(dih cap' oh lihss) Place name meaning, “ten cities.” A group of Greek cities referred to in
Mark 7:31, originally ten in number but including more cities at a later time. The second century A.D. writer Pliny named the ten cities as Damascus, Philadelphia (modern Amman), Canatha, Scythopolis, Pella, Hippos, Gadara, Dion, Raphana, and Gerasa (modern Jerash). Ptolemy, another second century writer, names eighteen cities in the Decapolis, omitting Raphana but adding nine others. A later source mentioned fourteen cities in the group. Thus the number varied from time to time. They were established after the time of Alexander the Great and were predominantly Greek in culture and influence. These cities were scattered south and east of the Sea of Galilee. Only Scythopolis was west of the Jordan River. Josephus named it as the greatest of the group.
The “Decapolis” is mentioned only in Matthew and Mark in the Bible. In
Mark 5:20, Jesus healed a demoniac after which the man “began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him.”
Mark 7:31 states that after Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon he went “through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.”
Matthew 4:25 adds no more to our knowledge of these cities.
Traditionally the Decapolis is assumed to be a league of cities which preserved the stronghold of Greek thought and life in Palestine and resisted the Semitic influences of the Jews. According to Pliny, however, it was not a very solid political alliance. A recent view is that it was not even a league, but a geographical region. These cities do seem to have much in common; they were centers for the spread of Greco-Roman culture and had no great love for the Jews. They were associated with one another closely enough that in some ways they were considered as a group, if not as a league. See Palestine.
W. Thomas Sawyer