Jordan is a land steeped in history. It has been home to some of mankind’s earliest settlements and villages, and relics of many of the world’s great civilizations can still be seen today. As the crossroads of the Middle East, the lands of Jordan and Palestine have served as a strategic nexus connecting Asia, Africa and Europe. Thus, since the dawn of civilization, Jordan’s geography has given it an important role to play as a conduit for trade and communications, connecting east and west, north and south. Jordan continues to play this role today.
Because of its centralized location, the land of Jordan is a geographic prize which changed hands many times throughout antiquity. Parts of Jordan were included in the dominions of ancient Iraq, including the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Mesopotamian Empires. From the west, Pharaonic Egypt extended its power and culture into Jordan, while the nomadic Nabateans built their empire in Jordan after migrating from the south of the Arabian Peninsula.
Finally, Jordan was incorporated into the classical civilizations of Greece, Rome and Persia, the relics of which are scattered across the Jordanian landscape. Since the mid-seventh century CE, the land of Jordan has remained almost continuously in the hands of various Arab and Islamic dynasties.
The second geographical factor which has helped shape the history of Jordan concerns climate. Only the northern highlands and the Jordan Valley have received enough rainfall to support large populations. Therefore, this area has always been more settled by farmers, villagers and townspeople. Most of the urban civilizations of Jordan have been based in these fertile lands. To the south and east, meanwhile, there is very little rainfall and no rivers for irrigation. These desert areas, which comprise the majority of Jordan, have rarely supported large settled populations. In some periods, there appears to have been no settled population at all. The lifestyle of the Bedouin inhabitants of these desert lands has remained similar in some respects to that of their Edomite or Nabatean predecessors. The contrast between the pastoral “Desert” and agriculturally fertile lands is particularly pronounced in Jordan, and much of the area’s history can be linked to population shifts between large urban centers and more dispersed, nomadic tribal groups.