Saturday, May 22, 2021

A Twice per Century Event?

The last major tome dedicated to the history of Antioch was by Glanville Downey over half a century ago now. Not that there haven't been specialised/focused publications on sub-themes (e.g. Liebeschutz, A.F. Norman or Waldemar Ceran) in the meantime.

It is clearly time for a new infusion of comment and reassessment. The tragedy is though that scarcely any meaningful excavation has been been done since Downey's work. We certainly hope we must not wait another 50 years for some extensive work to be undertaken.

The latest addition to the short list of works is:  Antioch - A History by Andrea U. De Giorgi & A. Asa Eger, 2021 published by Routledge, which should be out at the end of May. 

ISBN 9780367633042, 610 Pages with 198 B/W Illustrations

A glance at the chapter headings shows that it goes beyond the Graeco-Roman/Byzantine focus of Downey and covers right up to the current times. The Table of Contents reads:

1 The Eagle of Zeus Arrives (303BCE–64BCE)

2 Orientis Apex Pulcher: The Roman "Beautiful Crown of the East" in the making (64 BCE–192CE)

3 From Capital to Crisis: Antioch in the Late Roman Empire (193–458)

4 Theoupolis, the City of God (458–638)

5 Anṭākiya, Mother of the Cities (638–969)

6 The Byzantine Duchy of Antioch (969–1085)

7 The Saljūqs: An Interlude (1084–1098)

8 The Crusader Principality of Antioch (1098–1268)

9 A Mamlūk Entrepot (1268–1516)

10 Ottoman Antakya (1516–1918)

11 A Frontier Town Once More (1920–2020)

For us, it will be particularly interesting to see the take on the shambolic and destructive evolution of Antakya since 1938. 

The new edition is available online here:

Monday, April 13, 2020

Antony & Cleopatra Coins from the Antioch Mint

As mentioned in another post, Antony and Cleopatra sojourned in Antioch in 36-35 b.c.e.. Remarkably the literary evidence is poorer from the numismatic traces. 

The Antioch mint produced two rulers’ “portrait” type coins (Walker 2003). Antony and Cleopatra appear individually on coins from this region, but also appear together. 

On silver tetradrachms, minted between 37–32 bce, Cleopatra appears on the obverse with the legend “Queen Cleopatra Thea II.” The term thea, Greek for goddess, is also a reference to one of Cleopatra’s ancestors – Cleopatra Thea. Antony appears on the reverse with the legend “Antony, Imperator for third time and Triumvir.” 

Cleopatra appears in the form of a bust, wearing an elaborate dress and necklace, and Antony is shown only to the base of his neck. Both rulers appeared on coins from Antioch independently of one another (Walker and Higgs 2001: 234, nos. 218–22).


Ashton, Sally-Ann. Cleopatra and Egypt 
p. cm. – (Blackwell ancient lives)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4051-1390-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)

Walker, S., and Higgs, P., eds. 2001. Cleopatra of Egypt. From history to myth. London: British Museum Press.

Walker, S., “From queen of Egypt to Queen of Kings: the portraits of Cleopatra VII” in Bonacasa et al. eds., 508–17.

Cleopatra & Mark Antony at Antioch

Antony and Cleopatra were the star-crossed lovers of the period of transition from Republican to Imperial Rome. And Cleopatra was the harbinger of the end of Egypt's independence for the next two thousand years. Their fates are usually portrayed as being played out in Alexandria, and to a lesser extent Rome, but the other major city of the Roman realm, Antioch, played a brief but crucial role in harbouring this pair during their brief ascendancy. 

Antony resolved to make a foray against the Parthians and, like so many after him, chose Antioch as the base for this campaign. In late Autumn of 37 b.c.e. Antony sent Fonteius Capito (a Plebeian Tribune) to bring Cleopatra to Antioch to discuss this planned invasion of Parthia. Her grip on Egypt had been secured through good governance (and some good harvests) and her position was much stronger than it had been at the time of their first meeting at Tarsus four years earlier. 

