History of Jordan

History of Jordan - Contents

Early History

Evidence of human activity in Transjordan dates back to the Paleolithic period (500000-17000 BC). While there is no architectural evidence from this era, archaeologists have found tools, such as flint and basalt hand-axes, knives and scraping implements.

In the Neolithic period (8500-4500 BC), three major shifts occurred. First, people became sedentary living in small villages and concurrently, new food sources were discovered and domesticated, such as cereal grains, peas and lentils, as well as goats. The population increased reaching tens of thousands of people.

Second, the shift in settlement patterns was catalysed by a marked change in the weather, particularly affecting the eastern desert, which grew warmer and drier, eventually becoming entirely uninhabitable for most of year. This watershed climate change is believed to have occurred between 6500 and 5500 BC.

Third, between 5500-4500 BC pottery from clay, rather than plaster, began to be produced. Pottery-making technologies were likely introduced to the area by craftsmen from Mesopotamia. The largest Neolithic site is at Ein Ghazal in Amman. There are many buildings, divided into three distinct districts. Houses were rectangular with several rooms, and some of them had plastered floors. Archaeologists have unearthed skulls covered with plaster and with bitumen in the eye sockets at sites throughout Jordan, Israel and Syria. A statue was also discovered at Ein Ghazal that is thought to be 8,000 years old. Just over one metre high, it depicts a woman with huge eyes, skinny arms, knobby knees and a detailed rendering of her toes.

It was during the Chalcolithic period (4500-3200 BC) that copper was first smelted and used to make axes, arrowheads and hooks. The cultivation of barley, dates, olives and lentils, and the domestication of sheep and goats predominated over hunting. In the desert, the lifestyle was probably very similar to that of modern Bedouins.

Tuleitat Ghassul is a large Chalcolithic era village located in the Jordan Valley. Houses were made of sun-dried mud bricks and roofs of wood, reeds and mud. Some were based on stone foundations, and many planned around large courtyards. The walls are often painted with bright images of masked men, stars and geometric motifs, that were perhaps connected to religious beliefs.

During the Early Bronze Age (3200-1950 BC), many villages were built that included defensive fortifications, most likely to protect against marauding nomadic tribes. Simple water infrastructures were also constructed.
At Bab al-Dhra in Wadi ‘Araba, archaeologists discovered over 20,000 shaft tombs with multiple chambers as well as houses of mud-brick containing human bones, pots, jewellery and weapons. Hundreds of dolmens scattered throughout the mountains have been dated to the late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Ages.

While in Egypt and Mesopotamia, writing developed before 3000 BC, writing was not really used in Transjordan, Canaan and Syria until some thousand years later, even though archaeological evidence indicates that the Transjordanian population was in fact trading with Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Between 2300-1950 BC, many of the large, fortified hilltop towns were abandoned in favour of either small, unfortified villages or a pastoral lifestyle. There is no consensus on what caused this shift, though it is thought to be combination of climatic and political changes that brought an end to the city-state network.

During the Middle Bronze Age (1950-1550 BC), migration patterns in the Middle East increased. Trading continued to develop between Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Canaan and Transjordan, resulting in the spread of civilization and technology. Bronze forged out of copper and tin resulted in the production of more durable axes, knives and other tools and weapons. Large and distinct communities seem to have arisen in northern and central Jordan, while the south was populated by a nomadic, Bedouin-type of people known as the Shasu.

New fortifications appeared at sites like Amman’s Citadel, Irbid, and Tabaqat Fahl (or Pella). Towns were surrounded by ramparts made of earth embankments and the slopes were covered in hard plaster, making it slippery and difficult to climb. Pella was enclosed by massive walls and watch towers.

Archaeologists usually date the end of the Middle Bronze Age to about 1550 BC, when the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt during the 17th and 18th Dynasties. A number of Middle Bronze Age towns in Canaan and Transjordan were destroyed during this time.

During the Greco-Roman period of influence, a number of semi-independent city-states also developed in Jordan under the umbrella of the Decapolis including: Gerasa (Jerash), Philadelphia (Amman), Raphana (Abila), Dion (Capitolias), Gadara (Umm Qays), and Pella (Irbid).

Medieval Period

Jordan became part of the Arabic Islamic Empire across its different Caliphates stages including Rashidun Empire, Umayyad Empire and Abbasid Empire. After the decline of the Abbasid, Jordan was ruled by several conflicting powers including the Mongols, the Crusaders, the Ayyubids and the Mamluks until it became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

Early 20th Century

With the break-up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the League of Nations and the occupying powers were required to redraw the borders of the Middle East. The ensuing decisions, most notably the Sykes-Picot Agreement gave birth to the French Mandate of Syria and British Mandate of Palestine. More than 70% of the British Mandate of Palestine was east of the Jordan river and was known as “Transjordan”. Until 1921, the land was intended to be part of the Jewish National Homeland, the land designated by the League of Nations to be the future Jewish State of Israel. In 1921, the British gave semi-autonomous control of Transjordan to the future King Abdullah I of Jordan, of the Hashemite family, after his failed attempt to take control of Syria when his brother King Faisal I became king of Iraq. This partition was in breach of the British Empire’s undertaking to make Palestine a Jewish state as was required under the terms of the mandate, and as such outraged the Jewish population, but pressure from the Arabs caused the British to acquiesce to the Hashemites’ demands.

