An Archaeological Approach to the Political Economy of Ayyubid Southern Jordan

By Ian Jones
Submitted to Session P4986 (From Commerce to Economics in Islamic Thought and Society, 2017 Annual Meeting
Political Economy;
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The late 12th and 13th centuries AD in the southern Levant were a period of increasing political centralization, ending the political instability caused by the fragmentation of the ‘Abbasid Empire in the 10th century AD. While the 11th and early 12th centuries are marked by near-constant shifts in political sovereignty, by the 13th century control of the inland areas was contested primarily between the Ayyubid rulers of Cairo and Damascus. A third center — Karak, in central Jordan — was, however, able to achieve political autonomy, if only briefly, during the 13th century, largely by maintaining economic autonomy. The elites of Cairo and Damascus recognized and attempted to disrupt this economic autonomy, but with only limited success. This paper presents evidence from recent archaeological research at one of the “nodes” of this economic strategy, the copper ore resource district of Faynan, in southern Jordan, where copper production saw a brief revival during the 12th and 13th centuries AD. These excavations are discussed in the context of regional archaeological surveys in order to the provisioning systems to which the Faynan copper industry belonged. Considering the historical archaeology of the southern Levant more broadly, I suggest that the Faynan copper industry was revived by the Ayyubid amra’ of Karak as part of a strategy to replace imported copper needed by the sugar industry in the Dead Sea lowlands and Jordan Valley ghawr, which expanded dramatically during this period. This strategy of maintaining political and economic autonomy is also compared to several strategies that have been archaeologically observed in the Levant both earlier and later in the Islamic periods in order to determine why this strategy was viable in the early to mid-13th century, but not in the period following this.