Umm Qais

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Umm Qais
أم قيس
Gadara (Ancient Greek)
Umm Qais from north
Umm Qais from north
Umm Qais is located in Jordan
Umm Qais
Umm Qais
Location in Jordan
Coordinates: 32°39′22.94″N 35°40′40.61″E / 32.6563722°N 35.6779472°E / 32.6563722; 35.6779472
Country  Jordan
Governorate Irbid
Department Bani Kinanah
Elevation 1,240 ft (378 m)
Time zone UTC+2 (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+3 (UTC+3)
Area code(s) +(962)2

Umm Qais (Arabic: أم قيس‎, meaning "Mother of Qais"), sometimes transliterated as Umm Qays, is a town in northern Jordan near the site of the ancient town of Gadara. It is situated in the extreme north-west of the country, where the borders of Jordan, Israel and Syria meet, perched on a hilltop 378 metres (1,240 ft) above sea level, overlooking the sea of Tiberias, the Golan heights and the Yarmuk gorge. Umm Qais is in Jordan's Irbid Governorate and belongs to the Bani Kinanah Department.

The Hellenistic-Roman town of Gadara (Hebrew: גדרה‎, gad´a-ra or גדר, ga-der; Ancient Greek: Γάδαρα Gádara) was also sometimes called Antiochia or Antiochia Semiramis (Ancient Greek: Ἀντιόχεια Σεμίραμις) or Seleucia.


The ancient walls may now be traced in almost their entire circuit of 3 km. One of the Roman roads ran eastward to Ḍer‛ah; and an aqueduct has been traced to the pool of Ḳhab, about 20 miles to the north of Ḍer‛ah. The ruins include those of "baths, two theaters, a hippodrome, colonnaded streets and, under the Romans, aqueducts,"[1] a temple, a basilica and other buildings, telling of a once splendid city. A paved street, with double colonnade, ran from east to west. The ruts worn in the paved road by the chariot wheels are still to be seen.

History of Gadara[edit]

Map of the Decapolis showing location of Gadara

The town is situated on a ridge, which falls gently to the east but steeply on its other three sides, so that it was always potentially of strategic importance.

By the third century BC the town was of some cultural importance. It was the birthplace of the satirist Menippos, a slave who became a Cynic philosopher and satirised the follies of mankind in a mixture of prose and verse. His works have not survived, but were imitated by Varro and by Lucian.

The Greek historian Polybius describes Gadara as being in 218 BC the 'strongest of all places in the region'. Nevertheless it capitulated shortly afterwards when besieged by the Seleucid king Antiochus III of Syria. The region passed in and out of the control of the Seleucid kings of Syria and the Ptolemies of Egypt.

In 167 BC the Jews of Jerusalem rebelled against the Seleucids, and in the ensuing conflict in the region Gadara and other cities suffered severe damage.

In the early first century BC Gadara gave birth to its most famous son, Meleager. He was one of the most admired Hellenistic Greek poets, not only for his own works but also for his anthology of other poets, which formed the basis of the large collection known as the Greek Anthology.

In 63 BC, when the Roman general Pompey placed the region under Roman control, he rebuilt Gadara and made it one of the semi-autonomous cities of the Roman Decapolis, and a bulwark against Nabataean expansion. But in 30 BC Augustus placed it under the control of the Jewish king Herod. The historian Josephus relates that after King Herod's death in 4 BC Gadara was made part of the Roman province of Syria.[2]

In the first century AD Jesus is said to have driven demons out of a man and into some swine 'in the country of the Gadarenes' or 'country of the Gerasenes', which has often been associated with Gadara.

