The Islamic Jarash Project: A Preliminary Report on the First Two Seasons of Fieldwork

by Kristoffer Damgaard & Louise Blanke

Purpose of the Islamic Jarash Project
The History of Research
A Brief History of the Site
The 2002 and 2003 Fieldwork
The Jarash Mosque in Context


top  Abstract

Since the summer of 2002, a joint venture between the University of Copenhagen and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has resulted in excavations at the classical site of Jarash in northern Jordan. Founded as a Hellenistic town, this settlement flourished as a Roman and early Christian (Byzantine) city, however, recent decades of research have increasingly provided evidence suggesting a substantial Early Islamic (c. 650-850 CE) urban settlement here as well. The Islamic Jarash Project sets out to re-examine the occupational history of Jarash in Late Antiquity and, by locating and excavating parts of the Early Islamic town centre, to analyse some of the social, ritual and economic changes, which the supremacy of Islam brought about in the urban communities of the Levant in Late Antiquity. To date, the Islamic Jarash Project has located and excavated an early congregational mosque situated centrally within the ruins of Jarash, superimposed on what seems to be a Byzantine bathhouse. This article gives a brief description of the first two seasons of work at this site.

Figure 1: Location map.
Figure 1: Map of the Jund al-Urdunn showing both Jarash and the provincial capital Tabariyah (Tiberias). (Copyright © Alan Walmsley)

top  Purpose of the Islamic Jarash Project

The archaeological exploration of Jarash (Roman Gerasa) has been relatively comprehensive compared to other similar sites in the Near East. However, an in-depth investigation of the remains belonging to the period following the Islamic conquest of the Levant (i.e. 7th-9th century C.E.) is still pending at this site (Browning 1982), as at many others. The Islamic Jarash Project (henceforth IJP) was set up to remedy this in part, with the intention of shedding new light on social continuity and change in the Levant during the Late Antique and early Islamic periods.

The project was originally devised in early 2002 with the aim of illuminating this period, which, in spite of increased excavations and research projects in recent decades, is still an era marked by obscurity. The lack of archaeological data and subsequent analysis has perpetuated misconceptions as to this formative and transitional period. Notions such as the decline of urban communities in Late Antiquity and the consequent ‘destruction' of supposed classical urban greatness by 'the Islamic conquests' need to be seriously revised. The structuring of an early Islamic civic administration and the transferral of Levantine urban planning from a Christian/Byzantine to an Islamic context are but some of the aspects that the IJP sets out to examine and clarify.

The project is a cooperative enterprise between the Carsten Niebuhr Institute at Copenhagen University and the Department of Antiquities in Jordan, with generous support from the C.L. David Foundation and Collection in Copenhagen. The excavation is under the directorship of Alan Walmsley, Associate Professor of Islamic archaeology and art at Copenhagen University. The team consists mainly of undergraduate and postgraduate students from the university, with additional expertise to excavate, register and analyse the material. (Walmsley 1997, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c; Walmsley et. al. 1993, 1999; Walmsley & Damgaard forthcoming; Walmsley 2001; McNicoll et. al. 1982, 1992). [1]

At the point of writing this paper, two seasons of excavations have been undertaken, one in 2002 and another in 2003. A third season is planned for summer 2004. The project is intended to continue for a number of years with a programme of excavation and research. Moreover, restoration of the early Islamic settlement at Jarash has also been proposed. The preliminary accomplishments presented here are the results of the first two seasons of fieldwork, and will concentrate mainly on the congregational mosque of Jarash, which has been the focus of the excavations to date.

top  The History of Research

There were several factors which indicated the presence of an early Islamic community at this site, and more specifically of a much larger congregational mosque than the building suggested by Naghawi in 1982 ([Figure 2] no.15) (Naghawi 1982; Walmsley 2003a: 113). Both historical sources and archaeological evidence lend credence to the idea that Jarash was a functioning urban unit well into the Islamic era. They also suggest that social and dynastic change may not necessarily be correlated. Certainly, the Muslim conquest of the Middle East provoked important social changes, but many of the changes that culminated with the rise of Islam were processes which can be traced further back than the mid-7th century CE.

Figure 2: Plan of Jarash.

