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Ancient Gadara is situated next to the modern Umm Qais (or Qays) on a high plateau amidst the impressive landscape of Jordan's northwestern corner, with amazing views across the borders. Further north, the Yarmuk river valley drops steeply, behind which the Golan Heights rise up. When the weather is clear, the Sea of Galilee is clearly visible 12 km away.

Thanks to its strategic location and significance as a stopover on the main trade route from Bostra to the Mediterranean ports, the Decapolis city of Gadara achieved prosperity as part of the Roman Provincia Arabia. Its heyday lasted from the 2nd to the 4th century, but even later, in the Byzantine period, magnificent sacral buildings were erected. Gadara was an important Christian pilgrimage place, which has to do with its mentioning in the New Testament as the place where Jesus casted out demons. Also venerated was a holy tomb in the crypt in front of the Roman hypogeum, one of the best preserved and most elaborate burial structures of the Decapolis.

From the Decumanus Maximus, the main east-west axis of the antique city, a staircase leads up to the restaurant, from where you have a spectacular view. The Resthouse is located in a converted house of the late Ottoman village, which was built in the 1890s on and out of the ruins of the Acropolis. Don't miss to visit the museum in the restored grange of the former district administrator.

Gadara was the end point of the 170 km long water supply system called Qanat Fir'aun (Canal of the Pharaoh), of which 106 km ran underground, being the longest tunnel of antiquity. To get an idea, how this tunnel was built, you can visit the 380 m long section hewn out of the rock below the Acropolis.

Name and Chronology  

Photo tour in 5 parts

The Name

Before the arrival of the Macedonian troops at the end of the 4th century BC (see below) a settlement with the Semitic name *gdr (terrace, retaining wall) existed there. By addition of the a the name was transformed by the newcomers into Gadara, which seems to be Greek.

At the beginning of the 2nd century BC, when the village was under the rule of the Seleukids, they gave it the epithet Antiochia Seleukeia, which, however, did not get established permanently.

In the course of the 9th century the name Gadara disappeared from the written records. An Arabic source from the end of the 13th/beginning of the 14th century mentions a village called Mukais in the province of Hauran. From this originated Umm Qais (Umm means "mother"). According to research, the toponym is derived from the Old Arabic word Der Mukus (customs house) (Weber, p. 13). In official Ottoman documents of the 15th/16th century, the name Mkeis (or Mkes), which was in use until the 18th century, appears several times, and is nowadays occasionally used again for the modern place.

The main source of this summary and of the chronology is the seminal publication Gadara - Umm Qes by Thomas M. Weber.

Chronology

Pre-Hellenistic period
The sparse archaeological evidence from the time before the 3rd century BC does not allow any conclusions about the early settlement. It may have had the character a village.


Macedonian period, ca. 333-301 BC
In the World Chronicle of Georgios Synkellos (Byzantine monk and historian of the 8th century AD) there is an indication that Macedonian troops invaded the area around Gader after the Battle of Issos in 333 BC. They are said to have confiscated the land and founded a military colony on the strategically favourable rocky outcrop. (Weber, p. 59)


Ptolemies and Seleucids, 301 - 98 BC

After the victory of Ptolemaios I Soter over Antigonos I Monophthalmos in the Battle of Ipsos (301 BC), Palestine and the territories east of the Jordan were under the rule of the Ptolemies.

In 211 BC the army of the Seleucid Antiochos III besieged Gadara, which at that time was a fortress on the border between Ptolemaic and Seleucid territory. According to the historian Polybios (around 200 - around 120 BC), the inhabitants of Gadara were so frightened by the siege technique in front of their walls that they surrendered. This is the earliest known historical source of Gadara.

The Seleucids gained a longer lasting dominion over the city only after they had defeated the Ptolemies in the Battle of Paneas (200 BC) and annexed the East Bank to their reign. Gadara received the epithets Antiocheia and Seleukeia.

The defeat in the Roman-Syrian War (192 - 188 BC) weakened the Seleucid Empire. Therefore local powers could strengthen in the first half of the 2nd century BC: the Jewish Hasmoneans, the Arab Nabataeans and the Syrian Ituraeans.

The cities of the East Bank experienced a boom. In Gadara, the defences were completely redesigned. Archaeological finds show a growing prosperity of the population and increased exchange with the Greek world.


Hasmoneans, 98 - 90 and ca. 82 - 64/63 BC

After ten months of siege, Gadara was conquered in 98 BC by the Hasmoneans under Alexander Jannäus (around 126 BC - 76 BC).

When the Hasmonaean expansion cut off the Nabataeans' access to the Mediterranean, interrupted their trade routes and occupied their Dead Sea territories, war broke out. In 93 BC, the Nabataean king Obodas I defeated the Hasmonaean troops and took possession of the regions of Gilead and Moab. But this was "apparently more a political claim and an agreement between the two warring parties than a process that led to the establishment of a Nabataean administration in Gilead... There is neither in the literary tradition nor in the archaeological evidence an indication that the Nabataeans had now taken possession of this region as settlements." (Robert Wenning, Die Dekapolis und die Nabatäer, 1994)

Around 83 BC the Hasmoneans regained the power in the region. Gadara will also have fallen again under their rule. "... the enthusiasm with which the liberation of the city by Pompeius was celebrated centuries later [shows] how traumatic the foreign rule must have been for the population". (Weber, p. 65)


Roman era

64 BC - Liberation by Pompeius

When the Roman army under the general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106 - 48 BC) conquered the East Bank, Gadara was liberated from Hasmonean occupation. Pompeius recognized the (relative) autonomy of a number of Hellenized cities, which later formed a community of interests known as Decapolis (the term only emerged 100 years later), and to which Gadara belonged as well. Therefore, the year 64 B.C. was set there as the beginning of a Pompeian calendar and appeared on city coins as the year "1 of the city of Rome".

