Here are some critical points about the Hashemite Kingdom of
1. No oil.
2. No outlet to the Mediterranean.
3. Mostly desert.
4. Heavy element of ethnic tension in the politics.
Having no oil in the Middle East means that a government has
to live by its wits. This lends to a certain degree of flexibility
and discretion in the Hashemite government that the rulers of more well
endowed countries like Iraq seem to lack.
Being shut off from the Mediterranean means that one must have
some kind of relationship with the coastal folks, lest the difference in
living standards become egregious.
Being mostly desert means that the majority of the people are
going to be crowded into the arable land, and that there will be ethnic
tensions arising from the differing lifestyles of the farm and city people
as against those who live in the desert.
The traditional style of desert life was nomadism, and the conflict
between nomads and farmers is one of the oldest constants of human history.
What better reason, after all, to kill someone than over water? There
is nothing more basic.
Throughout history the farmers, and by extension the city folk
who parasitize them have feared the nomads, who would occasionally rage
out of the desert to plunder and destroy. To this day there is some
degree of bad feeling between the city and farming people and the nomads.
This is complexly affected by the knowledge, carried in everyone's heart,
that virtually all of them have nomad ancestors. But the fact remains
that there is a difference, felt and obvious, between these peoples.
In Jordan the city folk and agriculturalists are called Palestinians,
and live in the west, the nomads are Bedouin, and live in the east.
There are many, many more Palestinians than Bedouin, and they do most of
the country's business, but the Bedouin control the government, including
the army. It is an unstable situation.
The tension is most obvious when one considers the "Cisjordan"
territories, those on the west bank. Occupied by Israel since 1967,
these lands are the biblical "Judea and Samaria." When they were
under Hashemite control they vividly illustrated the central Jordanian
dilemma: the countryside desperately trying to control the cities.
This is deepest Palestine, in the modern sense, and to the inhabitants
thereof Hussein Hashemi is a foreigner.
But instability is nothing new in the region. The inhabitants
east of the Jordan River, or "Transjordan," have had a front row seat watching
armies marching through Palestine on their way into or out of Egypt, or
trampling each other into the Syrian dust. Mostly Transjordan got
left alone. There wasn't much there except for the caravan ports.
The scattering of nomads in the high desert was not worth the time of the
pharaos of Egypt, the nasty kings of Babylon and Assyria, Cyrus of Persia,
Alexander of Egypt, the Crusaders, or the Mongols.
Transjordan is the northwestern tip of the Arabian plateau.
It is the start of the wild hinterland south of Syria and east of Palestine,
it's cities serving as ports of departure for the caravans which millennially
wound their way through the sea of sand that is the Arabian Desert, to
trade for the strange stuff they sold in Yemen.
When the caravans returned with their franincense and zebra skins
and black slaves they did business with the Syrian and Palestinian merchants,
who traded manufactured products and luxury items. When the caravan
trade was strong there was plenty of money in the region, and a corresponding
growth of political influence. But without a solid food supply a
mercantile culture is at risk, and Transjordan has never had enough water
for the abundant agriculture that nourished the industry of the Mediterranean
Through most of history the eastern "civilized" sector has been
controlled by whatever imperium was current. The rulers of the western
and southern deserts "beyond the frontier" would typically have a client
relationship with the overlord. Occasionally a power vacuum in the
littoral allowed some ambitious Bedouin sheikh to expand from his base,
but most of the time, over the millennia, the action was elsewhere.
The numismatics of the region is correspondingly sparse.
Short periods of local coin production punctuate long stretches when only
"outsider" money was used.
And there are very few local collectors to shape the market in
There is evidence of human habitation in the northwestern agricultural
region during the Paleolithic period, 20,000 and more years ago.
In Neolithic times, 7,000 years and later, it was filled with people.
The deserts were populated by nomads that far back, some of whom harried
the Sumerians and Akkadians in Iraq, eventually establishing for themselves,
in the 4th millennium BCE, a great dynasty in Babylon. The most famous
monarch of the line Sargon II, was mentioned in the Bible as one of the
misfortunes suffered by the Jews.
In the second millennium BCE southern Jordan was the land of
the nomadic Edomites. The region east of the Dead Sea was Moab, north
of that lay the land of Ammon, where they were fond of sacrificing their
children to the god Moloch. A tribe of nomads, the Hebrews, came
out of the desert and carved a niche for themselves west of the Jordan.
They passed through the settled lands of the Ammonites and Moabites, with
whom they were thereafter on mostly bad terms.
There was business during this period in Moab and Ammon, but
it was done by weight. The standards were Babylonian: shekels, minas,
and talents. Weights of stone and metal are known, but they don't
come from Jordan, rather from Mesopotamia and Palestine. They're
rare anyway, to the point of general unavailability.
The entire Palestine-Transjordan complex came under Imperial
control from the mid-second millennium BCE, being held first by Egypt,
then by Assyria, Babylon, and Persia in the 5th century. Coins were
starting to show up in the Levant at that time, Athenian tetradrachms mostly,
and these penetrated inland to some extent.
