What makes Jordan travel extremely interesting is the richness of history that the country has. In each corner of the country there is a story that goes back thousands of years. Although Petra Jordan is one of the greatest attracters, a Jordan Traveller is usuallay surprised that there is a lot more value than only a Petra tour. When on in Jordan epect to see the presence of Romans, Bezantines, Nabateans and Moslems.
During the Paleolithic period (c. 500,000-17,000 BCE), the inhabitants of Jordan hunted wild animals and foraged for wild plants, probably following the movement of animals seeking pasture and living near sources of water. The climate during this period was considerably wetter than today, and therefore large areas of modern-day desert were open plains ideal for a hunting and gathering subsistence strategy. Evidence has also been found of Paleolithic inhabitation near a large expanse of water at Azraq.
During the Paleolithic period (c. 500,000-17,000 BCE), the inhabitants of Jordan hunted wild animals and foraged for wild plants, probably following the movement of animals seeking pasture and living near sources of water. The climate during this period was considerably wetter than today, and therefore large areas of modern-day desert were open plains ideal for a hunting and gathering subsistence strategy. Evidence has also been found of Paleolithic inhabitation near a large expanse of water at Azraq. Paleolithic man in Jordan left no evidence of architecture, and no human skeleton from this period has yet been found. However, archaeologists have uncovered tools from this period such as flint and basalt hand-axes, knives and scraping implements. Ancient man also left clues to the nature of his existence beginning in Paleolithic times and continuing through the Neolithic and Chalcolithic eras.
During the Neolithic period (c. 8500-4500 BCE), or New Stone Age, three great shifts took place in the land now known as Jordan. First, people settled down to community life in small villages. This corresponded to the introduction of new food sources-such as cereal agriculture, domesticated peas and lentils, and the newly-widespread practice of goat herding- into the diet of Neolithic man. The combination of settled life and "food security" prompted a rise in population which reached into the tens of thousands.
The second basic shift in settlement patterns was prompted by the changing weather of the eastern desert. The area grew warmer and drier, gradually becoming virtually uninhabitable throughout much of the year. The distinction between the desert to the east and the "sown" areas to the west dates back to this watershed climatic change, which is believed to have occurred from around 6500-5500 BCE.
The most significant development of the late Neolithic period, from about 5500-4500 BCE, was the making of pottery. Earlier attempts to fashion pottery from plaster have been discovered, but it was during the late Neolithic period that man began to systematically create vessels from clay. It is likely that pottery-making was introduced to the area from craftsmen arriving from the seminal civilizations developing to the northeast, in Mesopotamia.
The largest Neolithic site in Jordan is at Ein Ghazal in Amman. It consists of a large number of buildings, which were divided into three distinct districts. The houses were rectangular with several rooms, and some of them had plastered floors. The stone tower and walls found at Jericho show that defense was a consideration for Neolithic villages, as well. It seems as though Neolithic man practiced ancestor veneration, as archaeologists have unearthed skulls covered with plaster and with bitumen in the eye sockets at sites throughout Jordan (Ein Ghazal and Beidha), Palestine and Syria. Recently, archaeologists finished restoring what may be one of the world's oldest statues. The relic, which was found at Ein Ghazal, is thought to be 8000 years old. The statue is just over one meter high and is of a woman with huge eyes, skinny arms, knobby knees and carefully depicted toes.
During the Chalcolithic period (c. 4500-3200 BCE), copper was smelted for the first time. It was put to use in making axes, arrowheads and hooks, although flint tools also continued to be used for a long time. Chalcolithic man relied less on hunting than in Neolithic times, instead focusing more on sheep and goat-breeding and the cultivation of wheat, barley, dates, olives and lentils. In the desert areas the lifestyle was probably very similar to that of modern Bedouins.
The Late Bronze Age was brought to a mysterious end around 1200 BCE, with the collapse of many of the Near Eastern and Mediterranean kingdoms. The main cities of Mycenaean Greece and Cyprus, of the Hittites in Anatolia, and of Late Bronze Age Syria, Palestine and Jordan were destroyed. It is thought that this destruction was wrought by the "Sea Peoples" marauders from the Aegean and Anatolia who were eventually defeated by the Egyptian pharoahs Merenptah and Rameses III. One group of Sea Peoples were the Philistines, who settled on the southern coast of Palestine and gave the area its name.
The Israelites may have been another cause of the Late Bronze Age devastation in Palestine. Although the archeological record does not always agree with the Biblical narrative, it is certain that the Israelites destroyed many Canaanite towns including Ariha (Jericho), Ai and Hazor.
One of the issues debated concerns the Kingdom of Edom (the area of Jordan south of the Dead Sea). The Book of Numbers states that the Israelites coming from Egypt found Edom a fully developed state. However, no Edomite settlements have been identified before the end of the 8th century BCE, and there was surely no "state" of Edom as early as 1200 BCE, when the Biblical conquest narrative is set. Some archaeologists believe that the "king" of Edom was a Bedouin sheikh, and that his "kingdom" would have left no noticeable ruins for archaeologists to find.
The Iron Age (c. 1200-332 BCE) saw the development and consolidation of three new kingdoms in Jordan: Edom in the south,Moab in central Jordan, and Ammon in the northern mountain areas. To the north in Syria, the Aramaeans made their capital in Damascus. This period saw a shift in the level of power from individual "city-states" to larger kingdoms. One possible reason for the growth of these local kingdoms was the growing importance of the trade route from Arabia, which carried gold, spices and precious metals through Amman and Damascus up to northern Syria.
The bulk of the Biblical Old Testament took place during this period. There is little archeological evidence to fully support the Biblical account of the Israelites' occupation of Palestine. Although archaeologists have demonstrated that certain cities supposedly taken by the Israelites were indeed destroyed during this period, it is equally feasible that they may have been sacked by invading Egyptian armies. It is probable that the "conquest" occurred more gradually than in the Biblical narrative, with the process more akin to waves of ethnic migration than a conventional military campaign.
