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),
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.
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.)]
Region in northeastern Palestine in the Greco-Roman period. The term means "The Ten Cities," and it is thus referred to as αἱ δέκα πόλεις in Josephus's Vita (341–342), but it is mentioned more commonly by the compound noun ή Δεκάπολις, from which the English term is derived; so it is used in the New Testament (Mt4.25; Mk 5.20; 7.31), in Josephus (Bell. Jud. 1.7.7; 3.9.7; Ant. 12.3.3; 14.4.4), in Pliny (Hist. Nat. 5.16.74), and in a few other places. At different periods the term had varying
geographical limits, but it always meant the area east both of Perea and lower Galilee. Its northernmost city was Damascus, its southernmost one Philadelphia (Ammân), and its easternmost one Canatha; but in New Testament times, Damascus and Canatha were considered outside the Decapolis proper, the northern boundary of which was drawn above Abila and Hippos east of the lower half of the Sea of Galilee. All the cities of the Decapolis lay east of the Jordan river, except Scythopolis, which was a few miles west of this natural boundary. The area embraced ancient Galaad (except the part of it in upper Perea) and the territory to the north and west.
A distinctive feature of the Decapolis was its political status as a loose confederation of essentially independent cities that were mostly Greco-Roman in tradition and outlook. Most of the Ten Cities were of Greek origin, founded or taken over and made important by veterans of Alexander's army at the end of the fourth century b.c. or established by the Seleucid dynasty somewhat later. Their Hellenistic spirit and population made them a counterbalance to Jewish nationalism and centers of opposition to the Maccabean revolt and subsequent hasmonaean rule in the second and first centuries b.c. Several of these cities were conquered and destroyed by the Jewish militants of that period, but when Pompey subdued Palestine, his reorganization of the area in 63
b.c. reestablished these essentially non-Jewish cities as autonomous states in a common federation loosely attached to the Roman Province of Syria. The cities paid taxes to Rome, but were basically independent. The peak of their prosperity occurred in the second Christian century, especially between 138 and 193, when Roman power was at its height.
According to Pliny (c. a.d. 75), the Ten Cities of the Decapolis were the following: (1) Gadara (modern Muqeis), considered the capital, about 8 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee; (2) Scythopolis (Old Testament Bethsan, modern Beisan), west of the Jordan, about 25 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee, guarding the main road from the Plain of Jezreel to the Jordan fords, called the largest city of the Decapolis by Josephus; (3) Pella (modern Khirbet Fahil), east of the Jordan, seven miles southeast of Scythopolis, the place where the Christians of Jerusalem sought refuge during the siege of 66–70; (4) Hippos (Sousitha, modern Qala‘at el-Husn near Fîq), on the slopes of the lower east shore of the Sea of Galilee;(5) Rephana (the Raphon of 1 Mc 5.37, modern er-Râfeh), about 35 miles south of Damascus; (6) Dion (modern Tell el-Ash’arī), about 12 miles southwest of Rephana; (7) Gerasa (modern Jerash), the best preserved of the ancient cities of the Decapolis; (8) Philadelphia (the Old Testament Rabbah of the Ammonites, modern Ammân, capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of jordan);(9) Canatha (the Canath or Kenath of Nm 32.42, modern Qanawât), in Auranitis near the edge of the Syrian Desert; and (10) damascus, well-known from the Old Testament.
The geographer Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus), in his second-century list (Geogr. 5.14.18), replaced Rephana by Abila (modern Tell Abil), about midway between Dion and Gadara. In late antiquity other cities also were counted as belonging to the Decapolis, such as Edrei (modern Der'ā, border post between Syria and Jordan), Capitolias (modern Beit Ras, about two miles north of Irbid), and another Gadara (or Gadora; modern Tell Jadūr, near es-Salt).
Jesus seldom entered this essentially non-Jewish region, but He passed through the northern part of it on His way from Phoenicia to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee (Mk 7.31). In this section of the Decapolis, but on another occasion, He cured a man possessed by a legion of demons (Mk 5.1–20). According to Mt 4.25, among the crowds that followed Jesus, some came even from the Decapolis.
Bibliography: f. m. abel, Histoire de la Falestine depuis la conquête d'Alexandre jusqu'à l'invasion Arabe, 2 v. (Paris 1952) 1:263–264. f. m. abel, Géographie de la Palestine (Paris 1933–38) 2:145–146, 230. k. hÖpf, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 3:204–205. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 537–538, with map.
[r. v. schoder]
Decapolis (dēkăp´əlĬs) [Gr.,=ten cities], confederacy of 10 ancient cities, all E of the Jordan, except Scythopolis. The others were (according to Pliny) Dion, Pella, Gadara, Hippos, Gerasa, Philadelphia, Damascus, Raphana, and Kanatha. The league was constituted after Pompey's campaign (65 BC–62 BC) as a protection against the Jews and the Arabian tribes and as a customs union. The Roman governor of Syria exercised general supervision of its affairs, and the cities belonging to the league were liable to Roman military service and taxation.