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GERASA (Jerash) Jordan.

About 48 km N of Amman/Philadelphia in the hills of Gilead S of the Hauran. It was transformed from a village into a considerable town in Hellenistic times, perhaps by Antiochos IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.), and was known then as Antioch on the Chrysorhoas. Early in the 1st c. B.C. it was annexed by Alexander Janneus to Jewish territory, and in 63 B.C. Pompey in his reorganization of the East assigned it to Roman Syria as one of the towns of the Decapolis; in the 3d c. A.D. it was elevated to the rank of colony. As a provincial agricultural, mining, and caravan town Gerasa flourished under the Roman Empire, remaining relatively prosperous until in the 7th c. it was captured first by the Persians (614) and then by the Arabs (635). One of the few ancient writers to mention Gerasa is Josephus (BJ 1.104, 2.458, etc.); however, several hundred inscriptions, chiefly of Imperial date, have been found on the site. Considerable excavation and restoration has taken place since 1920.

In plan the town is divided N and S into two inwardsloping, unequal parts by the Chrysorhoas. There is a perennial spring within the walls; N of the site in Roman times a reservoir was built from which an aqueduct ran to the town. The chief gates are N and S and they received the main roads of the area, which were among those much renovated and augmented in the East in Trajan's time. The town walls, so slight as to be almost cosmetic, are sprinkled with small towers and enclose ca. 100 ha. Perhaps ten or fifteen thousand people lived in Gerasa in the early 2d c. A.D.

What can be seen today is post-Hellenistic in date and consists almost entirely of principal streets and public buildings; few private or domestic remains have been uncovered. The architecture of Gerasa is richly worked and in some ways baroque, a successful synthesis of the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial styles. Also, much of the monumental building typology of imperial towns is represented; Gerasa is a significant site in these respects. This is clearly shown by a huge triumphal arch, a large part of which still stands outside the town walls to the S. It was probably erected to commemorate a visit by Hadrian during the winter of 128-29. About 37.5 m wide, it is divided into five bays characterized by niches, aediculae, orders at three different scales, and decorative architectural sculpture of floral motifs. Beside this arch stood the town stadium.

A street plan approximately orthogonal, at least with regard to the major thoroughfares, was laid upon the site apparently in Early Imperial times. The southernmost portion of the town, however, is not subject to this grid: the S gate gives obliquely onto a large paved area of irregularly oval plan surrounded by an Ionic colonnade (ca. 66 x 99 m, and built ca. A.D. 300; there was a rather similar plaza at Palmyra). Nearby, and also independent of the orthogonal system, is a large Temple of Zeus (begun ca. A.D. 22 but finished in the 160s). It is of typical Romano-Syrian type, with unfluted peristyle columns arranged 8 by 12, the whole raised on a broad and high podium. The cella wall is decorated with scalloped niches on the exterior and broad pilasters on the interior. Nearby is the S theater, first constructed in the 1st c. A.D. but later rebuilt. Its elaborate scaenae frons, now partly restored, consists of projecting and retreating pavilions and aediculae, with orders of varying scales.

The main street runs N from the oval plaza. To the E of this street bridges carried the main cross streets over the Chrysorhoas ravine. The main street and many of the subsidiary streets were colonnaded; sometimes the Corinthian order was used, sometimes the Ionic. Two of the major intersections with the main street were marked by tetrapyla; of these the S one was set in a large circular space with tabernae round about. Some of the column shafts along the streets carry brackets for sculpture, in the Palmyrene manner, and in order to emphasize the locations of entrances to major buildings the height of the colonnade was from time to time raised above the standard level. Along the main N-S street were placed a large, scenically designed nymphaeum and propylaea to the (later) Cathedral and to the Temple of Artemis.

The last-named is an elaborate system of architectural screens and openings articulated by aediculae and a rich profusion of decoration. It is centered upon a majestic staircase that rises up the W slope of the town to give onto the immense, walled precinct of Artemis (all from the mid 2d c. A.D.). This complex, one of the major monuments of Roman religious architecture in the Near East, measures ca. 240 by 120 m. The temple proper is ca. 52.5 m in length and stands in a colonnaded temenos. In design it is rather similar to that of the Temple of Zeus but with columns disposed 6 by 11. The podium is high, the porch deep, and the order Corinthian (some columns stand—they are unfluted and carry a suggestion of double entasis; this is the order that appears in so many Gerasa buildings).

To the E of the main N-S street are the remains of two baths; in the N ruins there is a large, well-preserved room roofed by a true pendentive dome made of stone (2d c. A.D.?). To the W of this, across the main street, there is a second (N) theater, set beside a handsome rectangular plaza. Outside the town to the N, beside the reservoir, there is a third, smaller, theater.

Early Christian remains at Gerasa are important. At least 13 churches are known (seven from the time of Justinian), and their plans and to a degree their elevations can be recovered. Both basilican and centralized designs were built, largely from materials taken from earlier structures. Almost all these churches can be dated, and some excellent mosaics have been revealed. Three examples of Gerasa churches may suffice. The Cathedral, of the second half of the 4th c., was approached from the main N-S street by way of a colonnaded, monumental staircase. The building, of the three-aisled basilican type, was erected on the site of a Temple to Dionysos, parallel to and slightly below the precinct of the great Temple of Artemis. Just beyond the Cathedral, to the W, was a courtyard centering on a miraculous fountain. Farther to the W, in the center of a complex of three churches, was the Church of St. John the Baptist, built in 529-33. It was planned as a circle inscribed in a square, with the corners of the latter receiving deep niches; this is a variant on the slightly earlier Cathedral at Bosra, to the N. At the Church of the Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs of the 460s the plan consists of a cross inscribed in a square, with the remaining corner rectangles walled off into all but discrete volumes. All of these churches had apses projecting toward the E.

By the late 8th c. people were still living around the S tetrapylon circle and in the oval plaza. Today, some of Gerasa's mosaics are still in situ; other materials from the site can be seen in the archaeological museum in Jerusalem and at the Yale University Art Gallery.


M. I. Rostovtzeff, Caravan Cities: Petra and Jerash, Palmyra and Dura (1932)I; id., Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire 2 (2d ed., 1957) references on p. 784; R. O. Fink, “Jerash in the First Century A.D.,” JRS 23 (1933) 109-24; C. H. Kraeling, ed., Gerasa, City of the Decapolis (1938)PI; J. W. Crowfoot, Early Churches in Palestine (1941)MPI; EAA 3 (1960) 840-42P; G. Lankester Harding, The Antiquities of Jordan (2d ed., 1967) 79-105MPI; M. Restle, “Gerasa,” Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst 2 (1970) 734-66P.


hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, 1.104
    • Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War, 2.458
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