Antioch on the Orontes

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Antioch in the 1st to 6th centuries

Antioch or Antioch ( ancient Greek Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐπὶ Ὀρόντου Antioch hē EPI Oróntou even Ἀντιόχεια ἡ Μεγάλη Antioch hē Megale , Antioch the Great '; Latin Antioch ad Orontem ) was a city in ancient Syria (now Antakya in Turkey ). It is the best known and by far the most important of several ancient places of this name, which were founded by various kings of the Seleucid dynasty . In Roman times it was next to the Egyptian Alexandria and (later) Constantinople one of the largest and most important cities in the eastern Mediterranean.


Antioch on the Orontes (Turkey)
Red pog.svg
Location in Turkey

Ancient Antioch was on the left bank of the Orontes (in Arabic Nahr al-Asi ) around 30 km from the sea and its port city of Seleukia Pieria (St. Simeon in the Middle Ages). In the east the city was surrounded by four low mountains, including the over 500 m high Silpios , in the west it was limited by the river. A brook called Parmenios, which has its source at Silpios, flows through the city into the river (see map), which changes its direction of flow there. The city walls surrounded only the center of the city in the east, the suburbs in the plain west of the Orontes were unprotected. Remnants of the walls can still be seen on Silphius.

Antioch was at the intersection of various trade routes, which greatly accelerated the city's boom. A road led from the port of Seleukia Pieria to Antioch and crossed the Orontes on a bridge from which spolia has been preserved in the structure of the modern bridge. Another road connected the city with Cilicia in the north. Ammianus Marcellinus described Antioch as "the world-famous one with which none can be compared in terms of the abundance of imported and domestic goods".



A Roman Argenteus , struck in Antioch with the image of the Emperor Constantius Chlorus and the inscription CONSTANTIUS CAESAR , VICTORIAE SARMATICAE
Late antique chalice from Antioch from the 6th century AD (today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York)

Under the name Antigoneia am Orontes founded in 307 BC BC King Antigonus I. Monophthalmos a city named after him a few kilometers north. After his defeat by Seleucus I (306–281 BC) in the Battle of Ipsos in the summer of 301 BC. This settlement, which was only beginning to emerge, was abandoned and replaced in 300 BC. A new one was founded, named Antioch on the Orontes , which Seleukos chose in honor of his father Antiochus : Like his predecessor Antigonus, he thus placed himself in the line of tradition that Alexander the Great had set for his Campaign had founded several cities of his own name.

The patron deity of the city was the Tyche of Antioch, the goddess of fate sitting on a rock with the river god Orontes below her.

Antioch became one of the capitals of the Seleucid Empire and quickly developed into one of the most important world cities of antiquity . The citizens of the new settlement, which (in contrast to Seleukeia Pieria ) was organized as a polis , came from Macedonia and Greece , especially from Athens . The city was expanded splendidly , especially under Antiochus IV. Epiphanes (175-164 BC) and received a new part of the city called Epiphaneia . Antiochus also built a temple of Zeus , the ceiling and walls of which were gilded.

Antioch only became the main residence of the Seleucids in the late period of the empire, after King Demetrios II Nicator (145–140 and 129–125 BC) suffered a defeat against the Parthians in 140 . A little later his brother Antiochus VII. Sidetes (139–129) lost the decisive battle against the same opponent after great initial successes in 129 and was killed in the process. The victors finally wrested the entire eastern part of the previous empire from the Seleucids and limited their territory to Syria. With this, Antioch inevitably became the capital city.

For a long time, regular competitions ( agone ) were held in Antioch that competed with the Olympic Games. Antioch's rich suburb of Daphne was the site of an important shrine to Apollo and a famous grove, which was dedicated to the nymphs , attracted many pilgrims and lasted until at least the 6th century AD.


In the year 83 BC The rest of the Seleucid Empire came under the power of the King of Greater Armenia, Tigranes II the Great (95-55 BC), but his defeat against the Roman general Lucullus led to restitution under Antiochus XIII. Asiatikos (69-64). After his murder, Lucullus' successor Pompey continued in the same year 64 BC. BC the last king Philip II (65–64) and incorporated the Seleucid rump state into the Roman state: Antioch became the capital of the province of Syria .

