Introduction: The definition of a desert is a dry, barren, often sand-covered area of land without water or vegetation, and thus suggestive of desolate space; habitation and cultivation are restricted to isolated oases. The title of the conference: 'Life on the Fringe - Living in the southern Egyptian deserts during the Roman and early Byzantine periods' also conjures up negative associations, in that the word 'fringe' refers to life on the edge, on the periphery of something else, in this case on the periphery of the civilisation in the Nile Valley and the Roman world at large. Thus, the title of the conference implies that Roman life in the Egyptian deserts was not just different from that in the Nile Valley, but was marginal and inferior, referring to physical hardship as well as social and cultural isolation. The concept of 'marginality' is, in fact, often used in contexts where a certain inferiority is implied (Young & Simmonds 1995), but I hope to demonstrate in this paper that this perception of life in the desert may not always be justified. Evidence recently recovered from the Roman quarry settlement at Mons Claudianus, located in a remote part of the Eastern Desert of Egypt, indicates that life at this site did not simply consist of physical hardship and social isolation: the inhabitants of the site had access to ample and, at times, luxurious foodstuffs and they were in regular touch with relatives and friends. The evidence also demonstrates that the inhabitants went to some length to obtain fresh vegetables, which clearly formed an important component of their diet, both culturally and nutritionally. In this paper I will sugggest that the absence of rainfall in the desert and the consequent lack of plant growth, combined with the long supply routes to the site, did not form insurmountable constraints, but that these constraints were overcome because it was perceived essential and important to do so.Metadata only entr
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