Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Museion

Antioch, like its rival Alexandria, also had its Museion, though that of Alexandria seems to have come first. Of course the most famous part of the Alexandria complex was the famed Library. Antioch's also contained a substantial library component.

In reality these complexes had their origins as shrines to the Muses but that transmogrified rather rapidly into the first universities. While Alexandria's had a long and illustrious fame turning out well known artists and intellectuals over the centuries, Antioch's, we must confess, had a more humble and obscure output.

The Museion in Antioch was reportedly on the lower slopes of Mt Silpius near to the "old" city but on the higher side of the colonnaded street. We have a report in Stinespring of the Vatican Codex that may refer to this establishment:

"And they constructed buildings of learning. Among these is a circular structure, in the middle of which is a dome 100 cubits high; and in this is a reproduction of the heavens, including stars, signs of the zodiac and horoscopes, with movements which have been worked out by the savants and completed by the Brahmins, who in the science of the heavens, have reached the highest rank. So nothing moves in the real heavens, without having its likeness reporduced: sun, moon and everything which is in the heavens. "

Is this the first planetarium??

According to Lassus, the Museion was near the agora of Epiphania, was founded under Antiochus Philpator, burnt under Tiberius, reconstructed by Marcus Aurelius and then under Probus, embellished under the Empress Eudoxia in 438 AD. Constantine converted it to use as the prefectory of the comes Orientis (the Count of the East, the principal Byzantine official in the Eastern part of the Empire) but it was burnt down in a riot of the Green faction on the 9th of July 507.

Norris, in Antioch as a Religious Center, notes that Malalas mentions a merchant, Maron of Antioch, who had gone to Athens and made good. In his will, he mandated the construction of a temple to the Muses and a library. This occurred during the reign of either Antiochus IX (114-95 BC) or Antiochus X (95-92 BC). This shrine was destroyed by a fire during the reign of Tiberius.

Norris also notes that Marcus Aurelius constructed a Museum in Antioch with a sigma-shaped Nymphaeum. In the reign of Probus (276-282 AD), the Museum was further adorned and a mosaic of Oceanus was added which resulted in the structure being popularly known as the "the Ocean". Muller suggested that this Nymphaeum was probably an ornamental screen in front of the Museum itself. Somewhat akin maybe to the Septizonium in Rome.

Menawhile, Julian had an extensive library, but he reigned after the Museion had been turned over to new uses. John of Antioch, a rather obscure figure, writes in the Suda:

"Emperor Hadrian had built a beautiful temple for the worship of his father Trajan which, on the orders of Emperor Julian, the eunuch Theophilus had made into a library. Jovian, at the urging of his wife, burned the temple with all the books in it with his concubines laughing and setting the fire. "

This supposedly occurred around 364 AD. James Hannam comments that one might have doubts on this as neither Libanius nor Ammianus comment on this rather significant event.

Johannes Hahn in his work Gewalt und religiöser Konflikt (pp. 178-180)

"Jovian ordered the destruction of the Traianeum, which Julian had converted to a library, because he wanted to gain the favour of the Antiochians. However, he failed completely: not only the pagans but also the Christians interpreted this as a barbaric act "

John Walden in his book, The Universities of Ancient Greece says "There was a library at Antioch as early as the end of the third century B. C., of which Euphorion of Chalcis was librarian, and much later — in the middle of the first century — a museum and library were established there by Antiochus XIII".

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Regia

We have mentioned elsewhere the suspicion that there were two palaces (at least) in Ancient Antioch. The older one being the Seleucid residence called the Regia and the newer one being the imperial palace that was rebuilt by Diocletian. The latter stood on the Island and the former most probably stood in the oldest part of the Seleucid city.

If we may reprise Ibn Butlan (in Guy Lestrange's work):

"In the centre of the city is the church of Al Kusiyan. It was originally the palace of Kusiyan, the king, whose son, Futrus (St Peter), chief of the disciples, raised to life. It consists of a chapel (haikal), the length of which is 100 paces and the breadth is 80, and over it is a church (Kanisah) supported on columns, in which the judges take their seat to give judgement, also those sit here who teach Grammar and Logic."

He then goes on to mention the clepsydra outside the gate. As we noted in our comments on this clock the Chinese visitors place this clock outside the palace. However, was this really a palace? The clepsydrae had various uses in ancient times, but a key one was in timing speeches in law cases. In Roman times of course, the basilica was the main building for hearing these cases all over the Empire. Thus was this "palace" really just a basilica? We should note that basilicas were the most obvious buildings to convert to churches with the rise of Christianity and lend their historical name to many religious structures even now. Ibn Butlan also speaks of the "judges" making their judgements here. Many Romance languages (e.g. French, Spanish) still refer to their main courts as "palaces of justice".

