The maintenance of empire: The Roman army in the Negev from the 1st - 7th centuries CE
Ratzlaff, Alexandra Louise
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In this dissertation, I investigate the function of the Roman army in the Negev. Evidence from archaeological survey and excavations of thirty-nine structures reveals that for 700 years Roman sites were situated to serve trade networks. Negev trade goods included frankincense, myrrh, spices, cassia, and silk - the epitome of luxury items in the Roman world. The importation, distribution, and taxation of these goods provided the imperial treasury with a steady revenue stream. Military units monitored road systems, secured supply lines, and performed local policing duties functioning, in effect, as agents of imperial administration. I begin with the period immediately prior to Roman annexation, when the Negev was home to Nabataean traders. This phase (1st c. BCE-1st c. CE) ended with the formation of the province of Arabia, a move likely inspired by the need for new revenue on account of the enormous outlays required by Trajan's Dacian wars. For the next 200 years, the Romans maintained the preexisting Nabataean network. In the early fourth century C.E., about half of the established Roman sites were abandoned and new ones were built along a new route - not as a reaction to localized threats but instead to support more efficient sea-borne trade via Aila, on the Red Sea. In the fifth century nomadic tribes began to cause serious security problems. In response new infantry and cavalry units were posted to the region, but were stationed in existing forts so as to maintain the continued security of the trade networks. In the Negev, the Roman military acted as an extension of imperial administration to support the smooth functioning of trade. The results clarify ancient historical references to the Limes Palaestinae, a term that modern scholars have understood to refer to a militarized defensive line on the Negev frontier. The distribution patterns that I found do not support a military interpretation, either of a defensive strategy or an internal frontier. Rather, the region remained structured around long established Nabataean-era road networks that were used to transport luxury commodities. In the Negev, the Roman army facilitated imperial interests for economic, rather than military, security.