Jordans History

Jordans History

The Hellenistic Period


‘Iraq al-Amir© Ammar Khammash
Although the influence of Greek culture had been felt in Jordan previously, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Middle East and Central Asia firmly consolidated the influence of Hellenistic culture. The Greeks founded new cities in Jordan, such as Umm Qais (known as Gadara) and renamed others, such as Amman (renamed from Rabbath-Ammon to Philadelphia) and Jerash (renamed from Garshu to Antioch, and later to Gerasa). Many of the sites built during this period were later redesigned and reconstructed during the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras, so only fragments remain from the Hellenistic period. Greek was established as the official language, although Aramaic remained the primary spoken language of ordinary people.
 
Alexander died soon after establishing his empire, and his generals subsequently struggled over control of the Near East for more than two decades. Eventually, the Ptolemies consolidated their power in Egypt and ruled Jordan from 301-198 BCE. The Seleucids, who were based in Syria, ruled Jordan from 198-63 BCE.
 
The most spectacular Hellenistic site in Jordan is at‘Iraq al-Amir, just west of modern-day Amman. The Qasr al-Abd (“Castle of the Slave”) there is constructed of very large stones, some of which have sculpted figures of lions and eagles. The Qasr is surrounded by an artificial moat and was probably either a temple or palace, although its small entrance would have made it a significant defensive asset. The “castle” belonged to a governor of Ammon named Hyrcanus, who was also a member of the influential Tobiad family. It was built in the late-second century BCE.
Marble sculpture of a lioness and her cub. Qasr el’Abed, ‘Iraq al-Amir. © Mouasher

The Mysterious Nabateans


Before Alexander’s conquest, a thriving new civilization had emerged in southern Jordan. It appears that a nomadic tribe known as the Nabateans began migrating gradually from Arabia during the sixth century BCE. Over time, they abandoned their nomadic ways and settled in a number of places in southern Jordan, the Naqab desert in Palestine, and in northern Arabia. Their capital city was the legendary Petra, Jordan’s most famous tourist attraction. Although Petra was inhabited by the Edomites before the arrival of the Nabateans, the latter carved grandiose buildings, temples and tombs out of solid sandstone rock. They also constructed a wall to fortify the city, although Petra was almost naturally defended by the surrounding sandstone mountains. Building an empire in the arid desert also forced the Nabateans to excel in water conservation. They were highly skilled water engineers, and irrigated their land with an extensive system of dams, canals and reservoirs.
 
Close-up of red sandstone, Petra. © Michelle Woodward
 
The Nabateans were exceptionally skilled traders, facilitating commerce between China, India, the Far East, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. They dealt in such goods as spices, incense, gold, animals, iron, copper, sugar, medicines, ivory, perfumes and fabrics, just to name a few. From its origins as a fortress city, Petra became a wealthy commercial crossroads between the Arabian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. Control of this crucial trade route between the upland areas of Jordan, the Red Sea, Damascus and southern Arabia was the lifeblood of the Nabatean Empire.We still know comparatively little about Nabatean society. However, we do know that they spoke a dialect of Arabic and later on adopted Aramaic. Much of what is now known about Nabatean culture comes from the writings of the Roman scholar Strabo. He recorded that their community was governed by a royal family, although a strong spirit of democracy prevailed. According to him there were no slaves in Nabatean society, and all members shared in work duties. The Nabateans worshipped a pantheon of deities, chief among which were the sun god Dushara and the goddess Allat.As the Nabateans grew in power and wealth, they attracted the attention of their neighbors to the north. The Seleucid King Antigonus, who had come to power when Alexander’s empire was divided, attacked Petra in 312 BCE. His army met with relatively little resistance, and was able to sack the city. The quantity of booty was so great, however, that it slowed their return journey north and the Nabateans were able to annihilate them in the desert. Records indicate that the Nabateans were eager to remain on good terms with the Seleucids in order to perpetuate their trading ambitions. Throughout much of the third century BCE, the Ptolemies and Seleucids warred over control of Jordan, with the Seleucids emerging victorious in 198 BCE. Nabatea remained essentially untouched and independent throughout this period.

Although the Nabateans resisted military conquest, the Hellenistic culture of their neighbors influenced them greatly. Hellenistic influences can be seen in Nabatean art and architecture, especially at the time that their empire was expanding northward into Syria, around 150 BCE. However, the growing economic and political power of the Nabateans began to worry the Romans. In 65 BCE, the Romans arrived in Damascus and ordered the Nabateans to withdraw their forces. Two years later, Pompey dispatched a force to cripple Petra. The Nabatean King Aretas III either defeated the Roman legions or paid a tribute to keep peace with them.

