After that the Seleucids resided at Antioch and treated it as their capital par excellence. We know little of it in the Greek period, apart from Syria, all our information coming from authors of the late Roman time. Among its great Greek buildings we hear only of the theatre, of which substructures still remain on the flank of Silpius, and of the royal palace, probably situated on the island. It enjoyed a great reputation for letters and the arts (Cicero pro Archia, 3); but the only names of distinction in these pursuits during the Seleucid period, that have come down to us, are Apollophanes, the Stoic, and one Phoebus, a writer on dreams.
The mass of the population seems to have been Hellenic, and to have spoken Aramaic. The nicknames which they gave to their later kings were Aramaic; and, except Apollo and Daphne, the great divinities of north Syria seem to have remained essentially native, such as the "Persian Artemis" of Meroe and Atargatis of Hierapolis Bambyce.
The most attractive pleasure resort was the beautiful sacred grove of laurels and cypresses called Daphne, some four or five miles to the west of the city of Antioch. It was renowned for its park-like appearance, for its magnificent temple of Apollo, and for the pompous religious festival held in the month of August. The city was endowed with the right of asylum. From it Antioch was sometimes surnamed Epidaphnes. The population included a great variety of races. There were Macedonians and Greeks, native Syrians and Ph¦necians, Jews and Romans, besides a contingent from further Asia; many flocked there because Seleucus had given to all the right of citizenship. Nevertheless, it remained always predominantly a Greek city. The inhabitants did not enjoy a great reputation for learning or virtue; they were excessively devoted to pleasure, and universally known for their witticisms and sarcasm. Not a few of their peculiar traits have reached us through the sermons of St. John Chrysostom, the letters of Libanius, the "Misopogon" of Julian, and other literary sources.
We may infer, from its epithet, "Golden," that the external appearance of Antioch was magnificent; but the city needed constant restoration owing to the seismic disturbances to which the district has always been peculiarly liable. The first great earthquake is said by the native chronicler John Malalas, who tells us most that we know of the city, to have occurred in 148 BC, and to have done immense damage.
The inhabitants were turbulent, fickle and notoriously dissolute. In the many dissensions of the Seleucid house they took violent part, and frequently rose in rebellion, for example against Alexander Balas in 147 BC, and Demetrius II in 129.
The latter, enlisting a body of Jews, punished his capital with fire and sword. In the last struggles of the Seleucid house, Antioch turned definitely against its feeble rulers, invited Tigranes of Armenia to occupy the city in 83, tried to unseat Antiochus XIII in 65, and petitioned Rome against his restoration in the following year.
Its wish prevailed, and it passed with Syria to the Roman Republic in 64 BC, but remained a civitas libera.
The Romans both felt and expressed boundless contempt for the hybrid Antiochenes; but their emperors favoured the city from the first, seeing in it a more suitable capital for the eastern part of the empire than Alexandria could ever be, thanks to the isolated position of Egypt. To a certain extent they tried to make it an eastern Rome. Caesar visited it in 47 BC, and confirmed its freedom. A great temple to Jupiter Capitolinus rose on Silpius, probably at the instance of Octavian, whose cause the city had espoused. A forum of Roman type was laid out. Tiberius built two long colonnades on the south towards Silpius. Agrippa and Tiberius enlarged the theatre, and Trajan finished their work. Antoninus Pius paved the great east to west artery with granite. A circus, other colonnades and great numbers of baths were built, and new aqueducts to supply them bore the names of Caesars, the finest being the work of Hadrian. The Roman client, King Herod, erected a long stoa on the east, and Agrippa encouraged the growth of a new suburb south of this.
The chief events recorded under the empire are the earthquakes that shook Antioch. One, in AD 37, caused the emperor Caligula to send two senators to report on the condition of the city. Another followed in the next reign; and in 115, during Trajan's sojourn in the place with his army of Parthia, the whole site was convulsed, the landscape altered, and the emperor himself forced to take shelter in the circus for several days. He and his successor restored the city; but in 526, after minor shocks, the calamity returned in a terrible form; the octagonal cathedral which had been erected by the emperor Constantius II suffered and thousands of lives were lost, largely those of Christians gathered to a great church assembly. Especially terrific earthquakes on November 29, 528 and October 31, 588 are also recorded.