So Al Kasiyan may have been the old basilica of justice put to new use. The church component was obviously the Church of Cassianus that Hugh Kennedy refers to in his work as the most important church in early Islamic Antioch.

What to make of this King Kusiyan? This king doesn't feature anywhere in the Seleucid royal annals and certainly is a bizarre reference considering the city was ruled by Romans when St Peter would have been doing his "reanimation" of the King's son. No-one has been able to offer an elaboration of who or what this means. It is probably garbled folklore.

Then, lo and behold, we have Stinespring's translation of the Vatican Codex. This it should be recalled, may date from the early Islamic period. The Codex says:

"And in the center of the city is the king's palace, in which are architectural ornaments, and columns of red, white and mottled marble; also in it are specimens of marvellous things, the descriptions of which cannot be portrayed. And it has seven high doors of iron, plated with pure gold; over each door is an idol-talisman, (so that) no cavalry horse of the (hostile) army can neigh and charge (against it)... And outside of it is the court of the judge and the magistrates."

This makes pretty clear that there was not only a court here but in fact a large political/judicial complex which probably was the Regia. The location though still remains a mystery. However, identifying the Cassianus Church's location would then give a site for the whole complex.

Then if we look at Kraeling's interesting writings on the Jewish community he relates an event slightly after 70 AD:

"A short time later, we are told, a tremendous fire did actually occur at Antioch, destroying the four-square market, the magistrates' quarters, the hall of records and the basilicas."

This makes clear that there was some sort of judicial quarter. Presumably rebuilding began shortly after. The new governor sent from Rome to take charge was called Caesennius Paetus, remarkably similar to Cassianus...

Also in Boucher we note a comment on officialdom that gives good reason why this complex would be a target for budding pyromaniacs: "The grammateus, or recorder, had under his control a grammatophylacium, where, among other records, were kept lists of State debtors, so that the building was exposed to danger from fire in the event of an outbreak by a reckless faction". This would be the aforementioned "hall of records".

The Clepsydra

Interestingly there is one architectural feature of Antioch that we have not seen modern scholars refer to and even Downey has not mentioned (at least in what we have seen)! This is the Clepsydra or water clock that stood in Antioch and clearly made an impression upon two historic travellers.

Here is the wikipedia definition of a Greek water clock:

In Greece, a water clock was known as a clepsydra (water thief). A commonly used water clock was the simple outflow clepsydra. This small earthenware vessel had a hole in its side near the base.....

Between 270 BC and 500 AD, Hellenistic (Ctesibius, Hero of Alexandria, Archimedes) and Roman horologists and astronomers were developing more elaborate mechanized water clocks. The added complexity was aimed at making the flow more constant by regulating the pressure, and at providing fancier displays of the passage of time. For example, some water clocks rang bells and gongs, while others opened doors and windows to show figurines of people, or moved pointers, and dials. Some even displayed astrological models of the universe.

The biggest achievement of the invention of clepsydrae during this time, however, was by Ctesibius with his incorporation of gears and a dial indicator to automatically show the time as the lengths of the days changed throughout the year, because of the temporal timekeeping used during his day.

In the lesser of the two references Ibn Butlan (as related in Lestrange), a Christian Arab and a physician visited the city in 1051. He says:

"In the centre of the city is the church of Al Kusiyan. It was originally the palace of Kusiyan, the king...At one of the gates of this church is a Clepsydra (Finjan) showing the hours. It works day and night continuously, twelve hours at a round, and it is one of the wonders of the world."

This is an interesting reference to the church that is sometimes called the Cassianus. We shall dwell more on this in our commentary on the Regia.

Then we have the Chinese report (as related by Hirth) written around 945 AD which considerably fleshes out the detail.

"Coming outside to the royal residence there are three large gates beset with all kinds of rare and precious stones (K18; cf. L17). On the upper floor of the second gate they have suspended a large golden scale; twelve golden balls are suspended from the scale-stick (a steelyard) by which the twelve hours of the day are shown. A human figure has been made all of gold of the size of a man standing upright, on whose side, whenever and hour has come, one of the balls will drop, the dingling sound of which makes known the divisions of the day without the slightest mistake (K19; cf. L18)."

