Ammon (Hebrew: עַמּוֹן, Modern: Ammon, Tiberian: ʻAmmôn; Arabic: عمّون, romanized: ʻAmmūn) was an ancient Semitic-speaking nation occupying the east of the Jordan River, between the torrent valleys of Arnon and Jabbok, in present-day Jordan. The chief city of the country was Rabbah or Rabbath Ammon, site of the modern city of Amman, Jordan's capital. Milcom and Molech (who may be one and the same) are named in the Hebrew Bible as the gods of Ammon. The people of this kingdom are called "Children of Ammon" or "Ammonites".
The Ammonites occupied the northern Central Trans-Jordanian Plateau from the latter part of the second millennium BC to at least the second century CE.
Ammon maintained its independence from the Neo-Assyrian Empire through tribute to the Assyrian king, at a time when nearby kingdoms were being raided or conquered. The Kurkh Monolith lists the Ammonite king Baasha ben Ruhubi's army as fighting alongside Ahab of Israel and Syrian allies against Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC, possibly as vassals of Hadadezer, the Aramaean king of Damascus. In 734 BC the Ammonite king Sanipu was a vassal of Tiglath-Pileser III, and Sanipu's successor Pudu-ilu held the same position under Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. An Assyrian tribute-list exists from this period, showing that Ammon paid one-fifth as much tribute as Judah did.
Somewhat later, the Ammonite king Amminadab I was among the tributaries who suffered in the course of the great Arabian campaign of Assurbanipal. Other kings attested to in contemporary sources are Barachel (attested to in several contemporary seals) and Hissalel, the latter of whom reigned about 620 BCE. Hissalel is mentioned in an inscription on a bottle found at Tel Siran, Jordan along with his son, King Amminadab II, who reigned around 600 BCE.
Archaeology and history indicate that Ammon flourished during the Neo-Babylonian Empire period. This contradicts the view, dominant for decades, that Transjordan was either destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II, or suffered a rapid decline following Judah's destruction by that king. Newer evidence suggests that Ammon enjoyed continuity from the Neo-Babylonian to the Persian period.
Little mention is made of the Ammonites through the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. Their name appears, however, during the time of the Maccabees. The Ammonites, with some of the neighboring tribes, did their utmost to resist and check the revival of the Jewish power under Judas Maccabaeus. The Hasmonean dynast Hyrcanus founded Qasr Al Abd, and was a descendant of the Seleucid Tobiad dynasty of Tobiah, who is mentioned by Nehemiah as an Ammonite (ii. 19) from the east-Jordanian district.
The first mention of the Ammonites in the Bible is in . It is stated there that they descended from Ben-Ammi, a son of Lot through with his younger daughter who plotted with her sister to intoxicate Lot and in his inebriated state, have relations to become pregnant. Ben-Ammi literally means "son of my people". After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the daughters of Lot wanted to have a child and carried out a plot to intoxicate him and had relations, resulting in Ammon and his half brother, Moab, being conceived and born. This narrative has traditionally been considered literal fact; but is now generally interpreted as recording a gross popular irony by which the Israelites expressed their loathing of the morality of the Moabites and Ammonites. It has been doubted, however, whether the Israelites would have directed such irony to Lot himself.
The Ammonites settled to the east of the Jordan, invading the Rephaim lands east of Jordan, between the Jabbok and Arnon, dispossessing them and dwelling in their place. Their territory originally comprising all from the Jordan to the wilderness, and from the River Jabbok south to the River Arnon. It was accounted a land of giants; and that giants formerly dwelt in it, whom the Ammonites called Zamzummim.
Shortly before the Israelite Exodus, the Amorites west of Jordan, under King Sihon, invaded and occupied a large portion of the territory of Moab and Ammon. The Ammonites were driven from the rich lands near the Jordan and retreated to the mountains and valleys to the east. The invasion of the Amorites created a wedge and separated the two kingdoms of Ammon and Moab.
Throughout the Bible, the Ammonites and the Israelites are portrayed as mutual antagonists. During the Exodus, the Israelites were prohibited by the Ammonites from passing through their lands. The Ammonites soon allied themselves with Eglon of Moab in attacking Israel.
