Gadara (modern Umm Qays)
Umm Qays, Jordan
Hegira 41–132 / AD 661–750)
The name Gadara, (modern Umm Qays) probably derives from an ancient Semitic word meaning 'fortification'. Gadara was one of only a few Jordanian towns mentioned by early Arab geographers under the name of 'Jader'; the Arab geographer Yaqut al-Khamavī in his AH 7th- / AD 13th-century 'Mu'jam al-Buldan' described the site, 'Jadir', as a village in Jordan. Later on, during the medieval period the name was changed to 'Mukes' from the early Arabic word meaning 'frontier station'.
Situated at 378 m above sea level on a sloping plateau in Jordan's northwestern corner, ancient Gadara overlooks the north Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), The Yarmouk River Valley and the Golan Heights, thus commanding unequalled views to at least three of Jordan's neighbours.
Jordan became part of the Islamic state as early as AH 13 / AD 635 after the defeat of the Byzantine army at the battles of Fihl and Yarmuk. An inscription from Gadara dating to AH 42 / AD 662 states that the hammam at Hamath was restored and renovated to residential quarters in response to the direct instructions of the Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah I (AH 41–60 / AD 661–680).
During the Umayyad period (AH 41–132 / AD 661–750) Jordanian towns continued to prosper, due to Jordan's proximity to the centre of power in Damascus and to its location on the Syrian pilgrimage route. Some of the existing building from the Roman–Byzantine period was utilised during the early Islamic period, a clear example of this is seen in the hammam, which was re-used in the Umayyad period as residential quarters. A large collection of Umayyad ceramics and coins, including coins from before the coinage reforms of Abd al-Malik in AH 77 / AD 696, were uncovered.
The Abbasid period (AH 132–358 / AD 750–969) is attested through the presence of Abbasid pottery shards. This demonstrates the fact that there was continuous settlement in the area from the Umayyad period to the Abbasid period in spite of the commonly held belief that Jordanian towns were abandoned after the Abbasid Revolution of the AH 2nd / AD mid-8th century and that there was a dramatic shift of the centre of power to Iraq. The town continued to be occupied during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.
Gadara was one of the points along the route of retreat for the Crusader King Baldwin III and his army in AH 541 / AD 1147. Travellers of the 19th century reported that Umm-Qays was abandoned except for a few peasants who adopted some of the ancient rock-hewn tombs as shelters and stables.
Some time after AH 1303 / AD 1886 a new village was established on the Acropolis of the town.
Gadara (modern Umm Qays) was mentioned by early Arab geographers as ‘Jadir’. The name was later changed to ‘Mukes’ meaning ‘frontier station’. Situated at Jordan’s northwestern corner, Gadara commands views of several of Jordan’s neighbours. The town flourished in the Umayyad period and an inscription dating to AH 42 / AD 662 states that the Roman-Byzantine bath was renovated and removed to residential quarters at the orders of the Caliph Muawiyah I. Occupation continued in the Abbasid and Mamluk periods, and it was a main point along the route of retreat for the Crusader King Baldwin III in 541 / 1147.
Archaeological excavations uncovered a wealth of material, especially Umayyad pre-earthquake ceramics that suggest Umayyad presence in the area.
Hoffmann, A., and Kerner, S., (eds) Gadara – Gerasa und die Dekapolis, Mainz, 2002, pp.78–138.
Schumacher, J., Northern Ajlun: Within the Decapolis, London, 1890, pp.46–80.
Weber, T., and Khouri, R., Umm Qais; Gadara of the Decapolis, Amman, 1989.
Mohammad Najjar "Gadara (modern Umm Qays)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;jo;Mon01;11;en
Prepared by: Mohammad NajjarMohammad Najjar
Mohammad Najjar is an archaeologist and has been Director of Excavations and Surveys at the Department of Antiquities of Jordan since 1988. He studied archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow from where he holds his Ph.D. He was affiliated to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan in 1982 as Curator of Jordan Archaeological Museum. He was the Technical Director of Cultural Resources Management (sites development) at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities between 1994 and 1997. He is the author of numerous publications on the archaeology of Jordan.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: JO 11