This sounds like a fairly spectacular device. Clepsydrae were common in the ancient world, the most famous detailed for us being the still extant Tower of the Winds in Athens. However the Antioch clepsydrae would seem to leave any of these other documented water-clocks looking mediocre.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Revolt of the Statues

"Turbide vulgo utraque et amenti populi male sane tumulto"

Ausonius xi. 4-5

In 387 AD (the tenth year of the reign of Theodosius) Antioch rioted against a newly levied tax. The mob revolted, tore down the statues of the Emperor (though better stated these appear to have been painted panels with images of the imperial family).

The best sources for this event are Libanius and Chrysostom who both commented heavily upon the events. More recent interpreters of worth are Browning in his comments on the theatre claques and the thesis of Alberto Quiroga Puertas on the theme of Libanius' orations (XIX - XXIII) dealing with the events and their aftermath.

In spite of his age, Bishop Flavian, a man of eighty years, set out in the worst weather and made his way through eight hundred miles of snow to Constantinople, to implore the imperial clemency for his flock and the Emperor was touched by his appeal; an amnesty was accorded to the delinquent citizens of Antioch. During the absence of Bishop Flavian, during the Lent of 387, Saint John could not contain himself seeing the executions of the Antiochenes. He began to deliver a long series of sermons known as ``On the Statues'' in which he said very little about the statues. In those twenty one homilies, he spoke of God's mercy, how there are things far more dreadful than death or slavery, and his hope that the people should embrace death, if they had to, or life, with equal courage. He says of Flavian ``God will not suffer this errand to be fruitless. This is the holy season. This is the season when we remember how Christ died for the sins of the world. Flavian will remind the Emperor of the prayer `Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.' He will bring to his memory that in this city the faithful were first called Christians by name. Let us assist him with our prayers; let us supplicate; let us make an embassy to the King who reigns above, an embassy of tears. And remember how it is written of repentant Nineveh, `God saw their works,' `They turned every one from their evil ways, and the Lord repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them.''' Saint John kept excoriating the people for their past vices, their addiction to wealth, their love of the theatre, their sensual enjoyments. If they had lived more strictly, they would not have behaved like wild beasts, and if they were true Christians they would have not possessed this abject fear of the Emperor.

Monday, April 21, 2008

John Chrysostom

Love him or not, John Chrysostom was one of Antioch's most important native sons. While we are not of his persausion we shall credit that he was a student of Libanius, so thus does gain some reflected merit. He was quite a prolific writer and dealt with some of the issues and events of his day so is also a historical source, though coloured by his religious perspective.

John Chrysostom (Greek: Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος, Latin: Ioannes Chrysostomos) was born around 347 in Antioch. He went on the become archbishop of Constantinople and was an important early father of the church. He was known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. He also was the author of some notorious attacks upon the Jews.

One incident (the Uprising of the Statues which Libanius also comments upon) happened during Chrysostom's service in Antioch. When he arrived in Antioch, the bishop of the city had to intervene with Emperor Theodosius I on behalf of citizens who had gone on a rampage mutilating statues (though in some versions they are merely painted panels with portraits) of the Emperor and his family. This riot has been attributed in some writings (Browning) to the theatre claques.

In response to this outburst during the weeks of Lent in 387 AD, John preached twenty-one sermons in which he entreated the people to see the error of their ways. These made an impression on the general population of the city and supposedly many pagans converted to Christianity as a result of the sermons. As a result of the "seeing the error of their ways", Theodosius' vengeance was not as severe as it might have been. The theatre claques were essentially a "rent a crowd" for politic agitation so we doubt that they were the ones being converted!

After his death in 407 AD he was given the Greek surname
chrysostomos, meaning "golden mouthed".

Sunday, April 20, 2008


One of the most important emperors as far as Antioch is concerned is also one of the lesser known (and later) players on the Roman imperial stage.

Flavius Iulius Valens was born 328 in the town of Cibalae (Vinkovci) 48 miles west of Sirmium (modern Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia), in the town. He was Roman Emperor (364-378), after he was given the Eastern part of the empire by his brother Valentinian I. Valens, sometimes known as the Last True Roman, was defeated and killed in the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378, which marked the beginning of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Valens is relevant to Antioch for several reasons. He spent a large part of his reign (residing almost uninterruptedly in Antioch from 371 to 379) and making it his de facto capital. He is remembered for his construction of a forum (probably a reconstruction more than a new greenfield venture). This forum supposedly stood around (and maybe over) the course of the Parmenios torrent that ran through the central part of the city. The excavations of the 1930s sought to find it but funds and time run out.