The Ammonites maintained their claim to part of Transjordan, after it was occupied by the Israelites who obtained it from Sihon. During the days of Jephthah, the Ammonites occupied the lands east of the River Jordan and started to invade Israelite lands west of the river. Jephthah became the leader in resisting these incursions.
The constant harassment of the Israelite communities east of the Jordan by the Ammonites was the impetus behind the unification of the tribes under Saul. King Nahash of Ammon (c. 1010 – 990 BC) lay siege to Jabesh-Gilead. This eventually led to an alliance with Saul. Under his command, the Israelites relieved the siege and defeated the Ammonite king, eventually resulting in the formation of the Israelite kingdom.
During the reign of King David, the Ammonites humiliated David's messengers, and hired the Aramean armies to attack Israel. This eventually ended in a war and a year-long siege of Rabbah, the capital of Ammon. The war ended with all the Ammonite cities being conquered and plundered, and the inhabitants being killed or put to forced labor at David's command.
According to both and , Naamah was an Ammonite. She was the only wife of King Solomon to be mentioned by name in the Tanakh as having borne a child. She was the mother of Solomon's successor, Rehoboam.
When the Arameans of Damascus city-state deprived the Kingdom of Israel of their possessions east of the Jordan, the Ammonites became allies of Ben-hadad, and a contingent of 1,000 of them served as allies of Syria in the great battle of the Arameans and Assyrians at Qarqar in 854 BC in the reign of Shalmaneser III.
The Ammonites, Moabites and Meunim formed a coalition against Jehoshaphat of Judah. The coalition later was thrown to confusion, with the armies slaughtering one another. They were subdued and paid tribute to Jotham.
After submitting to Tiglath-Pileser III they were generally tributary to the Neo-Assyrian Empire, but had joined in the general uprising that took place under Sennacherib; but they submitted and they became tributary in the reign of Esar-haddon. Their hostility to Judah is shown in their joining the Chaldeans to destroy it (). Their cruelty is denounced by the prophet Amos (), and their destruction (with their return in the future) by Jeremiah (); Ezekiel (); and Zephaniah (). Their murder of Gedaliah (; ) was a dastardly act. They may have regained their old territory when Tiglath-pileser carried off the Israelites East of the Jordan into captivity (; ).
Tobiah the Ammonite united with Sanballat to oppose Nehemiah (), and their opposition to the Jews did not cease with the establishment of the latter in Judea.
The Ammonites presented a serious problem to the Pharisees because many marriages between Israelite men and Ammonite (and Moabite) women had taken place in the days of Nehemiah. The men had married women of the various nations without conversion, which made the children not Jewish. They also joined the Syrians in their wars with the Maccabees and were defeated by Judas.
The Ammonites, still numerous in the south of Palestine in the second Christian century according to Justin Martyr ("Dialogus cum Tryphone," ch. cxix.), presented a serious problem to the Pharisaic scribes because of the fact that many marriages with Ammonite and Moabite wives had taken place in the days of Nehemiah (Neh. xiii. 23). Still later, it is not improbable that when Judas Maccabeus had inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Ammonites, Jewish warriors took Ammonite women as wives, and their sons, sword in hand, claimed recognition as Jews notwithstanding the law (Deut. xxiii. 4) that "an Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." Such a condition or a similar incident is reflected in the story told in the Talmud (Yeb. 76b, 77a; Ruth R. to ii. 5) that in the days of King Saul, the legitimacy of David's claim to royalty was disputed on account of his descent from Ruth, the Moabite; whereupon Ithra, the Israelite (II Sam. xvii. 25; compare I Chron. ii. 17), girt with his sword, strode like an Ishmaelite into the schoolhouse of Jesse, declaring upon the authority of Samuel, the prophet, and his bet din (court of justice), that the law excluding the Ammonite and Moabite from the Jewish congregation referred only to the men—who alone had sinned in not meeting Israel with bread and water—and not to the women. The story reflects actual conditions in pre-Talmudic times, conditions that led to the fixed rule stated in the Mishnah (Yeb. viii. 3): "Ammonite and Moabite men are excluded from the Jewish community for all time; their women are admissible."
