city located in central Jordan, 30 km (19 mi.) south of Philadelphia/Amman (map reference 2256 × 1249). The city of Madaba was built on a natural elevation of the Transjordan high plateau with steep slopes on the west, south, and southeast. The Roman-Byzantine town spread to the north over an area that slopes more gently toward the surrounding plain.

The site's ancient name is preserved in the mosaic floor inscriptions of the Church of the Virgin Mary (“the people of this city of Madaba”) and in the west courtyard of the “cathedral.” In the mosaic floor of the Hippolythus hall, the city is represented as a Tyche seated on a throne. In the Bible, Madaba is recorded among the Cities of the Plain in Moab conquered and occupied by the Israelite tribes (Nm. 21:30; Jos. 13:9–16). [See Moab.] In the environs of the city the battle between King David's army and the coalition of Ammonites and Arameans (1 Chr. 19:7ff.) took place. According to the Mesha inscription, the town was liberated by the Moabite king in about the second half of the ninth century BCE (1.7–9). [See Moabite Stone.] In later biblical texts, Madaba is mentioned among the cities of Moab (Is. 15:2). During the Maccabean revolt (second century BCE), “the sons of Jambri” went out of the city and laid an ambush for the Jewish convoy led by John, one of the brothers of Judas Maccabeus, plundering and killing them. John's death was immediately avenged by Jonathan and Simon (1 Mc. 9:36ff.). Later, John Hyrcanus conquered Madaba after a long siege (Josephus, Antiq. 13.9.1); it remained in the hands of the Hasmoneans, even during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (Antiq. 15.4). Hyrcanus II, in exchange for the help he asked for in the war against his brother Aristobulus, promised to restore the city to the Nabatean king Aretas of Petra, together with other cities in the region (Antiq. 14.1.4). Madaba became a city of the Provincia Arabia after 106 CE.

In 37 CE, in the time of Aretas IV, the strategos of the city, a certain Abdobodat built a funerary monument for his father Itaybel and his son, also named Itaybel, of the ῾Amirat tribe (banu ῾Amrat, possibly “the sons of Jambri” of Mc. 9:36ff.). A bilingual inscription in Greek and Nabatean records that in the third year of the new Provincia Arabia (108/109 CE), another member of the same tribe, Abgar/Isyon son of Monoath, built a tomb for his son Selaman. In a Greek inscription found at el-Mushaqqar, on the road between Esbus/Ḥesban and Livias/Tell er-Rameh, the priest Zaidallah Petrigenous, boleuta (of the city council) of Madaba, is mentioned, who offered the monument in honor of an unknown Roman emperor.

Together with Greek and Latin inscriptions of the second–third centuries mentioning centurions of the Tertia Legio Cyrenaica stationed in the province, a dedicatory inscription was recently found with the name of the governor (Flavius) Iulianus at the time of Emperor Elagabalus (219 CE; see Piccirillo, 1989). Madaba had a local mint at the time of the emperors Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Geta, and Alexander Severus. The main typologies used were the Helios and the Tyche (standing or seated), of the Medabenon (inhabitants of Madaba) and the baetyl in a tetrastyle temple. So far, the main portions of the decumanus, the primary paved east–west road of Roman Madaba, and possibly the Tychaion, the temple of the city's Tyche along that road (whose carved architectural elements were reused in the city's Byzantine churches), have been identified.


Madaba. Figure 1. Detail of the Madaba Map mosaic, showing the Jordan River. (Archive Studium Biblicum Franciscanum)

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Ulrich J. Seetzen crossed the ruins of the then abandoned tell of Madaba in 1807. In 1872, coming from the south, the expedition of Canon Tristram arrived at Madaba and camped among the ruins for four days. Explorers from the Palestine Exploration Fund arrived in 1881. Their arrival had been preceded, in December 1880, by ninety Christian bedouin families who had established themselves among the ruins allotted to them by the Turkish authorities. It is to this reoccupation of the site that the greater part of the following discoveries is owed. In 1887, the Latin missionary Don Biever sent to Jerusalem the transcription of the first inscriptions of the mosaic floor from the Church of the Virgin Mary. Gottlieb Schumacher, in October 1891, and P.-M. Séjourné, in 1892, drew the first general plan of the ruins. It was later updated by Frederick J. Bliss, in 1895; Giuseppi Manfredi, in 1899; A. Paulouskji and N. K. Kluge, in 1903; Alois Musil, in 1905; and by Melezios Metaxakis from 1905 to 1907. The Madaba mosaic map was seen in December 1896 in the new church built by the Greek Orthodox patriarchate by Cleofas Kikilides and published the following year. The event focused the attention of scholars from all over the world on Madaba (see figure 1). In 1897 mosaics also were discovered in the crypt of St. Elianos, in the Church of the Prophet Elias, and elsewhere. From that year on, Madaba became “the city of mosaics.” [See Palestine Exploration Fund; and the biographies of Schumacher and Bliss.]

