Androna, Syria – Androna's Hinterlands

Map of the landscape study area
Map by R. Hoyland, L. A. Schachner and T. Papaioannou.

The Landscape Study

Oxford’s study of water usage extends outside the site of Androna. While the bath and other buildings within the site obtained water from wells and cisterns, Androna’s agriculture depended on qanat-reservoir systems for irrigation. As part of our investigation, major parts of two extra-mural reservoirs have been excavated (2000-06), two other reservoirs planned (2005) and a survey of water flow within the qanat-reservoir systems carried out (2006). Excavation of the Byzantine bath produced organic and other evidence of agricultural production at Androna. Oxford’s landscape study of the area around Androna, started in 2004, has produced further evidence of agricultural activity and of settlement, including two religious establishments, a martyrium and a stylite’s column. The rectangular study area (22 x 14 km) encompasses two different terrains. To the west is a basalt djebel with traces of vine terracing. To the east of this is a limestone plain and low hill, opposite Androna, flanked by qanats thought to irrigate grain fields. Our landscape study will allow us to integrate extra-mural excavated areas with the surrounding terrain so that we can see how the various units of exploited land relate to each other and to Androna itself.

Evidence of Agricultural Production

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Photos by M. Mango

This evidence relates to the cultivation of olives, vines, and grain, livestock rearing and possibly fish breeding. On and near the site we have found olive mills and olive pits used as fuel, while a pre-Islamic Arabic text (the Mu`allaqa of Amr Ibn Kulthum) records Androna's wine production. Materials sampled during excavation of the Byzantine bath and processed by flotation produced evidence of coniferous and deciduous wood used as fuel, as well as bread wheat, durrum and barley (including preparation materials). Study of the wide range of animal bones recovered by excavation of the bath suggests the local breeding of sheep, goat, and pig for butchering, while fish bones of bream, mullet and catfish have been identified. It is possible that one reservoir was used for fish (catfish?) breeding. Equipment recovered within and recorded outside Androna includes olive and flour mills, troughs (possibly multi-purpose), vats, other containers and, possibly rollers used in oil processing.

Aerial view of Androna
Photograph taken by R.C. Anderson. (c) All rights reserved.

Irrigation: Qanats and Reservoirs

The qanat, a subterranean form of aqueduct, taps into an aquifer and, through a system of galleries reached by a series of vertical shafts, leads water to the surface and deposits it in a reservoir or other form of basin. Among the six qanat systems within our study area, five (nos. 1-5) flow south-north and one (no. 6) east-west. Four of these may have originated within our study area. At least three (nos. 4-6) of the six qanat systems have a total of four reservoirs. We have partially excavated two of these and planned the other two. Our survey of water flow levels in 2006 concentrated on the two excavated reservoirs and qanat no. 4 located just west of Androna that conducted water to the NW reservoir.

Sculpture from reservoir
Photo M. Mango

Both excavated reservoirs, situated NW and SE of Androna, are constructed of limestone, are shallow (2.50-3 m) and measure 61 x 61 m. Both have multiple stone inlet and outlet channels And both were elaborately decorated, one with large niches, the other with figural sculpture suggesting they may have been used for aquatic displays for a festival like the Maiumas. Dating the reservoirs and qanats can clarify the nature of the settlement at Androna, that is, whether the large investment in the qanat-fed system was pre-Roman, Roman or Byzantine, publicly or privately funded.


NW reservoir. This reservoir, fed by qanat no. 4, has an inlet channel with one lateral channel branching off to the east which conducted water to a nearby field. Opposite the inlet, the outlet system has upper and lower channels conducting water northwards. The upper channel turns east shortly beyond the reservoir, while the lower channel continued for more than 972 m in a northwestern direction. It apparently carried water towards Umm al-Jurun ca 3 km from Androna where stood an imperial boundary stone set up in the names of Justinian and Theodora (527-548), marking the property “of the martyr Jacob”. Nearby may lie his martyrium.


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Photos by M. Mango

SE reservoir. This reservoir situated opposite the south gate of Androna, was fed by qanat no. 5. Water was conducted first to a settling pool above the main inlet, but could be diverted through two lateral inlet channels which led to nearby fields. The water that was deposited in the reservoir flowed out the opposite side through an outlet system apparently removed in modern times Traces of the outlet channel were recorded by magnetometry (2006) at a short distance outside the reservoir and continuing for 300 m in a northwesterly direction. Early aerial photographs, satellite images and kite photographs show a canal (?) running between the reservoir and the area of qanat no. 5 to the west.

