Apamea, Syria

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Greek: Ἀπάμεια
Arabic: آفاميا‎‎
Apamea 01.jpg
View of Apamea ruins
Apamea, Syria is located in Syria
Apamea, Syria
Shown within Syria
Location Hama Governorate, Syria
Region Ghab plain
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Type settlement
Builder Seleucus I Nicator
Founded ca. 300 BC
Abandoned 13th century
Cultures Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, Arab
Site notes
Condition ruins
Ownership Public
Public access Yes

Apamea (Greek: Ἀπάμεια, Apameia; Arabic: آفاميا‎‎, Afamia), on the right bank of the Orontes River, is the site of a treasure city and stud-depot of the Seleucid kings. It was the capital of Apamene,[1] and became the capital and Metropolitan Archbishopric of Late Roman province Syria Secunda, remaining a Catholic titular see. The site contains the remains of the Roman Theatre at Apamea, one of the largest surviving theatres of the Roman Empire with an estimated seating capacity in excess of 20,000, as well as the remains of the Great Colonnade at Apamea, which ran for nearly 2 kilometres (1.2 mi), making it among the longest and most famous in the Roman world.

The site is found about 55 km (34 mi) to the northwest of Hama, Syria, overlooking the Ghab valley.


Previously known as Pharmake, it was fortified and enlarged by Seleucus I Nicator in 300 BC, who so named it after his Bactrian wife, Apama – not his mother, as Stephanus asserts (compare Strabo, p. 578). In pursuance of his policy of Hellenizing Syria, it bore the Macedonian name of Pella. The fortress was placed upon a hill; the windings of the Orontes, with the lake and marshes, gave it a peninsular form, whence its other name of Cherronêsos. Seleucus had his commissariat there, 500 elephants, with 30,000 mares and 300 stallions. The pretender, Diodotus Tryphon, made Apamea the basis of his operations. (Strab. l. c.) It was located at a strategic crossroads for Eastern commerce, and was one of the four cities of the Syrian tetrapolis. The city boasted one of the largest theatres in the Roman world, and a monumental colonnade. Q. Aemilius Secundus did a population survey in AD 6, in which he counted "117,000 hom(ines) civ(ium)" - a figure that has been interpreted as giving a total population of either 130,000 or 500,000, depending on methods used.[2]

Josephus (Ant. xiv. 3. § 2) relates, that Pompey marching south from his winter quarters, probably at or near Antioch, razed the fortress of Apamea in 64 BC whence the city was annexed to the Roman Republic. In the revolt of Syria under Q. Caecilius Bassus, it held out against Julius Caesar for three years till the arrival of Cassius, 46 BC. (Dion. Cass. xlvii. 26–28; Joseph. Bel. Jud. i. 10. § 10.) Remarkably, we have the figure of 117,000 citizens of Apamea early in the 1st century (CIL III.6687). On the outbreak of the Jewish War, the inhabitants of Apamea spared the Jews who lived in their midst, and would not suffer them to be murdered or led into captivity (Josephus, Bell. Jud. ii. 18, § 5). Destroyed by Chosroes I in the 6th century, it was partially rebuilt and known in Arabic as Famia or Fâmieh, and destroyed by an earthquake in 1152. In the Crusades it was still a flourishing and important place and was occupied by Tancred. (Wilken, Gesch. der Ks. vol. ii. p. 474; Abulfeda, Tab. Syr. pp. 114, 157.)

Both the Jerusalem Targumim considered the city of Shepham (Num. xxxiv. 11) to be identical with Apamea. Since Apamea virtually belonged to Rabbinic Palestine, the first-fruits brought by Ariston from that town were accepted for sacrifice in Jerusalem (Mishnah Ḥal. iv. 11).


The acropolis hill is now occupied by the ruins called Kalat el-Mudik (Kŭlat el-Mudîk). The ruins of a highly ornamental character, and of an enormous extent, are still standing, the remains, probably, of the temples of which Sozomen speaks (vii. 15); part of the town is enclosed in an ancient castle situated on a hill; the remainder is to be found in the plain. In the adjacent lake are the celebrated black fish, the source of much wealth.

As a result of the ongoing civil war in Syria (2010s), the ancient city has been damaged and looted by treasure hunters.[3][4]

Roman theatre

Originally built as a Hellenistic style theatre in the early Seleucid Empire, the theatre was expanded and remodelled in the early Roman period,[5] when the main stage and entrances were reorganized in a more typical Roman fashion. The 115 Antioch earthquake caused severe damage to the structure. It was rebuilt soon-after under patronage from both Trajan and Hadrian. The theatre was further expanded in the first half of the third century CE.[6] Under the Byzantine Empire the theatre's drainage basin was restructured and a "qanat" was built through the middle of the lower stage. By the late Byzantine period the theatre had stopped serving as a centre for theatrical performances. However, the theatre and its "qanat" continued to play an important role as a water resource during the Byzantine and Islamic periods.[7] The theatre was built into a steep hill overlooking the Orontes River valley.[8]

The theatre, along with the one at Ephesus, is one of the largest surviving theatres of the Roman Empire with an estimated seating capacity in excess of 20,000. The only other known theatre that is considerably larger was the Theatre of Pompey in Rome.[9] Much of the theatre structure is in ruins due to architectural collapses and extensive quarrying in later epochs,[10] and only one-eighth of the site has been exposed so far.[9] One of the main features at the theatre is its water basin and the elaborate Roman piping system used in it. The recently excavated terracotta system is located along the eastern ground entrance and is well preserved.[11]

