Rome brought pomp and prosperity to this ancient outpost in Jordan

A trading hub with a storied past, Jerash grew wealthy under Roman rule. The city's fantastic monuments still shine today as a beacon of its imperial past.

Jerash in the second century A.D., at the height of its Roman imperial splendor.
ILLUSTRATION by JOSEP RAM

The Old Testament of the Bible describes the journey of the Israelites to the Promised Land. They needed to cross the kingdom of Edom, a land that straddled modern southern Israel and Jordan. The Israelites pleaded with the Edomites to “go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory” (Num. 21:22).

The existence of the King’s Highway can be traced back to the Bronze Age. This royal route was central to trade in the Middle East, connecting Egypt via the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea all the way north to Damascus. No great empire was centered along this road, but the cities along it grew rich from commerce, as traders bearing grain from Egypt, incense from Yemen, pearls from the Red Sea, and spices from India traveled along the King’s Highway. (See also: 10 ancient highways around the world.)

One of the greatest cities was Jerash, founded as Greek culture was spreading across the region. Enriched by trade, Jerash was shaped by waves of conquerors until it was absorbed by the eastward expansion of Rome. Lying 30 miles north of the Jordanian capital Amman, today Jerash is prized as one of the best preserved of the Roman Decapolis, the 10 Hellenistic cities clustered along the empire’s eastern border (See also: Archaeological sites to see in Jordan.)

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