While H.C. Butler (1905) placed the SE reservoir in the 2nd century AD on stylistic grounds, a radiocarbon reading on charcoal contained in a cement sample removed from the reservoir's floor gave a date in the 6th to 7th century. Analysis of sediment samples will date the period of abandonment. Both sets of dates would bracket agricultural production dependent on irrigation prior to modern times. A late Roman date for the reservoir is in part confirmed by the evidence of the fine ware pottery we gathered on the outlet side where water was conveyed to a manured cultivated field. The ca 220 recesses (30 cm deep) at the base of the walls of the reservoir suggest that it was also used as a vivarium for fish breeding, probably of catfish (Silurus), preserved for export. Salt was available locally from the lake at Gabbula just to the north of Androna.

Photo of an inscribed block
Photo M. Mango


Oxford's landscape study seeks to understand Androna's growth within its environmental context. Two interconnected questions are addressed by the study: how far did the large site of Androna (160 ha) dominate the land around it and did the lesser sites that lie near Androna develop as its satellites as a consequence of its own expansion?


In 2005-06, in addition to recording qanats and reservoirs, we mapped the location of all known sites within our study area. The 19 buildings identified at six main sites were planned and 131 loose architectural (including inscribed lintels) and agricultural finds recorded. Pottery (over 7000 sherds) was collected at 13 sites and offsites, using a series of grids forming 10 x 10 m collection units. Most fine ware pottery collected is Late Roman while a relatively small proportion is of glazed medieval wares. Interviews were conducted with farmers to enable us to compile a modern settlement and agricultural history of the area.

Stylite’s column. At 300 m outside the north wall of Androna lies a fallen stylite’s column which once stood 10 m high. The identity of the holy man who once sat on it is unknown. Among the remains is an olive mill suggesting the production of oil possibly at an agricultural property of a shrine or hermitage erected at the column. In future we intend to extend our limited excavation there (1999) to determine in more detail the character of this site.


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Photo by R.C. Anderson. (c) All rights reserved

Photo C. Mango

Martyrium. Near the Justinianic boundary stone at Umm al-Jurun lies a mounded area (ca. 120 x 120 m) strewn with decorative architectural members including columns, column bases, thresholds, door jambs, capitals and part of a Proconnesian marble slab with cross. This may have been the shrine of the Martyr Jacob referred to in the boundary inscription. The body of a reliquary, possibly related to Jacob, found in a nearby village may come from this site. Traces of other buildings lie near the mound. Other loose finds which are numerous suggest agricultural activity.

Contributors and Participants

Contributions to our study of the irrigation systems and the exploitation of Androna’s hinterland have been made notably by Richard Anderson (especially kite photographs, from 1998); Dr. Tyler Bell and Prof. Andrew Wilson (1998-9); Prof. Tony Wilkinson (SE Reservoir, 2001); Jenny Emmett (flotation, 2001); Prof. Michael Decker (1998-9, from 2003); Dr. Carrie Hritz (especially satellite study, from 2003); Prof. Robert Hoyland, (plotting sites and offsite features, interviewing local inhabitants; 2004-06); Simon Greenslade, Sarah Leppard, and Dr. Anne McCabe, (recording buildings and loose finds 2005); Khalid Mohammed, Theodore Papaioannou, Stuart Randell and James Stockbridge (pottery collection, 2005); Alex Johnson (magnetometry, 2006); Bruce Magee and Dr. Lukas Amadeus Schachner (water survey, 2006).


For reservoir excavation, see Byzantine Bath.

Photo of man taking measurements
Photo B. Magee

In addition, the following material is being studied:

The water flow of the irrigation installations, by Dr. Lukas Schachner Oxford University.
The animal bones, by Priscilla Lange, Oxford University.
The fish bones and charcoal, by Caroline Cartwright, British Museum.
The botanical material, by Prof. Mark Robinson, Oxford University.
The late antique agriculture of Androna, by Prof. Michael Decker, South Florida University.
Agricultural equipment used at Androna, by Dr. Anne McCabe, Oxford University.
Modern settlement and agriculture, by Prof. Robert Hoyland, Oxford University.
The landscape study pottery, by Elisabeth Pamberg, University College, London University.
The stylite complex, by Dr. Lukas Schachner, Oxford University
Radiocarbon and Optical Stimulated Luminescense analysis are being carried out at RLAHA, Oxford University.