ANTIOCH ON THE ORONTES
Alexander reached Syria from Asia Minor by
way of the coast at Issus, and founded Alexandretta, a
port girded by mountains. On the other side of the
Amanus ridge, Antigonus, Alexander's successor, founded
Antigoneia on the banks of the Orontes. Seleucus I
founded two towns, Seleucia at the mouth of the river,
Antioch, 17 km from the sea, in a plain near Antigonia.
Apparently Seleucia was his capital at first but Antioch
soon received the title. Greek civilization made Antioch
its principal Asian outpost, replacing Aleppo, 100 km to
the E, as the leading city of N Syria. Aleppo, however, regained its former importance with the Islamic conquest;
Seleucia has disappeared and Iskandarun and Antakyé
today are small towns. The chief road connecting Asia
Minor and Syria crosses the Taurus passes and dips down
again along the edge of the steppe—no longer along the
valley of the Orontes.
Even before Antioch was founded the low valley of
the Orontes was a trade route: excavations have uncovered an Athenian trading post dating from the 5th c. B.C.
at El Mina, at the mouth of the river, and some Cretan
objects in the Hittite palace of Tell Atchana. Also, excavations at Antioch, well below the monumental Roman
street, have revealed preclassical sherds beneath the stone
paving of the Hellenistic road.
The site, between Mt. Silpius and the river, facing a
vast plain dominated by the peaks of the Amanus ridge,
favored the establishment of a military, political, and
commercial capital, and Seleucia offered an outlet on the
Mediterranean to the silk route that came from the heart
of Asia through Iran and the Fertile Crescent, or by way
of the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates.
The city at first occupied only a few hectares along the
river but, according to ancient chroniclers as well as
archaeological evidence, it was laid out from the beginning on the strict gridiron plan common to all Hellenistic
cities in this period. The plan apparently covered the
whole area of the plain, and was followed rigorously as
the city developed.
Successive enlargements, each marked by spurts of
construction, are milestones in the life of the city. Seleucus II Callinicus (246-226 B.C.) set up a new quarter
on the Island of the Orontes, surrounding it with a wall,
and Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) extended the
city to the foothills of the mountains. This new city,
called Epiphaneia, did not receive its rampart until Tiberius' reign, according to Malalas. Only then was its area
finally settled, except for the alterations carried out for
strategic reasons by Justinian when the city was rebuilt
after A.D. 540.
Antioch's history is also marked by a series of catastrophes, particularly earthquakes that damaged or destroyed it; efforts to repair or rebuild the city were often
made several times in a century, and each occasion called
for the intervention of the emperor of Rome or Byzantium. Alexander Balas intervened in 140 B.C., Caligula
in A.D. 37, Trajan in 115, Leon I in 458, and Justinian
in 526 and 528. After this the destruction of the city was
completed by Chrosroes, who seized it in a surprise raid
in 540. The chroniclers also report several lesser earthquakes, to which should be added the terrible storms that
caused the streams, especially Parmenios, to overflow.
Each time torrents caused serious damage, particularly
by raising the ground level. Since the 3d c. B.C. the
ground has risen 11 m in the axis of the city; the stratum
representing the second Byzantine conquest of the 10th c.
A.D. is on the average 4 m below the present ground level,
that of the reconstruction under Justinian 7 m, and that
of the monumental Roman street 8.5 m.
Yet few ancient cities are as well known from the texts
as Antioch. Strabo, Malalas, Evagrius, Procopius, Libanius, the Emperor Julian, John Chrysostom—have described the city, its urban plan and its monuments, and
have recounted its history and its misfortunes, its reconstruction, and the daily life of its citizens.
In the period of its greatest expansion Antioch occupied the whole plain between the Orontes and the mountains, an area of 3.2 by 1.2-1.5 km. At each end the
hills and the river came closer together, almost sealing
off the plain. The great porticoed street constituted the
axis, from the Daphne Gate to the S to the Aleppo Gate
to the N. The rampart wall scaled the mountain side, enclosing vast stretches of uninhabitable ground, and the
citadel was on top of Mt. Silpius. To the W the wall ran
along the river and encircled the Island, which was linked
to the ancient city by five bridges.
Inside this wall the city had from the beginning been
laid out on a grid of blocks ca. 120 by 35 m, spreading
from the long axis to the river and the last inhabited
slopes. Water conduits, from the aqueducts hollowed out
high in the mountain, followed the E-W streets, and from
them terracotta pipes ran beneath the sidewalks of the
N-S streets to supply the houses.
