1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Decapolis

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DECAPOLIS, a league of ten cities (δέκα πόλεις) with their surrounding district, situated with one exception on the eastern side of the upper Jordan and the Sea of Tiberias. Being essentially a confederation of cities it is impossible precisely to fix Decapolis as a region with definite boundaries. The names of the original ten cities are given by Pliny; these are as follows: Damascus, Philadelphia, Raphana, Scythopolis (= Beth-Shan, now Beisan, west of Jordan), Gadara, Hippos, Dion, Pella, Gerasa and Kanatha. Of these Damascus alone retains its importance. Scythopolis (as represented by the village of Beisan) is still inhabited; the ruins of Pella, Gerasa and Kanatha survive, but the other sites are unknown or disputed. Scythopolis, being in command of the communications with the sea and the Greek cities on the coast, was the most important member of the league. The league subsequently received additions and some of the original ten dropped out. In Ptolemy’s enumeration Raphana has no place, and nine, such as Kapitolias, Edrei, Bosra, &c., are added. The purpose of the league was no doubt mutual defence against the marauding Bedouin tribes that surrounded them. These were hardly if at all checked by the Semitic kinglings to whom the Romans delegated the government of eastern Palestine.

It was probably soon after Pompey’s campaign in 64–63 B.C. that the Decapolis league took shape. The cities comprising it were united by the main roads on which they lay, their respective spheres of influence touching, if not overlapping, one another. A constant communication was maintained with the Mediterranean ports and with Greece, and there was a vigorous municipal life which found expression in literature, in athletic contests, and in a thriving commerce, thus carrying a truly Hellenic influence into Perea and Galilee. From Josephus we learn that the cities were severally subject to the governor of Syria and taxed for imperial purposes; some of them afterwards came under Herod’s jurisdiction, but reserved the substantial rights granted them by Pompey.

The best account is in G. A. Smith’s Historical Geography of the Holy Land, chap. xxviii.  (R. A. S. M.)