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Abila (Decapolis)

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Abila (Decapolis)

Abila (Ancient Greek: Ἄβιλα), Abila in the Decapolis (Abila Dekapoleos),[1] and for a time, Seleucia (Ancient Greek: Σελεύκεια; also transliterated as Seleuceia, Seleukeia),[1] was an ancient city in the Decapolis; the site, now referred to as Quwaylibah (Arabic: قويلبة‎) is occupied by two tells (Tell al-Abila and Tell Umm al-Amad) and the village of Hartha, approximately 13 km (8 mi) north-northeast of Irbid, Jordan. The site is 25 km (16 mi) east of the Sea of Galilee and 4 km (2 mi) south of the Yarmouk River. The name "Abila" is derived from the Semitic word Abel (in Hebrew, "meadow" and in Arabic, "green growth").[2]


Abila or ancient Raphana lies 15 km (9 mi) 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. 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 period until the Abbasid/Fatimid and Ayyubid/Mamluk periods, though its use in these later periods was limited. It possibly appears in one of the 14th century BC Amarna letters as Ia-bi-li-ma.[3] 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.


Abila was a Christian episcopal see and, since it was part of the late Roman province of Palaestina Secunda, it is distinguished from another town and bishopric of the same name in the province of Phoenicia by being called Abila in Palaestina.

The names of three of its bishops are given in extant contemporary documents. In 518, Solomon signed the synodal letter of Patriarch John of Jerusalem Severus of Antioch. Nicostratus signed the acts of the synod of the three Palestine provinces that Patriarch Peter called in 536 against Patriarch Anthimus I of Constantinople. Alexander was deposed in 553 for refusing to sign the decisions of a council of Jerusalem against the Origenists; exiled to Constantinople, he died there in an earthquake in 557.[4][5]

No longer a residential bishopric, Abila is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[6][7]


The first known European to visit the site was Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806. The ruins have been described in published literature as early as 1889 by Guy Le Strange.

Megalithic columns can be found at Umm al-Amad (the mother of columns).

The site has been extensively excavated since 1980. The excavations have shown habitation at Abila from c. 4000 BC to 1500 AD, and have yielded numerous artifacts, and unearthed remains of city walls, a theater, and a sixth-century church.[8]

Archaeological evidence suggests that a temple at the site was used to worship Herakles, Tyche, and Athena.[9] Further evidence has shown that the site was used for Christian worship from at least the seventh- to eighth-century A.D.[10]

The site was submitted to the list of tentative World Heritage sites under criteria I, III and IV. It was submitted June 18, 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 site.[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b Brown, J., E. Meyers, R. Talbert, T. Elliott, S. Gillies. "Places: 677992 (Abila Dekapoleos/Seleukeia)". Pleiades. Retrieved August 11, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Wadi Quailibah". Abila Archaeological Project. 2009. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  3. ^ Ma'oz, Zvi Uri (1997). "Golan". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. p. 420.  
  4. ^ Michel Lequien, Oriens christianus in quatuor Patriarchatus digestus, Paris 1740, Vol. III, coll. 701-704
  5. ^ Siméon Vailhé, v. 1. Abila, in Dictionnaire d'Histoire et de Géographie ecclésiastiques, vol. I, Paris 1909, col. 120
  6. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 822
  7. ^ Siméon Vailhé, v. 1. Abila, inDictionnaire d'Histoire et de Géographie ecclésiastiques, vol. I, Parigi 1909, col. 120
  8. ^ W. Harold Mare, Ph.D. Director, Abila Excavations Professor, Covenant Theological Seminary St. Louis, Missouri. "Excavations at Abila of the Decapolis, Northern Jordan", March 2004.
  9. ^ "Abila City (Modern Qweilbeh)". UNESCO. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  10. ^ Mare, W. Harold (March 2004). "Excavations at Abila of the Decapolis, Northern Jordan". Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  11. ^ Magablih, Khalid. "A Proposed Management Plan for Abila". UNESCO. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 


  • Richard Talbert, Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, (ISBN 0-691-03169-X), p. 69.
  • Fuller, Neathery; Fuller, Michael (September 16, 2010). "Abila of the Decapolis, Jordin". Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  • Contreras, Daniel A.; Brodie, Neil. "Quantifying Destruction: An evaluation of the utility of publicly-available satellite imagery for investigating looting of archaeological sites in Jordan.". Journal of Field Archaeology. 

External links

  • Hazlitt, Classical Gazetter "Abila"
  • Report on the excavations
  • Abila Archaeological Project official website
  • Abila (Decapolis) site record, in the Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land.
  • Abila of the Decapolis (1889), by Gottlieb Schumacher
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