Valens also has some relevance in discussions of the Imperial Palace complex. This is due to a story that Valens had a noctural conversation with a passing ascetic monk, Aphraates (of the Arian persausion), from the portico (or a window) of the Palace. It shows the sheer paucity of information on the Palace that scholars should concern themselves with this incident as a means of establishing the city's topography. According to some scholars this story goes to show that there was a road along (or under) the portico on the riverside frontage of the palace. A.F. Norman is one to posit this view. There is no evidence for a road there and the issue will probably never be resolved as the changing river course over time has almost certainly eliminated evidence of this side of the Palace complex. It seems more logical to us that the portico was actually on the front side of the Palace and the monk was on his nocturnal ramblings along one of the avenues that Libanius speaks of as being in front of the Palace.

Valens was urged to murder Aphraates by a servant, but shortly afterwards the servant was scalded to death. This gave the superstitious Valens pause to think and then Aphraates in a bizarre twist cured a sick horse of Valens and fell into the good graces of the Emperor.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Olympic Games in the Antiochene version

In ancient times, the original Olympic Games at Olympia in Greece had faded into relative insignificance. Somewhat akin to our days, the rich and famous vied to get their hands on the event for their own political ends. Thus Antioch became famous for hundreds of years for its version of the Olympic Games into which the resources of the city's wealthy (with some Imperial subsidies) were channeled.

The Antioch games had their origins in the days of Augustus and Claudius and lasted until their abolition in 520 AD.

The mechanism by which these Games were organised are fairly well covered in the writings of Libanius because near relatives of his were sponsors of the Games on various occasions during his lifetime so he was up close and personal with the machinations involved.While the curiales of Antioch spent a good deal of time attempting to avoid the expenses and responsibilities of their status when it came to organising the Games most seemed to undertake the task with enthusiasm despite the logistical issues involved and the considerable expense.

It is not clear what events these games used to encompass. In some ways the Games at Antioch were "something for everyone" with a liberal dose of arts and intellectual stimulation thrown into the athletic mix. The Games were held at the specially constructed stadium at Daphne (written of by Poccardi and Leblanc) but also within the city of Antioch itself at sites such as the plethron (subject of one of Libanius' Orations, the number X), the amphitheatre and the hippodrome. Some of the events involved "wild beasts" which does not gel with the current view of what ancient Olympics constituted. The class of athletes seems to be rather ragtag also with messengers being sent out across the Empire to "hire" athletes to come and appear.

By the times of Libanius the old culture of the gymnasium had fallen into a zone of lower status and unlike earlier days when the upper classes had participated as athletes in what was essentially a tribute to Zeus, it can be divined from Libanius that a mere three of his 180 known students were "athletes" in some capacity. The intellectual and the sporting had clearly parted company over the centuries.

Friday, April 11, 2008


As mentioned elsewhere Antioch was alternately the second or third city of the Roman empire. It was a very important administrative center and had a strong intellectual and manufacturing role. As such it must have had a sizeable population by historical standards. Estimates put Rome's population at its maximum as maybe one million, estimates for Alexandria sometimes go as high as half a million inhabitants. Antioch it would seem had between 200,000 and 400,000 inhabitants.

Numbers are usually vague because of the loose definition of what constituted an inhabitant. Almost all omitted slaves from the equation. Others omitted children and some did not want to count women either. Norris reports John Chrysotom (S.Ignat. 4, PG50, 53) speaks of 200,000 citizens in Antioch at the time of Ignatius, probably including men, women and children. Liebeschutz employs calculations based on the area of the city and its possible density in comparison with other ancient cities and comes up with a figure of 150,000 to 300,000. That gap is wide enough to drive a fleet of chariots through though and is scarecly helpful. He tends towards the lower figure based upon the assumption that the city was low density without insulae apartment blocks like Rome or Ostia. Frankly we see no reason whatsoever to dismiss the existence of insulae. We have no accounts of street life in the older parts of the city at all. Libanus rhapsodises about the colonnaded street and the leafy vales of Daphne but presumably the poor were huddled into the old Seleucid city. The earthquakes would not take such a heavy toll in the 500s if everyone was living in peristyle villas of suitably low density.

Cities are complex beasts with all sorts of different landscapes. Antioch's walls encompassed at least 4 square miles of buildable terrain. Now quite a bit was occupied with the requisite public spaces, temples, baths, fora etc so the people must have been bunched up somewhere. We don't hear of extreme poverty in Antioch but reports are so thin as to not tell us very much at all about how or where the masses lived. Tenements should not be ruled out in the least. The city might very well have had a density of over 80,000 per square mile.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Julian - the love/hate relationship

Neither the letter C, they say, nor the
letter K had ever harmed the city.... We,
finding interpreters... learned that these
are the initial letters of names, the first
of Christ and the second of Konstantios.

