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Umm Qeis

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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

Umm Qeis

site located on the northern Transjordanian tableland east of the Jordan Rift Valley (32°37′ N, 35°41′ E). The layout and size of the ancient city were apparently adapted to the topography of a flat limestone plateau that drops steeply on the north, south, and west from an altitude of 364 m above sea level. This plateau commands a panoramic view across the great plain of the Jordan Valley, the Lake of Tiberias (biblical Lake Gennesar), the Yarmuk Valley, the Golan Heights, and Mt. Hermon.

The identification of Gadara with the site of the ruins of present-day Umm Qeis was determined by Ulrich J. Seetzen as early as 1806 (Reisen durch Syrien, ed. Friedrich Kruse et al., vol. 1, Stuttgart, 1854, p. 368) and has long been regarded as settled. The main evidence is provided by the hot springs at el-Ḥamma (Emmatha) in the Yarmuk Valley, for which nearby Gadara (situated 553 m above el-Ḥamma) was famous, that are still found there. First mentioned by the first-century BCE Roman geographer Strabo (16.2.29), they have been praised ever since for their medicinal qualities.

According to Siegfried Mittmann (Beiträge zur Siedlungsund Territorialgeschichte des Nördlichen Ostjordanlandes, Wiesbaden, 1970, p. 130) Gadara lay 16 Roman miles from both Capitolias/Beit Ras and Scythopolis/Beth-Shean; Roman milestones remain from both roads, as well as from that leading from Gadara to Tiberias. The springs, also named Termae Haelia are at the third milestone on the road between Capitolias and Tiberias.

Claudius Ptolemaeus (Geographia 14.22), a second-century CE Roman writer, includes Gadara on his list of eighteen cities belonging to Coele-Syria and the Decapolis. Pliny the Elder (Nat. Hist. 18.74) noted that historians differed in listing the Decapolis cities; his own list of ten, which included Gadara, dates to the first century CE. [See Decapolis.]

Of the cities of the Decapolis, Gadara is most renowned as the birthplace of illustrious men, among them Philodemus the Epicurian, a contemporary of Cicero, and the great poet Meleager.

Gadara was first visited by Seetzen in 1806 and surveyed by Gottlieb Schumacher in 1886. This was followed by sporadic fieldwork that recovered a Late Antique bath in the northwest section of the site with a mosaic floor and a mosaic inscription (1959), a subterranean mausoleum (1968), and a Late Roman tomb (1969), which was cleaned. [See the biography of Schumacher.]

Since 1974, the German Evangelical Institute for the Archeology of the Holy Land has undertaken systematic survey, excavation, and restoration work at Umm Qeis. [See Deutsches Evangelisches Institut für Altertumswissenshaft des Heiligen Landes.] A 1974 survey yielded evidence for an occupation at least as early as the seventh century BCE. However, in considering the history of Umm Qeis/Gadara, it is the literary tradition that is relied on primarily Polybius (Hist. 5.54–85) described the region of Gadara as one of several locations under Ptolemaic control before the conquest of Antiochus III in 218–217 BCE. During the final conquest of Transjordan and Palestine by this Antiochus in 198 BCE, Gadara was incorporated into the Seleucid kingdom—an important event in the city's history. According to Stephan of Byzantium (Ethnika 128.30), the city was called Antiochia and Seleucia, and it minted coins bearing the title “Antiochia” to commemorate the heritage of Seleucid control. [See Seleucids.]

Josephus, the first-century CE Roman historian (Antiq. 13.13.3; Wars 1.4.2), mentions that Gadara was freed from the control of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus by the Roman general Pompey during Pompey's campaign in Syria in 63 BCE. It was part of the reorganization that resulted from the formation of the Provincia Arabia after the Romans annexed the Nabatean kingdom and its capital city, Petra, early in the second century CE. [See Nabateans.] Additional reorganization took place in the Roman Empire with the creation of the Provincia Palaestinae. By about 429 CE, Palestine and Transjordan were subdivided into Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda, and Palaestina Tertia. George Adam Smith has pointed out (Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 25th ed., rev. London, 1931) that Gadara was listed as one of the cities in Palaestina Secunda.

