Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chrysostom on Antioch's Topography

I must confess to not being a fan of St John Chrysostom and I have avoided as much as possible the Christian Era in the city. However it does overlap with the period of Libanius (who was a tutor of Chrysostom). 

I have been waiting a long time to get my hands on Wendy Mayer's article on the theme of Antioch's topography as evidenced through the writings of the Bishop and it has now popped up on and is well worth reading. 

In it she scours the homilies and letters for references to various features of the city. While the martyria do not interest us the mention of features of the city, particularly within the walls do provide some useful insights:

"In regard to the civic data, the prison is said to be located within the city walls and we are told that one passes through the agora from the dikasterion en route to it. The agora is a focal point of civic and festival activity, lit well into the night and traversed by vehicular as well as foot traffic. Passing through the agora is required of John when he presides at one of the city's churches. A dikasterion is closely associated with the agora. An execution site (barathron) exists to which the condemned are led through the agora. This raises the question: to what extent is the agora used as a route because of its location (necessity) and to what extent because it is central to the life of the city (symbolic) or offers the greatest number of spectators (opportunity for public display)?" 

Then further along Dr Mayer notes:

"Additional civic data includes the information that baths are located inside the city within walking distance of the prison. These were closed by imperial decree for a number of weeks in Lent 387.  A theatre was closed by imperial decree at this same period. A theatre is also said to be situated at a lower level than one of the regularly used churches. Taverns are situated on the route back from a suburban martyrium. It is uncertain whether these are situated inside or outside the city walls. 

A number of statements are made about the river Orontes. It was used as a substitute baths during Lent 387, after baths were closed by imperial decree. At that time, men and women bathed in the river together. It was used for the disposal of illegal items in the winter of 371/2, and it was bracketed on at least one side by gardens when one travelled on route back to the city from one of the martyria". 

A dikasterion is a law court. I have referred to these before with reference to the water-clock

While this may seem like thin gruel on the agora, it is more information than anyone else has recorded on this important civic venue as it to pertains to Antioch. So we have something to thank Chrysostom for!