According to the Biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt (c. 1270-1240 BCE), the Israelites requested permission to pass unharmed through the Kingdom of Edom. After having been denied permission, they skirted Edom to the east and continued north until they reached the borders of the Amorite country near Madaba. Not trusting the Israelites' intentions, and not wishing to place the added strain of thousands of migrants upon his food and water stores, the Amorite leader Sihon refused them passage as well. This time, the Israelites fought back and defeated Sihon, occupying his territory.
According to the Bible, the Israelites then continued their northward trek into the Kingdom of Moab, where the Moabite king set up an alliance between the five tribal kings of Midian (the Hijaz of Arabia). The increasingly powerful Israelites triumphed over the Midianites as well, and some of the tribes settled in the conquered territories. The prophet Moses apparently climbed, or was carried, to the top of Mount Nebo, where, according to some sources, he died. Joshua then led the remaining tribes across the Jordan River into Palestine. A united Kingdom of Israel arose there about 1000 BCE with Saul and David as its first kings. After the death of David's son King Solomon in 922 BCE, the kingdom divided into two, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
The relative ease with which the Israelites made their way north and west into Palestine says much about the situation in Egypt, which still nominally ruled the lands of Jordan and Palestine. Attacks from the "Sea Peoples" of the Mediterranean Sea had weakened the Pharaonic empire and allowed the Philistines to gain a foothold on Egyptian soil as well as in Palestine and Jordan. The primary contribution of the Philistines to local culture was the introduction of iron working to the region. Their superior skills in weapon-making gave them a military advantage and assisted in their early victories over the Israelite tribes. By around 1000 BCE, however, iron was in widespread use throughout the region.
In general, trouble for the Israelites was good news for the kingdoms of Jordan. The split into Israel and Judah in 922 BCE, combined with the invasion of the Egyptian Shishak against Israel four years later, allowed the three kingdoms a bit of breathing room and prosperity. After the death of King David around 960 BCE, Edom regained most of its former independence. The Edomites occupied southern Jordan and their capital at Buseira possessed at least one large temple or palace. They were skilled in copper mining and smelting, and had settlements near modern-day Petra Jordan and Aqaba.
The Moabites are best known from the Mesha Stele, a ninth-century BCE stone which extols the deeds of the Moabite King Mesha. He won a victory over the occupying Israelites, who were still clearly a major thorn in the side of the Moabites. The Kingdom of Moab covered the center of Jordan, and its capital cities were at Karak and Dhiban. The Kingdom of Ammon around 950 BCE displayed rising prosperity based on agriculture and trade, as well as an organized defense policy with a series of fortresses. Its capital was in the Citadel of present-day Amman.
The wealth of these kingdoms made them targets for raids or even conquest by the neighboring Israelites, the Aramaeans in Damascus, and the Assyrians with their capital at Ashur in northern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). From the ninth century BCE on, the Assyrians campaigned against the Aramaeans, and in the late eighth century BCE they captured Damascus as well as Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. The kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom retained their independence, however, by buying the Assyrians off with tribute.
The Assyrian Empire came crashing down in 612 BCE, when Nineveh fell to an alliance of Medes of Persia and the Chaldean kings of Babylonia. In its place arose the Babylonian Empire and King Nebuchadnezzar, whose defeat of the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BCE threw much of the region into turmoil. Considerable population shifts took place under the Babylonians, exemplified by the Edomites' migration from Jordan into the area in southern Palestine known as Idumaea. In fact, there was a decline in urban development and power swung back again to nomadic tribes. In 587 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and deported thousands of Jews to Babylonia.
In 539 BCE, the Persians under Cyrus II ended the disruptive rule of the Babylonian Empire and paved the way for a period of more organized life and prosperity. The Persian Empire became the largest yet known in the Near East, and Cyrus' successors conquered Egypt, northern India, Asia Minor, and frequently conflicted with the Greek states of Sparta and Athens. Internal turmoil continued in Jordan, with numerous clashes occurring between the Moabites and Ammonites.
Jordan and Palestine were placed under the control of a Persian viceroy with subordinate governors. Meanwhile, Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity in Babylonia and allowed them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The Moabites and Ammonites interpreted this as a virtual declaration of sovereignty, and hence organized attacks upon the resettled Jews. They were led in this campaign by Tobiah, whom the Persians had appointed as governor. Tobiah set up a short-lived local dynasty, but ultimately the Persian leader Darius I (522-486 BCE) safeguarded the Jewish community and the temple was rebuilt.
After establishing the greatest empire yet known in the Near East, economic decline, revolts, murders and palace conspiracies weakened the Persian throne. In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian capital of Persepolis (in modern Iran) and established Greek control over Jordan and surrounding countries.
The Hellenistic Period in Jordan
Although the influence of Greek culture had been felt in Jordan previously, Alexander the Great's conquest of the Middle East and Central Asia firmly consolidated the influence of Hellenistic culture. The Greeks founded new cities in Jordan, such as Umm Qais (known as Gadara) and renamed others, such as Amman (renamed from Rabbath-Ammon to Philadelphia) and Jerash (renamed from Garshu to Antioch, and later to Gerasa). Many of the sites built during this period were later redesigned and reconstructed during the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras, so only fragments remain from the Hellenistic period. Greek was established as the official language, although Aramaic remained the primary spoken language of ordinary people.
Alexander died soon after establishing his empire, and his generals subsequently struggled over control of the Near East for more than two decades. Eventually, the Ptolemies consolidated their power in Egypt and ruled Jordan from 301-198 BCE. The Seleucids, who were based in Syria, ruled Jordan from 198-63 BCE.
The most spectacular Hellenistic site in Jordan is at ‘Iraq al-Amir, just west of modern-day Amman. The Qasr al-Abd ("Castle of the Slave") there is constructed of very large stones, some of which have sculpted figures of lions and eagles. The Qasr is surrounded by an artificial moat and was probably either a temple or palace, although its small entrance would have made it a significant defensive asset. The "castle" belonged to a governor of Ammon named Hyrcanus, who was also a member of the influential Tobiad family. It was built in the late-second century BCE.
