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The Roman military presence in the Western Desert of Egypt.
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posted on 16.01.2017by Kucera, Paul Nicholas
This study focuses on the Roman military presence in Egypt's western oases from the third to fifth centuries CE with particular emphasis on the late third and fourth centuries. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the evidence for the military with the aim of developing a better understanding of the reason for its presence in the Western Desert. The findings are considered in relation to other available data on the late Roman army and its roles as well as contemporary political developments and economic activities in Egypt.
The thesis expands upon previous studies, but incorporates significant new data, especially in relation to fortifications. Both the archaeological remains of the forts and the documentary evidence are evaluated critically to refine our knowledge of the date that the forts were established, their geographic distribution in relation to one another, their role in relation to the deployment of auxiliary units, and the likely tasks that soldiers performed. It is argued that significant developments took place in the oases under Diocletian and were linked with his re-organisation of the military in Egypt towards the end of the third century. Forts were positioned in strategic locations with a focus upon major roads and access to and from the oases. The soldiers and units stationed in the Western Desert served primarily as a police force which conducted surveillance of the region, guarded roads, enforced the law and were probably involved in customs-related tasks and counter-smuggling activities. In their capacity as a police force, it is probable that the oasis-based military protected exploitative industries, such as the state-owned alum monopoly, which operated in the region. Recent discoveries of the location of alum mines in Dakhleh Oasis, and their proximity to a newly-identified fort at al-Qasr, lend support to this hypothesis.
This assessment of the Roman military provides new insights into the overall military strategy that was adopted in the oases. It highlights not only the importance of the military presence in the region but also draws attention to the significance of the Western Desert in late antiquity, as part of Rome's North African territory.