Official name: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (al-Mamlaka al-Urdunniya al-Hashimiya).
The modern state of Jordan derives its name from the River Jordan (Nahr al-Urdunn). In Arabic, urdunn means ‘descender’, and the river is aptly named: from its sources in the Syrian Golan Heights and Lebanon, it flows south about 250 kilometres through Lake Hula and Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) to the Dead Sea, which lies far below sea level.
As an independent political entity, Jordan was the product of events that followed World Wars I and II. In the past, Jordan formed a marginal area of numerous states and empires. Only once, during the Nabataean period, was it the centre of a major political unit. In Biblical times Jordan was made up of the four small states of Gilead, Ammon, Moab, and Edom. It is from Ammon that Amman, the name of the capital of Jordan, is derived. Before the Greek conquest the area was dominated successively by Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Persians.
Jordan has been inhabited by humans since earliest prehistoric times, but the region never enjoyed the degree of wealth and civilization attained by its neighbours in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, due largely to its lack of natural resources.