Jerash, The Age of Exploration
For centuries the ancient Biblical lands east of the Jordan lay derelict and deserted. In A.D. I 122, the crusader William of Tyre noted that Jerash was reduced to a mass of ruins. A terrible torpor had settled on this almost forgotten land which persisted right up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was a place as remote and as dangerous as the surface of the moon.
European interest was only awakened when a French expeditionary force swept up the Palestine coast in 1799 in an attempt to reach, and capture, Constantinople. This was stopped by the Ottoman Governor of Akko, Ahmed Jazzar, known as the Butcher , with the aid of the British Fleet under Sir Sydney Smith. Sir Sydney s involvement did not, however, stop there, for in 1801 he made a sudden march in strength with his Marines on Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a demonstration of support for the Christians whom the Butcher now accused of complicity with the defeated French.
This was the age of exploration in which the world was opened up; and the Holy Land was as little known as the heart of Africa. Palestine and the lands east of the Jordan had the particular attraction of being the land of the Scriptures. Travel there was hazardous, to say the least, with very little in the way of comfort and a lot in the way of danger. The local Bedouin were warring amongst themselves, and most of them had never seen a European. In the tense atmosphere they were nervous of anything that moved and suspicious of strangers in particular. The early travelers in this area were, in consequence, an intrepid band, and what they achieved is amazing. They brought home the first factual information and descriptions of an unknown world.
The first man to set foot upon the lands of the Decapolis was a German, Ulrich Jasper Seetzen. Even as a young man he had shown a remarkably resolute character, combining great powers of concentration with clarity of thought, perception with receptivity, courage with caution - and an iron constitution. His interests were wide-ranging, from zoology to architecture, botany to Greek, mineralogy to antiquities. He pursued each assiduously. His formal education was completed at Gottingen University, where he came under the influence of the great scholar, Johann F. Blumenbach, who instilled in him an orderly, scientific approach to everything which caught his highly-tuned faculties. Seetzen was also an avid traveller with seemingly inexhaustible energy. In 1802 he set out for Constantinople with the intention of exploring the East and Africa. Initially he had very little money but with commendable entrepreneurial instinct he arranged to send antiquities back to the museum at Gotha along with any other archaeological information he could acquire, including transcripts of newly found inscriptions. In this he was singularly successful, and he was soon dispatching antiquities not only to the museum but to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha and a rapidly increasing number of princely patrons, including the Tsar of Russia. The Tsar took the very practical step of giving him the Civil Service rank of Ambassadorial Counselor to help him in his relic- and antiquity-hunting. But for Seetzen exploration was a scientific exercise which required its proper preparation; thus he made a point of learning Arabic and studying Islamic law, religion and custom. He dressed as an Arab and absorbed all that he could. He soon moved to Aleppo where, during his long stay, he perfected his Arabic whilst continuing to collect antiquities and manuscripts which he dispatched back to Europe.
The beginning of 1806 found him on his way south from Damascus to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. His extensive reading of Biblical and ancient authors had prepared him, for he was well aware that to the south and east lay the region of the Decapolis . In a letter to the Court at Gotha he wrote: I thought it would be rendering service to science, if I became competent to give the public certain intelligence of the present state of Decapolis, its antiquities, plants, minerals &c ... . Having passed round the southern end of the Sea, he climbed the considerable eminence and explored the ruins on the top. These he took to be ancient Gamala, but in all probability he was standing on Qal at al Hosn, the site of ancient Hippos: if this was so, how sad that he should write I could not obtain any information concerning Hippos . One of his main troubles was that he was relying to some extent on extremely inaccurate maps which had no scientific basis. Thus Capitolio, Gadara, Pella and Gerasa were all wildly misplaced. This again made him despondent, for he was equally unsuccessful respecting Capitolio and Pella which, according to his map, could not have been far away.
