Aerial view of the Roman fort at Yotvata Fig. 4.

Aerial view of the fort, with east at the top.

Davies and Magness (2015)


Transliterated Name Source Name
Yotvata Hebrew יׇטְבָתָה
Iutfata Arabic يوتفاتا
Ein Ghadian Arabic يين عهاديان

Yotvata is located in a small oasis about 40 km. north of Eilat. The modern name Yotvata is based on Jotbathah, one of the stops of the Israelites in the journey of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 10:7 and Numbers 33:33-34). There is as yet no proof for this identification (Zeev Meshel in Stern et al, 1993). Due to Yotvata's water source and location at a crossroad, it has been settled during different periods although there is no mound or multiperiod central site (Zeev Meshel in Stern et al, 1993).

Maps and Plans
Maps and Plans

  • Plan of the Roman fortress from Davies and Magness (2015)

Site Ages and Types
Site Ages and Types

Sites are located in different places. Zeev Meshel in Stern et al (1993) summarized the sites:

Remains can be divided into four main groups:
  • remains related to water or agriculture
  • tombs
  • remains of settlements or encampments
  • remains associated with copper production
... The settlements excavated so far date to the [following periods]
  1. Chalcolithic
  2. the Early and Middle Bronze Ages
  3. The beginning of the Iron Age
  4. Nabatean
  5. Roman
  6. Early Arab
The sites from the last four periods were probably fortresses or way stations
A Roman fortress is present at the site.

Early 2nd century CE Earthquake

Erickson-Gini (2012a) report archaeoseismic evidence in a Nabatean structure at 'En Yotvata

Three walls of a structure (W1–W3; Fig. 4) were revealed during the 2005 season. The walls were constructed from hard limestone blocks (average size 0.25×0.35 m). The only complete wall was W2 in the west, oriented north–south (length 12.5 m), which was preserved to at least two courses high above the surface. A possible entrance is indicated along this wall, slightly west of its center. The other two walls appear to have been of the same length. The structure had entirely collapsed in the earthquake of the early second century CE.
The structure, which was apparently a two-story building, appears to have been stripped for building stones, probably after the earthquake destruction. In the collapse of the upper storey (L100, L500, L600), potsherds dating to Late Hellenistic period were discovered, including painted fine-ware bowls (Fig. 5:1, 3, 4), a bowl of the fish-plate tradition (Fig. 5:9), as well as painted fine-ware bowls of the Early Roman period (Fig. 5:5–7). Large fragments of a fine-ware painted bowl of the second half of the first century CE were discovered, in situ, in the middle of the building (L100; Fig. 5:8).
A group of collapsed stone ceiling slabs (F2), standing nearly upright, was uncovered in the middle of the L601 square (Fig. 8 )
The building was apparently destroyed in an earthquake in the early second century CE. Evidence of this disaster could be seen in the collapsed upper floor in both squares, the collapsed ceiling slabs and in the collapse of the structure’s exterior walls. In addition, parts of the same Nabataean Aqaba Ware jar, found in the last season, were discovered deep in L502, somewhere above the surface of the lower floor. The coins recovered from the debris of the upper floor are Nabataean coins of the first century CE. The pottery assemblage includes forms of the earliest Nabataean painted wares of the Late Hellenistic period, Nabataean painted ware bowls of the Early Roman period, and plain ware Nabataean vessels, spanning the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. The latest datable pottery vessels discovered in the structure are the Nabataean Aqaba Ware jars, dated to the early second century CE.