Figure 2: Plan of Jarash including the presumed principal features of the early Islamic town. Legend: 1) Umayyad mosque; 2) Possible Islamic administrative centre; 3) Umayyad 'House' as excavated by the Polish mission - potential market area (suq); 4) South tetrakonia - built over; 5) Macellum & Southern Cardo; 6) Oval Piazza - domestic quarter; 7) Zeus temple forecourt - potential industrial area; 8) Hippodrome and Bishop Marianos church; 9) SS Peter and Paul church; 10) Churches of SS Cosmas and Damianus, St George and St John the Baptist; 11) Christian complex of two churches, a bath and housing all occupied under the Umayyads/Abbasids; 12) Artemis compound - Islamic ceramic production; 13) Synagogue church; 14) North Theatre - industrial area with large kilns; 15) Naghawi's 'Umayyad mosque' discovered in 1981; 16) Central cardo with blacksmith's shop. (Copyright © Alan Walmsley/ IJP)

Abbasid historians such as al-Baladhuri and al-Ya`qubi record Jarash as one of nine administrative centres in the < i>Jund al-Urdunn[2], reporting to a provincial capital located at Tabariyah ( Tiberias) (figure 1) (Walmsley 2003b: 111). As late as the final decades of the 10th century CE, Jarash is still known as a region containing numerous agricultural settlements (Walmsley 2003b: 112). [3]

Archaeologically, we are provided with even greater indications of a functioning urban community in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. The presence of an early Islamic mint in Jarash (Album & Goodwin 2002: 89; Naghawi 1989), as well as abundant evidence of Islamic ceramic production (Schaefer & Falkner 1986; Parapetti 1986:184-187), are but some of the indicators worth mentioning. Unfortunately, many of the Islamic remains at this site were discovered accidentally, and were excavated or cleared without appropriate attention or recording. A Polish mission working on what is today known as the ‘Umayyad House' carried out some of the best work on the Islamic community at Jarash. Located on the northern side of the western end of the southern decumanus [4] (figure 2 no.3) (see Gawlikowski 1986; 1992), this structure was fronted by shops, and planned as a traditional Arabic bayt (Arabic for house, most often courtyard based) with rooms surrounding an open courtyard area. It was dated to the late 8th century and evidence was found of 9th-century reuse as a potters' workshop. Evidence of continuing ecclesiastical activities such as church-services and maintenance of Christian structures is also prevalent. This is significant because there are no archaeological suggestions of church-to-mosque conversions. Furthermore, a small structure identified as a mosque was discovered on the eastern side of the cardo [5] in 1981. However, even though it was called the ‘Umayyad' mosque, it is probably of a later date and perhaps not a mosque at all.

The Yale Joint Mission [6] (Kraeling 1938) excavations in 1928-34 revealed quite extensive early Islamic settlement on what is today the southern end of the cardo. From the southern tetrakonia [7] and along the cardo to the ‘Oval Piazza' [8] numerous structures of an early Islamic date were uncovered (Krealing 1938: 103-116). These structures were all cleared in order to reveal the Roman paving upon which they had been constructed; for this was henceforth to be used as the site's main thoroughfare. The notion that the rise of Islam had been among the most important contributors to the destruction of Classical ‘greatness' in the eastern Mediterranean seems to have been predominant among scholars at the time, and little reverence was given to remains from Islamic periods. The notion was so common, that when the Yale team discovered what was referred to as a ‘well built Arabic edifice … laid out in the form of a hollow square with at least one corner tower and colonnaded porticoes' (Kraeling 1938: 114), in the south-western corner of the southern tetrakonia, it was presumed to be a ‘guard house'. Once this clue was reviewed together with a 1920s aerial photograph of the site, and compared with other early Islamic sites such as `Anjar in Lebanon, [9]the foundation for the IJP was laid.

Prior to the commencement of our work, two excavations had taken place in the area where the mosque was located ( henceforth termed MO). The first was by the Yale Joint Mission in 1933-34, the results of which have already been mentioned. Mr. Ali Musa undertook the second in 1998, and this excavation exposed the remains of a Byzantine bathhouse in the center of the courtyard of the mosque. The refilled remains of this and other minor structures (work spaces, shops etc.) apparently constituted the foundational deposits for the eastern sections of the mosque.

top A Brief History of the Site

Today, Jarash consists of an excavated and partly restored archaeological site and a surrounding modern town with a population of around 20,000. The site is situated ca. 35 km north of Amman and is one of Jordan's major tourist attractions. The architectural history of Jarash dates back to the Hellenistic period (c.323-64 BCE), however, ceramic and lithic evidence indicate that the history of the site spans as far back as the early Chalcolithic (c.4500 BCE) ( Aubin 1997: 215; for a more general history of the site see Browning 1982). Nevertheless, the city is mainly known for its Roman and Byzantine occupation because of the extensive monumental architecture from these periods which dominate the site today. The long history of Jarash is most likely due to its strategic location in a fertile valley, close to caravan routes and trade-crossroads that lead south to Amman, north to Damascus and Bostra and east to Tabaqat Fahl ( Pella) and Baysan (Scythopolis) (Walmsley 2003c: 17) [Figure 1].

When Pompey brought the region under Roman control in 64-63 BCE, the city became a part of the Decapolis confederation: an administrative unit consisting of ten (and perhaps more) Graeco-Macedonian cities allegedly founded by Alexander the Great and his successors. Territorially, the Decapolis covered much of northern Jordan, with a few centres in southern Syria and one (Scythopolis/Baysan) in Israel. The Decapolis union was subordinate to Roman hegemony through the Province of Syria, but may have retained some form of autonomy, although to what extent remains unknown (Ball 2000: 181). During the Byzantine period Jarash, like some of the other Decapolis cities, became an Episcopal residence (Strange 1998: 41).

The city is laid out in a typical Roman grid-plan, with a cardo intersected by two decumani. The major roads were lined with colonnades, shops and other public buildings, and monumental tetrapylons marked the two large intersections. The Roman and Byzantine periods have received by far the most attention, both from archaeologists and the general public. This has meant that several of the archaeological expeditions to the site have removed Islamic structures in order to uncover the underlying Roman and Byzantine architecture. An example of this is the clearing of a number of Islamic houses built on top of the cardo by the Yale Joint Mission during 1933-1934 and by G.L. Harding between 1937- 1940. Furthermore, the clearing of the ‘Oval Piazza' by Harding in the same period saw the removal of an extensive domestic quarter presumably also of an early Islamic date (Walmsley 2003a: 3). Nonetheless, it should be noted that the exposing of the Roman monuments has been largely responsible for the present architectural opulence of the site, which through the years has attracted quite substantial tourism and funding. Today, the site boasts a number of impressive remains including the ‘Oval Piazza', the great columned avenues, the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, the Nymphaeum, the Macellum, a hippodrome, two tetrapylons (one of which has been completely reconstructed), and two theatres. In addition to the Roman remains, a number of Byzantine churches have survived. Many of these are elaborately decorated with mosaics and some have been partially restored.

Until recently, it was generally believed that Jarash and many other Levantine cities witnessed a period of decline in the late 6th and early 7th century CE, culminating in their cataclysmic demise with the Islamic conquests of the second quarter of the 7th century. However, the historical sources confirm the general archaeological evidence, which suggests a nondestructive Islamic conquest of Jarash. [10] Moreover, the last two to three decades of research have revealed a flourishing urban life in the Late Antique Near East, and have especially shown that the new Islamic communities coexisted peacefully with their Christian counterparts.

top  The 2002 and 2003 Fieldwork

The primary purpose of the 2002 season was to ascertain positively the existence of an early congregational mosque in Jarash, thereby establishing the importance of the city in this period. For this reason, excavation units were placed strategically on areas with the intention of revealing critical features of such a building. Such diagnostic features would be a porticoed courtyard (sahn) fronted by a smaller roofed prayer hall and including a holy niche, or mihrab, in the qibla wall (i.e. the wall of a mosque denoting the direction of prayer towards Mecca). A closer examination of the structure's layout and dimensions revealed that the alignment of the qibla wall is at 190° SW, which compared to nearby Amman (160° SE) is slightly off. The overall dimensions of the mosque are 38.9 metres E-W, and 44.5 metres N-S. The prayer hall measures ca. 13.8 meter in its north-south axis, and covers an area just under 480 square metres [Figure 3]. The excavation units were laid out on a 10 by 10 meter grid system, and aligned to permanent fixed points set within the building (e.g. the northeastern corner of the mosque).

Figure 3: Plan of the Jarash mosque.
Figure 3: Plan of the Jarash mosque based on the plan of field architect Mikala Mortensen. (Copyright © Alan Walmsley/IJP)

One such excavation unit (MO/2) was laid out in the northeastern corner of the mosque, covering the supposed minaret (Figure 4), and partly incorporating the area previously excavated by the Yale Joint Mission. A second unit (MO/3) was laid out in order to expose the entrance façade and doorway. Two further excavation units were placed in the prayer hall (MO/5 & MO/4) above the expected mihrab and immediately north of this. Locating the mihrab was critical in order to confirm the existence of a mosque and would serve to establish a significant Islamic presence in Jarash at this time. [11] It was also clear that further excavation of the already exposed bathhouse had to be carried out.

Figure 4: View of the tower/minaret.
Figure 4: View of the tower/minaret located in the north-eastern corner of the mosque (MO/2). (Copyright © K. Damgaard)

Figure 5: View of MO/5 including the double mihrab and two column bases.
Figure 5: View of MO/5 including the double mihrab and two column bases. This excavation unit was opened in the 2002 season. The sondage on the left was opened in 2003 in order to explore the foundations of the mosque. (Copyright © K. Damgaard)

Prior to excavation, several architectural features of the mosque were already partially visible. These included a few courses of the northern entrance façade (containing the main entrance to the mosque), parts of the eastern wall, and the previously mentioned ‘tower' in the northeast corner of the building, which was assumed to be a minaret. In the northern part of the eastern wall a threshold was observed. This was interpreted as the remains of a secondary entrance to the courtyard, and was most likely approached via some form of platform leading from the structures of the tetrakonial area to the mosque proper.

While excavating the supposed minaret [12] (i.e. the Yale ‘tower' = MO/2), heavily contaminated earth was revealed. Apparently, the excavation unit consisted at least partially of back-filled material from a post-Yale Joint Mission date.[13] The main purpose of this excavation unit was to examine the foundation of the minaret and its relation to the surrounding architecture. The results suggest that the minaret was a later addition to the building, since the walls butt the main enclosure walls. Furthermore, the minaret walls (ca. 1 meter across) are thicker than the enclosure walls, which measure 70 cm across. Presumably, the thicker walls of the minaret gave it sufficient structural strength to carry the great weight of the tower. The methods of construction in the enclosure wall and abutted minaret walls also differ markedly. The enclosure walls consist of large stone courses flanking a fill of smaller stones and red earth (terra rossa), whereas the minaret walls are less robust in structure, with numerous irregularities in the masonry. Also, the foundation courses of the tower are as deeply placed as the foundation courses of the enclosure walls. The minaret was entered through an opening in the southern wall where the remains of a threshold are still visible. Internally the tower measures 2.4 metres square, suggesting that a ladder was used to reach the top, rather than an actual staircase. Sadly the previous excavations of this area have resulted in a general lack of contextual material here, making it extremely difficult to date the construction more precisely.

Immediately southwest of the minaret the remains of a large pier were unearthed. A number of column bases were revealed running both east and south from this pier, confirming the presence of porticoes lining the courtyard. The depth of each portico was ca. 4.8 meters. The same features are presumably present in the western end of the courtyard, but until established through excavation this remains speculation. So far it has been difficult to determine whether the column bases lining the southern end of the courtyard constitute an actual portico or are simply the remains of the first arcade of the prayer hall.

The excavation of MO/3 exposed two column bases continuing the axis delineated by the northern column base in MO/2. Furthermore, this excavation unit, like the units inside the prayer hall (MO/4, MO/5, MO/7 & MO/8) revealed abundant evidence of a tiled roof, which once covered the porticoes and prayer hall. All the tile-covered areas had collapsed at some point; in front of the southern wall, the tile debris was discovered underneath the perimeter wall, which had collapsed inwards on top of the fallen tiles. This may be an indication that the tiled roof was sloping towards the entrance wall, and thus had its highest point towards the courtyard.

No paving was found in the northern end of the mosque, but yellowish clay packing was present throughout MO/3. At present, it is difficult to discern whether there was any form of paving in the courtyard and porticoes, since much of the well-worked original building stone clearly has been reused elsewhere. Hopefully, further excavations can help illuminate this matter.

The excavation of the prayer hall revealed several interesting features. Two rows of column bases running parallel to the qibla wall were uncovered, and at the northern end of the prayer hall (MO/4 & MO/7) a small area of pavement, consisting of large stone slabs, was also unearthed. Originally, this paving is likely to have covered the entire prayer hall. However, it is interesting to note that the sub-paving layer consisted of the same yellowish clay packing as was evident in MO/3. Large amounts of tiles (especially flat and imbrex tiles) were found directly on the sub-paving packing, indicating that the presumed paving had been removed prior to the collapse of the roof. Among this material was a large concentration of flat and imbrex tiles. The great quantity of imbrex tiles implies that the tiled roofing constituted a substantial surface, which combined with the double arcades of the prayer hall, suggests that the mosque had a triple gabled roof construction similar to that on both sides of the central nave in the Great Mosque of Damascus.

The excavation of the qibla wall revealed not one, but two mihrab (figures 3 & 5). The larger of the two seems to be the original for it bonds with the qibla wall, whereas the smaller was added on at some later point using a different mortar than the larger mihrab and qibla wall, and constructed as a small quadratic salient protruding from the exterior. The mortar applied here is very hard and has a whitish colour, whereas the qibla wall and original mihrab consist of two rows of large stones flanking a fill of smaller stones and a clayey terra rossa – in much in the same style as the northern and eastern enclosure walls.

The larger mihrab is circular both internally and externally, with an internal diameter of 2.85 meters. It is offset 1.2 meters east of the central axis of the mosque. At some stage the original mihrab was partly blocked – coursing was discovered inside the larger niche – leaving only a small opening, the significance of which is currently being considered. In connection to this blocking, the second mihrab was inserted about two meters further east. As mentioned, the external wall of this feature is not circular as the original, but square, its internal diameter measuring 1.2 meters. The dual mihrab and potential shift from one to the other is yet another aspect that needs to be further explored in coming seasons before any conclusions as to their history may be put forward. There are nonetheless examples of substantial early mosques that have multiple mihrab in use at the same time, the great mosque of Damascus being the most obvious. However, as is evident from [ Figure 7], the length to width proportions of the Damascus mosque differ from our case in Jarash, and the two mihrab are much more evenly spaced in the qibla wall than at Jarash. While it is possible that the first mihrab of the Jarash mosque may have functioned simultaneously with the second until at some point it was blocked; the proximity of the two mihrab to each other make this an unlikely scenario.

Figure 7: Bar graph showing the length to width proportions in a number of early mosques, including Jarash.
Figure 7: Bar graph showing the length to width proportions in a number of early mosques, including Jarash. Note the shift in proportions beginning with the Umar mosque in Busra, Syria. (Copyright © A.G. Walmsley & K. Damgaard)

Located centrally in the courtyard of the mosque is the bathhouse first discovered by Mr. Ali Musa in 1998. This structure revealed several phases of construction and rebuilding, and it is likely that it had already been decommissioned when it was leveled and refilled in order to create a solid foundation for the construction of the mosque.

The 2003 season mainly focused examination on the excavation units established the previous season (MO/2, MO/3, MO/ 5 & MO/6). In addition to these, two further units were opened in the prayer hall (MO/7 & MO/8). Both were situated east of the extant excavation units prolonging their east-west axis. In excavating these, four additional column bases were discovered, all of which were in line with the previously excavated bases of MO/4 and MO/5. One of the bases in the northernmost section of a new unit (MO/7) was distinctly different from the others, in that it consisted entirely of a coarse limestone-mortar foundation set directly onto the sub-paving packing. This foundational deposit presumably served as an alternative to the actual column bases (which are likely to be Roman or Byzantine spolia) seen in the rest of the mosque, a notion corroborated by the fact that a circular impression was revealed upon clearing it; a mark apparently derived from the weight of the column standing on top of it. So far only the top few centimeters of this rather innovative feature have been uncovered, making any conclusions tentative at best. However, a few additional points should be mentioned here. Emerging from the baulks of this excavation unit, a number of the prayer hall's paving stones were discovered in situ. Based on the level of the surviving paving, it can be concluded that when the mosque was in use, worshippers would only have seen the actual columns rising directly from the paving. The bases remained hidden beneath the floor, thus allowing for the structural inconsistency described above without compromising the aesthetic ideals of mosque architecture.

In MO/5 a trench running perpendicular to the qibla wall was opened in order to examine the foundation of the mosque and hopefully retrieve material, which could provide an absolute date for the levels immediately below this foundation. The excavation revealed what appeared to be refuse of some sort, containing numerous potsherds, bones, metal pieces and a few coins. Sieving deposits from occupational levels led to the discovery of most of these, while soil and other samples were collected for future analysis.

Below this layer, a number of large stones were discovered. These could possibly be the remains of a pre-mosque building, which was demolished during the construction of the mosque. Further exploration of this sondage and its features was nevertheless postponed until the coming season. Even so, it should be noted that the dump-layer includes some indications, such as a substantial earth fill, of a general leveling of the entire area prior to the construction of our mosque. Further studies of the numismatic and ceramic evidence from this area are anticipated to provide us with greater insight regarding the foundation and date of the mosque. A second sondage was opened in MO/3, however, in spite of clear pre-mosque building phases it is also too early to say anything conclusive about the evidence retrieved here.

What can be said with confidence about the congregational mosque of Jarash at this stage? Certainly, it was constructed as a mosque from the outset, for it displays all the critical features associated with such a building at a foundational level. It is also clear that a number of structures which occupied this prominent location in the urban environment, had to be demolished and leveled in order to make room for the mosque. To what extent these buildings were already in a state of decay is difficult to say at the moment, but it is clear that at least a bathhouse and a number of shops in the south-western quadrant of the tetrakonia were functioning sometime prior to the area being prepared (as suggested by the antique fill deposits) in order to construct the mosque. Furthermore, there are a number of features, such as the ‘minaret' and elements of the riwaqs (arcades/colonnades), which clearly are constructed independently from the enclosure walls. Whether such additions are contemporary with the general construction phase or were added at a later point is currently difficult to determine with any certainty, since the Yale Joint Mission permanently destroyed the stratigraphic context of the northeastern corner of the mosque in the 1930s.

top  The Jarash Mosque in Context [14]

What tentative conclusions can then be drawn here? Naturally, before any definitive suggestions or substantiated hypotheses are put forward regarding the nature of the early Islamic urban community of Jarash, a great amount of work remains to be done. With this caveat in mind, firstly, we would like to consider this building within the broader context of early mosque architecture and secondly, we would like to present briefly our expectations for the coming seasons of IJP

Obviously it must be taken into account that when appropriating century-old urban centres, only limited vacant space is available. In order to construct the most important buildings (e.g. administrative and religious structures) it is often necessary to either demolish or usurp extant structures. This is reflected by the demolished bathhouse immediately under what once was the sahn, or courtyard, of the mosque. From what is currently visible, this building seems to be relatively small in size and in poor condition, and up to this point, we have come across no evidence to suggest a more elaborate scheme of demolition or adaptation in this area of the site. Could it be then that an alternative to the techniques applied in metropolises such as Damascus has been at work here? The possibility that we, with the transition of Jarash to an Islamic context, are witnessing a geographical shift of the community's centre to a new, less built up area of the city, is significant to say the least, and allows for new perspectives in the study of the Muslim subjugation of the Middle East. These and other aspects will require additional study in the seasons to come, but the prospect of revealing fresh insights into the social and administrative mechanisms that allowed the Decapolis cities to take on new significance in the Umayyad period (661-750 CE) would indeed make such further study worthwhile.

The dimensions of the Jarash mosque correspond well with the type of structures we see at other early Islamic sites that are presumed to accommodate only a relatively small number of Muslims. Based on the individual space each adult person is granted in a filled modern mosque, it has been roughly estimated that the prayer hall of the Jarash mosque could have housed 350-400 worshippers at any one time, and if the courtyard is included, as many as 2500-3000 worshippers. Although these numbers in all likelihood do not reflect the Muslim demography in Jarash at the time, it is quite probable that the prayer hall would have been designed to accommodate the entire Muslim population in Jarash at that time. If we study these dimensions even more closely, and perhaps correlate certain dimensional and stylistic features with other early mosques, then it is possible tentatively to date this building.

When looking at [Figure 6], it is quite clear that the overall dimensions of the Jarash mosque are consistent with mosque construction in the late first, and entire second quarter of the 8th century CE. This is the reign of the Umayyad caliph Hishâm (r. 105-125 AH/724-743 CE), who besides being one of the longest reigning Umayyad caliphs, also is known for an extensive scheme of construction in the Umayyad heartland. If we compare the Jarash mosque to other mosques attributed to Hishâm, e.g. Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi and Rusafa Ia in Syria or the Downtown 1 and Citadel mosques of Amman, it is clear that there are correlations, not only in the traditional Arabic plan (i.e. a roofed and pillared prayer hall fronted by a courtyard that has porticoes on its remaining sides), but also in the more exact dimensions of the mosque. Moreover, when viewing figure 7, it is clear that there is a shift in the length-to-width proportions of mosques during the Umayyad period, and that the Jarash mosque is included in this ‘shift'.

