The eastern most of the major northern cities, Umm Al-Jimal is located at the edge of the eastern basalt desert plain, along a secondary road that was close to the junction of several ancient trade routes that linked central Jordan with Syria and Iraq. Among the most interesting structures to visit are the tall barracks with their little chapel, several large churches, numerous open and roofed water cisterns, the outlines of a Roman fort, and the remains of several town gates.
After the Romans turned the Nabataean Kingdom into their Province of Arabia, Provincia Arabia, they also occupied Umm el-Jimal. In A.D. 180, the Roman imperial authorities constructed a wall and a gate, followed by the construction of a large reservoir and the Praetorium. During the 4th century A.D., in response to the rebellion of Zenobia of Palmyra, Roman authorities turned Umm el-Jimal into a military garrison with a fort where troops were stationed.
A gradual transformation from a military station to a civilian town began as Roman imperial power waned and was then replaced by the Byzantine era. From the 5th to 8th centuries, Umm el-Jimal prospered as a rural farming and trading town. During this period of prosperity, many residents converted to Christianity, resulting in an explosion of church construction: Fifteen churches were built in the late 5th and 6th centuries. The population of Umm el-Jimal likely grew to between 6,000 and 8,000 people during this time. Evidence of this culture is found throughout the site in the form of Christian symbols on houses and churches.
Umm el-Jimal’s local agricultural culture continued after the Muslim conquest and under the Umayyad caliphs during the 7th century. Though the site decreased in size, some new construction took place. This construction included private houses, possible conversion of several structures into mosques, and the remodeling of the Praetorium with frescoed walls and mosaic floors. Around this time, Umm el-Jimal’s population decreased—most significantly after an earthquake hit Umm el-Jimal in A.D. 749. The site was gradually abandoned during the 9th century, in the Abbasid era.
For more than 1100 years the ancient city lay nearly deserted and untouched. The durability of basalt masonry and the town’s high-quality construction enabled a remarkable state of preservation over that period: today over 150 structures still stand, some up to six stories high.
The site was re-occupied first by Druze fleeing settlement conflicts in the Jebel and then brought in by the French army in their post WW I efforts to control north Jordan. During that period, virtually every building was reused or reconstructed, making the site habitable for the Druze. The Druze abandoned the town around 1935 when the fixing of the modern border between Jordan and Syria cut off their access to the Jebel Druze in the north. Some Druze families returned north to the mountain, while others scattered within Jordan—mostly to Amman.
After the Druze abandonment, the Mas’eid tribe, which had been using Umm el-Jimal for seasonal grazing alongside the Druze, settled in the area and made the antiquities part of their community. They reused the deserted buildings of the Druze and pitched tents in front of them, especially during the summer time.
For awhile many Mas’eid children were educated in schoolrooms adapted from the Byzantine structures. After Jordan’s government prohibited such use of the antiquities, the Mas’eid founded and constructed the modern town, which soon engulfed the ancient site. The Jordanian Department of Antiquities subsequently fenced off the ruins in 1972. The modern village has continued to grow since the 1950s, and now constitutes a community of about 4,000 with its own well-run municipal government.