The region also gave rise to the Nabateans, a desert people who gained control of the vital oases and the trade routes between them. Eloquent testimony to their wealth is given by the amazing ruins of Petra, the country's most famous monument.
The area fell to the Islamic invaders in the 7th century and subsequently to their successors the Turks. It was declared a British mandate in the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Jordan was granted independence under King Abdullah I in 1946.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jordan occupied the territories known later as the West Bank, although they had not originally been allocated this area. They were confirmed in occupation by the Armistice Agreement of 1949 and quickly united the West Bank politically as part of Jordan. This union was never formally recognised by the international community, except by the UK, but was accepted as a matter of fact.
In 1967 the West Bank and East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel during the Six Day War, and in 1988 King Hussein formally renounced Jordan's claim to the territory.
Jordan has also suffered a troubled relationship with the Palestinians, since the Jordanian government has had other priorities for their country than as a base to attack Israel. In the 1970's, Jordan was violently attacked by fedayeen militias and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, supported in 1970 by a short-lived invasion by Syrian forces, which was seen off with British and American help.
King Hussein (reigned 1952-1999) gradually gathered considerable international prestige, for himself and for Jordan, by being a consistent peacemaker between his country and Israel, and in pursuit of an Israeli/Palestinian peace. His reign also saw considerable economic growth. The greatest threat to Jordan in recent years has been from radical Islamists, who have been responsible for a number of bombings in Amman and elsewhere.
Much of Jordan is a high plateau desert, with only oases and seasonal streams for water, but the western region is more fertile, especially the Jordan valley, where agriculture thrives.
Traditionally, Jordan's economy has depended on exports of phosphates and potash, remittances from Jordanians abroad, and foreign aid. Jordan does not have the oil and gas deposits of some of its neighbours. In recent years, efforts to create a light-industrial sector have met with some success. Growing the tourist trade has also proved a success.
Life in Jordan is varied. Amman-dwellers live in a relatively modern, cosmopolitan city, which serves as a regional centre for many companies. On the other hand, the desert is still home to numerous families of Bedouin, still living a nomadic herding life.
Christians in Jordan
Jordan is around 92% Muslim, but this was not always so. In 1950, up to 30% of the population was Christian, but this proportion has been eroded by emigration (usually for economic reasons), the higher population-growth of Muslims, and the influx of Palestinians and other Muslims from surrounding areas.
Jordan hosts significant communities of adherents of the ancient churches as well as modern denominations.
Jordan is one of the easier of the Arab countries for Christians to live, in comparison with neighbouring states, but there are still many restrictions. In 2008 a number of evangelical churches were closed, and foreign Christians deported.