The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE augured a period of relative anarchy for the Romans in Jordan, and the Parthian kings of Persia and Mesopotamia took advantage of the chaotic situation to attack. The Nabateans made a mistake by siding with the Parthians in their war with the Romans, and after the Parthians’ defeat, Petra had to pay tribute to Rome. When they fell behind in paying this tribute, they were invaded twice by the Roman vassal King Herod the Great. The second attack, in 31 BCE, saw him take control of a large swath of Nabatean territory, including the lucrative northern trading routes into Syria.

 

Riding through the Siq, Petra.
© Jad Al Younis, Discovery Eco-Tourism
Nonetheless, the Nabateans continued to prosper for a while. King Aretas IV, who ruled from 9 BCE to 40 CE, built a chain of settlements along the caravan routes to develop the prosperous incense trade. The Nabateans realized the power of Rome, and subsequently allied themselves with the Romans to quell the Jewish uprising of 70 CE. However, it was only a matter of time before Nabatea would fall under direct Roman rule. The last Nabatean monarch, Rabbel II, struck a deal with the Romans that as long as they did not attack during his lifetime, they would be allowed to move in after he died. Upon his death in 106 CE, the Romans claimed the Nabatean Kingdom and renamed it Arabia Petrea. The city of Petra was redesigned according to traditional Roman architectural designs, and a period of relative prosperity ensued under the Pax Romana.
 
The Nabateans profited for a while from their incorporation into the trade routes of the Roman Near East, and Petra may have grown to house 20,000-30,000 people during its heyday. However, commerce became less profitable to the Nabateans with the shift of trade routes to Palmyra in Syria and the expansion of seaborne trade around the Arabian peninsula. Sometime probably during the fourth century CE, the Nabateans left their capital at Petra. No one really knows why. It seems that the withdrawal was an unhurried and organized process, as very few silver coins or valuable possessions have been unearthed at Petra. 

The Age of Rome


Pompey’s conquest of Jordan, Syria and Palestine in 63 BCE inaugurated a period of Roman control which would last four centuries. In northern Jordan, the Greek cities of Philadelphia (Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Gadara (Umm Qais), Pella and Arbila (Irbid) joined with other cities in Palestine and southern Syria to form the Decapolis League, a fabled confederation linked by bonds of economic and cultural interest.
 
Cross-road at Jerash (The Southern Tetrapylon).
© Michelle Woodward
 
Of these, Jerash appears to have been the most splendid. It was one of the greatest provincial cities in Rome’s empire, and was honored by a visit of the Emperor Hadrian himself in 130 CE. In southern Jordan, the Kingdom of Nabatea retained its independence until 106 CE, when Emperor Trajan’s forces took control of the region.Roman road-builders followed soon after the military, and in 111 CE the Via Nova Triana(Trajan New Road) was completed. It ran from the southern port of Aqaba all the way to the Syrian city of Bosra. Forts and watch-towers were built along this and other trading routes, while Amman, Jerash, and Umm Qais were laid out with colonnaded streets and theaters. A degree of cultural tension existed between the inhabitants of Jordan, who at this time largely spoke Greek, and their Roman occupiers who decreed that Latin should be the official language of the country and that their religion should follow that of Rome. Nevertheless, it was generally a peaceful period during which a number of important infrastructural developments occurred.

Christendom and the Byzantines

The Byzantine period dates from the year 324 CE, when the Emperor Constantine I founded Constantinople (Istanbul) as the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. Constantine converted to the growing religion of Christianity in 333 CE. In Jordan, however, the Christian community had developed much earlier: Pella had been a center of refuge for Christians fleeing persecution in Rome during the first century CE.

During the Byzantine period, a great deal of construction took place throughout Jordan. All of the major cities of the Roman era continued to flourish, and the regional population boomed. As Christianity gradually became the accepted religion of the area in the fourth century, churches and chapels began to sprout up across Jordan.


Personification of the sea medallion, Church of the Apostles, Madaba.

Many of these were clustered together on the foundations of ancient Roman settlements, and a good number of pagan temples were plundered to build churches. Church-building witnessed extraordinary growth during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-65 CE). Most of these churches were of basilica type, with semi-circular apses to the east and two parallel rows of pillars supporting a higher roof over the nave.
 