The Nabateans and Petra
Before Alexander's conquest, a thriving new civilization had emerged in southern Jordan. It appears that a nomadic tribe known as the Nabateans began migrating gradually from Arabia during the sixth century BCE. Over time, they abandoned their nomadic ways and settled in a number of places in southern Jordan, the Naqab desert in Palestine, and in northern Arabia. Their capital city was the legendary Petra, Jordan's most famous tourist attraction. Although Petra was inhabited by the Edomites before the arrival of the Nabateans, the latter carved grandiose buildings, temples and tombs out of solid sandstone rock. They also constructed a wall to fortify the city, although Petra was almost naturally defended by the surrounding sandstone mountains. Building an empire in the arid desert also forced the Nabateans to excel in water conservation. They were highly skilled water engineers, and irrigated their land with an extensive system of dams, canals and reservoirs.
The Nabateans were exceptionally skilled traders, facilitating commerce between China, India, the Far East, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. They dealt in such goods as spices, incense, gold, animals, iron, copper, sugar, medicines, ivory, perfumes and fabrics, just to name a few. From its origins as a fortress city, Petra became a wealthy commercial crossroads between the Arabian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. Control of this crucial trade route between the upland areas of Jordan, the Red Sea, Damascus and southern Arabia was the lifeblood of the Nabatean Empire.
We still know comparatively little about Nabatean society. However, we do know that they spoke a dialect of Arabic and later on adopted Aramaic. Much of what is now known about Nabatean culture comes from the writings of the Roman scholar Strabo. He recorded that their community was governed by a royal family, although a strong spirit of democracy prevailed. According to him there were no slaves in Nabatean society, and all members shared in work duties. The Nabateans worshipped a pantheon of deities, chief among which were the sun god Dushara and the goddess Allat.
As the Nabateans grew in power and wealth, they attracted the attention of their neighbors to the north. The Seleucid King Antigonus, who had come to power when Alexander's empire was divided, attacked Petra in 312 BCE. His army met with relatively little resistance, and was able to sack the city. The quantity of booty was so great, however, that it slowed their return journey north and the Nabateans were able to annihilate them in the desert. Records indicate that the Nabateans were eager to remain on good terms with the Seleucids in order to perpetuate their trading ambitions. Throughout much of the third century BCE, the Ptolemies and Seleucids warred over control of Jordan, with the Seleucids emerging victorious in 198 BCE. Nabatea remained essentially untouched and independent throughout this period.
Although the Nabateans resisted military conquest, the Hellenistic culture of their neighbors influenced them greatly. Hellenistic influences can be seen in Nabatean art and architecture, especially at the time that their empire was expanding northward into Syria, around 150 BCE. However, the growing economic and political power of the Nabateans began to worry the Romans. In 65 BCE, the Romans arrived in Damascus and ordered the Nabateans to withdraw their forces. Two years later, Pompey dispatched a force to cripple Petra Jordan. The Nabatean King Aretas III either defeated the Roman legions or paid a tribute to keep peace with them.
The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE augured a period of relative anarchy for the Romans in Jordan, and the Parthian kings of Persia and Mesopotamia took advantage of the chaotic situation to attack. The Nabateans made a mistake by siding with the Parthians in their war with the Romans, and after the Parthians' defeat, Petra had to pay tribute to Rome. When they fell behind in paying this tribute, they were invaded twice by the Roman vassal King Herod the Great. The second attack, in 31 BCE, saw him take control of a large swath of Nabatean territory, including the lucrative northern trading routes into Syria.
Nonetheless, the Nabateans continued to prosper for a while. King Aretas IV, who ruled from 9 BCE to 40 CE, built a chain of settlements along the caravan routes to develop the prosperous incense trade. The Nabateans realized the power of Rome, and subsequently allied themselves with the Romans to quell the Jewish uprising of 70 CE. However, it was only a matter of time before Nabatea would fall under direct Roman rule. The last Nabatean monarch, Rabbel II, struck a deal with the Romans that as long as they did not attack during his lifetime, they would be allowed to move in after he died. Upon his death in 106 CE, the Romans claimed the Nabatean Kingdom and renamed it Arabia Petrea. The city of Petra Jordan was redesigned according to traditional Roman architectural designs, and a period of relative prosperity ensued under the Pax Romana.
The Nabateans profited for a while from their incorporation into the trade routes of the Roman Near East, and Petra may have grown to house 20,000-30,000 people during its heyday. However, commerce became less profitable to the Nabateans with the shift of trade routes to Palmyra in Syria and the expansion of seaborne trade around the Arabian peninsula. Sometime probably during the fourth century CE, the Nabateans left their capital at Petra. No one really knows why. It seems that the withdrawal was an unhurried and organized process, as very few silver coins or valuable possessions have been unearthed at Petra.
The Age of Rome & Jordan
Pompey's conquest of Jordan, Syria and Palestine in 63 BCE inaugurated a period of Roman control which would last four centuries. In northern Jordan, the Greek cities of Philadelphia (Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Gadara (Umm Qais), Pella and Arbila (Irbid) joined with other cities in Palestine and southern Syria to form the Decapolis League, a fabled confederation linked by bonds of economic and cultural interest.
Of these, Jerash appears to have been the most splendid. It was one of the greatest provincial cities in Rome's empire, and was honored by a visit of the Emperor Hadrian himself in 130 CE. In southern Jordan, the Kingdom of Nabatea retained its independence until 106 CE, when Emperor Trajan's forces took control of the region.
Roman road-builders followed soon after the military, and in 111 CE the Via Nova Triana (Trajan New Road) was completed. It ran from the southern port of Aqaba all the way to the Syrian city of Bosra. Forts and watch-towers were built along this and other trading routes, while Amman, Jerash, and Umm Qais were laid out with colonnaded streets and theaters. A degree of cultural tension existed between the inhabitants of Jordan, who at this time largely spoke Greek, and their Roman occupiers who decreed that Latin should be the official language of the country and that their religion should follow that of Rome. Nevertheless, it was generally a peaceful period during which a number of important infrastructural developments occurred.
