Philadelphia of the Decapolis (The other Philadelphia in New Testament times)
and Rabbah of the Ammonites (Old Testament)

The main public theater in Amman. The seating area is in great shape for all three levels.
Notice the small building just outside (upper left) which was a private theater (more photos elsewhere in article)

Another view of this large theater, looking down from the top center where there
is also a gate allowing entrance from the top


Philadelphia is a city of the Decapolis located on the eastern side of the Jordan River, approximately 40 miles (64 km) NE of the Dead Sea. It was the most southern of the Decapolis cities, which are mentioned in association with the ministry of Jesus. As most of the necessary general information regarding these cities is already in another article; we recommend you take the time to read the main Decapolis article. Located on a plateau in a hilly area (often referred to as mountains - "jebal") it has a pleasant climate year round (nighttime in winter around zero C, or 32 F; summer eighty's to mid nineties but with low humidity).

Not the Philadelphia of Revelation

This Philadelphia which was near Israel, during New Testament times, is not to be confused with the Philadelphia directly mentioned in the Bible. In Revelation 1:11 and Revelation 3:7, John writes to a Philadelphia (modern Alasehir), located 20 miles (32 km) east of Sardis in Anatolia (Asia Minor). Besides the name, both cities shared the fact that they were Hellenistic cities. John's referenced city got its' name in the second century B.C., in honor of their founder King Attalus of Pergamum, whose surname Philadelphus meant "loyal to his brother [Eumenes]."1 In other words, it was the city of "brotherly love". The Decapolis Philadelphia arrived at its name through similar meaning, but not quite in way acceptable to modern norms. It was in honor of Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt (lived circa 309-246 B.C., ruled 282-246 B.C., coregent with father for about 3 years prior). The surname more properly belonged to his sister (Arisnoe II), whom he married, but commonly was applied to distinguish him from other Ptolemy's. Marriage to one's sister was a longstanding royal Egyptian custom. Therefore the word Philadelphus was specifically derived from two words "lover [philos] or her brother [adelphos]".1

The history of Philadelphia begins a few thousand years before the time of Jesus. From at least the fourteenth century B.C., its original name was Rabbath Ammon (alt. Rabat Amon, Rabbat Ammon), or Rabbah of the Ammonites as found in the Bible. As the capital city of the Ammonites it is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. The earliest reference is made at the time of the conquests of Joshua, following the Exodus...

Deuteronomy 3:10-11 We took all the towns on the plateau, and all Gilead, and all Bashan as far as Salecah and Edrei, towns of Og's kingdom in Bashan. 11 (Only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites.) (NIV)

In the days of king David (circa 1000-961 B.C.), the Ammonites rebuffed David's gesture of friendship and made an alliance with the Arameans to attack Israel. The starting place for gathering their troops was at the city gate, which would be at Rabbah.

2 Samuel 10:6-8 When the Ammonites realized that they had become a stench in David's nostrils, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maacah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob. 7 On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. 8 The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance to their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maacah were by themselves in the open country. (NIV)

A second passage of Scriptures makes it clear that it was the Ammonites who gathered at their capital city gates, with other troops as far away in the countryside as Madaba (to the southwest).

1 Chronicles 19:6-9 When the Ammonites realized that they had become a stench in David's nostrils, Hanun and the Ammonites sent a thousand talents of silver to hire chariots and charioteers from Aram Naharaim, Aram Maacah and Zobah. 7 They hired thirty-two thousand chariots and charioteers, as well as the king of Maacah with his troops, who came and camped near Medeba, while the Ammonites were mustered from their towns and moved out for battle. 8 On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. 9 The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance to their city, while the kings who had come were by themselves in the open country. (NIV)

Later, with the Ammonites having lost their foreign help (2 Samuel 10:19), the Israel defeated the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah itself. This battle took place without King David, who remained in Jerusalem, and who subsequently seduced Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. In his attempts to cover up his sin, David subsequently sent Uriah to the front lines of the siege at Rabbah where he was abandoned to an untimely death.

2 Samuel 11:1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. (NIV)

2 Samuel 11:14-17 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die." 16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David's army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. (NIV)


When the fortress of Rabbah subsequently fell, David was present and made a public show of subduing the nation, including consigning captives to forced labor.

