras resulting in a Time-Lapse video, which can be used for documentation purposes. We plan to take 14C-samples from the core of the gate and earlier, possible Nabataean foundations. This sampling consists in extracting charred twigs from the mortars within the walls: a method which has proved successful in dating other structures during earlier campaigns (2016-2019). 

Implications and relevance

This project will result in dating and virtually remodelling the ‘exterior’ gate of one of the most monumental military installations on Rome’s eastern limes. This can provide essential information on the construction of late Roman forts, the Roman presence in the southern Levant, and if we retrieve a new Roman gate inscription – which is not inconceivable considering the regional setting and monumentality –insight in the political structure and embedding of this monumental desert portal into the Roman world.

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