Christendom and the Byzantines
The Byzantine period dates from the year 324 CE, when the Emperor Constantine I founded Constantinople (Istanbul) as the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. Constantine converted to the growing religion of Christianity in 333 CE. In Jordan, however, the Christian community had developed much earlier: Pella had been a center of refuge for Christians fleeing persecution in Rome during the first century CE.
During the Byzantine period, a great deal of construction took place throughout Jordan. All of the major cities of the Roman era continued to flourish, and the regional population boomed. As Christianity gradually became the accepted religion of the area in the fourth century, churches and chapels began to sprout up across Jordan.
Many of these were clustered together on the foundations of ancient Roman settlements, and a good number of pagan temples were plundered to build churches. Church-building witnessed extraordinary growth during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-65 CE). Most of these churches were of basilica type, with semi-circular apses to the east and two parallel rows of pillars supporting a higher roof over the nave.
One indication of the prosperity of the period can be seen in the mosaic floors which decorated many of these newly-built places of worship. These ornate mosaics often portrayed animals, people and towns. The most impressive examples of Byzantine mosaic artistry can be seen in Madaba, and the greatest of these is the famed sixth-century Map of the Holy Land, also known as the Mosaic Map of Palestine.
In the sixth and seventh centuries CE, Jordan suffered severe depopulation. The plague of 542 CE wiped out much of the population, while another cause may have been the Sassanian invasion of 614 CE. The Sassanians, who had ruled Persia and Iraq since the early third century CE, occupied Jordan, Palestine and Syria for fifteen years, but the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius managed to recover the area in 629 CE. His gains were not to last for long.
The Islamic Periods and the Crusades in Jordan
The Byzantines' preoccupation with the Sassanians diverted their attention away from what was happening in the Arabian desert. For countless years marauding Bedouin tribesmen had periodically staged raids to the north. What was new, however, was that the Arabs who swept northward on horse and camel-back were now united by a common faith, that of Islam.
After hearing the call of God, the Prophet Muhammad, Praise Be Unto Him (PBUH), first tried to convert the people of his home, Mecca. When the Meccans threatened him and his followers, they journeyed to the neighboring town of Medina in the year 622 CE. This migration, known as the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Eight years later, the Prophet returned to Mecca to convert its people to Islam. From then on, the new faith spread rapidly throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
It took the Arabs only ten years to fully dismantle Byzantine control over the lands of Jordan, Palestine and Syria. After two unsuccessful attacks against the Byzantine garrison town of Mu'ta (south of Amman, near Karak) in 629 CE, the Muslim Arab tribes regrouped for a much wider military operation. In the year 636 CE, the Muslim armies overran the Transjordanian highlands and won a decisive battle against the Byzantines on the banks of the Yarmouk River, which marks the modern border between Jordan and Syria. This victory opened the way to the conquest of Syria, and the remaining Byzantine troops were forced to retreat into Anatolia only a few years later.
Umayyad Empire in the history of Jordan
The Muslims wasted no time in taking Damascus, and in 661 CE proclaimed it the capital of the Umayyad Empire. Jordan prospered during the Umayyad period (661-750 CE) due to its proximity to the capital city of Damascus. Its strategic geographic position also made it an important thoroughfare for pilgrims venturing to the holy Muslim sites in Arabia. As Islam spread, the Arabic language gradually came to supplant Greek as the main language. Christianity was still widely practiced through the eighth century.
The Umayyads were comfortable and at home in the desert. They felt little need for the Roman fortifications which guarded trading routes, and subsequently allowed them to fall into disrepair. However, they left an enduring legacy to bear testimony to their love of hunting, sport and leisure.
They constructed caravan stops (caravanserais), bath houses, hunting complexes and palaces in the eastern Jordanian desert. These palaces are collectively known as the "Desert Castles." Examples of Umayyad artistry and ingenuity include the triple-domed Qusayr ‘Amra bath house with its magnificent frescoed walls, and the massive Qasr al-Haraneh. The greatest of all Umayyad constructions is the Dome of the Rock Mosque, built by Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the year 691 CE, in al-Quds (Jerusalem).
Abbasids in Jordan
A powerful earthquake rocked Jordan in 747 CE, destroying many buildings and perhaps contributing to the defeat of the Umayyads by the Abbasids three years later. The Abbasids established their capital in Baghdad, leaving Jordan a provincial backwater far from the center of the empire. The Desert Castles were abandoned, and Jordan now suffered more from benign neglect than from the attentions of invading armies. However, recent excavations have shown that the population of Jordan continued to increase, at least until the beginning of the 9th century CE.
Fatimids in Jordan
In 969 CE, the Fatimids of Egypt took control of Jordan and struggled over it with various Syrian factions for about two centuries. At the beginning of the 12th century CE, however, a new campaign was launched which would once again place Jordan at the center of a historical struggle. The impetus for the Crusades came from a plea for help from the Emperor of Constantinople, Alexius, who in 1095 reported to his Christian European brothers that his city, the last bastion of Byzantine Christendom, was under imminent threat of attack by the Muslim Turks. The prospect of such a severe defeat prompted Pope Urban II to muster support for Constantinople as well as for the retaking of Jerusalem.
The so-called "Holy Wars" thus began in 1096 CE. They resulted in the conquest of al-Quds (Jerusalem) by Christian forces and the establishment of a kingdom there. The Crusaders' interest then centered on the protection of the route to Jerusalem, prompting the Crusader King Baldwin I to build a line of fortresses down the backbone of Jordan. The most substantial of these were at Karak and Shobak. However, after having unified Syria and Egypt under his control, the Muslim commander Salah Eddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin) defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin in 1187 CE. This opened the way for the Muslim armies to liberate Jerusalem, effectively eliminating the foreign domination of Jordan.
