Open this page in a new tab

Sha'ar Ramon

Sha'ar Ramon Fig 8

Aerial view of the Nabataean caravanserai of Sha'ar Ramon located on the eastern edge of the Ramon Crater. (Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)

Erickson-Gini and Israel (2013)

Transliterated Name Source Name
Shdar Ramon
Sha'ar Ramon
Mesad Sha'ar Ramon
Qasr el-Mahalle
'En Saharonim

Sha'ar Ramon contains the remains of a Nabataean caravanserai built in the Early Roman period which was occupied until some time in the 3rd century CE. The site was then reoccupied at the end of the 3rd century CE as part of a Roman military buildup in the region.

Excavations by Rudolf Cohen

A site on a low hill near 'En Saharonim (map reference 1439.00 16) was first surveyed in 1932 by F. Frank, who called it Qasr el-Mahalle and dated it to the Roman period. A. Alt identified the site with the Roman-Byzantine Moahila, mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum (XXXIV, 14). It was later surveyed by G. E. Kirk, N. Glueck, M. Gichon, B. Rothenberg, and others, who identified it as a road station on the Nabatean Petra-Oboda-Gaza highway. In 1982-1983, the square fort (c. 42 by 42 m) was excavated by R. Cohen, on behalf of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums.

The fort consisted of rooms arranged around a central courtyard (32 by 31 m). The walls (thickness, 0.6 m) were preserved to a height of 1.5 to 2 m. The main gate (2 by 1.8 m) was built at the center of the northern wall; it was flanked by communicating guardrooms (each 3.6 by 3m), which were probably originally towers. Nine rooms (each c. 3.5 m wide) were cleared along the eastern wall; one room contained a plastered basin (1.7 by 1.2 m; c. 0.8 m deep). Another room contained a circular clay oven (diameter, c. 2 m) in its center. The floor of the oven was made of small stones. Inside it a cooking-pot and other sherds were found, along with many camel bones. A narrow corridor (width, c. 1.5 m; length, 8 m) separated the rooms on the east from those along the southern wall. At the southern end of the corridor a small, circular installation, made of clay, held a complete glass bowl and numerous sherds.

The rooms along the southern wall were arranged in three wings. An inner courtyard (7.5 by 3.5 m) separated the two east wings from one another. The easternmost wing included two large rooms (7.5 by 3.6 m; 7.5 by 4.5 m). The second wing contained two long rooms (6 by 2.5 m), between which ran a narrow corridor (width, c. 1 m). The western wing contained three rooms and was probably accessible directly from the courtyard. At the end of the southern wall, running along the western wing, was a narrow corridor (width, c. 1.5 m), to the north of which was a staircase around a square, central pillar, consisting of six steps to the upper story. Along the western wall, north of the staircase, were six rooms.

Two building stages were identified in most of the rooms. To the first stage belonged an assemblage of pottery (painted Nabatean bowls, oil lamps, juglets, and cooking pots) typical of the first century, and coins of the Nabatean kings Aretas IV (9 BCE-40 CE) and Rabbel II (70-106). To the second stage belonged ceramic finds characteristic of the second to third centuries. Also found were coins of Antoninus Pius (138-161), Commodus (180-192), and Caracalla (211-217).

The plan of Mezad Sha'ar Ramon is identical with that of the so-called khan at Mo'a. The finds indicate that the fort was built in the Nabatean period, probably at the end of the first century CE, as a road station on the ancient Petra-Oboda-Gaza highway. It continued in use without significant modifications after the annexation of the Nabatean kingdom to the Roman Empire in 106.

Maps, Aerial Views, and Plans
Maps, Aerial Views, and Plans

Maps and Aerial Views

  • Fig. 1 - Major Roman trade routes in the vicinity of Moje Awad from Bar-Oz et al (2022)
  • Fig. 1 - Map of the main Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine sites in the Negev Hills from Stern et. al. (1993 v.3)
  • Sha'ar Ramon in Google Earth
  • Sha'ar Ramon on


  • Fig. 8 - Aerial view of Sha’ar-Ramon from Bar-Oz et al (2022)
  • Fig. 17 - Plan of the Nabataean caravanserai of Sha'ar Ramon from Erickson-Gini and Israel (2013)


Cohen (1982:244) identified two building phases in most of the rooms at Sha'ar Ramon with the earlier phase containing artifacts of the 1st century CE: painted Nabataean bowls, jugs, juglets, and oil lamps and Nabataean coins from the reigns of Aretas IV [9 BCE - 40 CE] and Rabel II [70-106 CE]. Erickson-Gini and Israel (2013:39-41) estimate that during this initial phase, the caravanserai at Sha'ar Ramon was constructed in the Early Roman period. Cohen (1982:244) identified a 2nd phase which contained ceramic remains from the 2nd-3rd centuries CE including bowls, jugs, jars, and oil lamps as well as coins from the Roman Emperors Antonius Pius [138-161 CE], Commodius [176-192 CE], and Caracalla [198-217 CE]. Erickson-Gini and Israel (2013:39-41) report an additional later phase when the site was re-occupied at the end of the 3rd century CE during the reign of Diocletian [284-305 CE].

Like other sites along the Incense Road, Sha'ar Ramon was abandoned sometime after 222 CE and assemblages of whole Nabataean fine ware vessels of the post-annexation period were discovered in some of the rooms. Unlike the sites at Moyat Awad and Nahal Neqarot, which were never again occupied after the third century CE, some of the rooms in the Sha'ar Ramon caravanserai were reoccupied towards the end of the third century CE.

... The reoccupation of part of the structure in this period coincides with the construction of Diocletian's army camp in nearby Oboda as well as the construction of the military bathhouse, and two towers that guarded the town (Erickson-Gini 2002; 2010: 17-19, 88-91).

Early 2nd century CE earthquake

Erickson-Gini and Israel (2013:41-42) report that evidence was found for an early 2nd century CE earthquake at Sha'ar Ramon perhaps based on rebuilding evidence as they state that there is ample evidence of the immediate reconstruction of buildings at Moyat Awad, Sha'ar Ramon, and Horvat Dafit.

Notes and Further Reading