Figure 6: General dimensions of a number of important early mosques.
Figure 6: This graph shows the general dimensions of a number of important early mosques to which our example might be compared. The data presented here are based on length (i.e. always perpendicular to the qibla-wall), width (i.e. always parallel to the qibla-wall) and total area covered in square meters. Note the proportional rise of the Y-axis. (Copyright © A.G. Walmsley & K. Damgaard)

With the exception of the mosques in Madina in Saudi Arabia and San`a' in Yemen, both of which are very large constructions set well outside the architectural heartland of the Umayyads, it appears that some time during the first quarter of the 8th century CE mosques are increasingly built according to a longer-than-wide plan, as opposed to the earlier wider-than-long plan known from Damascus, `Anjar, the mosque of ‘Amr in al-Fustat (modern Cairo) or the al- Aqsa II mosque in Jerusalem. The mosque at Jarash is therefore not only consistent in terms of measurement, but also follows the constructional pattern laid out by other well-known mosques of this period.

A final note should be made on the future aspirations of the IJP. In the coming seasons we naturally intend to continue our research and excavation of site MO – including the Byzantine bathhouse. Within the next few seasons, and hopefully in summer 2004, we will expand the project to include a large structure immediately west of the mosque ( figure 2 – no.2), which is presumed to date to the first centuries of Islamic hegemony in the Levant. Furthermore, we shall explore the area directly east of the mosque across the cardo. We intend to conduct surveys before excavation using geophysical remote sensing (most likely proton magnetometers and/or electric resistivity meters), in order to produce a clear 3-dimensional image of the architectural features in question. It is our expectation that this technology will reveal more extensive remains of an early Islamic date, and provide the IJP with plentiful material and information to unearth in the years to come.


The authors wish to thank Alan Walmsley for his efforts in the archaeological exploration and comprehension of the Early Islamic Levant, and for allowing us to be part of such a substantial and important project. We are particularly indebted to him for his role in analysing and presenting the material in question. Any flaws or inadequacies are naturally our own. In addition, the authors are grateful to the Department of Antiquities in Jordan, especially Dr. Fawwaz al-Khraysheh and to the David Foundation and Collection for making the IJP possible. Last, but not least, we are thankful to our fellow students and team-mates for numerous valuable discussions and insights.

top Bibliography

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Naghawi, A. 1989. Umayyad Filses minted at Jerash. In: Zayadine, F. (ed). Jerash Archaeological Project 1984-1988 II. Paris, 219-222.

Parapetti, R. 1986. With contributions from Fontana, M.V., Pierobon, R., Bitti, M.C. and Lazarini, M.L. The Italian Activity within the Jerash Project 1982-1983. In: Zayadine, F. (ed.). Jerash Archaeological Project I, 1981-1983. Amman, 167-204.

Schaefer, J. and Falkner B.K. 1986. An Umayyad Potters' Complex in the North Theatre in Jerash. In: Zayadine, F. (ed.). Jerash Archaeological Project I, 1981-1983. Amman, 411-460.

Strange, John. 1998. Jerash. In: Lund, J. (ed.). Den Store Danske Encyclopædi. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 41.

Walmsley, A.G. 1997. Land, resources and Industry in Early Islamic Jordan (Seventh - 11th). Current Research and Future Directions. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan VI: 345-352.

Walmsley, A.G. (ed.). 2001. Australians Uncovering Ancient Jordan. Fifty Years of Middle Eastern Archaeology. Sydney: University of Sydney.

Walmsley, A.G. 2003a. Searching for Islamic Jarash. A report on the 2002 field season of the Danish-Jordanian Islamic Jarash Project. Unpublished report for the University of Copenhagen.

Walmsley, A.G. 2003b. The Friday Mosque of Early Islamic Jarash in Jordan: The 2002 Field Season of the Danish-Jordanian Jarash Project. The Journal of The David Collection I: 111-131.

Walmsley, A.G. 2003c. The Newly-Discovered Congregational Mosque of Jarash in Jordan. al-'Usur al-Wusta. The Bulletin of Middle East Medievalists 15.2: 17-24.

Walmsley, A.G. Macumber, P.G., Edwards, P.C., Bourke, S.J. and Watson, P.M. 1993. The Eleventh and Twelfth Seasons of Excavations at Pella (Tabaqat Fahl), 1989-1990. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan XXXVII: 165-240.

Walmsley, A.G., Karsgaard, P., and Grey, T. 1999. Town and Village: Site Transformations in South Jordan (The Gharandal Archaeological Project, Second Season Report). Annual of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan XLIII: 459-478.

Walmsley, A.G. and Damgaard, K. The Umayyad Congregational Mosque of Jarash in Jordan and its Relationship to Early Mosques. Antiquity (Special issue on Islamic archaeology - forthcoming).

top Footnotes

[1] Until this point specialists have been applied in the study of the retrieved antique glass, the conservation of more fragile and important finds (especially coins) and the surveying and planning of the site. In coming seasons a specialist will be studying the ceramic finds as well..
[2] Under the Umayyads western greater Syria was subdivided into five regional military districts known as Junds. These were the Jund Dimashq (Damascus), Jund al-Urdunn (Jordan), Jund Filastin (Palestine), Jund Hims (Homs) and Jund Qâsirîn (Qinnesrin).
[3] al-Muqaddasi refers to an area known as the 'Jabal Jarash' in his Kitab Ahsan at-Taqasim fi Ma`rifat al-Aqalim
[4] Major east-west thoroughfares in Roman cities.
[5] Major north-south thoroughfares in Roman cities.
[6] A joint mission was conducted by representatives from Yale University, the British Schools of Oriental Research and the American Schools of Oriental Research in 1928-34. See Kraeling 1938
[7]An open space demarking the crossing of a cardo and decumanus, and usually marked by a tetrapylon of some sort.
[8] An open space at the end of the cardo in Jarash. This feature is uncommon in standard Roman architecture, and may have originated from the original Hellenistic city plan.
[9] The application of a cardo and decumanus as the main axes reflects the adaptation of Roman/Byzantine notions of urban planning. A similar plan is seen for example at the Umayyad site of `Anjar. Although there is only one tetrakonial crossing at this site, the congregational mosque is placed with equal prominence in its south-eastern corner (as opposed to the south-western corner in the case of Jerash).
[10] According to the Islamic historian al-Baladhuri, Jarash was among the cities that capitulated peacefully during the conquest of Bilad al-Sham by the Islamic forces. Walmsley 2003c: 17 This is confirmed by the archaeological record, which shows no indications of havoc or destruction in this period. Walmsley 2003a: 17
[11] The lack of a mihrab would not necessarily have meant that this building was not a mosque, and would have been consistent with other early mosques e.g. Wasit.
[12] The exact function of this structure remains unclear. It will nevertheless be referred to here as the 'minaret'
[13] This is confirmed by Krealing's plan of the southern Tetrakonia, which contained paving stones re-excavated by the IJP in 2003. See Kraeling 1938: Plan XII
[14] A longer and more in-depth discussion of the Jarash mosque in context will be published in a special issue of Antiquity focusing on Islamic archaeology due out in 2005.

top  About the authors

Louise Blanke is a postgraduate student of near eastern archaeology at the Carsten Niebuhr Institute, University of Copenhagen. She has participated in several archaeological projects in both Denmark and the Middle East. Among these are the excavation of the early middle age castle in Vordingborg, Denmark; the excavation of the PPNB settlement Shaqarat Mazyad and the Islamic Jarash Project. She has participated in the latter since the project begun in 2002, where she has excavated the Byzantine bathhouse. She is currently specializing in Byzantine and late Roman architecture in the Middle East and Persian history and architecture respectively. She is expecting to receive her master degree during 2005, and hopes to continue her studies with a PhD thereafter.

Kristoffer Damgaard is a postgraduate student of near eastern archaeology at the Carsten Niebuhr Institute at Copenhagen University. For several years he has been specializing in the archaeology of the Late Antique/ Early Islamic Middle East, focusing especially on the architectural developments of the first Islamic dynasties. He has participated in several archaeological projects in the Middle East, concentrating on the archaeological investigation of Islamic Jarash the last three years, and being a member of the IJP staff since the 2003 season. In Jarash, he has worked on excavating sections of the prayer hall, as well as the exploration of adjacent structures. He is co-author of another article on the Jarash mosque, which will be published in a special issue of 'Antiquity' focusing on Islamic archaeology due out in 2005. He is expecting to complete his MA within the next 6 months, and hopes to continue his studies with a PhD thereafter.

© Damgaard & Blanke 2004
© assemblage 2004

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