During the time of the early church, there were two major cities with the name of Antioch. One was in Syria, above modern-day Israel; the other was in Pisidia/Galatia. Both cities were founded by Seleucus I Nicator, a general of Alexander the Great, to improve his hold on the region of modern-day Turkey. Both cities prospered under the control of the Seleucids and thereafter the Roman Empire. Paul visited both cities on his first missionary journey, and both became major centers of Christianity, Syrian Antioch early on and Pisidian Antioch later. Both cities suffered in the wars between the Eastern Roman Empire and Arabic invaders, and eventually declined until they were abandoned by the 15th Century A.D.

Syrian Antioch


  1. Historical Background:

i. Founding

Antioch in Syria was founded in approximately 300 BC by Seleucus I Nicator. Seleucus was a general of Alexander the Great, and inherited a portion of his empire after Alexander’s death. Syrian Antioch was the greatest of 16 Antiochs that Seleucus built in honor of his father[1]. He had his architect Xenarius design and build the city in a very precise fashion: the streets were carefully planned and built according to a rectangular grid, supposedly using elephants and stalks of wheat as markers to help mark streets and strong points[2]. The entire city layout was designed in order to best provide shade in the summer and sunlight in the winter, and to take advantage of the strong breeze that blew in from the Mediterranean Sea to the west[3]. The river Orontes ran alongside the west side of the city, and Mt. Silpius bordered it on the east.

ii. Expansion

The city was expanded three times by Seleucus’ descendants; each time a new “quarter” was added, two on the east side (partially on the slope of Mt. Silpius) and one to the west, on an island in the middle of the Orontes River[4]. This island housed the later Seleucid palaces.

iii. Trade/Revenue

Antioch was situated in a very fertile section of the Orontes valley, and grew much of its own crops. Wheat, barley, olives, garden vegetables, and wine were all produced in abundance, and there was no scarcity of lumber for construction and fuel[5]. Less valuable stone (for construction) was also quarried near Antioch. The city produced and consumed much livestock and seafood; though not entirely self-sufficient at the peak of its population, Antioch conducted much trade, as it was situated along a major Syrian trade route. It exported all the aforementioned commodities and also imported supplies for its thriving metalworking trade.

iv. Population

Seleucus brought many Greeks and other peoples to live in his newly founded city. Many inhabitants were also retired soldiers; not counting the native Syrians and slaves who came to live in the city, it contained at least 20,000 people within a few years of its founding. Eventually as the city thrived and grew in importance, it expanded to over half a million inhabitants, specifically during the time of the Roman Empire. There was a sizable Jewish presence in the city during the time of early Roman domination, numbering around 65,000[6].

v. Military Significance

Seleucus originally founded the city as a hub and major fortification of the trade route that ran through the Amuk plain in Syria. It was perfectly situated for farming, for commerce, and for military purposes: it sat between the Orontes River and Mt. Silpius in a sort of valley, and was surrounded by the fertile Amuk plain. Over the centuries it was held by the Seleucids, the Ptolemies, the Roman Empire, and later by the Arabs during the period of its decline in the 6th-7th centuries A.D.

Culture:

The city of Antioch had very little native Syrian influence: the city was built by the Greek general Seleucus, and he resettled large numbers of Grecian peoples there. There were segregated regions where native Syrians lived, but the city was not strongly impacted by their presence there. Seleucus built a major temple to Zeus in the city, as well as public baths and military installations. An aqueduct and a stadium were built sometime during the reign of the Seleucids. A famous statue of the goddess Tyche was erected soon after the city’s founding, as well as numerous smaller statues honoring Zeus and Apollo, the favorite deities of the Seleucids. In 64 B.C., the Roman general Pompey annexed Syria to the Roman Empire and made Antioch the capital of the new province. The city especially prospered during the time of Rome; Julius Caesar himself funded many improvements and beautification projects in return for the city’s loyalty to him. The city acquired a new amphitheater, aqueduct, and many other important public buildings. Perhaps the most noteworthy construction was the great colonnaded street that ran through the middle of the city. Paved with marble, it was flanked by porticoes for its entire 2 mile length and had vaulted stone roofs at every intersection. Antioch also housed the “Olympic Games” during the era of Rome as a famous empire-wide festival every four years. One of its major suburbs, Daphne, became especially well-known for its beauty, and many Roman Emperors would spend several months of the year there[7]. Each Emperor continued supporting and beautifying the city; for example, after a severe earthquake in A.D. 37, Emperor Caligula funded extensive repairs and new projects. Religiously, Antioch had a reputation for being a very tolerant place, and Judaism and many pagan religions established themselves there early on in its history[8]. When waves of persecution against Jews or Christians swept the Roman Empire, often the inhabitants of Antioch would be the last to suffer, or would simply undergo mild harassment.

