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Atlas of Jordan

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Myriam Ababsa

Chapter three - The Time of Two Great Cities: Petra and Jerash (323 BC - 629 AD)

The Byzantine Age

Anne Michel

Testo integrale

1During the last centuries of antiquity, the territory of present-day Jordan inherited civil administrative subdivisions introduced in Roman times. These were based on cities including the surrounding rural area, grouped in provinces, which were attached to a diocese. The religious institutions that were set up following the increase in conversions to Christianity followed this same organization; most cities became bishoprics, led by bishops under the authority of the metropolitan bishop of the provincial capital. The provinces were grouped under the authority of patriarchs. The territory of today’s Jordan is essentially the province of Arabia (from the Syrian-Jordanian border to Wadi Mujib), whose metropolitan headquarters were established in Bostra and which depended on the Patriarchate of Antioch. The rest was divided between the provinces of Palestine II (around the Lake of Galilee and the mountains of Ajlun), Palestine I (the eastern fringe of the Jordan Valley) and Palestine III (from Wadi Mujib to the Red Sea) attached to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (fig. III.17).

2As in Roman times, the main traffic arteries grew along a north-south route parallel to the Jordan Valley and the Wadi Araba depression, marked by the Traiana via nova built during the reign of Trajan between Bostra and Aila. The economy remained essentially based on the traditional cultivation of vines and olive trees, to which many presses bear witness. In addition, there was the mining of copper ore in the mines of Phaeno (Faynan).

Figure III.17 — Jordan under the Byzantins.

Figure III.17 — Jordan under the Byzantins.

3In the cities, which remained the framework of reference, churches proliferated. The cities founded in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (Pella, Gerasa, Gadara, Madaba and Petra) rapidly gained many synaxarion, martyrion and funeral buildings in addition to cathedrals. The last centuries of antiquity also brought about the development of large rural market towns (such as Rihab) from old Roman castra (Khirbet al-Samra, Umm al-Jimal, Umm al-Rasas and Humayma) centred around the new religious buildings (plate III.15). Christianization then quickly spread out to villages and the countryside, where monasteries and pilgrimage shrines were also built (a shrine to Lot near Zoar, a shrine to Harun near Petra and a shrine to Moses on Mount Nebo).

Plate III.15 — Umm al-Rasas Church with Lions Mosaique.

Plate III.15 — Umm al-Rasas Church with Lions Mosaique.

4The architecture of churches mainly followed the basilica model with three naves, sometimes preceded by a courtyard with porticoes and completed with an apse placed between two small rooms, one of which was often used as a sacristy. Many had lavishly decorated mosaic floors and bore dated dedicatory inscriptions, which give exceptional indications of chronology.

5The number of churches peaked in the late sixth century (over 200 have been identified) and remained fairly stable until the mid-seventh century. The arrival of Muslim armies in 636 and the gradual establishment of a new administration did not cause a sudden break. Although the building of churches was very rare after 636, for a long time many of them were maintained and repaired, and new mosaic floors were sometimes laid. Their abandonment was progressive from the Umayyad era until the ninth century, following the development of a new civilization based on Islam.

6The Church of Lions at Umm al-Rasas is representative of the 6th century churches in the provinces of Arabia and Palestine. There is a large rectangular hall divided into three naves by a series of pillars which support arcades (shown here on the ground to the left of the image) and which end with one or several apses. The floor is often decorated with mosaic depicting geometric patterns, hunting scenes, seascapes or pastoral scenes. The chancel reserved for the clergy, extends at the end of the central nave; it is bounded by a stone wall (missing here) and has seats for the clergy (absent here), offering tables or lecterns and sometimes a small adjoining pulpit (here on the right before the choir).

Indice delle illustrazioni

Titolo Figure III.17 — Jordan under the Byzantins.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4904/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 208k
Titolo Plate III.15 — Umm al-Rasas Church with Lions Mosaique.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4904/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 55k

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