Open this page in a new tab


Aerial view of Karak Aerial view of Karak

  • Reference: APAAME_20151013_RHB-0018.jpg
  • Photographer: ?
  • Credit: Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East
  • Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
Click photo for high res magnifiable image

Transliterated Name Source Name
Al-Karak Arabic ال كاراك
Kerak Arabic خربة
Karak Kingdom of Jerusalem
Crac French
Kharkha Aramaic כרכא

Karak in southern Jordan has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age and was an important Moabite center (Jeremy Johns in Meyers et al, 1997). Early in the 12th century CE, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem built a fortress known as the Kerak Castle which dominates the Karak skyline and still stands today.


Early History

Kerak was an important Moabite center. A Moabite inscription [the Mesha Stele] names Mesha, or his father Chemosh-yat, mid-ninth-century BCE kings of Moab, and suggests that Kerak had a temple to the god Chemosh. The place names Qir-Mo'ab (Is. 15:1), Qir-Heres (Jer. 48:31, 48:36; Is. 16:11), and Qir-Hareset (Is. 16:7; 2 Kgs. 3:25) are thought to refer to Kerak, perhaps because the Isaiah Targum renders Qir-Mo'ab by the Aramaic Karka' de-Mo'ab. If correct, then Kerak was an important fortress in the revolt of Mesha against Israel and the site of the dramatic siege in 2 Kings 3:25-27. Kerak cannot be the Qarhoh on Mesha's stela, which was evidently a quarter of Dibon.

Kerak was the administrative center of Moab during the Persian period (539/520-332 BCE) . Nabatean pottery is commonly found there and Nabatean-Roman spolia (architectural and decorative fragments) are reused in the castle. In about 130 Hadrian granted polis status to Kerak, which later had its own mint. The Madaba map (mid sixth century CE) shows [Khara] khmoba as a walled, hilltop city.

Crusader Kerak and the Lordship of Oultrejourdain

Early in the twelfth century CE, the kings of Jerusalem built a line of fortifications to protect their revenue from TransJordan and to dominate the trade routes
Castles were also built at Amman (Crusader, Ahamant) and Tafila (Crusader, Taphila).

Oultrejourdain was kept mostly in the royal domain until about 1126 when it was granted to Pagan the Butler (Romain de Puy was not the first lord of Oultrejourdain but held lands in the Balqa'). The crown retained some castles and lands until 1161 , when Baldwin III invested Philip de Milly with all royal property from Wadi Zarqa to the Red Sea. The lordship was crucial to the defense of the kingdom and was economically important: it exported bitumen, dates, grain, oil, salt, sugar, and wine. Kerak had its own Dead Sea port. Tolls were levied on caravans and bedouin passing through the region.

In 1142, Pagan built Kerak castie (Crusader, Chrac, Crac [not to be confused with Crac des Chevaliers in Syria], Crac de Montreal/Mont royal, Cracum Montis regalis, Petra Deserti, Pierre dou Desert, Civitas Petracensis; Ar., al-Karak, Karak al-Shawbak) to replace Montreal as the center of Oultrejourdain. His successors, Maurice and Philip de Milly, strengthened it. Philip entered the Templars in about 1165 and was succeeded by his daughter [Stephanie]'s husbands, first Miles de Plancy (1172-1174) and then Reynald de Chatillon (1177-1187). Nur al-Din and Salah ad-Din attempted to take Kerak in 1170 and 1173 . When Reynald used Kerak as a base for raids on caravans protected by treaty and on al-Hijaz, Salah ad-Din launched systematic assaults (1183, 1184, 1187). Reynald was killed after the Battle of Hattin in July 1187. In November 1188, after a siege of eight months, Kerak capitulated.

Middle Islamic Kerak

Under the Ayyubids (1193-1263), Kerak usually belonged to the independent Syrian principality of Damascus, although al-Nasir Dawud (1227-1249) and al-Mughith 'Umar (1250-1263) ruled Kerak as a semiautonomous principality. Al-'Adil (1193-1198) refortified the castle, converted the cathedral into a mosque, and founded a mosque in Wadi Kerak. Al-Mu'azzam (1198-1227) repaired the castle after the earthquake of 1211 [JW: 1212], constructed the western entrance tunnel, and ordered the improvement of the Hajj road from Damascus to al-Hijaz (work at Mu'ta and Ma'an was completed). Further refortification was carried out under al-Nasir Dawud, who built a palace within the castle. Al-Mugith 'Umar repaired damage caused by the 1261 earthquake1.

Under the Mamluk sultans (1263-1517), Kerak became the chief town of an administrative province stretching from Ziza to 'Aqaba and from the Dead Sea to the desert. Kerak's prosperity was largely dependent on the patronage of the sultans, although the region continued to export agricultural products, especially sugar. Baybars I (1260-1277) visited Kerak frequently and undertook its major refortification. In the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Kerak was used as a school where the sons of the dynasty could be educated in Arab ways and as a place of exile for troublesome members of the ruling family. Al-Nasir Muhammad spent two periods of exile in Kerak (1294- 1298, 1308-1310) and in 1311 had a palace, bath, school, khan, hospital, and mosque built there. For a few months in 1342, under al-Nasir Ahmad, Kerak became the capital of the Mamluk state. During the fifteenth century, Mamluk interest in Kerak waned, and local tribes increasingly came to dominate the town.

In 1517, an Ottoman governor was installed at Kerak. The Ottomans attempted to retain control of the town throughout the sixteenth century, but soon after 1600 it was in Arab hands. Successive Ottoman expeditions (1655-1656, 1678-1679, 1710-1711) failed to regain control.

1 JW: I'm not sure what earthquake he is referring to or what his source is. Guidoboni and Comastri (2005) list an earthquake report from Syria between 1 Oct. 1261 CE and 30 Sept. 1262 CE. Below are catalog entries from around this time

Guidoboni and Comastri (2005)

1259 March 22 Damascus [south-western Syria]

(119) 1259 March 22 Damascus [south-western Syria]


  • al-Maqrizi, al-Suluk, I, p.426
  • BNFrance, ms. Ar. 1597, Ibn Duqmaq, Nuzhat, fol.117r.
  • Ibn al-Dawadari, Kanz, VIII, p.44
  • Taher (1979)
catalogue d.
  • Sieberg (1932a)
  • Ben-Menahem (1979)
catalogue p.
  • Poirier and Taher (1980)
  • al-Hakeem (1988)
On 22 March 1259, Damascus — then occupied by the Tartars — was struck by a violent earthquake which caused widespread collapses. The sources record that that the arrival of the Tartars was accompanied by numerous shocks in Syrian territory. At this same period, there was also a strong earthquake in Egypt (see the previous entry). The two events are treated separately by al-Maqrizi (1364-1442), a reliable Arab geographer from Cairo, whereas other sources record both together, there reducing to one what seem to be two quite distinct earthquakes. Al-Maqrizi records:

"The emirs Badr al-Din Muhammad ibn Qarmaja, governor of the citadel of Damasci and Jamal al-Din ibn al-Sayrafi had risen in rebellion and closed the gates [of the cit Kitbuga [a Mongol general] laid siege to the citadel with his men on the night of Ra II [22 March]. God sent rain, cold, wind, thunder and lightning, and an earthqua which caused collapses in many places. The populace spent the night amidst fear the earth and fear of the heavens, and the revolt failed".
The Egyptian Arab historian Ibn Duqmaq (1349-1406) combines the earthquakes in Egypt and Syria when he records:
"In this year, there was a violent earthquake in Cairo and the other Egyptian territories, and there were numerous shocks in Syria at the time when the Tartars arrived, for they crossed the Euphrates and invaded the region of Aleppo, and many citizens of Damascus fled and put their goods up for sale and wandered around in terror and scattered through the meadows and mountains and some of them made their way towards Egyptian territory. It was midwinter, and many died of cold, and others were robbed as they travelled".
There is a very brief report of the earthquake in Ibn al-Dawadari, an Arab historian who was active in the late 13th and early 14th century:
"The shocks were very numerous throughout Syrian territory because of the Tartars"
Sieberg (1932a, p.40) is probably making a dating error when he mentions an earthquake in north-east Syria in 1254.


Guidoboni, E. and A. Comastri (2005). Catalogue of Earthquakes and Tsunamis in the Mediterranean Area from the 11th to the 15th Century, INGV.

