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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States

 

Ammon (Canaan)

In the mid-third millennium BC, city states began to appear in Syria as people benefited from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. Within five hundred years, around 2000 BC, the same process was happening farther south and west, in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast. Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes occupied much of the area, creating a patchwork of city states of their own. The Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also occupied parts of this region, eventually founding their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

The people of Ammon were one of those Semitic Canaanite groups, known by the Old Testament as the 'children of Ammon'. Whether they were Israelite descendants in fact or not - via Lot, following his escape from the destruction of Sodom - they probably began as pastoral nomads in the same Trans-Jordanian highlands as the mysterious Shutu, and may have been part of the later habiru peoples.

Their kingdom was situated on the eastern side of the River Jordan, while its people were closely related to Israelites, Moabites, and Edomites. Although their western border was clearly defined after they lost the territory beyond it, first to an Amorite invader and then to the Israelites around 1200 BC, their eastern borders were never clearly defined, opening out as they did onto the Syrian Desert. The southern border was shared with Moab, while to the north it may have met the border of the city state of Geshur.

The kingdom's key city was Rabbah, or Rabbath Ammon, which survives today as Amman, capital of the kingdom of Jordan. A good source of wealth came from the fact that Ammon lay along the 'King's Highway', an important north-south trade route between Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia (using the Fertile Crescent to circle around the Syrian Desert).

Akkadian sources which date to the kingdom's earliest years of existence mention nomadic groups along the Trans-Jordanian highlands whom they term the Shutu. These people have been linked to the Moabites and Ammonites. The Ammonites were worshippers of Molech, an old Canaanite idol who was known as Melkarth, Baal-melech, Malcom, and other such names by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. He was related to Baal, a sun-god who was worshipped through the sacrifice of children. According to Unger's Bible Dictionary, Palestinian excavations have uncovered evidences of infant skeletons in burial places around heathen shrines. The Moabite god, Chemosh, may have been closely related to Molech, or was a substitute for him.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), from Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, A H Sayce, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran, 1992, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

c.1740 BC

Ben Ammi

Son of Lot, Abraham's nephew. First king of Ammon.

c.1740 BC

According to the Old Testament, the Ammonites are descended from Ben Ammi, an illegitimate son of Lot and a grandnephew of Abraham of the early Israelites.

The early close relations between Ammon and the kingdom of Moab are confirmed by their later history and both groups have to expel native groups to claim their land, the Emim in Moab and the Rephaim Zuzim in Ammon. These two groups may essentially be one and the same people.

Israelites
This slightly fanciful view of the migrating Israelites does show a surprisingly small number of participants (more are cropped off from the left, but even so their numbers are very finite), something which chimes with the 'ruling elite' theory of migration detailed in the introduction on the Israelites page

17th cent BC

An Egyptian execration text dated to the seventeenth century BC refers to an 'Ayyab' as king of the Shutu. The name is possibly a variant form of 'Job', with Jobab of Edom being a handy candidate. However, tentative identification of the mysterious Shutu has linked them with the Moabites and Ammonites to the north of Edom.

1453 BC

The Egyptians conquer Canaan and Syria and establish three provinces in their conquered territories which are named Amurru (in southern Syria), Upe (in the northern Levant), and Canaan (in the southern Levant). Each one is governed by an Egyptian official. Native dynasts are allowed to continue their rule over the small states, but it is not known whether Ammon is included, or indeed if it has a single head of state at this time.

1286/1258 BC

Ramses II of Egypt reaches a stalemate with the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh, after which the earliest known peace treaty is signed in 1258 BC. Ramses limits his control to southern Canaan (early Palestine), where he draws a firm and fortified boundary.