Ayyubid and Mamluks and Jordan
Salah Eddin founded the Ayyubid dynasty, which ruled much of Syria, Egypt and Jordan for the next eighty years. In the year 1258 CE, an invasion of Mongols swept across much of the Near East. The marauding invaders were eventually turned back in 1260 CE by the Mamluk Sultan Baybars, who fought a successful battle at Ein Jalut. The Mamluks, who were from Central Asia and the Caucasus, seized power and ruled Egypt and later Jordan and Syria from their capital at Cairo.
The unification of Syria, Egypt and Jordan under the Ayyubids and Mamluks led to another period of prosperity for Jordan, as it once again occupied a key position between its two larger neighbors. Castles were constructed or rebuilt, and caravanserais were built to host pilgrims and strengthen lines of communication and trade. Sugar was widely produced and refined at water-driven mills in the Jordan Valley. However, another Mongol invasion in 1401 CE, combined with weak government and widespread disease, weakened the entire region. In 1516 CE, the Mamluks were defeated by the Ottoman Turks. Jordan became part of the Ottoman Empire and remained so for the next 400 years.
The Ottoman Empire in the history of Jordan
The four centuries of Ottoman rule (1516-1918 CE) were a period of general stagnation in Jordan. The Ottomans were primarily interested in Jordan in terms of its importance to the pilgrimage route to Mecca al-Mukarrama. They built a series of square fortresses-at Qasr al-Dab'a, Qasr Qatraneh, and Qal'at Hasa-to protect pilgrims from the desert tribes and to provide them with sources of food and water. However, the Ottoman administration was weak and could not effectively control the Bedouin tribes. Over the course of Ottoman rule, many towns and villages were abandoned, agriculture declined, and families and tribes moved frequently from one village to another. The Bedouins, however, remained masters of the desert, continuing to live much as they had for hundreds of years.
Population continued to dwindle until the late 19th century, when Jordan received several waves of immigrants. Syrians and Palestinians migrated to Jordan to escape over-taxation and feuds, while Muslim Circassians and Chechens fled Russian persecution to settle in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
The Ottoman period saw a general neglect of infrastructural development in Jordan, and what was constructed was usually with some specific religious orientation. For instance, castles such as Qatraneh were built to protect pilgrimage routes, while most schools, hospitals, baths, wells, orphanages and, of course, mosques, were built with a particular religious function in mind. The most significant infrastructural development of the Ottoman period was the Hijaz Railway from Damascus to al-Madina al-Munawarra in 1908. Designed originally to transport pilgrims to Mecca al-Mukarrama-the extension from al-Madina al-Munawwara was never completed-the railway was also a useful tool for ferrying Ottoman armies and supplies into the Arabian heartland. Because of this, it was attacked frequently during the Great Arab Revolt of World War I.
The Great Arab Revolt
Much of the trauma and dislocation suffered by the peoples of the Middle East during the 20th century can be traced to the events surrounding World War I. During the conflict, the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers against the Allies. Seeing an opportunity to liberate Arab lands from Turkish oppression, and trusting the honor of British officials who promised their support for a unified kingdom for the Arab lands, Sharif Hussein bin Ali, Emir of Mecca and King of the Arabs (and great grandfather of King Hussein), launched the Great Arab Revolt. After the conclusion of the war, however, the victors reneged on their promises to the Arabs, carving from the dismembered Ottoman lands a patchwork system of mandates and protectorates. While the colonial powers denied the Arabs their promised single unified Arab state, it is nevertheless testimony to the effectiveness of the Great Arab Revolt that the Hashemite family was able to secure Arab rule over Transjordan, Iraq and Arabia.
In order to discern the motives of the Hashemites in undertaking the revolt, one must understand the policies undertaken by the Ottoman Empire in the years leading up to World War I. Following the Young Turk coup of 1908, the Ottomans abandoned their pluralistic and pan-Islamic policies, instead pursuing a policy of secular Turkish nationalism. The formerly cosmopolitan and tolerant Ottoman Empire began overtly discriminating against its non-Turkish inhabitants. Arabs in particular were faced with political, cultural and linguistic persecution. During this time, Arab nationalist groups in Syria, Iraq and Arabia began to rally behind the Hashemite banner of Abdullah and Faisal, sons of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, King of the Arabs.
When the Ottomans entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers in 1914, they upheld the ban on the official use of the Arabic language and its teaching in schools, while arresting many Arab nationalist figures in Damascus and Beirut. Arabs were further threatened by the construction of the Hijaz Railway, connecting Damascus and Mecca, which promised to facilitate the mobility of Turkish troops into the Arab heartland.
Consequently, in June 1916, as head of the Arab nationalists and in alliance with Britain and France, Sharif Hussein initiated the Great Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule. His sons, the emirs Abdullah and Faisal, led the Arab forces, with Emir Faisal's forces liberating Damascus from Ottoman rule in 1918. At the end of the war, Arab forces controlled all of modern Jordan, most of the Arabian peninsula and much of southern Syria.
Sharif Hussein's objective in undertaking the Great Arab Revolt was to establish a single independent and unified Arab state stretching from Aleppo (Syria) to Aden (Yemen), based on the ancient traditions and culture of the Arab people, the upholding of Islamic ideals and the full protection and inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities. Arab nationalists in the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula found in the Hashemite commanders of the Great Arab Revolt the leadership that could realize their aspirations, and thus coalesced around them.
The political aspirations of the Arabs were not to be realized, however, due to the conflicting promises made by the British to their wartime allies. The first of these came during 1915 in an exchange of ten letters between Sir Henry McMahon, Britain's high commissioner in Egypt, and Sharif Hussein. Essentially, Britain pledged, in what became known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, to support Arab independence if Hussein's forces revolted against the Turks.
But the agreement excluded three areas: the wilayets (Ottoman provinces) of Basra and Baghdad, the Turkish districts of Alexandretta and Mersin, and, most importantly, "portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo." The interpretation of the last section was to be the source of great controversy. The British later claimed that Palestine was meant to be excluded from the area of Arab rule, as it is technically located west of Damascus: for obvious reasons the Zionists took the same position. The Arabs interpreted the letter as it reads: Lebanon, not Palestine, is to the west of Damascus and the other areas mentioned.
