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in the footsteps of paul
 Antioch
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 Home | History | Series
 Introduction
 Tarsus (Birth - 30CE)
 Jerusalem (30-34)
 Antioch (34-43)
 Spreading the Word (43-48)
 The Wider World (49-50)
 Corinth (50-52)
 Ephesus (52-56)
 Into the Fire (56-70)
The City and Its History
3
 Pages
123

Antioch is the metropolis of Syria, and without dispute deserves the place of the third city in the habitable earth that was under the Roman Empire, both in magnitude and other marks of prosperity.
–Josephus Jewish War 3.29

The spring at Daphne
The spring at Daphne
(photo courtesy Ministry of Tourism, Ankara)

Decorative mosaic depicting the three graces
Decorative mosaic depicting the three graces
(photo courtesy Ministry of Tourism, Ankara)

The city walls of Antioch
The city walls of Antioch
(historical re-creation)

Marketplace in Antioch
Marketplace in Antioch
(historical re-creation)

Roman legions stationed in Antioch
Roman legions stationed in Antioch
(historical recreation)

Those who had fled from the persecutions that arose about Stephen made their way to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, telling no one their tale except fellow Judeans. There were among them some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, and when they arrived in Antioch, they shared the message with Greeks as well, spreading the word of their lord Jesus. And the grace of the Lord was with them, and a great number were persuaded and came over to the Lord.
–Acts 11.19-21


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Caligula

Caligula wished to be acknowledged as a god. He cut down the best men in his own land and spread his profanity even to Judea. He sent an army against Jerusalem with orders to set up statues of himself in the Temple. And if the Jews would not receive the statues, he would kill the resistors and reduce the rest of the population to slavery. Fear grasped them all. They held out their Law and the customs of their fathers. The Jews said that if Caligula wished to set up statues it would be necessary to sacrifice the whole Judean people
–Josephus Jewish War 2.184-197


a
ntioch was one of the most impressive cities of the Roman Empire. Although it had been founded by a Hellenistic king in 300 BCE, the city was thrust into prominence by Augustus. Territories which had previously received protection from Rome were consolidated into the Imperial Province of Syria, and Augustus chose the strategically important city as the station for his legate to the East. Defensively positioned at the foot of a mountain range, with easy access to the Mediterranean by way of the Orantes River, Antioch was also on the crossroads of major trade routes into India and Egypt, and on the frontier of the Parthian Empire. Roman legions were stationed here, and their commander was second in power only to the Emperor himself. Rome instituted building programs to make the city architecture match its prestige. City walls were improved, and the Eastern Gate was topped with a symbol of Roman sovereignty, a statue of a she-wolf nursing two infant boys-Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. It would have been an imposing sight to visiting dignitaries, immigrants, and merchants. For Paul, entering the city in the year 40, such displays of Roman power and wealth were both challenge and inspiration.

Once inside the city, Paul would have proceeded down a monumental colonnaded street built by Herod. Over nine meters wide, the thoroughfare ran the length of the city, and was flanked by porticoes. Each portico stood two-stories tall and was 10 meters wide. After a fire in 23 CE, the emperor Tiberius renovated the porticoes. Decorated with mosaics and marble, ornamented with statues and bronzes, the roofed colonnades declared Antioch's alliance with Rome, and commemorated Roman patronage. They also gave the bustling urban population shelter form the sun and rain. The Roman transformation of the city included renovations of temples -- most notably, a Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus that was paneled in gold -- as well as the construction of theaters, a circus, and Roman baths.

But Paul would have spent most of his time in the residential quarters, markets and synagogues, and these areas were of a much different character. Like most Greco-Roman cities, Antioch consisted primarily of wood-frame buildings and plaster. The city suffered at least two devastating earthquakes in the years of Paul's acquaintance. The first was in 37, and the second -- so massive it was felt all the way in Ephesus -- was during Claudius' reign. And as Antioch's prestige grew, so too did its population. Soldiers came with families; legates came with bureaucrats; building programs came with laborers; many brought slaves; and all were accompanied by purveyors of goods and services to supply and entertain them. While some would have lived outside the city walls, one modern scholar estimates a population density for Antioch of around 117 people per acre, living in highly flammable buildings of up to five stories high. As the population expanded, so too did the city's ethnic diversity. The city soon had ethnic enclaves not only for Greeks, Syrians, and Jews, but also for Romans, Germans, Gauls and others. Vulnerable to earthquakes, fires, and epidemics, with an average life expectancy of less than 30 years, the population of a city like Antioch was in constant flux. Crime rates were probably high, and small conflicts could quickly escalate into major riots. Those who could afford to settled in nearby Daphne, building spacious villas and lush gardens without the crowding of the city. Here a sanctuary of Apollo guarded the natural spring.

Antioch's Jewish communities were as old as the city itself. Jews who had fought on behalf of the city's Hellenistic founder had been invited to the city as citizens, and given rights and privileges to accommodate their religion. Roman leaders extended these privileges, but it is unclear how secure the communities that welcomed Paul and Barnabas would have been. Even before Paul's arrival, Antioch seems to have received Jewish followers of Jesus. And according to the Book of Acts, these Jews were already spreading the message of Jesus as Messiah among the Gentiles of the city as well. A major crisis struck the Jewish communities throughout the Empire in the year 40, while Paul was in Antioch. Caligula, now emperor, had decreed that a statue of himself be erected in the Jerusalem Temple. Nothing could be more offensive. Over a year of resistance and diplomacy diffused the situation, and the plan died with Caligula in 41.

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