The ancient sources rightly point to the renewal of Cleopatra’s affair with Antony as one of the main results of her stay at Antioch from the Autumn of 37 b.c.e. through the winter of 36 b.c.e. 

The primary source for reports of this stay has been Plutarch's Life of Antonius, 36

Glanville Downey claims that Antony married Cleopatra at Antioch during this stay (though he was still married to Octavian's sister, Octavia). He notes that none of the sources specifically state that the wedding took place in the city, but that it took place at this time. As a wedding gift, Antony presented her with territories in Syria and Palestine. 

Cleopatra, according to Stanley Burstein, also won Antony’s recognition of Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene as his children. Apparently when she returned to Egypt the next spring, she was pregnant again with his child (Ptolemy Philadelphos). This would seem to indicate that the couple were together in Antioch for four or five months in total. 

Cleopatra also achieved major political successes at Antioch. In preparation for the Parthian expedition, Antony carried out the most extensive reorganization of the Roman east since the 60s b.c.e., rewarding loyal client kings and removing those suspected of Parthian sympathies. In addition to confirming her authority over Cyprus, Antony put under Egyptian rule an enormous swath of territory, including the island of Crete, Kyrene in modern Libya, numerous cities in Phoenicia, Syria and Cilicia in southern Turkey, and the Arab kingdom of Iturea in northern Palestine.

It is surprising, or maybe not, that all we have is Plutarch's account as a record of this important sojourn in Antioch for nearly half a year by two of history's most important figures .

It begs several questions and generates some assumptions. As the flamboyant queen of Egypt with a very substantial entourage it must be assumed that she went in style to Antioch. Cleopatra was not one to "travel light". Consequently, from the vast spacious royal compound in Alexandria, one cannot imagine her moving into anything less than the  former Seleucid royal palace in Antioch for such an extended stay (and in winter moreover, which have mitigated against an encampment). 

Knowing the Antiochians' love of pleasure and spectacle there must also have been much in the way of panoply and theatre (both on and off the stage).  

Finally we might also wonder whether the stay was a "family event" with the two new children of the couple (who would have been 4 years old) in attendance, and maybe even Caesarion (the child of Cleopatra by Julius Caesar). 

Above can be seen a coin from the Antioch mint with a Cleopatra countermark. It is worth noting that in 39/38 BC, Antonius had appointed Fonteius Capito to the office of monetalis in one of the eastern provinces of the empire, during which time he minted coins. 


Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press (London: Oxford University Press), 1961. Pp. xix + 752, 21 illustrations including maps.

Burstein, Stanley Mayer. The reign of Cleopatra 
p. cm.— (Greenwood guides to historic events of the ancient world), 2004
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0–313–32527–8

Mock, Casey, "Plutarch: Life of Antonius" (2005). Senior Thesis Projects, 2003-2006.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

More Recent Work on the Hippodrome

We have previously introduced the subject of the Hippodrome here.

The remains today consist of sixteen in situ pieces of opus caementicium cores/foundations (see below) of destroyed stairs on the eastern (long) side, and the northern side, which make up the semicircular sphendone. 

Excavations were carried out in the middle of this decade under the direction of Hatice Pamir and the results were published in ANADOLU AKDENİZİ - Arkeoloji Haberleri 2016-14: News of Archaeology from ANATOLIA’S MEDITERRANEAN AREAS in an article entitled "Antakya Hipodrom ve Çevresi Kazısı - Excavations at and around the Hippodrome of Antakya". 

The exploration was carried out in an area of 190 m2 in the north-western part of the hippodrome, from 85m to 82.34m elevation. Four settlement levels were identified, three levels were outside of the western side of the hippodrome, two levels were identified on the foundations. 

The first level contained poor quality foundations of dwelling spaces and terracotta water pipes crossing the trench from north to south. The structure has at least four parallel rooms, reminiscent of a house. Pottery finds belong to daily-use wares from Late Antiquity. The second level contains remains of a house with small rooms whose walls were built with rubble stones and mud. Under a deposit containing architectural brick fragments and architectural block fragments, here and there were stone blocks in situ. Pottery finds have a mixed character, but mainly reflect Late Roman A-C phases. The third level identified on an ash layer in the east but directly on the opus caementicium ground of the hippodrome foundations. In this level blocks were found belonging to the hippodrome either reused or incorporated in situ.