Copies and derivatives of Athenian coins were made along the
Palestinian coast during the 4th century BCE, but no coins are attributed
to Transjordan. The land passed from the nerveless fingers of the
Persian king of kings to Alexander of Makedon, whose empire broke up upon
his demise. Palestine and its hinterlands fell first to Ptolemy in
Egypt, later to be acquired by the Syrian Seleukids, who held it increasingly
weakly until the rise of the Hasmonean kings of the Jews.
An upwelling of nomads out of the Arabian desert had created
the nucleus of an Arab state in ancient Edom. These people were the
Nabateans, who carved an amazing city, Petra, out of cliff walls for their
capital. Nabatea controlled the caravan routes to Yemen for several
centuries. It remained independent of the Seleukids, but in later
years was able to do so only through the tacit overlorship of the Romans.
In the first century BCE they issued the first Transjordanian coins.
Nabatean coinage began when the Nabatean king Aretas III conquered
Damascus in the eighth decade BCE. Damascus was a mint town, and
the Arab must have been tickled to see his face on the new coinage.
He was a tough warrior, prevailing against the Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus,
only to be chased out of Palestine by the Roman general Scaurus.
The successors of Aretas coined silver Tyrian didrachms and drachms
with their portraits and legends in Aramaic through the early years of
the Common Era. Coppers were issued as well, continuing through the
first century CE. Later coins usually carry portraits of the Queens
as well as the kings, and it is theorized that most of these Queens were
sisters as well as consorts, a handy way to bolster the legitimacy of the
Silver coins are nothing other than rare. I've never actually
held one in my hands. The later coppers are rather common in Syrian
Nabatea was swallowed whole by Rome in 106 CE, when the emperor
Trajan created the province of Arabia. There are Roman coins commemorating
this event, with a camel as a reverse type. The denarii are not impossible
With the formation of the province Petra lost its utility and
withered. A number of cities in northwest Transjordan struck imperial
coins: Bostra, Adraa, Philippopolis, Dium, Medaba, Rabbathmoba, Charachmoba,
Esbus, not to mention Petra. Coins were struck from the reign of
Hadrian (117-138) to that of Gallienus (253-68).
The coins of these mints are all of copper. None are in
the front ranks of availability. Specimens are usually seen in unfortunate
states of preservation at reasonable prices. Nice ones are very hard
All of these mints closed down after Gallienus, and the region
languished. Transjordan became a frontier between Sasanian Persia
and a shrinking Roman Imperium. The money in circulation would have
been Roman (later, Byzantine) gold and copper and Sasanian silver dirhams,
were there any business to be done.
Further south the Arab tribes were conducting their business
in a state of spiritual and political anarchy. In the 7th century
they experienced a breakthrough to another level, united behind the visions
of the prophet Muhammad. Under the guidance of his successors the
Arabs sprang out of Arabia upon the Mediterranean world. The land
they came through was, of course, Transjordan.
A NUMISMATIC DROUGHT
The first dynasty of Arab caliphs, the Umayyads, ran their empire
from nearby Damascus in the 7-8th centuries CE. Their initial fiscal
policy was to simply continue the local coinages of their new holdings.
In the west they imitated Byzantine gold and copper, while in the east
they put out copies of the Sasanian silver dirhams.
There are a number of classes of the "Arab-Byzantine" coinage,
ranging from pieces that cannot be distinguished from their prototypes,
through coins where the cross over the "M" was replaced by a star, to the
"Standing Caliph" pieces. The commonest types are the most Byzantinoid,
and do not mention a mintname. Coins naming the cities of Emisa and
Damascus are considerably scarcer, and there exist a sprinkling of specimens
from a half dozen other towns, among which are Jordanian Amman and Tabariyya
(inscribed "Al Urdun"). These are all rare.
A few rare coppers were struck in Amman after the reform of 700
CE, when the local types were suppressed in favor of standard Islamic inscriptions.
There was really no need. Nearby Damascus was pouring out coins in
all metals. Then, in 749 CE, the Umayyads were overthrown by
the Abbasids, whose capital was far away in Baghdad. The Abbasids
had problems along their northern and eastern frontiers, and for reasons
of policy were inclined toward harsh treatment for Syria, home of the Umayyad
partisans. Transjordan suffered further neglect.
The region passed its centuries as a spectator to the turbulent
history of its neighbors. Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, the Kurds of Saladin,
a Mongol army, Mamluks out of Egypt, and finally the Ottoman Turks marched
through Palestine and Syria, but hardscrabble Transjordan was for the most
part ignored. You had to take your army up into the hills to get
there, and then there was nothing but rocks and sand and a handful of bellicose
Under the Ottomans Transjordan was administered (that is to say
ignored) as a district of the vilayet (province) of Syria.
No coins were issued from the fall of the Umayyads to the 20th
century, just about twelve hundred years.
