The ruins of Um Al-Rasas lie near the Kings’ Highway, 30 km south east of Madaba, in a barren desert, no longer the lush fertile terrain it was during the Roman rule, as described by the Jewish historian of the time, Josephus. The biblical name of this town, Kastron Mepha’at, is mentioned in Joshua 13:18 and in Jeremiah 48:21. The Roman fortress, originally a Nabataean city, is a square walled town with very high walls supported by towers. A 15-meter tower stands in the middle and has generated a much speculation on the purpose it served.
Excavations have uncovered some of the finest Byzantine church mosaics, including a large carpet depicting Old and New Testament cities on both the east and west banks of the Jordan River. Another feature at Umm Al-Rasas walled settlement is a 15m Byzantine tower used by early Christian monks seeking solitude.
Particularly during the epochs of the Early Bronze Age III-IV, Iron Age II, and Roman-Byzantine eras, dense populations inhabited the topographical regions beyond the western banks of the Dead Sea. Among these ancient settlements, the site of Mephaat has been mentioned in biblical texts as one of the cities upon the plateau to be condemned to great destruction (Jeremiah 48:21). Many branches of the King’s Highway provided a means for reaching the more remote ancient cities,
but the main route served as the forerunner for the Via Traiana Nova built by the Roman Emperor Trajan (53-117 A.D.). This road with its many branches facilitated travel, and Roman military encampments were set in place along the way as a defensive measure against barbarian assaults across the Roman desert frontier known as the Limes Arabicus. Eusebius of Caesarea identified Mephaat as the camp site of a Roman army near the desert in his Onomasticon (K.128:21). Also, the excavation of a Byzantine church here exposed an inscription naming the area as “Castron Mephaa” further supporting the theory that Umm-ar Rasas and the biblical Mephaat are one and the same.