Saudi and US army chiefs attend joint military exercise in Riyadh

Saudi and US army chiefs attend joint military exercise in Riyadh
Three-day drill was held at the Red Sands Integration Experimentation Center in Riyadh (Saudi Ministry of Defense)
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Updated 13 September 2023

Saudi and US army chiefs attend joint military exercise in Riyadh

Saudi and US army chiefs attend joint military exercise in Riyadh
  • Red Sands 2 focused on detecting and responding to threats from use of drones, weapons, radar jamming and AI

RIYADH: Lt. Gen. Fayyadh Al-Ruwaili, the Saudi chief of the general staff, and Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, attended a joint military exercise their forces were taking part in on Wednesday.

Al-Ruwaili was briefed on the objectives of the exercise, called Red Sands 2, the capabilities of the participating Saudi and US armed forces, and the tasks assigned to them, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al-Maliki said the aim of the three-day drill, at the Red Sands Integration Experimentation Center in Riyadh, was to strengthen military cooperation and bolster the ability of the Saudi Armed Forces to respond to threats. It focused on methods for detecting and responding to the use of unmanned aircraft systems, as well as the use of other weaponry, radar jamming and deception, and artificial intelligence, he added.

The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih

The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih
Updated 4 sec ago

The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih

The Roman legionaries who pushed into Arabia all the way to Mada’in Salih
  • A British Museum exhibition showcases the lives of people who formed one of the most famous armed forces in the world
  • In the late 2nd century, a detachment of Third Cyrenean Legion was deployed to the conquered Nabataean town of Hegra

LONDON: Anyone who has watched the 2000 movie “Gladiator” will have a vivid, if not necessarily wholly accurate, idea about what life must have been like for the legendary legionaries who imposed Rome’s will upon much of the Mediterranean and beyond for half a millennium.

In the movie, Russell Crowe plays Maximus Decimus Meridius, a Roman general who falls victim to imperial politics after defeating the Germanic tribes of northern Europe. Betrayed, he ends up having to fight for his life as a gladiator in the Colosseum.

But as a new exhibition at the British Museum in London makes clear, life for the soldiers of Rome between about 30 BCE and 476 CE was not all about bloody battles with marauding barbarians.


• The exhibition, ‘Legion: Life in the Roman army,’ can be viewed at the British Museum in London until June 23.

“The story of the Roman army is more than just pitched battles and war,” said Sir Mark Jones, interim director of the British Museum.

The exhibition, entitled “Legion: Life in the Roman army,” “is a chance to show different perspectives and showcase the lives of the men, women, and children who formed one of the most famous armed forces in the world.”

The exhibition features 200 fascinating artefacts, “iconic Roman military objects alongside contemporary evidence of the real lives of men, women, and children in forts and frontiers across the empire.”

The world’s only intact legionary shield, unearthed at the site of the ancient city of Dura-Europos, on the banks of the Euphrates in Syria. (Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery)

These include the world’s only known intact legionary shield, on loan Yale, the oldest and most complete classic Roman segmental body armor, recently excavated on a battlefield at Kalkriese in Germany; a cavalry mask helmet found in England; and a dragon standard unearthed in Germany.

But as fascinating as the exhibition is, it fails to tell the story of the legionaries who pushed further south into Arabia than many have previously realized — a story revealed by the discovery and excavation over the past 15 years by a joint French-Saudi archaeological team of a fortified camp on the very edge of the Roman empire.

The Roman historian Strabo described a disastrous expedition that penetrated as far south as modern-day Yemen in 25-24 BCE, but no archaeological evidence of this has been found, despite the reported loss of the large force led by Aelius Gallus, a Roman general from Egypt.

A copper alloy Roman legionary helmet from the British Museum exhibition. (Photo credit: British Museum)

The tale told by the stones and inscriptions at Hegra is the story of the men of Legio III Cyrenaica — the Third Cyrenean Legion. Thought to have been founded in Egypt by Mark Antony, in the early first century BCE the legion was transferred to the newly established Roman frontier province of Arabia, created after the annexation of the Nabataean Kingdom in 106 AD.

Here, it was based at Bosra, in the south of modern-day Syria. But at some point in the later 2nd century, a detachment of the legion was dispatched to police the conquered Nabataean town of Hegra, known in modern times as Mada’in Salih, which today is a UNESCO World Heritage site north of the Saudi town of AlUla.

There, a fort was built on the plateau on the southern edge of the town, in the lee of a hill on which a citadel was also constructed.

The first evidence of the presence of Roman troops emerged slowly, in inscriptions on stones used for building first found in the vicinity of Hegra as early as the 1970s.

Part of the southern perimeter wall of the Roman fort at Hegra. (Photo credit: Zbigniew T. Fiema)

“These found in the Hegra fort and by the southeast gate of the town could be identified as commemorative inscriptions left by still living soldiers,” said Zbigniew Fiema, an archaeologist from the University of Helsinki who is part of the Saudi-French Mada’in Salih Archaeological Project.

