Summary on Ancient Jordan
The Jordan Valley is
part of the Great Rift Valley, which stretches from Turkey to Eastern Africa.
The Jordan Valley was created by land sinking and at the same time, the rising
of the land to the east. After the valley was created, waters from the
north and east created a great lake in the region called Samra. Water was
also supplied to Lake Samra by the aquifers that were revealed when the land in
the valley sank. Bedrock was also exposed at this time.
While the rivers
that fed Lake Samra flowed, they brought with them mineral-rich rock and sand
from the mountains from which they came. During the Pleistocene period, a
generally dry time, Lake Samra separated into three smaller lakes:
Al-Hula, Tiberias, and the Dead Sea. The land lying in between these lakes
was found to be very rich in minerals--a result of the rivers bringing the rock
and sand from the mountains above.
After the separation
of the three lakes, the Jordan River found its way to the Dead Sea through what
is known as the Badlands.
The Eastern Heights
stretches from the Yarmouk River in the North to Aqaba in the south.
Tectonic movements created this area giving it its distinct hills and valleys.
When the southern mountains were formed, the layers of granite became apparent.
The Badia makes-up
3/4 of Jordan. In the north, the Badia is covered by basalt, in the center
by limestone, and in the south by sandstone.
movements formed the land, valleys were created in Azraq and Jafar. During
the Wet Pleistocene Period these valleys filled with water to become lakes.
However, during the dry period, these lakes turned to mud. The lakes in
Azraq managed to replenish some their waters through aquifers that came from the
Overall, the Paleolithic Era is called "hunting, gathering and
migration". At the end of this era, man had mastered the ability to
create tools and weapons that aided him in his work. Man tended to settle
near water sources such as natural springs, living in nuclear and extended
family groups in what are thought to be villages.
Two civilizations from the
Epi-Paleolithic Period were named for the areas in which evidence of their
existence was found in the Middle East: Al-Kibariya [next to Haifa (17,000
- 10,000 B.C.)] and Natufiya [in Wadi Natuf near Jerusalem (10,000 - 8,500
During this time man
also began to produce jewelry (bracelets, necklaces) from rocks and bones.
Pottery making was developed as well. The first archeological site finding
evidence of this simple industry is Al-Ba'aja in Petra.
A seemingly less
practical industry, such as art (sculpture), was practiced and developed by man
during this period.
The style of homes
also evolved during this time. Interior walls were made twice as thick as
exterior walls to carry the weight of the roof. Homes were also built near
one another to form the first residential areas, such as the ruins found in Ain
Ghazal in Amman. It also appears the dead were buried under their family's
The dead were no
longer buried under homes by this time, with the exception of children. It
appears during this period, children who died were placed in pottery and hung
inside or outside of the house.
Frescos developed as a form of art
during this period.
Early Bronze Period is divided into:
Bronze I (3,200 - 2,900 B.C.) Building shapes found from this stage were
egg-shaped, round, and rectangular. Mud block and wood were used to
construct buildings. During Early Bronze I, the dead were buried in caves,
in dolmas (like a stone coffin), shaft tombs (like a well in the ground), and
Bronze II (2,900 - 2,700 B.C.) In this time, citie, as we know them today,
came into existence. These cities were built on the tops of hills to
observe and control the agricultural land below them, as well as keep an eye on
the caravan roads below. Accompanying the creation of cities were booms in
trade, industry, business and politics. Also for the first time came
Bronze III (2,700 - 2,300 B.C.) According to archeological studies, this
period is stagnant in its developments. It is believed there were no
developments during this time due to numerous battles with the Egyptians, as
well as a drought that plagued the area. The result of the battles and
drought was the movement of people from villages and agricultural areas to
cities. It is also during this time that the story of Lot takes place on
the eastern shores of the Dead Sea.
o Early Bronze IV (2,300 - 2,000 B.C.) As the period before it, Early Bronze IV was also stagnant due to battles with the Amorium (from the North), the inability of the city-state to run effectively, and drought. The result of these three factors was the immigration of people out of the cities and towns into villages in the countryside. During this time people depended upon shepherding as a way of life. Some calls this period “The Black Period”
Middle Bronze Period is divided into:
Bronze I (2,000 - 1,800 B.C.) This was a period of the rebirth of
civilization and urbanization that were destroyed in the periods beforehand.