In 1965, a German mission under the direction of H. Donner restored the Madaba map mosaic. In 1966, Ute Lux of the German Evangelical Institute excavated the Church of al-Khadir and, in 1967, the Church of the Apostles (Lux, 1967, 1968). Beginning in 1968, the Department of Antiquities of Jordan conducted excavations in the cathedral and in the Salayta Church. In collaboration with the Department of Antiquities, Michele Piccirillo of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF) conducted several archaeological campaigns, as of 1979, in the area of the Church of the Virgin Mary and of the Hippolythus hall, in the “burnt palace” along the paved Roman street, and in the cathedral church on the south side of the tell. [See Deutsches Evangelisches Institut für Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes; Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.]

The finds from two tombs discovered in the necropolis area west of the tell are the only archaeological evidence that Madaba was inhabited at least from the thirteenth century BCE (the final phase of the Late Bronze Age). A second tomb, from the Iron Age I–II, was found on the slopes of the hill in front of the tell on the south.

The main edifices so far excavated are several churches and palaces of the Byzantine and Umayyad periods. It is known that Christianity spread rapidly in the Provincia Arabia. Eusebius mentions Qurayat as “a village of only Christians flourishing near Madaba” (Onomasticon 112.14). Monks lived on Mt. Nebo, west of Madaba, at least in the second half of the fourth century. [See Nebo, Mount.] However, it is only from the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, held in 451, that the existence of a Christian community at Madaba is known, with a bishop under the authority of the metropolitan archbishop of Bosra. [See Bosra.] The Life of St. Euthymius, written by Cyril of Scythopolis, recounts that Gaianus, a disciple of the saint, was consecrated bishop of Maiumas in Gaza. In the fifth century Peter the Iberian, bishop of Maiumas, entered and stopped in Madaba on the road to the hot baths of Baarus (modern Hammamat Ma῾in).

The inscriptions in the mosaics of the churches in Madaba and its environs are the principal and practically the only source of historical information available for the first decades of the sixth century through the eighth century. Phidus and Cyrus probably were the bishops of Madaba in the first decades of the sixth century. In the time of Phidus, the lower Chapel of the Priest John at Khirbet el-Mukhayyat was built and a mosaic executed. In the time of Cyrus, the photisterion (“baptistery”) of the cathedral in Madaba received a mosaic, as did the Church of Kaianos in the Valley of ῾Ain Musa north of Mt. Nebo. The mosaics in the diaconicon-baptistery of the Sanctuary of Moses and in the Church of St. George in the village of Nebo mention that Elias was bishop in 531 and 536. [See Baptisteries.]

In 562, when John was bishop of the diocese, the Chapel of St. Theodore, in the atrium of the cathedral, received a mosaic. During John's episcopate, a small chapel was built in the southeast sector of the city, to which the Church of the Apostles was later added. In the village of Nebo, the upper Chapel of the priest John and the Church of the Holy Martyrs Lot and Procopius were built and paved with mosaic floors.


Madaba. Figure 2. The Church of the Virgin and the Hippolytus Hall. (Archive Studium Biblicum Franciscanum; photograph by Michele Piccirillo)

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Just outside the north wall of the city of Madaba in the time of the emperor Justinian, a great reservoir was dug to provide the city's water. In the valley southwest of the tell, another great reservoir (about 100 sq m and 10 m deep) was already in use. The mosaic in the Hippolythus hall, the best example of the city's classical renaissance, is dated to this period, the first half of the sixth century (see figure 2). The hall was part of a mansion that had been added to the west side of the Roman temple (the Tychaion) on the north side of the paved road (the decumanus) in the center of the city's northern quarter. The mosaic pavement (7.30 × 9.50 m) is lavishly decorated with Nilotic and mythological motifs inspired by Euripides's tragedy Hippolytus. The personifications of the Tychai of the christianized cities of Rome, Gregoria, and Madaba also appear, each one holding a cross on a long staff. In the mosaic's central panel, the characters in the tragedy are accompanied by labels with their respective names: the handmaidens assist Phaedra, while the wet-nurse turns toward Hippolytus, who is accompanied by his ministers and by a servant who holds his mount by the bridle. In a second figurative panel, the goddess Aphrodite, seated on a throne next to Adonis, threatens with her sandal a winged Eros, who is being presented to her by a Grace. A second Eros supports Aphrodite's bare foot, while a third Eros looks on and a fourth is intent on emptying a basket full of flowers representing beans. A second Grace grasps a foot of still another Eros, who takes refuge among the branches of a tree, and a third Grace runs after the sixth Eros. A peasant girl coming from the country observes the scene and locates the scene in the countryside.

