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Atlas of Jordan

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Myriam Ababsa

Chapter four - Islamic and Ottoman Times (629 AD - 1918)

The Battle of Mu’ta

Ghada Khazna Katbi, Denis Genequand, Alastair Northedge et Claude Vibert-Guigue

Texte intégral

1Mu’ta is situated 11 km to the south of al‑Kerak (longitude λ=35.68, latitude Ф= 31.20) at an elevation of about 1100 m asl.

2Mu’ta witnessed the confrontation of the first well-organized Muslim forces against the Byzantine army and its allied tribes.

3Islamic historical sources mention this battle under four different terms: Sariyya (brigade or company), which is a division of an army; ba’th (an army); ghazwa (invasion, incursion). The writers of the Sira (biography of Prophet Muhammad) refer to the battles where the prophet was present as Ghazwa, otherwise it is Sariyya or ba’th. However, the accepted name is Ma’rakat Mu’ta (Battle of Mu’ta).

4Motives for the Battle:

  • § To punish the Arab tribes (of Quda’a and Kalb) on the boundaries of Bilad al-Sham (Greater Syria). Those tribes used to intercept the Muslim commercial caravans.

  • § To establish Islamic state sovereignty outside the Arab peninsula, protect the state borders from the tribes’ invasions, and to make these tribes aware of the power of the young Muslim state.

  • § To explore the capacity and competence of the bordering tribes in al-Sham, to know Byzantine fighting techniques, and to be acquainted with the local topography.

  • § Mu’ta was the starting point for the later conquering of the lands of al-Sham. It taught Muslims important battle lessons that served as a strategic preparatory step for engaging in organized war, which the Madina fought afterwards.

  • § The battle of Mu’ta can be considered successful by strategic and planning standards (although the Muslim army was obliged to withdraw). Preparations for the later conquering of the Byzantines were made by sending saraya (brigades) and Bu’uth (armies) to discover the Byzantine military styles and fighting techniques. Moreover, the dispatching of several brigades and armies towards the borders of al-Sham indicated the Prophet’s intentions, which were materialized by the Muslim armies in their great conquests later on.

Pélerins en route pour La Mecque (al-Hariri, al-Maqamat, Bagdad, 1237. BnF, Ms Arabe 5847, fol. 94v).

Pélerins en route pour La Mecque (al-Hariri, al-Maqamat, Bagdad, 1237. BnF, Ms Arabe 5847, fol. 94v).

Desert Castles under the Umayyads | Denis Genequand

5In his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad tried to rally to Islam the main Arab tribes of North-Eastern Arabia and the Near East, but had little success. In AH 8/AD 629, a raid led by Muslim forces reached Mu’ta, in central Jordan. The conquest of Bilad al-Sham was initiated under Abu Bakr, his first successor, and completed during the reign of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab.

6Three phases of conquest can be distinguished. A first phase, between 12/633 and 13/634, saw incursions in rural areas of Bilad al-Sham, mostly devoted to rallying Arabic speaking tribal groups. The second phase, from 13/634 to 15/636, was the real military conquest, during which most towns of south and central Bilad al-Sham were taken. The arrival of more Byzantine troops led to some major battles won by the Islamic armies, amongst which Fahl (Pella) (AH 13/AD 635) and Yarmuk (AH 15 or 16/AD 636 or 637) in the territory of modern Jordan; these definitely marked the end of the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire.

7The third phase, between 16/637 and 27/647-648, was one of consolidation and also involved the conquest of Northern Syria, the Mediterranean coast, as well as some important cities like Jerusalem (fig. IV.1).

8After the conquest, the whole Near East became one province divided into five military districts. North-East Jordan belonged to the jund of ‘Urdunn (capital Tabariyya/Tiberias), while the rest of the Jordanian plateau, down to Aqaba, was part of the jund of Damascus.

9In AH 41/AD 661, taking advantage of his position as governor of Syria, Mu‘awiyya b. Abi Sufyan, descendant of a cousin of the Prophet, succeeded in his claim to the Caliphate and moved the capital from Medina to Damascus. He is the founder of the Umayyad dynasty and made the Syrian province the centre of a rapidly growing Empire.

10The Islamic conquest of Bilad al-Sham did not involved massive migrations of tribes from the Arabian Peninsula. In the Umayyad period, the vast majority of inhabitants in cities and villages remained Christians. Nevertheless, some of the tribes present before the conquest converted quite rapidly to Islam and became the main supporters of the Umayyad caliphate. The Umayyad caliphs and princes did not stay long in their capital city of Damascus; their conception of power was based on mobility and regionalization, involving a strong presence in the different sub-provinces (ajnad) and in the countryside.

11Some cities, like Jerash, witnessed urban changes reflecting the new religion (construction of a congregational mosque in the city centre) and economic or commercial development likely to have been undertaken with caliphal sponsorship (a market area adjoining the mosque). These were incorporated into the general frame of the still inhabited late Antique city. New urban settlements with an administrative role were also created in Amman and Aqaba.

12In the countryside, especially in the steppe lands, the Umayyad period witnessed the construction of a number of wealthy residences usually known as the “desert castles”; eighteen of them are known in Jordan and some were real palaces. Most of them were part of much larger settlements comprising also mosques, baths, hydraulic and agricultural features, houses or even villages. They were built by the caliphs themselves or by their entourage. One should understand them as having first of all a political function, as monuments intended to affirm the new power and religion, as settlements showing the appropriation of Bilad al-Sham by the new ruling elite and as places allowing the interaction between the caliphate and the local aristocracies. They were also a form of investment in real-estate property and a number of them, including agricultural production units, had an economic role. The “desert castles” represent the major cultural heritage of the Umayyad period in Jordan.