During the Roman Empire , Antioch grew rapidly, eventually numbering up to 500,000 inhabitants and was one of the most important cities of the empire alongside Rome , Alexandria and Carthage . On campaigns against the Parthians and then the Persian Sassanid Empire , Roman emperors and generals stayed in Antioch several times, for example Germanicus (died in Antioch), Lucius Verus between 162 and 166 AD, Marcus Aurelius 175/176, Septimius Severus 198 / 199, Caracalla 215, Severus Alexander 232/233 and Valerian 254-256 and 258/259. In this respect, the city could feel like a temporary “capital”.

Old Roman road in Syria connecting Antioch and Chalkis
Tyche temple in Antioch, under the statue of Tyche sits the river god Orontes

In the 1st century a large hippodrome (horse racing track) was built on the Orontesinsel . The city's temple of Tyche is minted on a bronze coin worth 8 Assaria at the time of Emperor Volusianus . The river god Orontes sits under the statue of Tyche in the temple. From about 285 onwards, Emperor Diocletian , with whom late antiquity began, had a permanent residence, a palatium , built next to it . A columned road ran from the center of the island to the palace. Its entrance was formed by a gate with four pillars, adorned with the representation of a triumph symbolized by an elephant quadriga . The palace is described in an eulogy by the rhetor Libanios in 360 (Orat. 11, 203-207), but changes in the meantime must be taken into account. This building complex resembled Diocletian's palace in Salona , which this emperor had built between around 298 and 305 as his retirement home; other imperial residences were in Trier , Milan , Sirmium and Thessaloniki . Caesar Constantius Gallus from 351 to 354 and Emperor Julian from 362 to 363 resided in the palace of Antioch. In both cases there were supply crises in the city, of which the crisis of 362/363 is particularly well known. Emperor Valens (364–378), who fought against the Persian Sassanids , stayed in the city for a long time, and only then was Constantinople finally able to assert itself as the capital of East Rome against Antioch.

The city also had a magnificent theater and an amphitheater at the foot of Mount Silphius , both of which were renovated by Gallus. There was also street lighting (Libanios, Orat. 11, 267), which, according to Ammianus Marcellinus , a son of the city, “competed with the radiant brightness of the day” (14, 1, 9).


The city occupied an important place in the history of Christianity (see for example Ignatius of Antioch and the Antiochene School ). Nicholas , one of the first seven deacons, came from Antioch . According to tradition , the first Christian congregation around Paul , Barnabas , Peter and then the city's first bishops gathered in the St. Peter's Grotto , a cave church in the northeast of the city. Here the disciples of Jesus are said to have been called " Christians " ( Christianoi ) for the first time .

During the persecution of Christians by Emperor Decius (249-251), Babylas , Bishop of Antioch , suffered 250 martyrdom . Since the 4th century the now Christian emperors sponsored the churches of Antioch. Under Gallus the bones of Babylas were buried in Daphne at the spring Kastalia, Julian had them brought back to Antioch. The emperors Constantine the Great (306–337) and Constantius II (337–361) donated valuable liturgical objects to the Church of Antioch.

When the Temple of Apollo in Daphne burned down in 362, Emperor Julian accused the Christians of arson. Ammianus Marcellinus (22, 13, 1–3) blames the philosopher Asklepiades who accidentally set the curtains on fire with a candle during a nightly visit. Julian , the last non-Christian on the imperial throne, had the main church of Antioch temporarily closed and the liturgical implements buried. He also ordered the renewal of the sanctuary in Daphne, which, however, did not take place because of his early death.

With the establishment of the Christian church, Antioch, which was evidently Christianized to a large extent as early as the middle of the 4th century (see the reaction to Julian's visit in 362), became the seat of one of the originally three, later five, early church patriarchates , together with Rome , Constantinople , Alexandria and Jerusalem . Like Rome, it referred to the apostle Peter as the founding bishop, who, according to Catholic tradition, went to Rome later and suffered martyrdom there. Today several churches claim the legitimate succession of this patriarchate (see Patriarchate of Antioch ).

