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Jordan

History

Jordan is a young state with a long history. Born out of the ruins of WWII, the modern state and its territory east of the Jordan River can claim to have hosted some of the oldest civilisations in the world. The region has always sat at the fringes rather than the centre of empires but its strategic position ensured that all the great early civilisations passed through. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks and Crusaders all traded, built cities and fought their wars here, leaving behind rich cultural influences.

Ancient history

Evidence of human habitation in the area dates back about 500, 000 years, when the climate of the Middle East was considerably milder and wetter than today. Archaeological finds from Jericho (on the other side of the Jordan River, in the Palestinian Territories) and Al-Beidha (near Petra) date from around 9000 BC and can rank among the world's first cities, whose inhabitants lived in circular houses, bred domestic animals, made pottery, practised a form of ancestor worship and used sophisticated agricultural methods.

The innovation of copper smelting during the Chalcolithic (copper) Age (4500-3000 BC) was a major technological advance for the region. Remains from the world's earliest and largest copper mines can be found at Khirbet Feinan in Jordan's Dana Nature Reserve. Sheep and goat herding produced milk and wool for the first time and crops such as olives, wheat and barley were introduced, creating a split in lifestyle between the nomad and the farmer, the 'desert and the sown', that would endure for millennia.

During the Bronze Age, crafts such as pottery and jewellery-making came under the dominant cultural influence of Egypt. Permanent settlements were established in modern-day Amman and in the southern desert regions. Foreigners introduced the idea of mixing copper and tin to create bronze, a hardier material that allowed the rapid development of tools and weapons.

The Early Bronze Age (3000-2100 BC) also saw the occupation of the Jordan Valley by the Canaanites, a Semitic tribe. Along with other tribes in the area, the Canaanites raised defensive walls against invaders, creating a string of emerging city states. Trade gradually developed with neighbouring powers in Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

The later decline of Egyptian influence (though artistic influence continued) around 1500-1200 BC created opportunities for nearby tribes, such as the Hebrew-speaking people who later became known as the Israelites. The innovation of the camel saddle in the middle of the first millennium BC gave a huge technological boost to the native peoples of the Arabian peninsula.

By the Iron Age (1200-330 BC) three kingdoms had emerged in Jordan: the Edomites in the south, with a capital at Bozrah (modern Buseira/Busayra, near Dana); the Moabites near Wadi Mujib; and the Ammonites on the edge of the Arabian Desert with a capital at Rabbath Ammon (present-day Amman). According to the Old Testament, this is the age of the Exodus, during which Moses and his brother, Aaron, led the Israelites through the wildernesses of Egypt and Jordan to the Promised Land. The Edomites barred the Israelites from southern Jordan but the Israelites managed to wind their way north, roughly along the route of the modern King's Highway, to arrive at the Jordan River. Moses died on Mt Nebo, in sight of the Promised Land, and it was left to Joshua to lead his people across the Jordan River onto the West Bank.

Several hundred years later came the rule of the great Israelite kings David and Solomon. Trade reached a peak during the golden age of King Solomon, with trade routes crossing the deserts from Arabia to the Euphrates, and huge shipments of African gold and South Arabian spices passed through the ports of Aqaba/Eilat. However, in about 850 BC the now-divided Israelite empire was defeated by Mesha, king of Moab, who recorded his victories on the famous Mesha Stele in the Moabite capital of Dhiban. In 586 BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and deported the exiled Israelites to Babylon.