The mandate over Transjordan ended on May 22, 1946; on May 25, the country became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. Transjordan was one of the Arab states opposed to the second partition of Palestine and creation of Israel in May 1948. It participated in the war between the Arab states and the newly founded State of Israel. The Armistice Agreements of April 3, 1949 left Jordan in control of the West Bank and provided that the armistice demarcation lines were without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines.

In March 1949, Transjordan announced its annexation of what is now commonly known as the West Bank, renaming it the West Bank, a reference to its location west of the Jordan River. Only two countries, however recognised this annexation: Britain and Pakistan. It is unknown why Pakistan recognised this annexation.This soon then became its own state.

Mid 20th Century

In 1950, the country was renamed “the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” to include officially those portions of Palestine annexed by King Abdullah. While recognising Jordanian administration over the West Bank, the United States, other Western powers and the United Nations maintained the position that ultimate sovereignty was subject to future agreement.

On July 20, 1951, King Abdullah I was shot dead in Jerusalem while visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque. His assassin, a Palestinian from the Husseini clan, was apparently concerned that Jordan and Lebanon were discussing a separate peace with Israel. Abdullah’s grandson, Prince Hussein Ibn Talal was with him at the time and was hit too. King Abdullah’s eldest son, Talal Ibn Abdullah, was proclaimed king but he was deposed in 1952 because of a mental illness. His son Hussein Ibn Talal became king on his eighteenth birthday, in 1953.

Jordan ended its special defence treaty relationship with the United Kingdom in 1957. In February 1958, following announcement of the merger of Syria and Egypt into the United Arab Republic, Iraq and Jordan announced the Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan, also known as the Arab Union. The Union was dissolved in August 1958.
The 1950s is often referred to “Jordan’s Experiment with Liberalism”. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association were guaranteed in the newly written constitution as with the already firmly established freedom of religion doctrine. Jordan had one of the freest and most liberal societies in the Middle East and in the Greater Arab World during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Jordan signed a mutual defence pact in May 1967 with Egypt, and it participated in the June 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. During the war, Israel gained control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The 1967 war led to a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinians living in Jordan. Its Palestinian refugee population – 700,000 in 1966 – grew by another 300,000 from the West Bank. The period following the 1967 war saw an upsurge in the power and importance of Palestinian militants (fedayeen) in Jordan. The heavily armed fedayeen constituted a growing threat to the sovereignty and security of the Hashemite state, and open fighting erupted in June 1970.

Jordan was ruled under martial law throughout most of the Cold War period, particularly starting in 1967 when tensions between the Hashemites and the Palestinian majority eventually led to a bloody civil war in 1970. The 1980s in particular were ruled in a repressive manner with many of the freedoms established in the 1950s suspended or severely curtailed.

Other Arab governments attempted to work out a peaceful solution, but by September, continuing fedayeen actions in Jordan – Including the destruction of three international airliners hijacked and held in the desert east of Amman – prompted the government to take action to regain control over its territory and population. In the ensuing heavy fighting, a Syrian tank force took up positions in northern Jordan to support the fedayeen but was forced to retreat. By September 22, Arab foreign ministers meeting at Cairo had arranged a cease-fire beginning the following day. Sporadic violence continued, however, until Jordanian forces won a decisive victory over the fedayeen in July 1971, expelling them from the country. No fighting occurred along the 1967 Jordan River cease-fire line during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, but Jordan sent a brigade to Syria to fight Israeli units on Syrian territory.

In 1965 Jordan and Saudi Arabia concluded a bilateral agreement that realigned and delimited the boundary. The realignment resulted in some exchange of territory, and Jordan’s coastline on the Gulf of Aqaba was lengthened by about 18 km. The new boundary enabled Jordan to expand its port facilities and established a zone in which the two parties agreed to share petroleum revenues equally if oil were discovered. The agreement also protected the pasturage and watering rights of nomadic tribes inside the exchanged territories.

Late 20th and 21st Century

Jordan witnessed some of the most severe protests and social upheavals in its history during the 1980s, protests in Jordanian universities especially Yarmouk University and urban areas protested inflation and lack of political freedom. A massive upheaval occurred in the southern city of Ma’an.

In 1988, Jordan renounced all claims to the West Bank but retained an administrative role pending a final settlement.

In 1989, martial law was lifted and a period of rapid political liberalization occurred creating once again the region’s most liberal and dynamic society. Parliament was restored and thirty political parties including the Islamic Action Front were created.

Jordan did not participate in the Gulf War of 1990-1991. The war led to a repeal of US aid to Jordan due to King Hussein’s support of Saddam Hussein. In 1991, Jordan agreed, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Palestinian representatives, to participate in direct peace negotiations with Israel sponsored by the US and Russia. It negotiated an end to hostilities with Israel and signed a declaration to that effect on July 25, 1994. As a result, the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was concluded on October 26, 1994.

Following the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in September 2000, the Jordanian government offered its help to both parties. Jordan has since sought to remain at peace with all of its neighbors.

In the late 1990s, Jordan’s unemployment rate was almost 25%, while nearly 50% of those who were employed were on the government payroll.

King Abdullah II succeeded his father King Hussein in 1999.

Jordan’s rapid reinstitution of political and civil liberty continued throughout the 1990s and the 2000s. Economic liberalization policies were especially introduced by King Abdullah II creating one of the freest economies in the Middle East. Political liberalization is occurring but at a slower pace than 1989 and the early 1990s. Liberal policies continue to be predominate in King Abdullah II’s reign with economic reforms being the dominate.

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