From the 2d c. A.D. on, the colonnaded street was over
27 m wide, ca 9 m for the roadway and for each portico.
In his praise of Antioch, Libanius dwells particularly on
the breadth, beauty, and convenience of these porticos.
A similar road, not located, led to the Island from an
open place—the omphalos—where the Temple of the
Nymphs stood. The latter was also a fountain, frequently described. At one of the other intersections of the
main street stood the column of Tiberius, at another the
, the central gate built by Trajan. The Island
also had a gridiron plan, laid out like that of the city but
probably on different axes: two porticoed streets at right
angles to each other with a tetrapylon at the intersection. One street led to the palace, rebuilt by Diocletian,
and the hippodrome, erected in 56 B.C.
Two main streams flowed into the Orontes: Phyrminus
to the S, which skirted part of the outer rampart, and
Parmenios in the center of the city, which invaded the
town itself during floods. In every period protective
measures were necessary: Hellenistic arches, discovered
during excavation, the vaults of the Forum of Valens,
and a dam built by Justinian at Bab el Hadid.
Aerial photographs have revealed the Hellenistic gridiron plan: it can still be traced in the Turkish town,
barely hidden under the jumble of winding streets; it reappears in the olive grove that now occupies four-fifths
of the ancient site, in the cart-tracks, and the property
limits. The main street of the modern town, which is
continued to the NE on the same axis by the Aleppo
road, follows the axis of the ancient city: excavations
have shown that it was built over the W portico of the
The depth of the ancient strata made excavation difficult: in the beginning only a few walls could be seen,
mainly sections of the surrounding wall built by Seleucus I, enlarged, probably by Antiochus Epiphanus, and
rebuilt by Tiberius and Justinian. In the 18th c. Cassas
drew some impressive overall views of the wall, but after
that it served, at least its S section, as a quarry for a new
barracks. The wall, 18 km around, climbed Mt. Silpius
and topped the crest, which was crowned with a citadel.
Farther N it ran down a steep slope to Parmenios, then
scaled the other side, on Mt. Stauris. Here are the Iron
Gates, Bab el Hadid, where architects of the 6th c. A.D.
built a dam to curb the floods. Beyond Mt. Stauris the
wall turned W where the mountain is closest to the river,
then crossed the monumental axis and headed back 5,
following the river bank. Only one Roman bridge survives out of the five that led to the Island (now gone).
No trace could be seen of the wall on the whole W face,
although it has been located here and there during later
A few houses built on the terracing of the mountain
slopes have been uncovered, along with their mosaics;
a monumental rock-hewn bust, evidence of a chthonic
cult, in the Charonion area remains visible. But other
excavations in the city had to contend with the problems
of deep excavation. Part of an amphitheater at the foot
of Mt. Silpius was uncovered, however, and, farther N,
some immense baths, probably built by Tiberius but containing a mosaic dated by an inscription after the 528
earthquake. Excavations on the edge of the main street
have clarified the history of the street and its porticos,
which had been buried in the earthquakes and quarried
in every period.
In the 3d c. B.C. the street was paved with stone—a
road rather than a street, with no monuments. Later, in
a higher stratum, modest structures appear on both sides,
and then narrow sidewalks. To the N of Parmenios in a
slightly higher stratum are traces of a monumental reconstruction dating from about the beginning of our era:
sidewalks 4.4 m wide were added, probably lined with the
first colonnade, which included a series of shops and is
attributed by the texts to Herod and Tiberius. Then the
street was destroyed (probably in the earthquake of A.D.
115, under Trajan); after some provisional restoration it
was completely rebuilt, and the total width increased to
more than 40 m. The roadway was paved with opus
polygonale, and the colonnade had disappeared, except
for the foundations (in one excavation the intercolumniation measured 4.8 m, elsewhere 3.65 m). This sumptuous
complex was begun under Trajan and completed under
Antoninus, and when Justinian later rebuilt the street, he
laid a pavement of lava 1 m higher and set the columns
These layers partly explain the confusion of the chroniclers and historians. Only Procopius, in a somewhat
fanciful account, shows us Justinian's city built on the
ruins of the Roman one. But the colonnade that Malalas
describes, where Libanius and the Antiochians strolled
to the satirical amusement of the emperor Julian, is not
that of Herod and Tiberius but of Trajan and Antoninus,
which was 2 m higher and retained only the orientation
of the older street.
