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Coordinates: 32°43′00″N 35°48′00″E / 32.7167°N 35.8000°E / 32.7167; 35.8000
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
63 BC–AD 106
The ten cities of Decapolis marked in black
The ten cities of Decapolis marked in black
Common languagesKoine Greek, Aramaic, Arabic, Latin, Hebrew
Hellenistic religion, Imperial Cult
GovernmentClient state
• Pompey's conquest of Syria
63 BC
• Trajan's annexation of Arabia Petrea
AD 106
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Hasmonean kingdom
Arabia Petraea
Syria Palaestina
Today part ofIsrael

32°43′00″N 35°48′00″E / 32.7167°N 35.8000°E / 32.7167; 35.8000

The Decapolis (Greek: Δεκάπολις, Dekápolis, 'Ten Cities') was a group of ten Hellenistic cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in the Southern Levant in the first centuries BC and AD. They formed a group because of their language, culture, religion, location, and political status, with each functioning as an autonomous city-state dependent on Rome. They are sometimes described as a league of cities, although some scholars[who?] believe that they were never formally organized as a political unit.

The Decapolis was a center of Hellenistic and Roman culture in a region which was otherwise populated by Jews, Nabataeans and Arameans.[1] In the time of the Emperor Trajan, the cities were incorporated into the provinces of Syria and Arabia Petraea; several cities were later placed in Syria Palaestina and Palaestina Secunda. The Decapolis region is located in modern-day Jordan (Philadelphia, Gerasa, Pella and Gadara), Israel (Scythopolis and Hippos) and Syria (Raphana, Dion, Canatha and Damascus).


The names of the traditional ten cities of the Decapolis come from Pliny's Natural History.[2] They are:

City Comments Location
Philadelphia Capital of modern Jordan Jordan Amman, Jordan
Gerasa Jordan Jerash, Jordan
Gadara Jordan Umm Qais, Jordan
Pella West of Irbid Jordan Tabaqat Fahl, Jordan
Dion (Tell Ashari) Sometimes also identified with Aydoun Syria Tell Ashari, Syria
Raphana Usually identified also with Raepta and Arpha[3] Syria Ar-Rafi'ah, Syria
Scythopolis Only city west of the Jordan River Israel Beit She'an, Israel
Hippos Mentioned by Pliny as Dio Hippos, usually this entity is divided into Dion and Hippos. The Aramaic name of Hippos was Sussita Israel Sussita, Israel
Canatha A city rich on water, at the north-western slope of the Jebel Hauran (Mons Al-Sadamus, Jebel al-Druz) Syria Qanawat, Syria
Damascus Capital of modern Syria[4] Syria Damascus, Syria
Pliny also mentions in his enumeration very important regions around and between the cities
Trachonitis the Lajat/Leja, including the surroundings from Az (al) Sanamayn (west) until the Ard of Batanea (Batanaea Plain) in the east of it. Syria el-Mushmije, Ezra, Khalkhale, Syria
Paneas The region around Banias/Caesarea Phillipi Syria Banias, Syria
Abilene The small realm of Lysanias, see Abila Lysaniae Syria Souq Wadi Barada, Syria
Arca The western part around the See of Galilee with Tarichaea (Greek: Ταριχαία or Ταριχέα) and Philoteria at its southern end. Israel Sinnabra, Yardenit, Israel
Ampelloessa Usually identified with Abila also known as "Abila Viniferos", 12 miles east of Gadara (see Onomasticon) and Capitolias Jordan Abila, Beit Ras, Ard el-Karm, Jordan
Gabe Region of Gabe, later also known as Jabiyah Syria Muzeirib / Nawa, Syria

Damascus was further north than the others and so is sometimes thought to have been an "honorary" member. Josephus stated that Scythopolis was the largest of the ten towns.[5] Biblical commentator Edward Plumptre suggested that this is the reason why Damascus was not included in Josephus' list.[6] According to other sources, there may have been as many as eighteen or nineteen Greco-Roman cities counted as part of the Decapolis.


Hellenistic period[edit]

Roman theatre and cardo of Scythopolis (Beit She'an, Israel)

Except for Scythopolis, Damascus and Canatha, the Decapolis cities were by and large founded during the Hellenistic period, between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the Roman conquest of Coele-Syria, including Judea in 63 BC. Some were established under the Ptolemaic dynasty which ruled Judea until 198 BC. Others were founded later, when the Seleucid Empire ruled the region. Some of the cities included "Antiochia" or "Seleucia" in their official names (Antiochia Hippos, for example), which attest to Seleucid origins. The cities were Greek from their founding, modeling themselves on the Greek polis.

