Pisidian Antioch (also called Antioch-of-Pisidia) was a major Roman colony that was visited by St. Paul on his First Missionary Journey. Pisidian Antioch marked an important turning point in Paul's ministry, as the city became the first to have a fully Gentile Christian community.
The ruins of Pisidian Antioch lie about a mile north of the modern town of Yalvaç, which is 110 miles west of Konya. Highlights of a visit here are the substantial archaeological site and the Yalvaç Archaeological Museum.
In the Bible
According to Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas came to Pisidian Antioch early in their first missionary journey. They arrived from Cyprus via Perga, so would have taken the Via Sebaste into Antioch. On the sabbath, they went to the local synagogue and were invited to speak to the congregation.
Their message was received with great interest, and on the following sabbath "almost the whole city gathered" to hear them. Some converts were made, but some of the Jews stirred up opposition against them and they were driven out of the city. Paul and Barnabas then went to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. On their return journey, they stopped by Antioch and encouraged the Christian converts.
Pisidian Antioch is not mentioned as part of Paul's second missionary journey, but Acts does say that Paul "went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia" (16:6), which may imply a return visit. Similarly, Acts 18:23 mentions Paul visiting Galatia and Phrygia on this third missionary journey. The only other direct biblical reference to Pisidian Antioch is in 2 Timothy 3:11, where the author mentions the unpleasant experience in the city.
Pisidian Antioch may be the hometown of a convert Paul met in Cyprus, the proconsul Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:4-12). See below for an interesting inscription that mentions his name.
History of Pisidian Antioch
Situated on the southern foothills of the Sultan Mountains, Pisidian Antioch was spread over seven small hills in a manner reminiscent of Rome. The city was founded in the early 3rd century BC by the Seleucid dynasty. It was one of 15 different cities named "Antioch" after several members of the family with the name Antiochus. The original settlers of the new Hellenistic city came from Magnesia on the Meander, a town near the Aegena coast.
Josephus, the 1st-century-BC Jewish historian, mentions that Antiochus III ordered 2,000 Jewish families be moved from Babylonia to certain areas in Lydia and Phrygia because he believed they would be loyal supporters of the Seleucids (Jewish Antiquities 12.146-153). This would account for the presence of Jews in the city by the time of Paul's arrival in the 1st century AD.
In 188 BC, the Romans defeated Antiochus III and declared Pisidian Antioch a free city. Then, in 25 BC, Augustus placed the area under direct Roman control, creating the province of Galatia that encompassed much of central Asia Minor. Antioch was made a Roman colony (a town settled by Roman army veterans in their retirement) named Colonia Caeserea Antiochia.
Antioch's important new status led to a flurry of building activity in the 1st century AD, which included all the familiar Roman elements: baths, paved colonnaded streets, stadium, nymphaeum, aqueduct, and temples. The famous Roman roads were also constructed in the area, and Antioch was at the crossing of an important new highway (the Via Sebaste, constructed in 6 BC) that connected the interior of Asia Minor with the coast.
The inhabitants of Antioch at this time were a mixture of Roman veterans and their families, descendents of the earlier Hellenistic settlers, and people of Phrygian and Pisidian background. Several of the Romans from Antioch became members of the Senate.
Around 50 AD, Paul and Barnabas visited the city and established a Christian community (more on this in the section "In the Bible," below).
The city continued to prosper in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and in 295 AD it became the capital of Pisidia, a new province created by Diocletian. The theater was enlarged and anew agora and porticoes were built.
Antioch was the seat of the bishops of Pisidia, including Bishop Optimus who attended the Council of Constantinople in 381. There is no evidence of any churches before the 4th century, and Christians were actively persecuted under the governor of Pisidia in the early 4th century, Valerius Diogenes. But by the end of the 4th century, when persecuted had ceased, Antioch had between one and three church buildings.
In the 8th century, Pisidian Antioch was invaded and destroyed by Arabs. It never fully recovered, but the city did remain the seat of the metropolitan bishop into the 12th century.
Archaeological interest in Pisidian Antioch has been ongoing since its re-discovery in 1833 by British Chaplain F.V.J. Arundell. Excavations, under the direction of Dr. Mehmet Taslialan Director of the Yalvaç Museum, continue today.
What to See at Pisidian Antioch
A tour of the archaeological site begins at the Triple Gate, which dates from 212 AD. About 26 feet wide, this monumental gate was decorated with reliefs of kneeling captive soldiers, floral motifs, weapons and winged features on pedestals holding garlands. Near the top on the front and back were inscriptions in bronze letters, once a dedicatory inscription to Emperor Hadrian, the other an identification of the person who paid for the gate.
Inside the city walls, the site centers around two main Roman streets: the Cardo and the Decumanus, positioned at right angles. The Decumanus Maximus leads from the Triple Gate to the intersection with the east-west Cardo. Along the way, on the visitor's left (north) is the remains of what was probably a second agora followed by the theater.
The theater was built by the Greeks and enlarged by the Romans to a seating capacity of 15,000; it may be the site of St. Thekla's martyrdom. Its construction is unique in containing a tunnel on its southern side through which the Decumanus Maximus passed. Thus part of the seating of the expanded theater was built right over the street.