During the New Testament era, a visit by Jesus to the region of Gadara is attested (Mt. 8:28). The city is best remembered in connection with the story of the Gadarene swine. By the beginning of the fourth century CE, Gadara had a bishop who attended the Council of Nicaea (325 CE). As a result of the discovery of its magnificent basilica by the German Evangelical Institute for the Archaeology of the Holy Land under the direction of Ute Wagner-Lux (1976–1980), Gadara is among the major Christian centers in Transjordan, which include Jerash/Gerasa, Madaba, and Petra. [See Jerash; Madaba; Petra.] The remains of other monuments in the city include two temples, two theaters, a fortified acropolis, paved colonnaded streets, a monumental gateway, a necropolis, a nymphaeum, two mausolea, a stadium, and two public baths along the south side of the decumanus maximus.

The excavation of the bath building in 1977–1983 by a Danish team headed by Svend Holm-Nielsen discerned three main periods in its history. The first was terminated by a destruction possibly caused by an earthquake in about 400 CE. In the second, the building continued as a bath but on a much reduced scale, the gradual change indicating an economic decline at Gadara. At some time in the first half of the seventh century, the use of the building as a bath came to an end. In the third period of its history, the bath was used for habitation and workshops. A section of the building seems to have been used as an Islamic prayer place in the Umayyad period. Al-Baladhuri, a ninth-century Arab historian says (Kitab fuṭuh al-buldan [Book of the Conquest of the Countries], ed. M. J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1866, p. 126) that in the middle of the seventh century Gadara was captured by the Muslims and became one of the cities of the new Arab administrative district of Falastin (Palestine).

Umm Qeis

UMM QEIS. Ruins of the central portion of the basilica. (Courtesy A. Hadidi)

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Little is known of Gadara's history in ῾Abbasid and later periods. Neither Christian nor Muslim writers provide any indication of whether Gadara was settled during the Ayyubid-Mamluk period. The frequency and distribution of sherds from this period (eleventh–thirteenth centuries CE) at Gadara probably reflect the existence of a few farms in the immediate vicinity. Accounts of Arab travelers and geographers indicate that there was a sharp decline in the city's wealth and population and that gradually Gadara passed from a Greco-Roman town of considerable importance, even boasting a university in its heyday, to a field of ruins.

Bibliography

  • Glueck, Nelson. The River Jordan. Philadelphia, 1946.
    Interesting history and description of the site, somewhat limited by its traditional approach
    .
  • Holm-Nielsen, Svend, et al. “Umm Qeis (Gadara).” In Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 2, Field Reports, edited by Denyse Homès-Fredericq and J. Basil Hennessy, pp. 597–611. Louvain, 1989.
    The most up-to-date and concise presentation of field reports on recent excavations at Umm Qeis and its surroundings
    .
  • Schumacher, Gottlieb. Northern ῾Ajlun, “Within the Decapolis.” London, 1890.
    Accurate description of the ruins at Umm Qeis, with plan and map of the surrounding area
    .
  • Schürer, Emil. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 175 B.C.–A.D. 135. Vol. 2. Revised and edited by Géza Vermès et al. Edinburgh, 1979.
    New English version revised and edited by biblical scholars and specialists, including accurate and comprehensive literary accounts of the cities of the Decapolis
    .
  • Spijkerman, Augusto. The Coins of the Decapolis and Provincia Arabia. Jerusalem, 1978.
    Essential for learning about the role of city coins in the historical synthesis attempted up to 1978, with special attention given to the cities of the Decapolis. Well documented with historical and geographic introductions, indices, and bibliographies
    .
  • Weber, Thomas. Umm Qeis, Gadara of the Decapolis. Amman, 1989.
    The most recent and authoritative guide to the antiquities of the site, with an up-to-date city plan, drawings, and other illustrations
    .

Adnan Hadidi

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