AMMONITES, or the “children of Ammon,” a people of east Palestine who, like the Moabites, traced their origin to Lot, the nephew of the patriarch Abraham, and must have been regarded, therefore, as closely related to the Israelites and Edomites. Both the Ammonites and Moabites are sometimes spoken of under the common name of the children of Lot (Deut. ii. 19; Ps. lxxxiii. 8); and the whole history shows that they preserved throughout the course of their national existence a sense of the closest brotherhood. According to the traditions, the original territory of the two tribes was the country lying immediately on the east of the Dead Sea, and of the lower half of the Jordan, having the Jabbok for its northern boundary; and of this tract the Ammonites laid claim to the northern portion between the Arnon and the Jabbok, out of which they had expelled the Zamzummim (Judg. xi. 13; Deut. ii. 20 sqq.; cf. Gen. xiv. 5), though apparently it had been held, in part at least, conjointly with the Moabites, or perhaps under their supremacy (Num. xxi. 26, xxii. 1; Josh. xiii. 32). From this their original territory they had been in their turn expelled by Sihon, king of the Amorites, who was said to have been found by the Israelites, after their deliverance from Egypt, in possession of both Gilead and Bashan, that is, of the whole country on the left bank of the Jordan, lying to the north of the Arnon (Num. xxi. 13). By this invasion, as the Moabites were driven to the south of the Arnon, which formed their northern boundary from that time, so the Ammonites were driven out of Gilead across the upper waters of the Jabbok where it flows from south to north, which henceforth continued to be their western boundary (Num. xxi. 24; Deut. ii. 37, iii. 16). The other limits of the Ammonitis, or country of the Ammonites (Άμμανῖτες χῶρα, 2 Mac. iv. 26), there are no means of exactly defining. On the south it probably adjoined the land of Moab; on the north it may have met that of the king of Geshur (Josh. xii. 5); and on the east it probably melted away into the desert peopled by Amalekites and other nomadic races.
The chief city of the country, called Rabbah, or Rabbath of the children of Ammon, i.e. the metropolis of the Ammonites (Deut. iii. 11), and Rabbathammana by the later Greeks (Polyb, v. 7. 4), whose name was changed into Philadelphia by Ptolemy Philadelphus, a large and strong city with an acropolis, was situated on both sides of a branch of the Jabbok, bearing at the present day the name of Nahr ‘Ammān, the river of Ammon, whence the designation “city of waters” (2 Sam. xii. 27; see Survey of E. Pal (Pal. Explor. Fund), pp. 19 sqq. The ruins called Ammān by the natives are extensive and imposing. The country to the south and east of Ammān is distinguished by its fertility; and ruined towns are scattered thickly over it, attesting that it was once occupied by a population which, however fierce, was settled and industrious, a fact indicated also by the tribute of corn paid annually to Jotham (2 Chron. xxvii. 5).
The traditional history of Ammon as related in the Old Testament is not free from obscurity, due to the uncertain date of the various references and to the doubt whether the individual details belong to the particular period to which each is ascribed. (See further Moab.) From the Assyrian inscriptions we learn that the Ammonite king Ba’sa (Baasha) (son) of Ruhubi, with 1000 men joined Ahab and the Syrian allies against Shalmaneser II. at the battle of Karkar in 854. In 734 their king Sanip(b)u was a vassal of Tiglathpileser IV., and his successor, P(b)udu-ilu, held the same position under Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. Somewhat later, their king Amminadab was among the tributaries who suffered in the course of the great Arabian campaign of Assurbanipal. With the neighbouring tribes, the Ammonites helped the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadrezzar against Jehoiakim (2 Kings xxiv. 2); and if they joined Zedekiah’s conspiracy (Jer. xxvii. 3), and were threatened by the Babylonian army (Ezek. xxi. 20 sqq.), they do not appear to have suffered punishment at that period, perhaps on account of a timely submission. When, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the fugitive Jews were again gathered together, it was at the instigation of Baalis, king of Ammon, that Gedaliah, the ruler whom Nebuchadrezzar had appointed over them, was murdered, and new calamities were incurred (Jer. xl. 14); and when Nehemiah prepared to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem an Ammonite was foremost in opposition (Neh. ii. 10, 19, iv. 1-3). True to their antecedents, the Ammonites, with some of the neighbouring tribes, did their utmost to resist and check the revival of the Jewish power under Judas Maccabaeus (1 Macc. v. 6; cf. Jos. Ant. Jud. xii. 8. 1.). The last notice of them is in Justin Martyr (Dial. cum Tryph. § 119), where it is affirmed that they were still a numerous people. The few Ammonite names that have been preserved (Nahash, Hanun, and those mentioned above, Zelek in 2 Sam. xxiii. 37 is textually uncertain) testify, in harmony with other considerations, that their language was Semitic, closely allied to Hebrew and to the language of the Moabites. Their national deity was Molech or Milcon. (See Moloch.) (S. A. C.)
- The allusions in Jer. xlix. 1-6; Zeph. ii. 8-11; Ezek. xxi. 28-32; Judg. xi. 12-28, have been taken to refer to an Ammonite occupation of Israelite territory after the deportation of the east Jordanic Israelites in 734, but more probably belong to a later event. The name Chephar-Ammoni (in Benjamin; Josh. xviii. 24) seems to imply that the “village” became a settlement of “Ammonites.” Some light is thrown upon the obscure history of the post-exile period by the references to the mixed marriages which aroused the reforming zeal of Ezra and culminated in the exclusion of Ammon and Moab from the religious communit—on the ground of incidents which were ascribed to the time of the “exodus” (Deut. xxiii. 3 sqq.; Ezr. ix. 1 sqq.; Neh. xiii. 1 sqq.).