The fact that Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon, was born of an Ammonite woman (I Kings, xiv. 21-31) also made it difficult to maintain the Messianic claims of the house of David; but it was adduced as an illustration of divine Providence which selected the "two doves," Ruth, the Moabite, and Naamah, the Ammonitess, for honorable distinction (B. Ḳ. 38b). Ruth's kindness as noted in the Book of Ruth by Boaz is seen in the Jewish Tradition as in rare contradistinction to the peoples of Moab (where Ruth comes from) and Amon in general, who were noted by the Torah for their distinct lack of kindness. Deut. 23:5: "Because they [the peoples of Amon and Moab] did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you left Egypt, and because he [the people of Moab] hired Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim against you, to curse you." Rashi notes regarding Israel's travels on the way: "when you were in [a state of] extreme exhaustion."
Baalis, king of the Ammonites, envious of the Jewish colony's prosperity, or jealous of the might of the Babylonian king, instigated Ishmael, son of Nathaniel, "of the royal seed," to make an end of the Judean rule in Palestine, Ishmael, being an unscrupulous character, permitted himself to become the tool of the Ammonite king in order to realize his own ambition to become the ruler of the deserted land. Information of this conspiracy reached Gedaliah through Johanan, son of Kareah, and Johanan undertook to slay Ishmael before he had had time to carry out his evil design; but the governor disbelieved the report, and forbade Johanan to lay hands upon the conspirator. Ishmael and his ten companions were royally entertained at Gedaliah's table. In the midst of the festivities Ishmael slew the unsuspecting Gedaliah, the Chaldean garrison stationed in Mizpah, and all the Jews that were with him, casting their bodies into the pit of Asa (Josephus, "Ant." x. 9, § 4). The Rabbis condemn the overconfidence of Gedaliah, holding him responsible for the death of his followers (Niddah 61a; comp. Jer. xli. 9). Ishmael captured many of the inhabitants of Mizpah, as well as "the daughters of the king" entrusted to Gedaliah's care by the Babylonian general, and fled to Ammon. Johanan and his followers, however, on receiving the sad tidings, immediately pursued the murderers, overtaking them at the lake of Gibeon. The captives were rescued, but Ishmael and eight of his men escaped to the land of Ammon. The plan of Baalis thus succeeded, for the Jewish refugees, fearing lest the Babylonian king should hold them responsible for the murder, never returned to their native land. In spite of the exhortations of Jeremiah they fled to Egypt, joined by the remnant of the Jews that had survived, together with Jeremiah and Baruch (Jer. xliii. 6). The rule of Gedaliah lasted, according to tradition, only two months, although Grätz argues that it continued more than four years.
The few Ammonite names that have been preserved also include Nahash and Hanun, both from the Bible. The Ammonites' language is believed to be in the Canaanite family, closely related to Hebrew and Moabite. Ammonite may have incorporated certain Aramaic influences, including the use of ‘bd, instead of commoner Biblical Hebrew ‘śh, for "work". The only other notable difference with Biblical Hebrew is the sporadic retention of feminine singular -t (e.g., ’šħt "cistern", but ‘lyh "high (fem.)".)
The economy, for the most part, was based on agriculture and herding. Most people lived in small villages surrounded by farms and pastures. Like its sister-kingdom of Moab, Ammon was the source of numerous natural resources, including sandstone and limestone. It had a productive agricultural sector and occupied a vital place along the King's Highway, the ancient trade route connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia, Syria, and Asia Minor. As with the Edomites and Moabites, trade along this route gave them considerable revenue. Circa 950 BCE Ammon showed rising prosperity, due to agriculture and trade, and built a series of fortresses. Its capital was located in what is now the Citadel of Amman.
In 1972, during the excavations of a site called Tell Siran in north-west Amman, an inscription on a bronze bottle of about 10 cm tall was found. Scientific investigation has showed that the inscription dates back to 600 BC, and later concluded that it was a lyric poem written in Ammonite language. The poem talks about a drinking song, roughly translated to: