Ammonite texts are inscribed on various materials: stone (e.g., from the Amman Citadel), metal (e.g., on a bottle from Tell Siran), pottery (engraved, e.g., from Saḥab; or with ink on ostraca, e.g., from Tell Ḥesban), semiprecious stones (seals), and clay (seal impressions, known as bullae). [See Amman; Saḥab; Ostraca; Ḥesban; Seals.] An inscription may be defined as Ammonite according to several categories of criteria: geographic (i.e., the text was found in territory ascribed to the Ammonites), cultural (e.g., iconographic, religious), technical (e.g., paleographic), and linguistic (i.e., grammatical and lexical). Unfortunately, so few inscriptions of significant length are attested, the presently known linguistic features differentiating the Ammonite language from Moabite and Edomite are rather few in number. Thus, other criteria have been used more extensively in defining the Ammonite corpus, for example, iconography and onomastics (Israel, 1979; Naveh, 1982/1987, pp. 105–111; Jackson, 1983; Aufrecht, 1987).


The largest number of extant Ammonite inscriptions are on seals (Hübner, 1993; pp. 154–155) and date to the eighth–sixth centuries BCE. The earlier ones are classified as Ammonite primarily on the basis of the script and the discovery site; the later ones are classified on the basis of language, onomastics, or iconography but not on the script, which is Aramaic. [See Aramaic Language and Literature.] Only a small number have been found in systematic excavations, and it is difficult without scientific analysis to establish which of the objects obtained on the antiquities market are authentic (Hübner, 1993, pp. 132–133; Bordreuil, 1992, pp. 13–38). The history of research and the criteria that directed the formation of the extant corpus of Ammonite seals are listed by Felice Israel (1991, pp. 227–231, and Pierre Bordreuil (1992, pp. 157–159).

Monumental Inscriptions.

The circumstances of discovery of the Amman Citadel inscription (CAI 59) remain unclear. The beginnings and endings of all of its lines have disappeared but paleographic analysis indicates a date for it at the beginning of the eighth century BCE. Several tempting hypotheses regarding its purpose (bibliography in CAI) have been rejected because they are based on incorrect readings. Most probably the inscription refers to an order from the Ammonite national god, Milkom, to build some mb't, “entrances.” A salvation oracle appears at the end of the inscription.

Because it was reused in Amman's Roman theater and probably conceived by its author as a building inscription, CAI 58 is known as the Amman Theater inscription. Unfortunately, the disappearance of the beginning and endings of its lines impedes understanding the text, which is dated only paleographically to the sixth century BCE.

A now damaged inscription of the eighth century BCE (CAI 43) is engraved on the base of the statue of Yrh῾zr, the grandson of the Ammonite king Shanibu. The use of br for “son” indicates that the language of the inscription is Aramaic.

Produced as a part of monumental artworks, but non-monumental in character, are letters and religious symbols engraved on the reverse of eyes fixed in the heads of female statues found on the Amman Acropolis (CAI 73). The purpose of these brief inscriptions was to indicate their correct placement to the builders or craftsmen. They have been dated to the seventh century BCE, but on archaeological evidence rather than by paleographic comparisons.

Inscriptions on Metal.

An Ammonite inscription, probably royal, from Tell Siran near Amman (CAI 78), is engraved on a metal bottle (Hübner, 1992, p. 29). The text contains stylistic literary features known from other Northwest Semitic literature. A cup found in an Iron II tomb at Khirbet Udeinah, also near Amman (Hübner, 1992, pp. 30–31), is engraved with the name of its owner. The inscription is dated to the sixth century BCE on archaeological and paleographic grounds. Two inscribed weights are known whose Ammonite identification remains in doubt (Hübner, 1992, pp. 31–32).

Inscriptions on Clay.

Ammonite ostraca have been found at Tell Hesban (CAI 65, 80, 94, 137), Tell el-Mazar (CAI 144–147), and Tell el-῾Umeiri (Herr, 1992). [See Mazar, Tell el-; ῾Umeiri, Tell el-.] Ulrich Hübner (1992, p. 136) disputes the classification of the Tell Hesban ostraca as Ammonite for topographic reasons. The validity of the geographic argument is doubtful, however, for the oracle of Jeremiah 49:1–3 shows that during the sixth century BCE Heshbon/Hesban was under Ammonite control (Lemaire, 1992). In any case, the language and script of these texts is not Moabite. They have been dated on paleographic grounds to the sixth century BCE by Frank M. Cross (1986, pp. 480–484). The Hesban IV ostracon (CAI 80) is noteworthy for its grammatical features, which are characteristic of the Ammonite language. Also of note are Tell Mazar ostraca no. 3 (CAI 144), a letter from the sixth century BCE that contains a typical epistolary formula, and no. 7 (CAI 147), a list of personal names dating to the fifth century BCE that demonstrates the continuity of the traditional Ammonite onomasticon (Heltzer, 1989). Other documents from the site refer to agricultural life and are to be ascribed to the Hellenistic period.

