Syrian Antioch and Pisidian Antioch

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Ancient Cities

  • Acts says that when the prophets and teachers in the Antioch church laid their hands on Barnabas and Paul and sent them off on their journey, the duo traveled to Cyprus and then headed over to another city named Antioch! Confusing?!
  • There were actually 16 or 17 cities named Antioch in the ancient world.
  • But biblical writers are only interested in two of them – Syrian Antioch and Pisidian Antioch.
    • Both cities played a key role in early Christianity.

Founding of Cities

  • Though scholars suspect that ancient peoples settled both cities, their founding is credited to Seleucus I Nicator in about 300 BCE.
    • He was the head of the Seleucid dynasty following the death of Alexander the Great.
    • Scholars think he founded at least 60 cities, naming many of them “Antioch” in honor of his father, Antiochus.

Syrian Antioch – History

  • Antioch of Syria was located at the head of the Orontes River in the southeast corner of Asia Minor.
    • It was roughly 300 miles north of Jerusalem.
  • It was a thriving center of trade around the Mediterranean Sea.
  • It ranked third in importance after Rome and Alexandria and was dubbed “Queen of the east.”
  • Scholars estimate the population between 100,000-500,000 in biblical times.
  • The Romans conquered the city in 64 BCE, and made it both the capital and the military headquarters for the Syrian province.
  • Under Roman occupupation the city’s roads were improved, trade increased, and Roman soldiers provided security for its inhabitants.
    • Needless to say, the city flourished even more.

Syrian Antioch – Early Christianity

  • After Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem, many of Jesus’ followers fled the city and settled in Antioch.
    • Scholars believe that it wasn’t long before these Greek-speaking Jews started preaching to the “God-fearers” that associated themselves with the Jewish synagogues.
    • Obviously, some of these “God-fearers” would have been Gentiles.
  • When word got back to Jerusalem, the church elders sent Barnabas to Antioch to check things out.
    • Once he saw that the ministry was thriving, he enlisted the help of Paul. And the rest, as they say, is history.
  • It is in Antioch that we first hear the term “Christians.”
  • Scholars do not know whether this was a self-designation by Jesus’ followers or a pejorative term used by the Roman authorities that labeled this group in order to distinguish it from traditional Jews.
  • The size and influence of the Christian community remains speculative.
    • “Large numbers” reportedly turned to the Lord, but no one knows how big “large” really is.
  • Nonetheless, Antioch is known as the cradle of Christianity.
  • Issues stemming from the Gentile Christian population occasioned the council of Jerusalem, which decreed that Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised nor follow the dietary laws.

Pisidian Antioch - History

  • Like its sister city, Antioch of Pisidia was founded in 300 BCE by Seleucus I Nicator.
  • In 188 BCE the Romans defeated Antiochus and declared it a free city.
  • It didn’t gain prominence, however, until it became a Roman colony in 25 BCE.
  • It became part of the province of Galatia located in central Asia Minor.
  • As a Roman colony, it would have had all the Roman accoutrements, including baths, paved streets, a stadium, an aqueduct, and temples.
  • Remnants of the stadium have been excavated, and apparently it could hold 15,000+ spectators.

Pisidian Antioch – Early Christianity

  • Scholars have long wondered why Paul traveled there during his first missionary journey.
  • Some have suggested that perhaps after the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus was converted at Cyprus, he requested Paul visit Pisidian Antioch where he might have had relatives.
  • After leaving Cyprus, Barnabas and Paul traveled roughly 110 miles to get to Pisidian Antioch.
    • They might have traveled along the Roman highway known as the Via Sebaste, which had been constructed in 6 BCE, connecting the interior of Asia Minor with the coast.
  • Pisidian Antioch is the site of Paul’s first recorded speech in Acts.
    • It didn’t take long for traditional Jews to gather opposition to his message.
    • Barnabas and Paul left Pisidian Antioch for Iconium, roughly eighty miles away.
    • The people left behind, however, were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
  • This is the first city to have had a fully Gentile Christian community.
  • It is possible that Paul visited this area on his second or third missionary journeys, although there is no record of that.

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