He is also known during his reign as the oppressor of the Israelites, possibly the unnamed pharaoh of the Old Testament, but whether the well-known story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt occurs at this point in time is still unproven and highly debatable.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 1550 BC
Small cities and minor states which had been founded by the Hittites littered the meeting point between Anatolia and Syria around 1500 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.1150 BC

After apparently being militarily dominant since their arrival half a century before, the Israelites suffer a reversal in fortunes when at least some of them are subdued by Moab, possibly with support provided by Ammon. More of their territory, in the south, is conquered by the Philistines who maintain vassal kings in Israel.

fl c.1115 BC

Sihon

Amorite ruler of parts of Moab and Ammon. Killed?

c.1115 BC

According to the Old Testament, Sihon, an Amorite, captures areas of Moab ('from Arnon even unto Jabbok and unto Jordan'), and forms his own kingdom around the city of Heshbon. He is referred to as a king of Ammon by the Israelites when they make contact and he refuses to allow them to return from Egypt to Canaan through his western territories.

In retaliation they attack and capture his walled towns, including Heshbon, wiping out his people. His land becomes part of Israel. This is a bone of contention with the Ammonites, who would rather have their territory returned to them. The upper waters of the Jabbok now form their western border.

Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers
Amorites, Semitic-speaking farmers from the south who integrated into Mesopotamia, and then Syria and Canaan

c.1050 BC

A weakened Egypt loses its remaining imperial possessions in Canaan. It may also be responsible for the rebuilding of the city at today's site of Tell Keisan (possibly the Achshaph of the Old Testament). At the same time, Ammon appears to gain a recognisable line of kings for the first time.

fl 1050s - 1000 BC

Nahash

Attacked Jabesh-Gilead. Expanded kingdom. Died naturally.

c.1000 BC

The Israelite king Saul defeats Nahash after the citizens of the frontier city of Jabesh-Gilead call for assistance against the Ammonite army. Nahash has conquered the tribal lands of Gad and Reuben, gouging out the right eye of every man he subjugates.

Around seven thousand men had escaped him by fleeing to Jabesh-Gilead, which is why he had besieged it. A small nation, the Ammonites are not strong enough to stand against the massed Israelites without support, which is usually received from Moab.

early 900s BC

Hanun ben Nahash

Son. Opposed Israel. Defeated and deposed.

c.980 BC

Ammon is conquered by Israel, despite assistance being supplied by the northern state of Aram Damascus. King David appoints Sobi as the new king to keep the peace, successfully, it seems, as relations visibly improve between the two states.

Damascus wall
This colour photochrome print shows a wall in Damascus' defences which is rumoured to be the one over which St Paul escaped in the first century AD

early/mid-900s BC

Sobi ben Nahash / Shobi

Brother? Vassal of Israel.

?

Vassal of Israel.

c.880 BC

Ammon regains its independence after a period of hostilities which is provoked by the kings of Samaria. It is possible that the state becomes a vassal of Damas for a time, but this is uncertain.

c. 870s - 860s BC

Ruhubi / Rehob

King? Possible founder of 'House of Rehob'.

fl 860s / 853 BC

Ba'asa (the Ammonite) / Baasha

Son. Ruler of Bit-Ruhubi (Ammon).

860s? BC

Asa of Judah and Ba'asa (Baasha) of Ammon maintain a near-lifelong feud. When Ba'asa pushes Samaria's frontier to within five miles of Jerusalem, Asa, just like his father before him when under pressure, calls on Damas for help. In this case it is Ben-Hadad who responds to Asa's offer of payment if Damas will break its treaty with Ammon.

853 BC

Ba'asa is a member of an alliance of states which also includes Arqa, Arvad, Byblos, Damas, Edom, Egypt, Hamath, Kedar, and Samaria. Together they fight Shalmaneser III of Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar which consists of the largest known number of combatants in a single battle to date, and is the first historical mention of the Arabs from the southern deserts.

