In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Archaeology and Material Culture of Moab and the Moabites

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Syntheses
  • Epigraphic Evidence
  • Landscape Surveys
  • Iron Age I Period Settlements
  • Iron Age II and Iron Age III Period Settlements
  • Economy
  • Religion and Ritual
  • Mortuary Practices
  • Public Art and Architecture
  • Ceramic Vessels

Biblical Studies Archaeology and Material Culture of Moab and the Moabites
Benjamin Porter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0265


Moab was both a culture area and an Iron Age kingdom located in the west-central half of the modern Middle Eastern country of Jordan. Moab is mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Bible and was often in contact with its Israelite neighbors. Scholars have used the biblical text to reconstruct Moab’s history and society despite the original authors’ and editors’ skewed perspectives on the kingdom. Moab has been the subject of archaeological research since the latter third of the 19th century. Landscape surveys have identified many large and small settlements across the region while excavations at key settlements have documented public and private architecture, and recovered art and epigraphic evidence. This research has been reported over many decades in archaeological and landscape survey reports, and the evidence has been frequently summarized in scholarly syntheses. Moab’s development occurred in three phases. During the Iron I period, a collection of small settlements was founded at the end of the second millennium BCE. These semi-autonomous settlements organized their household and communal agro-pastoral subsistence economies at local levels. The point at which these settlements began to be integrated into a political polity likely occurred in the late 10th or early 9th century, the beginning of the Iron II period. The Mesha Inscription, a royal inscription of one of Moab’s earlier kings, describes how he increased his territory, established a new capital and cult center at Dhiban, and incorporated new populations within an expanded kingdom. The Mesopotamian empire of Assyria began to intervene in Moab’s and its neighbors’ affairs starting in the mid-8th century, commencing the Iron III period. Soon after, Moab’s agro-pastoralist economy and textile industries intensified, a change likely brought on by producers responding to new international markets and Assyria’s demand for taxes and tribute. Currently, very little is known about Moab in the final centuries of the Iron Age, the 6th through 4th centuries BCE. Permanent settlement activity decreased during these centuries, possibly due to a combination of population deportations and the return to semi-sedentary and nomadic settlement practices. Readers should note that transliterations of ancient and Arabic place names have shifted over the course of modern scholarship. Some titles may preserve older variants that contrast with the now updated versions.

Overviews and Syntheses

Routledge 2004 provides a substantive treatment of Moab’s development. Herr and Najjar 2008 and LaBianca and Younker 1995 offer broad overviews of Moab along with its neighbors to the north and south, Ammon and Edom, respectively. Steiner 2014 and Gass 2009 are overviews specific to Moab. Bienkowski 1992 and Porter 2013 investigate the Iron Age I period before the kingdom’s establishment. See Finkelstein and Lipschits 2011 for an alternative reconstruction. Vera Chamaza 2005 focuses on Moab’s relationship with Assyria during the Iron III period. Glueck 1940 and van Zyl 1960, although groundbreaking when published, are now dated publications that nevertheless should be consulted.

  • Bienkowski, Piotr, ed. Early Edom and Moab: The Beginning of the Iron Age in Southern Jordan. Sheffield, UK: J. R. Collis, 1992.

    An edited volume of studies investigating Moab’s and its southern neighbor Edom’s earliest centuries in light of archaeological evidence and written sources. See chapters 6 through 9 for specific studies on Moab.

  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Oded Lipschits. “The Genesis of Moab: A Proposal.” Levant 43.2 (2011): 139–152.

    DOI: 10.1179/175638011X13112549593005

    The authors argue for an Iron Age I Moabite kingdom south of the Wadi al-Mujib. This historical reconstruction contrasts with the more widely held interpretation that the region consisted of networks of semi-autonomous villages organized around resource zones (e.g., Porter 2013, Routledge 2004).

  • Gass, Erasmus. Die Moabiter – Geschichte und Kultur eines ostjordanischen Volkes im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009.

    This book is a well-organized catalog of evidence supporting Moab’s development. Epigraphic evidence excavated from Moabite settlements is presented alongside Egyptian, Assyrian, and biblical sources on Moab. Surveyed and/or excavated settlements are also cataloged for the sake of interpreting changing political and economic trends.

  • Glueck, Nelson. The Other Side of the Jordan. New Haven, CT: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1940.

    Synthesizes Glueck’s conclusions based on his landscape survey of Jordan during the 1930s. See chapter 5 for specific discussion of Moab and its neighbors. Dating of Iron Age II evidence as Iron I is now considered incorrect.

  • Herr, Larry, and Mohammed Najjar. “The Iron Age.” In Jordan: An Archaeological Reader. Edited by Russel Adams, 311–334. London: Equinox, 2008.

    This chapter summarizes settlement data for the entirety of Iron Age Jordan. Tables with lists of settlements are helpful for finding the primary publication for the evidence. Although no overarching claims are put forth, the authors’ chronological classification of the evidence is helpful.

  • LaBianca, Øystein, and Randall Younker. “The Kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom: The Archaeology of Society in Late Bronze/Iron Age Transjordan (ca. 1400–500 BCE).” In The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. Edited by Thomas Levy, 399–415. New York: Facts on File, 1995.

    This chapter provides an overview of the archaeological evidence with an emphasis on the ways that Jordan’s environment structures the region’s food systems throughout time, that, in turn, structure political and economic organization. Emphasizing the tribe as a persistent organizing category, the authors argue that Moab and its neighbors were organized as supra-tribal polities consisting of discrete lineages integrated into unified national identities.

  • Porter, Benjamin. Complex Communities: The Archaeology of Early Iron Age West-Central Jordan. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.

    This book examines the archaeological and historical evidence for Iron Age I Moab. Argues that Moab’s earliest settlements were semi-autonomous communities with only a limited amount of regional political and economic organization. Also examines economic organization in Moab’s eastern semi-arid marginal zones. Archaeological evidence summarized in chapters 4 and 5.

  • Routledge, Bruce. Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

    This book is a critical review of Moab’s development from the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age. The author uses Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony to demonstrate how Moab’s kings integrated the region’s tribes within a single ethnic and territorial identity during the early 9th century BCE (chapters 6 and 7). The book examines Moab’s role in the Bible, and Moab under the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.

  • Steiner, Margreet. “Moab during the Iron Age II Period.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000–332 BCE. Edited by Margreet Steiner and Ann E. Killebrew, 770–781. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    A basic introduction to Iron II Moab emphasizing settlement patterns, mortuary practices, and religion.

  • Vera Chamaza, Galo. Die Rolle Moabs in der neuassyrischen Expansionspolitik. Münster, Germany: Ugarit Verlag, 2005.

    A methodical treatment of Moab’s relationship with Assyria during their imperial expansion into the Levant. Chapter 4 describes Moab’s relationship with each specific Assyrian king, from Tiglath-Pileser III to Assurbanipal. Appendix 1 transliterates and translates sixteen cuneiform texts that contain information about Moab.

  • van Zyl, A. H. The Moabites. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1960.

    A classic overview of Moabite history and archaeology based on information accumulated in the mid-20th century. Synthesis leans heavily on the interpretation of Iron Age chronology and settlement patterns in Glueck 1940, much of which is now considered incorrect. Although now dated, the book offers several important connections between the Hebrew Bible and Moab’s history. See index for list of biblical passages relevant to Moab.

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