Furthermore, a layer 0.30m thick of ash indicated the remains of a fire. Thus, this layer was settled after the hippodrome fell out of use due to a fire. 

The earliest coin found belonged to the reign of Trajan and uncovered on the ground of the hippodrome’s foundation. We would note here that Trajan was in Antioch at the time of the earthquake in AD115 and escaped from the palace into the Hippodrome. The coin thus tallies with the versions that have Trajan as the driving force behind the (re-)building of the Hippodrome in its most splendid version.

Pottery finds of the third level were more homogeneous than the finds from the other two levels, and vessels of the 4th-6th centuries A.D. constitute the majority. The fourth level is defined as the foundations of the hippodrome. The level with thick ash layer and rubble brick fragments seats directly on this level. 

The hippodrome’s foundation, built in opus caementicium using pebble stones and cement mortar, was attested at the 83.1m elevation. To the west of the foundation a sondage measuring 1x2m was excavated to -1m, but the excavations had to be halted due to swampy ground although the foundations continued.

In the 2015 campaign, a filling layer of agricultural soil 1.40m thick was removed. Right under this filling was a layer of poor quality wall remains, and lime flooring beneath it was also uncovered. Under this layer there are no other traces of a settlement down to the hippodrome’s foundations. On the foundations in situ blocks possibly belonging to the arches that once supported the rows of seats were exposed. On the outer edge of the western side and parallel to them on the eastern side were the hippodrome’s foundation remains measuring 2.40m in width. The distance between these two foundation remains is 7.67m at the south and 7.88m at the north.

The foundations uncovered comprise a north-south wall for the outer side, and five walls extend perpendicular to that, forming four chambers (below). The parallel walls are 2.80 m. wide where they join the outer foundation wall, but 2.30 m. wide on the interior side of the monument. 

In the fourth layer a coin of Diocletian was found on the floor beneath the ash layer, and coins of Trajan and Maximian (A.D. 290-294) found at the 82.84m level indicate that the fire took place after Maximian’s reign. The earliest coin, from Trajan’s reign (A.D. 114-117), was found on the foundations.

As is evident, this was one of the largest hippodromes in the whole Roman empire and it was by all accounts a very substantial and solid structure. The mind somewhat boggles at how so much stone was eventually redeployed for so little effect in the rather mediocre city that Antioch became in the Christian era. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Plague at Antioch

Usually we are not partial to relating events in the Christian era of Antioch as the city was a mere shadow of its greatness and the sheer mediocrity of the regimes that ruled after the time of Julian do not give us much solace.However it seems somewhat pertinent in the current moment to circle back to the experience of Antioch in the plague of Justinian. At the time, an account of the travails visited upon the city was written by Evagrius Scholasticus in his Ecclesiastical History (AD 431-594), translated by E. Walford (1846).  Book 4

Here is his record of the events:



