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Carved in Stone

Umm el-Jimal’s hundreds of inscriptions have been a major source of research for archaeologists and epigraphers since H. C. Butler’s Princeton University Expeditions to Southern Syria of 1905 and 1909. In fact, Enno Littmann, one of the Princeton Expedition’s specialists, published the group’s discoveries in the project's 1913 multi-volume report. (Four chapters of Littmann's work are available for download in the Library.

Since then, scholars from around the world have recorded inscriptions in five languages from Umm el-Jimal. From religious dedications to tombstones, royal decrees to protective invocations, careful study of each one reveals another facet of the site's history, people, and connections to the wider world. Check out the slideshows above to take a fascinating peek into Umm el-Jimal's story.


Although few pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions have been found, their existence at the site is critical to understanding Umm el-Jimal's ancient people. This evidence is a significant additional indicator that local citizens were already linguistically Arab—an indigenous culture—before the 7th century AD arrival of Islam.


Several hundred Greek inscriptions have been discovered at the site, in a variety of contexts. Greek was a common language in the region from Nabataean through Byzantine era, especially for administrative purposes. Examples range from dedications in Umm el-Jimal's many churches, to funerary texts on tombstones, and even religious invocations in the Barracks suggestive of its later reuse as a monastery or similar religious center.


Archaeologists have uncovered fewer than ten Latin inscriptions. Examples include a reference to Provinciae Arabiae, the Roman administrative district to which the area belonged, and a dedication to emperor Commodus found at the site's northwestern gate. This relative lack of finds reinforces the idea that for most of Umm el-Jimal's Early and Late Roman history, the far-off imperial capital held little sway over the lives of its residents.


Dozens of Nabataean tombstones reflect the pervasiveness of the language's use in regional trade, as well as perhaps Umm el-Jimal's proximity to the nearby later Nabataean capital of Bostra (today in southern Syria) during its early history. In several cases, names appearing in these funerary markers have been used to reconstruct family lineages of up to four generations.


Over a dozen Safaitic texts round out Umm el-Jimal's corpus of inscriptions. While Safaitic is most often associated with graffiti by the region's nomadic peoples, most of the finds at Umm el-Jimal are tombstones. The permanent nature of these markers reinforces that Umm el-Jimal's denizens were at once familiar with regional Greek and Nabataean culture as well as wholly belonging to local Arab life.

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Other Photo Content

Discover more slideshow galleries about other major fieldwork topics in Ceramics and Architecture. Or, check out the interactive photo walls in Artifacts, Images, and Drawings for selections of recovered objects as well as sample project photographs, maps, and plans.