Pella or Paḥal

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PELLA or PAḤAL , ancient city situated east of the Jordan River, 8 mi. (c. 13 km.) South-east of Beth-Shean. The present name of the site is Khirbet Faḥil. The first mention of it occurs in the Egyptian Execration texts, dating to the late 19th century b.c.e. as Pi-ḥi-lim. It is mentioned as well in almost all Egyptian sources relating to Canaan, appearing in the list of Canaanite cities of Thutmosis iii as Phr; in Anastasi Papyri (3 and 4) as a center for the manufacture of chariots; in the Beth-Shean stele of Seti i as a place which revolted against Egypt and besieged Rehob, and was subsequently subdued in one day by the first regiment of the Amon brigade; and in the list of Ramses ii. From El-Amarna letter 148, it appears that Hazor and Tyre contended for possession of Piḥili, whose prince at that time was Motbaal. A large "migdol" type temple has recently been uncovered at the site. After 1300 b.c.e. the place is not mentioned in extant sources; however, Late Bronze and Iron Age pottery was found there. It revived in the Hellenistic period, when it was known as Pella, after the Macedonian capital. A legendary account by Stephen of Byzantium (Eth. 103–4) has the city being founded by Alexander the Great (332/331 b.c.e.). The city was captured by Antiochus iii in 218 b.c.e. (Polybius 5:70, 12) and later by Alexander Yannai, who destroyed it (Jos., Ant., 13:397). Pompey restored it and incorporated it into the Decapolis league. Prior to Jerusalem's siege by Titus, its Christian community moved to Pella. Some Christians, including the author Aristion of Pella, remained there afterward. In Byzantine times it was the seat of a bishop. The hot baths located there (Ḥamta di Paḥal) are mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (Shev. 6:1, 36c). In 635/636 Muslim Arabs defeated the Byzantine forces near Pella and took the city, which continued to exist for some time (as Fiḥl) with a mixed Greek and Arab population.

The site was investigated in the 19th century by the travelers C. Irby and J. Mangles in 1818, and subsequently by the explorer E. Robinson in 1852. Excavations of the site were undertaken in 1958 by N. Richardson and R.W. Funk, in 1967 by R.H. Smith, and since 1979 and into the 1990s by R.H. Smith, A.W. McNicoll, and J.B. Hennessey. The earliest remains date from the Neolithic period, while its rapid decline took place in late Umayyad times. The rich finds, both in architecture and tomb deposits as well as small finds, indicate that Pella was a prosperous town from the Hellenistic to the Umayyad periods. Hellenistic and Byzantine civic buildings, a theater or odeon, and three churches have been uncovered.


G. Schumacher, Pella (Eng., 1888); D.C. Steuernagel, Der ʿAdschlūn (1925), 398ff.; J. Richmond, in: pefqs, 166 (1934), 18ff.; Funk and Richardson, in: ba, 21 (1958), 82ff.; H. Seyrig, in: Syria, 36 (1959), 68ff.; Press, Ereẓ, s.v.add. bibliography: J. Basil Hennessy et al., "Pella," in: Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 2 (1989), 406–41; R.H. Smith, "Excavations at Pella of the Decapolis, 1979–1985," in: National Geographic Research, 1 (1987), 478–89.

[Michael Avi-Yonah /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]