Amman’s history spans nine millennia dating back to the Stone Age. It boasts one of the largest Neolithic settlements (c.6500 BC) ever discovered in the Middle East. The Citadel hill contains early Bronze Age tombs (3300-1200 BC).
By the beginning of the Iron Age Amman had become the capital of the Ammonites, referred to in the Bible, and was called Rabbath-Ammon. It was here that King David of Israel killed Uriah the Hittite. Fortress towers ringed the city at that time – the best preserved of these can still be seen today – but they were little protection against King David’s attack. His forces toppled the Ammonites and, apart from a brief revival in the 9th and 8th centuries BC, the area was ruled in succession by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians for several hundred years. By the 4th century BC the city had been renamed “Philadelphia” after its Ptolemaic ruler, Philadelphus.
Seleucid and Nabataean rule followed until 63 BC, when it was absorbed into the Roman Empire and the Roman general, Pompey, annexed Syria and made Philadelphia part of the Decapolis League – an alliance of ten free city states with overall allegiance to Rome. The Romans rebuilt the city with colonnaded streets, baths, a theatre and impressive public buildings. Philadelphia found itself at the centre of the new Roman province of Arabia and of lucrative trade routes running between the Mediterranean and an interior that stretched to India and China as well as routes north and south. The city flourished. During the Byzantine period, when Christianity became the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire, the city was the seat of a Christian Bishop and two churches were constructed. By the early 7th century, Islam was already spreading northwards from the Arabian Peninsula and, by 635 AD, had embraced the land as part of its domain. The city returned to its original Semitic name of Ammon or, as it is known today, Amman.
With various shifts in political power over the following centuries, Amman’s fortunes declined. During the Crusades and under the Mameluks of Egypt, Amman’s importance was overtaken by the rise of Karak in the south. By 1321 AD, it was reported that Amman was “a very ancient town and was ruined before the days of Islam” there are great ruins here and the river al-Zarqa flows through them.”
Under the Ottoman Empire, Amman remained a small backwater with As-Salt being the main town of the area. By 1806, the city was reported to be uninhabited except for the Bedouins.
The departure of the Ottomans from the region coincided with the exodus of a large numbers of Circassian and other persecuted Muslims from the Caucasus. They found refuge in the area and established a settlement on the east bank of the Jordan River. Although they were mostly farmers, amongst these early settlers there were also gold and silversmiths and other craftsmen, and it wasn’t long before they built rough roads linking their settlement to Amman. Commerce, once again, began to flourish.