Map of Canaan and Syria c.850 BC
When the Neo-Assyrian empire threatened the various city states of southern Syria and Canaan around 853 BC, they united to protect their joint territory - successfully it seems, at least for a time (click or tap on map to view full sized)

FeatureDespite claims to the contrary, the Assyrians are defeated, since they do not press on to their nearest target, Hamath, and do not resume their attacks on Hamath and Damas for about six years (see feature link).

c.740 BC

Ammon is made a vassal of Assyria. Subsequent Assyrian tribute lists show that Ammon is a poor country, contributing as it does tribute which is just one-fifth of the size of that from Judah. It remains a Vassal State for much of the remainder of its existence in the ancient world.

Vassal Kings of Ammon / Philadelphia (Phoenicia)

City states began to appear in Syria in the third millennium BC. By the start of the second millennium BC the same was happening in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast. Canaanite tribes created a patchwork of city states of their own, while the later-appearing Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also founded their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

The Semitic Ammonites were one of those Canaanite groups. They founded a small kingdom by the name of Ammon on the eastern side of the River Jordan, although this was soon compressed by other arrivals and states, mainly the Israelites. The east opened out onto the Syrian Desert, while the capital was at Rabbah. The southern border was shared with Moab, while to the north it may have met the border of the city state of Geshur.

In the first millennium BC a series of mighty empires controlled large swathes of the Near East, starting with the Assyrians in the eighth century BC. They were destroyed at the end of the seventh century, in part by the Babylonians who took over the western half of their empire. Then came the Persians and the Greeks, but the decline of the latter, largely due to never-ending in-fighting, fractured control of the Near East so that many former city states were able to reassert a degree of independence prior to the arrival of Roman control.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), from Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, A H Sayce, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran, 1992, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

743 - 740 BC

Tiglath-Pileser III besieges Arpad for three years as it is an ally of Urartu. Once captured, the city is destroyed and its inhabitants are massacred. Arpad is never repopulated.

Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria
Tiglath-Pileser III dominated the Levantine city states during the later years of the eighth century BC, terminating the kingdom of Samaria and, shown here, with his foot on the shoulder of Hanunu of the Philistine city of Gaza, a gesture of dominance in the face of Hanunu's crouched submission

The Urartuans also lose their domination of the northern part of Syria around this time, with the result that rulers of minor states there are forced back into Assyrian vassal status, such as Gamgum. Additionally, Ammon is made a vassal around this time and Tabal is attacked.

fl c.740 BC

Budili

Known only in Assyrian records. Ammonite name lost.

fl c.735 BC

Shanip / Sanipu / Ša-ni-pu

Assyrian vassal.

fl c.725? BC

Zacchur / ZKR

Son. Assyrian vassal. Name on inscription.

fl c.715? BC

Jeraheazar / YRH'ZR / Yəraḥʿāzār

Son. Assyrian vassal. Name on inscription.

fl before 701 BC

Pado'el / Pudu'ilu / Peduel

Assyrian vassal.

fl 680s BC

Kabus-Gabri

Named in source material.

ELSM?

Inscription. No other known records.

fl c.675 BC

Barak-el / Barachel

Name invokes the god El, as do many others in Ammon.

MNHRN?

Inscription. No other known records.

fl c.650 BC

Amminadab (I)

Assyrian vassal. Punished for rebelling.

fl c.620 BC

Hissal'el I ben Amminadab

Son. Name invokes the god El.

fl c.600 BC

Amminadab (II) ben Hissal'el

Son. Mentioned on an inscription.

c.590s - 585 BC

Baalis

Assisted in the fall of Judah. Became Babylonian vassal.

597 BC

For its continued support of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invades and occupies Judah (with the help of Ammon), showing no hesitation in stripping the city of its treasures. The Judeans are made vassals under Babylonia, and 10,000 subjects are shipped to Babylon, including the ruling elite.

