Qaṣr Al-Ḥallabat

QAṣR AL-ḥALLABAT. Figure 1. General view of the ruins. (Courtesy G. Bisheh)

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site located in Jordan (32°06′ N, 36°20′ E), 25 km (15.5 mi.) northeast of Zerqa, 55 km (34 mi.) northwest of Azraq, and about 18 km (11 mi.) from the nearest point (to the northwest) of the Via Nova Trajana. It comprises a conglomerate of separate and widely spaced units that include a qaṣr (“castle”; see figure 1), a mosque, a huge reservoir, and eight cisterns dug into the western slope and into the plain alongside the reservoir. The site also includes an irregularly shaped agricultural enclosure with an elaborate system of sluices and a cluster of poorly built houses that extends to the northwest of the reservoir. To these units should be added the bath complex at Ḥammam aṣ-Ṣaraḥ, 2 km east of the castle.

The Princeton Archaeological Expedition to Syria, under the direction of Howard C. Butler (1907–1921), visited the site twice In 1905 and 1909. They drew plans of the castle and mosque, published numerous inscribed stones, and mentioned the reservoir, at the bottom of which they had pitched their camp. The remains are also mentioned by, among others, Rudolf-Ernst Brünnow and Alfred von Domaszewski, Henry Field, G. Lankester Harding, Nelson Glueck, Aurel Stein, Jean Sauvaget, and L. W. B. Rees. Rees published a vertical aerial view that reveals many of the ancient remains associated with the castle. [See the biographies of Harding, Glueck, and Sauvaget.] More recently, Ḥallabat was the subject of detailed investigation by David Kennedy (1982), who published a new plan for the castle and additional inscribed stones, and by Fawwāz Touqan, who emphasized the Early Islamic aspect of the site. Between 1979 and 1985, five seasons of excavation were carried out jointly by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and La Maison de L'Orient Méditerranéen de Lyon. In the course of these excavations, the plan of the mosque was confirmed and the agricultural enclosure investigated. In addition, all the rooms along the north, south, and east walls of the castle were cleared to floor levels, and eleven probes, placed inside the rooms and outside the castle, penetrated the floors down to bedrock. The pottery sherds the probes in the castle produced cannot be assigned earlier than the Umayyad period (661–750 CE). This would indicate that, in the last phase of construction, the earlier occupational debris and whatever floors existed within the castle were thoroughly removed. That there was a pre-Umayyad building, however, is beyond doubt, confirmed by the ceramic evidence from outside the castle as well as by the fact that the enclosure and partition walls were set on the outer edges of earlier walls. This may explain the anomalous plan of Qaṣr al-Ḥallabat compared to other Umayyad buildings.

Qaṣr Al-Ḥallabat

QAṣR AL-ḥALLABAT. Figure 2. Plan of the castle. (Courtesy G. Bisheh)

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The plan of the castle (see figure 2) is square (44 m to the side), with square towers and a single entrance in the eastern wall. A central courtyard paved with flagstones is surrounded on three sides by a series of oblong and nearly square rooms. The northwestern quadrant is occupied by a structure that also consists of a central courtyard surrounded on all but the south side by a number of rooms. This quadrant, which is set apart from the rest of the castle, may have been a low-status area reserved for servants. There is a cistern in each of the two courtyards.

Two inscriptions are thought to have some bearing on the architectural phases of the castle: one in Latin, dated to 212 CE that refers to the construction of a novum castellum; and the other in Greek, dated to 529 CE. Excavations and clearance work inside the castle uncovered a total of 146 Greek inscriptions—as well as two in Nabatean, one in Safaitic, and a fourth in modern Armenian—engraved on regularly cut basalt stones. [See Safaitic-Thamudic Inscriptions; Nabatean Inscriptions.] The vast majority of these inscribed stones belong to an edict issued by the Byzantine emperor Anastasius (491–518) for the administrative and economic reorganization of the Provincia Arabia. It is quite likely that all of the inscribed stones were brought from a nearby settlement, possibly Umm el-Jimal, and reused as building material during the Umayyad reconstruction of the castle. [See Umm el-Jimal.] In the course of this reconstruction, the castle was elaborately decorated with carved stucco, frescoes, and colored mosaics, thus transformed from a fortified building into a palatial residence. The transformation was accompanied by a remarkable development of the site, apparent in its extramural mosque, agricultural enclosure with its elaborate irrigation systems, and the bath complex at Ḥammam aṣ-Ṣaraḥ.

Bibliography

  • Bisheh, Ghazi. “Excavations at Qasr al-Hallabat, 1979.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 24 (1980): 69–77.
  • Bisheh, Ghazi. “The Second Season of Excavations at Hallabat, 1980.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 26 (1982): 133–143.
  • Bisheh, Ghazi. “Qaṣr al-Ḥallābāt: A Summary of the 1984 and 1985 Excavations.” Archiv für Orientforschung 33 (1986): 158–162.
  • Butler, Howard Crosby, et al. Publications of the Princeton University Archaeological Expeditions to Syria in 1904–1905 and 1909. 4 vols. in 9. Leiden, 1907–1921. See Division II, Section A, pp. 70–77 (architecture); Division III, Section A, pp. 21–42 (Greek and Latin inscriptions); and Division IV, Section A, pp. 1ff. (Nabatean inscriptions).
  • Kennedy, David L. Archaeological Explorations on the Roman Frontier in North-East Jordan. British Archaeological Reports, International Series, no. 134. Oxford, 1982. See pages 17–65.
  • Marcillet-Jaubert, Jean. “Recherches au Qasr el-Hallabat.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 24 (1980): 121–124.
  • Marcillet-Jaubert, Jean. “Les inscriptions grecques de Hallabat, II.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 26 (1982): 145–158.

Ghazi Bisheh