From the fourth century ce, Christians were encouraged to redeem their faults by caring for the poor. The most striking manifestation of this phenomenon was the building by the Church of more or less specialised hospices throughout the Early Byzantine Empire (4th to 7th century ce) to accommodate those who depended on charity for their survival. These establishments are mentioned by ancient texts and lapidary inscriptions. About nine such facilities, ptocheion for the needy, xenodocheion for foreigners and travelers, diakonia where food was distributed and other types of charitable hospices can be listed in the ancient province of Arabia (Southern Syria, Northern Jordan). The available data, whether textual or archaeological since some remains are observable on the field, are presented in this paper and compared to those collected elsewhere in the Near East.
Different forms of charity, relief and humanitarian action can be jointly approached as a means of governance and social regulation. More precisely, in the Middle East the question of stability – social and political – can be considered as a central driver for local and international actors alike. This study adopts a broad historical framework, reaching from antiquity to the present day, with the aim of approaching the subject with an openness conducive to understanding the evolution of the actors, modes of action and representations underlying aid initiatives. The longue durée approach allows to show two main specificities of the modern and contemporary Middle East: firstly, the evolution of aid practices is directly linked to human mobility, since they are connected to religious practices, commerce or violence, which led to the need to take a census, to categorise and sometimes isolate populations in order to govern and control them. Secondly, in the absence of the welfare state as the most important provider of aid, the state has until today in the Middle East much less prominence among the multiplicity of aid providers, such as the family, non-governmental, religious and community organisations.