The Church:

The Church at Syrian Antioch was founded in Acts 11, after the stoning of Stephen and the dispersion of the church. Barnabas went as one of the first leaders of the blossoming church after its founding, and the church grew quickly. It was one of the first churches to minister especially to Gentiles, and the first mentioned in Scripture to provide support to Christians in other cities (Acts 11:27-30). In fact, it was in this city that believers were originally named “Christians” instead of “Followers of the Way”, according to Acts 11:26. One of the first deacons in the church at Jerusalem was Nicolas of Antioch. Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, spent a year in this city towards the beginning of his ministry outside of Israel, and he used it as a home base during his missionary journeys through Europe and Asia. This city was a melting pot for Jew/Gentile missions of the Church; it served as the early hub for the Acts 1:8 commission. The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 was held as a result of heresy that formed in Syrian Antioch: Judaizers had infiltrated the church and begun teaching that following elements of Jewish law was necessary for salvation. It was vital that heresy in this city be stopped, because of its strategic importance to the spread of Christian evangelism. Paul and Barnabas brought the issue before the apostles in Jerusalem and carried their verdict back to Antioch specifically, as well as to other churches beyond that. Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Galatians 2 took place in Syrian Antioch. Overall the church in Antioch established itself quickly and it remained a stronghold of Christian missionary work for centuries. Later famous leaders of the church there included the bishop martyr Ignatius and John Chrysostom.

Decline/Destruction of the city:

Antioch survived as a major center of trade and commerce until the 6th century A.D. Between the years A.D. 525 and 542, the city suffered two large earthquakes, a devastating fire, an attack by the Persians, and a major outbreak of the plague. After this point, the city declined and was captured by Arabs in A.D. 637. Nothing more than a frontier town, it roughly corresponds to the modern town of Antakya, Turkey.

Pisidian Antioch


Historical Background:

i. Founding

The region of Antioch in Pisidia was inhabited from the 3rd millennium B.C., but the city proper was founded by Seleucus I Nicator in the late 3rd Century B.C. The surrounding region of Pisidia or Galatia was inhabited by many hostile tribes, and Seleucus founded this city to protect and control the bordering regions of Pisidia and Phrygia[9]. Rome took control of the city and the region in the middle of the 2nd Century B.C. and gave it to Rome’s ally, the king of Cappadocia. Rome regained direct control of the region in 25 B.C., establishing the province of Galatia and making Antioch an official Roman colony. By the time of Rome’s dominion, the city was divided into seven quarters called “vici”, established on seven hills similarly to Rome. The city was built according to the popular Hippodamic Plan, which created a rectangular, even grid of streets.

ii. Trade/Revenue

Antioch was established in what is today the Turkish Lake District. The Via Sebaste, an important road for travel and commerce, ran directly to and through the city. This road essentially connected Ephesus on the coast with Syria and Mesopotamia. Though the city of Antioch was not established for the purpose of trade or commerce, its location was fertile and well-irrigated with rainfall from the surrounding mountains. Promise of good land for agriculture probably lured many retired soldiers to take up residence at Antioch. The city was generally prosperous, receiving support due to its strategical importance to Rome. It was a center of Galatian commercial and social activity, and hosted many events and games for the Roman governors who frequently travelled through on the Via Sebaste.

iii. Population

The Romans partially colonized Pisidian Antioch and other cities in the region using military legions, especially because of the political instability of the region[10]. Both enlisted and retired soldiers lived there, along with native inhabitants who desired protection from the many factions in the area. The city never grew especially large; during the Roman Period the population may have been around 70,000. There is little information about the Jewish population of the time, though they had definitely established a presence there. Today the region holds around 50,000, though the city proper does not exist. The nearest modern city is Yalvac, Turkey, about a kilometer south.

iv. Military Significance

Antioch was built entirely as a fortified colony, meant to help keep order in the region between various warring tribes[11]. It was built in the Taurus Mountains at an elevation of 3500 feet and functioned as the military command center for both the Seleucids and the Roman Empire. Its acropolis or fortified area had an area of 46 hectares. The city was honored with the title of “Colonia Caesareia”, which signified its position as capital city of the region.

