previous next

AELANA or AILA (Tell el-Khuleifa) Israel.

An ancient port at the N end of the NE arm of the Red Sea, known today as the Gulf of Aqaba. In Biblical literature this place is frequently mentioned, together with Ezion-geber, as an important naval station on the trade route to “Ophir.”

Early in the Hellenistic period the Ptolemies of Egypt had established a port named Berenike “not far from the city of Aelana” (Joseph. AJ 8.163). Strabo (16.759) knew the port of Aila (Elath) at the head of the Arabian Gulf, at a distance of 1260 stadia from Gaza. From Early Hellenistic times the port of Aila had apparently been in the hands of the Nabateans and was prominent in their Indo-Arabian spice trade. Probably Strabo's reference to the caravans of camels crossing the desert from Aila to Gaza should be understood in this context. This is also confirmed by Pliny (HN 5.65). Ptolemy (Geog. 16.1) in the early 2d c. A.D. knew the village of Aelana in Arabia Petraea, the name by which he refers to the Nabatean kingdom. The region of Aila retained its importance in Late Roman and Byzantine times. During the early 2d c. A.D. a unit of the Legio III Cyrenaica was stationed near Aila, probably in order to guard the road to the copper mines at Sinai, the exploitation of which was renewed at this period. About A.D. 300, during the reign of Diocletian, this legion was replaced by the Legio X Fretensis (Euseb. Onom. 6.17-20; 8.1.). In the 4th c. Aila became the seat of the prefect of that legion (Not. Dig. 73.16.30). In the Byzantine period Aila must have been an important station on the pilgrim's way to Mt. Sinai.

The remains of ancient Aelana should be probably sought at Tell el-Khuleifa, where remains of an Israelite fortified emporium have been unearthed. Persian, Attic, Roman-Nabatean, and Byzantine pottery attest to the later occupation of the site.


N. Glueck, “Explorations in Eastern Palestine II,” AASOR 15 (1935) 26-7, 42-5, 47-8, 138-9; 3 (1939) 3-7; M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land from the Persian to the Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A.D. 640). A Historical Geography (1966).


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: