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Dossier : L’épigraphie grecque et latine au Proche-Orient (Jordanie, Liban, Syrie)

The Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the Governorate of ʿAjlun in North-West Jordan

Nabil Bader
p. 193-198


Le gouvernorat de ʿAjlun, le plus petit de Jordanie, est situé au nord-ouest du Royaume Hachémite de Jordanie. Il a déjà livré quelques inscriptions grecques mais, comme dans d’autres parties du pays, de nouveaux documents apparaissent de temps en temps. Quelques inscriptions trouvées plus ou moins récemment ont été signalées ou ont été publiées séparément dans divers articles. En raison de leur importance, une présentation d’ensemble peut être utile. Parmi elles, une inscription bilingue exceptionnelle, néo-hellénique et arabe, a été trouvée dans la ville de ‘Ajlun. Ce texte qui commémore la construction d’une église au xixe s. est ici publié pour la première fois.

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Texte intégral

1The Governorate of ʿAjlun is the smallest governorate in today’s Jordan. It is located in north-west Jordan at 79 km north of ʿAmman, the capital of Jordan (fig. 1). ʿAjlun Governorate covers about 420 square km. It is renowned for its mountains, with one of the hightest in this area, at about 1,200 m above sea level, and for its castle called ʿAjlun Castle (formerly Al-Rabad castle). As in other parts of Jordan, some Greek inscriptions were discovered in the Governorate. They were published in different international journals. Elaborating on the idea of a corpus of Greek and Latin inscriptions in Syria initiated in the 1920s by father Louis Jalabert, the Department of Antiquities of Jordan authorized in 1970 the Institute Fernand-Courby in Lyon (France) to collect and publish the Greek and Latin Inscriptions discovered on the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The name given to this part of the corpus is I. Jordanie (Inscriptions de la Jordanie = IGLS XXI).

Figure 1.

Figure 1.

The ʿAjlun area (from the Archaeological map of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, scale 1:250,000, sheet 1, ʿAmman, 1978)

Old and New Epigraphical Discoveries in the ʿAjlun Area

2In 2012, I was appointed to be the author of volume I. Jordanie 1.2 of the series, mainly devoted to the Governorate of ʿAjlun and some areas in the Jordan Valley. I started some surveys to locate the Greek and Latin inscriptions; two campaigns were carried out. The first one was in the summer of 2013 and the second one was in April 2014. As a result of this work, Greek and Latin inscriptions from the region can be classified as follows:

  • Latin inscriptions: milestones, mostly found on the Roman road leading from Gerasa to Pella in the Jordan Valley (Atallah 2003);
  • Greek inscriptions: around forty inscriptions are attested in the whole governorate up to this moment, mainly mosaic floors, already published for the major part of them;
  • Bilingual inscription: one Greek-Arabic inscription was found in the town of ʿAjlun.

3The types of the inscriptions found in the area and included in the corpus of ʿAjlun (I. Jordanie 1.2) can be classified as follows:

  • Pagan inscriptions;
  • Christian inscriptions;
  • Building inscriptions;
  • Funerary inscriptions.

4The main sites are the following:

