Decapolis

Ancient columns of beit shean

The term “Decapolis” refers to a grouping of ten cities in Judea and Samaria beginning in the Hellenistic period and thru the time of the Roman Empire as it managed its eastern frontier. These areas were united by language, culture and location but were not official states or recognized politically, neither individually nor as a group. Rather, they were centers where first Greek and then Roman culture was imposed and adopted by the populations that were otherwise Semitic in nature, meaning Nabatean, Aramean and Jewish. Excluding Damascus, the “Region of the Decapolis” was located mostly in what is known in modern days as Jordan.

Again, excluding Damascus, the majority of the Decapolis cities were established during the Hellenistic period between Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC and the Roman conquering of Coele-Syria, which included Judea, in 63 B.C. The cities started out as Greek both in style and in the way they functioned, modeling themselves on the Greek “polis.” When the Romans took over, they naturally wanted Roman culture to flourish everywhere within their empire, which included eastern Palestine. They therefore encouraged growth in these ten cities making up the Decapolis and gave them some political autonomy as well, while providing them protection. Each city functioned as “city-state,” the term the Romans used for the social system that the Greeks had called “polis,” each city-state having control over an area of the surrounding countryside and authority to mint its own money.

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