The misplacement of Gadara on the map did not, however, deceive him: we set off the next morning for M kess (Umm Qeis). This town is situated in an angle of a high mountain .... It was formerly a large and opulent town, proofs of which are still visible in remnants of marble columns, and of large buildings, in great numbers of sarcophaguses, ornamented with bas-reliefs. I thought there was reason to believe that M kess was the ancient Gadara, a town of the second rank among the decapolis cities ... . This was the first of his identifications but he wanted to check his deduction against associated topographical features. I set myself to seek, in the environs of M kess, for some hot springs, which were formerly near Gadara, and I discovered them on the northern side, at a league s distance from the foot of a mountain on which M kess stands ...
He had considerable trouble in getting to Abila but made it in the end. The town is situated in the angle of a mountain, formed by the two bases ... [it] is completely in ruins and deserted. There is not even one single building standing; but the ruins, and the remnants attest its ancient splendour, some beautiful remains of the ancient walls are to be discovered, together with a number of arches, and columns of marble, basalt and grey granite ... The magical thing about Abila is that it is still exactly as Seetzen found it.
He stayed at the village of Be it Ras, situated on a moderate elevation, ... and which from some ancient remains of architecture appears to have been once a considerable town. Little did he realise that he was sheltering amid the very ruins of Capitola s about which he had sought information.
The next day I had the satisfaction of seeing the important ruins of]errash ... which ruins may be compared to those of Palmyra, or of Baalbek. It is impossible to explain how this place, formerly of such manifest celebrity, can have so long escaped the notice of all lovers of antiquity. How right he was, for had] Jerash had its Wood and Dawkins it would have been as celebrated. Doubtless it was the great difficulty in getting there which prevented this - though Wood and Dawkins managed to get to Palmyra - but also, by the time Seetzen description was published in London in 1810, the whole mood of the Neoclassical Movement had changed and the passionate pursuit of the antique had cooled.
Nonetheless, his brief description of the ruins, despite its lack of detail, amounted to what one might call a rave review : I t is situated in an open and tolerably fertile plain, through which a river runs. The walls of the town are mouldered away, but one may yet trace their whole extent. Not a single private house remains entire. But on the other hand I observed, several public buildings, which were distinguished by a very beautiful style of architecture. I found two superb amphitheatres, solidly built of marble, with columns, niches &c., the whole in good preservation. I also found some palaces, and three temples, one of which had a peristyle of twelve grand columns of the Corinthian order, eleven of which were still upright [the Temple of Artemis -]. In another of these temples, I saw a column on the ground of the most beautiful polished Egyptian granite. I also found a handsome gate of the city, well preserved, formed of three arches, and ornamented with pilasters.
The most beautiful thing I discovered was a long street crossed by another, and ornamented on both sides with rows of marble columns, of the Corinthian order, and one of whose extremities terminated in a semicircle that was set round with sixty pillars of the Ionic order. At the point where the two streets cross, in each of the four angles, a large pedestal of hewn stones is visible, on which probably statues were formerly set [the South Tetrakionia. A part of the pavement still remains, formed of hewn stones.
To speak generally, I counted about two hundred columns, which yet partly support their entablatures but the number of those thrown down is infinitely more considerable; I saw indeed but half the extent of the town, and a person would probably still find in the other half, on the opposite side of the river, a quantity of remarkable curiosities. Jerash can be no other than the ancient Gerasa, one of the decopolitan towns .... He had got it in one.
This description of the discovery of Jerash was, however, more than just pictures in words, for Seetzen also arrived correctly at the period when the main structures had been built. From a fragment of a Greek inscription, which I copied, I am led to conclude, that several of the buildings of this town were erected under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus .... It is at all events certain, that the edifices of this town, are of the age of the most beautiful Roman architecture.
