BMCR 2019.10.47

Archaeology and History of Jerash: 110 Years of Excavations. Jerash papers, 1

, , Archaeology and History of Jerash: 110 Years of Excavations. Jerash papers, 1. Turnhout: Brepols, 2018. xx, 277. ISBN 9782503578200. €130,00 (pb).

Table of Contents

This volume contains 16 articles preceded by an introduction, twelve of which are the result of the conference entitled “The Archaeology and History of Jerash – 110 Years of Excavations”, held at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in Copenhagen. It is therefore welcomed, since it continues the work of the two books of the Jerash Archaeological Project published in the 1980s. With this book, the ambitious project of Achim Lichtenberger and Rubina Raja, in fact, starts a whole new set of Jerash Papers, a series of studies and analyses on the archaeology and history of the city.

Given the heterogeneity of the articles, they are put in alphabetical order by author. Although the decision not to divide by sections can be understandable, on the other hand the mere alphabetical order can confuse the reader by switching from one topic to another or from a historical period to another in a rather abrupt way. Given the number and heterogeneity of the papers, I will focus on only some of them, giving only general information about others, and will arrange them by subject and area of excavation.

Eva Mortensen reconstructs the history of the early research carried out on the town. The author develops this very interesting topic that is finding more and more space in the context of studies on ancient settlements, but also on that of the history of such settlements from the 18th or 19th century. Especially important is the development of photography, which left us remarkable pictures and testimonies of that time.

Two articles are about the surroundings of Jerash. Mayson al-Nahar deals with Tell Abu Suwwan in the territory of Jerash, which is one of the Neolithic mega-sites appearing in the East, with numerous architectural remains testifying to the beginning of a sedentary lifestyle. The structures of Tell Abu Suwwan are comparable to those of other Neolithic sites nearby, confirming the historical value of the Jerash area. The contribution of David Boyer analyses the importance that the landscape had in the history of settlement of the city and its surroundings, as part of the Jarash Water Project. Climate changes, erosion and landslides surely influenced settlement choices, as well as the proximity to springs. The built, cultural landscape increased over the centuries and influenced the natural landscape in an ever more massive way.

The contribution of Jacques Seigne is among a series of papers primarily focused on the history of the city and the ongoing excavations in the area. Seigne analyses the history of the city in the Hadrianic period. After the first Jewish revolt, Trajan renovated the sanctuary of Zeus and reshaped the city. Seigne believes that something unnerved the emperor Hadrian, because the naos of the temple of Zeus was destroyed and then rebuilt in smaller dimensions, while underground oracle installations were covered. Furthermore, the sanctuary of Artemis assumed more importance. This political reorganization may have been partly related to the attitude that the city had during the second Jewish revolt, which took place a few years before the end of Hadrian’s reign. This reconstruction leaves some questions: it seems unlikely that there could have been an oracle that displeased the princeps, especially since he helped the city afterwards. Moreover, any active participation of Jerash in the second Jewish revolt cannot be proved, nor have the excavations provided signs of destruction in those years. The analysis of Seigne manages to provide some possible solutions to why Artemis eventually supplanted the cult of Zeus, but the question remains open.

The editors of the volume present the results of the Danish-German project, carried out in the Northwest District between 2011 and 2016. The area was used as a quarry during the first century AD. At the end of the same century, traces of dwellings were found. Nevertheless, most of the Roman period remains unknown, while the phase that begins in the fifth century is much better understood. This contribution helps to clarify the life stages of the city, highlighting the vitality during the Byzantine period until at least 749.

The papers of Massimo Brizzi, Daniela Baldoni and Roberto Parapetti are about the development of the area of the sanctuary of Artemis. Brizzi takes up the temple of Artemis and its building phases. The fact that the temple is incomplete is often connected with the lack of elements of the cornice or of the ceiling. The author divides the phases of construction of the temple into seven different stages, outlining its chronological development. It seems likely that an old sanctuary was erected and then completely buried. The construction phases are similar to those detected by Gawlikowski for the hamana of Allat in Palmira, where previous structures were encapsulated in a new one.1 However, in this case there is a complete burial of a structure that had ceased to function. New surveys of the whole area are absolutely necessary, especially because there are still problems that arise concerning the function of the trapezoidal square. This space in front of the monumental propylaea of the Sanctuary of Artemis is usually considered to be a service area for the shrine.

Daniela Baldoni analyses the transformation of a second-century-AD building placed on the cardo maximus. During the sixth century, the whole area was reorganised. The author, aware that it is very difficult to define the building’s original function, believes that the structure of the second century was directly connected to the sanctuary of Artemis. A proof of her argument could be a marble slab found in the ruins that might represent Apollo and Artemis. The picture is not very clear, but it seems to represent a Dionysian context. Further investigation could clarify the function of the structure in Roman times. During the Byzantine period, the porch was occupied by manufacturing installations. The property ceased its activity in the 7th century, following an earthquake. This work helps to shed light on taverns of the Byzantine period, about which we have little available data. Finally, the area of the sanctuary of Artemis is also the focus of the paper of Roberto Parapetti, which provides an update to the latest restoration works there.

Nizar Turshan, Thomas Lepaon and Thomas Weber-Karyotakis pinpoint six phases of the two main areas of the Great Eastern Baths, known as “M” and “S”, through a new research project. During the earliest phase the complex consisted of seven bathrooms adjacent to a back yard constructed in the Severan age. The complex underwent changes during the Byzantine period, until it was abandoned after 749 and probably only partially reoccupied later.

Alexandra Uscatescu and Manuel Martin-Bueno give an overview of the work undertaken in the area of the macellum. Thanks to inscriptions, the excavators identified the construction period between the second quarter and the end of the second century. In fact, some inscriptions mention Ti. Iulius Iulianus Alexander, governor of the province of Arabia during the reign of Hadrian. The building changed function at the end of the fifth century, specialising in craft activities. In particular, the figure of Aquilinus—who was in charge of the resettlement of the tabernae —emerges from an epigram in the mosaic of taberna 1. For the 6th century we have less evidence, while it seems that the earthquake of 659/660 left 80% of the building unusable. The final appendix, a selection of inscriptions collected by the authors during the excavations of the macellum, is very useful.

The works of Louise Blanke and Alan Walmsley analyse the last phases of the life of the city. Louise Blanke deals with urban development in the post-classical periods, usually neglected in such studies. Although an earthquake devastated the city in 749, the sources of the 9th-10th centuries testify to a rebuilding operation, although the road grid proved to be less structured than before. Generally, renovations are visible everywhere, at least in the southern part of the city. There are still many unanswered questions, especially those related to the use of water and the history of Christian institutions during this period.

Alan Walmsley connects to Blanke’s work because it analyses the erection of the mosque, begun around the 725-735 in an area previously occupied by baths and then abandoned for 300 years. The building recalls other mosques of the period, although it is smaller. Walmsley identifies three fundamental stages: after construction, there is a very complex period for the structure which ends with the collapse of the prayer hall in the first half of the 9th century (Phase 2). The last phase ends with the collapse of the roof. The main aim of the project was to reconstruct the history of the post-classical stages of the lower town. A long row of stores, dated to the Phase 2, has been identified alongside the eastern wall of the mosque, confirming the vitality of the area, also witnessed by the creation of a large residential complex.

Four papers are devoted to particular artefacts. Pierre-Louis Gatier studies a previously unpublished fragmentary Greek inscription on an altar in the depot of the Department of Antiquities. The careful analysis of the author is as usual flawless. The author of the dedication is Primitivus, but the female deity to whom the altar is dedicated is unclear. Nemesis is one possibility, as the god is called invincible, but this identification is hypothetical, and a temple of Nemesis has not yet been discovered.

The work of Ingrid and Wolfgang Shulze concerns the coins found in the Northwestern district. In particular, their analysis has focused on the minimi, copper coins found in large quantities and dated to the late Roman and early Byzantine periods. Their analysis confirms a crisis after the earthquake of 749 when the number of coins decreased.

Ina Kehrberg-Ostrasz focuses her article on the prolific production of pottery and lamps during the Byzantine period. She recalls that the hippodrome is the major centre for ceramic production of the early Byzantine period, because there is no evidence of kilns or their waste in that general area before the later Byzantine period. According to the author, the industrial area moved to the area of the old sanctuary of Artemis only in the 7th century, causing the abandonment of the southern area. However, the author seems to be unaware of the recent results of the Late Antique Jerash Project, and she ignores the results of the old excavation of the temenos of Artemis that revealed the presence of kilns in the area already in the 6th century.2

In the last article, Pamela Watson returns to a particular type of pottery produced around the 6th or 7th century and already studied on several occasions by Watson: the Jerash bowls. These bowls reflect the common shapes of African Red Slip pottery, while the images reproduced on them have a symbolic value, with depictions of deities from the Greco-Roman pantheon and Christian iconography. In particular, the author analyses here different kinds of depictions of crosses, made in various forms. Watson traces a history of the use of the cross: before the 6th century this symbol was not used much. In Jerash, the painters of Jerash bowls used variations of additional items like garlands on the ends of the arms of the cross. The symbol, however, was definitely present in the daily life of the city, so it was normal to find it on everyday objects.

To conclude, the volume is full of new ideas and reflections, which will undoubtedly be especially helpful to those familiar with some of the issues discussed. It cannot be comprehensive and it is not a handbook about the city’s history. One of the strengths of the book is in fact the painstaking analysis of archaeological evidence. But one would have liked perhaps greater dialogue between the various research groups, which sometimes seem not to look at the research carried out by other groups. In any case, all essays are an invaluable source for scholars and students interested in taking on or extending open questions about the city of Jerash.


1. M. Gawlikowski, ‘Motab et hamana: Sur quelques monuments religieux du Levant’, Topoi: Orient-Occident 9 (1999), 491-505.

2. R. Pierobon, ‘Sanctuary of Artemis. Soundings in the temple-terrace, 1978-1980’, Mesopotamia XVIII-XIX (1983-1984), 85-111.