Not only were old cities rebuilt, but new ones were also created. Although
the Amourian destroyed cities and the way of life in Early Bonze III and IV, the
Canaanites rebuilt what had been destroyed during Middle Bronze I. The
most important cities during this period were Amman, Pella and Jerash.
Bronze II (1,800 - 1,550 B.C.) Like Middle Bronze I, this was also a time
of growth with increasing human settlement and prospering economy. People
during this time were described as either city dwellers or desert dwellers.
At this time people began to write, so we find Ugarit script from Syria,
hieroglyphics from Egypt and Accadia from Iraq. The people living on the
land of present day Jordan, placed between these three major civilizations, were
in turn greatly influenced.
Late Bronze Period (1,550 - 1,200 B.C.) This was the end of the Bronze
Age. The Age came to an end due do the discovery of other types of metals
and the weakness of the local city-states, making it easy for the Egyptians to
invade and capture the cities.
This age began in 1,200 B.C. and ended
in 330 B.C. This age is named after man's discovery of mining and working
with metal. The first people who used iron were the Aramayans, with Syria the
first place iron was used. After using iron, people moved on to creating
and using steel.
There were three
kingdoms in Jordan during the Iron Age: The Amonites, the Moabites and the
Amonites. According to the Old Testament, these people were named after
Amon bin Lot. As nomadic bedouins, their first country was to the north of
Syria in 15th century B.C. But the Amonites did not remain nomadic,
deciding to settle for several reasons. One of the reasons was due to the
numerous battles they engaged in with the Hittites and the people of the
Mediterranean, forcing the Amonites southwards into Jordan. Another reason
for the Amonites decision to settle was the transfer of the commercial trade
routes from the coast to the desert inland, so the Amonites decided to follow
these trade routes. Once in Jordan they occupied the land in the north
from the Zarqa River (Al-Yabouk River in the Old Testament) to the Mujib River
(Al-Arnoon River in the Old Testament) in the south. They chose this land
in the north due to its fertile soils. The Amonites most important cities
were Rabat Amon (Amman), which was also the capital, and Heshbon (Hisban).
Moabites. According to the Old Testament the Moabites are cousins to the
Amonites, and named after Moab bin Lot. During the 15th century B.C. the
Moabites occupied the land to the south of the Amonite kingdom, what is today
central Jordan. The Moabites occupied the land from the Mujib River
(Al-Arnoon River in the Old Testament) in the North to Wadi Al-Hisa (Al-Zairad)
in the South. The most important cities were the capital Dhiban, and
Kerak. Unlike the Amonites, the Moabites were not nomadic, remaining
stationary in central Jordan. The existence of the Moabites in Jordan was
made known when the Obelisk of Meshaa (the king of the Moabites) was discovered
in 1867 A.D. Written on black basalt in the Moabite language (which is
related to Aramayan), the obelisk records the history of Meshaa, his family, and
the Moabite kings before him. The obelisk dates back to 583 B.C. In
the 1870s the obelisk was transferred to the Louvre in Paris.
Edomites. The Old Testament states the Edomites descend from Isou bin
Itzhaq. In the 13th century B.C., the Edomite Kingdom stretched from Wadi
Al-Hisa (Al-Zairad) in the north to Aqaba (Aila) in the south. The capital
of the Edomite Kingdom was Bussaira; Pella (Sella) was also an important city.
In the 10th century B.C. King David conquered the Edomite Kingdom. The
Edomites continued to be occupied by King David's son, King Solomon, until 850
B.C. when the Edomites migrated to Egypt as nomadic people or shasu (an
Egyptian word meaning 'nomadic'). After the Edomites fled, King Yahuda
occupied the land until 810 B.C. From 810 to 630 B.C. the Ashurians
arrived and conquered the land
The Ashourian began
their connection to this area in 858 - 829 B.C. during the rule of King Shlim
Nasr III. He fought in the battle in Karker, next to Homs, against a union
of 12 kingdoms from Bilad Sham in 835 B.C. Eventually these 12 kingdoms
came under King Nasr's rule.
