Antioch, now the city of Antakya in southern Turkey, was once the capital of ancient Syria. Seleucus I, a general in the army of Alexander the Great and founder of the Seleucid dynasty, established Antioch about 300 B.C. He named the city after his father, Antiochus.

Located at a crossroads of trade routes between Asia and the Mediterranean Sea, Antioch grew quickly into a prosperous commercial and trade center. In 64 B.C., the Romans annexed the region around Antioch, and the city became the capital of the new Roman province of Syria. Antioch continued to grow and prosper, becoming one of the most important Roman cities in Asia. The Romans built temples, baths, aqueducts, and other great public buildings in Antioch. One of the distinctive features of the city’s architecture, a street lined by a marble colonnade*, was copied in cities throughout Asia Minor.

About A.D. 47, Antioch also emerged as an early center of Christianity. The apostle Paul used the city as headquarters for his missionary activities, and the term Christian was first used in Antioch to describe the disciples of Jesus.

Antioch reached the height of its greatness and prosperity in the A.D. 300s. It became known for its beautiful architecture and its centers of learning. At the time, the city’s population exceeded 200,000. However, in the A.D. 500s, several earthquakes and fires and an outbreak of plague* struck Antioch, devastating the city’s population. Later the Persians invaded, and the city never fully recovered. In A.D. 637, Antioch was conquered by the Arabs. (See also Aqueducts; Baths, Roman.)

* colonnade series of regularly spaced columns, usually supporting a roof

* plague highly contagious, widespread, and often fatal disease

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