Great Colonnade

The Great Colonnade was the main avenue of Apamea. It ran for nearly 2 kilometres (1.2 mi), making it among the longest and most famous in the Roman world. It was built after the original, Seleucid Empire, colonnade was devastated, along with the rest of Apamea, in the 115 earthquake. Reconstruction started immediately, and over the course of the second century the city was completely rebuilt, starting with the Great Colonnade.[12] The colonnade was aligned along the north-south axis, making up the city's "cardo maximus". Starting at the city's north gate, the colonnade ran in an uninterrupted straight line for almost 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) to the south gate. The northern third of the colonnade's stretch is marked by a monumental votive column that stood opposite the baths.[13] The colonnade passed through the centre of the city and several important buildings were clustered around it, including the baths, the agora, the Temple of Tyche, the nymphaeum, the rotunda, the atrium church and the basilica.[14] On either side of the street a 6.15 metres (20.2 ft) wide colonnade ran its full length. The columns were 9 metres (30 ft) high and 0.9 metres (2 ft 11 in) in diameter. They stood on square bases of 1.24 metres (4 ft 1 in) on a side and 0.47 metres (1 ft 7 in) high. The columns display two main designs: a plain one, and the distinctive spiral-flutes. Archaeologist Jean Lassus argues that the former dates back to the Trajanic period, while the latter to that of Antoninus Pius.[15] The colonnade's porticoes were paved with extensive mosaics along the full stretch of the colonnade.[13]

Under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, several parts of the colonnade were restored. The street was narrowed to 12 metres (39 ft) by adding a sidewalk on either side. Several stretches of the street had their Roman pavement replaced with a new pavement made of squared blocks of limestone. The new pavement also covered a completely overhauled drainage system. Justinian's changes included erecting a monumental tetrastylon made up of four 9 metres (30 ft) high columns with a meter-high capitals.[16] The city, was however, later sacked by the Sasanians under Adarmahan.[17]

Ecclesiastical history

A 6th-century Notitia Episcopatuum shows that Apamea in Syria was the Metropolitan see for seven suffragan dioceses: Arethusa, Balanea, Epiphania in Syria, Larissa in Syria, Mariamme, Raphanea and Seleucobelus.[18]

It became a Latin archiepiscopal see at the time of the Crusades.[19][20]

No longer a residential archdiocese, it became listed by the Catholic Church as a fourfold titular see [21] in the Latin and three Eastern Catholic rites (of Metropolitan rank except the merely episcopal Maronite see).

Titular Latin see

The diocese was nominally restored as a Latin Catholic Metropolitan titular archbishopric (the highest rank) in the 19th century as Apamea, renamed Apamea in Syria in 1933.

It is vacant since decades, having had the following incumbents :

  • Antonio Briganti (1882.10.02 – 1906)
  • Paolo Pappalardo (1948.08.07 – 1966.08.06)
  • Eris Norman Michael O’Brien (1966.11.20 – 1974.02.28)

Titular Maronite see

Established in 1970 as Maronite Titular bishopric of Apamea in Syria (of the Maronites), of the lowest (Episcopal) rank.

It is vacant since decades, having had the following incumbents of both episcopal and the intermediary (archiepiscopal) ranks :

  • Titular Archbishop Ignace Abdo Khalifé, Jesuits (S.J.) (1970.03.20 – 1973.06.25)
  • Titular Archbishop Antoine Joubeir (1975.07.12 – 1977.08.04)
  • Titular Bishop Paul-Emile Saadé (1986.05.02 – 1999.06.05)

Titular Melkite see

Established in 1980 as Melkite Metropolitan Titular See of Apamea in Syria (of the Melkites)

It is vacant, having had a single incumbent :

Titular Syrian see

Established in 1920 as Syrian (Syriac) Titular Metropolitan See of Apamea in Syria (of the Syrians)

It is vacant since decades, having had the following incumbents of the intermediary (archiepiscopal) rank :

Notable residents

See also


  1. (Stephanus of Byzantium s. v.; Strabo xvi. p. 752; Ptolemy v. 15. § 19; Festus Avienus, v. 1083; Anton. Itin.; Hierocles)
  2. David Kennedy (20 Nov 2013). Gerasa and the Decapolis. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 111.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Rebecca Ananda (26 May 2015). "The History and Culture I Saw in Syria Is Now Scarred by War". Huffington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Andrew Lawler, "Satellites track heritage loss across Syria and Iraq", Science, Year 2014, Volume 346, n° 6214, pp. 1162-1163, DOI:10.1126/science.346.6214.1162
  5. Finlayson, 2012, p. 308.
  6. Finlayson, 2012, p. 309.
  7. Finlayson, 2012, p. 310.
  8. Finlayson, 2012, p. 292.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Finlayson, 2012, p. 278.
  10. Finlayson, 2012, p. 285.
  11. Finlayson, Cynthia (31 May 2012). "Uncovering the Great Theater of Apamea". Popular Archaeology. Retrieved 6 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Balty, 1988, p. 91.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Foss, 1997, p. 207.
  14. Foss, 1997, p. 209.
  15. Crawford; Goodway, 1990, p. 119.
  16. Foss, 1997, p. 208.
  17. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, pp. 146–149, 150.
  18. Echos d'Orient 1907, p. 94.
  19. Jean Richard, "Note sur l'archidiocèse d'Apamée et les conquêtes de Raymond de Saint-Gilles en Syrie du Nord", in Syria. Archéologie, Art et histoire, Year 1946, Volume 25, n° 1, pp. 103–108
  20. Konrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, vol. 1, p. 94; vol. 2, pp. XIV and 90
  21. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 834
  22. Sāmī Nasīb Makārim (1974). The Druze faith. Caravan Books. ISBN 978-0-88206-003-3. Retrieved 12 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Wahbah A. Sayegh (1996). The Tawhid Faith: Pioneers and their shrines. The Society. Retrieved 12 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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