From 576 to the end of the century, Sergius was bishop of Madaba. The inscriptions chart the period's building activities, which were especially busy in the diocese during his episcopate. He continued the renovations begun by his predecessor John, and in 576 brought to completion the restoration of the atrium of the cathedral, with its cistern and new baptismal chapel. In 578, the mosaicist Salaman signed mosaic floor of the Church of the Apostles, which was built on the southeast corner of the acropolis. At the same time, at Umm er-Rasas/Kastron Mefaa, 30 km (19 mi.) east of Madaba, the northern church (named the Church of Bishop Sergius), the Church of the Lions, the Church of the Rivers, and the Church of the Priest Wa'il were built and lavish mosaics were laid down. [See Umm er-Rasas.] The most important building program in the diocese was the construction of the Basilica of Moses on Mt. Nebo, completed in 597/98. At the same time, a sacred complex that included the Church of the Virgin and the Church of the Prophet Elias was begun in the city. Before the death of Sergius in 595/96, the crypt of the Church of the Prophet Elias was completed.

In 603, Bishop Leontius, “sweetest and true friend of peace,” as he was remembered in inscriptions, had already succeeded Bishop Sergius. A room with mosaics, to the north of the church in the cathedral complex, is dated to 603. In the southern territory of the diocese, the west church in the village of Mukawer was decorated with mosaics and dedicated in 603. [See Machaerus.] In 608 the building program of the two churches on the main street, begun in the time of Sergius's predecessor, was finished with the aid of funds donated by two brothers, Menas son of Panphilus, and Theodosius. A chapel dedicated to the Virgin Theotokos was added to the baptistery on the southern wall of the Basilica of Moses on Mt. Nebo.

To these dated monuments should be added, for stylistic reasons, several other churches discovered at Madaba and in the nearby villages. They were either built or restored in the second half of the sixth century-beginning of the seventh century, at the time of the Bishops John, Sergius, and Leontius. It was the period during which the most intense ecclesiastical building activity took place: the northern church with the mosaic map of Palestine, the church of al-Khadir, the Hippolytus hall, and the Burnt palace.

The basilica near the city's north gate had been identified before the Madaba map mosaic was discovered and published. In the 1880s the Greek Orthodox community had chosen the area to build a chapel and a house for its priest. Then in 1896 a new church was built there, during which the left sections of its mosaic floor were uncovered. Within the three-naved church, the mosaic composition did not extend much farther than the limits of those sections, which are each 15.70 m wide and 5.60 m long. The nearly 150 geographic captions in the mosaic's left sections refer mainly to Syro-Palestinian territory from the region of Tyre and Sidon on the north, to the Egyptian Delta on the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Syrian desert. The mosaic's figurative high point is the vignette of Jerusalem, which, in a way is the ideal center of the composition even if it is not in the exact physical center. The city, seen in a bird's-eye view, is represented with its walls, gates, streets, and principal buildings, some of them still identifiable. The map is oriented east, as are its cities and their buildings—so are the captions, which can be seen and read by whomever enters the church and walks toward the altar. In spite of the approximations the map's small area required in order to distribute the localities along the region's road network, the sites are quite clearly indicated, by captions and vignettes that suggest the importance of each locality. From the captions of the toponyms (mostly taken from the Onomasticon of Eusebius), and especially from the direct references to the Israelite tribes, it becomes clear that the map is, in the first place, a document of biblical geography. The addition of New Testament localities and the preeminence of Christian sanctuaries and churches and of the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in the heart of Jerusalem, make the map a Christian rereading of the history of salvation in its geographic framework. Seen in this perspective, the map is a document of the faith of the Christians who executed it. Artistically, the map and the mosaics of Madaba and its environs should be seen in the context of the classical renaissance of the Justinian period.

After a period of historical silence, recent excavations have clarified that the Christian community of Madaba was still vital during the Umayyad period. On the acropolis of Ma῾in, “a large village near the hot baths of Baaru” (Onomasticon 44.21), a church was rebuilt with a mosaic pavement in 719/20. The pavement depicted a series of buildings representing the cities and villages in Palestine and Transjordan.

At Umm er-Rasas/Kastron Mefaa the church of St. Stephen was rebuilt and paved with the same kind of architectonical representations at the time of Bishop Sergios II—certainly in the eighth century, although the exact year cannot be fixed. In 756, under Bishop Job, the presbytery of the same church was repaved. In 762, also under Bishop Job, the mosaic of the chapel of the Virgin Theotokos in the monastery of ῾Ayn al-Kanisah on Mt. Nebo was restored.

In 767, at the time of Bishop Theophane, the mosaic of the church of the Virgin in the center of Madaba was repaved. This is the last date for the Christian community and for the city. Archaeological evidence points to a scanty occupation in the later periods until the modern resettlement in December 1880.

[See also Churches; and Mosaics.]


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Michele Piccirillo