Cut to World War I. The British, from Egypt, sent out what
we would now call "advisors" to various Arab powers, attempting to induce
them to revolt against their Turkish overlords. They didn't need
much convincing. Turkish administration tended to be unpleasant.
The bait dangled in front of the sheikhs was kingships over large territories.
Unfortunately, several conflicting offers were made. Notable among
the sheikhs was the sheriff of Mecca, Hussein ibn Ali.
The Arabs did revolt, and were successful. Sheriff
Hussein was actually thinking he'd been promised a kingdom stretching from
Mecca to Baghdad and Beirut. However, Britain and France, the two
victorious principals, immediately backpeddled on the independence talk,
and started to carve up the region into "zones of influence." While
these arrangements were being negotiated in Europe, Arab leaders met in
Damascus in 1920 and declared an independent Syria with Hussein's son Faisal
This did not at all suit the French, who wanted Syria for themselves.
Troops were sent, and Faisal was obliged to quit Damascus. He ran
to the British, who found him useful and created him king of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Faisal's brother, Abdallah, who had been in Arabia, showed up
in southern Transjordan, which was part of the British zone. He had
a small army, and was on his way to kick the French out of Damascus on
behalf of his brother. This was probably not possible anyway, and
of course the British, whose territory his army was actually in, could
not allow it to be tried. Abdallah stayed in Transjordan for a few
months, where he became popular.
Winston Churchill, then British Secretary of State for Colonies,
happened to be in the area early in 1921. Meeting with Adballah in
Jerusalem he worked out a deal whereby Abdallah would give up on his Syrian
venture and become in return Emir (prince) of Transjordan. He accepted,
and became thereby a figurehead in training for a possible future as a
Part of the deal was a substantial subsidy from Britain for the
training and maintenance of a good army. This was done, and Abdallah's
Arab Legion became the finest indigenous military organization in the region.
The Arab Legion beat back the Saudis in 1922 and 1924, and was instrumental
in defeating the pro-German coup of 1941 in Iraq. Abdallah stuck
with the British through thick and thin and was rewarded at the end of
World War II with independence.
As leader of a free country Abdallah's first project was to go
adventuring in Palestine. His Arab Legion participated in the first
Arab-Israel war, but his objectives were strictly territorial. The
Legion seized Judea and Samaria and part of Jerusalem, and then stopped,
leaving the rest of the Arab belligerents to their losses. Perhaps
this turned out to be not such a great victory, because Abdallah obtained
a large, essentially foreign population to deal with, which in the event
was further swollen by refugees from Israel.
So Abdallah didn't get around to issuing coins until 1949.
He ordered them from England of course, and the first one came in wrong.
The Arab copper coin has always been called a fals or fils, plural fulus
or filsan. The British designer saw the specs and assumed "fils"
was a plural, and that the specs for the smallest coins were wrong.
So he "fixed" it and sent a "1 fil" coin to Jordan, where the authorities
complained. Wouldn't you?
The coin was promptly replaced, accompanied by larger denominations
up to 100 fils. All of the 1949 coins are reasonably easy to find,
including the error 1 fil. There are rare proofs of all of these
The 1949 coins were Abdallah's only issue. He was assassinated
in 1951 by anti-Israel hardliners, and was succeeded by his son Talal,
who was sick and getting treatment in Switzerland. When it became
obvious that Talal was too ill to serve, parliament replaced him with his
brother Hussein. How Hussein has managed to keep his throne over
four decades is an amazing tale, but no space left to tell it here.
Hussein initially issued coins of the same general design as
his father. These were issued in odd years through the 50s and 60s.
All are obtainable. Normal grade is uncirculated, proofs are all
rare. Starting in 1968 new types were introduced with the king's
portrait. These are generally fairly common, and the bronze 5 fils
has turned up in quantity in bulk lots. Some dates, especially late
ones, are not in dealer stocks. Proofs of these coins are theoretically
easier to find than earlier proofs, but they are not the kind of thing
you run into over and over again in cases at the shows.
What about the commemoratives? They started issuing these
in 1969, and I think it is fair to say that it is only the issues of that
year that have any appreciable market presence. The copper-nickel
FAO quarter dinar comes closest to ubiquity, and may be, as far as dealer
stock goes, the most common Joradnian coin. The silver set of that
year is also widely available, though the gold is not. The tree design
of the FAO coin has been continued as an ostensibly regular issue, but
these never show up for sale to collectors, despite their low catalog quotes.
Virtually all of the later commemoratives are not seen, no matter
what their price level. Mintages are low, as is demand. There
appears to be little or no interest at home, and if the locals won't buy
their own coins, who will?
They used to call 100 fils a dirham, but just two years ago they
decided to start calling the tenth dinar a ghirsh, or piastre. Does
anyone know why? It's still the same old dinar. The new denominations
were issued in 1993, and they're hard to get.
Written 2002 - 6 years later the demand for Jordanian has picked up.