The Decapolis

The Decapolis (meaning ten cities in Greek) was a ten-city Greco-Roman federation, or league, occupying all of Bashan and Gilead in northeastern Palestine and is mentioned three times in the New Testament. The territory was contiguous except for Damascus which some believe to have been an honorary member. Eusebius records it as the region around Hippos, Pella, and Gadara. Created under Pompey the Great, about 64-63 BC as part of his eastern settlement, the league provided a formidable means of defense on the eastern frontier of the empire. Such leagues existed in other parts of the Roman empire for purposes of trade and mutual protection. Its cities, according to Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) were: 1Philadelphia (Amman, ancient Rabbath-Ammon), 2Gerasa (Jerash), 3Gadara (Umm Qais), 4Pella (Tabaqat Fahl); to which the Christians fled just before the destruction of Jerusalem, 5Dion (Adun, ancient Capitolias), 6Raphana (Abila), 7Damascus, 8Kanatha (Qanawat), 9Hippos (Susita), and 10Scythopolis “city of the Scythians” (Bet She’an); the only one of the ten cities on the west of Jordan. Each city in the Decapolis was a free-state (polis) whose territory included numerous small villages and rural settlements, endowed with certain privileges. The Decapolis dominated trade routes in the region bringing about prosperity and funding for public art and monumental Greco-Roman architecture such as that found in Gerasa. Fertile soil and temperate climate encouraged the practice of intensive agriculture throughout the region. The presence of a significant Greek population, who settled in the region at the time of Alexander the Great and the Seleucids, is consistent with there being swine kept by the people of Decapolis (see Mark 5:11, 15:13, 5:20).

Dion (Adun)

Dion, Adun, or ancient Capitolias is one of the Decapolis cities. It is located on the site of the village of Beit Ras, astride the road north from Irbid. There are scattered architectural pieces that can be seen there, some tombs, vaults, cisterns and traces of foundation walls, but no major standing structure.

Abila (Raphana)

Abila or ancient Raphana lies to the northern of Umm Qais. The largest site is located amidst verdant agricultural fields at the modern Ain Quweilbeh spring. Abila is more brutal than Jerash and Umm Qais. Roman temples, Byzantine churches and early mosques lie amidst olive groves and wheat fields.Recent excavations indicate that the site was inhabited more than 5000 years ago in the early Bronze Age, and appears to have been continually used by man since then. While several of its ancient structures have been excavated including aqueducts, tombs, gates and public buildings, ancient Raphana is especially fascinating because so much of its remains unexcavated, yet visible of the surface of the ground.

Hippos (Susita)

The site of Hippos, ancient Susita, or Qal’at Al-Husn in Arabic which means “Castle of the Stronghold” is a ruin on a rocky spur opposite Tiberias. Two large ruined buildings remain, with traces of an old street and fallen columns and capitals. A strong wall once surrounded the town; a narrow neck of land exists on the east where the rock has been scarped. Rugged valleys enclose the site on the north and south; broken sarcophagi and rock-cut tombs are found beneath the ruin.

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