“The epigraphic customs of antiquity were characterized by something which we nowadays can identify with Facebook practices, because they often present simple yet informative messages — ‘Hello, I am here; I have done this and that.’

“The preservation of someone's name through an inscription was very important in antiquity. Also, ancient inscriptions are often invocations to deities, thanking or asking for protection.”

Written in Greek or Lartin, more than 14 inscriptions have been found, some of which bear witness to the presence of soldiers from Legio III Cyrenaica.

Several of the men who recorded their names for posterity describe themselves as “stationarii,” soldiers whose duties would have included monitoring travelers coming and going through the gates of Hegra, acting as a police force and maintaining highway security on what would have been an important stop on the imperial postal and transport system in Arabia.

Many of the inscriptions appear to be giving thanks to Hammon, a god worshipped in Libya and Upper Egypt and assimilated with the Roman deity Jupiter for successfully completed missions.

Some are etched into stone. But one of the longest is a Latin inscription painted in black, which somehow has survived, having endured the elements for over 1,800 years.

It begins: “To Our Jupiter Best and Greatest Hammon, and for the health of Our Lords the Emperors, and to the holy goddess Minuthis and the Genius of the Third Legion Cyrenaica, good fortune!”

It names five men — “Lollius Germanicianus the senatorial legate … Bennius Plautianus centurion and the soldiers’ friend … Flavius Saianus decurion, an excellent man, Flavius Nicomachus soldier of the legion, from the centuria of Aurelius Marcus, and Antonius Maximus Eros, from the centuria of Ancharius Secundus, stationarii” — all of whom “give thanks to the genius of the gate.”

Some inscriptions are much shorter: “Remember Komodos!” beseeches one Greek inscription, found on a stone reused in a gateway built in the late 2nd or early 3rd century. An inscription on another re-used building block reads “Remember Ulpis, the camel-rider!”

A fearsome dragon standard found in Germany. (Photo credit: Koblenz Landesmuseum)

The fort at which some of these men would have been stationed — built to a standard Roman army design and complete with perimeter walls, barracks, two gates, corner towers and possibly a small bathhouse, or heated room — is thought to have been one of the earliest military structures in Roman Arabia.

Excavated over several seasons since 2015, the fort has yielded a wealth of information and artifacts testifying to the Roman presence in Arabia, including numerous ceramics, often from the Mediterranean, bronze artefacts, more than 150 Roman and Nabataean coins, and pieces of what are thought to be horse harnesses and armor.

Also found were the butchered bones of animals that provided the garrison with meat — cattle, camel, donkey, horse, sheep and goat.

What isn’t clear is where the Roman soldiers were from.

“Some names indicate that their bearers originated in the Roman East, for example Syria, but some of these soldiers could have come from all over the world,” said Dr Fiema.

“We really do not know. However, since the units mentioned in these inscriptions are often attested for a long time as stationed in the Roman East, it will be reasonable to assume that the soldiers were often locals, drafted or volunteered in the Eastern provinces.”

The main significance of the discovery of the Roman fort at Hegra is “the solid confirmation of what we have suspected before that this part of the Hijaz was definitely a part of the Roman province of Arabia, and thus of the Roman Empire, and that the Roman presence was not ephemeral.

“We know that the 2nd century was a time of particularly intensive Roman activities in Arabia and in the Red Sea region. Also, at this point of time, we know that the Roman military presence in that part of Arabia extended at least until the end of the 3rd century.”

A cavalry helmet in form of an Amazon. (Photo credit: British Museum)

Prior to the discovery of the fort at Hegra, it was thought that the legions had advanced no further south into Arabia than the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.

“Scholarly hypotheses postulating that the northwest Hijaz was a part of the empire existed already in the late 20th century,” said Fiema.

“But the discovery of the Roman fort, and the Latin inscriptions, in Hegra have indeed confirmed the validity of these early hypotheses.

“Unfortunately, most of the maps of the Roman Empire, which are published in school textbooks and scientific works, still show the border of the empire coterminous with that of the modern state of Jordan.”

So far, it is not known exactly when the Roman legions abandoned the Hijaz, or why.

Fiema has little doubt that archaeological evidence that the Romans advanced even further south into Arabia, as testified to by Strabo, remains to be unearthed.

“One should expect that intensive archaeological exploration of the Arabian Peninsula should bring more information on the Roman presence.”

There is some evidence that Roman legions may even have made it as far south as the Farasan Islands in the Red Sea off southwest Saudi Arabia.


Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals

Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals
Updated 1 min 55 sec ago

Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals

Jazan’s Al-Qahar Mountains once underwater, study reveals

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Qahar mountains, about 130 km from Jazan in the Kingdom’s southwest, at one time formed the seabed in the region, geological studies have revealed.