  • ʿAfana (عفنا): located at about 5 km to the north of ʿAjlun. One Greek inscription was found in that village (Mittmann 1970, p. 181-182, no. 19);
  • ʿAjlun (عجلون): two inscriptions were found in the town centre, one already published (Van Elderen 1972) and another unpublished Greek-Arabic inscription (see below);
  • ʿAjlun Castle: some inscriptions were found in the castle (Zayadine 1987; Minnis & Bader 1988; Atallah & Abu Abeilah 1999-2000; Abu Abeilah 2007, p. 22-23).
  • ʿAnjara (عنجرا): located at about 4 km to the south of ʿAjlun city. An inscribed stone was found lying in front of a house in the eastern part of the village. The owner of the house told us that he was given the inscribed stone by a farmer from a village situated to the east of the village of Umm Jawzah, south of ʿAnjara. Some archaeological places were visited around ʿAnjara like Umm al-Jlud (Galoudes), Salus, Shamsin, and Sarabis;
  • Badiyya (بديه): located to the south of the town of ʿAjlun. Two churches were discovered, which can be dated to the 6th or the 7th cent. ad (Steuernagel 1925, p. 48; Mittmann 1970, p. 84; Al-Muheisen 2006). In Ras al-Dayr (راس الدير), three Greek inscriptions were discovered on the mosaic pavement of a church (Al-Muheisen 2006; see Bull. ép. 2008, 558, and AE 2006, 1617);
  • Darar (ضرار): a village in the Jordan Valley, where a milestone was found (O’Hea 2002; AE 2002, 1559);
  • Hallawa (حلاوه): two inscriptions were found in two sites in the adjacent areas Zqaiyaq (زقيق) and Al-Tantur (الطنطور; Mittmann 1970, p. 49) and are still unpublished (Abu Abeilah 1998). The name of Hallawa was mentioned in one of them (as Kalwa);
  • Hashemia (الهاشمية): three inscriptions were found in a house in the centre of the village;
  • Ishtafina (اشتفينا): two milestones carrying mile number 12 were located in this area (Atallah 2003; AE 2003, 1821);
  • Kh. Maqatiʿ (خربة المقاطع): to the north of the town of ʿAjlun, the oldest dated Greek inscription on a mosaic floor in Jordan was discovered; it is dated to ad 482 (Van Elderen 1972);
  • Mar Ilyas (مار الياس): to the north of the town of ʿAjlun. Seven inscriptions were found in that area, mostly fragmentary or on a mosaic floor (Augustinović & Bagatti 1951-1952; Di Segni 2006 and SEG 56, 1904);
  • Miḥna (محنا) / Umm al-Yanabiʿ (ام الينابع): an unpublished inscription was found on a mosaic floor in a house in the centre of the village; a drawing of that inscription was made. It is a rare type of mosaic inscription with Nilotic motifs (Piccirillo 1981, p. 21-23);
  • Rasun (راسون): one inscription was found on an altar (Atallah 1998; SEG 48, 1923);
  • Kh. al-Wahadinah (خربة الوهادنه): three mosaic inscriptions were found (Burckhardt 1822; Augustinović & Bagatti 1951-1952, p. 279-283; Piccirillo 1981, p. 18-20);
  • Wadi Rajib (وادي راجب): a Greek inscription was found in a small Byzantine monastery church; a Syriac inscription was also found in a Byzantine church which is thought to be a monastery church (Piccirillo & Al-Qudah 2003; cf. SEG 53, 1880).

A New Greek-Arabic Dedication at ʿAjlun

5During the survey carried out in the summer of 2013, a bilingual inscription was found on the upper lintel of the main entrance of the Greek Orthodox church situated in the town centre of ʿAjlun. According to the archaeologists, the area where the church is located is part of the old village of ʿAjlun and, indeed, the external examination of the church shows that it could be built on an older building (Bader 2015).

6The stones carrying the inscription are of limestone and are formed of many parts. The surface of the stones is well prepared to receive the inscription. The text is completely preserved (fig. 2-3). The Arabic part of the inscription has a half circle shape surrounded by a band with an average width of 4 cm and the band carries the Greek part of the inscription. The Greek inscription is above and under the Arabic inscription.

Figure 2.

Figure 2.

The main entrance of the Greek Orthodox church

© N. Bader

Figure 3.

Figure 3.

The Arabic-Greek bilingual inscription used as a lintel above the main door of the Greek Orthodox church in the town of ʿAjlun

© N. Bader

7Dimensions: Height 108 cm; width 48 cm; height of letters: 5-8 cm; line spacings: 2-4 cm.

Διὰ δαπάνης τοῦ Παναγίου τάφου
بنفقة الدير الروم العامر بالقدس
الشريف بني هذا المعبد الشريف كنيسة
للخضر عليه السلام سنة 1885 مسيحية
1885 Αὐγούστου 7.

« At the expenses of the prosperous Byzantine Monastery in Holy Jerusalem, this noble temple was built as a church for Al-Khadr (Saint George), peace be upon him, in the year 1885 (ad) Christian era. » (Arabic)

« At the expenses (of the Brotherhood) of the Holy Sepulchre. 1880 (sic) August 7. » (Greek)

8The importance of this inscription is in the use of the Greek language along with the Arabic language at the end of the 19th cent. ad. The two parts are not identical; the Arabic version has more information than the Greek; for example Saint George is not mentioned in the Greek part of the inscription. To my knowledge, no other bilingual inscriptions were found in ʿAjlun Governorate. The only other bilingual Greek-Arabic inscription in the region is that of Saint George, on the lintel of the main gate of the church of Al-Husun in the Governorate of Irbid at about 35 km to the north east of ʿAjlun. It is dated to the year 1886, one year later. Both buildings have been carried out during the time of Nicodemus, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem (ad 1882-1891). It is worth mentioning that the discovery of the church of the Map in Madaba in the central part of Jordan was contemporary with the building of the church of ʿAjlun.