Mosaic Map of the Holy Land.
One indication of the prosperity of the period can be seen in the mosaic floors which decorated many of these newly-built places of worship. These ornatemosaics often portrayed animals, people and towns. The most impressive examples of Byzantine mosaic artistry can be seen in Madaba, and the greatest of these is the famed sixth-century Map of the Holy Land, also known as the Mosaic Map of Palestine.
 
In the sixth and seventh centuries CE, Jordan suffered severe depopulation. The plague of 542 CE wiped out much of the population, while another cause may have been the Sassanian invasion of 614 CE. The Sassanians, who had ruled Persia and Iraq since the early third century CE, occupied Jordan, Palestine and Syria for fifteen years, but the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius managed to recover the area in 629 CE. His gains were not to last for long.

The Islamic Periods and the Crusades


The Byzantines’ preoccupation with the Sassanians diverted their attention away from what was happening in the Arabian desert. For countless years marauding Bedouin tribesmen had periodically staged raids to the north. What was new, however, was that the Arabs who swept northward on horse and camel-back were now united by a common faith, that of Islam.
After hearing the call of God, the Prophet Muhammad, Praise Be Unto Him (PBUH), first tried to convert the people of his home, Mecca. When the Meccans threatened him and his followers, they journeyed to the neighboring town of Medina in the year 622 CE. This migration, known as the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Eight years later, the Prophet returned to Mecca to convert its people to Islam. From then on, the new faith spread rapidly throughout the Middle East and North Africa.It took the Arabs only ten years to fully dismantle Byzantine control over the lands of Jordan, Palestine and Syria. After two unsuccessful attacks against the Byzantine garrison town of Mu’ta (south of Amman, near Karak) in 629 CE, the Muslim Arab tribes regrouped for a much wider military operation. In the year 636 CE, the Muslim armies overran the Transjordanian highlands and won a decisive battle against the Byzantines on the banks of the Yarmouk River, which marks the modern border between Jordan and Syria. This victory opened the way to the conquest of Syria, and the remaining Byzantine troops were forced to retreat into Anatolia only a few years later.

 Umayyad Empire

The Muslims wasted no time in taking Damascus, and in 661 CE proclaimed it the capital of the Umayyad Empire. Jordan prospered during the Umayyad period (661-750 CE) due to its proximity to the capital city of Damascus. Its strategic geographic position also made it an important thoroughfare for pilgrims venturing to the holy Muslim sites in Arabia. As Islam spread, the Arabic language gradually came to supplant Greek as the main language. Christianity was still widely practiced through the eighth century.

The Umayyads were comfortable and at home in the desert. They felt little need for the Roman fortifications which guarded trading routes, and subsequently allowed them to fall into disrepair. However, they left an enduring legacy to bear testimony to their love of hunting, sport and leisure.


Capital carved in Kofic letters at the Palace of Muwaqqar.
© Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
 

Dome of the Rock Mosque, al-Quds al-Sharif (Jerusalem). © Zohrab
They constructed caravan stops (caravanserais), bath houses, hunting complexes and palaces in the eastern Jordanian desert. These palaces are collectively known as the “Desert Castles.” Examples of Umayyad artistry and ingenuity include the triple-domed Qusayr ‘Amra bath house with its magnificent frescoed walls, and the massive Qasr al-Haraneh. The greatest of all Umayyad constructions is the Dome of the Rock Mosque, built by Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the year 691 CE, in al-Quds (Jerusalem).

 Abbasids

A powerful earthquake rocked Jordan in 747 CE, destroying many buildings and perhaps contributing to the defeat of the Umayyads by the Abbasids three years later. The Abbasids established their capital in Baghdad, leaving Jordan a provincial backwater far from the center of the empire. The Desert Castles were abandoned, and Jordan now suffered more from benign neglect than from the attentions of invading armies. However, recent excavations have shown that the population of Jordan continued to increase, at least until the beginning of the 9th century CE.


 Fatimids

In 969 CE, the Fatimids of Egypt took control of Jordan and struggled over it with various Syrian factions for about two centuries. At the beginning of the 12th century CE, however, a new campaign was launched which would once again place Jordan at the center of a historical struggle. The impetus for the Crusades came from a plea for help from the Emperor of Constantinople, Alexius, who in 1095 reported to his Christian European brothers that his city, the last bastion of Byzantine Christendom, was under imminent threat of attack by the Muslim Turks. The prospect of such a severe defeat prompted Pope Urban II to muster support for Constantinople as well as for the retaking of Jerusalem.

