Set against the towering cone of an extinct volcano just to the north, the town of Shahba lies 87 kilometers south of Damascus and, in modern times, has served as home to an almost entirely Druze community. In the third century CE, the village was home to a young boy named Philip, who went on to become emperor of the entire Roman Empire. Known in many records as “Philip the Arab” for his position in history as one of the only Arab emperors of the Roman Empire, Philip worked to elevate the position of his hometown after rising to power, magnanimously renaming the town Philippopolis and commissioning the construction of the Philippeion, an ornate temple in honor of his father, whom he had officially deified.

Development of Philippopolis was carried out in celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Rome. The town was built into a square-shaped, walled city, its four walls oriented toward the four points of the compass. Within the city walls, streets were laid out in an orderly grid pattern typical of Roman towns at that time. Though relatively little is known about the particulars of life in Philippopolis, archaeologists have learned of the town’s history through examination of a number of key ruins, including the Philippeion; a small theater, one of the last of its kind built by Romans in the eastern stretches of their empire; and four elaborate mosaic panels portraying scenes from classical mythology.

Philippopolis never reached the glorious heights Philip had planned, however. The emperor was killed before the city was completed and subsequently fell into neglect. Development projects were abandoned when less than half of the walled city had actually been built, and very few lived in the town until the nineteenth century brought an influx of Druze to the region from Lebanon.

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