In any case, the interests of the colonial powers took precedence over promises made to the Arabs. While accepting the principle of Arab independence laid down in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed by Britain, France and Russia in 1916, divided the area into zones of permanent colonial influence. The agreement recognized French interests in Greater Syria and northern Iraq, while acknowledging British designs on a belt of influence from the Mediterranean to the Gulf to protect its trade and communications links with the Indian subcontinent. The Sykes-Picot Agreement specified that most of Palestine was to be entrusted to an international administration. The agreement clearly contradicted the promises made to Sharif Hussein of Mecca.
To further complicate matters, in a totally deceitful move British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour in 1917 issued a letter to a prominent British Jew, Lord Rothschild, promising Britain's commitment and support for a Jewish home in Palestine. Known as the Balfour Declaration, the letter calls for the "establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people . . . it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..."
The Making of Transjordan
work for the mandate system which was imposed in the years following the war. Near the end of 1918, the Hashemite Emir Faisal set up an independent government in Damascus. However, his demand at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference for independence throughout the Arab world was met with rejection from the colonial powers. In 1920 and for a brief duration, Faisal assumed the throne of Syria and his elder brother Abdullah was offered the crown of Iraq by the Iraqi representatives. However, the British government ignored the will of the Iraqi people. Shortly afterward, the newly-founded League of Nations awarded Britain the mandates over Transjordan, Palestine and Iraq. France was given the mandate over Syria and Lebanon, but had to take Damascus by force, removing King Faisal from the throne to which he had been elected by the General Syrian Congress in 1920.
In November 1920, Emir (later King) Abdullah led forces from the Hijaz to restore his brother's throne in the Kingdom of Syria. However, the French mandate over Syria was already well planted, and Emir Abdullah was obliged to delay his pan-Arab goals and focus on forming a government in Amman. Since the end of the war, the British had divided the land of Transjordan into three local administrative districts, with a British "advisor" appointed to each. The northern region of ‘Ajloun had its administrative center in Irbid, the central region of Balqa was based in Salt, and the southern region was run by the "Moabite Arab Government," based in Karak. The regions of Ma'an and Tabuk were incorporated into the Kingdom of the Hijaz, ancestral home of the Hashemites. Faced with the determination of Emir Abdullah to unify Arab lands under the Hashemite banner, the British proclaimed Abdullah ruler of the three districts, known collectively as Transjordan. Confident that his plans for the unity of the Arab nation would eventually come to fruition, the emir established the first centralized governmental system in what is now modern Jordan on April 11, 1921.
King Faisal I, meanwhile, assumed the throne of the Kingdom of Iraq in the same year. The Hashemite family ruled Iraq until King Faisal's grandson King Faisal II and his immediate family were all murdered in a bloody coup by Nasserist sympathizers led by Colonel Abdel Karim Qassem on July 14, 1958. The Hashemites suffered another major blow in 1925, when King Ali bin al-Hussein, the eldest brother of Abdullah and Faisal, lost the throne of the Kingdom of the Hijaz to Abdel Aziz bin Saud of Najd. The loss, which was brought about by a partnership between Ibn Saud and followers of the Wahhabi movement, led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and brought to an end over one thousand years of Hashemite rule in Mecca.
Emir Abdullah soon succeeded in loosening the British mandate over Transjordan with an Anglo-Transjordanian treaty. On May 15, 1923, Britain formally recognized the Emirate of Transjordan as a state under the leadership of Emir Abdullah. This angered the Zionists, as it effectively severed Transjordan from Palestine and so reduced the area of any future Jewish national home in the region. The treaty stipulated that Transjordan would be prepared for independence under the general supervision of the British high commissioner in Jerusalem, and recognized Emir Abdullah as head of state. In May 1925, the Aqaba and Ma'an districts of the Hijaz became part of Transjordan.
Between 1928 and 1946, a series of Anglo-Transjordanian treaties led to almost full independence for Transjordan. While Britain retained a degree of control over foreign affairs, armed forces, communications and state finances, Emir Abdullah commanded the administrative and military machinery of the regular government. On March 22, 1946, Abdullah negotiated a new Anglo-Transjordanian treaty, ending the British mandate and gaining full independence for Transjordan. In exchange for providing military facilities within Transjordan, Britain continued to pay a financial subsidy and supported the Arab Legion. Two months later, on May 25, 1946, the Transjordanian parliament proclaimed Abdullah king, while officially changing the name of the country from the Emirate of Transjordan to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
The Tragedy of Palestine
The Balfour Declaration's commitment to a Jewish national home in the British mandate of Palestine soon came back to haunt Britain and the Arabs. Arabs were outraged by the implication that they were the intruders in Palestine, when in fact at the end of World War II they accounted for about 90% of the population.
While Jewish immigration to Palestine in the 1920's caused little alarm, the situation escalated markedly with the rise of Nazi persecution in Europe. Large numbers of European Jews flocked to Palestine, inflaming nationalist passions among all Arabs, who feared the creation of a Jewish state in which they would be the losers. Palestinian resistance erupted into a full-scale revolt which lasted from 1936-39. This revolt, which in some respects resembled the intifada of the late 1980s, was the first major outbreak of Palestinian-Zionist hostilities.
Although the strict terms imposed on Transjordan since 1921 prevented Emir Abdullah from establishing official contacts with Palestinian Arabs under the British mandate, he nonetheless gave refuge to Palestinian leaders and political activists. He constantly warned the British against earmarking Arab lands for a Jewish national home and allowing increased Jewish immigration to Palestine. He also intervened at various levels on behalf of the Palestinians, while warning of impending disaster should a diplomatic solution to the problem not be found. His predictions fell on deaf ears, but came true nonetheless.
As the Jewish population in Palestine increased sharply during the 1930s, fighting between Jews and Arabs increased also. Both sides blamed the British, who failed miserably in their attempts to reach a settlement acceptable to all. The conflict was muted by the onset of World War II, during which both sides cooperated with the British. Transjordan's Arab Legion also joined the side of the Allies, helping the British and the Free French drive the Vichy forces from Syria.
The crisis of Palestine reached a boiling point in the years immediately after the war. With international sympathy firmly behind the Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, Zionist leaders pressured the British to admit thousands of displaced Jews. At the same time, underground Jewish groups such as the Irgun and the renegade Stern Gang initiated a campaign of terrorism against the British. Washing its hands of the whole imbroglio, Britain declared in February 1947 that its mandate over Palestine would end on May 14, 1948. The matter was then addressed by the United Nations, which, after rejecting various plans, voted for the partition of Palestine in November 1947. The plan called for the partition of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, with al-Quds (Jerusalem) to be placed under UN trusteeship. More than half the territory, including the valuable coastal strip, had been allotted to the Jews, who only owned about 6% of the land. The Arabs were shocked, and conflict was inevitable.
On May 14, 1948, the British terminated their mandate over Palestine, and the Jews immediately proclaimed the independence of the state of Israel. The Soviet Union was the first country to recognize Israel, followed promptly by the United States. The tragedy of Palestine was born.
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War
Prior to the UN General Assembly's November 1947 decision to partition Palestine, King Abdullah had proposed sending the Arab Legion to defend the Arabs of Palestine. Reacting to the passing of the partition plan, he announced Jordan's readiness to deploy the full force of the Arab Legion in Palestine. An Arab League meeting held in Amman two days before the expiration of the British mandate concluded that Arab countries would send troops to Palestine to join forces with Jordan's army.
Immediately after the proclamation of the state of Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iraq sent troops to join with Jordanian forces in order to defend their brethren, the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine. However, the attacks were uncoordinated and each army took orders from its own commanders. The Jewish forces were therefore able to exploit the political and military differences among the Arab armies. Contrary to the popular misconception, Israel also held a distinct manpower advantage over its adversaries. By the end of May 1948, Israel fielded a mobile army of 25,000 front-line troops, a number that would grow to nearly 80,000 by the end of that year. In addition, many Israeli soldiers had seen combat action during World War II. The Jewish militias exploited their military advantage to consolidate control over their allotted areas, as well as to entrench themselves in some strategic areas allocated to the Arabs of Palestine.
The violent establishment of the state of Israel led more than 500,000 Palestinian Arabs to flee their homes, with many settling in what became known as the "West Bank" (the west bank of the Jordan River). It is a well-documented fact that a systematic massacre of around 245 Palestinians occurred on April 9, 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin. The Irgun and the Stern Gang systematically conducted this and other massacres, such as that at Kafr Qassem, in order to create a general climate of terror that encouraged the unarmed and defenseless Palestinians to flee.
Of all the Arab armies engaged in the defense of Palestine, the one which defended Arab land most successfully was Jordan's Arab Legion. With some help from Hashemite Iraq, the Legion succeeded in preserving for the Arabs a major part of their land-the territory subsequently known as the West Bank-along with the Old City of Jerusalem, which the Jews were unable to seize. From the beginning, Jordan's army faced an uphill battle against Jewish forces which were far superior in number and armament. In addition, the Jordanians had no reserve forces and were hampered by a UN arms embargo which left them perpetually short of ammunition. The relative success enjoyed by the Jordanian forces in the face of overwhelming odds is a tribute to the heroism, discipline and leadership of the Arab Legion.
The Defense of Jerusalem
The heroism and comparative effectiveness displayed by Jordan's army during its defense of Palestine are widely acknowledged. In particular, the Battle of Jerusalem exemplified the high professional standards of Jordan's Arab Legion. Known in Arabic as al-Quds al-Sharif, Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims, as it is considered to be the third holiest city in Islam. Along with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem holds a special place in the heart of the Islamic world. The Dome of the Rock was built on the spot from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on his famous night journey, and Muslims originally faced Jerusalem in prayer (today they turn to Mecca). Christians also hold Jerusalem sacred as the crucifixion site of Jesus Christ. Arab Christians and Muslims fought together in the defense of Jerusalem against the Zionist invasion.
The Battle of Jerusalem can be broken into four distinct phases. The first stage was one of street skirmishes between Arabs and Jews. It started in December 1947 and ended with the commencement of war in May 1948. The UN partition resolution prompted this phase of hostilities, which was characterized by frequent rioting and local skirmishes. The second phase began when Jewish militias invaded the Old City in April 1948 and lasted until the entry of the Arab Legion into Jerusalem on May 18. A cease-fire took effect between Arabs and Jews on May 2, and was supposed to remain in force until the evacuation of the British. On May 7, the same truce was elaborated on to include the removal of Jewish troops, who by then occupied the Arab sector of the city. The Jewish militias did not adhere to the truce, and consequently controlled much of Jerusalem when the British mandate expired on May 15. This was a blatant violation of the partition plan, which designated Jerusalem as the center of a special United Nations zone.
Despite the enormous military challenge such an operation presented, King Abdullah insisted on sending the Arab Legion to defend Jerusalem. When the Arab Legion entered the Old City on May 18, 1948, commencing the third phase of the Battle of Jerusalem, the Israelis were already firmly entrenched. Indeed, in previous days they had been attacking pockets of Arab resistance in an attempt to complete their seizure of Jerusalem. Fierce fighting ensued when the Hashemite forces entered the city, yet the well-trained Arab Legion managed to gain the upper hand quickly. After ten days of heavy fighting, the Jordanians routed Jewish forces from the Old City.
Jordanian forces also took a strong position at Latrun, cutting the primary road which connected Jerusalem with Jaffa and Tel Aviv. During the Battle of Latrun, an Israeli force of 6500 men was unable to break through a Jordanian force of only 1200 defending western access to the city. The Israelis, however, managed to build and defend a secondary road (the Burma Road) to the city, thereby securing West Jerusalem. On June 11, a truce was agreed, and hostilities ceased for almost a month. A stalemate had been reached, with the Jews controlling West Jerusalem and the Arab Legion defending the Old City and the adjacent Arab quarters in East Jerusalem.
