Hegira 648–922 / AD 1250–1517
Hisban, biblical Hishbon, Graeco–Roman Esbus, is situated 10 km to the north of Madaba and 20 km soutwest of Amman. The ancient site, which has a long history of settlement extending from the early Iron Age (around 1200 BC) to the late Ottoman period, sits on a mound (Tell Hisban) commanding expansive views of the Madaba Plains and the northeastern end of the Dead Sea. The site was most intensively settled in the Byzantine period when it became the seat of the bishopric; its bishops known to have attended the ecclesiastical councils of Nicaea (AD 325), Ephesus (AD 341) and Chalcedon (AD 451); it is also known that in AH 29 / AD 650 there was a 'Bishop Theodore' at Esbus.
The city also figures in the mosaic pavements of a church at Ma`in (dated AH 101 / AD 720) and St Stephen's Church at Umm al–Rasas (dated AH 99 / AD 718), thus indicating that it continued to be important in the Umayyad period (AH 41–132 / AD 661–750). Historical sources tell us that in the early AH 3rd / AD 9th century Sa'id ibn Khalid al-Fudayni (see Fudayn), an Umayyad descendant, rebelled against the Abbasids and made his last stand against their forces at Hisban which was by then, apparently, a stronghold.
Archaeological excavations carried out intermittently since 1968 – and still on going – show that after centuries of abatement and abandonment from the late AH 6th / AD 9th century, the site was re-occupied in the Mamluk period (AH 648–922 / AD 1250–1517) and flourished, especially during the first 75 years of the AH 8th / AD 14th century.
Jordan in the Mamluk period was administratively divided between the southern section of the province of Damascus (Mamlakat Dimashq) in the north, and the province of Karak (Mamlakat al-Karak) in the south. The northern half of the country consisted of five districts, one of which was al-Balqa (between Wadi al-Zarqa in the north and Wadi al-Mujib in the south).
During this period the capital of al-Balqa shifted between Amman, Salt and Hisban. Beside its agricultural potential and administrative role as a capital, Hisban also served as a station on the postal (barid) route from Damascus to al-Karak.
Excavations at Tell Hisban uncovered many buildings from the Mamluk period when a citadel occupied the summit. These included a complex, identified as the residence of the local governor, with a plan based on a room with four barrel vaults (iwan); it included a cluster of four rooms opening onto a central courtyard paved with flagstones, a small bath complex consisting of a room with three barrel vaults, the remains of a kitchen, and a further series of barrel-vaulted rooms. One long room, apparently a storeroom, held a substantial number of pottery vessels, including lamps, sugar jars and the ubiquitous hand-made geometrically painted vessels; there were also assemblages comprising glazed ware including monochrome and bi-chrome footed bowls, graffitos and glazed relief ware with Arabic inscriptions.
Hisban, situated 10 km north of Madaba, has a long history of settlement from the early Iron Age (ca. 1200 BC) to the late Ottoman period. It features in a church mosaic at Ma`in (dated AH 101 / AD 720) and St Stephen's Church at Umm al–Rasas (dated 99 / 718), indicating its importance in the Umayyad period. After centuries of abatement and abandonment from the late 6th / 9th century. it was re-occupied in the Mamluk period and flourished especially during the 8th / 14th century when it became the capital of the Balqa district and a citadel, which included the local governor’s residence, was built.
The monument was dated by archaeological excavations together with documentary sources.
De Vries, B., “The Islamic Bath at Tell Hesban”, in L. T., Geraty and L. G. Herr, (eds), The Archaeology of Jordan and Other Studies, Berrien Springs MI, 1986, pp.223–35.
Russell, M. B., “Hesban During the Arab Period: AD 635 to the Present”, in L. T. Geraty and L. G. Running, (eds), Hesban 3: Historical foundations, Berrien Springs MI, 1989, pp.27–34.
Walker, B. J., “Mamluk Investment in Transjordan: a Boom and Bust Economy”, Mamluk Studies Review, VIII: 2, 2004, pp.119–38.
Walker, B. J., and la Bianca, S., “The Islamic Qasur of Tall Hisban: Preliminary Report on the 1998 and 2001 seasons”, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, 47, 2003, pp.443–68.
Ghazi Bisheh "Tell Hisban" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;jo;Mon01;17;en
Prepared by: Ghazi BishehGhazi Bisheh
Ghazi Bisheh is an archaeologist and former Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. He studied archaeology at the University of Jordan, and history of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, from where he holds his Ph.D. He was affiliated to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan for most of the period between 1980 and 1999, and was its Director General twice (1988–91 and 1995–9). He was also an associate professor of archaeology at Yarmouk University during the early 1990s. He is the author of numerous publications, including The Umayyads: The Rise of Islamic Art (Brussels: Museum With No Frontiers, 2000), of which he is a co-author. He has carried out excavation work both inside and outside Jordan in sites such as Qasr al-Hallabat, Madaba, Carthage and Bahrain. He is a member of the German Archaeological Institute and is the Deputy Director of the International Council of Museums for the Arab countries.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: JO 17