1261 October 1 - 1262 September 30 [1573 S. e.] Syria

(120) 1261 October 1 - 1262 September 30 [1573 S. e.] Syria


  • Elias Nisib., Opus [continuation], p.229
catalogue d.
  • Grumel (1958)
This earthquake is not known to seismic catalogues. It appears solely in a list provided by the Byzantine scholar Grumel (1958, p.481), where it is mentioned only in very general terms. We include it here as a possible starting point for fresh research. In the continuation of the chronicle of Elias of Nisibis, it is mentioned that there was an earthquake in the period between 1 October 1261 and 30 September 1262, the location being stated simply as territory inhabited by the Syrians. No effects are specified:
"And in the year fifteen hundred and seventy-three of the Greeks [1 October 1261 - 30 September 1262], Bar Badr al-Din fled to Egypt and in the same year there was an earthquake among the Syrians".

Guidoboni, E. and A. Comastri (2005). Catalogue of Earthquakes and Tsunamis in the Mediterranean Area from the 11th to the 15th Century, INGV.

Ambraseys (2009)

AD 1259 Jun 6 Cairo

AD 1259 Jun 6 Cairo

Earthquakes were felt in Cairo and the other towns in Egypt on 12 Jumada 657 a.H. They are mentioned by Imad al-Din, Ibn Duqmaq (Nuzhat, fol. 117ro) and al- ‘Aini (Iqd, i. 224), but none of these are contemporary authors. This preceded the news of the Mongols’ advance and is possibly a reference to the political situation in Egypt, which was undergoing a prolonged dynastic upheaval (Irwin 1986, 26–36).

Some sources refer only to the strength of disquieting rumours (arajif) flying around at this time. The root meaning of r-j-f is to tremble or shake (Ibn al-Dawadari viii. 44).

Numerous problems surround the reporting of this event in the secondary sources. Lyons (1907, 284) duplicates the event, putting it first under 28 May 1260 and then again on 12 Jumada II, 657, which is erroneously converted as 21 February 1263. Lyons cites Quatremere’s translation of al-Maqrizi (I/i. 98) for the ` first event, and simply al-Maqrizi for the second. Quatremere (I/i. 89) in fact only has the 12 Jumada II, ` 657 event: but the translation is misleading. Neither alMaqrizi nor Quatremere mentions an earthquake on 28 ` May 1260, which would be the equivalent of 15 Jumada II, 658 a. H.

Al-Maqrizi’s Arabic text, which is usually cited for the date given above, merely reads ‘in this year there were numerous earthquakes in Egypt’; and it goes on to record another event, which occurred on 12 Jumada II. In other words, this date does not belong to the earthquake at all. Guidoboni and Comastri (2005, 272), place this earthquake in Damascus and date it 22 March 1259.

The shock, if genuine, must in fact have occurred sometime shortly before 6 June of this year.


Ambraseys, N. N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900.

[AD 1261 Acre]

[AD 1261 Acre]

Ajami mentions that in a.H. 659 (6 December 1260 to 25 November 1261) seven islets sank off the coast of Acre. No earthquake is mentioned and details are not known.


In a.H. 659 seven islets near Acre sank into the sea, drowning many people. (Ajami, viii. 13b/9).


Ambraseys, N. N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900.

AD 1262 Lower Iraq

AD 1262 Lower Iraq

An earthquake occurred in Lower Iraq. No details are known.

This event is recorded by al-Qalqachandi, who dates it to a.H. 660 (26 November 1261 to 14 November 1262). He locates it in ‘Sawad al-Iraq’, meaning ‘the black ground’, used as synonymous with Lower Iraq, coming to mean the whole province of Babylonia in southern Iraq.

It may be the same earthquake as that in 1573 a.S. (1 October 1261 to 30 September 1262) which is mentioned by the continuator of Elias Nisibinus (Eli. Nis. 229/113) and reported by the Syrians, recorded by Grumel (1958, 481).


(a.H. 660) The earth shook in Iraq, in the region of Sawad al-Iraq. (al-Qalqashandi Maath. 2/114).


Ambraseys, N. N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900.