Nebuchadnezzar II of Neo-Babylonia
Nabûkudurrius.ur, better known as Nebuchadnezzar II of Neo-Babylonia, gradually built up an empire which was based on seizing former Assyrian subject territories

Moab apparently takes advantage of Judah's fall, joining in the plunder and seizing some of its territory. Despite his part in the fall of Judah, Baalis of Ammon still receives Jews who flee Babylonian rule.

c.585 BC

Gedaliah ben Achikam, Babylonian governor of Judah, is killed by the remaining Judean populace during a rebellion which is instigated by Baalis of Ammon. In retribution, even more of the population is shipped to Babylon and Ammon is soon made a vassal state.

fl c.585 BC

Milcomur

Babylonian vassal.

fl c.580s BC

Tobiah (I)

Babylonian vassal.

c.539 BC

Babylonian resistance to Cyrus the Great of Persia, when he enters Babylonia from the east, is limited to just one major battle, near the confluence of the Diyala and Tigris rivers. On 12/13 October (sources vary), Babylon is occupied by Cyrus, who adopts an enlightened approach to his subjects.

However Babylonian subject cities are confirmed as vassals of Persia, either immediately or across the following year, which includes Ammon. There are few mentions of the city in this period.

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great freed the Indo-Iranian Parsua people from Median domination to establish a nation which is recognisable to this day, and an empire which provided the basis for the vast territories which were later ruled by Alexander the Great

fl c.520s BC

Tobiah (II)

Persian governor.

fl mid-400s BC

Tobiah (III)

Persian governor.

446 - 444 BC

Nehemiah, probably a native of the house of Judah itself, is appointed governor of Judah by Artaxerxes I of Persia. Despite interference from Ammon, he commands that Jerusalem be rebuild and restored. Tobiah attempts to slow this process by inciting the Ammonites to hinder Ezra's and Nehemiah's efforts.

The rebuilding process ends with the restoration of the city's walls in 444 BC. After Nehemiah's period of governorship is over he returns to Persia, but has to revisit Judea two years later to put right the abuses of power which have taken place in his absence (at least in part by Tobiah).

c.332 - 323 BC

In 334 BC Alexander of Macedon launches his campaign into the Persian empire by crossing the Dardanelles. Much of Anatolia falls by 333 BC and Alexander proceeds into Syria during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri, which also gains him Harran, Judah, and Phoenicia (principally Byblos and Sidon, with Tyre holding out until it can be taken by force). Athura, Gaza, and Egypt also capitulate (not without a struggle in Gaza's case). Ammon also becomes a Greek vassal.

Alexander the Great crosses the River Graneikos
Alexander the Great crossed the River Graneikos (or Granicus) in 334 BC to spark a direct face-off with the Persians which had been brewing for generations, and his victory in battle near the river sent shockwaves through the Persian empire

c.323 -200 BC

Alexander the Great's general, Seleucus, take control of the region. In 305 BC his domains become the Seleucid empire.

c.270 BC

The city Rabbath Ammon is renamed Philadelphia in honour of Ptolemy II of Egypt, possibly around this date which is when he takes the name himself. Another Tobiah seems to become governor from this point, but whether any of the Tobiahs are related is unknown.

fl c.270 BC

Tobiah (IV)

Egyptian governor of Philadelphia (Rabbath Ammon)?

fl c.200 BC

Tobiah (V)

Egyptian governor of Philadelphia (Rabbath Ammon).

200 - 195 BC

To achieve his part of a treaty with Philip V of Macedonia which is designed to carve up Egypt's colonial possessions, Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire invades Coele Syria. This triggers the Fifth Syrian War and sees Ptolemaic General Scopas defeated at Panion near the source of the River Jordan in 200 BC. This gains Antiochus control of Judah and Phoenicia (which includes the city of Miletus).

The campaign ends in a peace deal in 195 BC which gains for Antiochus permanent possession of southern Syria (which includes Idumaea), while Ammon takes advantage of the shift in power to declare its own independence.

167 - 164 BC

The remaining eastern provinces, all of which still appear to be in Seleucid hands until about 167 BC, must fall to the Parthians very quickly after this - including Carmania, Gedrosia, and Margiana - although firm evidence to show a specific date appears to be lacking.

