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.

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