The Cardo Maximus street ran north-to-south through the city. Behind the colonnades along the street were small shops, bars and restaurants. Several game boards can be seen ethced into the paving stones for playing various games of dice. (The other Antioch left a mosaic portrait of this pasttime.) The Cardo terminated at the 1st-century AD nymphaeum, a fountain from which water was distributed to the whole city. Behind it, a 1st-century aqueduct brings water down from the hills to the city. To the northwest of the nymphaeum is the palaestra (exercise area) and adjoining Roman bath. A large part of the bathouse has survived and is still being excavated.
On the east side of the Cardo not far from its intersection with the Decumanus was the most important structure in the city: the imperial sanctuary with its temple to Augustus. Built on the highest point of the city, the temple was a approached by a wide, colonnaded walkway (the Tiberia Plateia or Square of Tiberius).
Crossing the Square of Tiberius, visitors would then pass through a three-arched propylon or triumphal gateway. Built in the early 1st century AD, the gate bore an bronze dedicatory inscription to Augustus and was decorated with sculptures and reliefs celebrating his victories. Attached to the propylon was a Latin copy of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (a record of the emperor's accomplishments), fragments of which were discovered at the site.
The gateway marked the entrance to the Square of Augustus, the highest point of the city. In earliest times, this was the site of a temple to the mother-goddess Cybele, then, in Hellenistic times, the moon goddess Men. In Roman times, it became the site of a great temple of Augustus, the foundations of which can be seen. Look for carvings of garlanded bull's heads among the ruins: the bull was the symbol of the goddess Men.
The Temple of Augustus was approached by a stairway of 12 steps, which led to a porch with four Corinthian-style columns (portions of which can still be seen). Surrounding the temple on the rear was a semicircular two-story portico, most of which was carved out from the rock of the hillside.
Across from the Temple of Augustus, on the west side of the Cardo Maximus, are the remains of a Byzantine church dating from the 4th or 5th century AD. The most exciting find in recent times was the discovery (1920s) of some foundations protruding from beneath the Byzantine church. Although it cannot be proved, some believe they are the foundations of a 1st-century synagogue. If so, it would be the only 1st-century synagogue found outside the Holy Land besides Delos and Ostia. It would also mean that the pilgrim can read Paul's sermon in Acts 13 in the very place it was delivered.
The Basilica of St. Paul, along the western city wall not far from the site entrance, was built in the late 4th century AD. At the time it was one of the largest churches in the world; it is still one of the largest ever discovered in Asia Minor. As mentioned above, Pisidian Antioch was the seat of a metropolitan bishop; this was his church.
The Basilica of St. Paul had an apse, a nave, two side aisles separated from the nave by 13 columns on each side, an outer narthex and an inner narthex. It contained a mosaic floor, portions of which are still in place. One of the mosaic inscriptions refers to Optimus, who was bishop between 375 and 381 and attended the Council of Constantinople. Another mosaic bears the text of Psalm 42:4. The church was later expanded, probably in the 5th or 6th century; the walls that remain date from this period.
An inscription discovered at Pisidian Antioch may have biblical connections. According to Acts, Paul and Barnabas visited Cyprus before going to Antioch, and in the city of Paphos they met the proconsul Sergius Paulus, who was a Christian convert (Acts 13:4-12). The inscription discovered in Antioch mentions Lucius Sergius Paulus the Younger, which some suggest might be the son of the governor of Cyprus mentioned in Acts.
This would mean that Antioch was Sergius' hometown — perhaps Paul and Barnabas visited the city on his suggestion. However, the name in the inscription is quite common and it is not certain it is related to the biblical Sergius Paulus.
In the nearby town of Yalvaç, the Yalvaç Archaeological Museum displays many of the artifacts found at Antioch of Pisidia, including statues, busts, figurines, coins, votive inscriptions, fragments of the Res Gestae, columns and friezes. The director of the museum, archaeologist Mehmet Taslialan, has overseen excavations at Antioch for two decades.
From Antalya (144 miles to the south), there are several driving routes with dramatic mountain scenery; D-695 is the least steep. From Konya (110 miles east), take route D-330.
Quick Facts on Pisidian Antioch
|Categories:||biblical sites; city ruins; ruins|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||38.321667° N, 31.177778° E|
|Phone:||Archaeological site: 0246 441 6126|
Museum: 0246 441 5059
|Hours:||Archaeological site: always open|
Museum: daily 9-6
|Lodging:||View hotels near Pisidian Antioch|
- Michael Counsell, Every Pilgrim's Guide to the Journeys of the Apostles, 72-77.
- Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, pp. 152-161.
- Turkey Ministry of Culture - "Pisidian Antioch" - slightly awkward English, but lots of details on the site and its history
- Turkey Ministry of Tourism - "Yalvac" - includes a brief history and useful tips for tourists
- Holy Land Photos - "Pisidian Antioch" - Numerous photos with explanatory captions
- Ataman Hotel - "History of Pisidian Antioch" - online reprint of a 1998 article by Dr. Mehmet Taşlıalan
- BiblePlaces.com - "Pisidian Antioch" - brief summary with several photos
- Crystalinks - "Antioch and Pisidian Antioch" - Detailed text reveals the importance of Antioch in the Roman empire and in the spread of Christianity
- turizm.net - "A Site Out of Sight: Antioch in Psidia" - A conversational article about the value of visiting Pisidian Antioch and what to see at the sight
- University of Michigan - "Antioch of Pisidia: The University of Michigan's 1924 Archaeological Expedition"- A sizeable online sample of photos and publications from the excavation
- Photos of Pisidian Antioch - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Pisidian Antioch, Turkey
Below is a location map and aerial view of Pisidian Antioch. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.