13The main road crossed Jordan from North to South, linking Damascus to Amman and then Aqaba, along the fringe of the desert. It also became the road used for the pilgrimage to Mecca. Another road linked ‘Amman to the centre of the Arabian Peninsula, through the oasis of Azraq and the Wadi Sirhan (fig. IV.2).

Figure IV.2 — Military Districts and Desert Castles in Umayyad Jordan.

Figure IV.2 — Military Districts and Desert Castles in Umayyad Jordan.

Amman’s Umayyad Citadel | Alastair Northedge

14Under the Umayyads, Amman was for the first time effectively capital of Jordan, then the land of al-Balqa, and benefitted more from Umayyad development than any other city in Jordan.

15A fine mosque was built next to the Roman Nymphaeum, in the middle of the suqs, and a new fortress built for the governor on the Citadel Hill (fig. IV.6).

Figure IV.6 — Sketch of the north wall ot the Umayyad Congregationnal Mosque.

Figure IV.6 — Sketch of the north wall ot the Umayyad Congregationnal Mosque.

A. Northedge, CBRL 1992

16The Citadel Hill (Jabal al-Qal‛a), is the site of ancient Rabbath Ammon, and the acropolis of Roman Philadelphia, with its two temples. Around 735 AD, the site was remodelled as a fortified princely residence which recalls the Round City of al-Mansūr in Baghdad (762-6 AD).

17The palace (126 x 126 m) is dominated by its square audience hall with a cruciform interior. This is built in oriental style, with facades imitating the 6th century Taq-i Kisra at Ctesiphon (al-Madā’in). Behind, a street and grid of apartments stretches out to a second reception building, with an iwan and dome chamber (fig. IV.3 and IV.4).

Figure IV.3 — Amman Citadel reconstitution.

Figure IV.3 — Amman Citadel reconstitution.

A. Northedge, CBRL 1992

Figure IV.4 — Amman Citadel reconstitution.

Figure IV.4 — Amman Citadel reconstitution.

A. Northedge, CBRL 1992

18In front of the palace lies an open square with market shops, facing a mosque which was poorly preserved. Around it were small houses intended for soldiers of the garrison, and a circular cistern (fig. IV.5). The fortifications follow the early Islamic tradition of towers on the corners of the walls, but they are square, unlike the round towers of the desert castles.

19Fifteen years later, the complex was destroyed by the great earthquake of 748-9 AD. Collapsed houses have revealed many details of early Muslim life. But the complex was slowly rebuilt and survived into medieval times.

Figure IV.5 — Amman Citadel general map.

Figure IV.5 — Amman Citadel general map.

A. Northedge, CBRL 1992

The Umayyad Baths of Qusayr ‘Amra | Claude Vibert-Guigue

20Qusayr ‘Amra consists of Umayyad baths amongst various hydraulic structures aligned along Wadi Butum, 80 km east of Amman. Discovered in the nineteenth century, its architectural preservation is exceptional (plate IV.1). Under the vaulted ceilings, visitors can admire a vast panorama of figural polychrome murals of Greek and Oriental inspiration (fig. IV.5). A large hall (majlis) is decorated with various scenes; hunting (riders chase wild asses and a pack of hounds chases cattle), dance, music and even craftsmen at work. Pictures depict a more historical context; the most famous shows six kings named in Greek and Arabic, symbolically brought together by the ruler; a prince who wanted to join the great of this world (the Byzantine emperor, the Persian king, the last Visigoth king of Spain, etc.) (fig. IV.7). A recess is dedicated to the prince who is represented on a throne and surrounded by courtiers in the arcades. In the baths, bathers admired mythological scenes that evoke the pleasure of baths and the arts. Foliated scrolls, trees, floral patterns and an assortment of animals accompany these scenes. A starry sky is painted inside the dome of the caldarium. Stucco and wall mosaics (made of gilded fired glass) completed the decoration of this very hot room. Bathers left it by returning to the cooler great entrance hall. Antique bath therapy, accompanied by beautiful colourful paintings, was lavishly reconstructed according to the tastes of an Umayyad aristocracy attracted by the badiya.

Plate IV.1 — Qusayr Amra general view.

Plate IV.1 — Qusayr Amra general view.

C. Vibert-Guigue

Figure IV.7 — Qusayr Amra fresco, drawing.

Figure IV.7 — Qusayr Amra fresco, drawing.

C. Vibert-Guigue

21Listed as a World Heritage site by Unesco, the monument is open to visitors and is the subject of constant care from the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. In the 1970s, it was repaired and the paintings were restored by a Spanish team. Two decades later, a Franco-Jordanian project made a full copy of the paintings and a partial renovation of the sâqiya.

Table des illustrations

Titre Pélerins en route pour La Mecque (al-Hariri, al-Maqamat, Bagdad, 1237. BnF, Ms Arabe 5847, fol. 94v).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Figure IV.2 — Military Districts and Desert Castles in Umayyad Jordan.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 188k
Titre Figure IV.6 — Sketch of the north wall ot the Umayyad Congregationnal Mosque.
Crédits A. Northedge, CBRL 1992
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Titre Figure IV.3 — Amman Citadel reconstitution.
Crédits A. Northedge, CBRL 1992
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Figure IV.4 — Amman Citadel reconstitution.
Crédits A. Northedge, CBRL 1992
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Figure IV.5 — Amman Citadel general map.
Crédits A. Northedge, CBRL 1992
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 184k
Titre Plate IV.1 — Qusayr Amra general view.
Crédits C. Vibert-Guigue
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Figure IV.7 — Qusayr Amra fresco, drawing.
Crédits C. Vibert-Guigue
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4909/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 7,8M

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