Umm Qais, is a town in northern Jordan near the site of the ancient town of Gadara. It is situated in the extreme north-west of the country, where the borders of Jordan, Israel and Syria meet, perched on a hilltop (378 metres above sea level), overlooking the sea of Tiberias, the Golan heights and the Yarmuk gorge.
The town is situated on a ridge, which falls gently to the east but steeply on its other three sides, so that it was always potentially of strategic importance. By the third century BC the town was of some cultural importance. It was the birthplace of the satirist Menippos, a slave who became a Cynic philosopher and satirised the follies of mankind in a mixture of prose and verse. His works have not survived, but were imitated by Varro and by Lucian. The Greek historian Polybius describes Gadara as being in 218 BC the 'strongest of all places in the region'. Nevertheless it capitulated shortly afterwards when besieged by the Seleucid king Antiochus III of Syria. The region passed in and out of the control of the Seleucid kings of Syria and the Ptolemies of Egypt. In 167 BC the Jews of Jerusalem rebelled against the Seleucids, and in the ensuing conflict in the region Gadara and other cities suffered severe damage. In the early first century BC Gadara gave birth to its most famous son, Meleager. He was one of the most admired Hellenistic Greek poets, not only for his own works but also for his anthology of other poets, which formed the basis of the large collection known as the Greek Anthology. In 63 BC, when the Roman general Pompey placed the region under Roman control, he rebuilt Gadara and made it one of the semi-autonomous cities of the Roman Decapolis, and a bulwark against Nabataean expansion. But in 30 BC the Roman emperor Augustus placed it under the control of the Jewish king Herod. The historian Josephus relates that after King Herod's death in 4 BC Gadara was made part of the Roman province of Syria. In the first century AD Jesus drove demons out of a man into swine 'in the country of the Gadarenes' (Gospel According to Matthew; the Gospels According to Mark and Luke read 'country of the Gerasenes'). Josephus relates that in AD 66 at the beginning of the Jewish revolt against the Romans the country around Gadara was laid waste,: "So Vespasian marched to the city of Gadara. He came into it and slew all the youth, the Romans having no mercy on any age whatsoever. He set fire to the city and all the villas around it." The Gadarenes captured some of the boldest of the Jews, of whom several were put to death and others imprisoned. Some in the town surrendered to emperor Vespasian, who placed a garrison there. The 2nd century AD Roman aqueduct to Gadara supplied drinking water through a qanat 170 km long. Its longest underground section, running for 94 km, is the longest known tunnel from ancient times. Gadara continued to be an important town within the Eastern Roman Empire, and was long the seat of a Christian bishop. With the conquest of the Arabs, following the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 it came under Muslim rule. Around 747 it was largely destroyed by an earthquake, and was abandoned.