The so-called “Holy Wars” thus began in 1096 CE. They resulted in the conquest of al-Quds (Jerusalem) by Christian forces and the establishment of a kingdom there. The Crusaders’ interest then centered on the protection of the route to Jerusalem, prompting the Crusader King Baldwin I to build a line of fortresses down the backbone of Jordan. The most substantial of these were at Karak and Shobak. However, after having unified Syria and Egypt under his control, the Muslim commander Salah Eddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin) defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin in 1187 CE. This opened the way for the Muslim armies to liberate Jerusalem, effectively eliminating the foreign domination of Jordan.


 Ayyubid and Mamluks

Salah Eddin founded the Ayyubid dynasty, which ruled much of Syria, Egypt and Jordan for the next eighty years. In the year 1258 CE, an invasion of Mongols swept across much of the Near East. The marauding invaders were eventually turned back in 1260 CE by the Mamluk Sultan Baybars, who fought a successful battle at Ein Jalut. The Mamluks, who were from Central Asia and the Caucasus, seized power and ruled Egypt and later Jordan and Syria from their capital at Cairo.

The unification of Syria, Egypt and Jordan under the Ayyubids and Mamluks led to another period of prosperity for Jordan, as it once again occupied a key position between its two larger neighbors. Castles were constructed or rebuilt, andcaravanserais were built to host pilgrims and strengthen lines of communication and trade. Sugar was widely produced and refined at water-driven mills in the Jordan Valley. However, another Mongol invasion in 1401 CE, combined with weak government and widespread disease, weakened the entire region. In 1516 CE, the Mamluks were defeated by the Ottoman Turks. Jordan became part of the Ottoman Empire and remained so for the next 400 years.
Tomb of Abu-Suliman Dirini, a Mamluk architect, near Shobak Castle. © Michelle Woodward

The Ottoman Empire


The four centuries of Ottoman rule (1516-1918 CE) were a period of general stagnation in Jordan. The Ottomans were primarily interested in Jordan in terms of its importance to the pilgrimage route to Mecca al-Mukarrama. They built a series of square fortresses—at Qasr al-Dab’a, Qasr Qatraneh, and Qal’at Hasa—to protect pilgrims from the desert tribes and to provide them with sources of food and water. However, the Ottoman administration was weak and could not effectively control the Bedouin tribes. Over the course of Ottoman rule, many towns and villages were abandoned, agriculture declined, and families and tribes moved frequently from one village to another. The Bedouins, however, remained masters of the desert, continuing to live much as they had for hundreds of years.
Population continued to dwindle until the late 19th century, when Jordan received several waves of immigrants. Syrians and Palestinians migrated to Jordan to escape over-taxation and feuds, while Muslim Circassians and Chechens fled Russian persecution to settle in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Turkey.The Ottoman period saw a general neglect of infrastructural development in Jordan, and what was constructed was usually with some specific religious orientation. For instance, castles such as Qatraneh were built to protect pilgrimage routes, while most schools, hospitals, baths, wells, orphanages and, of course, mosques, were built with a particular religious function in mind. The most significant infrastructural development of the Ottoman period was the Hijaz Railway from Damascus to al-Madina al-Munawarra in 1908. Designed originally to transport pilgrims to Mecca al-Mukarrama—the extension from al-Madina al-Munawwara was never completed—the railway was also a useful tool for ferrying Ottoman armies and supplies into the Arabian heartland. Because of this, it was attacked frequently during the Great Arab Revolt of World War I.

The Great Arab Revolt


Much of the trauma and dislocation suffered by the peoples of the Middle East during the 20th century can be traced to the events surrounding World War I. During the conflict, the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers against the Allies. Seeing an opportunity to liberate Arab lands from Turkish oppression, and trusting the honor of British officials who promised their support for a unified kingdom for the Arab lands, Sharif Hussein bin Ali, Emir of Mecca and King of the Arabs (and great grandfather of King Hussein), launched the Great Arab Revolt. After the conclusion of the war, however, the victors reneged on their promises to the Arabs, carving from the dismembered Ottoman lands a patchwork system of mandates and protectorates. While the colonial powers denied the Arabs their promised single unified Arab state, it is nevertheless testimony to the effectiveness of the Great Arab Revolt that the Hashemite family was able to secure Arab rule over Transjordan, Iraq and Arabia.

