Shahba (شهبا‎) aka Philippopolis

Shahba (شهبا‎) aka Philippopolis


Location: 87 km South of Damascus, As-Suwayda Governorate Map

Known for: home town of Roman emperor Phillip the Arab

Shahba aka Philippopolis is situated 87 km South of Damascus, As-Suwayda Governorate in Syria. Shahba became known as a home town for future Roman emperor who became known as Phillip the Arab.


History of Shahba

The original name of the city that developed from an oasis is unknown. An inscription from the time of Marcus Aurelius proves that Shahba belonged to the province of Syria in the 2nd century; However, in the 3rd century (possibly during the provincial reform of Septimius Severus) the town was added to the province of Arabia. Her name at this time is not known and no other sources from the era before 244 exist. However, it has been considered that the later name Shahba contains elements of the original place name.

When the Arab-born Philippus became emperor, he renamed the city Philippopolis and, soon after taking office, began to rebuild it into an exemplary Roman-style colonia. It is therefore assumed that the place was his hometown. He gave the city the right to mint its own coins and a local calendar (city era) was introduced. In addition, the road from Bostra to Damascus was routed via Philippopolis. The city had the typical rectangular shape of ancient planned settlements and was crossed by two streets that met at right angles, the Cardo and the Decumanus. It thus clearly represented the type of Roman city in stark contrast to the other cities in the region, which predominantly had a more confusing, naturally developed street network. A city wall with four large and two smaller gates delimited the area. An exedra building and a temple were found in a square in the west of the city. The latter is called Philippeion, but served to worship a god named Marinus (apparently the deified father of Philip). In addition, remains of a theater building, a building that was probably used as a temple (of which only the pillars of the Propylon remain) and a large thermal baths area with an aqueduct have been preserved. A square in the center of the city is interpreted as a forum, the basilica to the west of it as a center of imperial cult. Aerial photographs also revealed a stadium.

Philip's energetic push for the establishment of a completely new city bearing his name is interpreted as a political message of great symbolic value. With this package of measures, the emperor appears to have attempted to subsequently enhance his provincial origins, which were often perceived as exotic in the empire. At the same time, however, it represented a demonstration of Roman power and culture in the border province of Arabia, which was probably aimed at both the local population and the nearby Sassanid Empire as Rome's great rival.

When Philip died after only five years of reign, construction work was stopped. The ruins that remain today date almost entirely from the mid-3rd century and entire planned city districts were not completed. The city's coinage also apparently stopped. Nevertheless, the place remained populated: a councilor (member of the Bule) is documented in an inscription from the 3rd century, and a Hormisdas for the year 451 and a Basilios for 552/553 are attested as bishops of the city.

In later Arab times the city received its current name. Based on the inscriptions found there, William Henry Waddington was able to prove in 1870 that Shahba was actually ancient Philippopolis.


Presence of Christianity and Christians in Shahba


An early Christian symbol of a fish or "iχθύς" in Greek is an acronym for Χριστός, Θεοu Υiός, Σωτήρ (Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior). In time of pagan persecutions this was the only to evade capture and certain death.


Church history

Around 300, the city became the suffragan diocese of the metropolitan archbishop of Bostra (now Bosra), the capital of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea, under the authority of the Antiochian Patriarchate. In this capacity he is mentioned in the Byzantine Notitiae Episcopatuum of the 6th century.

Two bishops are historically documented:
Hormisdas intervened at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Vasily, the mention dates back to 553.

Around the year 1000, under Muslim rule, the city had a titular Catholic see, which was suppressed as a valid see, but nominally retained (or later restored) as the Latin Titular bishopric of Philippopolis Curiata; in 1926 renamed Filippopoli d'Arabia). In 1933 it was renamed Philippopolis in Arabia (not to be confused with Philippopolis in Thrace - now Bulgarian Plovdiv).

It has been empty for decades, having the following officials, mostly corresponding to the episcopal (lowest) rank, with the exception of archbishops:
Titular Archbishop: Henri de Villars (1652-1663.05.27) as Coadjutor Archbishop of Vienna (France) (1652-1663.05.27); the next succeeded as Metropolitan Archbishop of Vienna (1663.05.27 - death 1693.12.27)
Troiano Acquaviva d'Aragona (1729.04.18 - 1730.08.14) as prefect of the prefecture of the Holy Apostolic Palaces (1729.07.06 - ?); later appointed titular archbishop of Larisa (1730.08.14 - 1732.10.01), appointed cardinal priest of St. Chirico e Giulitta (1732.11.17 - 1733.01.19), transferred to Cardinal-Priest S. Cecilia (1733.01.19 - 1747.03.20 death), Metropolitan Archbishop of Monreale (Sicily, Italy) (1739.05.04 - 1747.03.20), Camerlengo Sacred College of Cardinals (1744.02.03 - resigned 1745.01.25)
Giovanni Battista Giampe (1740.12.19 - 1764.05.10), without valid prelature
José Tomas Mazarraza y Rivas (1885.02.21 - death 1907.03.11) as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Ciudad Rodrigo (Spain) (1885.03.27 - 1907.03.11)
George Gauthier (1912.06.28 - 1923.04.05) as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal (Quebec, Canada) (1912.06.28 - 1923.04.05) and Apostolic Administrator of Montreal (1921.10.18 - 1939.09.20); then appointed Titular Archbishop of Farona (1923.04.05 - 1939.09.20) as coadjutor of the Archbishop of Montreal (1923.04.05 - 1939.09.20), succeeding Metropolitan Archbishop of Montreal (1939.09.20 - death 1940.08.31)
Titular Archbishop: Ignacy Maria Dubovsky (Lithuanian) (1925.06.01 - death 1953.03.10) as emeritus (and promotion); formerly Apostolic Administrator of the Kamenets-Podolsk Diocese (Ukraine) (1916.10.16 - 1918) and Bishop of Lutsk and Zhitomir (Ukraine) (1916.10.16 - 1925.06.01)
Antonio Ravagli (1955.07.04 - 1960.08.30) as coadjutor bishop of Larino (Italy) (1955.07.04 - 1959) and as coadjutor bishop of Modigliana (Italy) (1959-1960.08.30); then succeeded as Bishop of Modigliana (1960.08.30 - 1970.04.30), as well as auxiliary bishop of Faenza (Italy) (1967-1970.04.30), then titular bishop of Montecorvino (1970.04.30 - 1981.12.14) as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese Florence (Florence, Italy) (1970.04.30 - death 1981.12.14)
Giovanni Colombo (1960.10.25 - 1963.08.10) as Auxiliary Bishop of Milan (Milan, Italy) (1960.10.25 - 1963.08.10); then he was replaced by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Milan (1963.08.10 - resignation 1979.12.29), appointed cardinal priest of St. Silvestro and Martino ai Monti (1965.02.25 - death 1992.05.20).



Shahba has a cold semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSk).