What did Seleucia, the port of Antioch, look like at the time of St. Paul?
Seleucia is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament as the port from which St. Paul and St. Barnabas set sail toward the island of Cyprus on their first missionary journey. This Seleucia is called Seleucia Pieria and also Samandag. It served as the seaport for Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman empire at the time of St. Paul.
A. Edmonds says this Seleucia was located at the mouth of the Orontes River in eastern Turkey on rocks which form a cliff above the Mediterranean Sea at the foot of Mt. Pieria (or Musa Dagi). There were ruins of a fort here in 300 B.C. Ishenderun is presently the main port for Antioch.
M. Grant says that Seleucia was famous for a sanctuary of the god Zeus on Mount Cassius at the end of the bay that was the scene of annual festivals. The sacred stone and shrine of the cult are depicted on local coinage. Other coins show a temple of the city goddess Tyche (or Astarte). There is a large Doric temple, whose foundations still survive. That seem to dominate the site.
At Seleucia there are ramparts, bast ions, gates and tombs of Roman notables. You can see the remains of the Roman emperor Vespasian’s water system. There are also Roman villas with fine mosaics along the slopes of the upper town. You can see the foundations of a cruciform Christian martyr’s shrine from the later fifth century A.D. Seleucia may have comprised 6,000 adult citizens.
E. Blake says Seleucia was named after Seleucus Nicator, a distinguished officer under Philip of Macedonia. He accompanied Alexander the Great on his Asian expedition and he became the founder of the Seleucid dynasty that ruled Syria from 312-64 B.C. Seleucus fostered Greek civilization and culture.
There is another city called Seleucia of Isauria or Silifke that pertains to St. Paul. This city lies west of Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul, in southeast Turkey. Here St. Thecla is said to have been buried in the cemetery near the fifth-century basilica in the nearby hill of Meriamlik. According to the “Acts of Paul and Thecla,” written in the second century A.D., St. Thecla was converted by St. Paul in Iconium, a city in central Turkey now called Konya. Tradition says St. Thecla, a Christian virgin, set up a nunnery outside of Seleucia and was so effective in performing miraculous cures that the doctors of the town went out of business.
M. Grant describes twelve different ancient towns called Seleucia. It was common in the ancient world to name your city after a wealthy and important ruler, for he may visit the city and endow it with much funding. The town of Gadara where Jesus chased the demons into the swine was called Seleucia for a while.
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