Parthian Archers
Parthian mounted archers were better armed and more deadly in battle than the Persian empire which they largely absorbed

Another date which may be valid for these losses is 185 BC, when Seleucus IV loses eastern Iran to Parthian expansion, but the fact that the Parthians fail to expand out of their initial conquests until Mithradates accedes makes this period a more likely one.

The Seleucid focus is already occupied, however. While Antiochus has been campaigning in Egypt, former high priest Jason has conquered Jerusalem, other than the citadel, and has murdered many adherents of his rival, Menelaus.

Upon Antiochus' return in 167 BC he storms Jerusalem and enforces its Hellenisation. The city forfeits its privileges and is permanently garrisoned by Syrian soldiers. The Jews see this action as a defilement of Jerusalem. The Maccabaean revolt begins and a splinter state of Judea is formed by 164 BC, taking it out of Seleucid control.

164 - 162 BC

The reign of young Antiochus V is a busy one. Recognised by Rome in favour of his uncle, Demetrius, he and Lysias suffer the revolt of Timarchus, satrap of Media in 163 BC. They win a victory in the war against Judas Maccabeus at Beth-Zechariah in 162 BC, but then Antiochus' advisor, Philip, revolts in Antioch while a former Seleucid general, Timotheus, is also fighting against the Jews of Ammon and Gilead, seemingly as a (rebel?) governor of Philadelphia.

Ecbatana
Ecbatana was the capital of Media, a prized possession of the Seleucid empire and one which had to be regained upon the event of a revolt - this view shows the surviving ancient walls in modern Hamadan in Iran

A peace treaty is agreed with the Maccabaeans, giving them favourable terms because the Seleucid troops are needed in Antioch and Media.

However, the Roman senate demands the immediate disbanding of the Seleucid navy as its existence violates the Peace of Apamea of 188 BC. When the Roman ambassador to the Seleucid court, Octavius, is murdered by a mob, the senate blames Antiochus and several senators ensure that Demetrius is allowed to escape captivity. Antiochus and Lysias are overthrown and killed by Demetrius by the summer of 161 BC.

? - 160 BC

Timotheus

Former Seleucid general. Independent ruler. Died.

c.160 BC

Timotheus is defeated by the Maccabaean Jews and is driven off by Judas Maccabeus. Control of Ammon passes to the Maccabaeans as part of a newly independent Judea. Unfortunately records of the actions of Timotheus survive only in the Old Testament books of Maccabees, with no less-hostile interpretation of his deeds.

fl c.150 BC

Hyrcanis

Judean governor? Otherwise unknown.

120s - 110s BC

Zoilus Cotylas / Zenon Cotylas

Tyrant of Philadelphia.

c.110 - 85 BC

Philadelphia is a member of the Dekapolis. As its name suggests, this is a group of ten cities in the Levant. All of them have absorbed Greek culture and organisation which sits alongside native Jewish and Aramaean traditions.

Antakya Mosaic Museum
Although the mosaics exhibited today in the Antakya Mosaic Museum in Turkey generally date to the first to fifth centuries AD, Seleucid Antioch of the third to first centuries BC would have been just as grand a city

late 100s - 90s? BC

Theodoros

Son. Tyrant of Philadelphia.

87 - 63 BC

The Seleucid King Antiochus XII attacks the Nabataeans, intent on recapturing lost territory from them, but although he kills their king, the Nabataeans resist his advance. To make it worse, their new king strikes back and takes southern Syria and Ammon. Ammon remains a Nabataean territory until 63 BC.

64 - 63 BC

The region is conquered by Pompey of Rome and becomes a province. Ammonites are still numerous in the south of Judea into the second century AD. Any remaining identity after that is swept away by the seventh century AD Islamic invasion and the creation of a region known as Jund Filastin.

 
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