I WILL also describe the circumstances of the pestilence which commenced at that period, and has now prevailed and extended over the whole world for fifty-two years; a circumstance such as has never before been recorded. Two years after the capture of Antioch by the Persians, a pestilence broke out, in some respects similar to that described by Thucydides, in others widely different. It took its rise from Aethiopia, as is now reported, and made a circuit of the whole world in succession, leaving, as I suppose, no part of the human race unvisited by the disease. Some cities were so severely afflicted as to be altogether depopulated, though in other places the visitation was less violent. It neither commenced according to any fixed period, nor was the time of its cessation uniform; but it seized upon some places at the commencement of winter, others in the course of the spring, others during the summer, and in some cases, when the autumn was advanced. In some instances, having infected a part of a city, it left the remainder untouched; and frequently in an uninfected city one might remark a few households excessively wasted; and in several places, while one or two households utterly perished, the rest of the city remained unvisited: but, as we have learned from careful observation, the uninfected households alone suffered the succeeding year. But the most singular circumstance of all was this; that if it happened that any inhabitants of an infected city were living in a place which the calamity had not visited, these alone were seized with the disorder. This visitation also befell cities and other places in many instances according to the periods called Indictions; and the disease occurred, with the almost utter destruction of human beings, in the second year of each indiction. Thus it happened in my own case--for I deem it fitting, in due adaptation of circumstances, to insert also in this history matters relating to myself--that at the commencement of this calamity I was seized with what are termed buboes, while still a school-boy, and lost by its recurrence at different times several of my children, my wife, and many of my kin, as well as of my domestic and country servants; the several indictions making, as it were, a distribution of my misfortunes. Thus, not quite two years before my writing this, being now in the fifty-eighth year of my age, on its fourth visit to Antioch, at the expiration of the fourth indiction from its commencement, I lost a daughter and her son, besides those who had died previously. The plague was a complication of diseases: for, in some cases, commencing in the head, and rendering the eyes bloody and the face swollen, it descended into the throat, and then destroyed the patient. In others, there was a flux of the bowels: in others buboes were formed, followed by violent fever; and the sufferers died at the end of two or three days, equally in possession, with the healthy, of their mental and bodily powers. Others died in a state of delirium, and some by the breaking out of carbuncles. Cases occurred where persons, who had been attacked once and twice and had recovered, died by a subsequent seizure.

The ways in which the disease; was communicated, were various and unaccountable: for some perished by merely living with the infected, others by only touching them, others by having entered their chamber, others by frequenting public places. Some, having fled from the infected cities, escaped themselves, but imparted the disease to the healthy. Some were altogether free from contagion, though they had associated with many who were afflicted, and had touched many not only in their sickness but also when dead. Some, too, who were desirous of death, on account of the utter loss of their children and friends, and with this view placed themselves as much as possible in contact with the diseased, were nevertheless not infected; as if the pestilence struggled against their purpose. This calamity has prevailed, as I have already said, to the present time, for two and fifty years, exceeding all that have preceded it. For Philostratus expresses wonder that the pestilence which happened in his time, lasted for fifteen years. The sequel is uncertain, since its course will be guided by the good pleasure of God, who knows both the causes of things, and their tendencies. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Conservation Zone at Küçükdalyan

This neighbourhood has been declared to be a "First Degree" Archaeological Conservation Zone under Turkish law. This means that this area should be left as it is in the municipality's construction plans. And there cannot be any excavations except for scientific purposes. (It should not be forgotten that in Turkey, with the approval of the local museum, one can make private excavations. This law forbids these kind of excavations in said areas).

The details of this law may be found here:

Below can be seen a map of the current protection zone covering the area known as Küçükdalyan is the modern neighborhood that consists in the northern part of the modern day Antioch.

In modern times this is the neighbourhood that covers the excavation of the Podium Temple and excavation of Hippodrome. It also has Antioch Mosaic Museum and Saint Peter's museum within it. 

When you consider Ancient Antioch, it's the place where the island, temple, the Beroea Gate and almost all of the Northern walls. If we look at the borders of it, we can see on the West side, the Orontes is delimiting all of the zone and some part to the North. At the East almost whole of the Mount Staurin is the border. The southern border runs along the course of the Parmenius river until it's meeting point with the Orontes. 

Contributed by Nazmi KAPBAŞ

The "Big" Temple and Recent Works Upon It Ruins

One feature of the Island that the Princeton Expedition of the 1930s scarcely looked at, nor mentioned, was the "temple" site. This stood two blocks east of the hippodrome, so was very close to where they were operating. This is visible in aerial photographs from the 1920s and is shown best in the Poccardi article. Below is the map from the Poccardi work showing the temple (at letter 3).

This was a fairly massive temple with a podium measuring 107m by 71m covering two city blocks. It has been the subject of testing since at least 2008 by the only group that is currently working in the Antioch site. It stands to the East of the Hippodrome as shown in the map below:

The visible remains consist of the rubble core of the structure. We have seen no speculation on which god the temple may have been dedicated to.

