This paper focuses on the garrison stationed at the frontier fort of Gholaia (Bu Njem), located in the Tripolitanian interior, throughout the sixty years of the outpost’s existence during the third century CE. It asks how the military community functioned on a day-to-day basis while living in an oasis environment. The study makes use of the extensive epigraphic material recovered at the fort. It includes not only 150 ostraca but also a poem documenting the travails of life in the desert, written by the commanding centurion and placed in the encampment’s bathhouse. Analysis of the available evidence identifies three immediate and persistent vulnerabilities that the occupation of Gholaia precipitated—namely, the oasis’s inadequacy to feed its residents, an insufficient supply of wood to meet the population’s demands, and the presence of endemic disease. It finds that the garrison was able to limit the danger imposed by the challenges, but not solve them on a permanent basis, through modifications to the normal practices of army life found at any legionary encampment in the empire. In so doing, the institution and operation of these behaviors on the part of the soldiers acquired newfound significance. The climatic context of the desert oasis imparted an immediacy to the performance of everyday life by making mere existence at the fort so perceptibly arduous.

You do not currently have access to this content.