9As mentioned in the Arabic part of the inscription, the church is devoted to Saint George, one of the most popular saints in this area. In fact, most of the churches belonging to the Greek Orthodox church are devoted to Saint George.

10As for the location of the inscription, we should point out that the church where the inscription was found is in the centre of the town, which is the old part of ʿAjlun. The remains of many old churches were discovered in the surrounding area; most of them are dated or can be dated to the 6th or 7th cent. ad, by inscriptions that were found in those churches: ʿAjlun Castle (Atallah & Abu Abeilah 1999-2000), Mar al-Lyas, Badiyya, Ras al-Dayr.

11The use of the Greek language in an area where the Arabic language is dominating means that there were some people still using the Greek language at the time of the church’s dedication. The Greek Orthodox church was directed by Patriarchs who were natives of Greece and were Greek native speakers, which means that the Greek language was still playing an important role in the Christian community in the late 19th cent.

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Abu Abeilah (M.) 1998 « Khirbat al-Ṭanṭūr », Al-Āṯār 2, p. 52-53 (in Arabic).

Abu Abeilah (M.) 2007 « New Mosaic Floor in the Castle of ʿAjlun (Qalʿat al-Rabad) », Berytus 50, p. 85-87.

Al-Muheisen (Z.) 2006 « Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Khirbat al-Badiyya, 1998 », ADAJ 50, p. 83-98.

Atallah (N.) 1998 « Une inscription grecque de la région de ʿAjloun-Rasun », ZPE 121, p. 145-148.

Atallah (N.) 2003 « New Milestone from Ishtafina, Ajlun Area, Jordan », Levant 35, p. 153-158.

Atallah (N.) & Abu Abeilah (M.) 1999-2000 « New Greek Inscription from ʿAjlun Castle (Qalʿat al Rabaḍ) », Berytus 44, p. 119-122.

Augustinović (A.) & Bagatti (B.) 1951-1952 « Escursioni nei dintorni di ʿAglun (Nord di Transgiordania) », Liber Annuus 2, p. 227-314.

Bader (N.) 2015 « The Archaeological remains in ʿAjlun church », Newsletter of the faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology 35, p. 7-8.

Burckhardt (J. L.) 1822 Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, Londres.

Di Segni (L.) 2006 « Varia Arabica. Greek Inscriptions from Jordan », Liber Annuus 56, p. 578-592.

Minnis (D.) & Bader (Y.) 1988 « A Comparative Analysis of Belvoir (Kawkab al-Hawa) and Qalʿat al-Rabaḍ (ʿAjlun Castle) », ADAJ 32, p. 255-264.

Mittmann (S.) 1970 Beiträge zur Siedlungs- und Territorialgeschichte des nördlichen Ostjordanlands, Wiesbaden.

O’Hea (M.) 2002 « Note on a Roman Milestone from Gadora (Al Salt) in the Jordan Valley », Levant 34, p. 235-238.

Piccirillo (M.) 1981 Chiese e Mosaici della Giordania Settentrionale, Jérusalem.

Piccirillo (M.) & Al-Qudah (Z.) 2003 « L’ermitago nel Wadi Rajib sulla montagna di Ajlun in Giordania », G. C. Bottini, L. Di Segni & L. D. Chrupcała (éd.), One Land, Many Cultures. Archaeological Studies in Honour of Stanislao Loffreda OFM (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum collectio Maior 41), Jérusalem, p. 309-314.

Steuernagel (C.) 1925 « Der Adschlun », ZDPV 48, p. 1-144, 201-392.

Van Elderen (B.) 1972 « Early Byzantine Inscription found near Ajlun », ADAJ 17, p. 73-75.

Zayadine (F.) 1987 « Qalʿat al-Rabaḍ », Sawt al-Arḍ al-Muqaddasa 239, p. 38-46 (in Arabic).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1.
Légende The ʿAjlun area (from the Archaeological map of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, scale 1:250,000, sheet 1, ʿAmman, 1978)
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,8M
Titre Figure 2.
Légende The main entrance of the Greek Orthodox church
Crédits © N. Bader
Fichier image/jpeg, 418k
Titre Figure 3.
Légende The Arabic-Greek bilingual inscription used as a lintel above the main door of the Greek Orthodox church in the town of ʿAjlun
Crédits © N. Bader
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
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Nabil Bader, « The Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the Governorate of ʿAjlun in North-West Jordan »Syria, 93 | 2016, 193-198.

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Nabil Bader, « The Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the Governorate of ʿAjlun in North-West Jordan »Syria [En ligne], 93 | 2016, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2018, consulté le 25 octobre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Nabil Bader

Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jordan

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