Aerial Views and Plans
Aerial Views and Plans

Normal Size

  • Karak Castle in Google Earth
  • Fig. 1 Plan of the Karak Castle from Brown (1989)


  • Fig. 1 Plan of the Karak Castle from Brown (1989)

12th century or later earthquake

Sinibaldi (2014:75) reports the following:

Today the best preserved tower, which Deschamps calls a donjon, is actually a Mamluk construction, as appears both from an inscription set in it and its similarities to the tower at Shawbak, which is dated by an inscription to 1297-1298; however, this is not a donjon but a building with the function of shielding the areas behind it. Next to it there are remains assigned by Deschamps to two pre-Mamluk phases. The earliest remains of a first construction phase are south and west of the Mamluk structure and are bonded to the original western wall of the castle; this wall ends with a very wide projection which should then be interpreted as the remains of this southern building, also belonging to the construction of c.1142. The minimal remains of the southern wall of this 35 m-long building are constructed directly on bedrock and the southeastern corner, built in good quality masonry, is also still visible. The existence of a further wall behind it (its internal wall) proves that this was a building and not part of the enceinte. Therefore, the hypothesis of the most recent survey is that this is a long narrow donjon of the original Crusader phase, badly damaged by one of Saladin’s assaults and probably also by an earthquake, since it stood on the edge of the cliff. In addition, there was also a later Frankish expansion: a wall running E–W, between the Crusader donjon and the Mamluk building, and characterized by a Crusader-period building technique, bossed stones, as seen elsewhere in the castle, namely in the projections of the original 1142 phase in both the original western wall enceinte and the northern wall. Its presence does not imply the destruction of the Crusader donjon, but it is reasonable to assume that it replaced it. It is also contemporary in its use, though perhaps not necessarily in its construction, to the reinforcement of the eastern wall of the castle and to the remains of the enceinte external to the Crusader donjon. The German surveyors interpret these three constructions as a protection measure against Saladin’s attacks,419 and therefore, to be placed chronologically after 1170.

419 Biller et al. 1999, 50-52.

Notes and Further Reading

Articles and Books

R.M. Brown, 1989, Excavations in the 14th Century Mamluk Palace at Kerak, in: Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 33, 1989, 287–304.

R.M. Brown, 2013, The Middle Islamic Palace at Karak Castle: a new Interpretation of the Grand Qāʻa (Reception Hall), in: Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 57, 2013, 309–335.

S. M. al-Momani, 2010, The Shrine of Bahadir bin Abdullah al-Badri in al-Mazar al-Janubi, al-Karak. An archaeological and architectural Study (Arabic), in:Jordan Journal of History and Archaeology 4, 4, 2010, 139–170

al-Bakhit, M. A. 1992 Das Konigreich von al-Karak in der mamlakischen Zeit. Aus dem arabischen Ge-schichtswerk von Muhammad `Adnan al-Bahrt ubersetzt and ausfuhrlich erlautert; Alexander Scheidt. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Biller, T., Burger, D. and Häffner, H.: 1999 ‘Neues zu den Burgen des Königreichs Jerusalem in Transjordanien: Montréal (Shobaq)-Li Vaux Moïses (Wu'eira)-Kerak’, in M. Kozok (ed.), Architektur, Struktur, Symbol: Streifzüge durch die Architekturgeschichte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart: Fest

Bini, M., 2009 The Eastern Border. The Wu'ayra Fortifications — Habis Castle — Shoubak Castle — Kerak Castle. Pp. 15-40 in M. Bini and C. Luschi (eds.), Castelli e cattedrali. Sulle tracce del regno cro-ciato di Gerusalemme. Resoconti di viaggio in Israele. Firenza: Alinea.

Brown, R. M., 1988a Report of the 1987 Excavation at Kerak Castle: The Mamluk Palace Reception Hall. Document on file at the American Center of Oriental Research and the Department of Antiquities, Amman.

Brown, R. M., 1989b Kerak Castle. Pp. 341-347 in Archaeology of Jordan 11.1. Field Reports: Surveys & Sites L-Z. Akkadica Supplementum VII, ed. D. Homes-Fredericq and J. B. Hennessy. Leuven: Peeters.

Dowling, T. E. 1896 Kerak in 1896. Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement: 327-332.

Johns, J. 1992 Islamic Settlement in Ard al-Karak. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 4: 363-368.

Kennedy, H. 1994 Crusader Castles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, J. R. 2003 Kerak Castle - The 1997 Church Excavations. Paper presented at the Archaeology of Crusader States & Medieval Culture symposium, St. Lou¬is Community College — Florissant Valley, St. Louis.

