Antioch on the Orontes (Greek: Αντιόχεια η επί Δάφνη, Αντιόχεια ή επί Ορόντου or Αντιόχεια η Μεγάλη), the Great Antioch or Syrian Antioch was an ancient city located on the eastern side (left bank) of the Orontes River about 20 miles from the sea and its port, Seleucia of Pieria (Suedia, now Samandagi). The city's ruins are located in Antakya, Turkey.
It was founded as a Greek city near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, who made it the capital of his empire in Syria. Seleucus I had served as one of Alexander the Great's generals, and the name Antiochus occurred frequently amongst members of his family.
Many other cities within the Seleucid Empire were also named Antioch, most of them founded by Seleucus I Nicator. It is said of Seleucus I Nicator that "few princes have ever lived with so great a passion for the building of cities. He is reputed to have built in all nine Seleucias, sixteen Antiochs, and six Laodiceas".
Antioch was destined to rival Alexandria in Egypt as the chief city of the nearer East and to be the cradle of gentile Christianity.
The geographical character of the district north and north-east of the elbow of Orontes makes it the natural centre of Syria, so long as that country is held by a western power; and only Asiatic, and especially Arab, dynasties have neglected it for the oasis of Damascus. The two easiest routes from the Mediterranean, lying through the Orontes gorge and the Beilan Pass, converge in the plain of the Antioch Lake (Balük Geut or El Bahr) and are met there by
the road from the Amanic Gates (Baghche Pass) and western Commagene, which descends the valley of the Kara Su,
the roads from eastern Commagene and the Euphratean crossings at Samosata (Samsat) and Apamea Zeugma (Birejik), which descend the valleys of the Afrin and the Kuwaik, and
the road from the Euphratean ford at Thapsacus, which skirts the fringe of the Syrian steppe. Travellers by all these roads must proceed south by the single route of the Orontes valley.
History of Antioch
The site appears not to have been found wholly uninhabited. A settlement, Meroe, boasting a shrine of Anait, called by the Greeks the "Persian Artemis," had long been located there, and was ultimately included in the eastern suburbs of the new city; and there seems to have been a village on the spur (Mt. Silpius), of which we hear in late authors under the name Io, or Iopolis. This name was always adduced as evidence by Antiochenes (e.g. Libanius) anxious to affiliate themselves to the Attic Ionians--an anxiety which is illustrated by the Athenian types used on the city's coins. At any rate, Io may have been a small early colony of trading Greeks (Javan). John Malalas mentions also a village, Bottia, in the plain by the river.
Alexander the Great is said to have camped on the site of Antioch, and dedicated an altar to Zeus Bottiaeus, which lay in the northwest of the future city. But the first western sovereign practically to recognize the importance of the district was Antigonus, who began to build a city, Antigonia, on the Kara Su a few miles north of the situation of Antioch; but, on his defeat, he left it to serve as a quarry for his rival Seleucus.
The latter is said to have appealed to augury to determine the exact site of his projected foundation; but less fantastic considerations went far to settle it. To build south of the river, and on and under the last east spur of Casius, was to have security against invasion from the north, and command of the abundant waters of the mountain. One torrent, the Onopniktes ("donkey-drowner"), flowed through the new city, and many other streams came down a few miles west into the beautiful suburb of Daphne.
The original city of Seleucus was laid out in imitation of the "gridiron" plan of Alexandria by the architect, Xenarius. Libanius describes the first building and arrangement of this city (i. p. 300. 17). The citadel was on Mt. Silpius and the city lay mainly on the low ground to the north, fringing the river. Two great colonnaded streets intersected in the centre. Shortly afterwards a second quarter was laid out, probably on the east and by Antiochus I, which, from an expression of Strabo, appears to have been the native, as contrasted with the Greek, town. It was enclosed by a wall of its own. In the Orontes, north of the city, lay a large island, and on this Seleucus II Callinicus began a third walled "city," which was finished by Antiochus III. A fourth and last quarter was added by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BC); and thenceforth Antioch was known as Tetrapolis. From west to east the whole was about 4 miles in diameter and little less from north to south, this area including many large gardens. Of its population in the Greek and Classical Roman period we know nothing certain, but it is generally estimated at over 500,000 people living in 15 square kilometers by the 1st century, making it the third largest city in the empire. In the 4th century, it was about 200,000 according to Chrysostom, who probably did not reckon slaves.