Culture:

Similar to Antioch in Syria, Pisidian Antioch was built by the Greek Seleucids and was not majorly influenced by the native Galatian culture. The architecture is Hellenistic or Roman, and the majority of its inhabitants were Roman citizens seeking good farmland or a quiet asylum. Though not as grand as Syrian Antioch, Pisidian Antioch was a major throughway on the Via Sebaste and was well supported by the Roman Empire. The city had two major streets, the Decumanus Maximus and the Cardo Maximus, which perpendicular to each other and met near the center of the city[12]. Other notable projects include a 6 mile-long aqueduct that brought water from the mountains, a large public bath, and a theater/arena that seated at least 12,000 people. The main deity of Pisidian Antioch was Men Ascaenus, a moon god of health, favor, and balance in the universe; he was often symbolized by a bull. There was a large temple dedicated to him built soon after the foundation of the city. Later, Emperor Augustus also built a magnificent temple for the Roman Emperor-worship cult at the highest point of the city.

The Church:

i. Founding

The Church in Pisidian Antioch was founded in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas visited the city on a trip through Pamphylia and Pisidia, and they spoke in the synagogue there. Paul’s sermon (his first recorded in Scripture) caused a stir, and according to Acts 13:44, “Almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” on the next Sabbath when Paul was to speak again. From that point the Jews of Pisidian Antioch were persistent in their persecution of Paul and Barnabas. The Jews expelled them from the city and followed them to other nearby cities like Iconium and Lystra, eventually stoning Paul and leaving him for dead. Paul references these experiences in 2 Timothy 3. One of the earliest surviving church buildings Asia Minor is in Antioch. It is called the Great Basilica and bears reference to Bishop Optimus to represented Antioch at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381.

Decline/Destruction of the city

Antioch continued to function as the capital city of the region until the time of the Eastern Roman Empire. During the 7th and 8th Centuries A.D. a series of fierce raids diminished the power and grandeur of Antioch and other cities in Pisidia. It traded hands many times between the Eastern Roman Empire and Arab Empires until the end of the 12th century, when the Arabs decisively defeated the Eastern Roman Empire, and the resulting Turkish Arabic culture has continued to this day.

Bibliography

Clarke, G.W. The Origins and Spread of Christianity. Vol. 10, chap. 17 in The Augustan Empire, 43 B.C–A.D. 69. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th. Columbia University Press, 2010.
Demirer, Unal. Pisidian Antioch. Maltepe, Ankara: Donmez Offset Basimevi, 2002.
Downey, Glanville. Ancient Antioch. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958.
Harrison, R.K., ed. Major Cities of the Biblical World. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.
Ludwig, Charles. Ludwig's Handbook of New Testament Rulers and Cities. Denver: Accent Publications, 1983.
Werbaneth, James P. "Crusaders' siege of Antioch." Military History (Weider History Group) 15, no. 2 (June 1998): 30-36.


[1] Tenney, Merrill C., ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963; p. 47.
[2] Harrison, R.K., ed. Major Cities of the Biblical World. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985; p. 10.
[3] Downey, Glanville. Ancient Antioch. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958; p. 17.
[4] Harrison, R.K., ed. Major Cities of the Biblical World. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985; p. 12.
[5] Downey, Glanville. Ancient Antioch. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958; p. 18-19.
[6] Harrison, R.K., ed. Major Cities of the Biblical World. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985; p. 14.
[7] Ludwig,Charles. Ludwig's Handbook of New Testament Rulers and Cities. Denver: Accent Publications, 1983; p. 165.
[8] Harrison, R.K., ed. Major Cities of the Biblical World. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985; p. 16-17.
[9] Clarke, G.W. The Origins and Spread of Christianity. Vol. 10, chap. 17 in The Augustan Empire, 43 B.C–A.D. 69. Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 650.
[10] Demirer, Unal. Pisidian Antioch. Maltepe, Ankara: Donmez Offset Basimevi, 2002; p. 26.
[11] Tenney, Merrill C., ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963; p. 48.
[12] Demirer, Unal. Pisidian Antioch. Maltepe, Ankara: Donmez Offset Basimevi, 2002; p. 46.