Um El-Rasas

Umm al-Rasas has been identified with Kastron Mefaa in 1986. The ancient name was read in the inscriptions of the mosaic floor of the church of Saint Stephen and in the church of the Lions. The toponym was already known to the Roman and Arabic sources and to the Bible. Eusebius knows a unit of the Roman army stationed on the edge of the desert at Mephaat (Onomasticon 128, 21), a locality which the historian identifies with the Levitical city of refuge of Mepha’at in the territory of the tribe of Reuben on the mishor Moab (Joshua 13, 21; 21, 37; Jeremiah 48, 21).

The Notitia Dignitatum records that equites promoti indigenae, auxiliary troops of the Roman army, were stationed in the camp of Mefaa under the command of the Dux Arabiae. The Arabic historian al-Bakry knows Maypha’ah as a village of the Belqa’ of Syria. The ruins of Umm er-Rasas, lie 30 km south-east of Madaba on the edge of the steppe and the sown (237 101 Palestinian Grid) halfway between Dhiban on the king’s Highway and the Desert Road.

The ruins consist of a walled area forming a fortified camp (158 m east west by 139 m north south), and an open quarter of roughly the same size to the north. About 1300 m to the north of the fort is still standing a 14 m high tower beside ruins of some edifices, stone quarries and water cisterns hewn in the rock.

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