At Antioch Germanicus died in AD 19, and his body was burnt in the forum. Titus set up the Cherubim, captured from the Jewish temple, over one of the gates. Commodus had Olympic games celebrated at Antioch, and in 266 the town was suddenly raided by the Persians, who slew many in the theatre. In 387 there was a great sedition caused by a new tax levied by order of Theodosius, and the city was punished by the loss of its metropolitan status. Zeno, who renamed it Theopolis, restored many of its public buildings just before the great earthquake of 526, whose destructive work was completed by the Persian Chosroes twelve years later. Justinian I made an effort to revive it, and Procopius describes his repairing of the walls; but its glory was past.
Early Christian-Byzantine Period
The chief interest of Antioch under the empire lies in its relation to Christianity. Evangelized perhaps by Peter, according to the tradition upon which the Antiochene patriarchate still rests its claim for primacy (cf. Acts xi.), and certainly by Barnabas and Paul, who here preached his first Christian sermon in a synagogue, its converts were the first to be called Christians (Acts 11:26).
They multiplied exceedingly, and by the time of Theodosius were reckoned by Chrysostom at about 100,000 souls. Between 252 and 300 A.D. ten assemblies of the church were held at Antioch and it became the seat of one of the four original patriarchates, along with Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Rome (see Pentarchy). Today Antioch remains the seat of a patriarchate of the Oriental Orthodox churches.
One of the canonical Eastern Orthodox churches is still called the Antiochian Orthodox Church, although it moved its headquarters from Antioch to Damascus, Syria, several centuries ago (see list of Patriarchs of Antioch), and its prime bishop retains the title "Patriarch of Antioch," somewhat analogous to the manner in which several Popes, heads of the Roman Catholic Church remained "Bishop of Rome" even while residing in Avignon, France in the 14th Century of the Common Era.When Julian visited the place in 362 the impudent population railed at him for his favour to Jewish and pagan rites, and to revenge itself for the closing of its great church of Constantine, burned down the temple of Apollo in Daphne.
The emperor's rough and severe habits and his rigid administration prompted Antiochene lampoons, to which he replied in the curious satiric apologia, still extant, which he called Misopogon. His successor, Valens, who endowed Antioch with a new forum having a statue of Valentinian on a central column, reopened the great church, which stood till the sack of Chosroes in 538.
Antioch gave its name to a certain school of Christian thought, distinguished by literal interpretation of the Scriptures and insistence on the human limitations of Jesus. Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia were the leaders of this school. The principal local saint was Simeon Stylites, who performed his penance on a hill some 40 miles east. His body was brought to the city and buried in a building erected under the emperor Leo.
In 638, during the reign of Heraclius, Antioch passed into Saracen hands and decayed apace for more than 300 years; but in 969 it was recovered for the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas by Michael Burza and Peter the Eunuch. In 1084 the Seljuk Turks captured it but held it only fourteen years, yielding place to the Crusaders, who besieged it for nine months during the First Crusade, enduring frightful sufferings. Being at last betrayed, it was given to Bohemund, prince of Tarentum, and it remained the capital of the Latin Principality of Antioch for nearly two centuries. It fell at last to the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan Baibars, in 1268, after a great destruction and slaughter. Together with the fact that large ships could no longer enter the Orontes because too much sand had accumulated in the river bed over the centuries, that meant it was never to become a major city again, with much of its former role falling to the port city of Alexandretta (Iskenderun).
St. Peter's Grottos Church is one of more than twenty fourth-century churches uncovered in Antioch. According to tradition, this cave was used for secret meetings of Antiochene Christians avoiding persecution. Tradition says that Peter preached and taught here while he was in the city 47-54 A.D.