Miller, J. M., ed. 1991 Archaeological Survey of the Kerak Plateau. Atlanta: Scholars.

Sinibaldi, M. (2014). Settlement in Crusader Transjordan (1100–1189):a historical and archaeological study.

Bibliography from Meyers et. al. (1997)

Brown, Robin M. "Excavations in the Fourteenth Century A.D. Mamluk Palace at Kerak." Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 33 (1989): 287-304. Brief excavation report.

Canova, Reginetta. Iscrizioni e monumenti protocristiani del paese di Moab. Sussidi alio Studio delle Antichita Cristiane, 4. The Vatican, 1954. Fundamental guide to the Christian inscriptions and monuments of Kerak.

Deschamps, Paul. Les Chateaux des Croises en Terre-Sainle, vol. 2, La defense du royaume de Jerusalem. Bibliotheque Archeologique et Historique, vol. 34. Paris, 1939. Still the only attempt at a thorough survey of the castle and town fortifications.

Ghawanmah, Yusuf D. Imdrat al-Karak al-Ayyubiyyah. Kerak, 1980. The only existing study of Ayyubid Kerak; includes an English summary. Alternatively, see Humphreys below.

Ghawanmah, Yusuf D. Tar'Tkh sharqi al-Urdunn ft 'asr dawlat al-Mamalik. 2 vols. Amman, 1979. The only existing study of Mamluk Kerak; includes an English summary. Alternatively, see Irwin and Thorau below.

Gibson, John C. L . Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, vol. I, Hebrew and Moabite Inscriptions. Oxford, 1971 . See pages 71-8 3 for the Mesha stela and the Moabite inscription from Kerak.

Humphreys, R. Stephen. From Saladin to the Mongols: The Ayyubids of Damascus, 1193-1260. Albany, N.Y. , 1977. Useful synthesis based on the primary sources, containing much information about Ayyubid Kerak.

Irwin, Robert. The Middle East in the Middle Ages: The Early Mamluk Sultanate, 1250-1382. Carbondale, III, 1986. Short, lively account of the early Mamluk sultanate, with useful material on Kerak.

Mayer, Hans Eberhard. Die Kreuzfahrerhenschaft Montreal (Sobak) Jordanien im 12 . Jahrhundert. Wiesbaden, 1990. Thorough account of the history of Crusader Oultrejourdain; see also Tibbie below.

Pringle, Denys. The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: A Corpus. Vol. 1. Cambridge, 1993. The first of three volumes. See especially the entries '"Ain al-Habis" (p. 26), "JazTrat Fara'un" (pp. 274-275), and "Karak" (pp. 286-295), which include useful and copious bibliographies.

Repertoire chronologique d'epigraphie (RCEA). 18 vols. to date. Edited by Etienne Combe, Jean Sauvaget, and Gaston Wiet. Cairo, 1931- . Standard collection of Arabic epigraphy.

Thorau, Peter. The Lion of Egypt: Sultan Baybars I and the Near East in the Thirteenth Century. London, 1992. Biography of the first Mamluk sultan, containing many useful references to Late Ayyubid and Early Mamluk Kerak.

Tibbie, Steven. Monarchy and Lordships in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099-1291. Oxford, 1989. Useful supplement to Mayer (above). Tibbie's reinterpretation of the early years of Oultrejourdain (c. 1115-c . 112 6 CE) is preferable to Mayer's.


Ambraseys (2009) states that

There is also some numismatic evidence for the destruction of Khirbet al-Karak.

... The walls of Khirbet al-Karak had been severely damaged by the AD 659 earthquake, and the remains were levelled.
It is not entirely clear which Khirbet al-Karak Ambraseys (2009) is referring to. He is probably referring to Khirbet al-Karak on the Sea of Galilee which is covered in al-Sinnabra/Beth Yerah. Khirbet al-Karak on the Sea of Galilee is an Ummayad Palace that was identified by Greenberg and Paz (2010) based on excavations which took place in 2007 and 2009. Since Greenberg and Paz (2010)'s publication post-dated Ambraseys' (2009) catalog, I decided to chase mid 8th century CE earthquake evidence at Karak just to be sure I didn't miss potential archaeoseismic evidence.

Wikipedia pages


Karak Castle