Greek Pella, the capital of ancient Macedon, is famous as the birthplace of Alexander the Great. But in terms of history, there is another Pella – an older settlement in Jordan that had been inhabited since the Neolithic times. Also known as Tabaqat Fahl, the site, situated in the Jordan Valley, south of the Sea of Galilee, has recently revealed its fair share of artifacts dating from the Bronze Age era – most of which were discovered inside a large building. Interestingly enough, the researchers also identified structural elements of another 10,000 sq ft Iron Age building possibly constructed as a palace by circa 9th century BC.
According to Stephen Bourke, director of the 2019 excavation project (conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney), his team found items made of wood, bone, ivory, faience, glass, and metal – all of which were housed inside a massive structure from the Late Bronze Age. But as we mentioned before, more intriguing is the discovery of various spaces and jars from a different 10,000 sq ft (30 x 30 m) building. The latter, given the moniker of the Civic Building, probably served as the palace of the ruling dynasty of Pella, circa 9th century BC, i.e., during the Iron Age.
Focusing on this Civic Building, over the years, excavations have revealed over 45 rooms from within the impressive structure. Most of these rooms served different purposes, ranging from storage of oil and grains, kitchens, to even textile looms. Furthermore, befitting the palatial nature of the building, the archaeologists have also found a monumental entrance leading to this section. And reverting to the earlier Bronze Age, the researchers additionally discovered massive stone terraces and a paved gateway complex on the eastern reaches of the Pella site – all dating from circa 3200-2800 BC.
Bourke noted how such large structural projects rather mirrored the importance of Jordan’s Pella during the Bronze Age. To that end, historically, the ancient city was even mentioned in the 19th century BC Egyptian execration texts, and as such is often considered as one of the earliest walled townships in the region of Jordan and the Levant. The settlement continued to thrive during the Iron Age – bolstered by grain and horticultural crops, along with the trade networks connecting Egypt, Cyprus, and Anatolia.
However, the Iron Age city was either destroyed or abandoned rather abruptly due to unknown reasons. But the urban character was once again revitalized under the rule of the Seleucids, who named the city as Pella. In the following centuries, Pella grew into an even bigger city under the Roman and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) administrations. The excavations reflect this era of renewed urbanization of the Jordanian city. On the other hand, post 550 AD also saw the sad deterioration of circumstances, due to the combined effects of a plague (that possibly killed over 30 percent of the population), wars (between Romans and Sassanids), and earthquakes. Bourke mentioned –
From a period of large and wealthy townhouses with sophisticated mosaic floors, colonnaded interior courtyards and wide paved streets in the Late Roman period, we see the subdivision of the wealthy houses and their reuse in light of industrial activities [glass and metal production] after 550AD, suggesting a growing depopulation of the centre and the repurposing of much of the urban landscape for industrial and agricultural activity. In the Byzantine period, Pella suffered a number of disasters. Finally, a series of severe earthquakes between 550-660AD probably wrecked what was already a half-deserted city.
In spite of such devastating reversals, Pella was still maintained a semblance of an urban area till the 16th century. According to Bourke –
Recovery from this final disaster was slow, but by around 850AD occupation had returned to the main mound, although it was only fitful, until stimulated anew under the Mamluks after 1260AD, which saw Pella enter into a final period of great prosperity. Until the Ottoman conquest of 1517AD and subsequent neglect of security led to a final decline and abandonment of the center around 1550AD.