In early July, the Israelis launched a determined offensive to capture East Jerusalem, yet they were unable to penetrate the stubborn defenses of the Arab Legion. The United Nations imposed a second cease-fire on July 19, 1948. The Hashemite forces had successfully defended the holy sites from the Israelis. While fighting fierce battles to safeguard the city, the Jordanian army made every effort to prevent damage to the holy places, thereby preserving them for future generations. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War came to an end in mid-1949, as a series of armistice agreements were signed between the Arab parties and Israel at Rhodes. Jordan did not participate in the Rhodes Conference, but concluded its armistice with Israel directly on the ground.
Unification of the Two Banks
As a result of the war, many Palestinian Arabs from the Jordanian-controlled areas found that union with Jordan was of vital importance to the preservation of Arab control over the "West Bank" territories which had not fallen to the Israelis. Consequently, in December 1948, a group of Palestinian leaders and notables from the West Bank convened a historic conference in Jericho, where they called for King Abdullah to take immediate steps to unite the two banks of the Jordan into a single state under his leadership.
On April 11, 1950, elections were held for a new Jordanian parliament in which the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank were equally represented. Thirteen days later, Parliament unanimously approved a motion to unite the two banks of the Jordan River, constitutionally expanding the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in order to safeguard what was left of the Arab territory of Palestine from further Zionist expansion.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan now included nearly one and a half million people, more than half a million of whom were refugees evicted from Jewish-occupied Palestine. All automatically became citizens of Jordan, a right that had first been offered in December 1949 to all Palestinians who wished to claim it. Although the Arab League opposed this plan, and no other Arab government followed Jordan's lead, the Hashemite Kingdom offered the possibility of normal life for many people who would have otherwise remained stateless refugees.
Jordan during the 50s
The 1950s were a period of tumultuous political upheaval throughout the Arab world. Much of this turbulence was attributed to popular dissatisfaction caused by the creation of the state of Israel and the loss of Palestine in 1948-49. Colonial powers also continued to exert their influence over the Arab nation, a condition which prompted seething resentment among the masses. Popular discontent led to a sharp growth in support for several radical pan-Arab ideologies.
The Ba'th (Renaissance) Party originated in Syria in the late 1940s under the leadership of two Damascus schoolteachers, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar. It championed the immediate political unity of all Arab states under the slogan of "Unity, Freedom, and Socialism." While gaining a degree of popular support throughout the Mashriq (eastern) region, it eventually gained power in Syria and Iraq through military coups. Feuding branches of this pan-Arabist party remain in power today in Syria and Iraq until end of Saddam rule.
One of the key players in the Arab political arena during the 1950s and 1960s was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Coming to power in 1954 after participating in the 1952 Free Officers' coup which overthrew King Farouk, Nasser possessed charisma and oratory skills which enabled him to rally the Arab masses. Nasser's brand of pan-Arabism, broadcast via radio throughout the Arab world, especially appealed to the displaced Palestinians. With his popularity boosted enormously after the Suez Crisis of 1956, when he successfully stood up against the combined front of Britain, France and Israel, Nasser appeared to be the new Salah Eddin who would unify the Arabs and reconquer Palestine.
The vocabulary of pan-Arabism was always more appealing in the actions it lead to. Nasser, the Ba'th and others continually tried to outbid each other for leadership of the pan-Arab movement. Instead of fostering unity among Arabs, the rivalry fostered by the radicals led to deep divisions between Arab states. Eventually in 1967 it led to another crippling setback in the struggle against Zionism.
While Nasser, the Ba'th and radical pan-Arabists frequently proposed unity agreements only to see them dissolve in mutual recrimination, King Hussein steadfastly pursued his own ideal of Arab nationalism. As he saw it, pan-Arabism could only succeed in promoting unity among the Arabs if it respected the special character of the different Arab countries and regimes, without trespassing on their individual national sovereignties.
Essentially, the "unity" proposals of Nasser and the Ba'thists consisted of one state seeking to impose its domination over another. The short-lived United Arab Republic, consisting of Egypt and Syria, lasted from 1958-61 and demonstrated the shortcomings of the radical unity plans. While popular in the "street," this risky approach maximized rivalry among Arab states at a time when unity of purpose was needed more than ever before. With time, King Hussein's visionary pan-Arab statesmanship became evident, and the radicals were discredited in the eyes of the Arab people.
Three days after his coronation in May 1953, King Hussein called upon newly-appointed Prime Minister Fowzi al-Mulqi to introduce a series of liberal reforms, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, a sense of civic responsibility had not yet permeated the Jordanian populace as a whole. Radical groups exploited the reforms and relentlessly attacked the regime, thus undermining the stability and integrity of Jordan. Sometimes they even cynically initiated riots in order to provoke reprisals. Nasser's propaganda broadcasts, in particular, incited massive riots which undermined domestic order.
Throughout the course of his long and fruitful reign, King Hussein tried to govern according to the precepts and ideals of democratic liberalism, while at the same time maintaining the necessary prerequisite of public order. This balancing act was not always easy. For example, in 1956, completely free parliamentary elections were held, and radical groups including communists and Ba'thists dominated the new cabinet.
In another important development, King Hussein dismissed the British commanders of the Arab Legion in 1956, and terminated the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty in March of 1957. However, he thought that his government's leftward drift would eventually lead to a communist infiltration of the Arab world, and consequently he resisted the trend. A number of riots, and an externally-inspired coup attempt which was personally thwarted by King Hussein, forced him to impose martial law in the spring of 1957.
These disruptions to Jordan's stability were followed by a succession of internal upheavals which culminated in perhaps the most serious threat to King Hussein's early reign-the crisis of July 1958. Five months after the formation of the Arab Federation, a federal union between Jordan and Iraq, a bloody military coup in Iraq by pro-Nasserist officers led by Colonel Abdel Karim Qassem shattered the Arab Federation and left Jordan isolated.
With a deft hand characteristic of his leadership, King Hussein was able to haul Jordan out of this state of siege. While ma