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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lajjun Fortress - The Limes Arabicus

Roman Infantry (Roman-Empire.net)

The Limes Arabicus was a desert frontier of the Roman Empire, mostly in the province of Arabia Petraea. It ran northeast from the Gulf of Aqaba for about 1,500 kilometers (930 mi) at its greatest extent, reaching Northern Syria and 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. The main purpose of the Limes Arabicus is disputed; it may have been used both to defend from Saracen raids and to protect the commercial lines from desert-based robbers.
Next to the Limes Arabicus Trajan built a major road, the Via Nova Traiana, from Bostra to Aila on the Red Sea, a distance of 267 miles/430 kilometres. Built between 111 and 114 AD, its primary purpose may have been to provide efficient transportation for troop movements and government officials as well as facilitating and protecting trade caravans emerging from the Arabian peninsula. It was completed under Hadrian.

With Emperor Diocletian's restructuring of the empire in 284-305, Arabia Petraea province was enlarged to include parts of modern-day Israel. Arabia after Diocletian was a part of the Diocese of Oriens ("the East"), which was part of the Prefecture of Oriens and was largely Christian.

Among the units stationed in Arabia was the Legio III Cyrenaica which was responsible for the creation of the Limes Arabicus.

Under The Eastern Empire

In 395 AD the Empire made its final split into eastern and western political units.

From that point on the legions manning the defenses in the east came under full control of Constantinople.

Details on the organization of the Limes are thin at best.  But because there was little to no threat from Arabia, it is fair to say that the forts in the Palestine region were probably neglected, allowed to decay and were under staffed with troops.  What military action took place happened further north against the Persians on the Mesopotamian and Armenian frontiers.

By late antiquity the Limes Arabicus was effectively being dismantled.  Tight imperial budgets and chronic manpower shortages were important factors. Wars raged endlessly on the Persian, Balkan, Italian and African fronts. Constantinople's need for troops made them look to the "quiet" sector of the Limes Arabicus.

To fill the need for frontier troops the Eastern Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (491-518) recognized a federation of tribal warriors from Yemen, the Ghassanids, as a Roman ally under the condition that they would protect the eastern frontier. They did their job well and occasionally fought the Lakhmids who were allies of the Persian Empire.

In 529 the Emperor Justinian recognized the Ghassanid leader Harith as king of all Arabs gave hime the rank of patricius.  In return the Ghassanids were to protect all the southeastern provinces.

There Arab soldiers were no longer just tribal warriors but professional who knew how to fight in a regular army. However, the Byzantine emperors sometimes suspected their ally because they were Monophysite Christians.

The Ghassanids remained a Byzantine vassal state until its rulers and the eastern Byzantine Empire were overthrown by the Muslims in the 7th century, following  of Yarmuk in 636 AD. 

Lajjun reconstruction.
Reproduced from: Campbell DB, Roman Roman Legionary fortresses 27 BC - AD 378. Fortress Series 43. Osprey Military Publishing, 2007. P. 63.

Legio - Camp of the 6th Roman Legion

Lajjun was established after the Bar Kochba Revolta Jewish uprising against the Romans—had been suppressed in 135 CE. 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered a second Roman legion, Legio VI Ferrata, ("Ironclad"), to be stationed in the north of the country to guard the Wadi Ara region, a crucial line of communication between the coastal plain of Judea and the Jezreel Valley. 

The place where it established its camp was known as Legio

Then in the 3rd century CE, when the army was removed, Legio became a city and its name was augmented with the adjectival Maximianopolis.

The site of Legio (el-lajjun) is a vital geographical position making it a strategic crossroads for coastal, valley and hill country trade as well as the movement of troops from Egypt to Mesopotamia.

From the first to the seventh centuries the area was controlled by the Roman Empire.

Historical records show three settlements:  the Jewish village of Kefer Othnay, the Roman Sixth Legion Ferrata and the Roman-Byzantine city of Maximianopolis.

Research has discovered a Roman-Byzantine theater and fragments of Roman aqueducts.

Teams have been excavating Legio. Over the course of only ten full excavation days, with the assistance of American and European students working side-by-side with members of local youth and community service groups, the team dug test trenches measuring approximately 295 feet by 16.5 feet that revealed clear evidence of the camp

At the north end of this line, was found that the depressions evident in aerial photography were in fact part of a Roman camp’s typical defensive trenching earthworks, the fosse. Next to this 6.5-foot-deep ditch was the foundation of a great wall nearly 20 feet wide, evidently the main circumvallation rampart of the camp. 

