The city was founded c.300 B.C. by Seleucus I, king of Syria, and named for his father Antiochus, a Macedonian general. Situated at the crossing of north-south and east-west trade routes, the city soon became a rich commercial center. Antioch was occupied by Pompey in 64 B.C. and quickly became an important Roman military, commercial, and cultural center. The Romans built great temples, a forum, a theater, baths, aqueducts, and other public buildings. The two main streets, at right angles to each other, were lined with marble colonnades and adorned with temples, palaces, and statues.
Antioch was an early center of Christianity; Peter and Paul preached there. It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians after they severed themselves from the synagogue about 20 years after Jesus' death. Antioch is one of the three original patriarchates (see patriarch). Aurelian, who recovered the city from Shapur I of Persia, erected (3d cent.) more magnificent buildings and churches. The city played a significant role in the theological controversies of the early Christian church (see Christianity). St. John Chrysostom estimated its population (4th cent.) at 200,000, excluding children and slaves.
In 526 the city suffered a severe earthquake. It was again captured by Persia in 540 and taken by the Arabs in 637. Nicephorus II reconquered it (969) for the Byzantine Empire, but in 1085 it fell, through treason, to the Seljuk Turks. The army of the First Crusade (see Crusades) captured Antioch in 1098 after a half-year siege. Bohemond I was made prince of Antioch. His principality, which extended from Iskenderun (Alexandretta) southward beyond Latakia, was one of the most powerful of the Crusaders' states. In 1268 the Mamluks captured and sacked the city; it was further damaged by Timur in 1401.
In 1516 Antioch, by then much reduced in importance, was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The city was held (1832–40) by Muhammad Ali of Egypt, and in 1872 it was badly damaged by an earthquake. After World War I, Antioch was held as part of French Syria under a League of Nations mandate. In 1939 it was restored to Turkey.
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