Sharif Hussein bin Ali, King of the Arabs and King of the Hijaz.
© Royal Hashemite Court Archives

In order to discern the motives of the Hashemites in undertaking the revolt, one must understand the policies undertaken by the Ottoman Empire in the years leading up to World War I. Following the Young Turk coup of 1908, the Ottomans abandoned their pluralistic and pan-Islamic policies, instead pursuing a policy of secular Turkish nationalism. The formerly cosmopolitan and tolerant Ottoman Empire began overtly discriminating against its non-Turkish inhabitants. Arabs in particular were faced with political, cultural and linguistic persecution. During this time, Arab nationalist groups in Syria, Iraq and Arabia began to rally behind the Hashemite banner of Abdullah and Faisal, sons of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, King of the Arabs.
When the Ottomans entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers in 1914, they upheld the ban on the official use of the Arabic language and its teaching in schools, while arresting many Arab nationalist figures in Damascus and Beirut. Arabs were further threatened by the construction of the Hijaz Railway, connecting Damascus and Mecca, which promised to facilitate the mobility of Turkish troops into the Arab heartland.Consequently, in June 1916, as head of the Arab nationalists and in alliance with Britain and France, Sharif Hussein initiated the Great Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule. His sons, the emirs Abdullah and Faisal, led the Arab forces, with Emir Faisal’s forces liberating Damascus from Ottoman rule in 1918. At the end of the war, Arab forces controlled all of modern Jordan, most of the Arabian peninsula and much of southern Syria.

Sharif Hussein’s objective in undertaking the Great Arab Revolt was to establish a single independent and unified Arab state stretching from Aleppo (Syria) to Aden (Yemen), based on the ancient traditions and culture of the Arab people, the upholding of Islamic ideals and the full protection and inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities. Arab nationalists in the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula found in the Hashemite commanders of the Great Arab Revolt the leadership that could realize their aspirations, and thus coalesced around them.

 

The Great Arab Revolt, Wadi Rum, 1917.
© Royal Hashemite Court Archives

 The Clash of Promises and Interests

The political aspirations of the Arabs were not to be realized, however, due to the conflicting promises made by the British to their wartime allies. The first of these came during 1915 in an exchange of ten letters between Sir Henry McMahon, Britain’s high commissioner in Egypt, and Sharif Hussein. Essentially, Britain pledged, in what became known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, to support Arab independence if Hussein’s forces revolted against the Turks.

But the agreement excluded three areas: the wilayets (Ottoman provinces) of Basra and Baghdad, the Turkish districts of Alexandretta and Mersin, and, most importantly, “portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo.” The interpretation of the last section was to be the source of great controversy. The British later claimed that Palestine was meant to be excluded from the area of Arab rule, as it is technically located west of Damascus: for obvious reasons the Zionists took the same position. The Arabs interpreted the letter as it reads: Lebanon, not Palestine, is to the west of Damascus and the other areas mentioned.

In any case, the interests of the colonial powers took precedence over promises made to the Arabs. While accepting the principle of Arab independence laid down in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed by Britain, France and Russia in 1916, divided the area into zones of permanent colonial influence. The agreement recognized French interests in Greater Syria and northern Iraq, while acknowledging British designs on a belt of influence from the Mediterranean to the Gulf to protect its trade and communications links with the Indian subcontinent. The Sykes-Picot Agreement specified that most of Palestine was to be entrusted to an international administration. The agreement clearly contradicted the promises made to Sharif Hussein of Mecca.

To further complicate matters, in a totally deceitful move British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour in 1917 issued a letter to a prominent British Jew, Lord Rothschild, promising Britain’s commitment and support for a Jewish home in Palestine. Known as the Balfour Declaration, the letter calls for the “establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people . . . it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…

