A tribal state located to the east of the Jordan River (Map 1:Y‐Z4) that played a marginally significant role in the history of Palestine during the Iron Age. Relatively little is known about Ammon, its history, and its culture. Our main sources of information about it are the Bible and Assyrian inscriptions, both of which deal almost exclusively with Ammon's external affairs. Only a few substantive Ammonite inscriptions have been discovered so far, and excavations are just beginning to illuminate Ammonite culture.
The origins of the tribe of Ammon are obscure. Genesis 19:30–38 presents an artificial and satiric legend that portrays the eponymous ancestor of the Ammonites, Ben‐Ammi, as the offspring of the incestuous union of Lot and his daughter. But this provides no insight into the initial development of Ammon. The region that became the land of Ammon was occupied fairly densely during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, but there is no evidence whether the tribe of Ammon was already a distinct ethnic group during that time.
By the early part of the Iron Age (ca. 1200–1000 BCE), however, both archaeological and literary evidence indicates that a somewhat centralized state began to form around the capital city of Rabbat‐bene‐ammon (“Rabbah of the sons of Ammon”; modern Amman, Jordan). Conflict arose during this period between the Ammonites and the Israelites who lived to the east of the Jordan River (Judg. 11 and 1 Sam. 11). The earliest Ammonite king whose name is preserved is Nahash, who besieged the Israelite town of Jabesh‐gilead and was defeated by Israelite troops rallied by the young Saul (1 Sam. 11). Nahash's son, Hanun, provoked a war with Israel during the reign of David, which led to Ammon's defeat and incorporation into David's empire as a vassal (2 Sam. 10; 12.26–31).
After the death of Solomon and the breakup of the united kingdom of Israel, Ammon presumably became independent again. Little is known of the kingdom during the ninth century, but it likely came under the domination of Aram‐Damascus, especially during the reign of Hazael (ca. 842–800 BCE), as did most of Palestine. During the eighth century, Damascus declined, and Israel and Judah experienced a resurgence of political power. Ammon appears to have come under the control of Judah during the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chron. 26.8; 27.5), but with the arrival of the Assyrian king Tiglath‐pileser III, Ammon, like the other small kingdoms, became an Assyrian vassal.
The Assyrian period (late eighth to late seventh century) was a prosperous period for Ammon. The Assyrians guaranteed its position on the international trade routes and helped protect its flanks from the various nomadic groups that threatened the security of the routes. Excavations and Assyrian texts indicate that Ammon extended its boundaries during this period, westward to the Jordan River, northward into Gilead, and southward toward Heshbon. The most substantial ruins of the Iron Age date to this period, and seals, inscriptions, and statuary indicate the kingdom's wealth. A number of stone towers found in several regions of Ammon appear to date to this period. Once thought to be a system of Ammonite fortresses, recent studies now identify most of them as agricultural towers such as the one described in Isaiah 5.2.
There is uncertainty about the situation of Ammon during the Neo‐Babylonian period. It is probable that Ammon was involved in the great rebellion against Nebuchadrezzar in 589–586 BCE, and that, as a result, it was annexed into the Babylonian provincial system. By the succeeding Persian period only the name of the kingdom of Ammon survived, largely as a geographical rather than as a political term (Map 10:Y5). Recent excavations and surveys indicate that a modest population continued to inhabit the region through this period.
Ammonite religion and culture remain little known. Even the characteristics of its patron deity, Milcom, are uncertain.
Wayne T. Pitard