Late antiquity

In late antiquity , Antioch remained one of the most important cities in the (Eastern) Roman Empire, despite some severe earthquakes . The Persian Sassanids sacked the city in 253 (or 256) and 260 under King Shapur I , possibly with the help of the defector Mareades . But in the 4th century Antioch flourished again, had hundreds of thousands of inhabitants and was temporarily the residence of (Eastern) Roman emperors. The rhetorical schools of the city, along with the schools of Rome, Athens , Alexandrias and Constantinople, were among the leading schools of the late Roman Empire; several important teachers are known by name, such as Ulpianus of Antioch , Eusebius Arabs , Aedesius rhetor and his pupil Zenobius Rhetor and above all the famous Libanios . Ammianus Marcellinus, the most important late antique historian (alongside Prokopios of Caesarea ), a younger contemporary of Libanius, came from Antioch; however, he wrote his Res Gestae in Latin.

The decline of the metropolis only began in the 6th century . In 526 the city was badly devastated by an earthquake which, according to Johannes Malalas, killed up to 250,000 people (the number is probably far too high, but gives an idea of ​​the dimensions of the catastrophe). Only a few years later came the decisive blow: In 540 the Persian Sassanid king Chosrau I attacked Roman Syria and took Antioch by storm. He deported a large part of the population to "Chosrauantiochia" near Ctesiphon and allegedly destroyed the city except for a few buildings. Under Emperor Justinian (527-565), Antiocha, nicknamed Theoupolis (“City of God”), was rebuilt, but this settlement only covered part of the former area. The art production, which had flourished until the Persian attack, largely collapsed; after 540 no more mosaics were apparently made either. Nonetheless, Antioch remained important. In 613 there was a great battle between the Eastern Romans and the Sassanids near the city, in which the imperial troops were defeated. In 638 Antioch, which fell to the Persians in 615 and only became Roman again in 630, was then conquered by the Arabs (see Islamic expansion ). This ended the ancient period of the city.

For the later history of the place see Antakya .

Ancient remains

The judgment of Paris , mosaic from Antioch

Since the modern city lies on top of the ancient city buried several meters high by alluvial soil of the Orontes, there are practically no ancient remains to be seen. Only the impressive city wall has been partially preserved on Mount Silphius above Antakya: The 30 m iron gate in the Parmenios Gorge is impressive. Only sparse remains of the aqueduct, which ran north to the Silphius, and the theater are still visible, while the imperial palace has completely disappeared. Recently, foundations of buildings outside the city walls were discovered in the New Town.

Finds from ancient Antioch are in the Archaeological Museum of Antakya . The collection of Roman mosaics , which were mainly found during the excavations at Princeton University in 1933–1939, is remarkable .

Only one early Christian church can still be seen, the St. Peter's Grotto , located a little outside on a mountain slope. Legend has it that it was consecrated by the Apostle Peter , but the current building is much younger (the current facade dates from 1863, but the oldest parts of the interior are from antiquity).