In 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey conquered the eastern Mediterranean. The people of the Hellenized cities, who were under the rule of the Jewish Hasmonean Kingdom,[7] welcomed Pompey as a liberator. When Pompey reorganized the region, he awarded a group of these cities with autonomy under Roman protection; this was the origin of the Decapolis. For centuries the cities based their calendar era on this conquest: 63 BC was the epochal year of the Pompeian era, used to count the years throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Autonomy under Rome[edit]

Under Roman rule, the cities of the Decapolis were not included in the territory of the Herodian kingdom, its successor states of the Herodian tetrarchy, or the Roman province of Judea. Instead, the cities were allowed considerable political autonomy under Roman protection. Each city functioned as a polis or city-state, with jurisdiction over an area of the surrounding countryside. Each minted its own coins. Many coins from Decapolis cities identify their city as "autonomous," "free," "sovereign," or "sacred," terms that imply some sort of self-governing status.[8]

The oval forum and cardo of Gerasa (Jerash, Jordan)

The Romans left their cultural stamp on all of the cities. Each one was eventually rebuilt with a Roman-style grid of streets based around a central cardo and/or decumanus. The Romans sponsored and built numerous temples and other public buildings. The imperial cult, the worship of the Roman emperor, was a very common practice throughout the Decapolis and was one of the features that linked the different cities. A small open-air temple or façade, called a kalybe, was unique to the region.[9]

The Decapolis at the time of Plinus t.E. and before 106 A.D
The Decapolis at the time of Plinus t.E. and before 106 A.D

The cities may also have enjoyed strong commercial ties, fostered by a network of new Roman roads. This has led to their common identification today as a "federation" or "league". The Decapolis was probably never an official political or economic union; most likely it signified the collection of city-states which enjoyed special autonomy during early Roman rule.[10][11]

The New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention that the Decapolis region was a location of the ministry of Jesus. According to Matthew 4:23–25 the Decapolis was one of the areas from which Jesus drew his multitude of disciples, attracted by His "healing all kinds of sickness". The Decapolis was one of the few regions where Jesus travelled in which Gentiles were in the majority: most of Jesus' ministry focused on teaching to Jews. Mark 5:1-10 emphasizes the Decapolis' gentile character when Jesus encounters a herd of pigs, an animal forbidden by Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. A demon-possessed man healed by Jesus in this passage asked to be included among the disciples who traveled with Jesus; but Jesus did not permit him, as he wanted him to tell his friends what the Lord had done and instructed him to remain in the Decapolis region.[12]

Direct Roman rule[edit]

The provinces of the East in the year 400

The Decapolis came under direct Roman rule in AD 106, when Arabia Petraea was annexed during the reign of the emperor Trajan. The cities were divided between the new province and the provinces of Syria and Judea.[8] In the later Roman Empire, they were divided between Arabia and Palaestina Secunda, of which Scythopolis served as the provincial capital; while Damascus became part of Phoenice Libanensis. The cities continued to be distinct from their neighbors within their provinces, distinguished for example by their use of the Pompeian calendar era and their continuing Hellenistic identities. However, the Decapolis was no longer a unit of administration.

The Roman and Byzantine Decapolis region was influenced and gradually taken over by Christianity. Some cities were more receptive than others to the new religion. Pella was a base for some of the earliest church leaders (Eusebius reports that the apostles fled there to escape the First Jewish–Roman War). In other cities, paganism persisted long into the Byzantine era. Eventually, however, the region became almost entirely Christian, and most of the cities served as seats of bishops.

Most of the cities continued into the late Roman and Byzantine periods. Some were abandoned in the years following Palestine's conquest by the Umayyad Caliphate in 641, but other cities continued to be inhabited long into the Islamic period.