Flavius Josephus wrote that Pompeius had rebuilt Gadara, destroyed by the Hasmoneans, in order to do a favor to Demetrios, his freedman (freed slave) and a confidant of the commander. However, there is no archaeological evidence for this, but: "Certainly also in Gadara the old sanctuaries were reconditioned, and breaches in the masonry of the fortress repaired. At the same time, expelled citizens were called back from exile, and their rights and property reinstated." (Weber, pp. 67-69)


Herod, 30 - 4 BC
As vassal king of the Roman Empire, Herod the Great ruled Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and the neighbouring regions, therefore also Gadara. The city's citizens tried in vain to discredit him to the Roman central power and get rid of him. Only after the death of Herod (4 BC) was Gadara placed again under the jurisdiction of the governor of the Roman province of Syria.


Early Imperial Period, 4 BC - 106 AD

The legend of the exorcism of demons by Jesus at Gadara, which is reported in the Gospel of Matthew (see the wording), could be placed during the reign of Tiberius (14 - 37 AD.)

During the first Jewish uprising against the Romans (66 - 70/74 AD) Gadara was destroyed. The rebellion ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, and the protectorate of Judaea was declared a Roman province in 70 AD. "Possibly the origin of the Decapolis as a subordinate administrative unit within the borders of the Provincia Syria is also to be seen as a direct consequence of the war." (Weber, p. 72)

Gadara and the neighbouring towns of Adra'a and Abila, which also belonged to the Decapolis, built a 170 km long water pipeline in several phases from 90 to 210 AD. It ran over 106 km through a tunnel system and was by far the longest tunnel and one of the most important engineering achievements in the ancient world - more about, in the corresponding chapter of our informative photo tour.


Part of the Provincia Arabia, as of 106 AD.
In the year 106, annexation of the Nabataean Empire by Rome and establishment of the Provincia Arabia with the southern Syrian city Bostra as its capital. The cities of the Decapolis, including Gadara, became part of the new province. In Gadara, in the first half of the 2nd century, high ranking officers of the Roman army appear named in inscriptions as public benefactors.


Heyday, 2nd to 4th century AD.

Gadara reached its zenith with the urban development and renovation programs in Antonine (98 - 180 AD) and Severan times (193 - 235 AD). Expansion of the urban area to the west and construction of new public buildings in the style of neighbouring cities.

After a period of external threats and economic instability, the city seems to have recovered at the beginning of the 4th century, but without being able to resume and complete older construction projects that had fallen behind.


Byzantine period

Gadara became a pilgrimage centre where the faithful commemorated the exorcism of demons by Jesus, as described by Matthew. A holy tomb was also venerated in the crypt under the five-aisled basilica, which was built in the third quarter of the 4th century in front of the Roman hypogeum.

The increase in ecclesiastical power in the 6th century AD can be seen particularly clearly in the complex consisting of atrium, central building and three-aisled basilica on the western terrace in the centre of the city. It was built on the ruins of splendid Roman imperial buildings reusing architectural elements from them.


Islamic period

After the Battle of Yarmuk in 636 AD, in which the army of the Byzantine Emperor Herakleios was crushed by the Muslim Arabs under the command of Halid ibn Walid, the Muslim era began.

"The change of power in Gadara was probably also the result of bilateral diplomacy: although the Caliphate was recognized in Damascus and the poll tax was paid, little changed at the local political level." (Weber, p. 84) The churches were preserved well into the Umayyad period (661 - 750) and were used by the Christian communities.


Decline from the 8th century on
"A general decline in urban culture can be attributed essentially to a series of earthquakes that hit Gadara hard during the 7th and 8th centuries. In the centuries that followed, however, the urban community was gradually reduced to small, more rural settlements at various points in the ancient city until, in the late 19th century, a new village emerged on the old 'Acropolis Hill', which could be regarded as the nucleus of the modern, fast-growing town of Umm Qais." (A. Hoffmann, p. 102) According to official documents, the village was inhabited in the 16th century and taxes were paid there.


Late Ottoman village
From about 1890 to 1930 a small village was built on the ruins of the former "Acropolis". Stones and building elements from the ancient city were used. After the Jordanian antiquity administration had decided to evacuate the village in order to research and protect the ancient sites, the inhabitants had to leave their houses around 1986/1987. Read more in the chapter on the Ottoman village.


© Chronology: Compiled and edited by Universes in Universe, based mainly on information in the seminal publication Gadara - Umm Qes by Thomas M. Weber.


Gadara - Umm Qais
120 km north of Amman,
80 km from Jerash/Gerasa,
25 km northwest of Irbid

Opening hours:
Summer: 8 am - 6:30 pm
April - May: 8 am - 5:30 pm
November - April: 8 am - 4 pm
Ramadan: 8 am - 3:30 pm

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