1. The city of Antioch in Syria was founded by Seleucus Nicator shortly after he and Generals Cassander and Lysimachus won the decisive battle of Ipsus in Phrygia, Asia Minor, in 301 B.C.E. He selected the site due to its military advantages and named it after his father or his son, both named Antiochus. At the location of what today is called Antakya in Turkey, Antioch was founded on the S side of the navigable Orontes River at a bend some twenty miles (32 kilometers) from the Mediterranean Sea. It was so situated geographically that it could easily dominate the trade of all NW Syria that traversed the routes between the Euphrates River and the Mediterranean Sea. It soon became a commercial center and its manufacture of luxury goods brought prosperity and wealth to the cosmopolitan city. As a seaport for Antioch, Seleucus also founded the coastal city of Seleucia, named after himself. Before he was assassinated in 280 B.C.E. he transferred his seat of government from Babylon to his new Syrian capital, Antioch, where the Seleucid dynasty of kings continued in power until 64 B.C.E., when Roman General Pompey made Syria a Roman province. Not only was Antioch made the capital of the Roman province of Syria but it also became the third-largest city in the empire, after Rome and Alexandria.
The physical structure of the city had been laid out according to the plan of Alexandria, with great colonnaded streets that intersected, lending impressive beauty to the splendor of the surrounding buildings. It was called “The Queen of the East,” “Antioch the Beautiful,” “The Third Metropolis of the Roman Empire,” and was unique in possessing a regular system of street lighting. Despite this outward show of beauty and industriousness it gained a reputation for being morally corrupt due to the defiling practice of orgiastic rites in the name of religion. It was said that the Antiochenes were “notoriously dissolute.” Juvenal said that ‘the Orontes River had flowed into the Tiber River flooding Rome with the superstition and immorality of the East.’
BIBLICAL CONNECTIONS AND LATER HISTORY
Josephus records that the Seleucids encouraged Jews to settle in Antioch and gave them full citizenship rights, thus establishing a sizable Jewish population. The first mention of Antioch in the Bible is in connection with Nicolaus from Antioch, who became a Christian after becoming a proselyte to the Jewish religion. (Acts 6:5) Direct Christian activity began there when some of the disciples were scattered as far as Antioch by the tribulation that arose following Stephen’s death. (Acts 11:19, 20) When the congregation at Jerusalem heard that many Greek-speaking people were becoming believers they dispatched Barnabas as far an Antioch and, when he observed the thriving interest manifested there, he brought Paul in from Tarsus to help. (Acts 11:21-26) They both dwelt there for a year teaching the people, and Paul thereafter used Antioch as a home base for his missionary tours. It was in Antioch that, by divine providence, the disciples were first called “Christians.” (Acts 11:26) The generosity of the congregation was expressed when they sent a relief ministration (Acts 11:29) by the hands of Paul and Barnabas to the governing body in Jerusalem about 46 C.E. This coincided with a great famine occurring in the time of Claudius, as prophesied by Agabus. (Acts 11:27, 28) After they returned to Antioch the holy spirit directed that Paul and Barnabas be set aside for special work, so they were sent on Paul’s first missionary tour, 47-48 C.E. Before he started on his second missionary tour and while he was in Antioch, the matter of circumcision for Gentiles arose in 49 C.E., and the decree of the governing body at Jerusalem, presided over by James, was delivered by Paul and Barnabas to the congregation at Antioch. (Acts 15:13-35) Paul’s second missionary journey, 49-52 C.E., likewise began and ended at Antioch and here also was where Paul corrected Peter’s compromising action of discriminating between Jews and Gentiles.—Gal. 2:11, 12.
Although the city was said to have reached its greatest size and prosperity during the fourth century C.E., with a population of up to 800,000, Antioch was destroyed shortly thereafter, in the sixth century C.E., by the Persians. Roman Emperor Justinian rebuilt it, and from 635 C.E. it was controlled by the Moslems and the Turks, with the exception of a period of domination by the Crusaders during the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries.
2. Antioch in Pisidia was also founded by Seleucus Nicator and named in honor of his father, Antiochus. The ruins of the city are located near Yalvaç in modern Turkey. It was situated on the border of Phrygia and Pisidia and so might be reckoned to one or the other of these provinces at different times. Thus, Greek geographer Strabo of the early part of the first century C.E. refers to it as a city of Phrygia toward Pisidia, but, as Funk and Wagnalls’ New Standard Bible Dictionary (p. 51) observes, “the majority of writers speak of it as Pisidian,” even as did Luke. This identification served to distinguish it from Antioch in Syria. (See PISIDIA.) Under Roman rule it was made a free city (189 B.C.E.), and Augustus later conferred upon it the status of a Roman colony. Thus it became the center of civil and military administration in south Galatia. In 39 B.C.E. Antioch and all of Pisidia were given by Mark Antony to Amyntas, king of Galatia, showing again its connection with Pisidia. The ruins testify to the fact that it was a strongly fortified city. Due to its location it became part of the trade route between Cilicia and Ephesus and contained a mixed population including many Jews, who had established a synagogue there. It was a thoroughly Hellenized Greek-speaking city. Paul twice visited it with Barnabas on his first evangelistic journey 47-48 C.E. and preached in the synagogue, finding much interest. (Acts 13:14; 14:19-23) However, becoming jealous of the crowds that were attending, the Jews stirred up some of the leading men and women of the city and threw Paul and Barnabas outside.—Acts 13:45, 50; 2 Tim. 3:11.
[Map on page 85]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Antioch in GALATIA
Antioch in SYRIA