About 4 miles west and beyond the suburb Heraclea lay the paradise of Daphne, a park of woods and waters, in the midst of which rose a great temple to the Pythian Apollo, also founded by Seleucus I and enriched with a cult-statue of the god, as Musagetes, by Bryaxis. A companion sanctuary of Hecate was constructed underground by Diocletian. The beauty and the lax morals of Daphne were celebrated all over the western world; and indeed Antioch as a whole shared in both these titles to fame. Its amenities awoke both the enthusiasm and the scorn of many writers of antiquity.
Antioch became the capital and court-city of the western Seleucid empire under Antiochus I, its counterpart in the east being Seleucia on the Tigris; but its paramount importance dates from the battle of Ancyra (240 BC), which shifted the Seleucid centre of gravity from Asia Minor, and led indirectly to the rise of Pergamum.
Thenceforward the Seleucids resided at Antioch and treated it as their capital par excellence. We know little of it in the Greek period, apart from Syria, all our information coming from authors of the late Roman time. Among its great Greek buildings we hear only of the theatre, of which substructures still remain on the flank of Silpius, and of the royal palace, probably situated on the island. It enjoyed a great reputation for letters and the arts (Cicero pro Archia, 3); but the only names of distinction in these pursuits during the Seleucid period, that have come down to us, are Apollophanes, the Stoic, and one Phoebus, a writer on dreams. The mass of the population seems to have been only superficially Hellenic, and to have spoken Aramaic in non-official life. The nicknames which they gave to their later kings were Aramaic; and, except Apollo and Daphne, the great divinities of north Syria seem to have remained essentially native, such as the "Persian Artemis" of Meroe and Atargatis of Hierapolis Bambyce.
We may infer, from its epithet, "Golden," that the external appearance of Antioch was magnificent; but the city needed constant restoration owing to the seismic disturbances to which the district has always been peculiarly liable. The first great earthquake is said by the native chronicler John Malalas, who tells us most that we know of the city, to have occurred in 148 BC, and to have done immense damage.
The inhabitants were turbulent, fickle and notoriously dissolute. In the many dissensions of the Seleucid house they took violent part, and frequently rose in rebellion, for example against Alexander Balas in 147 BC, and Demetrius II in 129 BC. The latter, enlisting a body of Jews, punished his capital with fire and sword. In the last struggles of the Seleucid house, Antioch turned definitely against its feeble rulers, invited Tigranes of Armenia to occupy the city in 83 BC, tried to unseat Antiochus XIII in 65 BC, and petitioned Rome against his restoration in the following year. Its wish prevailed, and it passed with Syria to the Roman Republic in 64 BC, but remained a civitas libera.
The Romans both felt and expressed boundless contempt for the hybrid Antiochenes; but their emperors favoured the city from the first, seeing in it a more suitable capital for the eastern part of the empire than Alexandria could ever be, thanks to the isolated position of Egypt. To a certain extent they tried to make it an eastern Rome. Caesar visited it in 47 BC, and confirmed its freedom. A great temple to Jupiter Capitolinus rose on Silpius, probably at the instance of Octavian, whose cause the city had espoused. A forum of Roman type was laid out. Tiberius built two long colonnades on the south towards Silpius. Agrippa and Tiberius enlarged the theatre, and Trajan finished their work. Antoninus Pius paved the great east to west artery with granite. A circus, other colonnades and great numbers of baths were built, and new aqueducts to supply them bore the names of Caesars, the finest being the work of Hadrian. The Roman client, King Herod, erected a long stoa on the east, and Agrippa encouraged the growth of a new suburb south of this.
