Gadara (Umm Qays)/The Decapolis

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The "Decapolis" was a federation of ten hellenized cities. This league was originally the creation of Alexander the Great and his successors.
Gadara (Umm Qays) The Decapolis


The “Decapolis” was a federation of ten hellenized cities. This league was originally the creation of Alexander the Great and his successors. The Roman general Pompey’s conquest of Jordan, Syria and Palestine in 63 BC inaugurated a period of Roman control which would last four centuries. In northern Jordan, the Greek cities of Philadelphia (Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Gadara (Umm Qais), Pella and Arbila (Irbid) joined with other cities in Palestine and southern Syria to form the Decapolis League, a fabled confederation linked by bonds of economic and cultural interest. Of these, four were most important: Gadara, Pella, Abila, and Scythopolis. The Decapolis was a confederation of ten contiguous cities, with the exception of Damascus, on what was then the edge of the Roman Empire in north eastern Palestine. All the Decapolis cities except for one are located today in northern Jordan or southern Syria, on the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley.

Importance of the Decapolis

The Decapolis cities became centres of Greco-Roman culture and were allowed a degree of autonomy, each operating as a city-state, which would have included control of a number of smaller towns and villages. Essential to their growth and sustainability were the cultural and economic bonds between them.

The cities of the Decaopolis help demonstrate the importance of urbanization for the spread of Greek civilization as well as the role cities had for Rome’s ability to control a region. It was here that Greco-Roman culture was first imported and it was from cites like this that it spread: theaters, schools, philosophy, etc. These cities were also quick to side with Roman authorities whenever the rural populations rose up in revolt.

These were very cosmopolitan cities, bringing Romans, Greeks, and others into close, extended contact with indigenous peoples. Archaeological excavations find pagan temples almost side-by-side with Jewish synagogues and Christian churches.

The Decapolis is mentioned a couple of times in the gospels in reference to Jesus’ activities. First a man he heals goes there to report on Jesus’ ability, and later Jesus himself travels to the region to perform more healings:

And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel. (Mark 18-20)

And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (Mark 7:31-34)

Gadara (Umm Qays)

The Decapolis city of Gadara (modern Umm Qays), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is the site of Jesus' miracle of the Gadarene swine, where he sent demented spirits out of a man who lived in tombs at the entrance to the city. Jesus sent the spirits into a herd of pigs that ran down the hill and drowned in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). A rare five-aisle basilica from the 4th century AD recently was discovered and excavated at Umm Qays. It was found to be built directly over a Roman-Byzantine tomb, with views into the tomb from the interior of the church. It also was located alongside the Roman city gate on the road from the Sea of Galilee. This distinctive arrangement of a church above a tomb clearly was designed to commemorate the very spot where the Byzantine faithful believed that Jesus performed this miracle.

Gauis Plinius Secundus, Roman historian, better known as Pliny the Elder c 27-79 BCE said, “ Adjoining Judea on the side of Syria is the region of the Decapolis, so called from the number of its towns…”

Philadelphia (Amman, Jordan), Gerasa (Jerash, Jordan), Pella (Pella , Jordan), Scythopolis (Beth-She’an, Israel), Gadara (Umm Qays, Jordan), Hippos (Hippus or Sussita, Israel), Dion (Beit Ras, Jordan), Raphana (Raphana, Jordan), Canatha (El Qanawat, Syria), Damascus (Damascus, Syria).

DescriptionUmm Qais (Arabic: أم قيس‎, also transliterated as Umm Qays) is a town in Jordan It is situated in Irbid Governorate in the extreme north-west of the country,

Gadara is one of Jordan's most dramatic antiquities sites-both for the many substantial ruins of black basalt and white lime stone ,and for the city's impressive setting overlooking the north Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee The extensive site has scores of standing and still buried monuments covering an area of several hectares.

These include rock- cut tombs with architectural ornaments, facades and Greek inscriptions; two theatres, one of which is built of black basalt and has a marble sculpture of a goddess seated in the orchestra; a basilica and atrium-shaped courtyard on a semi-artificial terrace, a street lined on one side with barrel-vaulted shops; the foundations of the north mausoleum with adjacent traces of the ancient city fortifications ;a well preserved underground Roman era mausoleum with an apsidal entrance hall and a crypto-portico; two excavated Byzantine baths complexes; the partly excavated monumental entrance gate to the city; traces of a possible stadium; and various other built structures that have not been excavated. The late Ottoman village, built from re-used ancient cut stones, is virtually intact on the summit of the site, and some of its houses are being restored and preserved for future use.

History of Gadara

The name Gadara derives from a Semitic term meaning "fortification", and it is likely that a pre-Hellenistic stronghold secured this stretch of the land route between southern Syria and the north Palestine coastal ports. The change in the name Gadar/Gadara to Umm Qeis in the Middle Ages(from mkes, early Arabic "frontier station") probably reflects the settlement's ancient role as a border post. Gadara first appears in historical record shortly after the conquest of the region by the forces of Alexander the Great in 333 BC. Alexander's successors in Egypt, the Ptolemies, refounded Gadara as a military colony along the Yarmouk Valley frontier with their perennial rivals the Seleucids, Alexander's successors who were based in Antioch, north Syria. The Roman general Pompey conquered the region of south Syria in 63BC. and liberated Gadara and other Hellenistic towns in north Jordan from the grip of the Hasmonaeans. Josephus mentions that due to the damage the city suffered from the siege, Pompey rebuilt it to please Demetrius the Gadarene, one of his favorite freedmen and quite a notable personality in the annals of the late Roman Republic. It was rumored in Rome that Demetrius the Gadarene initiated and financed the monumental theatre that was built in Pompey's honor on the Campus Martius in Rome in 61-54 BC. After 63 BC, an autonomous Gadara minted its own coins and adopted a new calendar based on the Pompeian era. The security which came with the Pax Romana (Roman peace) reinvigorated international trade and boosted the commercial and tax income which the Decapolis cities derived from it. With regional stability completely assured as of the late 1st Century AD, Gadara and the Decapolis entered into their Golden Age of municipal expansion, architectural splendor, economic growth and artistic and cultural vitality.
Location Map of the Decapolis
Gadara (Umm Qays) The Decapolis
Gadara (Umm Qays) The Decapolis
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