King's Highway (ancient)

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The King’s Highway was a trade route of vital importance to the ancient Middle East. It began in Egypt, and stretched across the Sinai Peninsula to Aqaba. From there it turned northward across Jordan, leading to Damascus and the Euphrates River.

The Via Maris (purple), King's Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BCE

Numerous ancient states, including Edom, Moab, Ammon, and various Aramaean polities depended largely on the King's Highway for trade. The Highway began in Heliopolis, Egypt and from there went eastward to Clysma (modern Suez), through the Mitla Pass and the Egyptian forts of Nekhl and Themed in the Sinai desert to Eilat and Aqaba. From there the Highway turned northward through the Arabah, past Petra and Ma'an to Udruh, Sela, and Shaubak. It passed through Kerak and the land of Moab to Madaba, Rabbah Ammon/Philadelphia (modern Amman), Gerasa, Bosra, Damascus, and Tadmor, ending at Resafa on the upper Euphrates.

The Highway is referred to in Numbers 20:17-21:

Please let us pass through your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells; we will go along the King's Highway; we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.'"
Then Edom said to him, "You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword."
So the children of Israel said to him, "We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more."
Then he said,"You shall not pass through." So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand.
Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.

Many of the wars of the Israelites against the kingdoms of the trans-Jordanian highlands during the period of the Kingdom of Israel (and its sister-kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah) probably were at least partly over control of the Highway.

The Nabataeans used this road as a trade route for luxury goods such as frankincense and spices from southern Arabia. During the Roman period, the King's Highway was rebuilt by Trajan and called the Via Traiana Nova. The Highway has also been used as an important pilgrimage route for Christians, as it passed numerous sites important in Christianity, including Mount Nebo and al-Maghtas ("the Baptism Site") at the Jordan River, where Jesus is believed to have been baptized by John the Baptist. Muslims used it as the main Hajj route to Mecca until the Ottoman Turks built the Tariq al-Bint in the 16th century.

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