Lacking in detail though these first descriptions are, they have an enthusiasm and warmth which create a vivid mental picture of this Pompeii of the East . Almost as a bonus, he went on to visit and describe the ruins of Philadelphia: I found there some remarkable ruins, which attest its ancient splendour. I could only spare a short time to the examination of these objects - and I hope that any other traveller who may visit the ruins of ]errash, will not forget those of Amman. *
All his observations were written down by Seetzen in a diary which became a valuable record for his reports to Europe. He can properly be called the pioneer of travel and study in the Biblical lands east of the] ordan. And yet he is, even to this day, far less well-known than his contemporaries, Burckhart and Buckingham. To some extent this is because he undertook his explorations on his own initiative and not at the behest of one of the influential exploration societies which were springing up in educated circles all over northern Europe. The Palestine Association, founded in London in 1804, certainly took great interest in his Holy Land travels and, indeed, published a considerable extract from a letter he had sent to the Grand Marshal of the Court of Saxe-Gotha, in which he briefly described where he had been. But his diaries were not published until half a century later, in 1854, by which time several other reports were already on the market. Through his Palestine Association publication, however, the results of his explorations were known in England, for J. S. Buckingham, who travelled over much of the same ground in 1816, refers to Seetzen discovery and identification of Gadara.
Six years after Seetzen exploration,]john Lewis Burckhart set out from Tripoli, Syria, on his way overland to Cairo. Unlike his predecessor, he had been retained by an exploration society in London, the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa. The Association had commissioned him to explore for the source of the River Niger but it was decided that he should first gain complete fluency in Arabic and the Muslim way of life. Thus, after a prolonged stay in Malta, he went to Antioch and then, like Seetzen, to Aleppo. Much of his time there was spent studying Koranic law and the Traditions, in which he became so fluent that questions of exegesis and doctrine were brought to him for explanation and interpretation. In a way it is sad that he and Seetzen never met. For by chance, Burckhart had also studied under Blumenbach at Gottingen, where his restless zeal was given direction and organisation. When he arrived in London in 1806, it is hardly surprising that this serious but energetic young man was snapped up by the Association which was so concerned about those Interior Parts of Africa .
By 1812 he felt ready to face the Interior Parts and set off for Cairo, from where he planned to mount his expedition in search of the source of the Niger. From Tripoli he went south, dressed as an Arab, over the high, rolling hills. At Abila he found that neither buildings nor columns remain standing and at Om Keis [Umm Qeis] the remains of antiquity are very mutilated . He missed the way to Beit Ras from Irbid [Irbid] but reports that he was told that the ruins were of large extent . On and May he reached ]errash but was only able to spend about four hours there although he was evidently fascinated by the place: but my guides were so tired of waiting, that they positively refused to expose their persons longer to danger, and walked off, leaving me the alternative of remaining alone in this desolate spot, or of abandoning the hope of correcting my notes by a second examination of the ruins . However, during the four hours his guides were skulking under a bush by the wadi side, he managed to see a remarkable amount of the ruins and make sense of them. Above all it was the Temple of Artemis which impressed him, particularly the mighty stand of splendid pillars which to this day are one of the grandest sights in Jerash . Their style of architecture is much superior to that of the Grand Colonnade ... and seems to belong to the best period of the Corinthian order, their capitals being beautifully ornamented with acanthus leaves. The whole edifice seems to have been superior in taste and magnificence to every public building of its kind in Syria .... High praise from one whose descriptions were usually so sober. His brief, matter of fact, account of the ruins of Amman have often been taken to imply that he was not impressed with them. Reading the account, it is clear that this is not so; his brevity was due to his being yet again pressed by his guides. I am sensible that the ... description of Amman, though it notices all the principal remains, is still very imperfect; but a traveler who is not accompanied with an armed force can never hope to give very satisfactory accounts of the antiquities of these deserted countries. My guides had observed some fresh horse-dung near the water s side, which greatly alarmed them, as it was a proof that some Bedouin were hovering about. They insisted upon my returning immediately, and refused to wait for me a moment, rode off while I was still occupied in writing a few notes upon the theatre. * Burckhart s great triumph was yet to come for, later, in August, he discovered
Petra locked away in its mountain fastness. Throughout all his journeys he kept a diary which, like Seetzen, he wrote up in great secrecy. The Syrian diary was eventually published, five years after his untimely death, in 1822: he never reached those Interior Parts .