A collaborator, JØRGEN CHRISTENSEN-ERNST, took the following photographs.

This last image shows the top of the podium.

In 2004, a team of archaeologists (Hatice Pamir et al.) with a geomagnetic approach visited the site. There report was as follows: "The so-called temple, the rubble core podium of which still stands at a height of 5 m, underwent a preliminary documentation. A geomagnetic survey was conducted west of the temple, on the periphery of the adjacent hippodrome, which became part of the Tetrarchic palace at Antioch in the late 3rd century. The remains of an opus caementicium wall, which once separated the Basileia from the rest of the city, was provisionally documented and so were most of the monuments registered by the American excavators".

A more extensive report was published in ANADOLU AKDENİZİ - Arkeoloji Haberleri 2016-14: News of Archaeology from ANATOLIA’S MEDITERRANEAN AREAS in an article entitled "Antakya Hipodrom ve Çevresi Kazısı - Excavations at and around the Hippodrome of Antakya authored by Hatice Pamir. In this report:

"Not investigated until today, this structure is mentioned as a temple in the excavation reports of the 1930s. First short-term geophysical surveying was done at the monument in 2011, and then in 2013 excavation and documentation started and still continues. This monument extending north to south sits parallel to the hippodrome, 160 m. to its east. What remains today from the monument are the podium and cella wall foundations of opus caementicium (roman concrete) built with pebble stones and cement mortar.

The high podium measures 109.70 m. long north to south and 75.06 m. wide east to west. The width of the peristasis is 13.70 m. on its long sides and 15.60 m. on its short sides. The cella walls are double walls extending parallel as inner and outer walls. The outer cella wall is 78.70 m. long on its long eastern and western sides while 47.90 m. wide on its short northern and southern sides. A T-shaped construction adjoined for 3.9 m. south from the middle of the northern cella wall and forms a foundation wall 18.5 m. long and 3.5 m. wide extending parallel to the cella’s northern wall. The cella was accessed from the eastern, western and southern sides. The eastern and western entrances are 5 m. wide and on the same axis, while the southern one is 6.8 m. wide.

Following the preliminary documentation, excavations were initiated at the temple carried out at the western peristasis of the podium, gates B2 and B9, the northern peristasis, and the cella.

In the northern half of the western peristasis of the podium, the western outer wall of the podium is bordered with nine blocks of opus caementicium at equal intervals from the northern corner of the north-west podium up to the west gate axis. On the outer surfaces of the blocks placed at intervals forming the podium wall are at least three rows of straight line of mold construction traces left by blocks or molds used during the construction, giving a height of 0.60 m. and 0.45 m. Regarding its construction technique, a row of pebble stones was placed regularly at the bottom, and a thick layer of cement was poured, then another row of pebble stones and again cement mortar. This continued up to the top of the mold.

In order to determine the height of the podium, a sondage measuring 1.00 x 10.80 m. was dug south of the entrance b2. At the 80.15 m. level a mortared floor was reached so the excavation was stopped. Thus, the height of the podium is 5 m. from the top level of the well-preserved block and the podium’s floor/base. On the exterior surface of the wall the courses do not look regular on the plaster but suggest an isodomic wall-facing; blocks measure on the average 0.40 x 0.60 m.

In the northern part of the western peristasis, an area 60 m. long north to south and 5 m. wide from the outer wall of the podium towards the cella was excavated.

This area contained 66 high pedestal bases includes 22 rows in north south and each row includes three pedestal in east-west, built with pebble stone and cement mortar in opus caementicium technique. The pedestal bases measure 0.70 x 0.65 m. with a height of 0.55 m. placed 0.90 m. apart (below). The bases were placed without cutting the gaps. They rest on the ground at the 83.00 m. level.

