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Atlas of Jordan

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Myriam Ababsa

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

Ayyubid and Mamluk Jordan

Bethany Walker

Texte intégral

1The organization of Ayyubid (1188-1263) and Mamluk (1263-1516) governance in the territory that became modern Jordan grew out of the administrative and defensive structures developed under Frankish rule. Two of the Crusader castles of Outre-Jourdain (in today’s Kerak and Shawbak) continued to function as important military bases and administrative centres.

2Much of the economic and administrative restructuring of the region under Salah al-Din’s descendants, upon the return of Kerak to Muslim hands in 584/1188, centred on security, specifically defined in terms of safe transportation for pilgrims and merchants. The task of administration was initially shared by Cairo and Damascus, with a border between their spheres located around the Wadi al-Zarqa’. The Ayyubids of Kerak eased caravan travel by digging wells and cisterns. Seasonal markets serving the needs of pilgrims then emerged in Jordanian towns and villages located on the pilgrimage route (the old King’s Highway), providing food, water, housing, fodder, animal transport, and supplies of various kinds. Zarqa, Ziziya, Lejjun, and Aqabat-Aila were important stops for pilgrims in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Ajlun (fortified between 1188 and 1192), Azraq (in 1236-7), Salt (in 1220), Zarqa, Shawbak and Kerak (the latter two renovated by the Ayyubids) were defensive posts (fig. IV.11).

Figure IV.11 — Jordan under the Mamluks with main post road.

Figure IV.11 — Jordan under the Mamluks with main post road.

3The Mamluk Sultanate, a dynasty of former military slaves based in Cairo, had acquired Jordan piecemeal through conquest of the Ayyubid states by 1263. The following forty years were devoted to securing the region through repairs to castles, levelling of roads, the organization of an extensive communications network, and renovation and construction of Muslim shrines (mostly in the Jordan Valley). The region was divided administratively between two provinces: the Province of Kerak (roughly from the Wadi Mujib south to Aqaba) and the Province of Damascus (the southernmost portion of which constituted the region between the Yarmouk River and the Wadi Mujib). Imperial investment in Jordan was initially driven by security concerns, primarily to protect the Mamluks’ eastern frontier against Mongol attack.

4The thirteenth-century obsession with defence shifted during the following century to imperial projects aimed at developing a ‘colonial economy’ in the region through ‘urban’ and agricultural development. The promotion of villages into administrative centres transformed them overnight into towns (madina), attracting settlement through economic opportunities and services. Towns such as Aqabat-Ayla, Shawbak, Kerak, Hisban, ‘Amman, Salt, Irbid, and Ajlun became settlement magnets, as villages, market centres (as second-tier settlements), and farmsteads emerged in the hundreds in their vicinity in the 14th century. With an eye on generating revenue, the state showed particular concern for agricultural staples, such as grains, olive oil, and sugar, and invested in processing, storage, and transport facilities. There was little non-agricultural production apart from animal husbandry (the region supplied the state with horses, camels, and sheep). Iron was mined and smelted in the hills of Ajlun, copper and perhaps also iron at Faynan in the Araba. There is little evidence that other natural resources, documented by medieval geographers and chroniclers, such as sulphur, alum, naptha, and rock salt found in and around the Dead Sea, contributed significantly to the revenues of the region.

5The stability and growth experienced in the early 14th century came to an end with the Black Death of the 1340s. The estimated demographic losses in Greater Syria (1/3-1/2 of the settled population), may have been much less in in the territory that became Jordan, which was less densely settled, had no true ‘cities’, and had relatively small garrisons. Nonetheless, it had a palpable impact on the region’s economy. The collapse of the sugar industry in Jordan was, in great part, the result of labour shortages and financial neglect of the local mills and water systems following the plague. The Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi (d. 845/1442) describes, furthermore, the widespread destruction of livestock, as the pestilence affected animals as extensively as humans.

6Exacerbating the problems that ensued from the Black Death, and a century of repeat epidemics, were years of drought, civil war, and the financial collapse of the Mamluk state. The immediate impact in the territory that became Jordan was the decline of village life in most regions, neglect of fields, and imperial disengagement from local infrastructure, defence, and public services. The abandonment of many villages in the central and southern plains and desert fringes by the 16th century, and their replacement with more ephemeral settlements located in the hills, near springs, and on the edges of plateaus, is one of the most important legacies of this rural decline.

Plate IV.3 — Hisban Tell and village.

Plate IV.3 — Hisban Tell and village.

B. Walker

Plate IV.4 — Malka caves.

Plate IV.4 — Malka caves.

B. Walker

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure IV.11 — Jordan under the Mamluks with main post road.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4998/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 240k
Titre Plate IV.3 — Hisban Tell and village.
Crédits B. Walker
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4998/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Plate IV.4 — Malka caves.
Crédits B. Walker
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/4998/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2013

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