Four years after Burckhart, in 1816, an Englishman appeared on the scene, ] ames Silk Buckingham. As a traveller and observer he did not enjoy Seetzen or Burckhardt s orderly scientific method of enquiry. Nonetheless he was not unlearned, as the marshalling of lengthy discussions and quotations of ancient sources clearly shows. But through his writings one senses a strange, neurotic unease of personality, as though he were exploring as much himself as the Holy Land. There is a constant undercurrent of the need to impress, of the mistaken need to disagree. In consequence he has had his ardent admirers and equally ardent detractors, though neither would deny his arrogance and vanity, or that his published travels contain much of great value and fine perception.
He visited Jerash in 18 I 6, and the description he gave of the ruins was the lengthiest and most detailed to that date. After a brief general description, he went on to describe in much greater detail each monument in turn. Sometimes he got things horribly wrong, for he took the Propylaea of the Temple of Artemis to be a noble palace, probably the residence of the Governor , not appreciating its architectural relationship to a beautiful Corinthian temple ... behind, in right lines with it ... . Had he had a more scholarly turn of mind, he might have understood the relationship. He did, however, make some important observations such as the fact that the Hadrianic Arch stood quite unconnected with any wall (seepage lOS). He also realised, and was the first to record, that there was a formal plan to the city which had been conceived as a whole: The general plan of the whole was evidently the work of one founder, and must have been sketched out before the Roman city, as we now see it in its ruins, began to be built.
He was enthusiastic about the ruins and worked himself, and his text, to such romantic heights whilst we attend to the descriptions of ancient temples; it was the prodigious number of columns they were enriched with, that enchanted us. Wherever he turned there was something to get excited about: There were also other edifices scattered in different parts of the city, which will be seen in examining the plan [he, again, was the first to publish a rudimentary map of the city] but the whole was remarkable for the regularity and taste of its design, no less than for its able and perfect execution . Coming down from the heights of euphoria with a bump, he was bitterly disappointed by the plain interior of the Temple of Artemis, which he found to consist simply of one square cella, without any subdivisions of basilica, adytum, penetrale, or sacrarium .
The next two visitors made no pretence at being anything other than well-read amateurs. In March 1818, two of the most entertaining and engaging of travellers, both Commanders of the Royal Navy, crossed the Yarmouk and ascended the mountains by a very steep road, and before sunset arrived at Om Keis ... . The Hon. C. L. Irby and MrJ. Mangles had arrived in the Decapolis. Their travels had started in August 1816, when they left England to tour the Continent, but they became so impressed by classical antiquities that they decided to extend their trip. Between 1817 and 1818 they spent a great deal of time travelling about the Near East and became involved in all sorts of adventures. They were well educated and versed in the classics and architecture. They were also tough, hardy and brave. Visitors in the backwoods of the Near East were still a great rarity, and those who did venture forth were really quite intrepid. Dressed as Arabs (or rather, their romantic notion of what an Arab should look like), these two redoubtable sea captains braved the considerable risks of travel in the area. On their return to England in 1820, they were persuaded to publish a compilation of the letters they had sent home to their families. This they did for private circulation but the little book was passed around and became so popular that they eventually, in 1844, allowed a general publication which became a runaway best-seller.
In March 1818, they explored the remains of ancient Gadara, and with great glee noted that the pavement of the city is still very perfect; and the traces of the chariot wheels are visible on the stones . Why is it that when looking at a Roman road, even today, people always expect to find the tracks of chariots, indeed, feel cheated if they don t, as if the Romans spent all their time rushing about in chariots? They examined several underground sepulchres and made an observation which can still be made by visitors touring in the area: the doors [to these tombs] are very impressive, being cut out of immense blocks of stone ... the hinge is nothing but a part of the stone left projecting at each end, and let into a socket cut in the rock; the face of the doors are cut in the shape of panels . They also went down to el Hammah, where they found several sick persons at these springs who had come to use the waters . Six days later they were at Beishan, where they spent a day inspecting the ruins oi Scythopolis. Again their knowledge of the history of architecture came in handy: The most interesting [ruin] is the theatre ... and is remarkable as having those oval recesses halfway up the theatre, mentioned by Vitruvius as being constructed to contain the brass sounding tubes. We had never seen these in any other ancient theatre, and were, at the time, quite at a loss to conjecture to what use they were applied. There are seven of these cells, and Vitruvius mentions, that even in his day very few theatres had them. We were very careful to take a correct plan of this theatre, attending to every minute particular.