2 Samuel 12:26-31 Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel. 27 Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, "I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. 28 Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it. Otherwise I will take the city, and it will be named after me." 29 So David mustered the entire army and went to Rabbah, and attacked and captured it. 30 He took the crown from the head of their king-its weight was a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones - and it was placed on David's head. He took a great quantity of plunder from the city 31 and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brickmaking. He did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then David and his entire army returned to Jerusalem. (NIV) [See also 1 Chronicles 20:1-3]

Even the act of subjecting some of the captured to forced labor must have been considered merciful by the Ammonites (relative to what often happened following capture by foreign forces). Years following, when David had to flee Jerusalem because of his son Absalom, it was a citizen of Rabbah that graciously helped David and his people - certainly not the act of someone who felt they had been wronged in any way. In fact, if they had been seeking freedom, the turmoil in Israel would have been a prime opportunity to rebel.

2 Samuel 17:27-29 When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim 28 brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, 29 honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows' milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, "The people have become hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert." (NIV)

In the following centuries, Rabbah continued to be a regional center and ultimately a thorn in the side of Israel. By the mid eighth century B.C., God had the prophet Amos pronounce an oracle against it.

Amos 1:13-15 This is what the Lord says: "For three sins of Ammon, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders, 14 I will set fire to the walls of Rabbah that will consume her fortresses amid war cries on the day of battle, amid violent winds on a stormy day. 15 Her king will go into exile, he and his officials together," says the Lord. (NIV)

Later, Jeremiah and Ezekiel added additional prophetic condemnations. Though Israel (specifically Judah) was about to go into exile, this message of hope was given through Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 49:2 But the days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will sound the battle cry against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it will become a mound of ruins, and its surrounding villages will be set on fire.Then Israel will drive out those who drove her out," says the Lord. (NIV)

Ezekiel's message states that even as Judah will be conquered, so too will Rabbah.

Ezekiel 21:20-23 Mark out one road for the sword to come against Rabbah of the Ammonites and another against Judah and fortified Jerusalem. 21 For the king of Babylon will stop at the fork in the road, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen: He will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver. 22 Into his right hand will come the lot for Jerusalem, where he is to set up battering rams, to give the command to slaughter, to sound the battle cry, to set battering rams against the gates, to build a ramp and to erect siege works. 23 It will seem like a false omen to those who have sworn allegiance to him, but he will remind them of their guilt and take them captive. (NIV)

A few chapters later the specific reason is given for God's judgment on Rabbah and the Ammonites; they rejoiced in what was happening to Israel.

Ezekiel 25:5-7 I will turn Rabbah into a pasture for camels and Ammon into a resting place for sheep. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 6 For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet, rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, 7 therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations. I will cut you off from the nations and exterminate you from the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the Lord.'" (NIV)

In the years that followed, Rabbah was conquered by the Assyrians, later by the Persians, and then the Greeks (Hellenistic), setting the stage for the aforementioned name change to Philadelphia. During the rule of its namesake, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, both the old and new name appeared to have still been in use. The Egyptian official Zenon, who visited circa 259-258 B.C., referred to it by a variant of Rabbah (Rhabbatamana) in his records.

Changes in who controlled the region surrounding the city did not change the Hellenistic characteristics that made it a Decapolis city. Antiochus III, Seleucid king of the Hellenistic Syrian Empire from 223 to 187 B.C., captured Philadelphia in 218 B.C. but did not fully control the area until his final defeat of Ptolemaic forces at the battle of Panion in 198 B.C. The Nabatean kingdom controlled the region including Philadelphia for much of the following period, until the Romans finally gained full control. Notably, the Roman client king Herod (the Great), decisively defeated the Nabateans (Malichus I) in 31 B.C. near Philadelphia. During the first revolt of the Jews (circa 66-70 A.D.), Philadelphia was opposed and hostile to the Jewish rebels. By 106 A.D. Philadelphia was detached from the province of Syria and assigned to a new Roman province of Arabia.

Philadelphia became the seat of a Christian bishop sometime in the third century, and was represented at the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), the Synod of Antioch (341 A.D.) and later the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.). History records the martyrdom of a number of Christians in the city, especially in the reign of the emperor Diocletian (circa 284-305 A.D.). Four ancient churches have been excavated including ruins of a church from the Byzantine era which can be seen at the ancient citadel of the city (see photos far below).

