Ancient Gadara City of Philosophers


  1. Introduction

  2. History of Gadara and pictures of the archaeological sites

  3. Cynics of Gadara
    • Menippus
    • Meleager
    • Oenomaus

  4. Other philosophers
    • Philodemus of Gadara
    • Iamblichus of Syrian Chalcis

  5. Rhetoricians of Gadara
    • Theodorus
    • Apsanes

  6. other Gadarans
    • Philo the mathematicians

  7. Roman Inscriptions and papyri
    • the witch of Gadara
    • Quintus of Gadara

  8. the Byzantine baths

  9. the Byzantine synagogue


I have often been asked, Why Gadara City of Philosophers? and why a picture (117K) of the late Greco-Roman entrance to its baths on my welcome page? The answer is quite simple: ancient Gadara (Hebrew: Gader) was the birthplace of
  • three famous Cynic philosopher- satirists,
  • one famous Epicurean philosopher-poet,
  • two important rhetoricians
  • and one famous mathematician
  • In addition, a famous neo-Platonic philosopher once taught in its baths of Hammat-Gader.
  • there are also indications of popular poets, charmers and witches from this city mentioned in various ancient inscriptions and papyri.
  • We also know of an active Jewish community in the area from synagogue inscriptions of the Byzantine era.
  • Finally, recent excavations have uncovered some important Christian inscriptions concerning the baths (el-Hameh) at Hammat-Gader, including a short epic poem in praise of its hot springs apparently written by the Empress Eudocia herself
I also include below a few details concerning:
  • the city's history and its archaeological sites, exemplified with original photographs.
  • the origin of its name
  • and its cultural contribution to the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman world.

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History of the City and Pictures of the Ancient Sites

Archaeological Sites

    Today, the archaeological site of ancient Gadara ajoins the Jordanian village of Um-Qeis (98K), where you can still walk down Gadara's once colonaded city streets (117K), that criss-crossed beneath its basilica. The city's late structures include a mysterious subterranean hypogeion (117K), whose purpose is uncertain, and see its (one of two little Greco-Roman) theatres (137K), an octagonal market-place as well as the basilica (97K) itself.
    • See Arthur Segal, Monumental Architecture in Roman Palestine and Provincia Arabia(Haifa, 1995)

    On the Israeli side of the Yarmuk Valley (98K), adjoining a collective village, is found the valley of Hammat-Gader (el-Hammeh), where there still flow four naturally cold and hot springs, famous for their therapeutic powers. These once filled the large pool (137K) and small pools (98K) of an early Byzantine spa, supplying it with hot and cold waters. Besides the remains of the ancient spa complex, the valley also sites the ruins of Roman baths and a small Greco-Roman theatre.

    • Y. Hirschfield: The Roman Thermae at Hammat-Gader- Final Report (Jerusalem, 1997)

    Close by, on a mound in the valley, there are preserved the remains of a Byzantine Jewish synagogue in which mosaiques with Hebrew-Aramaic inscriptions are preserved.

    • E.L. Sukenik: The Ancient Synagogue of El-Hammeh (Jerusalem, 1935),

    Today one may still bathe in these waters at the spa of the neighbouring spa and park of Hammat Gader, that is also famous for its crocodile farm, kept safely apart from the bathers.
    Tread lightly, the next time you visit Hammat-Gader, there is more beneath your feet than the local crocodiles.


Origin of the name Gadara-Gader:
    In Semitic languages, gader means a wall or boundary. Later Talmudic legend associatively connected 'Gader' with the area of the vineyard wall (gader) where an angel is said to have halted the prophet Balaam. It was then that his ass was supposed to have miraculously addressed its master complaining of his ill-treatment (Numbers xxii.24-29). However, the site's history really began when Alexander's successors founded a Greek polis at Gader, Hellenizing it as Gadara, perhaps in memory of their Macedonian village of Gadeira.


Ancient Gadara had a fine tradition of philosophy and poetic satire


Rhetoricians of Gadara:

    • The founder of a famous 1st century B.C. rhetorical school, was Theodorus of Gadara, whose inscription was found at Athens - and who taught the future emperor Tiberius rhetoric. It is said of Tiberius that:

        even in his boyhood, his cruel and cold nature did not lie hidden. Theodorus of Gadara was his teacher of rhetoric and, in all his wisedom, seems to have been the first to have ubderstood Tiberius and to have capped him with a very pithy saying when he taunted Tiberius, calling him 'Mud kneaded with blood'
        (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars iii: TiberiusLVII.1)

    • A less famous later rhetorician, called Apsines of Gadara (190-250 A.D.) taught oratory at Athens about 235 A.D. and has left us a handbook of Rhetoric. Philostratus briefly mentioned his abilities:
        But I need not write of them and of Apsines the Phoenician who was so advanced in memory and precision, for I would be disbelieved as just handing out compliments since I am personally linked to them all in friendship
        (Lives of the Sophists 628)


Scientists of Gadara

  • Finally, there is Philo of Gadara (3rd century A.D.), who improved on Archimedes' approximation of mathematical 'pi'. The latter gave a proof for showing that
      "the circumference of any circle is greater than the diameter by threefold plus a quantity that is less that a 1/7 of the diameter but greater than 10/71 parts of it" (Archimedes, Measurement of a Circle prop. iii; trans. M. Luz).

