Abila (Decapolis)
Abila DekapoleosAbila in the Decapolis or Abila was an ancient city, near the Hieromax river in the Decapolis
The Decapolis was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in Judea and Syria. The ten cities were not an official league or political unit, but they were grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and political status...

; the site is occupied by two tells and the village of Hartha, circa 13 km (8 mi) north-northeast of Irbid
Irbid , known in ancient times as Arabella or Arbela , is the capital and largest city of the Irbid Governorate. It also has the second largest metropolitan population in Jordan after Amman, with a population of around 660,000, and is located about 70 km north of Amman on the northern ridge of...

, Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

. The site is 25km east of the Sea of Galilee
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee, also Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias , is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately in circumference, about long, and wide. The lake has a total area of , and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m...

 and 4km south of Wadi Yarmouk river. The name "Abila" is derived from the Semitic word Abel (in Hebrew, "meadow" and in Arabic, "green growth")


Abila or Ancient Raphana
Raphana, in present-day north of Jordan, was a city of the Decapolis. It is thought to lie north of Umm Qais in the Abilene plain.The city was the base camp of the Roman legions Legio III Gallica and of Legio XII Fulminata.-References:*...

 lies (15 km)to the north of Irbid, east of Umm Qais, 2 km (1 mi) east of Hartha. The largest site is located amidst verdant agricultural fields near the modern Ain Quweilbeh spring. Abila is more brutal than Jerash and Umm Qais. Roman temples, Byzantine churches and early mosques lie amidst olive groves and wheat fields.

Excavations indicate that the site was inhabited more than 5000 years ago in the early Bronze Age, and appears to have been continually used by man since then. The site was in use from the Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period until the Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

The Fatimid Islamic Caliphate or al-Fāṭimiyyūn was a Berber Shia Muslim caliphate first centered in Tunisia and later in Egypt that ruled over varying areas of the Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant, and Hijaz from 5 January 909 to 1171.The caliphate was ruled by the Fatimids, who established the...

 and Ayyubid/Mamluk
A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

 periods, though its use in these later periods was limited. While several of its ancient structures have been excavated including aqueducts, tombs, gates and public buildings, Abila is especially fascinating because so much of its remains unexcavated, yet visible of the surface of the ground.


The first known European to visit the site was Ulrich Jasper Seetzen
Ulrich Jasper Seetzen
Ulrich Jasper Seetzen was a German explorer of Arabia and Palestine from Jever, German Frisia.His father sent him to the university of Göttingen, where he graduated in medicine...

 in 1806. The ruins have been described in published literature as early as 1889 by Guy Le Strange.

The site is subdivided into distinct areas based on their location and archaeological features. These areas are defined as: Area A, Area AA, Area B, Area C, Area D, Area DD, Area E, and Area H.

Megalithic columns can be found at Um el-‘Amad (the mother of columns).

The site has been extensively excavated since 1980. The excavations have shown habitation at Abila from ca. 4000 BC to 1500 AD, and have yielded numerous artifacts, and unearthed remains of city walls, a theater, and a sixth century church. The city remains a titular see
Titular see
A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions, sometimes called a "dead diocese". The ordinary or hierarch of such a see may be styled a "titular bishop", "titular metropolitan", or "titular archbishop"....

 of the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, Abilenus in Palaestina; the seat has been vacant since 1977.

Archaeological evidence suggests that a temple at the site was used to worship Herakles, Tyche
In ancient Greek city cults, Tyche was the presiding tutelary deity that governed the fortune and prosperity of a city, its destiny....

, and Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

. Further evidence has shown that the site was used for Christian worship from at least the seventh- to eighth-century A.D.

The site was submitted to the list of tentative World Heritage sites under criteras i, iii and iv. It was submitted June 18th, 2001 by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.


The main threats to the site have been identified as development pressures, insufficient management, unsustainable tourism, water erosion (rain and spring). Both urban and agricultural development pressures are increasing in the area, due to its fertile soil, gentle climate and water availability. Tourism is unmonitored and there is little interpretation and no facilities provided for tourists. The site is not expected to be a large tourism draw given its proximity to the more popular Umm Qais
Umm Qais
Umm Qais is a town in Jordan located on the site of the ruined Hellenistic-Roman city of Gadara . The town was also called Antiochia or Antiochia Semiramis and Seleucia...



  • Richard Talbert
    Richard Talbert
    Richard John Alexander Talbert is a contemporary British-American ancient historian and classicist on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor of Ancient History and Classics. Talbert is a leading scholar of ancient geography...

    , Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World
    Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World
    The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World is a large-format English language atlas of ancient Europe, Asia, and North Africa, edited by Richard Talbert. The time period depicted is roughly from archaic Greek civilization through Late Antiquity . The atlas was published by Princeton...

    , (ISBN 0-691-03169-X), p. 69.

External links

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