In 635 A.D. the city fell to the Muslims. The city was once again renamed, in honor of its original roots, Amman (remember the old name was Rabbah of Ammon). While it was, for a time, a significant Muslim city, a progressive decline, hastened by several earthquakes, saw the city reduced to being an insignificant village in the centuries which followed. Its modern transformation, from a little village, into the city of today began in 1887. At this time the Turkish government settled a colony of Circassians there to serve as their local police force. The Ottoman Sultan's railway linking Damascus to Medina, both for trade and the annual Haj pilgrimage, turned Amman into a major station and a commercially viable city. In 1921, Abdullah I chose Amman as the seat of government for the newly created state of the Emirate of Transjordan, in accordance with the British Mandate. With full independence, in 1950 it became the capital city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.


Amman's small private theater (just outside of large public one, see top photos)

Inside Amman's small private theater

Looking down at the stage in the small private theater.


The focal point of the ancient city was the imposing citadel overlooking Wadi Amman. The Roman city was located in the valley below, as is the modern city which as spread to surrounding hills as well. The upper walls of the Acropolis have been dated to the mid 17th century B.C., prior to the time of the Exodus.

Looking along the top of the wall of the Acroplois of Amman

A view of how the Acropolis wall has been added to and changed over many generations

Ruins of a late Bronze Age temple have been found near the Amman airfield (during its expansion in 1955), quite a distance (275 meters, 300 yards) from the original settlement.

Many Iron Age ruins (especially 8th - 7th centuries B.C.) have been found on the upper terrace of the acropolis.

Ruins of a high place of Milcom were found in the middle terrace of the upper city, below the ruins of a Hadrianic temple.

Part of the terraces going down from the Acroplois of Amman (looking away from the highest point of the Acropolis)

More of the terraces, looking upwards toward the high point of the Acropolis

View of the two theaters of Amman looking down from the terraces


Hellenistic ruins include the citadel wall built of multi-ribbed blocks of dry masonry and an underground water reservoir at the northern end of the citadel. Additionally many Roman ruins exist, including at the citadel.

Ruins of a Roman Temple

Pillars from the Roman temple, where fallen.

Looking up to the largest still standing section of this Roman temple


An aerial view of the acropolis of Amman, before restoration was begun on the Umayyad Palace, followed by a layout map and key.

Umayyad (Muslim) Palace

Buildings surrounding the open cistern

Open cistern

Open cistern - with people for perspective, palace in rear

More buildings aroung the open cistern, near outer wall

More buildings aroung the open cistern


Umayyad (Muslim) Palace - Domed Vestibule

Umayyad (Muslim) Palace - Domed Vestibule inside slightly left

Umayyad (Muslim) Palace - Domed Vestibule inside to left

Umayyad Rahba (Square)


Sarcophagus lining the parking lot at Acropolis of Amman

Bronze age tombs found on the Acropolis


Ruins of a Byzantine church on the Acropolis of Amman - People for perspective of size

View from opposite side of Byzantine church

View inside Byzantine church side room


A series of Ammonite watchtowers (Rujm Al-Malfouf), dating as far back as the time of King David, were found outside of ancient Amman. They are located 1, 5 and 24 km, from downtown modern Amman. The north tower is completely surrounded by modern Amman, as can be seen in the photos below. Elements of this tower complex date to Iron Age II, while others are as late as the Roman/Byzantine era showing that they had long and varied use. Speculations as to this usage include as watchtowers or defensive positions for agricultural areas, perhaps changing purposes over time.

Rujm Al-Malfouf (north) Ammonite Tower.
Photo from Department of Antiquities building next to it (copyright unknown)

The round Ammonite tower of Rujm Al-Malfouf (north) - 22 meter diameter.

Panarama view of inside top of the tower, which is preserved to a height of 5.5 meters.
Taken at top on opposite side of photo above this one.
Click on image for a larger view (use browser back button to return).

Ruins of the complex beside the tower (Department of Antiquities building in background left)

Looking down from the tower

Again, looking down from the tower - Angie for perspective of size

Tower Complex Layout

Many small rooms, with crawl through doorways

More than one floor of rooms


1. The meanings and origins of these names are found in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, Copyright © 1979 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., articles consulted include "Philadelphia" and "Ptolemy".


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