Qasr al-Abd (Jordanie): Exploring the estate of the Tobiads at ‘Iraq al Amir

Was Qasr al-Abd Modeled After the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus?

Exploring the estate of the Tobiads at ‘Iraq al Amir in Jordan

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Qasr al-Abd was the centerpiece of the second-century B.C.E. family estate (known today as ‘Iraq al Amir) built by the Tobiads of Judah. Archaeologist and architect Stephen Rosenberg believes the ruin was built to be the burial monument of the Tobiads, modeled after the mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Photo by Erich Lessing.

Qasr al-Abd, or Castle of the Slave, is a monumental, Hellenistic-style ruin located amid lush fields in Jordan’s Wadi as-Seer valley, not far from Amman. The centerpiece of a grand second-century B.C.E. estate built by the Jewish Tobiad family (known today as ‘Iraq al Amir), it has long been a mystery why the Tobiads built this impressive structure. Was it a temple? A hunting lodge? A pleasure palace? A tomb?


Based on the monument’s elaborate design, decoration and the evidence from the ‘Iraq al Amir estate, Stephen Rosenberg, author of “‘Castle of the Slave’—Mystery Solved” in the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, proposes the ruin was actually the burial monument of the Tobiads, modeled after the mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

According to Rosenberg, Qasr al-Abd has many features characteristic of a monumental, Hellenistic-style mausoleum. First, the building’s two-story exterior is adorned with statues and carvings of various animals, including lions, eagles and panthers. Depictions of such powerful, majestic animals are often found in funerary contexts in the ancient world (including the mausoleum at Halicarnassus) and likely provided Qasr al-Abd, the burial monument of the Tobiads, with similar symbolism and meaning.


To the north of the Tobiads’ ‘Iraq al Amir estate are caves that were used to inter the family’s dead before the bones were finally deposited inside the mausoleum. The entrances to the caves are inscribed with the family name of the Tobiads. Photo by Erich Lessing.

Second, the ground floor of Qasr al-Abd is divided into small interior rooms that would have received little or no natural light. In contrast, the upper floor, which is only partially preserved, had an open roof and was surrounded by continuous rows of narrow pilasters that allowed plenty of light and fresh air to fill the upper rooms. The bottom floor may have been used as the family crypt of the Tobiads, while the upper floor was intended for feasts held in honor of the dead. Scholars believe the mausoleum at Halicarnassus functioned in a similar manner.

Finally, archaeologists have long known that Qasr al-Abd was surrounded by a small, manmade lake at the center of the ‘Iraq al Amir estate built by the Tobiads. Rosenberg believes the lake was an integral part of the mausoleum’s complex symbolism and emphasized the ritual separation between the world of the dead and the world of the living. Such lakes were common features of the monumental display tombs of the Hellenistic world.

With its form of construction—the heavy base and the light upper floor, the extensive menagerie of lions, eagles and panthers, and the separation by water-it is clear that Qasr al-Abd functioned as the family mausoleum of the Tobiads.

To learn more about Qasr al-Abd and its interpretation, read Stephen Rosenberg’s “‘Castle of the Slave’—Mystery Solved,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.