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Atlas of Jordan

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Myriam Ababsa

Chapter two - From the First Men’s Steps to the Hellenistic Age (-1.5 mya – 323 BC)

The Iron Age and the Persian Period (1200-332 BC)

Aurelie Jouvenel

Texte intégral

1The Iron Age began with political upheaval in the Near East. The Hittite empire to the north (Anatolia) and the Egyptian empire to the south, which both dominated the Levantine coast in the Late Bronze Age, lost their hegemony and withdrew from the region. People arrived by sea along the coast from Syria to Egypt. They are grouped together under the generic term “Sea Peoples” which includes the Philistines. Their arrival on the Palestinian coast in 1175 BC marked the beginning of the Iron Age in the southern Levant.

Figure II.18 — Typology of the main archaeological sites of Iron Age and Persian period.

Figure II.18 — Typology of the main archaeological sites of Iron Age and Persian period.

A. Jouvenel

Figure II.19 — Size of the main archaeological sites of Iron Age and Persian period (Jouvenel).

Figure II.19 — Size of the main archaeological sites of Iron Age and Persian period (Jouvenel).

A. Jouvenel

  • * Annals: Written in the first person, that of the king, this literary form is exclusive to Assyria. (...)
  • * Chronicles: these present royal heroic deeds listed for each year of reign.
  • * Slag: waste discharged by metallurgical processes.

2From 1000 BC, new entities formed and split the country up into small states which included the Aramean and Phoenician kingdoms, and Israel and Judah in Palestine. In present-day Jordan, the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom shared territories roughly demarcated by the main rivers (Wadi Mujib and Wadi al-Hasa) (fig. II.18). Their borders altered depending on conquests. There is little archaeological evidence to trace the history of the Transjordanian kingdoms. The main written source is the Bible. Non-biblical sources, which only cover from the Second Iron Age are Assyrian annals* and Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian chronicles* which rarely mention Transjordan. Rare local inscriptions supplement the corpus. Kingdoms seem to have been formed gradually, by federating tribes which occupied the territory. The distribution of sedentary habitats followed that of arable land, gradually progressing from north to south. Thus, villages dating from this early period have been found in Ammon and on the central plateau of Moab. Material culture (ceramic and stone) was a continuation of that of the Late Bronze Age, from which it is sometimes difficult to distinguish. Edom had no significant sedentary occupation, however, the copper mines in Khirbet al-Nahas and Wadi Faynan were exploited on a massive scale at that time judging from the size of slag heaps* discovered (fig. II.19).

Plate II.18  —  Busayrah.

Plate II.18  —  Busayrah.

A. Jouvenel

3There is evidence of conflicts between these kingdoms during Iron Age II, especially with their neighbour, Israel. The stele of Mesha is an exceptional testimony of this (plate II.19). At that time, traces of a State with an administrative centre in Buseira appeared in the south (plate II.18). The towns of Tawilan and Umm al-Biyara developed in the eighth to seventh century BC, when the Jordanian kingdoms were under Assyrian supervision and were dependent on it. No trading posts or Assyrian administrative centres have been discovered in Jordan, indicating a lack of direct control. The kingdoms benefitted from increased trade between Arabia and Syria during the Pax Assyriaca (700-652 BC), including the incense trade. At that time, southern Jordan was part of an economic and cultural sphere relay network to Arabia. The exact trade routes are difficult to make out but it is possible to distinguish a north-south route, better known as the “kings’ highway” as mentioned in the Bible. According to archaeological material, particularly ceramics, trade also flourished with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Discovered in Dhiban in 1868, the Mesha Stele tells how Mesha, King of Moab, took back his cities of Atarot and Nebo from Israel. The text thanks King Kamosh for his help in the victory. It dates back to 830 BC.

Plate II.19 — Mesha Stone (Louvre, Paris).

Plate II.19 — Mesha Stone (Louvre, Paris).

A. Jouvenel

4In 627 BC, the Assyrian emperor Ashurbanipal was overthrown in Mesopotamia by the Babylonian king Nabopolassar, who rapidly conquered the rest of the Empire, including Transjordan. The history of the three kingdoms grew apart during the sixth century. While in 596 BC, under Nebuchadnezzar II, the armies of Ammon and Moab joined with Edom and rallied to the Babylonians during the conflict with Judah and the capture of Jerusalem, in 587 BC the two northern kingdoms rebelled. In 582 BC, the Babylonian army put an end to the revolts and transformed Ammon and Moab into provinces. Edom, which had remained faithful to the power of Babylon, retained its sovereignty and extended its territory to the Negev, but was soon made part of the province of Arabia by the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus (555-539 BC), who crossed Transjordan to go to Tayma, in the Hijaz, where he stayed for nine years. In 539 BC the Persian ruler Cyrus entered Babylon and put an end to the neo-Babylonian empire. This event brought the Iron Age to a close.

5Under Persian supervision (539-333 BC), Edom, or Idumea, as it was then called, retained a certain degree of autonomy, but came under the authority of a governor who ruled over all of Transjordan and Palestine. Dating material to this period is problematic, for archaeological as well as epigraphic material, because the transition is not marked with the previous period. A. Lemaire noted, however, that Aramaic became the dominant written language to the detriment of local Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite languages (Lemaire). After the conquest of the Phoenicia in 333 BC, the capture of Babylon by Alexander the Great in 332 BC marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period.

Edomite pottery, late Iron II, Busayra

Edomite pottery, late Iron II, Busayra

A. Jouvenel after Bienkowski and van der Steen, 2001

Notes

* Annals: Written in the first person, that of the king, this literary form is exclusive to Assyria. It recounts the victorious royal campaigns. They were regularly rewritten as new conquests were achieved.

* Chronicles: these present royal heroic deeds listed for each year of reign.

* Slag: waste discharged by metallurgical processes.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure II.18 — Typology of the main archaeological sites of Iron Age and Persian period.
Crédits A. Jouvenel
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5075/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 172k
Titre Figure II.19 — Size of the main archaeological sites of Iron Age and Persian period (Jouvenel).
Crédits A. Jouvenel
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5075/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k
Titre Plate II.18  —  Busayrah.
Crédits A. Jouvenel
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5075/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Titre Plate II.19 — Mesha Stone (Louvre, Paris).
Crédits A. Jouvenel
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5075/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Edomite pottery, late Iron II, Busayra
Crédits A. Jouvenel after Bienkowski and van der Steen, 2001
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/5075/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 31k

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