Qasr Bshir (Castra Praetorii Mobeni), one of the best-preserved Roman forts in the Middle East, belongs to the chain of forts and watchtowers known as the Limes Arabicus to protect the province of Arabia against roaming desert nomads. They were not extremely dangerous or exceptionally violent, but their dromedaries made them swift, and if trouble arose, they could pillage large parts of the Roman countryside. According to the Latin building inscription found over the main gate, Qasr Bshir was constructed during the period of 293-305 CE.
The fort dominates a wide, stony plain, cut by several wadis that empty themselves in the Wadi Mujib, which in turn empties itself in the Dead Sea. Although the land is arid, agriculture is possible along the wadis; in fact, the modern visitor walking from the road to the fort will cross some fields in a shallow valley. The fort itself rises above this depression, and its towers dominate the plain.
The location of the fort is very strategic, and it comes as no surprise that they were not the first to occupy this place. In the neighbourhood are two towers from the Iron Age, called Qasr el-Al and Qasr Abu el-Kharaq, which were reused by Nabataean and later Roman soldiers. The fort itself replaced another Nabataean stronghold. There may have been an ancient road in the neighbourhood, perhaps leading to the nearby legionary base at Lejjun.
The fort occupies an area of about 57 x 54 meters. The curtain walls, which survive in a nearly perfect condition, are about 1.5 meters thick and 6 meters high, excluding the crenellated rampart. They connect four heavy, square corner towers, which measure 11 to 12 meters and project some three meters beyond the walls. These three-storied structures used to be more than 10 meters high. Next to the western tower was a small postern gate, less than a meter wide.
The central gate, which faces the shallow valley to the southwest, is flanked by two towers that are about half as large as the corner towers.
The courtyard, which has two cisterns, is on all sides surrounded by rooms, twenty-three in number, which has been identified as stables. There was a second story, where the soldiers must have slept. The roof of these barracks reached the same height as the rampart walk, creating a really wide fighting platform.
Today Qasr Bshir can be visited from the Desert highway. Coming from Amman, turn right after Qatrana Manaseer gas station and after 10.5 km there will be another turn to the right (not obvious). 4×4 or crossover vehicle is required for this part of the journey, alternatively a 2 km walk will bring you directly to the castle.
Qasr Bshir was originally constructed in the fourth century as a Roman fort, technically a castellum, which housed a Roman cavalry unit charged with the task of defending the farthest reaches of the Empire’s southeastern frontier.
An inscription found on the cracked lintel stone capping the collapsing main gateway indicates that the castellum was originally called the Castra Praetorii Mobeni and offers an important clue to the time of the fort’s foundation. Its reference to the reigns of Emperors Diocletian and Maximianus, and their respective Caesars, Flavius Valerius Constantius and Galerius Valerius Maximianus provides a narrow period for construction, sometime between 293 and 306 CE.
Excavation suggested that the fort was abandoned sometime in the 5th century. There was some evidence of a limited reoccupation in the Umayyad period (7th – 8th centuries).