Investigations into a high imperial fort on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire
The Roman fort known as Qreiye in academic circles and literature is situated on the northern edge of the modern village of 'Ayyash (Fig.1), on the right bank of the river Euphrates, approximately 12km upstream of the modern provincial capital of Deir ez-Zor. The position is of an ideal strategic nature, as the elevated plateau projects into the wide valley of the river at this point, and breaks off towards the Euphrates in a steep basalt cliff.
To date, there is only one source of information regarding the history of this fortified site, which was discovered by A. Poidebard in the course of his systematic flights over the Syrian Steppe: The trilingual "res gestae" of the Sassanian ruler Shapur I. mentions a site called Birtha Arupan in the Parthian version listing the cities and forts conquered in the spring of AD 253. Perhaps this is to be identified with the site of Qreiye/'Ayyash.
The Severan period was the last phase of an offensive policy of expansion in the history of the Roman Empire. In due course, it included substantial annexations of enemy territory in the East. This development necessitated the establishment of several new military bases. While the usual practice in the north western provinces and Northern Africa was to establish new forts and fortresses, units were frequently garrisoned in cities along the Eastern frontier. This causes significant problems for the archaeological identification of units stationed along the frontier towards the Parthian Empire until AD 300. Only few of these are known - with the exception of those units based at Dura-Europos. The layout of the installation, as well as the surface finds from Qreiye, suggest that the antique fortified site was indeed one of the Roman Imperial military structures in the Near East which were newly planned and created by the Roman Army administration. Furthermore, it was neither used nor changed in layout during the late Roman or Byzantine periods. As the fort has not been disturbed by modern building activity, it offers ideal conditions for archaeological research. (Fig. 2) The aim of the research being carried out at Qreiye/'Ayyash is first and foremost to clarify and ascertain the historical interpretation as well as an absolute Chronology. Furthermore, the design of the fortifications is to be clarified and the character and layout of interior buildings to be identified. Finally, the relationship of the installation to its corresponding civil settlement and the surrounding territory is to be studied. It is hoped that this methodology will enable clear statements regarding the garrison and function of this relatively large fortified installation of 4.5ha of useable enclosed area. As such, this project will produce an important contribution to and advancement of the current understanding of the organization of the Roman military in the central Euphrates region.
After a cooperation contract had been signed, a survey in preparation of an excavation was carried through in the spring of 2005. The fort and its surroundings were systematically surveyed and documented topographically with the aim to produce a digitalized model. At the same time, the fortified area was prospected with geomagnetic and, in parts, with geoelectric methods. Inside the fortification and in selected areas of the surroundings, the surface material was collected, and the remains of walls still visible on the surface were documented. In November 2002 there followed test measurings with georadar. From 2003 to 2007 four excavation seasons and three study seasons have taken place, as well as extensive prospections with georadar and a palynological survey. Here are the results of the investigations: To the west of the fort there is an Iron Age tall that, until early 2004, served as cemetery of the modern village of 'Ayyash. The surface finds show that the civilian settlement of the fort must be situated elsewhere. The military camp comprises 220 x 220 m and is fortified by a double system of mound and ditch and by a an enclosure wall with four gates, four angle towers and eight intermediate towers. The towers at the gates and the intermediate towers are rectangular, the angle towers are round; they all protrude to the outside as well as to the inside. Thus the fortifications correspond largely to the well-known pattern of Middle Imperial times in the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD. A wall is noteworthy that branches off in the east of the northern front and extends straight to the north as far as the erosion edge. Due to the observations on the surface, the geophysical prospections and the excavations a lot of information has been collected about the structures inside the fortifications as well. The fort is oriented towards the east, that is, downstream, against the Parthians. The excavations were focussed upon the headquarters, the store-house south of it (horreum), the barracks north of the via decumana and on selected areas in the eastern part of the camp. In connection with the archaeological excavations, the extensive georadar prospections that were carried out parallel to the autumn campaigns of 2004 and 2005 allow detailed insights into the fort's interior structure. In addition, it was possible to identify a building at the foot of the slope as the bath of the fort. The necropolises of the ancient settlement are not localized. Probably, they as well as the civilian settlement belonging to the fort are situated in the modern village of 'Ayyash. The excavated finds and findings prove that the fortifications of Qreiye are a Roman military camp that was installed in the context of the Severan campaigns against the Parthians and evacuated in the mid-third of the 3rd century AD, never to be occupied again. The evaluation of the topographical, geophysical and archaeological surveys that have been conducted in 2004 and 2005 at Tall ar-Rum, the alledged bridgehead fort on the left bank of the Euphrates, showed that the site was a Late Roman fortified civil settlement, which was founded in the 4th or early 5th century AD and occupied well into the Umayyad period.
