5. Convicts, Miners and Hegemony

The copper industry in the Faynan involved convicts, the damnati ad metalla, 'those damned to the mines' (see Eusebius MP 7.2; 8.1; 13.1-4). Condemnation to the mines was a special, reserved form of punishment in Roman society and even slaves could be punished in this manner. All legal rights or property were lost. Given the difficult work conditions it was often considered a form of capital punishment (Millar 1985, 138).

The main sources of convicts for the Faynan were Christians, either sent there by the Imperial government as a measure to repress Christianity or later on as a means to combat heresy within Christianity. Athanasius (AD 293-373) described the life expectancy of someone sent to the Faynan: They seized the subdeacon Eutychius, a man who had served the church well, and, beating him nearly to death with a whip, they deemed him worthy to be sent to a metallum, and not simply to any metallum, but to the one in Phaeno (Faynan), where even a condemned murderer is scarcely able to live a few days (HA 60).

Eusebius tells how Faynan's convicts were marked by physical maiming; they had their right eyes removed and the ligaments of their left feet cut (MP 13.1). This clearly was to mark the individual in a distinctive way, allowing recognition of a convict on sight. But, convicts were not the only population that outnumbered the authorities; they were also complemented by a population of free miners.

Eusebius' narrative contains a discussion of an incident of unrest precipitated in the Faynan by both convicts and free individuals (MP 13.4). He writes that in AD 310, during the seventh year of the persecution, Christianity was openly practised near Faynan, and by convicts who had been sent there. The Christians formed a ministering community that, in defiance of the Roman laws, worshipped and proselytised. The movement gained momentum and began to spread to other areas; free people joined the congregation and helped the convicts. These practices continued until the provincial governor came to visit Faynan. Eusebius claims the governor wrote a letter to the Emperor to inform him of the situation. The military commander of the region was contacted and he and the procurator of the mines regained control over the population. They divided the community and sent them to other metalla for further punishment. The ringleaders were given over to the military and executed.

Eusebius, as an early church father, is writing from a certain point of view so his story cannot be taken at face value. However, the themes in the work are clear – that insurrection by convicts was possible, free individuals could join in, and that this type of behaviour provoked a violent response by the government and military.

Historically, miners are a frequent cause of unrest. Knapp theorised that all mining communities have shared qualities that lead to conflict with mine owners (1998, 9). He posits that mining communities are physically isolated. In addition he suggests that they are defined by their occupational homogeneity, shared social relationships and activities, and an inward focus. They tend to form close-knit communities because they are constantly exposed to danger in their occupation. In the Faynan, workers were in subterranean mines in an earthquake zone, exposed to radon within the mines, and heavy metal poisoning from the smelting and bioaccumulation of these toxins in the local environment (Grattan et al. 2004; 2005). This combination could have created a population that was easily radicalised and resulted in economic or political conflict between miners and the Faynan's administration.

The authorities in the Faynan and, by extension, the Wadi Ratiye, had a population composed of miners and slaves. This population needed to be 1) productive, 2) placed within a strict hierarchy, and 3) kept there. Given the history of the region it is very likely that the administration were distrustful or outright afraid of the labour force. Thus we should find evidence in the landscape for structures or systems put in place to accomplish these three goals.

One of the means by which the authorities may have enforced discipline and encouraged productivity was by the use of surveillance. Surveillance has long been recognised as a means of enforcing discipline. Foucault articulated these concepts when exploring ideas of hierarchy and discipline and the role of surveillance in a society (1991, 195-230). By creating observation points, social and political hegemony can be emphasised through architecture and site placement (Foucault 1991, 201). He also noted that human behaviour can be modified or even controlled by observation from these structures, and that in this manner authorities can influence students, patients or prisoners. A few individuals, if placed at key points, can monitor and control the actions of many through the power of gaze. Knowledge of the unequal power relationship and the idea of being viewed become so internalised that surveillance of separate individuals does not have to be constant for panoptic observation to remain effective. If the Wadi Ratiye were a landscape under surveillance, structures should be placed for maximum views facilitating the monitoring of critical areas of the landscape.


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Last updated: Tue Nov 3 2009