Amman PDF Print E-mail
Written by Micah Key and Stephen Langfur
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Later history


Alexander of Macedon defeated the Persians. After his death in 323 BC, Rabbath-Ammon became a major point of contention among his successors. It fell to Ptolemy, then to Seleucus, and then, in the 3d century, to Ptolemy II Philadelphius, who rebuilt it and called it Philadelphia. The name stuck, even after the Seleucid Antiochus retook it in 218 BC.

The story of this last conquest again highlights the vulnerable point. The Greek historian Polybius wrote (Histories, Book V, 71) that every time the forces of Antiochus breached the walls, the defenders managed to repair them.

Finally, one of the prisoners in the camp showed them an underground way that the inhabitants used to get their water. He [Antiochus] quickly sealed it up and the city was forced to surrender...

Pompey the Great took the region for Rome in 63 BC. Philadelphia became part of the Decapolis. In the following centuries the Romans expanded the city over seven hills (like Rome). Constrained by the topography, they followed their usual principles as best they could. Streets were laid out perpendicular to each other, forming blocks. Prominence was given to a major north-south street (the Cardo Maximus or "hinge") and a major east-west street (the Decumanus), intersecting at the center. Here as at Scythopolis, lines had to bend to accommodate the hills and the river. We can find the main Cardo and Decumanus in modern Amman below:

Roman streets and structures in Amman

The theater of Philadelphia in Amman Later construction covered most of the ruins in the lower city (we can appreciate how lucky we are that Gerasa and Scythopolis escaped this fate). Here and there, nonetheless, a Roman building lifts its head amid modernity. Most prominent is the theater, the largest extant in Jordan, which faces north in the typical fashion to keep the sun from the audience's eyes. Constructed at the end of the Pax Romana in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (169-177 AD), it had 33 rows and could seat up to 6000. Its cavea (audience seating) consisted of three horizontal sections, separated by diazoma or walkways. Just as in theaters today, the lower sections were more desirable, but the acoustic principles used by the Romans ensured that people seated in “the gods” (upper sections) could hear well too.

Just outside the theater are the restored remains of Corinthian columns marking the forum and the cardo maximus. To one side is a more intimate theater known as an odeon, used for music but perhaps also employed as the city's council chamber.
Going to the left down the modern street that runs in front of the main theatre, one soon encounters the remains of Philadelphia's nymphaeum (public fountain). One of the criteria that the Romans used for ranking a city was the beauty of the nymphaeum, and here the Philadelphians stinted not. Theirs was a third larger than what one sees today, paneled with 18 different marbles, having statues of nymphs in the niches. Given the heat in this part of the word, so luscious a fountain in the heart of the city must have drawn a crowd. Bereft of glory and water, it is still in the heart, surrounded by colorful streets and bazaars.

Philadelphia's forum and odeon in Amman

Overlooking all was the acropolis on the site of ancient Rabbah, known today as al Qala’a, the Citadel. It is marked by the reconstructed pillars of a sanctuary today dubbed the "Temple of Hercules" (Heracles in Greek). The only evidence for the attribution, however, is that the image of this demigod is prominent on the coins of Philadelphia, including some found near the temple. The Philadelphians could ascend to the temple by a monumental staircase, fronted by a triple-arched propylaeum. These are gone.

Satellite view of Amman citadel

Temple of Hercules in Amman The temple is roughly on an east-west axis, parallel to the scarp of the hill. Built from 162 to 166 AD, it was massive — 31 meters by 26 — with a broad monumental staircase on its east side ascending to a porch. On this porch stand six segmented columns. Three attain the original height of 33 feet (helped by the insertion of a few new drums). The reconstruction was aided by ancient lettering engraved in the segments.
In the temple is a large piece of bedrock that jutted, and still jutts, above the floor. It may well have been a sacred rock. (Compare the rock beneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.) What's more, beneath the level of the Roman temple were found remains of a structure with a plastered floor that dates from the time of the Ammonites. Since this spot would have been the highest point in Rabbah that was visible from the river, we may speculate that the place had earlier attracted a temple to Milcom.

Bedrock in Temple of Hercules at Amman