Greek city of Antioch in SYRIA, Seleucis and
Bronze Dichalkon 17mm (5.50 grams) Dated Year 27 of
the Actian Era (5/4 B.C.)
Reference: McAlee 91(a); RPC I 4253; RARE
Turreted, draped, and veiled bust of Tyche right.
Tripod-lebes containing three laurel branches; sides of bowl
decorated with faces in profile; Z-K across field; ANTIOXE?N /
MHTPO?O???? behind; AYTONOMOY before.
Similar coin in VF realized $800 Classical
Numismatic Group > Electronic Auction 200
One of the most celebrated cities of Antiquity,
Antiocheia on the Orontes was founded by Seleukos in 300 B.C. It
was the royal capital of Seleukid Syria and in the1st century B.C.
became the capital of the Roman province of Syria.
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Antioch on the Orontes (Greek: ?????????
? ??? ?????, ????????? ? ??? ??????? or ????????? ? ??????;
Latin: Antiochia ad Orontem; also Great Antioch
or Syrian Antioch; Arabic:???????) was an ancient city on
the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of
Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by
Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch
eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the Near East
and was a cradle of gentile Christianity. It was one of the four cities of
the Syrian tetrapolis. Its residents were known as
Location of Antioch, in present Turkey.
Two routes from the Mediterranean, lying through the Orontes gorge
and the Beilan Pass, converge in the plain of the Antioch Lake (Bal?k 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
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. A single route proceeds south in the Orontes
The settlement of Meroe pre-dated
Antioch. A shrine of Anat, called by the Greeks the "Persian
Artemis," was located here. This site was included in the eastern
suburbs of Antioch. There was a village on the spur of Mount
Silpius named or Iopolis. This name was always adduced as
evidence by Antiochenes (e.g. Libanius) anxious to affiliate themselves to
the Attic Ionians--an eagerness which is illustrated by
the Athenian types used on the city's coins. Io may have been a
small early colony of trading Greeks (Javan). John Malalas mentions also an archaic village,
Bottia, in the plain by the river.
According to most of the writers, this is the
city that is mentioned in the Quran 36:13.
Foundation by Seleucus I
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. This account is found only in the
writings of Libanius, a 4th century AD orator from Antioch, and may
be legend intended to enhance Antioch's status. But the story is
not unlikely in itself.
After Alexander's death in 323 BC, his generals
divided up the territory he had conquered. Seleucus I Nicator won the territory of Syria,
and he proceeded to found four "sister cities" in northwestern
Syria, one of which was Antioch. Like the other three, Antioch was
named by Seleucus for a member of his family. He is reputed to have
built sixteen Antiochs.
Seleucus founded Antioch on a site chosen
through ritual means. An eagle, the bird of Zeus, had been given a piece of sacrificial
meat and the city was founded on the site to which the eagle
carried the offering. He did this in the twelfth year of his reign.
Antioch soon rose above Seleucia Pieria to become the Syrian
The original city of Seleucus was laid out in
imitation of the grid
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 6 km in diameter and little less from
north to south, this area including many large gardens.
The new city was populated by a mix of local
settlers that Athenians brought from the nearby city of Antigonia,
Macedonians, and Jews (who were given full status from the
beginning). The total free population of Antioch at its foundation
has been estimated at between 17,000 and 25,000, not including
slaves and native settlers. During the late Hellenistic period and
Early Roman period, Antioch population reached its peak of over
500,000 inhabitants (estimates vary from 400,000 to 600,000) and
was the third largest city in the world after Rome and Alexandria.
By the 4th century, Antioch's declining population was about
200,000 according to Chrysostom, a figure which again does not
About 6 km 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
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.
The Seleucids reigned from Antioch. We know
little of it in the Hellenistic 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 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.
The epithet, "Golden," suggests that the
external appearance of Antioch was impressive, but the city needed
constant restoration owing to the seismic disturbances to which the district has
always been subjected. The first great earthquake in recorded
history was related by the native chronicler John Malalas. It occurred in 148 BC and did
Local politics were turbulent. In the many
dissensions of the Seleucid house the population took sides, 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 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
The Roman emperors favoured the city from the
first, seeing it as a more suitable capital for the eastern part of
the empire than Alexandria could be, because of the isolated
position of Egypt. To a certain extent they tried to make it an
eastern Rome. Julius Caesar visited it in 47 BC, and
confirmed its freedom. A great temple to Jupiter Capitolinus rose
on Silpius, probably at the insistence 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.