The suburb of Daphne (today Harbiye ) is about eight kilometers south with numerous springs that supplied the city's drinking water and huge laurel trees , but the modern buildings merge into one another. The location, a suburb of villas for the wealthy Antiochenes citizens during Roman times, was named after the nymph Daphne . She supposedly wanted to hide from Apollo here by transforming herself into a laurel tree: Therefore, the nymphs were worshiped in Daphne's grove. However, the actual version of this story takes place in Delphi, Greece . King Antiochus IV organized here in 166 BC A glamorous festival with a troop parade; he was followed with a similar event by Antiochus VIII. Grypus. Pompey enlarged in 64 BC The area of ​​the grove. The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII is said to have been here in 41 BC. Have married the Roman general Marcus Antonius . An earthquake destroyed part of Daphne on April 9, 37 AD. Since the time of Emperor Claudius (41-54), some competitions of the Olympic Games of Antioch were held in Daphne. A large floor mosaic with hunting scenes, which is in the Louvre in Paris , comes from the imperial villa on site; other pieces can be seen in the Museum of Antakya. There was an oracle at the Kastalia spring . It is said to have fallen silent after Gallus had the remains of Bishop Babylas buried here. Gallus' brother, Emperor Julian , had them removed and the place atoned for. The temple of Apollo with a chryselephantine image (gold ivory image) of the god burned down in October 362. In his eulogy of Antioch, Libanios gives a hymn-like image of Daphne, which he describes as the place of the gods on earth (Antiochikos 236 A and 237). According to Prokopios of Caesarea , King Chosrau I later sacrificed the nymphs in the grove of Daphne in 540. Nowadays, the place once described as praiseworthy is completely overdeveloped for tourism and only conveys a faint reflection of the ancient idyll. The high-altitude Daphne offers a wide view over the Orontestal, which, however, can hardly be realized due to the modern buildings.


Above Antioch there is a monumental rock painting called Charonion in the mountains . According to Johannes Malalas , the chronicler of Antioch, the inhabitants of the city erected the 5 meter high monument under Antiochus IV as protection from an epidemic. It is a bust of a figure covered with a tiara with a smaller figure on the right shoulder. Wolfram Hoepfner interprets the group as allegories of the old lower town and the new upper town called Epiphaneia . Since the new upper town could not be seen from the Orontes or the old town, the mighty group of rock carvings that can be seen from the agora of the old town referred to the position of the new town. In 2017 Hatice Pamir interpreted the rock relief as a representation of the mother goddess Cybele with the city goddess Tyche on her shoulder.

Famous citizens

For people born in Antakya after 1850, see: Antakya # Sons and Daughters of the City .


Web links

Commons : Antioch on the Orontes  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Wolfgang Seyfarth , commentary, in: Central Institute for Ancient History and Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR (Ed.): Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History. Old World Writings and Sources. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1968, p. 10.
  2. a b c Wolfgang Seyfarth, commentary, in: Central Institute for Ancient History and Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR (ed.): Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History. Old World Writings and Sources. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1968, p. 11.
  3. 14, 8.8
  4. ^ Peter Franz Mittag : Antiochus IV. Epiphanes. A political biography . Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-05-004205-2 , pp. 145–149.
  5. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wiemer : Libanios and Julian. Studies on the relationship between rhetoric and politics in the fourth century AD (= Vestigia , Volume 46). Beck, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-406-39335-7 , pp. 269-356 (on the crisis of 362/362); see also Hans-Ulrich Wiemer: Emperor and catastrophe. To cope with supply crises in the late Roman Empire. In: Hans-Ulrich Wiemer (Hrsg.): Statehood and political action in the Roman Empire. De Gruyter, Berlin 2006, pp. 249-282, especially p. 278.
  6. Acts of the Apostles Acts 11:26  EU
  7. a b Wolfgang Seyfarth, commentary, in: Central Institute for Ancient History and Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR (Ed.): Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History. Old World Writings and Sources. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1968, p. 14.
  8. D. Levi: Antioch Pavements. Princeton 1947.
  9. George W. Elderkin: The excavations of 1932. Princeton 1934, pp. 83 f.
  10. Johannes Malalas, Weltchronik 10:10.
  11. Wolfram Hoepfner: "Antioch the Great". History of an ancient city. In: Ancient World. Volume 35, 2004, pp. 3-9, here p. 8; Wolfram Hoepfner: Antioch the great and Epiphaneia. In: Derselbe (Ed.): History of living. Volume 1: 5000 BC BC - 500 AD. Prehistory, early history, antiquity. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1999, pp. 472–491, here p. 487.
  12. Hatice Pamir: An Underworld Cult Monument in Antioch: The Charonion. In: O verturning Certainties in Near Eastern Archeology. A Festschrift in Honor of K. Aslıhan Yener (= Culture and History of the Ancient Near East. Volume 90). Brill, Leiden / Boston 2017, pp. 543–559.

Coordinates: 36 ° 12 '  N , 36 ° 9'  E