Archaeology Odyssey 3:6, November/December 2000

Polyglot Antioch

Will archaeologists ever find the city described in the literary sources?

By Florent Heintz

Antioch-on-the-Orontes was one of the four great cities of the Greco-Roman-Byzantine world. Although almost unknown today, it once rivaled Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople. Ancient writers described it as a breathtakingly beautiful city with grand civic buildings, baths, houses, temples, synagogues, churches and colonnaded streets—all bordered by the Orontes River and surrounded by mountains. According to the patriarch John Chrysostom (c. 345–407 C.E.), who was born and educated in Antioch, the city was home to 200,000 souls: Greeks, Persians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Judeans and Romans. Antioch was the most multicultural city of Late Antiquity; for centuries, pagans, Jews and Christians lived here side by side, most of the time in peace.

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