Two days later they forded the Jordan and visited the ruins at Tabaqat Fahil . They were delighted by the beauty of its situation but were concerned that no one seemed to know of which ancient city these were the remains: As this place appears to be as ancient as Scythopolis, and full two-thirds of its size, it seems unaccountable that history should not mention a town so near "the principal city of the Decapolis", as this is. It was to be another thirty years before this was recognized as the site of Pella. Irby and Mangles were, however, the first Europeans to record the ruins.
Within five days they were at Jerash, where they spent a week busying themselves with measuring the ruins, whilst their companion, Mr Bankes, was drawing and copying inscriptions etc .... But, as usual, they were having terrible trouble with their guides and guards, who were forever asking for more money. As they saw it, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon of fleecing the Frank travelers since Lady Hester Stanhope spoiled the market by over-paying them when she went to Palmyra . Perhaps in answer to Seetzen cry that Jerash had so long escaped the notice of all lovers of an tiq ui ty they were set on recording the architectural splendours that stood before them. We were very anxious to finish the plan of Jerash, nothing having ever been published regarding these antiquities; indeed they were unknown to Europeans until Mr Seetzen discovered them in 1806. I believe Mr Bankes, Sir W. Chatterton, Mr Leslie, Sheikh Ibrahim [Burckhardt s Arabic pseudonym], and Mr Buckingham are the only Europeans who have seen them.
Usually they were super-critical of the architecture they found in the east- their disgust at Palmyra and Petra is well known - but at Jerash they went almost overboard with praise. It has been a splendid city . They raved about the Colonnade Street and found the pavement exceedingly good, and, excitement reaching near fever pitch, the marks of chariot wheels are visible in many parts of the street . Apart from the splendour of the temples (they were the first to note the unusual vault below the Temple of Artemis) and the intriguing magnificent Ionic oval space, they thought the scene of the large theatre ... singularly perfect .
They were also the first to record the great reservoir at Birkenstein: To the north-east ... are a very large reservoir for water and a picturesque tomb fronted by four Corinthian columns. They did not, however, mention the Festival Theatre.
Some of their text is weighed down with lengthy discussions of ancient sources, and they went astray when they concluded that the ruins of Jerash are those of Pella rather than of Gerasa , despite the earlier identification by Seetzen which they certainly knew about. Nonetheless, their enjoyment of the ruins is evident, for they agreed that on the whole, we consider Jerash to be a much finer mass of ruins than Palmyra .
The next visitor was Monsieur le Marquis, Leon de Laborde , who likewise came wrapped up in turbans and cloaks with a dagger in his belt: it is inconceivable, however, that this nobleman, who was to become Director-General of the Archives of France and a member of the Academic Francaise, would have travelled barefoot. With him, in 1826, came the engraver, Linant, who was to do the first professional drawings of Jerash: de Laborde s text, however, contributed very little to our knowledge of the site.
1838 is a crucial date in the study of ancient sites in the Holy Land. The Reverend Edward Robinson , an American Biblical scholar and virtual founder of Biblical archaeology, arrived for an extended tour of the Holy Land where, Bible in hand, he successfully identified a large number of sites that had hitherto been only names. That he was able to demonstrate that place-names in the Bible were actual sites gave birth to the desire for a more scholarly investigation of the area. The result of his travels that year, in the company of Eli Smith, a scholar and former missionary in Beirut, was Biblical Researches in Palestine, Sinai, Arabia, Petraea and Adjacent Regions, published in London in 1841. I t was widely acclaimed.
