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A New Architectural Survey of Qaṣr Burquʽ, Eastern Jordan

  • Svend Helms

Qaṣr Burqu⃓ is one of the most remote of the Jordanian so-called ‘desert castles’ (quṣūr) of the early Islamic period: it lies some 200km east of⃓Ammān (figs. 1–4). However, it is neither a castle, nor is it in the desert, rather it represents a variety of building types and lies in the dry steppe (areas receiving less than 100mm of rainfall per annum) of the bādiyat al-šām (literally, the steppe lands of Damascus). Furthermore, most of the architectural elements are not necessarily attributable to the early Islamic period, namely the Umayyad Caliphate of the seventh and eighth centuries, despite a ‘building’ inscription (E4: see below, pp. 206–7) of Walīd b. ‘Abd’l-Malik (Caliph AD 705–15), dated AD 700 (H. 81). Rather, the various architectural entities at the site, and their use, span the time from about the third-fourth (probably a little later) to the eighth centuries AD. This time range and the Qaṣr's remote location are significant in relation to the political and economic history of the Near East, particularly in regard of nomad-state relations across the verdant-steppic interface. The time range of the various constructions includes the period following the dissolution of the limes arabicus which had been extensively refurbished and augmented under Diocletian and later under Justinian in the third and sixth centuries AD. Many of the more remote erstwhile fortlets, forts and legionary fortresses were colonized by villagers and nomads, as well as monks and pious hermits. Between the fourth and sixth centuries (particularly in the sixth century under the Ghassānids), purpose-built monasteries and ‘residences’ for hermits were established throughout greater Syria, some of them far out in the steppe. The military station at Nemāras about 80km to the north-east of Qaṣr Burqu⃓, for example, may have become one of several centres, functioning as a παƍεμβολή νομάδον of the Lakhmids in the region, under the leadership of Imru'l-Qays who was called ‘king of the Arabs’ and who was buried there in AD 328. Places like Qaṣr Burqu⃓ and Deir al-Kinn, on the other hand, may have been founded or re-established as monasteries.

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