Monday, January 23, 2012


Ruins of Ampitheatre in Antioch

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Today we’re going to visit the ancient city of Antioch on the Orentes. In the First Century Roman world Antioch, with a population of more than half a million, was justifiably famous for its beauty, a leader in trade and culture as well as an important military outpost. Antioch rivaled Alexandria, the second city of the Roman Empire. Today, Rome, Italy has a population of 3.7 million and 4.1 million people call Alexandria, Egypt home.  Meanwhile Antakya, Turkey, once the seat of the Christian Church, has a population of only 140,000. Why? 

Antioch on the Orontes, also known as Antioch of Syria, was situated on the eastern side of the Orontes River in the far southeastern corner of Asia Minor. When the city was founded in 300 BC by Seleucus I Nicator, he urged Jews to move there from Jerusalem. The city quickly developed a large Jewish population. As was his policy in all the cities he founded, Seleucus I granted these Jews equal rights of citizenship along with the Macedonians and the Greeks. Several ancient sources tell us that the Antiochene Jews, having a governor of their own and comprising a large percentage of the population, exerted as great an influence there as they did in Alexandria.  

Christianity came to Antioch following the persecution that resulted in Stephen’s death. The new faith was preached to and accepted by the Greeks of the city and it was there that the name Christian originated. The Church exhibited great enthusiasm and became the base of the missionary journeys of Paul, Barnabus, Silas and others.

Entance to the Temple of Aphrodite

Just as Ephesus gloried in the Temple of Artemis, Antioch was home to the main Temple of Aphrodite…the Aphrodisias. Interestingly enough, though typically associated with seduction and sexuality, the statue of Aphrodite was clothed in a heavy cloak that disguised her figure and a long veil covered her face. So much for the images of gauzy lingerie Aphrodite’s name conjures up.  

Remains of Church of St. Simeon

The city was also famous for the Church of St. Simeon, a native saint who lived in the Fifth Century. It consisted of four basilicas radiating from the sides of a central octagon. With over 16,000 square feet of floor space, it nearly equaled the more famous Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The church was only one part of a huge, walled complex that included a monastery, two lesser churches, and several large hostels.

The Tetrapylon, or Monumental Gate
Antioch was also known for the Tetrapylon, or monumental gate. The ancient Greeks placed great importance on the location and orientation of architecture. Thus the main axis of the city was aligned with the distant mountains and the Tetrapylon was at one end of this axis. The city also had a large theater/stadium and the Museion, a complex on the island between the arms of the Orentes River devoted to the arts.  

True many of Antioch’s architectural treasures now stand in ruins, but even in their current state their former grandeur is readily apparent. So why did Rome and Alexandria prosper while Antioch languished? The answer to that question can be found in a single event that occurred in the year 526. 

Late in May of that year, sometime between the 20th and the 29th, a major earthquake struck Antioch and the surrounding area. On the Modified Mercalli Scale, it is estimated to have registered VIII (Destructive) at Antioch, the epicenter, and VII (Very Strong) at Daphne and Seleucia Pieria. The port of Seleucia Pieria experienced an uplift of between two to three feet. The subsequent silting up of the harbor left it unusable. The raging fire which followed destroyed any buildings in Antioch that survived the earthquake. In all, approximately 250,000 people died. It still ranks as the 3rd most deadly earthquake of all time.   

Given the extent of the damage and the area’s known seismic instability, the decision was made to abandon the city rather than attempt to rebuild. What a sad end for Antioch, the Queen of the East. 

Next time we’ll be examining another Antioch landmark. Known as the Cave Church, its image graces the header on the Sowing the Seeds Blog. It is considered to be the oldest Christian Church in the world. 

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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