However, Robinson regarded this first trip as only a beginning to his task of revealing the truth about the Land of the Scriptures. In the Preface to Seetzen 1810 publication, the publisher wrote: Whilst a new world beyond the Atlantic has been frequently described and delineated in authentic maps; whilst the unproductive regions of Siberia, and the deserts of Africa, have been penetrated by modern hardihood and curiosity; the land which might be called the oldest portion of the globe, or concerning which at least the oldest authentic history exists; where the seeds of Christianity were first sown, and where the author of our religion lived, and taught, is comparatively neglected and unknown. Robinson sought, as a Christian Biblical scholar, to put this neglect and obscurity to rights. In r85 2 he returned for another visit. His place in this narrative is focussed on 14th May of that year when he tramped all over the site of the ruins called Tabaqat Fahil, described by Irby and Mangles . He had long suspected that this was the site of ancient Pella but wanted to check. After completing our examination of the remains, in view of these considerations, I ventured to express to my companions on the spot the opinion, in which they concurred, that we were standing amid the ruins of the long lost and long sought Pella. It is at such moments that the traveler has his reward. * Only the meanest of men would deny him his pleasure and that tingling thrill of excitement - and how gratifying it would have been for the sea captains had they known that it was they who had drawn his attention to the site.
It was not, however, until 1865 that the first of the great learned societies came into being with the purpose of serious study of Palestine and its neighboring Biblical lands. This was the Palestine Exploration Fund, which is still one of the most important agencies concerned with these studies. The Palestine Association, which had published Seetzen 18 I 0 Report, had foundered in 1834 when its effects were transferred to the Royal Geographical Society. The new Fund, under the patronage of Queen Victoria, enjoyed immediate popularity and support. Captain Charles Wilson, who had already mapped and reported on Jerusalem, immediately put forward proposals for a small-scale survey of parts of western Palestine. The expedition was made up of men from the Royal Engineers, initiating the long association between the PEF and the Royal Corps. This initial survey was completed in 1866, and the following year another Royal Engineer, Lieutenant Charles Warren, then only twenty-seven years old, began excavations in Jerusalem with another team of Engineers. Having set the work smoothly in motion, Warren went off in July and August on two reconnaissance surveys, the first to the Dead Sea, and the second, which followed without a break, to the country east of the Jordan. Among other places visited on the second survey were Amman and Jerash. The party spent nearly three days at Jerash and were at work from sunrise to sunset . Warren greatly regretted not having copies of the works of Burckhart and Buckingham with him, because their plans and descriptions would have helped him identify many of the distinguished ruins which no doubt are very much more damaged than they were fifty years ago . Warren wrote a report of the expedition for the PEF which they published in their Quarterly Statement of 1869. Though the party was small and its objectives limited, the results are not unimportant because on this survey some of the earliest photographs of Jerash were taken, of Amman, was also taken at this time, probably at, or near, es Salt.
The group in presents a problem, for the records in the archives of the PEF are contradictory as to who these people are: are they the party which went to the Dead Sea on the first phase of the survey, or are they the party who went east of the]ordan? Warren himself numbered this photograph No. 341 at the end ofa long run of shots of Jerash and two of es Salt, the latter being numbers 339 and 340 - all taken on the second, Transjordan survey. Yet in the catalogue those shown are referred to by the names of the members of the first, Dead Sea, party. However, the Dead Sea party numbered only five; the later party had six. The group shows five people, but someone had to be taking the photograph and this was not a job they would have entrusted to one of their local staff. This seems to indicate that this is the second party which consisted of Warren (by now a Captain), The Reverend W. Bailey (who joined the party on 5th August just before they arrived in ]erash), Edward Honour, Corporal Birtles, the photographer, Corporal Phillips, his photographic assistant, and ]erius, their dragoman. Captain Warren can be identified on the left, relaxed and confident, determination and intelligence showing clearly in his face; in the middle right sits the Rev. Bailey, as though clothed in mitre and full canonicals, staffin hand as though on some pious pilgrimage; on the surv right Mr Hanour, watching keenly the scientific operation being performed before him; on the ground is probably Corporal Birtles who was ill with dysentery at the time but who had struggled on bravely; whilst ]erius, the dragoman, stands behind in his fancy buttoned shirt. This photograph was in all probability taken by Corporal Phillips who on the expedition had done most of the photographic work due to Birtles illness. Unfortunately we do not know what Phillips looked like, and he remains a rather misty figure about whom one would like to know more, for he was one of the pioneers of Near-Eastern photography. His work was to be vital in years to come, for, as W. F. Stinespring has acknowledged, these pictures are invaluable to the modern interpreter as an indication of what was once to be seen .* It was only some thirty years since Fox-Talbot had taken the first photograph at Lacock Abbey, and the difficulties which Phillips had to cope with were considerable. Indeed, Warren reported that Corporal Phillips experienced great difficulty in his work on account of the heat which caused his bath to split up: he lost one day s work through this."] Corporal Phillips s photographs were eventually shown in 1873 at the Dudley Gallery Exhibition, when the general public were able to applaud and recognise his work and talent.
