Main image: Sheep grazing.

Umm el-Jimal's Ancient People

The people of Umm el-Jimal are not known from literary sources, so they cannot be readily associated with tribal or group names or historic-ethnic identity. In the main, therefore, we know the people of Umm el-Jimal culturally, from the material remains they left behind. Fortunately, we have numerous inscriptions from the Nabataean to Umayyad periods from which we can derive linguistic identity. Because many of these texts contain personal names we can make inferences on historic-ethnic identity for these periods. Finally, we can also infer from the circumstantial evidence of the larger history of the Levant who might have been at Umm el-Jimal at a given period.

Local Nomads

The assemblages of stone tools at Umm el-Jimal allow us to presume that a succession of stone-age visitors included Lower Paleolithic hominids, Neandertals of the Middle Paleolithic and finally modern humans of the Upper Paleolithic. Some tools dated to the late Epipaleolithic could be associated with people of the Natufian culture which had spread through much of the Levant in pre-agricultural settlements by 10,000 BP.

The cultural identity of nomads in the region of Umm el-Jimal from the Neolithic through the Hellenistic periods can only be inferred from what is generally known of population movements in the interior of the Fertile Crescent, using broad ethno-linguistic terminology like Amorite, Aramaic and Arabic. Only towards the end of this long stretch do these nomadic peoples become visible through their own writing systems, which ranged in dates from the Hellenistic Period to the third century AD. These include the numerous Safaitic texts in the Badiya region east of Umm el-Jimal. Interestingly several Safaitic tombstones were found at Umm el-Jimal itself. These Safaitic writers are part of the South and North Arabian tribal groups out of which the later Arabs of the pre-Islamic and Islamic eras emerged as a distinct linguistic group.

Tomb excavation

Evidence of People

Written evidence can be a key resource in researching ancient peoples, and Umm el-Jimal is home to a wealth of Inscriptions.

Human remains and burials are another major source of information about life in the past; see the Bones page and the Library for more information about Umm el-Jimal's cemeteries, tombs, and evidence from human remains.

Agrarian Settlement

Therefore, when the Nabataean authorities expanded their sphere to Bostra in the first century AD, we should not presume that they colonized Umm el-Jimal, but rather, that they encouraged such local nomads, Arabs in the broad sense just described, to settle and adapt a more agrarian economy. It is true, of course, that the succession of authorities, Nabataeans and Romans, would have brought in overseers and soldiers, but these have to be seen as settling in to the already existing local population.

This is born out by the fact that the local people, using the languages of influence, Greek and Nabataean, for their inscriptions, nevertheless had predominantly Arab names, which occur in great variety on the hundreds of tomb stones dating from the second to fourth centuries AD. Though transcribed into Nabataean and Greek, the Arab character of the names is clear; for example, men named Zabud and Awid, women named Asnom and Yakhlud. Some local persons took on Greek names, like Neon, a soldier in the Roman legion, whose father had the Arab name Kami’ah; others were called Philip or Heracles, possibly foreigners who retired to become local settlers.

Thus the people of Umm el-Jimal were not Nabataeans or Romans, but local people living under Nabataean patronage first and then under Roman occupation. These local people became visible during the periods of settlement, but less visible in between when they reverted to nomadic economy and culture. After the serious destruction of the local community in the third century, the most successful resettlement in Umm el-Jimal’s history occurred in the Byzantine and early Islamic period from the fifth to the ninth centuries. Whether these residents were the descendants of the Roman era inhabitants is not clear, but they at least appear to be later generations of local people who reverted from nomadic to sedentary existence.

Courtyard trellis

Continuity and Change

Umm el-Jimal's modern residents continue many of the cultural and environmental traditions developed by the area's inhabitants over the region's long history.

Witness Umm el-Jimal's living history in Hauran Culture and Oral Histories, or visit Among the Ruins to find out more about the 20th-century people who lived inside the ruins.

Arab Identity

It is also interesting that over time the Arab identity of these local residents became increasingly specific. In fact, Umm el-Jimal is a locus for the early development of the Arabic script. This story includes the third century inscription mentioning the career of Gadhimah, the King of the Tanoukh, which is written in a late Nabataean script clearly transitioning into Arabic. There is also a difficult-to-read pre-Islamic Arabic inscription which was built into an arch of the Double church, and finally an Umayyad graffito on a column of the Praetorium in good Arabic, saying “Seven times seventy bismillahs!” Clearly the people of late Antique Umm el-Jimal had become historic Arabs.

The identity of those who resettled Umm el-Jimal in the 19th to 21st centuries AD is historically clearer. In the late 19th century the area of Umm el-Jimal was included in the grazing and construction territory of the Ahl el-Jebel, the People of the Mountain to the north, which is in turn called the Jebel Druze or the Jebel al-Arab. They appear to have been a coalition of Druze agriculturalists and Msa’eid pastoralists. The Druze, who have distinct religious culture originating in Lebanon, settled and did extensive remodeling in the ruins between 1910 and 1932. When they left, mostly to return north into Syria, the Msa’eid, a Sunni Arab tribal group, settled in and around the ruins from the 1940s on, and are the main inhabitants of the Municipality of Umm el-Jimal today, living in residential quarters on two sides of the standing antiquities. These fenced-off ruins now belong to the government of Jordan and are frequented by the latest migrants, Jordanian and foreign tourists.