Julian, Misopogon (The Beard-Hater)

The emperor Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus) ruled from 361 to 363 AD. he was the ruler the Antiochenes loved to hate and in turn had his own love/hate relationship with the city. While his rule was only brief he has been a subject of fascination (and revilement) over the intervening centuries. This is largely due to his attempts to revive the pagan cults. Despite coming from the Constantinian dynasty, he was the last polytheist Roman Emperor and advocated the re-institution of Greco-Roman religious tradition over the Christianization of the Roman Empire which, if he had succeeded, would have been an undoing of the dynasty's founder's work.

He was most commonly known as Julian "the Apostate" by his detractors over the millennia. This was because of his rejection of Christianity, conversion to Theurgy (a late form of Neoplatonism), and attempt to "rid" the empire of Christianity. However he would only really be an Apostate if he had been a believer in the first place. Interestingly Julian sympathised with the Jews who called him Julian the Hellene. I wonder whether Julian in fact just represented the views (i.e. adhesion to the old gods) of a large portion of the population that had been suppressed actively, or tacitly, under the reigns of the first members of the Constantinian dynasty. 

The impression one gets of a pagan revivalist is of a lover of the pleasures, but in fact, Julian was seen as an extremely ascetic character. Writers over the ages have tried unfairly portray him as some sort of sybarite. This would be totally inconsistent with him having been tutored by Libanius. The tutor had in fact led Julian quite a dance playing hard to get when Julian wanted to obtain his services during Libanius' Constantinople period. It is ironical that the most vividly imaginative of Julian's later uninformed critics would probably have been Chrysostom fans. The common thread being that both Julian and Chrysostom were Libanius' students. Libanius returned the favor to Julian by being one of his strongest defenders in the literary world with orations and panegyrics.

An example of Julian's sternness is shown when upon his initial arrival in Antioch festival was in progress and he expressed his dismay and displeasure at the revelries he stumbled across.

Among his first actions as emperor, Julian reduced the expenses of the imperial court, removing all the eunuchs from the offices. He reduced the luxury of the court established with Constantius, reducing at the same time the number of servants and of the guard.

In order to prepare the army for the upcoming expedition against Persians, Julian spent the 362-363 winter in Antioch. His time there wasn't a happy one. At first, he tried to resurrect the ancient oracular spring of Castalia at the temple of Apollo at Daphne. After being advised that the bones of 3rd-century martyred bishop Babylas were suppressing the god, he made a public-relations mistake in ordering the removal of the bones from the vicinity of the temple. The result was a massive Christian procession. Shortly after that, when the temple was destroyed by fire, Julian hastily blamed the Christians and ordered severe investigations. He also shut up the chief Christian church of the city, before the investigations proved that the fire was the result of an accident (lightening).

After a food shortage in the city, his relationship with the citizens of Antioch worsened even more. He tried to fix the prices for grain and import more from Egypt. Then landholders refused to sell theirs, claiming that the harvest was so bad that they had to be compensated with fair prices. Julian accused them of price gouging and forced them to sell. Various parts of Libanius orations may suggest that both sides were justified to some extent while Ammianus blames Julian for "a mere thirst for popularity".

The emperor had a bizarre appearance with a scruffy unclean beard and a strange way of walking. Julian's ascetic lifestyle was not popular either, since his subjects were accustomed to the idea of an all-powerful emperor that placed himself well above them. Nor did he improve his dignity with his own participation in the ceremonial of bloody sacrifices. As David S. Potter commented:

"They expected a man who was both removed from them by the awesome spectacle of imperial power, and would validate their interests and desires by sharing them from his Olympian height (...) He was supposed to be interested in what interested his people, and he was supposed to be dignified. He was not supposed to leap up and show his appreciation for a panegyric that it was delivered, as Julian had done on January 3, when Libanius was speaking, and ignore the chariot races."

During an interlude in battle preparations he wrote up an Oration, the Misopogon (Beard-hater) which he nailed one morning to the Tetrapylon of the Elephants in front of the Imperial Palace. In this panegyric he satirised himself in a form of back-handed criticism of the Antiochene way of life. Finally he blames the people of Antioch for preferring that their ruler have his virtues in the face rather than in the soul.

In 363, Julian began a campaign against the Sassanid Empire. He died from a wound received during a retreat during the campaign. Some reports claim that his dying words referred to the Galilean having won, wishful thinking we suspect.