    This approximation (3.142 857...> pi >3.140 8450....) is inaccurate by comparison with that accepted today (pi=3.141 5927.... ). Although Philo and his pupil, the mathematician Sporus (c. 200 A.D.), were said to have improved on Archimedes' proof producing a better appoximation, Eutocius of Ascalon argued that they both failed to grasp Archimedes's object in reckoning a rough approximation of the relationship between the cirumference and the diameter of a circle:
      Sporus observes that his own teacher, Philon of Gadara, reduced (the matter) to a more exact numerical expression than Archimedes did, I mean in (the latter's) 1/7 and 10/71; in fact people seem, one after the other, to have failed to appreciate Archimedes' object
      Eutocius Commentary on Archimedes' Measurement of a Circle (trans. Sir Thomas Heath, History of Mathematics I. p. 234)

    Eutocius felt that "Archimedes' object in this book was to find an apporoximate figure suitable for use in daily life" (ibid) -- this would imply that Philo and Sporus had a purely mathematical interest at heart. However, in spite of Eutocius, we do know that Archimedes later attempted a better approximation achieving 3.141 697...> pi >3.141 495... (I. Thomas, Greek Mathematics i. 333) although we do not know where Philo's approximation stood in relation to this.


Inscriptions and Papyri

  • A papyrus fragment also gives poetic recipees ascribed to a Gadarene witch in the 1st century B.C. Philinna Papyrus. She prescribed charms against over-heating just as the Thessalian witch Philinna trated achingƯ(the papyrus text is fragmentary):

      A charm of the Syrian Gadarene for every heat
      ...and in the mountain it was burned: the springs of seven wolves, of seven bears, of seven lions -- and seven maids, dark eyed drew water
      in their dark jugs and they put out the inextinguishable fire.
      A charm of Philinna the Thesallian for head-ache
      Flee head-ache, flee beneath the stone, the wolves flee, the single-hoved horses flee beneath the whip"
      (Journal of Hellenic Studies 62.1943 pp 33-38)

  • Another inscription describe the Graces of Gadara and calls the city 'blessed in the Muses', as it truly was.

      My father was Quintus, my Mother Philous
      My name was Apion, and my father-land
      was the community of Gadara blessed in the Muses
      I left a childless home
      and at these three cross-roads inhabit this tomb
      that my father built. He came after to join me here
      mourning (a son) who lived only twenty-two years
      (Palestine Exploration Quarterly 1897 pp 185)


A few of the Inscriptions, newly discovered at the Baths

In the excavations of 1979/1980, there were uncovered at the baths of Hammat-Gader, a number of interesting inscriptions, a few of them reflecting the cultural and literary atmosphere of the city.

Text and historical background in: Leah di Segni, 'The Greek Inscriptions of Hammat-Gader' in: Y. Hirschfield: The Roman Thermae at Hammat-Gader- Final Report (Jerusalem, 1997), 228-233.

  • South-west of the large pool (137K), was found a marble slab inscribed with a poem in Homeric verse ascribed in its heading to the learned poetess, the Empress Eudocia, a known admiror of Homer. The latter had formerly been the wife of Theodosius II and the image of "Aelia Eudocia Augusta" appears on gold coins. However, by the year 443/2 A.D., the emperor's sister conspired to bring about Eudocia's exile to Jerusalem, where the Empress spent the remainder of her life in mosaiques record in Hebew and Aramaic lists of contributors and donations made for laying out the building and its mosaiques:-

    • [Remembered for good]: - Ada son of Tanhum son of Monik(os), who gave one tremissis (of a denarius), Jose [son] of Karusa and Monik(os), who contributed halves of a [de]narius for this mosaique (psephasa).
      May they have blessing. Amnen Sela Peace!

      trans. M. Luz; text and commentary: E.L. Sukenik: The Ancient Synagogue of El-Hammeh (Jerusalem, 1935), 56-5.

    Many of the conributors were apparently Galileans, but originated from outside of this immediate area. They may have come to Hammat-Gader in order to be cured by its therapeutic waters:-

    • Re[membered for g]ood:- Rab[bi] Tanhum ha-Levi son of [Hal]ifa who donated one tremissis (of a denarius).
      Remembered for good:- Monik(os) of Susi(tha) the Sepphorite,
      the K[yros P]atrik(os) of [Ke]far Akabia and Jose son of Dosi[theos] from Capernaum, who all three donated three scruples.
      May the King of the U[niverse g]ive them a blessing for [their] work. Amen Amen Sela Peace!
      Remembered for good:- Judan of Arada (?) from Haimais (?) who gave three.
      Re[membered for g]ood:- the men of Arbela who donated their linen. May the King of the Univer[se] give them a blessing for their work. Amen Amen Sela.

      trans. M. Luz; text: Sukenik, op. cit., 48-58

    One should also note how many of the personal names are are Greco-Roman in origin. Nonetheless, many of them are also translations of traditional Hebrew-Aramaic names. This shows how while still being active Jews, they saw themselves as part of Greco-Roman society. Inscriptions like the following also attest the lives of a single family of local (?) Jews, who acted in the family as office-bearers with Greek titles:

    • Re[membered for g]ood:- the Kyros Hoples and the Kyra Protone; their son-in-law, the Kyros Sallustes and his son, the Comes Pheroros; their (second) son-in-law, the Kyros Photes, and his son, Haninah. They and their children, whose good deeds are constant in every place - and who have here donated five denarii of gold.
      May the King of the Universe give them a blessing for their work. Amen Amen Sela.

      trans. M. Luz; text: Sukenik, op. cit., 41-47