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The Philippeion, a memorial monument
Shahba is located in Syria
Location in Syria
Coordinates: 32°51′15″N 36°37′45″E / 32.85417°N 36.62917°E / 32.85417; 36.62917
Country  Syria
Governorate As-Suwayda Governorate
District Shahba District

Shahba (Arabic: شهبا‎), known in Late Antiquity as Philippopolis, is a city located 87 km south of Damascus in the Jabal el Druze in As-Suwayda Governorate of Syria, but formerly in the Roman province of Arabia Petraea.

Roman history

The oasis settlement now named, Shahba, had been the native hamlet of Philip the Arab. After Philip became the emperor of Rome in 244 CE, he dedicated himself to rebuilding the little community as a colonia. The contemporary community that was replaced with the new construction was so insignificant that one author states that the city can be considered to have been built on virgin soil, making it the last of the Roman cities founded in the East. [1]

The city was renamed, becoming Philippopolis, and was dedicated to the emperor. The emperor is said to have wanted to turn his native city into a replica of Rome herself. A hexagonal-style temple and an open-air place of worship of local style, called a kalybe, a triumphal arch, baths, a theatre lacking ornamentation, but faced with stark basalt blocks,[2] a large structure that has been interpreted as a basilica, and the Philippeion (illustration, right) surrounded by a great wall with ceremonial gates,[3] were laid out and built following the grid plan of a typical Roman city.

The public structures formed what author Arthur Segal has called a kind of "imported facade". The rest of the urban architecture was modest and vernacular.[4] The city was never completed—building stopped abruptly after the death of Philip in 249.

The new city followed the extremely regular Roman grid-plan, with the main colonnaded cardus maximus intersecting a colonnaded decumanus maximus at right angles near the center, lesser streets marked off insulae, many of which never were built upon with the houses originally planned.

Because it was far from population centers that would have required cut stone for building and might have quarried it from those deserted in Philippopolis, Shahba today contains well-preserved ruins of the ancient Roman city.

A museum located in the city exhibits some beautiful examples of Roman mosaics.[5] The especially rich iconography of the figurative mosaic on the theme, The Glory of the Earth, discovered in 1952 in the so-called "Maison Aoua", is conserved today in the museum of Damascus and has proved a rich resource for iconographers.[6]

The relatively well-preserved Roman bridge at Nimreh is located in the vicinity.


  1. ^ Arthur Segal, "Roman Cities in the Province of Arabia" The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 40.2 (May 1981:108-121) p. 111.
  2. ^ This, the last of the Syrian theatres, was examined in a detailed monograph by Pierre Coupel and Edmond Frézouls, Le Theatre de Philippopolis en Arabie (Paris, 1956); an extended review by John Eames in The Journal of Roman Studies 50.1/2 (1960:273-274) serves as an abstract of it.
  3. ^ Nabatean capitals at the southern gate documented the continuing cultural influence of Nabateans in the region, long after their political influence succumbed to Roman hegemony (Segal 1981:118).
  4. ^ Segal 1981:108; the architectural vocabulary of Philippopolis is discussed in pages
  5. ^ Philipapolis [sic, Syra]
  6. ^ The literature is summarized in Marie-Henriette Quet, "Le Triptolème de la mosaïque dite d'Aiôn et l'affirmation identitaire héllène à Shahba-Philippopolis" Syria 77 (2000), pp. 181-200

Coordinates: 32°51′15″N 36°37′45″E / 32.85417°N 36.62917°E / 32.85417; 36.62917



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