Over the past several decades, numerous inscriptions in the Ammonite language have been discovered at archaeological sites in central Jordan. The Iron Age Ammonite kingdom, previously known only from the Bible and from records of its foreign conquerors, was finding its own voice.
The largest number of these inscriptions are personal seals, bearing the names and sometimes the titles of prominent Ammonites who lived from the late eighth to the early sixth century B.C.E. There are also ostraca—documents written with ink on potsherds—dating from the late seventh to the early fifth century. Finally, we have a small number of formal inscriptions, including fragments of carefully engraved stone monuments.
The earliest and most important example of this last category was found in 1961 on the Amman Citadel. Dating to the second half of the ninth century B.C.E., the Amman Citadel Inscription (below) is a fragment of a much longer inscription beautifully carved in white fine-grained limestone. Although the text is too incomplete for confident interpretation, it apparently refers to architectural structures—so perhaps it is a building inscription dedicating a temple to the Ammonite god Milcom, who is mentioned in the text.
The only other surviving Ammonite monumental inscription is a small triangle of black basalt, known as the Amman Theater Inscription. Its pitted surface bears two incomplete lines of text, which date to the late sixth century B.C.E.
The Ammonite language is closely related to the languages of the other Jordanian Iron Age states, Moab and Edom, as well as to languages spoken west of the Jordan, Hebrew and Phoenician. We call this language group Canaanite, a branch of the larger West Semitic family of languages. Within the Canaanite group, Ammonite has its closest affiliation with Phoenician and the northern (or Israelite, as opposed to Judahite) dialect of Hebrew.
Though the language of the Amman Citadel Inscription is Ammonite, the script is Aramaic, comparable in form to other Aramaic inscriptions of the ninth century B.C.E. By the latter part of the eighth century, however, scribes in central Jordan had developed a form of Aramaic script with its own distinctive features, establishing an Ammonite national script. This shows that the script of the Ammonites was a daughter script of Aramaic—in contrast to the scripts of the Ammonites’ neighbors to the south, the Moabites and Edomites, which were daughter scripts of Hebrew.
The surviving examples of Ammonite writing suggest that the Ammonite national script remained in use for a couple of centuries. It was then reabsorbed into the standard Aramaic tradition in the early Persian period (the late sixth century B.C.E.), about the same time that the old Hebrew national script was replaced by the square Aramaic script.
An unusual artifact was found in 1972 at Tell Siran, an archaeological site on the campus of the University of Jordan, a few miles northwest of Amman. It is a 4-inch-tall bronze bottle (above) bearing a complete Ammonite inscription of 92 letters. The text extols “the works of Amminadab, king of the Ammonites, son of His.s.al’el, king of the Ammonites, son of Amminadab, king of the Ammonites.” The form of the script suggests that the bottle was engraved in the late seventh or early sixth century B.C.E., so that neither this Amminadab nor his grandfather is likely to have been the Amminadab mentioned in a 687 B.C.E 019inscription of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. The king responsible for our Ammonite inscription should probably be called Amminadab III; his grandfather, Amminadab II; and the king mentioned in the Assyrian inscription, Amminadab I.
An important group of Ammonite ostraca comes from Tell
A second corpus of Ammonite ostraca has been found at Tell el-Mazar in the Jordan Valley, the site of an ancient ford of the Jordan. The main group of ostraca, which exhibit the distinctive features of the Ammonite national script, was found on a floor dated archaeologically to the early sixth century B.C.E. Another ostracon, found in a later archaeological context, probably dates to the fifth century; it contains a list of characteristically Ammonite names written in the Aramaic cursive script of the period.
We now have hundreds of Ammonite seals, the great majority of which were not found in controlled archaeological excavations. Two important examples, the seals of Adoni-nur and
Among the most recent Ammonite seals to surface is a beautiful example in brown agate with three lines reading “Belonging to Baa’lyasha, king of the Ammonites”—evidently the “Baalis king of the Ammonites” who, according to Jeremiah 40:14, sent an assassin who slew Gedaliah, the Babylonian governor of Judah following the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. (see Robert Deutsch, “Seal of Ba‘alis Surfaces,” BAR 25:02).