Never Before Seen Roman Watchtower Found In Morocco

Researchers at the site. Courtesy of the Republic of Poland/Smithsonian


Only recently have ancient Roman observation towers been discovered outside of Scotland, Germany, and Romania. An identical watchtower with Roman roots was discovered in Africa during an archaeological excavation at the ancient city of Volubilis in northern Morocco.

This long-buried discovery is the first of its sort to be uncovered in the area. It has been connected to Moroccan actions during the Roman Empire’s reign in the fifth century CE. According to Arkeo News, the team of Polish and Moroccan archaeologists that made the discovery was working at the El Mellali site close to the historic city of Volubilis.

In the fifth century CE, Morocco’s Berber dynasty played a crucial part in Roman military excursions, but a natural tragedy insured that the historical artifact was lost forever. The archaeologists identified the oval architecture with a rectangular form using satellite photography.

The foundations, stairways, and some cobblestone pavers make up the watch tower. The wall and tower base are up to 2.8 meters tall. Along with the tower, the researchers also uncovered remnants of a roman spearhead, military hobnailed sandals, and roman military belt fittings.

According to Maciej Czapski, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw, there have been publications linking the site to the Roman Empire, but it was not certain before the excavation. Based on French articles about the site, Czapski claimed that they resided in the southernmost region of the province. Without considerable research done prior to the excavations in the city of Volubilis, this would not have been possible. The researcher claimed that after only quickly excavating at the site, they were fortunate to have discovered the results.

According to Czapski, their discovery will provide more researchers with knowledge about how the Roman Empire built its defense systems, which were primarily created outside of the empire. Such observation towers can be vulnerable to attacks from insurgents or adjacent states due to the blind areas.

The research team said that they were attempting to determine how the Roman Empire fortified its position and dominance by interacting with local populations and defending the lands it had conquered. The antiquity of the observation tower has not yet been determined by archaeologists.

However, there is a potential connection because the watchtower was built between 138 and 161 AD, under the reign of Marcus Aurelius’ predecessor Antoninus Pius. It was built to fortify Roman lands against enemy invasion in the first and third century A.D.

Attacks from the enemy suggest potential uprisings from the Berber kingdom, which had a tense relationship with the Roman Empire under Marcus Aurelius. According to historical accounts, Volubilis was supervised by the Carthaginian mountain dwellers at Zerhoun during the third century.

Parts of Volubilis were claimed by the Berber dynasty, and historical records indicate that it was once the capital of the kingdom of Mauretania. The Berber kingdom and its ally Carthage exerted some dominance over the territory until it was conquered by the Roman Empire along with other lands in North Africa. Following the fall of Carthage at the conclusion of the Third Punic War in 146 B.C., the area was ruled by the Roman Empire.

During the Roman Empire’s rule, the city saw a tremendous economic boom due to the export of wheat, olive oil, and wild animals for gladiatorial contests. This commercial expansion was threatened by the geopolitical conflicts between the Roman Empire and the Berber monarchy, which forced Rome to fortify its interests by building the walls.

This came to an end when the Third Century Crisis’ military campaign reduced the Roman Empire’s power in the area. However, a fourth-century earthquake that struck the area led to the loss of Volubilis.

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