Name of Monument:

Umm al-Jimal


Mafraq, Jordan

Date of Monument:

Hegira, first quarter of the 2nd century / AD first half of the 8th century

Period / Dynasty:

Late Roman–Byzantine–Umayyad


Umm al-Jimal meaning 'mother of camels' is situated in the basaltic region of eastern Jordan about 90 km to the northeast of Amman; the etymon is not clear. Primarily a rural settlement, the town is the best-known late Roman–Byzantine–Umayyad site in northeastern Jordan.
The paucity of timber in the region led to the almost exclusive use of the region's hard basalt stone as a building material; door and window frames, sills and lintels, are all of basalt. The use of durable basalt masonry and the high quality of construction helped maintain many buildings in an amazingly good state of preservation; some of the residential two to three storey-high complexes still stand, as do a number of towers, rising even higher. The use of basalt stone also introduced a unique roofing system: corbel courses consisting of long basalt slabs that were laid across the room; while for wider spans supporting transverse arches were necessary. Walls built of roughly dressed basalt blocks were laid to form outer and inner faces, the void between being filled with rubble bonded with clay or mortar.
Domestic complexes generally consisted of a courtyard containing mangers and troughs for the animals. The ground floor was generally used for storage and stabling; the upper floors for living and sleeping. External staircases corbelled out from the walls would often connect the upper floors.
Since 1971 Umm al-Jimal has been the focus of a long-term project involving detailed architectural planning, regional surveys and excavations. The town measures 800 m x 500 m and was surrounded by an insubstantial wall built during the last quarter of the AH 2nd / AD 8th century, as a Latin inscription found in the collapsed debris of the so-called Commodes Gate indicates. Within the walled town were 128 domestic complexes, 14 churches, the remains of a castellum (the barracks), a praetorium (commander's headquarters), reservoir and underground cisterns.
The site is also rich in epigraphic material including Nabataean, Greek, Latin and Safaitic inscriptions, many of which were engraved on tombstones from neighbouring cemeteries and later incorporated into new buildings. Some of these inscriptions are bilingual, written in Nabataean and Greek. The names occurring in them are predominantly Arabic, for example, Asad, Aretas, Akrab, Zabud. Around the town are extensive traces of ancient field systems and cross-wadi walls. Most of the standing buildings in Umm al-Jimal date to the late 5th and 6th centuries AD when the town reached its greatest prosperity. It continued to be occupied throughout the Umayyad period, (until the AH mid-2nd / AD mid-8th century) when the site was abandoned to be re-occupied only in the early 20th century.

View Short Description

Umm al-Jimal is the best-known late Roman–Byzantine–Umayyad site in northeastern Jordan. Due to a paucity of timber in the area, local hard basalt stone was used as building material. That and the high quality of construction led to an excellent state of preservation; some of the two- or three-storey complexes still stand, with corbelled roofs and external staircases corbelled out from the walls to connect the upper floors. The town has 128 domestic complexes, 14 churches, military structures and water installations. It is also rich in epigraphic material bearing predominantly Arabic names.

How Monument was dated:

The monument was dated through inscriptions and archaeological excavations. Material remains, especially pottery, indicate the Umayyad period

Selected bibliography:

Butler, H. C., Architecture: Syria, publications of the Princeton University Archaeological Expedition to Syria, Div. II, Sect. A, part 3, Umm Idj-Djimal, Leiden, 1913.
De Vries, B., Umm El-Jimal: Gem of the Black Desert, Amman, 1990.
De Vries, B., “Umm El-Jimal: A Frontier Town and its Landscape in Northern Jordan”, Vol. 1, Field work 1972–81, Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supp, Ser. 26, Portsmouth, 1998.

Citation of this web page:

Ghazi Bisheh "Umm al-Jimal" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2023. 2023.;ISL;jo;Mon01;7;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 GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: JO 07


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