Inside of that wall in the remaining 230 feet of test trenches, the team exposed rooms likely belonging to one of the barracks areas of the camp. Much of the architectural remains had long been stripped away, but within the rooms were numerous ceramic roof tiles with the legion’s mark, coins, fragments of scale armor, lead ingots and a stone table leg sculpted with the three-dimensional visage of a panther. Near the southern extent of our excavation, the putative barracks were bounded by a wide street carved in bedrock and flanked by drainage channels. 

Crossing the camp at about one-third of the length of the north-south walls, as estimated via aerial photography, this important street was probably the camp’s Via Principalis, “Main Street,” a typical feature of such castra. Considering the regular structure of Roman camps, the Porta Principalis Dextra, the main eastern gate of the camp, should lie just outside of our excavation area.

A Reflectance Transformation Image scan (RTI) in
the center shows the legion's insignia.

The degree to which the fort was manned in the later period is not known. Palestine was considered a quiet sector with many Roman troops removed and frontier defenses largely given over to the allied Ghassanid Christian Arabs.

Even with the Ghassanids patrolling the frontier there would have been regular army Roman troops stationed in Palestine and units passing through to Egypt or to Mesopotamia.  Lajjun and the other limes fortresses, if not permanently manned, would have been used on and off for temporary shelter or as a local strong point for police actions. 

Information on the Roman legions and other units stationed in the area is also minimal.  

The area was conquered by the Arab Muslims under Caliph Umar in the 7th century: the Legio III Cyrenaica was destroyed defending Bosra in 630, ending the Roman presence in Arabia.

According to some Muslim historians, the site of the 634 AD Battle of Ajnadayn fought between the army of the Rashidun Caliphate under generals Khaled ibn al-Walid and Amr ibn al-'As, and the Byzantine Empire in 634 CE was at Lajjun. 

Following the Muslim Arab victory, Lajjun, along with most of Palestine, and southern Syria were incorporated into the Caliphate. According to 9th-century Persian geographer Estakhri, Lajjun was the northernmost town in Jund Filastin (District of Palestine). Arab geographer Ibn Hawqalsupports this claim in 977.

The Crusades

When the Crusaders invaded and conquered the Levant from the Fatimids in 1099, al-Lajjun's Roman name was restored and the town formed a part of the lordship of Caesarea. During this time, Christian settlement in Legio grew significantly. 

John of Ibelin records that the community "owed the service of 100 sergeants". Bernard, the archbishop of Nazareth granted some of the tithes of Legio to the hospital of the monastery of St. Mary in 1115, then in 1121, he extended the grant to include all of Legio, including its church as well as the nearby village of Ti'inik

By 1147, the de Lyon family controlled Legio, but by 1168, the town was held by Payen, the lord of Haifa. Legio had markets, a town oven and held other economic activities during this era. In 1182, the Ayyubids raided Legio, and in 1187, it was captured by them under the leadership of Saladin's nephew Husam ad-Din 'Amr and consequently its Arabic name was restored.

Lajjun Fortress
Two hypothetical reconstructions of the legion camp based on ground penetrating radar.  The smaller option appears in white.  The larger option extends out in black.
(Jezrel Valley Regional Project)

Map showing the location of Legio in the Jezreel Valley (Israel). 
Hilly/mountainous regions in grey.

Aerial photo of Legio/Lajjun

Cut away of a Roman fortress wall.

In AD 106 the Romans under Emperor Trajan achieved control of the region east of the Jordan River, which was previously ruled by the Nabataeans. Until then, the Nabataean kingdom had provided a buffer between the Roman Empire and the threat of enemies to the east.

Historians do not know how and why the Romans took direct control. Perhaps the lack of a legitimate successor to the deceased Nabataean king resulted in a power vacuum. The Romans annexed the area and called it 
Provincia Arabia. It was governed by a senatorial legate appointed by the emperor, and its capital was Bostra (or Bosra) in southern Syria.

(Academia.edu)      (Lajjun)      (Legionary Fortresses)      (Legio III Cyrenaica)

(Biblical Archaeology)      (Romans in Arabia)      (Livius.org)

(xlegio.ru)      (Ancient worlds)      (Limes Arabicus)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Byzantine Trade Goods - Anatolia and the Caucasus, 500–1000 A.D.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Anatolia remains one of the most important territories of the Byzantine Empire during this period. Eastern Anatolia becomes increasingly militarized in the 600s due to Persian and Arab invasions. The Iconoclastic controversy affects all the empire, including this region, until around 850, when Byzantium restors economic prosperity and military security. 

During this period, the Armenians and Georgians established themselves as relatively independent Christian states on the empire's eastern frontier. In Anatolia, Byzantine art and architecture flourishes, particularly in the sixth-century cities along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts—including Ephesus, Sardis, and Aphrodisias—and in the region of Cappadocia, notable for its medieval, rock-cut structures.

