Antioch on the Orontes (/; Ancient Greek: Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐπὶ Ὀρόντου, Antiókheia hē epì Oróntou; also Syrian Antioch)[note 1] was an ancient Greek city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. Its ruins lie near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey, and lends the modern city its name.
Antioch was founded near the end of the fourth century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals. The city's geographical, military, and economic location benefited its occupants, particularly such features as the spice trade, the Silk Road, and the Royal Road. It eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the Near East. The city was the capital of the Seleucid Empire until 63 B.C. when the Romans took control, making it the seat of the Roman governor. From the early 4th century the city was the seat of the Count of the Orient, head of the regional administration of sixteen provinces. It was also the main center of Hellenistic Judaism at the end of the Second Temple period. Antioch was one of the most important cities in the eastern Mediterranean of Rome's dominions. It covered almost 1,100 acres (4.5 km2) within the walls of which one quarter was mountain, leaving 750 acres (3.0 km2) about one-fifth the area of Rome within the Aurelian Walls.
Antioch was called "the cradle of Christianity" as a result of its longevity and the pivotal role that it played in the emergence of both Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity. The Christian New Testament asserts that the name "Christian" first emerged in Antioch. It was one of the four cities of the Syrian tetrapolis, and its residents were known as Antiochenes. The city was a metropolis of a quarter million people during Augustan times, but it declined to relative insignificance during the Middle Ages because of warfare, repeated earthquakes, and a change in trade routes, which no longer passed through Antioch from the far east following the Mongol invasions and conquests.
Two routes from the Mediterranean, lying through the Orontes gorge and the Beilan Pass, converge in the plain of the Antioch Lake (Balük Geut or El Bahr) and are met there by
- the road from the Amanian Gate (Baghche Pass) and western Commagene, which descends the valley of the Karasu River to the Afrin River,
- the roads from eastern Commagene and the Euphratean crossings at Samosata (Samsat) and Apamea Zeugma (Birejik), which descend the valleys of the Afrin and the Quweiq rivers, and
- the road from the Euphratean ford at Thapsacus, which skirts the fringe of the Syrian steppe. A single route proceeds south in the Orontes valley.