Post Roman Legion Abandonment Earthquake - 5th century CE

Stratigraphy of Yotvata Fig. 7

West baulk of Room 4, showing the mud-brick collapse

JW: Stratigraphy of Yotvata - burnt layer at bottom is overlain by mud brick collapse layer and sedimentation until the top Early Islamic layer

Davies and Magness (2015)

Davies et al (2015) excavated a Roman Fort at Yotvata from 2003-2007. A monumental Latin inscription discovered earlier (1985) outside of the east gate suggests that the fort at Yotvata was built when Diocletian transferred the Tenth Legion Fretensis from Jerusalem to Aila in the last decade of the third century. Two destruction layers were described after establishment of the fort - a burned layer and a collapse layer. The authors noted that the first phase of Roman occupation at our fort, which is associated with coins that go up to ca. 360, ended with a violent destruction evidenced by intense burning throughout. Reconstruction is said to have occurred immediately after this destruction as documented by a series of successive floor layers throughout. The cause of the burned layer was not established but the authors suggested a a possible connection with the Saracen revolt against Rome led by Queen Mavia, ca. 375–378 noting the documented successes of her forces against Roman field armies and that the inclusion of former foederati among her troops suggest that her forces would have been capable of taking and destroying the fort at Yotvata. Whatever the specific cause, the excavators strongly believed that human agency rather than the southern Cyril Quake of 363 AD was the general cause noting that there was no visible evidence of structural damage or a collapse layer. One of the excavators, Gwyn Davies (personal communication, 2020) noted that
We are confident that the fort was destroyed in a violent attack as we encountered signs of intense burning across most contexts and, even more suggestively, the stone frame of the main gate was fire-seared as well. If the fire had been more localized and associated with signs of toppling collapse, then ‘natural causes’ may have been more persuasive or, indeed, that this represented an accidental destruction. Instead, the evidence suggests to us that the fort was put to the torch quite deliberately
Another of the excavators, Jodi Magness (personal communication, 2020) related the following
In addition to the lack of evidence of visible structural damage that could be attributed to an earthquake in the earliest destruction level, the absence of whole (restorable) pottery vessels and other objects in that level suggests an earthquake did not cause the destruction, as one would expect these artifacts to be buried in a sudden collapse. Therefore, we attributed the destruction by fire to human agents.
As for the collapse layer, it is dated to after the abandonment of the fort in the late 4th century.
The Late Roman occupation ended with an orderly evacuation and abandonment, as indicated by the fact that the rooms were cleared out. The absence of a reference to a fort at Osia [i.e. the fort excavated near Yotvata] in the Notitia Dignitatum, together with a reference to the ala Constantiana being stationed at Toloha (Or. 34.34), ca. 110 km to the north of Yotvata, suggest that our fort was abandoned by the early fifth century. Soon thereafter an earthquake—perhaps the earthquake of 419—toppled the walls of the fort. An ephemeral Byzantine period occupation was established on top of the collapse, without any attempt at leveling.
A limited amount of debris between the fort's presumed abandonment and the collapse layer led the authors to suggest the Monaxius and Plinta Earthquake of 419 AD as a possible cause of the collapse layer. Although the ensuing ephemeral Byzantine period occupation was undated due to a lack of recovered pottery, significant sediment accumulated between the Byzantine layer and the well dated Early Islamic layer suggesting that these two layers are a century or two apart. This eliminates several potential local earthquake candidates - e.g. the Inscription at Areopolis Quake (late 6th century), the Sign of the Prophet Quake (613-622 CE), and the Sword in the Sky Quake (634 CE). Archeoseismic evidence at Yotvata for the Monaxius and Plinta earthquake of 419 AD should be considered as possible to probable - The excavators say possible and I say probable.

Seismic Effects
Early 2nd century CE Earthquake

  • Collapsed upper floor
  • Collapsed ceiling slabs
  • Collapsed exterior walls
  • The only complete wall (W2) was oriented N-S

Post Roman Legion Abandonment Earthquake - 5th century CE

Maps and Plans

Maps and Plans

  • Plan of the Roman fortress from Davies and Magness (2015)

Effect Figure
Collapsed Walls (mud brick collapse)
Toppled steps

Intensity Estimates
Early 2nd century CE Earthquake

Effect Description Intensity
Collapsed Walls VIII +
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224).

Post Roman Legion Abandonment Earthquake - 5th century CE

Effect Location Intensity
Collapsed Walls various locations VIII +
This archaeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224).

Notes and Further Reading