The Making of Transjordan


Although the Sykes-Picot Agreement was modified considerably in practice, it established a framework for the mandate system which was imposed in the years following the war. Near the end of 1918, the Hashemite Emir Faisal set up an independent government in Damascus. However, his demand at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference for independence throughout the Arab world was met with rejection from the colonial powers. In 1920 and for a brief duration, Faisal assumed the throne of Syria and his elder brother Abdullah was offered the crown of Iraq by the Iraqi representatives. However, the British government ignored the will of the Iraqi people. Shortly afterward, the newly-founded League of Nations awarded Britain the mandates over Transjordan, Palestine and Iraq. France was given the mandate over Syria and Lebanon, but had to take Damascus by force, removing King Faisal from the throne to which he had been elected by the General Syrian Congress in 1920.
In November 1920, Emir (later King) Abdullah led forces from the Hijaz to restore his brother’s throne in the Kingdom of Syria. However, the French mandate over Syria was already well planted, and Emir Abdullah was obliged to delay his pan-Arab goals and focus on forming a government in Amman. Since the end of the war, the British had divided the land of Transjordan into three local administrative districts, with a British “advisor” appointed to each. The northern region of ‘Ajloun had its administrative center in Irbid, the central region of Balqa was based in Salt, and the southern region was run by the “Moabite Arab Government,” based in Karak. The regions of Ma’an and Tabuk were incorporated into the Kingdom of the Hijaz, ancestral home of the Hashemites. Faced with the determination of Emir Abdullah to unify Arab lands under the Hashemite banner, the British proclaimed Abdullah ruler of the three districts, known collectively as Transjordan. Confident that his plans for the unity of the Arab nation would eventually come to fruition, the emir established the first centralized governmental system in what is now modern Jordan on April 11, 1921.
 
King Faisal I, meanwhile, assumed the throne of the Kingdom of Iraq in the same year. The Hashemite family ruled Iraq until King Faisal’s grandson King Faisal II and his immediate family were all murdered in a bloody coup by Nasserist sympathizers led by Colonel Abdel Karim Qassem on July 14, 1958. The Hashemites suffered another major blow in 1925, when King Ali bin al-Hussein, the eldest brother of Abdullah and Faisal, lost the throne of the Kingdom of the Hijaz to Abdel Aziz bin Saud of Najd. The loss, which was brought about by a partnership between Ibn Saud and followers of the Wahhabi movement, led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and brought to an end over one thousand years of Hashemite rule in Mecca.
Left to right: King Ali of the Hijaz, King Abdullah of Jordan, Crown Prince (later King) Talal of Jordan, Abdul llah (Regent of Iraq), circa 1937.
© Royal Hashemite Court Archives
 
Emir Abdullah soon succeeded in loosening the British mandate over Transjordan with an Anglo-Transjordanian treaty. On May 15, 1923, Britain formally recognized the Emirate of Transjordan as a state under the leadership of Emir Abdullah. This angered the Zionists, as it effectively severed Transjordan from Palestine and so reduced the area of any future Jewish national home in the region. The treaty stipulated that Transjordan would be prepared for independence under the general supervision of the British high commissioner in Jerusalem, and recognized Emir Abdullah as head of state. In May 1925, the Aqaba and Ma’an districts of the Hijaz became part of Transjordan.The period between the two world wars was one of consolidation and institutionalization in Transjordan. Abdullah sought to build political unity by melding the disparate Bedouin tribes into a cohesive group capable of maintaining Arab rule in the face of increasing Western encroachment. Abdullah realized the need for a capable security force to establish and ensure the integrity of the state in defense, law, taxation, and other matters. Accordingly, he set up the fabled Arab Legion as one cornerstone of the fledgling state. The Arab Legion was set up with assistance from British officers, the most well-known of whom was Major J. B. Glubb.Although the Arab Legion provided Emir Abdullah with the means of enforcing the authority of the state throughout Transjordan, he realized that true stability could only be realized by establishing legitimacy through representative institutions. Hence, as early as April 1928 he promulgated a constitution, which provided for a parliament known as the Legislative Council. Elections were held in February 1929, bringing to power the first Legislative Council of 21 members. The Legislative Council was guaranteed advisory powers, and seven of its 21 members were appointed.

Between 1928 and 1946, a series of Anglo-Transjordanian treaties led to almost full independence for Transjordan. While Britain retained a degree of control over foreign affairs, armed forces, communications and state finances, Emir Abdullah commanded the administrative and military machinery of the regular government. On March 22, 1946, Abdullah negotiated a new Anglo-Transjordanian treaty, ending the British mandate and gaining full independence for Transjordan. In exchange for providing military facilities within Transjordan, Britain continued to pay a financial subsidy and supported the Arab Legion. Two months later, on May 25, 1946, the Transjordanian parliament proclaimed Abdullah king, while officially changing the name of the country from the Emirate of Transjordan to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

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