Q. The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark refer to the cities (and the region) of the “Decapolis.” What and where was this region?
A. Decapolis, which means in Greek “ten cities,” is the name given in Scripture and by other ancient writers (such as Josephus, Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny) to a region in Palestine lying to the east and south of the Sea of Galilee. It took its name from a political alliance of the ten cities that dominated the area (though the area included other cities as well).
The Decapolis is referred to in the Gospels three times: Matthew 4:25, Mark 5:20 and Mark 7:31. Many Gentiles (non-Jews) lived in the region, including veterans of the army of Alexander the Great who had conquered the Middle East.
Today the cities of the Decapolis, with the exception of Damascus, are deserted ruins. I once toured the ruins of Gadara, on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus cast the demons out of a man into a herd of pigs. I was struck by how Greek a city it had been, with Hellenistic architectural styles and buildings, including a theatre and forum.
In addition to Damascus and Gadara, another city of the Decapolis of special interest to Christian history is Pella, the city in the Jordan Valley where Christians fled at the first siege of Jerusalem (in obedience to Our Lord; see Mt 24:15-16).