Two inscriptions from Luxor, both dating to the reign of Rameses II (c. 1304–1237 BCE), provide the earliest certain epigraphic references to Moab. One of these inscriptions, which apparently commemorates an Egyptian campaign into Moab, is presented with scenes in relief depicting Egyptians attacking fortifications and mentions three towns by name: b(w)trt, yn(?)d, and tbniw. Both inscriptions render the name Moab with the hieroglyphic determinative that indicates a land or a region; other ancient sources verify that Moab was the region immediately east of the Dead Sea. Specifically, the Hebrew Bible refers to the people who lived in that area as Moabites, and two royal inscriptions found there, the Mesha inscription and the Kerak fragment (see below) use the title “king of Moab” for local rulers. The tbniw of the Luxor inscription probably is to be identified with Dibon (present-day Dhiban), known otherwise from the Hebrew Bible and the Mesha inscription. The Balu῾ stela also suggests an Egyptian presence in Moab at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

The most important epigraphic source for ancient Moab is the famous Mesha inscription discovered at Dibon/Dhiban In 1868. Written in Canaanite (or Moabite) script on a basalt stela, the thirty-four lines identify Mesha as the king of Moab and report the major deeds of his reign. Those deeds include his successful struggle to “liberate” the region north of Dibon from Israelite control; numerous building projects, such as the temple to Kemosh, where the stela was erected; and the construction of a road across the Arnon River (Wadi el-Mujib). The Hebrew Bible also reports Mesha's successful rebellion against Israel and states that this occurred following King Ahab's death (2 Ks. 3:6–27), which would place Mesha's reign in the second half of the ninth century BCE. Parts of only four lines of the Kerak fragment survive, but it is enough to reconstruct the name of one [K]mšyt, also identified as king of Moab. It has been suggested that this [K]mšyt was Mesha's father, whose name is partially preserved (Kmš[…]) in the Mesha inscription. This is what speculative, however, because the theophoric element Kmš was typical of royal Moabite names.

Of the few archaeological sites excavated in Moab, most are situated north of the Arnon/Wadi el-Mujib. The following have produced Late Bronze and/or Iron Age remains (listing from north to south): Khirbet el-῾Al, Hesban, Dhiban (Dibon), Lehun, ῾Ara῾ir, Balu῾, and Khirbet el-Medeineh (i.e., Medeinet el-Mu῾arrajeh, overlooking Wadi el-Lejjun). Especially for the area south of the Arnon/Mujib, therefore, the available archaeological evidence derives largely from surface surveys. It seems clear that the region had a rather sparse sedentary population during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, but experienced a significant increase in the number of settlements during the Iron Age. This trend probably began near the end of the Late Bronze Age and reached a high point in Iron II. Early in the Iron Age some small but strategically located fortifications already appear—Khirbet ῾Akuzeh, on the southern rim of the Kerak plateau; ed-Deir on its western edge; and the two Khirbet Medeinehs on the eastern side, overlooking Wadi el-Lejjun. These suggest the beginnings of an organized defensive strategy early in the Iron Age, although not necessarily a unified territorial state encompassing the whole area east of the Dead Sea, as the Hebrew Bible seems to presuppose.

Specifically, the Hebrew Bible speaks of a race of giants, the Emim, who occupied the land of Moab before the Moabites (Gn. 14:5; 2:10–11). It identifies the Moabites themselves as descendants of Lot's eldest daughter (Gn. 19:30–38) and presupposes a unified Moabite kingdom with fixed boundaries already in place when the Israelites passed through Transjordan during their exodus from Egypt (e.g., Nm. 21:26; 22:4). The Hebrew Bible is not a firsthand source, however, and the picture it presents of ancient Moab clearly is legendary, as well as influenced by theological and ideal notions regarding early Israel. The various Moabite kings mentioned in the Bible (to the extent that they are in fact historical people), as well as the Shasu king (?) featured in the Balu῾ inscription, may have been tribal chieftains or lords over local city-states. Among the former are Balak, who is said to have engaged the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites while they were camped in the plains of Moab (Nm. 22–24); Eglon, who is reported to have oppressed Israel during the time of the Judges (Jgs. 3:12–30); and Mesha, who reportedly paid an annual tribute to Israel of a hundred thousand lambs and the wool of a hundred thousand rams but rebelled after Ahab's death.