Excavation has revealed twin Hellenistic arches that
carried the road across the Parmenios when it was in
spate. They served until A.D. 526, by which time they were
clogged with alluvial deposits and Justinian's architects
built the dam at the Iron Gates. No trace has been found
of the omphalos, where the second colonnaded street
leading to the Island began, nor of the Forum of Valens,
the imperial palace, or the church of Constantine
In 636 Antioch was taken by the Arabs without a battle, but the monumental street was again destroyed at
an undetermined date. The paving stones served as foundations for other structures and the street, now on a
different axis, was set up over the W portico, where it
remained. After Nicephorus II Phocas' conquest in 969
the Byzantines built another city, part of which was
apparently on an uninhabited site. It followed the same
orientation but was far smaller, though large and well
built. A church and cemetery have been uncovered on
the other side of Parmenios, and another church at
Daphne. After the Mameluke conquest this city was laid
waste in its turn, and again 4 m of earth piled up in the
On the Island the ancient strata were not as deep. Several baths were found there, some of them immense,
a second hippodrome, that of Q. Marcus Rex, dating
from 50 B.C., some distance from the first, and a villa
with mosaics (the triclinium of the Judgment of Paris).
Later, however, the water level was too high for excavation.
A suburb named Daphne developed 9 km S of Antioch
on the first plateau overlooking the Orontes and the
plain, built around the springs of Castalia and Pallas,
next to which stood the Temple of Apollo. The water
reached Antioch in underground aqueducts set at a calculated slope, which then crossed several valleys on arcades and ran in high galleries along the mountainsides
above the city. Thus, as Libanius says, every house could
have its fountain.
At Daphne itself the original villas were later included
in an orthogonal city plan. The archaeological strata
here were only 2-3 m below the surface, but olive groves,
orchards, and fields prevented extensive exploration; thus
only a few houses could be excavated, and many mosaics
The mosaics of both Antioch and Daphne have almost
all been raised and dispersed; some are in the local museum in Antioch, some in Paris, some in museums in the
United States. Only two mosaics of the 1st c. A.D. have
been found. They consist of geometric patterns. Figured
mosaics begin in the 2d c. and continue through to the
end of the Classical period of Antioch in the 6th c. They
form a most valuable series, illustrating the development
of the art of the mosaicist through the Roman period.
Little sculpture and few inscriptions have survived, and
the only monuments that have been thoroughly explored
are the Theater of Daphne and the Martyrion of Qaoussié. The latter, with mosaics executed in A.D. 387, is
cruciform in plan: four naves 25 by 11 m, set on the
sides of a square 16 by 16 m. Instead of an apse there
was a horseshoe-shaped Syrian bema at the center of the
square. In one corner was the sarcophagus that had held
the body of Babylas, bishop and martyr, which the emperor Julian returned from Daphne to Antioch (identified
by inscriptions now at Princeton University). Another
church at Machouka, N of the city, was a conventional
basilica paved throughout with flowered mosaics (6th c.).
The monuments listed in the ancient texts—temples
and baths, honorific monuments, fountains, two Hellenistic agoras, a forum of the 4th c. A.D., an amphitheater,
civic basilicas, palaces, churches, the octagonal Church
of Constantine, and the round Church of the Virgin built
by Justinian—can probably never be brought to light.
C. O. Müller, Antiquitates Antiochenae
(1839) with map based on sources; R. Förster, “Antiochia am Orontes,” JdI
12 (1897) 103-49; L. Jalabert &
R. Mouterde, Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie
(1929-); Antioch on the Orontes
1. The Excavations of
(1934); 2. The Excavations, 1933-1936
, 1937-1939 (1941); 4 pt. 1. Ceramics
and Islamic Coins
(1948); 4 pt. 2. Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Crusaders' Coins
(1952); 5. Les portiques d'Antioche
(1970); C. R. Morey, The Mosaics of Antioch
(1938); D. Levi, Antioch Mosaic Pavements
A. J. Festugière, Antioche païenne et chrétienne
(1959) with an archaeological study by R. Martin; R. Stillwell,
“The Houses of Antioch,” DOPapers
15 (1961) 47-57;
G. Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus
to the Arab Conquest
(1961) with abbr. & bibl.; id.,