Antioch on the Orontes - the capital of Roman Syria- was one of the most important cities in the Classical World. While only a provincial Turkish city, now known as Antakya, it was once known as the “Queen of the East”. It was founded in 307 BC by the founder of the Seleucid dynasty, Seleucus I. It thrived during the Roman Era, becoming the capital of the province of Syria. In the Second Century AD, it had around half a million people, thus rivaling Alexandria in the East and even Rome in the West. It had its own circus and by Late Antiquity, chariot racing was very popular. Due in part to wars with the Persians, Roman Emperors often resided here, leading to the construction of an imperial palace. It also was one of the early centers for Christianity and eventually had one of five patriarchs in the Christian world. The city was devastated in the 6th century by earthquakes. It captured early in the Arab expansion and the city subsequently declined. It later became the capital of a Crusader state, but this cause it to declined even further.
Very little of its ancient history survives. The Church of St. Peter, found outside of the city, seems to be one of the oldest churches in the world. An impressive number of mosaics from Antioch and the region were discovered in the mid 20th century and can now be found in museums around the world. The “Antioch Chalice”, now the Metropolitan Museum of Art, seems to have come from the area as well.