During the second half of the last century the Palestine Exploration Fund played a leading role in the surveying, mapping and archaeology of the Holy Land. In its wake, the American Palestine Exploration Society was founded in 1870, only to be disbanded fourteen years later. Then came the German Orient Company, the British School of Archaeology, the American School of Archaeology, the French Biblical School and School of Archaeology, and many others. These societies and schools, or their successors, are still among the main front-line forces in Biblical archaeology and research, now working in conjunction with the Departments of Antiquities in the lands concerned.
Jerash has probably had more effusive language lavished on it than most ancient sites: This is indeed a wonderful and magnificent ruin .... At every turn are picturesque subjects for sketches, at every corner food for reflection ... it is glorious and striking - a glorious ruin, a striking desolation .... The tide of civilised life had ebbed, rolled back, and left Gerash stranded on its shore. So waxed the Rev. A. E. Northey when he reported to the PEF Quarterly Statement on his Expedition to the East of the Jordan in 1871.
At last it can be said with truth that the age of relic-hunting has ceased, and the era of exploration has fairly begun. The English and American societies have already achieved commendable results. That was written by Selah Merrill, archaeologist of the American Palestine Exploration Society, after his extended survey travels in r875, which he wrote up and published in popular form as East of Jordan in 188 I. Merrill is interesting as a link between the romantics and the scientific archaeologists. Walking about this ancient city by day, and especially by night, the silence, the desolation, the mystery connected with its origin, and its past, fill the mind with sensations which cannot be imparted to another. I t is no minor event in one s life to visit a ruined and deserted city, where over three hundred columns are still standing amid fallen temples and other splendid monuments of a former prosperous age. Even so his surveys were arduous, hard working and productive. In one report he writes that Every fountain, stream, and ruin, and almost every wadi, in the valley and hills immediately east of the Jordan, from the north end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, has been visited. He did little digging, or dirt archaeology as it is called, for he rightly held that the field of surface archaeology ... has not yet been thoroughly gleaned; enough has been found, however, to awaken the profoundest interest in the subject.
By this time the massive Survey of Western Palestine, undertaken by the PEF in conjunction with the War Office, was nearing its successful completion, and Merrill was looking forward to taking part in the survey of eastern Palestine, i.e. Transjordan, which was going to be conducted by the American Palestine Exploration Society. One of the most important features of this work of exploration is the identification of Biblical sites. Lieutenant Conder (who had led the Western Survey) reports that of the six hundred and twenty-two Biblical (place) names in Western Palestine, four hundred and thirty-four are now identified with reasonable certainty, and of the latter number one hundred and seventy-two are discoveries of the British survey party. It should be stated that Lieutenant Conder was connected with the survey for more than six years, a large portion of which period he spent in the field, going over the ground square mile by square mile, and often acre by acre, and hence his opinion on all topographical and archaeological questions merits unusual consideration.
Unfortunately the American Eastern Survey never came about, for the Society was disbanded in 1884, but the work Merrill had already done for the Society had been of great service. With charming modesty, this most genial and attractive of men bowed out of the archaeological scene with the words: It is admitted by all that the work of exploring the land where the Bible had its origins is one of the most important that has been undertaken during the present century, and it affords me special satisfaction that I have had even a slight share of carrying it on.
