One of the premises that appears in numerous studies is that during antiquity one of the main routes of the perfume trade reached Petra from the East, and from there it descended to the Arava where it continued via the Negev to the coast of Gaza. In a number of studies and articles this route has been referred to as the “Perfume Route” and it was extensively researched during the twentieth century, particularly in the region of the Negev Highlands.


Did this route operate only during the Nabatean period (until 106)? Or did it continue to function during the period of Roman rule? Are the buildings that are of a military nature along it, such as the Roman army camp at ‘Avdat or the Qasr Fortress, part of the defenses along the trade route? And if so, when? Or perhaps they are part of the Roman military deployment that was not necessarily connected to the trade route?


Before we discuss these questions we first have to distinguish between the main characteristics and different characteristics of the route:
1. A topographic route that is a path which is passable for camels bearing a load – for example, Ma’aleh Mahmel or Neqev Nimala, one of the ascents from Arava to the region of Petra.
2. Sources of water and water storage installations – Ein Saharon, Bor Niqarot.
3. Roadside buildings of a civilian commercial nature – the Nabatean khan at Maiyat ‘Awad.
4. Roadside buildings of a military nature – Mesad Niqarot.
5. A paved road four meters wide or greater – sections at Maktesh Ramon and Ramat Naphta.
6. Milestones - groups of milestones at Maktesh Ramon and Ramat Naphta.


Are all of these elements and those similar to them from the very same period? Is it possible that the camel route dates to one period, the fortresses to another and the milestones to a third period? The perception at the basis of most previous studies, according to which the six elements, or most of them, are from one period, has not proved to be correct in the study of the Perfume Route. In order to clarify the matter we will first deal with the sections where the six elements do appear. After some seventy years of research it has been ascertained that the only segment along the route from Petra to Gaza in which we can identify all six elements is the segment between ‘Avdat and Sha’ar Ramon. In discussing this segment we will see that in some sections of the road it was possible to distinguish the purely Nabatean commercial phase from the Roman phase in which military installations were incorporated on top of the trade route that also continued to operate after the year 106 CE.