At Antioch Germanicus died in 19 AD, and his body was
burnt in the forum.
An earthquake that shook Antioch in AD 37 caused
the emperor Caligula to send two senators to report on the
condition of the city. Another quake followed in the next
Titus set up the Cherubim, captured from the Jewish temple, over one of the gates.
In 115, during Trajan's sojourn in the place with his army of
Parthia, the whole site was convulsed by an earthquake, the
landscape altered, and the emperor himself forced to take shelter
in the circus for several days. He and his successor restored the
Commodus had Olympic games celebrated at Antioch.
Edward Gibbon wrote:
Fashion was the only law, pleasure the only
pursuit, and the splendour of dress and furniture was the only
distinction of the citizens of Antioch. The arts of luxury were
honoured, the serious and manly virtues were the subject of
ridicule, and the contempt for female modesty and reverent age
announced the universal corruption of the capital of the East.
In 256 the town was suddenly raided by the
Persians, who slew many in the theatre.
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.
Antioch was a chief center of early
Christianity. The city had a large population of Jewish origin in a
quarter called the Kerateion, and so attracted the earliest
missionaries. Evangelized, among others, by Peter himself, according to the tradition upon
which the Antiochene patriarchate still rests its claim
for primacy, and certainly later by Barnabas and Paul during Paul's first missionary journey.
Its converts were the first to be called Christians. This is
not to be confused with Antioch in Pisidia, to which the early missionaries later
The population was estimated by Chrysostom at about 100,000 people at the time
of Theodosius I. 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
During the 4th century, Antioch was one of the
three most important cities in the eastern Roman empire (along with
Alexandria and Constantinople), which led to it being recognized as
the seat of one of the five early Christian patriarchates (see
The age of Julian
When the emperor Julian visited in 362 on a detour
to Persia, he had high hopes for Antioch, regarding it as a rival
to the imperial capital of Constantinople. Antioch had a mixed pagan and
Christian population, which Ammianus Marcellinus implies lived quite
harmoniously together. However Julian's visit began ominously as it
coincided with a lament for Adonis, the doomed lover of Aphrodite. Thus, Ammianus wrote, the emperor
and his soldiers entered the city not to the sound of cheers but to
wailing and screaming.
Not long after, the Christian population railed
at Julian for his favour to Jewish and pagan rites, and, outraged
by the closing of its great church of Constantine, burned down the temple of
Apollo in Daphne. Another version of the story
had it that the chief priest of the temple accidentally set the
temple alight because he had fallen asleep after lighting a candle.
In any case Julian had the man tortured for negligence (for either allowing
the Christians to burn the temple or for burning it himself),
confiscated Christian property and berated the pagan Antiochenes
for their impiety.
Julian found much else about which to criticize
the Antiochenes. Julian had wanted the empire's cities to be more
self-managing, as they had been some 200
years before. However Antioch's
city councilmen showed themselves unwilling to shore up
Antioch's food shortage with their own resources, so dependent were
they on the emperor. Ammianus wrote that the councilmen shirked
their duties by bribing unwitting men in the marketplace to do the
job for them.
The city's impiety to the old religion was clear
to Julian when he attended the city's annual feast of Apollo. To
his surprise and dismay the only Antiochene present was an old
priest clutching a chicken.
The Antiochenes in turn hated Julian for
worsening the food shortage with the burden of his billeted troops, wrote Ammianus. The soldiers were often to be found
gorged on sacrificial meat, making a drunken nuisance of themselves
on the streets while Antioch's hungry citizens looked on in
disgust. The Christian Antiochenes and Julian's pagan Gallic soldiers also never quite saw eye to
Even Julian's piety was distasteful to the
Antiochenes retaining the old faith. Julian's brand of paganism was
very much unique to himself, with little support outside the most
educated Neoplatonist circles. The irony of Julian's
enthusiasm for large scale animal sacrifice could not have escaped the
hungry Antiochenes. Julian gained no admiration for his personal
involvement in the sacrifices, only the nickname axeman,
The emperor's high-handed, severe methods and
his rigid administration prompted Antiochene lampoons about, among other things, Julian's
Valens and after
Julian's successor, Valens, who endowed Antioch with a new forum,
including a statue of Valentinian on a central column, reopened the
great church of Constantine, which stood till the Persian sack in
538 by Chosroes.