Research carried out by Zaraq bin Issa Al-Faifi, a professor at Jazan University’s Department of Biology and College of Science, discovered fossils and structures from marine creatures, such as stone corals, showing the mountains had been underwater for hundreds of millions of years.

Sand and limestone formations are part of the sedimentary layers of various colors, Al-Faifi said. 

He highlighted the need for additional research on estimates of the time period, and the state of Al-Qahar Mountains during that era, and urged geologists and other experts to delve deeper into this section of the Sarawat Mountains.

Al-Qahar Mountains rise 2,000 meters above sea level, and are home to a wide variety of geological features, including striking conical shapes, distinctive sedimentary and limestone rock formations, deep canyons, and steep slopes. The mountains now contain several inhabited towns and cities.

Ancient artefacts, such as inscriptions and drawings, add to the mountains’ attractiveness for history buffs and mountaineers. 

The Saudi Geological Survey has said that the presence of fossils in Al-Qahar Mountains and other ancient environments can be proven through the study of sedimentary rocks and the fossils they contain.

Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda

Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda
Updated 2 min 20 sec ago

Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda

Saudi economy minister receives WEF’s Borge Brenda

Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim hosted President of World Economic Forum Borge Brenda in the Kingdom.
“We discussed the latest developments in the global economy and progress on several projects between the Kingdom and the forum as part of our strategic partnership, in addition to the preparations underway to hold the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development this April in Riyadh,” the minister tweeted on X on Thursday.

Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route

Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route
Updated 7 min 6 sec ago

Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route

Heritage tent set up on historic Saudi pilgrimage route

RIYADH: A traditional cultural tent has been set up at Al-Ashar Pond, one of the largest and most significant historic sites along the Zubaida Trail pilgrimage route.

Situated in the heart of the Nafud desert, approximately 60 km south of Laynah heritage village in Rafha governorate, the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Nature Reserve Development Authority initiative is part of the ongoing Zubaida Trail Winter Festival being held in Laynah.

Cultural sessions will feature discussions and talks led by specialists in historical and natural heritage, with the participation of several Saudi universities, the Heritage Commission, and the Saudi Geological Survey, along with workshops and practical demonstrations.

Al-Ashar Pond is one of the stops along Zubaida Trail (the Kufic Hajj route), completed during the reign of the Abbasid caliph, Harun Al-Rashid.

The site comprises the remains of 30 separate architectural units of various sizes and functions, arranged in a single row extending for approximately 3 km and around 600 meters wide.

The prominent feature of the station is its 65 m x 52 m rectangular pond with a depth of around 5 m. Inside, it contains stairs along its northern and southern walls.

‘Best yet to come,’ says AlUla tourism chief on launch of global brand campaign

‘Best yet to come,’ says AlUla tourism chief on launch of global brand campaign
Updated 9 min 3 sec ago

‘Best yet to come,’ says AlUla tourism chief on launch of global brand campaign

‘Best yet to come,’ says AlUla tourism chief on launch of global brand campaign
  • Strategy to include events at 6 major cities highlighting ancient location’s modern appeal 

RIYADH: AlUla is only just beginning its journey to becoming a global tourism destination, the region’s tourism chief said on Thursday after the launch of its new global brand campaign.

The “Forever Revitalising” campaign will unfold through events aimed at travel trade and media partners across six major cities: Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai, and Mumbai, Saudi Press Agency reported.

“In just a few years, AlUla has established itself as a destination on the global traveler’s wish list,” Phillip Jones, chief tourism officer at the Royal Commission for AlUla, said.

He added: “Through this campaign, we can open up the dialogue even further on a global stage, and communicate the full depth of AlUla’s appeal, attributes and ambition. The best is yet to come,” he added.

The campaign includes a two-and-a-half-minute film by French cinematographer Bruno Aveillan.

This film, which can be adapted in length and is available in several languages, showcases the essence of AlUla through its core destination pillars: history and heritage, arts and culture, nature and adventure, and wellness, SPA added.

“Crafting this film was an enriching experience, not only because it allowed me to witness some of the world’s most breathtaking landmarks and locations but also because it offered me a vast canvas to explore the depths of my own creativity — a profound and enduring gift that AlUla bestows upon everyone who walks upon her historic sands and experiences the sheltered embrace of her oasis,” Aveillan said.

Additionally, the campaign features a series of “Brand Pillar” six-second videos that highlight iconic destinations within AlUla, such as Hegra, Jabal Ikmah, AlUla Oasis, AlUla Old Town, Sharaan Nature Reserve, and Elephant Rock.

Other highlights include balloon adventures, luxury accommodation, local arts and crafts, and the lively food and drink scene on offer in AlUla.

Melanie de Souza, executive director of destination marketing at RCU, said: “Forever Revitalising is not only about driving global awareness of a destination that until recently was relatively unknown to most travelers, but also about communicating the breadth and depth of the programs and initiatives designed to create a better future for all those who live, work and visit our ancient oasis.

“We hope that the film and creative assets do justice to a truly unique destination.”