The Western Survey had been such an unqualified success that the PEF decided to pick up the mantle the Americans had put down and turn their attentions to a survey of eastern Palestine. In 1880 Lieutenant Conder was again put in command and given the assistance of another Royal Engineers team. By the beginning of June 1881 everything was ready, but the Turkish authorities refused to allow the survey to start. The party did cross into Jordan and surveyed a small area including Amman - but the political tide was against them and the job was never completed. Conder went himself to Constantinople to plead the cause but to no avail.
Back in Jerusalem by March 1882, Conder suddenly got a last chance to visit Jordan. Their Royal Highnesses Prince Albert Victor and Prince George (later to become George V), sons of the Prince of Wales (Edward VII), made a tour of the Holy Land and Conder was asked to accompany the party. The maps and reports of the curtailed eastern survey were being prepared in Jerusalem at that time, and Conder saw in the royal visit an opportunity. His persistence is wonderful, for he wrote in an appendix to the one and only volume of the Survey of Eastern Palestine to be published by the PEF: Opportunity was taken of this tour to clear up various points which had arisen during the course of the office-work in Jerusalem. Right under the nose of the Turkish authorities and the cloak of the royal tour, Conder was back on the job.
The royal tour was a great success and was duly reported upon in the PEF Quarterly Statement: Jerash, which is one of the finest [ruins] in Syria ... was visited on 13th April, and several Greek inscriptions, which do not appear to have been copied by any previous explorer, were found by the Princes .... Being a royal visit, correspondents did the right sort of research, and we are told that The last Royal personage who appears to have journeyed to Jerash was the Crusading King Baldwin 11. ...
After this things settled down in the area, and eventually the PEF was able to employ Gottlieb Schumacher to continue surface exploration in the eastern region. His works published by the Fund and in the journal of the Deutscher Palastina Vereins became for long the standard sources of reference for researchers. Jerash, by then, had been settled by a community of refugee Circassians who were put there by the Turkish Government in 1878. Their settlement was on the east bank of the stream; their town was to alter irrevocably the appearance of the site from what the early travellers had known.
Since then scholars, archaeologists and historians from many lands have worked amid the ruins of the Decapolis, and contributed to our knowledge of them. Brunnow and Domaszewski and the German team working on their monumental Die Provincia Arabia should be mentioned, as well as Professor John Garstang, Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and first Director of the Department of Antiquities in Jordan at its inception in 1920, who did so much to open up the archaeological site of Jerash and to care for monuments throughout the country. His car journeys across the length and breadth of the land, over virtually non-existent roads, are the stuff of which legends are made.
The important contribution made by American archaeologists should also be recorded. A joint expedition in 1928 to Jerash was mounted by Yale University and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Professor B. W. Bacon from Yale was overall director, with J. W. Crowfoot of the British School overseeing all work on site. One of Crowfoot first objectives was the Christian churches, and over the next three years all these were cleared and excavated. In 1930 the British School had to retire from the project, and the Americans under the direction of Professor Bacon and the great Professor Rostovtzeff assumed the whole workload. Site-digging was then under the direction of Dr C. S. Fischer and Dr C. C. McCown of the American School in Jerusalem.
One cannot overstate the importance of the work they did in Jerash between 1928-34. In 1938 a vast compendium of all the results was published by the American Schools of Oriental Research, New Haven, under the editorship of Professor Carl H. Kraeling: this magisterial work Gerasa: City of the Decapolis, has become a standard work on the site, a kind of researchers Bible, notable for its depth of learning and cautious yet imaginative perception.
Jerash is the largest Roman city left today in the world, and it indeed worth a visit while in Jordan , and it should be in your trip plan, worth mentioning that it s possible to visit Jerash and watch the whole city in one Day Trip Tour, To Jerash Day Trip is doable from Amman , and I encourage anyone who visits Jordan to take Jerash Day Trip, you won t be disappointed though.
References: Does your Jordan Pass cover your visit to Little Petra in 2023? A comprehensive guide.