DECAPOLIS


DECAPOLIS
DECAPOLIS (Gr. "the ten cities"), league or administrative grouping of Syrian-Greek cities situated in southern Syria, the northern Jordan Valley, and in Transjordan in the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Decapolis which was originally attached to the Roman Province of Syria is already mentioned in the 1st century C.E. by Josephus (Wars, 3:446), who refers to Scythopolis as the largest of the cities of the Decapolis, and in the New Testament with Jesus at one point passing through the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31, cf. 5:20; Matthew 4:25). Pliny (Natural History, 5:74) indicated that the Decapolis adjoined the Province of Judaea and lists the following ten cities – damascus , Philadelphia (Amman), Raphana (al-Rāfa), Scythopolis (beth-shean ), gadara (Gader, now Um-Qays), Hippus (susitha , now Qalʿat al-Ḥuṣn east of the Sea of Galilee), Dium/Dion (Tell al-Ashʿarī?), pella (Peḥal in the Talmud, now Khirbat Ṭabaqāt Fāḥil), Gerasa/Galasa (Geresh),   \<!   \> \!map showing the eight cities constituting the continuous bloc of the decapolis. damascus and kanatha lie north of this area. Map showing the eight cities constituting the continuous bloc of the Decapolis. Damascus and Kanatha lie north of this area.   and Kanatha (Kenat, now al-Qanawāt in the Hauran). (See Map: Eight Cities of the Decapolis). Pliny admits, however, that other opinions existed concerning the composition of the Decapolis. Since most of the cities dated their civic eras from the time of Pompey's conquest of the area (63 B.C.E.), some scholars have suggested that Pompey founded the Decapolis when he freed the Greek cities which had been conquered by Alexander Yannai. In Hadrian's time Abila (Abel, Tell Ibil, north of Irbid) was also a member of the league. A different list of 18 cities of the Decapolis appears in the writings of the geographer Ptolemy (second century C.E.). It includes the cities mentioned by Pliny (excluding Raphana) and adds nine new places: Heliopolis, Abila, Saana, Hina, Abila Lysanias, Capitolias, Edrei, Gadora, and Samulis. In addition, the Decapolis was mentioned in the Onomasticon of Eusebius as a region situated near Peraea, and in the writings of Stephen of Byzantium (with a list of 14 cities). Some of the cities of the Decapolis were situated on the sites of earlier cities (e.g. Damascus, Beth-Shean) while others were newly established in the Hellenistic period. Some claimed Greek origins (see a discussion of their foundation legends by Lichtenberger). Pompey incorporated the cities of the Decapolis into the province of Syria and granted them autonomy. In 30 B.C.E. Augustus gave Herod the cities of Gadara and Hippus; these were returned to the province of Syria after Herod's death. Kanatha and Raphana were under the control of Agrippa II. The other cities of the Decapolis were considered part of Syrian territory until 105–106 C.E. when Trajan transferred the cities in the far south to the newly established province of Arabia. In the Byzantine lists, some of the cities of the Decapolis are placed in Arabia and some in Palaestina secunda. The cities of the league possessed autonomy in internal affairs as well as the right to mint coins. Only one inscription has been found to date that refers to the Decapolis. Damascus was granted the status of a Roman colony by Alexander Severus as was Gadara by Valens. Nothing is known of the legal aspects of the league in which the cities were united; at any rate, a reciprocal relationship existed between the various members. Each city had jurisdiction over an extensive area. With the exception of Damascus and Kanatha, the cities of the Decapolis constituted a continuous bloc south and southeast of the Sea of Galilee, extending from Philadelphia in the south to Hippus in the north. The cities of the league were important because they were situated along the trade routes between northern Arabia and Syria. Damascus served both economically and geographically as the northern assembling point for this trade and Scythopolis as the link connecting the trade routes with western Palestine. The cities of the Decapolis and their hinterlands formed a barrier against the Arabian desert-marauders and they also extended the agricultural belt to the east. At the same time they served as a Roman security ring around Palestine; during the Bar Kokhba War (132–135), Hadrian made Gerasa his base for attacking Judea. The establishment of the province of Arabia diverted the flow of trade from India, Arabia, and the Red Sea – which until then had passed through Petra to Gaza – northward to Damascus. This deflection increased the importance of the cities of the Decapolis and led to new economic prosperity, especially for the cities of Philadelphia, Gerasa, and Gadara. Their domination of the trade routes was further strengthened when the city of Tadmor (Palmyra) was destroyed by Aurelian in 273 C.E. In the 4th century, Gerasa and Philadelphia are described as "mighty cities" (Amianus Marcellinus). Hellenistic culture flourished in the Decapolis in the Roman period. Among the famous residents of the cities were: Theodorus (teacher of the emperor Tiberius), Menippus the cynic, Oenomaus the stoic (who is perhaps identical with Avnimus the Gardi mentioned in the Talmud), and Meleager the poet, all from Gadara; Stephanus the historian, Plato the rhetorician, and Nikomachos the philosopher, from Gerasa; Aristotle the rhetorician came from Pella; and Nicolaus the historian, one of Herod's ministers, from Damascus. A large Jewish community existed in these cities at least from the time that most of them were conquered by Alexander Yannai. Some of the Jews were probably descendants of persons who had been converted by the Hasmonean king. In 44 C.E. a border dispute between the inhabitants of Jewish Transjordan and Philadelphia led to bloody clashes which were renewed on a large scale in most of the cities of the Decapolis at the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 C.E. In Scythopolis 3,000 Jews were killed, in Damascus 10,000 or more, and there was mass slaughter in the other cities as well. According to Josephus, Gerasa was the only city which protected its Jewish inhabitants (Wars, 2:480), but remains of a   synagogue found there show that it was destroyed even before the time of Hadrian. A large Jewish population nevertheless continued to live in the Decapolis cities for many generations after the destruction of the Temple, as is proved by remains of large synagogues in Hammath Gader and Gerasa and various statements in the Talmud (e.g., TJ, Dem. 2:1, 22d etc.). According to Eusebius a group of Jews who believed in Jesus fled from Jerusalem to Pella prior to the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 C.E. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.C. Butler, Publications of the American Archaeological Expedition to Syria, 4 vols. (1899–1900); University of Princeton, Archaeological Expedition to Syria 1904–05, 3 vols. (1907–16); Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (1907), 150–93; S. Klein, Ever ha-Yarden ha-Yehudi (1920); V. Tcherikover, Ha-Yehudim ve-ha-Yevanim, 2 (1930); idem, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), 106 and index; idem, Hellenistische Staedtegruendungen (1925); A.H.M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (1937), 260–1; M. Rostovtseff, Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, 2 (1957), 664–5, n. 33, n. 34; Seyrig, in: Syria: Revue d'art et d'Archéologie, 36 (1959), 60–78; Bietenhard, in: ZDPV, 79 (1963), 24ff.; Avi-Yonah, Land. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Thomas Parker, "The Decapolis Reviewed," in: JBL, 94 (1975), 437–41; A. Spijkerman, The Coins of the Decapolis and Provincia Arabia (1978); B. Isaac, "The Decapolis in Syria: A Neglected Inscription," in: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 44 (1981), 67–74; J.M.C. Bowsher, "Architecture and Religion in the Decapolis: A Numismatic Survey," in: PEQ, 119 (1987), 62; A. Segal, Town Planning and Architecture in Provincia Arabia (1988); F. Millar, The Roman Near East 31 BC–AD 337 (1993), 408ff.; A. Lichtenberger, "City Foundation Legends in the Decapolis," in: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, 22 (2004), 23–34. (Shimon Applebaum / Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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