Direction Générale des Antiquités et des Musées de la Syrie (DGAMS)
Dr. Faris Chouker (deceased), Institute of Geophysics, University of Damascus, POB 948 Damascus, Syria (Geoelektrik)
Dr. Manfred Stephani, Technische Universität München, Fachgebiet für Photogrammetrie und Fernerkundung, Arcisstraße 21, D - 80333 München, e-Mail: Manfred.Stephani@bv.tu-muenchen.de (Vermessung, digitales Geländemodell, Bildentzerrung und Geoinformationssystem)
Dr. Christian Schweitzer, Roggenschlag 6, D - 30938 Burgwedel, e-Mail: email@example.com (Geomagnetik)
Dr. S. Sirri Seren, ZAMG - Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik, Hauptabteilung Geophysik, Hohe Warte 38, A - 1190 Wien, e-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Geomagnetik und Georadar)
Dr. Tímea Kiss, Department of Physical Geography, Faculty of Science, University of Szeged, Egyetem utca 2-6 PF 653, 6722 Szeged, Ungarn, e-Mail: email@example.com (Geomorphologie)
Dr. Hans Roland Baldus, Kommission für Alte Geschichte und Epigraphik (AEK), Amalienstraße 73 b, 80799 München, e-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Numismatik)
Prof. Dr. Norbert Benecke, DAI, Naturwissenschaftliches Referat an der Zentrale, Im Dol 2-6, Haus 2 und 4, D - 14195 Berlin, e-Mail: email@example.com (Archäozoologie)
Dr. Reinder Neef, DAI, Naturwissenschaftliches Referat an der Zentrale, Im Dol 2-6, Haus 2 und 4, D - 14195 Berlin, e-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Archäobotanik)
Dr. Christiane Singer, Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Abt. Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Labor für Archäobotanik, Grüneburgplatz 1, D - 60323 Frankfurt am Main, E-Mail: C.Singer@em.uni-frankfurt.de (Archäobotanik)
Dr. Karin Bartl, DAI
Dr. Markus Gschwind
c/o Institut für Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie und Provinzialrömische Archäologie,
D - 80539 München,
Dr. Haytham Hasan, DGAMS
Georadar and geomagnetics prospections in 2004 and 2005: Gerda Henkel Foundation. Evaluation of the survey and excavation work carried out at Qreiye/Ayyash since 2008: Scholarship of the Gerda Henkel Foundation.
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M. Gschwind - H. Hasan, Die spätrömisch-frühislamische Zivilsiedlung Tall ar-Rum und die spätantike Besiedlung des Euphrattales zwischen Zenobia und Circesium. Damaszener Mitteilungen 15, 2006, 321-382.
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H. R. Baldus,Fundmünzen aus Qreiye/Ayyash (Syrien). In: Jahresbericht 2005 des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Archäologischer Anzeiger 2006, 250-251 Abb. 6.
N. Benecke, Naturwissenschaftliche Forschungen - Archäozoologie. In: Jahresbericht 2005 des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Archäologischer Anzeiger 2006, 141-142 Abb. 35.
M. Gschwind, Qreiye/Ayyash. In: Jahresbericht 2004 des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Archäologischer Anzeiger 2005, 255-357.
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A. Poidebard, La trace de Rome dans le désert de Syrie. Le limes de Trajan a la conquête arabe, Bibliothèque Archéologique et Historique 18 (1934) 87-88 Taf. 86-87.