The chief events recorded under the empire are the earthquakes that shook Antioch. One, in AD 37, caused the emperor Caligula to send two senators to report on the condition of the city. Another followed in the next reign; and in 115, during Trajan's sojourn in the place with his army of Parthia, the whole site was convulsed, the landscape altered, and the emperor himself forced to take shelter in the circus for several days. He and his successor restored the city; but in 526, after minor shocks, the calamity returned in a terrible form; the octagonal cathedral which had been erected by the emperor Constantius II suffered and thousands of lives were lost, largely those of Christians gathered to a great church assembly. Especially terrific earthquakes on November 29, 528 and October 31, 588 are also recorded.
At Antioch Germanicus died in AD 19, and his body was burnt in the forum. Titus set up the Cherubim, captured from the Jewish temple, over one of the gates. Commodus had Olympic games celebrated at Antioch, and in 266 the town was suddenly raided by the Persians, who slew many in the theatre. In 387 there was a great sedition caused by a new tax levied by order of Theodosius, and the city was punished by the loss of its metropolitan status. Zeno, who renamed it Theopolis, restored many of its public buildings just before the great earthquake of 526, whose destructive work was completed by the Persian king, Khosrau I, twelve years later. Justinian I made an effort to revive it, and Procopius describes his repairing of the walls; but its glory was past.
Early Christian-Byzantine period
The chief interest of Antioch under the empire lies in its relation to Christianity. Evangelized perhaps by Peter, according to the tradition upon which the Antiochene patriarchate still rests its claim for primacy (cf. Acts xi.), and certainly by Barnabas and Paul, who here preached his first Christian sermon in a synagogue, its converts were the first to be called Christians (Acts 11:26).
They multiplied exceedingly, and by the time of Theodosius were reckoned by Chrysostom at about 100,000 souls. Between 252 and 300, ten assemblies of the church were held at Antioch and it became the seat of one of the four original patriarchates, along with Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Rome (see Pentarchy). Today Antioch remains the seat of a patriarchate of the Oriental Orthodox churches. One of the canonical Eastern Orthodox churches is still called the Antiochian Orthodox Church, although it moved its headquarters from Antioch to Damascus, Syria, several centuries ago (see list of Patriarchs of Antioch), and its prime bishop retains the title "Patriarch of Antioch," somewhat analogous to the manner in which several Popes, heads of the Roman Catholic Church remained "Bishop of Rome" even while residing in Avignon, France in the 14th Century.
When Julian visited the place in 362 the impudent population railed at him for his favour to Jewish and pagan rites, and to revenge itself for the closing of its great church of Constantine, burned down the temple of Apollo in Daphne. The emperor's rough and severe habits and his rigid administration prompted Antiochene lampoons, to which he replied in the curious satiric apologia, still extant, which he called Misopogon. His successor, Valens, who endowed Antioch with a new forum having a statue of Valentinian on a central column, reopened the great church, which stood till the sack of Chosroes in 538.
Antioch gave its name to a certain school of Christian thought, distinguished by literal interpretation of the Scriptures and insistence on the human limitations of Jesus. Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia were the leaders of this school. The principal local saint was Simeon Stylites, who performed his penance on a hill some 40 miles east. His body was brought to the city and buried in a building erected under the emperor Leo.
In 638, during the reign of Heraclius, Antioch passed into Saracen hands, and (as Arabic أنطاكيّة Antākiyyah) decayed apace for more than 300 years; but in 969 it was recovered for the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas by Michael Burza and Peter the Eunuch. In 1084, the Seljuk Turks captured it, but held it only fourteen years, yielding place to the Crusaders, who besieged it for nine months during the First Crusade, enduring frightful sufferings. Being at last betrayed, it was given to Bohemund, prince of Tarentum, and it remained the capital of the Latin Principality of Antioch for nearly two centuries. It fell at last to the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan Baibars, in 1268, after another siege. Together with the fact that large ships could no longer enter the Orontes because too much sand had accumulated in the river bed over the centuries, that meant it was never to become a major city again, with much of its former role falling to the port city of Alexandretta (Iskenderun).
Little remains now of the ancient city, except colossal ruins of aqueducts and part of the Roman walls, which are used as quarries for modern Antakya; but no scientific examination of the site has been made. A statue in the Vatican and a silver statuette in the British Museum perpetuate the type of its great effigy of the civic Fortune of Antioch--a majestic seated figure, with Orontes as a youth issuing from under her feet.