Imperial Industry and Observational Control in the Faynan Region, Southern Jordan

Hannah Friedman

Institute of Archaeology, Oxford OX4 2NT. Email:

Cite this as: Friedman, H. 2009 Imperial Industry and Observational Control in the Faynan Region, Southern Jordan, Internet Archaeology 27.


The Faynan district of southern Jordan is an area rich in copper ore, a resource that has made it a focus for human settlement since prehistory. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, the Faynan was the site of a metallum, a State-owned extraction industry. The imperial administration in charge of the Faynan used a variety of methods to regulate and direct the copper industry, ensuring large-scale copper production. This article explores one of the management techniques employed, the use of surveillance as a mechanism to control the local population of workers and slaves. North American historical archaeology has studied control through surveillance in relation to slave populations on plantations. I argue that these theories can be applied to the placement of observational structures and the role of buildings in the Faynan landscape. Roman sources attest to the presence of convict labour at this metallum.

As an example, the administration building in the Wadi Ratiye, WF1415, is discussed in detail. This building had towers and I argue that its placement in the landscape in relation to the nearby copper mines was not merely to observe them but to enforce discipline through surveillance. To test this hypothesis the GIS technique viewshed analysis was employed. The main argument of the article hangs on understanding the views and surveillance possibilities, therefore the viewshed produced needed to be very robust with a clear methodology. To accomplish this, the unique environment of the Faynan and limitations of human visual acuity are taken into account to create a regionally and theoretically appropriate model. I posit that the imperial administration displayed a thorough understanding of control through observation and that surveillance of the miners and convicts in the region encouraged their hard work and obedience while discouraging misconduct.

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