Antioch or Antiochia was an ancient city located on the Orontes River near the Amanus Mountains in Syria. The “land of four cities” --- Seleucia, Apamea, Laodicea, and Antiochia --- was founded by Seleucos I Nikator (Victor) between 301 and 299 BC. Some credit the city’s initial founding as Antigoneia to Antigonus the One-Eyed who lost the area to Seleucos after the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE. According to some ancient sources, Seleucos was considered one of the more capable successors to the empire established by Alexander the Great. Seleucos was not one of the people in Alexander’s inner circle, serving as one of the commanders of the hypaspists, an elect guard that served as a buffer between Alexander’s cavalry and infantry. Although little mention is made of him and his relationship to Alexander, he and his descendants would rule an empire which included Antiochia for almost two hundred and fifty years.
After Alexander’s death in 323 BC his empire and its future lay in ruin. Because Alexander had not named a successor, one of his generals, Perdiccos, wanted to delay any decision concerning the naming of a new leader until after the birth of Alexander and Roxanne’s child. Another general, Ptolemy, on the other hand, wanted the empire divided immediately (he had his eye on Egypt) --- the Wars of Successors began and would continue for almost three decades. After Ptolemy stole Alexander’s body on its way to Macedonia and took it to Alexandria, Perdiccos and his army attacked Ptolemy and his forces in Egypt----- Seleucos, although initially loyal to Perdiccos, turned and sided with Ptolemy. After the defeat and death of Perdiccos, Seleucos was rewarded for his loyalty with the territory surrounding Babylon, an area east of Syria
Seleucos was unable to maintain control of his newly-acquired territory and when it was invaded by his nemesis Antigonos the One-Eyed, he sought help from Ptolemy. In 312 BC Seleucos finally defeated Antigonos at the Battle of Gaza and regained his realm. After the Battle of Ipsus, he proved himself a very capable commander by expanding his empire into Syria, Asia Minor and India. His son, Antiochos I (281 – 261 BCE) faced a series of revolts after his father’s assassination in 281 BCE and was forced to concede territory in order to maintain peace. Unfortunately, his son, Antiochos II, (261 – 247 BCE) inherited a war against the Ptolemys of Egypt, the Second Syrian War, from his father.
In an attempt to make peace, Antiochos II agreed to divorce and exile his wife Laodice and their sons to marry Ptolemy II’s daughter, Berenice Syra. When he died, his wife (Berenice) and ex-wife (Laodice) fought over whose son should be named heir. Berenice, who had the support of the people of Antiochia, asked her brother and new ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy III, to help secure her infant son’s right to sit on the throne. When Ptolemy arrived in Antiochia, he found his sister and nephew had been assassinated. A war, the third Syrian War or Laodicean War, erupted. Peace brought control of the port of Antioch, Seleucia, to Ptolemy, but Seleucos II (Antiochos and Laodice’s son) inherited the throne and was able to retain Antiochia, making it his empire’s new capital.
The city would maintain its status as a capital well into the time of the Roman Empire. Because of its location on several major trade routes (primarily the spice trade), the city and its international population served as a strategic, economic and intellectual center for both the Seleucid as well as Roman Empires. The city’s importance to the Roman Empire sometimes rivaled that of Egypt’s chief city Alexandria.
Due to the reign of several feeble rulers, in 64 BCE Pompey made the region a Roman province. As with other Roman cities, the city would benefit from Roman rule. Antiochia would become Romanized containing aqueducts, public baths, and even an amphitheater. Its sumptuous palaces (built by the Selecuid monarchs) became vacation residences of many Roman emperors. Septimus Severus took away the city’s independence when they supported Pescennius Niger of Syria instead of him for Roman emperor. Because it was located on a major fault, the city was damaged by both a great fire and several earthquakes (Earthquakes occurred under Tiberius, Caligula, Hadrian and Diocletian).
Antiochia was rebuilt by the Roman emperor Trajan, serving as his army’s winter quarters. After the Empire was divided during the reign of Diocletian, the city fell into the Byzantine or eastern half. Under the rule of Constantine when the empire was reunited, it would be a leading city in the rise of Christianity, even containing a school for Biblical studies. When the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate (361 – 363 CE) passed through Syria on his way to fight the Persians, he stopped at Antioch in 362 CE. The city was forced to house and feed his army. The resulting crisis over the price of grain eventually led to both a famine and food riots. Later, it would be sacked by the Huns in the 5th century and eventually captured by the Arabs in the 7th century.
About the Author
- Anonymous, Encyclopedia of World History
- Bagnall, R.S. et al, Encyclopedia of Ancient History (Wiley-Blackwell, London, 2012)
- Livius, Articles on Ancient History