Evolution and excavation[edit]

Jerash (Gerasa) and Bet She'an (Scythopolis) survive as towns today, after periods of abandonment or serious decline. Damascus has never lost its prominent role throughout later history. Philadelphia was long abandoned, but was revived in the 19th century and has become the capital city of Jordan under the name Amman. Twentieth-century archaeology has identified most of the other cities on Pliny's list, and most have undergone or are undergoing considerable excavation.[13][14][15][16][17]


The Decapolis was a region where two cultures interacted: the culture of the Greek colonists and the indigenous Jewish and Aramean cultures. There was some conflict. The Greek inhabitants were shocked by the Jewish practice of circumcision, which was regarded as a cruel and barbaric genital mutilation.[18] Various elements of Jewish dissent towards the dominant and assimilative nature of Hellenic civilization arose gradually in the face of assimilation. At the same time, cultural blending and borrowing also occurred in the Decapolis region. The cities acted as centers for the diffusion of Hellenistic culture. Some local deities began to be called by the name Zeus, from the chief Greek god. Meanwhile, in some cities Greeks began worshipping these local "Zeus" deities alongside their own Zeus Olympios. There is evidence that the colonists adopted the worship of other Semitic gods, including Phoenician deities and the chief Nabatean god, Dushara (worshipped under his Hellenized name, Dusares). The worship of these Semitic gods is attested to in coins and inscriptions from the cities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kropp, Andreas; Mohammad, Qasim (2006). "Dion of the Decapolis: Tell al-Ash'arīin southern Syria in the light of ancient documents and recent discoveries". Levant. 38 (1): 125–144. doi:10.1179/lev.2006.38.1.125. ISSN 0075-8914. S2CID 162405924. The Decapolis was a peculiar agglomeration of Hellenized cities placed between Jewish Palestine, Nabatean Arabia and the Hauran.
  2. ^ Natural History, 5.16.74
  3. ^ Kleb, Jens (2022). "Raphana of the Decapolis and its successor Arpha - The search for an eminent Greco-Roman City". Peer Community Journal (in French). 2. doi:10.24072/pcjournal.201. ISSN 2804-3871. S2CID 254729593.
  4. ^ "Decapolis - Ancient Greek League, Palestine". Encyclopædia Britannica Online Edition.
  5. ^ Wars of the Jews, Book 3, chapter 9, section 7, accessed 6 December 2016
  6. ^ Plumptre, E. H., in Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers on Matthew 4, accessed 6 December 2016
  7. ^ Millar, Fergus (1995). "For the moment it is enough to recall that when Pompey had acquired the area for Rome in the 60s, he had made a deliberate point of liberating all those cities in this area which had been under Jewish rule (following conquests by the Hasmoneans), and had made them part of the province of Syria.". The Roman Near East: 31 BC–AD 337. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-674-77886-3.
  8. ^ a b Mare, Harold W. (2000). "Decapolis". In Freedman, David Noel (ed.). Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company. pp. 333–334. ISBN 0-8028-2400-5.
  9. ^ Segal, Arthur (2001). "The "Kalybe Structures" : Temples for the Imperial Cult in Hauran and Trachon: An Historical-architectural Analysis". Assaph: Studies in Art History. 6. Tel Aviv University: 91–118.
  10. ^ "Decapolis" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. Ed. Eric M. Meyers, S. Thomas Parker. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Nov 14, 2016.
  11. ^ "oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com". ww1.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com. Archived from the original on 9 May 2019. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  12. ^ Mark 5:18–20
  13. ^ Segal, Arthur. "The 'Kalybe' Structures." Zinman Institute of Archaeology, Haifa University.
  14. ^ Parker, S. Thomas (September 1999). "An Empire's New Holy Land: The Byzantine Period". Near Eastern Archaeology. 62 (3): 134–180. doi:10.2307/3210712. ISSN 1094-2076. JSTOR 3210712. S2CID 164178042.
  15. ^ Meyers, Eric M. (December 1996). "The Making of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East". The Biblical Archaeologist. 59 (4): 194–197. doi:10.2307/3210561. ISSN 0006-0895. JSTOR 3210561. S2CID 165422294.
  16. ^ Collins, Adela Yarbro (August 1996). "The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Ephraim Stern, Ayelet Lewinson-Gilboa, Joseph Aviram". History of Religions. 36 (1): 81–83. doi:10.1086/463453. ISSN 0018-2710.
  17. ^ Chancey, Mark Alan; Porter, Adam Lowry (December 2001). "The Archaeology of Roman Palestine". Near Eastern Archaeology. 64 (4): 164–203. doi:10.2307/3210829. ISSN 1094-2076. JSTOR 3210829. S2CID 163466008.
  18. ^ Hodges, Frederick M. (2001). "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme" (PDF). Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 75 (Fall 2001). Johns Hopkins University Press: 375–405. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0119. PMID 11568485. S2CID 29580193. Retrieved 13 February 2020.

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