In 387, there was a great sedition caused by a
new tax levied by order of Theodosius I, and the city was punished by the
loss of its metropolitan status.
Justinian I, who renamed it Theopolis
("City of God"), restored many of its public buildings after the
great earthquake of 526, whose destructive
work was completed by the Persian king, Khosrau I, twelve years later. Antioch lost as
many as 300,000 people. Justinian I made an effort to revive it,
and Procopius describes his repairing of the
walls; but its glory was past.
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 lived an extremely
ascetic life atop a pillar for 40 years some 65 km east of Antioch.
His body was brought to the city and buried in a building erected
under the emperor Leo.
The ramparts of Antioch climbing Mons Silpius
during the Crusades (lower left on the map, above left)
In 637, during the reign of the Byzantine
emperor Heraclius, Antioch was conquered by the Arabs
in the caliphate of al-Rashidun during the Battle of Iron Bridge. The city became known
in Arabic as ???????? (Ant?kiyyah). Since the Umayyad dynasty was unable to penetrate the
Anatolian plateau, Antioch found itself on the
frontline of the conflicts between two hostile empires during the
next 350 years, so that the city went into a precipitous
In 969, the city was recovered for the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas by Michael Burza and
Peter the Eunuch. In 1078, Armenians seized power until the
Seljuk Turks captured Antioch in 1084, but
held it only fourteen years before the Crusaders arrived.
The Crusaders' Siege of Antioch conquered the city, but
caused significant damage during the First Crusade. Although it contained a large
Christian population, it was ultimately betrayed by Islamic allies
of Bohemund, prince of Taranto who, following the
defeat of the Turkish garrison, became its overlord. 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. Baibars proceeded to massacre the
Christian population. In addition to the ravages of war,
the city's port became inaccessible to large ships due to the
accumulation of sand in the Orontes river bed. As a result, Antioch
never recovered as a major city, with much of its former role
falling to the port city of Alexandretta (Iskenderun).
Few traces of the once great Roman city are
visible today aside from the massive fortification walls that snake
up the mountains to the east of the modern city, several aqueducts,
and the Church of St Peter (St Peter's Cave Church,
Cave-Church of St. Peter), said to be a meeting place of an early
Christian community. The majority of the Roman city lies buried
beneath deep sediments from the Orontes River, or has been obscured
by recent construction.
Between 1932 and 1939, archaeological
excavations of Antioch were undertaken under the direction of the
"Committee for the Excavation of Antioch and Its Vicinity," which
was made up of representatives from the Louvre Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Worcester Art Museum, Princeton University, and later (1936) also
the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University and its affiliate Dumbarton Oaks.
The excavation team failed to find the major
buildings they hoped to unearth, including Constantine's Great
Octagonal Church or the imperial palace. However, a great
accomplishment of the expedition was the discovery of high-quality
Roman mosaics from villas and baths in Antioch, Daphne and
Seleucia. One mosaic includes a border that depicts a walk from
Antioch to Daphne, showing many ancient buildings along the way.
The mosaics are now displayed in the Hatay Archaeological Museum in
Antakya and in the museums of the sponsoring
A statue in the Vatican and a number of figurines and
statuettes perpetuate the type of its great patron goddess and
civic symbol, the Tyche (Fortune) of Antioch ? a majestic seated
figure, crowned with the ramparts of Antioch's walls, with the
river Orontes as a youth swimming under her feet.
In recent years, what remains of the Roman and
late antique city have suffered severe damage as a result of
construction related to the expansion of Antakya. In the 1960s, the
last surviving Roman bridge was demolished to make way for a modern
two-lane bridge. The northern edge of Antakya has been growing
rapidly over recent years, and this construction has begun to
expose large portions of the ancient city, which are frequently
bulldozed and rarely protected by the local museum.