In the 6th century
B.C., Nebakanzer, the king of the Babylonians, captured the Ashourians in his
invasions of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. and 587 B.C. His last invasion
destroyed Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, taking the Jews to Babel as slaves.
The Babylonians kept control of Bilad Sham until the Persians arrived and
captured the area in 539 B.C.
The Greeks occupied the region following Persian rule (540 – 330 B.C.). The Greeks ruled northern Jordan from 312 B.C. until the Romans conquered the region in 65 B.C.
The Greeks came to Europe from the Russian desert, through Turkey, where they were known as Hihites. It was when they arrived to Europe that they became known as the Greeks. The land occupied by the Greeks was known as Hellas. The Greeks arrived to Europe in the 16th century B.C. This period is called the Mycine Period.
During a 10-year period sometime between the years 1230 and 1180 B.C., the Trojan Wars were fought between Hihites and the Greeks.
The Nabataeans and Petra
During the Hellenisitic period a new Arabic-speaking people known as the Nabataeans were settling near Petra in southern Jordan in the 6th century BC. At the beginning of their migration they settled east and west of Wadi Araba, as well as in the Sinai and the Nagev. The Nabataeans were originally nomadic herdsmen and merchants from Arabia, who came to control the major trade routes between Arabia and Damascus. They traded with China, India, the Far East, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. The materials they handled included animals, spices, incense, iron, copper, fabrics, sugar, medicines, perfumes, gold and ivory. They even sold bitumen from th Dead Sea to the Egyptians for use in mummification. The history of Petra was linked to the Arab Nabateans after they used it as their capital.
The Nabataeans kingdom streched from Aila (present-day Aqaba) in the south to Damascus in the north; from Gaza in the west to Medan Salah and Hegra (in present-day Saudi Arabia) in the east.
From Arabia the Nabataeans brought with them their religious beliefs where idolatry was dominant. Among their gods were Allat, Dushara, al-Uzza, Manat, Shay al-Qawrn, and others. Dushara was among their most important gods, according to the Nabatean coins discovered. Dushara's image was an anthropomorphic god standing on a gold-plated base; he sometimes had a human aspect. Religious sacrifices were offered to Dushara on the alter of the magnificant temple Qasr al-Bint (Petra). Some carvings of animals, especially the camel, which had some importance in the religious traditions, were offered to Dushara, who was represented as an ox, hawk, lion or snake. Allat was the companion of Dushara. Al-Uzza is similar to the Greek god Venus, as the Nabataeans were influenced by the Greek beliefs and their ancient legends. The Nabataeans were also influenced by the Egyptian religion--recently an idol was uncovered in the Winged Lions Temple (Petra) on which there were Nabataean inscriptions stating, "these are the gods of Hayyan ben Nabit," and are similar to the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Among the Nabateans famouns kings was Obodas, the first son of Aretas II (95 - 88 B.C.). In 90 B.C., he defeated Alexander Janneus, the governor of Palestine, from whom he recovered the regions of Moab and Galaad. Obodas was succeeded by Aretas III (87 - 62 B.C.) who expanded his kingdom. It was during his reign that the Nabatean civilzation reached its apex with the production of pottery and coins. It was during Aretas III's reign that the Nabatean kingdom expanded to Damascus, Medan Salah, the Negeb and the Sinai. After recovering Damascus and the ten cities of the Decapolis from the Selucids, Nabatean commerce flourished, with their trade routes reaching China in the Far East, to Rome in the West. The Romans tried to wage military campaigns against the Nabateans, but failed until the emperor Trajan conquered them in 106 AD.
Wars with the Nabateans intensified during the reign of Malchus. In 40 B.C., Herod the Great aligned himself with Cleopatra and they attacked Malchus, but with little success. Herod was persistant and eventually defeated the Nabateans in 31 B.C., conquering large areas of the kingdom.
In 30 B.C. Obodas II became king of the Nabateans. During his reign, the Roman emperor Augustus tried to conquer Obodas II, but failed.
Nabataea reached the peak of its prosperity under King Aretas IV ( 9 BC - 40 AD). Aretas built its far-flung settlements along the caravan routes to develop the prosperous incense trade. During the reign of Aretas IV the theatre in Petra was carved and Qasr el-Bint temple (also in Petra) was erected. The king placed importance upon agriculture and rain water storage. In general, the Nabataeans were great water engineers, and irrigated their land with ingenious systems of dams and canals.
The last Nabataean king was Rabel II who died in 106 AD. After his death the Nabataean kingdom was controlled by the Romans and was known as Provincia Arabia (The Arab Region).
Petra was first settled long before the Nabataeans in the prehistoric periods. There is evidence of Paleolithic occupation, and during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period there was a village in the nearly Beidha. An Early Bronze Age settlement at es-Sadeh eithin Petra consisted of 25 houses with rooms supported by pillars. During the Iron Age, the Edomites lived on moutain tops inside Petra, at Umm el-Biyara, Baja and es-Sadeh. At Umm el-Biyara, the dry-stone houses had long corridor rooms with small square rooms leading off. The occupation was evidently domestic, judging from the quantity of spindle whorls, the remains of weaving.
Nabataean Petra was fortified by a city wall, although the city was almost naturally defended by the surrounding sandstone mountains.
Petra is famous for its rock-cut facades, with crowstep ornamentation and angular capitals. The rock-cut monuments consisted of tombs, triclinia (where ritual funerary feasts were held) and ordinary houses. There were a theatre, baths and temples dedicated to the Nabataean gods Dushara and Allat. The main street was lined with shops, houses and a market-place.
The Romans conquered Petra in 106 AD, but it appears to have flourished under their rule. In the Christian period some of the Nabataean tombs were converted into churches or houses. Later the Crusaders built two castles there. Following the Crusades all knowledge of Petra was lost to the western world. It was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt, who bluffed his way inside disguised as a Muslim pilgrim.
Nabataean art and architecture
The finest Nabataean architecture is found at Petra. Khirbet et-Tannour, Wadi Rum and Lehun in Jordan, and at Medain Saleh in Saudi Arabia. Other Nabataean cities were built in the Negev desert in Palestine, for instance at Oboda and Mampsis.
The temple at Khirbet et-Tannur is generally regarded as the best example and probably the archtype of Nabataean cultic architecture. It was built on a high, isolated hill overlooking the Wadi Hisa in the 1st centuries BC and AD. In the elevated, square sanctuary area stood a central altar, a square podium about 2 meters high, containing in a niche the statues of the deities, probably Atargatis and Dushara. There was an outer forecourt, with surrounding rooms and provision for religious banquets and possibly a sacred pool. The whole temple was richly adorned with carving and sculpture.
As a result of the Nabataean's international contacts through trade, their art draws from diverse elements to create an original synthesis. It is difficult, therefore, to speak of a properly Nabataean style. However, as J. Starcky has pointed out, if the elements are foreign, their composition is original and can be described as Nabataean. We can therefore distinguish four styles:
1. The first style can perhaps be described as Arabian. It is characterised by rectangular stelae, each embellished with a stylised anthropomorphic figure.
2. The second style can be called Craeco-Syrian. It draws its elements from ancient Ammonite or Aramaean traditions, with Hellenistic influences superimposed. Its principal characteristics are the symmetry of facial features, projecting palmettes, prominent syes and a thick hairstyle with curls or palits which sometimes fall on the temples, called 'love locks by the beduin. The reliefs from the sanctuary of Tannur in the Wadi Hisa, like the AMmonit sculptures, consitute a distinctive category because they represent a lcoal art. The unfinished head of a fish-goddess found the sanctuary of Tannur proves that the artists worked on site.
3. Several sculptures from Petra and Tannur show an undeniable Parthian-Hellenistic influence which manifests itself in an absolute frontality, globular eyes which fix on the spectator, and above all the Phrygian bonnet, the hairstyle of round curls or spirals and curled beard.
