Shivta, a Byzantine town settled in the 5th century and abandoned in the 8th or 9th century C. E., occupies an area of about 20 acres in the Negev desert 43 kilometers southwest of Beer-Sheva. Remains of terraces, dams, and other agricultural structures indicate that the town, which was far from the trade routes, existed mainly on agriculture. Examination of the town today shows that Shivta's three churches were the source of influence and authority not only in matters of religion and worship, but also apparently in the public, administrative, and economic life of the town. It appears, further, that Shivta, as it was built, offers nothing unique in comparison to other, similarly situated towns of the same period in Roman and Byzantine Palestine and the neighboring regions. Lacking an urban tradition, its inhabitants evidently were unconcerned with aesthetic values in town building. Shivta developed spontaneously, without a guiding hand or any effort to create a monumental emphasis.
Each of the four cities considered in this study-Philadelphia, Gerasa, Bostra, and Philippopolis-presents its own individual urban growth and development. The specific planning of each city and the forces that formed their different urban natures are addressed. Particular stress is placed on the original planning solutions put to use within them, compared to the traditional forms then dominant. By outlining the urban architectural factors these cities had in common, it can be seen that the cities still embody architectural forms similar to one another, despite developmental, cultural, and historical differences.