The excavation carried out in the western part of the northern peristatis. A total of 16 pedestal bases (4 rows of 4) were uncovered in an area measuring 6.50 x 13.50m. extending from the western corner of the cella wall to the outer podium wall. These well-preserved opus caementicium bases measure 0.90x1 m. with a height of 0.8 m., thus are larger than those uncovered in the western peristasis. They also built on the opus caementicium ground at the 82.90 m. level.

The ramp construction in B2 entrance and B9 entrance were excavated. They should be related to the last phase of the temple when its function was changed. Straight line traces of mortar for ashlars measuring 0.45 x 0.60 m. at the eastern end of the northern wall of Entrance B9 indicate that this face of the wall was faced with ashlars originally but later removed.

Excavations were carried out front of the T-shaped wall in the northern part of the cella, in the northern corner of inner eastern wall of the cella, and before the inner western wall of the cella in order to document the ground upon which the foundations of the cella walls.

Under the modern agricultural soil, down to 84.05 m., in a filling 1.50 m. thick were fragments of bricks, rubble, mortar and cut limestone blocks, indicating a few phases of destruction. Beneath it was loose ground with lime mortar. Further down, the pebble stone and rubble filling reaches down to the 83.20 m. level where an opus caementicium ground adjoining the cella walls was uncovered. At the northern corner of the inner western wall of the cella was a platform 2.60-2.65 m. wide at the levels of 84.10-84.00 m. It bounds north-south wall and continues into the profile. Within this platform is a channel paved with brick and bounded with stone blocks.

On the western entrance axis of the cella is an opus caementicium platform 2.60 m. wide uncovered at the 84.04 m. level and adjoining the inner wall of the cella. This one should be extension of the platform uncovered at the northern corner of the inner eastern wall of the cella.

A trench measuring 5x3.40 m. was dug west of the outer cella wall in the west peristasis. Modern agricultural soil and rubble filling were removed, and opus caementicium ground at the 82.88 m. level. This ground extends north to south as a platform 4.93 m. wide adjacent to the outer wall of the cella. Another trench measuring 6 x 2 m. was dug from the outer wall of the cella in the western peristasis, and the opus caementicium ground 5.05 m. wide extending from the cella wall to the podium platform was reached at the 82.90 m. level. Both these platforms/buttress foundations extend adjacent to the outer wall of the cella. Like the platform 2.60 m. wide uncovered at the 84.05 m. level inside the cella, it adjoins the cella wall and looks like a buttress. The podium foundation 7.60 m. wide formed by the outer blocks of buttress in the western peristasis is only 0.60 m. away from the 5.05 m.-wide buttress platform adjoining the cella wall.
This shows that the bases for the vertical elements of the temple were built individually.

For the time being there is no evidence for the superstructure of the temple except very few architectural elements. It was documented one shaft fragment of a grey granite column and two fragments of porphyry granite columns on the surface and in modern soil. It is possible that they were collected and brought the temple from the field around the temple. The temple surrounded with modern occupation houses and agricultural fields. It can be said that this structure is a podium temple of monumental size. The opus caementicium core has been preserved, and facing blocks have been documented at a few points in situ. Its height is over 10 m. including the podium and the cella walls. Its dimensions make it one of the rare monuments of this size. Its plan seems to be unique, and from the point of layout its closest parallel is the Donuktaş temple in Tarsus, which is dated to the Severan period at the end of the 2nd century A.D.

According to preliminary data, the top deposit belongs to the Islamic and Crusader cultures of the 11th-12th centuries. It is thought that the temple served for temporary accommodation thanks to its sturdy architecture during that period. Coin finds are abundant for the 3rd to 4th centuries A.D., but there is no coin from the 4th to the 11th centuries. Pottery finds include amphorae of the late 5th to 7th centuries A.D. (Fig. 5), and the metal armlet on a skeleton uncovered in the debris indicate that the structure fell down in the 6th century. Two burial were uncovered a skeleton in 2013 and another burial in 2015. It is inferred that the area served as a cemetery after the building fell out of use".

Here are a couple of plans from recent publications by Hatice Pamir: 

The plan above predates the latest works at the site but is still useful.