The Mesha inscription provides a firsthand look at political circumstances in Moab during the ninth century BCE. The kingdom Mesha inherited from his father seems to have consisted essentially of the city-state of Dibon, for which Wadi el-Mujib and Wadi el-Wale would have provided natural boundaries. From this base he claims to have expanded his domain northward as far as Madaba, fortified ῾Aro῾er (῾Ara῾ir), presumably to protect the road he built across the Arnon/Mujib, and conducted at least one military campaign into the region south of the Arnon (depending on the location of Ḥoronaim mentioned in line 31). However, the geographic range of his building activities as reported in the inscription implies that, except for possible military excursions, the Moabite territory south of the Arnon was beyond the limits of his domain. Mesha credited his successes to the Moabite god Kemosh, and the inscription stood in a temple dedicated to Kemosh.

Assyrian texts indicate that Moab, along with the other peoples of Transjordan, became Assyrian vassals following Tiglath-Pileser III's western campaigns In 734–732 BCE. This status involved payments of heavy tribute to Assyria, but also Assyrian protection, which seems to have been needed primarily against the nomadic Qederites, who roamed the desert regions east and southeast of Damascus. Also learned from these Assyrian texts are the names of four additional Moabite kings and other bits of information about Moab's involvement in international affairs. A fragment of a clay tablet discovered at Nimrud lists Salamanu of Moab among the kings who paid tribute to Tiglath-Pileser shortly after 734 BCE. A prism fragment from the reign of Sargon II suggests that Moab was implicated in an anti-Assyrian revolt led by Ashdod In 713 BCE. A Kammusunadbi of Moab is mentioned among local Palestinian kings who sent presents to assure Sennacherib of their loyalty when he marched against Philistia and Judah In 701 BCE. In addition, a King Musuri of Moab appears in a list of kings who transported building materials to Nineveh during the reign of Esarhaddon, as well as in another list of local rulers who sent presents to Ashurbanipal and supported his wars against Egypt. Two more texts from Ashurbanipal's region report Assyrian military action against the Qederites. One of these texts mentions a King Kamashaltu of Moab, who seems to have played a major role in the action. (For documentation of the Assyrian references to Moab, see J. Maxwell Miller, “Moab and the Moabites” in Dearman, ed., 1989, pp. 1–40.)

Josephus (Antiq. 10.9.7) states that Nebuchadrezzar made war on the Ammonites and Moabites and brought them under Babylonian control. Presumably, the peoples of Transjordan submitted to Persia as well, but there is no specific evidence of this.

[See also ῾Ara῾ir; Balu῾; Central Moab; Dibon; Kerak; Lehun; Medeineh, Khirbet el-; and Moabite Stone.]


  • Bienkowski, Piotr, ed. Early Edom and Moab: The Beginning of the Iron Age in Southern Jordan. Sheffield, 1992. Essays focusing on the transition from the Late Bronze to the Iron Age in southern Transjordan and therefore attentive to issues pertaining to the origins of the Moabite and Edomite monarchies. Kenneth A. Kitchen's essay, “The Egyptian Evidence on Ancient Jordan” (pp. 21–30), is especially useful. Find it in your Library
  • Dearman, Andrew, ed. Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab. Atlanta, 1989. Nine essays that combine to provide a comprehensive overview of recent studies, issues, and views pertaining to ancient Moab. J. Maxwell Miller's essay, “Moab and the Moabites” (pp. 1–40), provides full documentation for references to Moab in biblical and other ancient sources. Find it in your Library
  • Miller, J. Maxwell. “The Israelite Journey through (around) Moab and Moabite Toponymy.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 577–595. Analysis of key biblical texts relevant for locating Moabite places mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and the Mesha inscription. Find it in your Library
  • Reed, William L., and Fred V. Winnett. “A Fragment of an Early Moabite Inscription from Kerak.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 172 (1963): 1–9. Initial publication of the fragment that reconstructs the king's name as [K]mšyt and identifies him as Mesha's father. Find it in your Library
  • Timm, Stefan. Moab zwischen den Mächten: Studien zu historischen Denkmälern und Texten. Wiesbaden, 1989. Comprehensive treatment of epigraphic evidence pertaining to ancient Moab. Find it in your Library
  • Worschech, Udo F. Ch. Die Beziehungen Moabs zu Israel und Ägypten in der Eisenzeit: Siedlungsarchäologische und siedlungshistorische Untersuchungen im Kernland Moabs (Arḍ el-Kerak). Wiesbaden, 1990. Based on his own archaeological explorations in the Moabite region, Worschech argues for an early Moabite territorial monarchy already in place by the beginning of Iron I. Find it in your Library

J. Maxwell Miller