4. The fourth style is Graeco-Roman and belongs to the Roman Province of Arabia. The annexation of the Nabataean kingdom of Trajan in 106 AD had the advantage of reuniting the traditions of the caravan centers with those of the Hellenistic cities of the Decapolis. A new flowering of sculpture, painting and minor arts appeared in Petra, Philadelphia-Amman, Jerash and Gadara-Umm Qais. If the influence of the great imperial metropoles such as Antioch, Damascus or Alexandria is evident, the local artists nevertheless retained their personality and originality. They decorated the temples and public buildings with religious or imperal scultpures and the tombs with mythological frescoes, as in the necropolis of Qweilbeh-Abila. In response to popular demand, mass production of religious figurines developed in Petra. A pottery kiln of the Roman period was discovered there in 1979, from which many figurines were recovered. At Jerash, where many pottery kilns have been discovered, the production has links withe Hellenistic traditions and is important for the study of religious iconography.
The Roman Province
The Roman general Pompey conquered Syria and Palestine in 64 - 63 BC. In Jorda, the Greek cities in the north, such as Philadelphia (Amman), Pella (fahil), and Gadara (Um Qais) and Gerasa (Jerash), created a loose federation called the Decapolis. In southern Jordan, the Nabataeans remained independent until 106 AD when there were annexed by the emporer Trajan. All of Jordan then became part of the Roman province of Arabia, except for the Arabic-speaking Thamudic and Safatic tribes in the eastern desert.
The Romans built new roads, forts, camps and watch-towers. Amman, Jerash and Um Qais were laid out with colonnaded streets and provided with theatres. Latine became an official language, although Greek remained the main spoken language among the educated. Roman religion was introduced, with temples at Jerash and Amman.
Jerash was a typical Roman provincial city, and is probably the best preserved in the Near East. It is situated north of Amman in a well-watered area of hills and forests. It had been inhabited since the Bronze Age. According to an ancient tradition the city was founded by Alexander the Great, but present archeological evidence suggests that it dates only from the 2nd century BC.
The city of Jerash was probably originally planned and designed by Roman architects, but was added to over a period of several centuries. Among its monuments were theatres, a bath, a gymnasium, colonnaded streets, and temples to Zeus and Artemis. Its golden age was in teh 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, especially following the visit of the emperor Hadrian in 130 AD.
Chrisitans built a cathedral and churches in Jerash during the Byzantine era. Every year in the cathedral they celebrated a repetition of the miracle of Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine. In spite of several earthquakes, Jerash remained an important center during the early Islamic period. The population was both Muslim and Christian, and churches continued to function. Jerash was finally abandoned at the end of the 8th century AD, although a small farming community re-occupied the runied site of the Temple of Zeus in the Middle Ages.
The Byzantiane Period
The Byzantine period dates from the year AD 324, when the emperor Constantine I founded Constantinople (modern Istanbul in Turkey) as the eastern counterpart to Rome.
Constantine was a convert to Christianity, but the first Christian community in Jordan arrived much earlier. in AD 66 the city of Pella had received fugitives from Jerusalem during the Jewish revolt against Rome. Christianity in Jordan developed slowly, accompanied by a rise in prosperity and population explosion. All of the major cities of the Roman period continued to flourish during the Byzantine period.
Eventually, Jordan was covered with churches, especially under the emperor Justinian (AD 527-567). In the struggle between Christianity and paganism many temples were destroyed or converted into churches. Most new churches were of basilica type , with semi-circular apses to the east. Towns often had several churches, usually small and privately owned, which served only the residents of one quarter.
Many of the churches had ornate mosaic floors, with pictures of animals, people and towns. The most impressive Byzantine mosaic in Jordan is the famous map of the Holy Land, in Madaba.
Jordan suffered severe depopulation in the 6th and 7th centuries AD, perhaps linked to the plague of AD 542. Another cause may have been the invasion in AD 614 by the Sassaniana,who had ruled Persia and Iraq since the early 3rd century AD. The Sassanians occupaied Jordan, Palestine and Syria for fifteen years, but in AD 629 the Byzantine emperor Heraclius managed to recover the area.
