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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Historical Syntheses
  • Inscriptions
  • Archaeological Surveys
  • Ceramics
  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Items for Adornment and Personal Use
  • Tombs and Mortuary Practice
  • Economy
  • Religion

Biblical Studies Archaeology and Material Culture of Ammon and the Ammonites
Craig W. Tyson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0279


The Ammonites (literally, “sons of Ammon”) were a tribal group with a core territory in and around the modern city of Amman, Jordan. This core area could also be referred to as Ammon; the name of the modern city is also derived from this designation. Though they are known best for their role as kin and enemy to Israel in the Bible, archaeological work has revealed much about the indigenous cultural traditions of the region. The earliest possible evidence naming the Ammonites is from the 9th century BCE, but there is little doubt that they inhabited the region before that, though how much before that is difficult to say. Regardless of their date of origin, it is helpful to chart their appearance on the stage of history in the Iron Age II by including some chronological depth. Beginning with the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1150 BCE), the region around Amman was sparsely settled with a few fortified towns and evidence for participation in international trade. New Kingdom Egypt appears to have had at least one garrison on the Plateau, probably to help control trade. The Iron Age I–IIA (c. 1150–850 BCE) saw a drop in international trade associated with the disruption of the international order at the end of the Late Bronze Age. At the same time, there was an uptick in the number of sites showing occupation. In addition to bringing the first contemporary textual references to the Ammonites, the Iron Age IIB–IIC (c. 850–500 BCE) was an era of increased sociopolitical complexity and economic intensification stimulated by the pressures and opportunities presented by the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires. These changes are visible in the development of an indigenous tradition of writing, an unparalleled sculptural tradition, an increase in the number and variety of imports, and a significant increase in the number of small agriculturally oriented sites across the landscape. The independent polity of Ammon was turned into a province sometime in the 6th century—probably under Babylonian hegemony. The archaeological remains indicate a continuation of agricultural production and participation in long-distance trade networks, and an eventual replacement of the local system of writing with the Aramaic used by the Persians. Note on transliterations: A variety of systems exist for transliterating ancient and modern place names in Semitic languages. A simplified version of the most common transliterations is used here.

General Overviews and Historical Syntheses

Hübner 1992 is the most comprehensive discussion and presentation of all the evidence for the region of Ammon (the Ammanitis in Greek terminology) from the Late Bronze Age to the Hellenistic Period. Tyson 2014 updates this with a special focus on sociopolitical developments in the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods. Herr and Najjar 2008 (cited under Excavated Sites) is a clear survey of the archaeology. MacDonald 2000 is a convenient guide to the historical geography of the region. Dornemann 1983, though somewhat dated, remains very useful for its comprehensive presentation and typological discussions of the architecture, art, and ceramics of all of Jordan (including Ammon). Dion 2003, LaBianca and Younker 1995, Glueck 1970, and Landes 1956 are synthetic treatments of Ammonite history based on the available archaeological, epigraphic, and biblical evidence. Sauer 1986 is an important critique of Glueck’s work based on more recent archaeological discoveries. Glueck 1970 and Landes 1956 are now rather dated, but still worth consulting for understanding the history of scholarship. Lipschits 2004 examines the archaeological and historical evidence at the transition from the Neo-Assyrian to Neo-Babylonian period.

  • Dion, Paul-Eugène. “The Ammonites: A Historical Sketch.” In Excavations at Tall Jawa, Jordan. Vol. 1, The Iron Age Town. Edited by P. M. Michèle Daviau, 481–518. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

    Clear and concise overview of Ammonite history based on a careful collation of the epigraphic, archaeological, and biblical evidence.

  • Dornemann, Rudolph H. The Archaeology of the Transjordan in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1983.

    Covers all of Jordan. Especially useful discussions of statuary and figurines, and the Amman tombs. Has an important discussion of the pottery sequence known at the time. Publishes material from excavations at the Amman Citadel.

  • Glueck, Nelson. The Other Side of the Jordan. 2d ed. Cambridge, MA: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1970.

    A semi-popular synthesis of Glueck’s pioneering surveys of Jordan (on which see Glueck 1939, cited under Archaeological Surveys) that slightly updates the first edition from 1940. While there was an occupational gap during the Middle and Late Bronze, the Ammonites (and others) settled in the area and had kingdoms before Israel arrived on the scene. His chronology and approach to the Bible are now rather dated.

  • Hübner, Ulrich. Die Ammoniter: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte, Kultur und Religion eines transjordanischen Volkes im 1 Jahrtausend v. Chr. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1992.

    A comprehensive and definitive discussion of the region of Ammon from the Late Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period. Includes important sections on Ammonite inscriptions, history, religion, and biblical portrayals of the Ammonites. Hübner takes a critical approach to biblical texts, seeing no historically reliable information from the Bible about the Late Bronze or Iron Age I.

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

    Presents an archaeologically and anthropologically informed historical reconstruction of the beginnings of tribal kingdoms in Jordan, including Ammon. Two key contributions of this article are its linkage of sociopolitical development to cycles of sedentarization and food system intensification, as well as its explanation of the features of tribal kingdoms. Takes a somewhat credulous view toward the historicity of the pre-monarchic traditions in the Bible.

  • Landes, George M. “A History of the Ammonites.” PhD diss., The Johns Hopkins University, 1956.

    The first full investigation of Ammonite history. Though dated, it is still useful for its comparative philological discussions. Landes was largely dependent on the dating of archaeological remains from Glueck’s surveys, which have been significantly modified since then. His historical narrative follows the biblical chronology closely. He recognized the Assyrian period as the height of Ammon’s development based particularly on tombs that had been excavated in Amman.

  • Lipschits, Oded. “Ammon in Transition from Vassal Kingdom to Babylonian Province.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 335 (2004): 37–52.

    Based on the archaeological remains and historical sources, argues that Ammon was subjugated and provincialized by the Babylonians in 582/581 (based on Josephus, Antiquities 10.180–182) and the capital was moved to Tall al-ʿUmayri, which served as an administrative site for the production of wine that was used to pay tribute to Babylon.

  • MacDonald, Burton. “East of the Jordan”: Territories and Sites of the Hebrew Scriptures. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000.

    A comprehensive and readable discussion of the natural environment and historical geography of Jordan as it relates to the Hebrew Bible. Chapters covering Exodus itineraries, the settlement of Israelite tribes in Jordan, and Ammonite territory and sites are particularly relevant. At the time of this publication, this title is available electronically from the archived American Schools of Oriental Research online.

  • Sauer, James A. “Transjordan in the Bronze and Iron Ages: A Critique of Glueck’s Synthesis.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 263 (1986): 1–26.

    Argues that the occupational gaps Glueck had argued for in the Middle to Late Bronze and in the Iron IIC (Glueck 1970, and Glueck 1939, cited under Archaeological Surveys) could no longer be maintained based on more recently excavated material.

  • Tyson, Craig W. The Ammonites: Elites, Empires, and Sociopolitical Change (1000–500 BCE). London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014.

    Provides a detailed survey of textual and archaeological sources for Ammonite history. Argues that the increases in sedentary settlement, the number of imported goods, inscriptions, sculpture, as well as economic intensification that occurred during the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods were due significantly to the local elite who took advantage of their mediating position between imperial power and the local context to develop and project their power.

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