Church terrace at Umm Qais

Josephus relates that in AD 66 at the beginning of the Jewish revolt against the Romans the country around Gadara was laid waste,:[3]

"So Vespasian marched to the city of Gadara. He came into it and slew all the youth, the Romans having no mercy on any age whatsoever. He set fire to the city and all the villas around it."[4]

The Gadarenes captured some of the boldest of the Jews, of whom several were put to death and others imprisoned.[5] Some in the town surrendered to emperor Vespasian, who placed a garrison there.[6]

The 2nd century AD Roman aqueduct to Gadara supplied drinking water through a qanat 170 km long. Its longest underground section, running for 94 km, is the longest known tunnel from ancient times.[7]

Gadara continued to be an important town within the Eastern Roman Empire, and was long the seat of a Christian bishop.[8] With the conquest of the Arabs, following the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 it came under Muslim rule. Around 747 it was largely destroyed by an earthquake, and was abandoned.


Roman ruins at Umm Qais

Gadara was once called the 'city of philosophers'.[9] Among others, Gadara was home to:

The Gospel 'Country of the Gadarenes'[edit]

A reference in the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament to a place described as 'the territory of the Gerasenes'[10] was amended in the Gospel of Matthew to 'territory of the Gadarenes',[11] probably a reference to the area around Gadara.[12]

The story describes an encounter between Jesus and a man 'possessed by demons' (the Matthean version changes this to two men); Jesus exorcises the demons, driving them into a nearby herd of pigs, which then run "down the steep place into the sea”.

This appears to be a reference to the Sea of Galilee. However both Gadara nor Gerasa are some distance from the sea: Gerasa is around 50km southeast and Gadara 10km away, about a three-hour walk. Origen speculated that there had been a town called 'Gergasa' on the shores of the sea.[12]

View north from Umm Qais, with Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights visible.


Beit Rousan

Many visitors come to Umm Qais on day trips from the capital, Amman, roughly 110 kilometres (68 mi) to the south, to see its extensive ruins and enjoy its panoramic views. The Sea of Galilee and Tiberias, Israel, are visible, and just across the valley of the Yarmouk River is the southern end of the Golan Heights - claimed by and recognized as Syria,[13] but under Israeli administration since the Six-Day War in 1967. Mount Hermon bordering Lebanon is visible in the distance on clear days.

At Beit Rousan - formerly the house of the Ottoman governor and now part of the complex - are exhibited Greek statues and Christian mosaics.


  1. ^ Desmond, William. Cynics. p36 - referencing (Weber & Khouri 1989:17-18)
  2. ^ Josephus Antiquities, XVII, xi, 4; Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, II, vi, 3.
  3. ^ Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, II, xviii, 1.
  4. ^ Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 7.
  5. ^ Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, 5.
  6. ^ Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, IV, vii, 3.
  7. ^ Mathias Döring: "Wasser für Gadara. 94 km langer Tunnel antiker Tunnel im Norden Jordaniens entdeckt", in: Querschnitt, Vol. 21 (2007), pp. 24–35
  8. ^ Reland, Palestine, 776.
  9. ^ Desmond, William. Cynics. p36
  10. ^ Mark 5:1
  11. ^ Matthew 8:28
  12. ^ a b M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary (Presbyterian Publishing Corp, 2006) pages 148-149.
  13. ^ For example:*UN Resolution 242, *Text of Resolution at (PDF), *"CRS Issue Brief for Congress: Israeli-United States Relations". Congressional Research Service. April 5, 2002. Retrieved 2009-06-23. ,*"Presidency Statement on Golan Heights". 04/01/2004. Retrieved 2009-06-23.  Check date values in: |date= (help),*"Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories". UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 11 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-23. ,*"The Arab Peace Initiative, 2002". Al-Bab. 2002. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 


  • Nun, Mendel, Gergesa (Kursi) (1989 Kibbutz Ein Gev)
  • Nun, Mendel, Ports of Galilee, in Biblical Archaeology Review; 25/4: 18 (1999)
  • Holm-Nielson, Svend, 'Gadarenes', in Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 2, ed. D.N. Freedman (1992. New York: Doubleday)
  • Weber, Thomas, Umm Qais – Gadara of the Decapolis (1989. Amman: Economic Press Co.)
  • Laney, J. Carl, Geographical Aspects of the Life of Christ [Unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary ] (1977)
  • This entry incorporates text from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia with some modernisation.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°39′N 35°41′E / 32.650°N 35.683°E / 32.650; 35.683