The "Antioch Chalice," first half of 6th century
Byzantine; Made in Antioch or Kaper Koraon (?)
Silver, silver–gilt; 7 1/2 x 5 7/8 in. (19 x 15 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1950 (50.4)

When it was discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century, this "chalice" was claimed to have been found in Antioch, a city so important to the early Christians that it was recognized with Rome and Alexandria as one of the great sees of the church. 

The chalice's plain silver interior bowl was then ambitiously identified as the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. The elaborate footed shell enclosing it was thought to have been made within a century after the death of Christ to encase and honor the Grail. The fruited grapevine forming the rinceau pattern of the gilded shell is inhabited by birds, including an eagle; animals, including a lamb and a rabbit; and twelve human figures holding scrolls and seated in high-backed chairs. Two of the figures are thought to be images of Christ. 

The other ten figures have been variously identified as ten of the twelve apostles, or philosophers of the classical age, who, like the prophets of the Old Testament, had foretold the coming of Christ. The sixth-century chronicler Malalas of Antioch was among those who sought to make such links between Christianity and classical philosophy.

Pair of Jeweled Bracelets, 500–700
Byzantine; Probably made in Constantinople
Gold, silver, pearl, amethyst, sapphire, glass, quartz, and emerald plasma; Diam. 3 1/4 in. (8.2 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1670, 1671)

These elaborately decorated bracelets have richly jeweled exteriors and finely detailed opus interassile (openwork) patterns on their interiors. The luminous beauty of pearls was highly prized in the Byzantine world. These bracelets are only two of thirty-four pieces of gold jewelry from Egypt said to have been found near Lycopolis (now Assiut) or Antinoopolis (Antinoe, now Sheik Ibada) in Egypt at the turn of the century. 

Whether discovered together, or later assembled, they represent the standard of luxury common among the elite in Egypt during the period of Byzantine rule and the close connections between the wealthy province and the capital in Constantinople. Multicolored, or polychrome, jewelry was very popular in the Early Byzantine world.

Portrait Bust of a Woman with a Scroll, late 4th–early 5th century
Early Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire)
Marble; H. 20 7/8 in. (53 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1966 (66.25)

This superbly carved portrait bust presents a pensive woman with a compelling gaze. She holds a scroll, the symbol of an educated person. 

The delicate, sensitive carving and the highly polished finish suggest that it was carved in Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire, perhaps as the funerary monument of a leading member of the imperial aristocracy. Her long fingers draw attention to the scroll in her hand, indicating her pride in being recognized as among the educated elite in an era that prized learning for both men and women.

Icon with the Deesis, mid–900s
Byzantine; Probably made in Constantinople
Ivory; 6 1/8 x 5 1/8 in. (15.6 x 13 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.133)

In the Deesis, Christ appears in glory between the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. Traditionally the first witnesses to Christ's divinity, the Virgin and Saint John came to be seen as intercessors with Christ on behalf of humanity. 

This plaque was probably the central panel of a triptych, a deluxe portable icon for personal devotion. Later, in western Europe, the panel may have been used as a cover for a gospel book.

Solidus of Justinian I (r. 527–565), 538–565
Byzantine; Minted in Constantinople
Gold; Diam. 3/4 in. (1.9 cm)
Bequest of Joseph H. Durkee, 1898 (99.35.7406)

Coins connected an emperor to his subjects. Through inscriptions and images, they conveyed imperial ideals and commemorated auspicious events. The emperor paid the army and received taxes in coins, and he was responsible for maintaining their weight and purity. 

This coin was minted under Justinian, whose preference for a completely frontal portrait—rather than the traditional profile—would set a standard for the rest of Byzantine history.

Caftan, 8th–10th century
Caucasus Mountain regions
Silk, linen, and fur; Coat: H. 56 in. (142.2 cm), W. 60 in. (152.4 cm); Leggings: H. 32 in. (81.3 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1996 (1996.78.1)

The original linen coat (caftan), preserved in part from the neck to the bottom of the hem, is made of finely woven linen. A decorative strip of large-patterned silk is sewn along the exterior and interior edges of the caftan. A minute fragment of lambskin preserved as the caftan's interior attests to its fur lining. 

The woven patterns on the silk borders of the caftan include motifs such as the rosettes and stylized animal patterns enclosed within beaded roundels, which were widespread in Iranian and Central Asian textiles of the sixth to ninth century. 

The colors used in the textile include a now-faded dark blue, yellow, red, and white on a dark brown ground. The decorated silk fabrics are a compound twill weave (samit in modern classification) and the body of the garment is plain-weave linen. Two slits running up the back of the caftan make it particularly suitable as a riding costume.

See more at
Met Museum.org