In AD 630 came the first attack by Muslim tribes from Arabia led by the Prophet Muhammad. In AD 636 the Muslims defeated the Byzantine armies at a great battle on the Yarmuk River,which runs into the Jordan River south of the Sea of Galile.
The Islamic periods and the Crusades
After Jordan fell to Islam, there was a brief period of Arab rule before the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus in AD 661. During the Umayyad period (AD 661-750) Jordan continued to prosper, as it was close to the capital and was on the pilgrimage route to Mecca. It was at this time that the area east of the Jordan River acquired its present name, el-Urdun.
Arabic gradually replaced Greek as the main language, and Islam replaced Christianity as the major religion. Nevertheless, the Muslim conquest did not cause widespread destruction or persecution, and Christianity was still practised. Churches continued to be built and repaired until the late 8th century.
The major Byzanitine sites in Jordan--Amman, Jerash, Umm al-Jimal, Umm Qais and Pella--were occupied into the Umayyad period. The Umayyad caliphs built a number of castles in the desert, at Mashatta, Kharana, Qastal, Tuba, Amra and elsewhere. These were once thought to be simply hunting lodges, but it is now known that they were political, administrative and agricultural centers to control and use the desert.
The archeology of Jordan during the following Addasid period (AD 750 - 969) is currenly being reassessed. An earthquake in AD 747, once thought to have caused major upheaval at the end of the Umayyad period, now seems less significant since settlement continued into the Abbasid period at most affected sites, such as Pella and Umm Qais. When the Abbasids transferred the capital to Baghdad the desert castles were abandoned, and the major Abbasid buildings were now located in northern Syria, on the route from Baghdad to the Mediterranean. However, recent surveys and excavations have shown that the population of Jordan increased, at least until the beginning of the 9th century.
In AD 969 the Fatimids of Egypt took the area and held it on and off until 1171. The Crusades from Europe invaded Palestine and Jordan in 1099 with the intention of recovering the Holy Places from Muslim occupation, and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Between 1099 and 1187 they built several castles in souther Jordan, at Kerak, Shobak and Petra. In the north the Arabs built castles at Ajlun, overlooking the Jordan Valley, and Salt, on the road to Jerusalem.
Saladin, the Kurdish founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, defeated the Crusades at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. From that time Jordan was again in Arab hands. The Crusaders remained in Palestine until 1291, when they were finally expelled by the Mamluk ruler Baybars. The Mamluks were slave soldiers, originally from Central Asia and the Caucasus, who seized power and ruled Egypt and Syria from the capital in Cairo.
The defeat of the Crusaders and the unification of Egypt and Syria un the Ayyubids and Mamluks led to a short period of prosperity. Jordan was now in a key position between Egypt and Syria. Castles were rebuilt and caravanserais, like the fort at Aqaba, were constructed to help pilgrims and encourage trade and communications. Sugar was widely produced and processed at water-driven mills in the Jordan Valley and near the Dead Sea.
Mongol invasions, weak government and a series of plagues led to renewed decline. In 1516 the Mamluks were defeated by the Ottoman Turks. Jordan became a part of the Ottoman Empire, with its capital at Istanbul, and remained so until 1918.
Jordan was of interest to the Ottoman Turks mainly because the pilgrim route to Mecca passed through it. The Ottomans built a series of square forts along the line of the route to protect pilgrims from the desert tribes and provide sources of food and water. But the Ottoman administration was weak and could not control the beduin tribes. Families and tribes moved frequently from one village to another. Agriculture declined, and many of Jordan's villages and towns were abandoned.
Settlements began to increase again only in the late 19th century. People from Syria and Palestine migrated into Jordan to escape over-taxation and blood feuds. Muslim Circassians and Chechens fled persecution in Russia and settled in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
During the First World War Ottoman Turkey fought on the side of Germany. On 1 October 1918 an Arab army entered Damascus and ended Ottoman rule. With the accession of the Hashemite family Jordan for the first time in its history became an independent and united country under its own king and government.