The ostraca from Tell el-῾Umeiri remain undeciphered for the most part because of their poor state of preservation. One fragmentary inscription from that site may be classified as sacred (Herr, 1992, pp. 195–196). The ostraca from Deir ῾Alla are still unpublished (see the list in Franken and Ibrahim, 1977–1978, p. 79). [See Deir ῾Alla Inscriptions.] The scholarly consensus that ostracon no. 6231 from Nimrud (CAI 47) is a list of typical Ammonite personal names was recently rejected by Bob Becking (1988) and Hübner (1992, pp. 35–37). [See Nimrud.] However, the presence of Ammonites at Nimrud has been proved by the discovery of Ammonite pottery on the site (Israel, 1990, p. 234). The possibility of ascribing the document to the Ammonite world therefore remains open. Excavations at Amman (CAI 77), Hesban (CAI 81), Saḥab (Hübner, 1992, p. 39, no. 4), and Khirbet Umm ad-Dananir (Hübner 1992, p. 39, no. 5) have produced pottery engraved with personal names that are more or less fragmentary.


  • Aufrecht, Walter E. “The Ammonite Language of the Iron Age.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 266 (1987): 85–95. Review of Jackson (1983).
  • Aufrecht, Walter E. A Corpus of Ammonite Inscriptions (CAI). Lewiston, N.Y., 1989. Includes extensive bibliography and photographs.
  • Becking, Bob. “Kann das Ostrakon ND 6231 von Nimrūd für ammonitisch gehalten werden?” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 104 (1988): 59–67. Rejects the Nimrud ostracon as Ammonite.
  • Bordreuil, Pierre. “Sceaux inscrits des pays du Levant.” In Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, vol. 12, cols. 86–212. Paris, 1992. Detailed overview of inscribed seals from the Levantine area.
  • Cross, Frank Moore. “An Unpublished Ammonite Ostracon from Hesban.” In The Archaeology of Jordan and Other Studies Presented to Siegfried H. Horn, edited by Lawrence T. Geraty and Larry G. Herr, pp. 475–489. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1986.
  • Franken, H. J., and Mo῾awiyah Ibrahim. “Two Seasons of Excavations at Deir ῾Alla, 1976–1978.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 22 (1977–1978): 57–79.
  • Heltzer, Michael. “The Tell el-Mazār Inscription n° 7 and Some Historical and Literary Problems of the Vth Satrapy.” Transeuphratène 1 (1989): 111–118.
  • Herr, Larry G. “Epigraphic Finds from Tell el-῾Umeiri during the 1989 Season.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 30 (1992): 187–200.
  • Hübner, Ulrich. Die Ammoniter: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte, Kultur und Religion eines transjordanischen Volkes im 1. Jahrtausend. v. Chr. Abhandlungen des Deutschen Palästinavereins, 16. Wiesbaden, 1992. Extensive bibliography, with particular attention to Ammonite culture.
  • Hübner, Ulrich. “Das ikonographische Repertoire der ammonitischen Siegel und seine Entwicklung.” In Studies in the Iconography of Northwest Semitic Inscribed Seals: Proceedings of a Symposium Held in Fribourg on April 17–20, 1991, edited by Benjamin Sass and Christoph Uehlinger, pp. 130–160. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, 125. Freiburg, 1993. Overview of Ammonite seals, particularly from the iconographic perspective.
  • Israel, Felice. “The Language of the Ammonites.” Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 10 (1979): 143–159. Brief overview of the Ammonite language problem, with extensive bibliography.
  • Israel, Felice. “Note Ammonite II: La religione degli Ammoniti attraverso le fonti epigrafiche.” Studi e Materiali Storico-Religiosi 56 (1990): 307–337. Ammonite religion as revealed by Ammonite inscriptions.
  • Israel, Felice. “Note Ammonite III: Problemi di epigrafia sigillare ammonita.” In Phoinikeia Grammata, lire et écrire en Méditerranée: Actes du colloque de Liège, 15–18 novembre 1989, edited by Claude Baurain et al., pp. 215–241. Namur, 1991. Overview of Ammonite seals.
  • Israel, Felice. “Note di onomastica semitica 7/2. Rassegna critico-bibliografica ed epigrafica su alcune onomastiche palestinesi: La Transgiordania.” Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici 9 (1992): 95–114. Transjordanian onomastics, including Ammonite.
  • Jackson, Kent P. The Ammonite Language of the Iron Age. Harvard Semitic Monographs, 27. Chico, Calif., 1983. Attempt to gather all the data for defining the Ammonite language (see Aufrecht 1987).
  • Lemaire, André. “Heshbôn=Hisbân?” Eretz-Israel 23 (1992): 64–70.
  • Naveh, Joseph. An Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography. 2d ed. Jerusalem, 1987. Discussion of the Ammonite script.

Felice Israel