Envisioning Antioch: A Roman Colony in Asia Minor

From June 19 to August 7, 2011, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology will present an exhibition on the Roman site of Antioch of Pisidia in Asia Minor (Turkey--a Greek city refounded by Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, in 25 BC as an imperial colony.

Located along a strategic overland artery between Syria and the western coast of Asia Minor, Pisidian Antioch served Rome’s military needs but also presented a striking symbol, from the Roman perspective, of the benefits that Roman civilization provided to local populations.

The city is best known to the modern world as a destination on the missionary journeys of St. Paul in the first century AD, recounted in the book of Acts (13 and 14). 

In 1924, University of Michigan Professor of Latin Francis W. Kelsey launched an expedition to Antioch. In just one season Kelsey’s team uncovered several impressive structures along with many inscriptions and other artifacts.

An imperial cult sanctuary originally dedicated to Augustus included a temple surrounded by a semicircular colonnade and approached through a gateway (propylon) in the form of a triumphal arch. The arch displayed a copy of Augustus’s own account of his deeds as emperor (the Res Gestae).

Echoing the form and decoration of the Augustan propylon, an elaborate city gate dedicated in the second century to the emperor Hadrian and his wife, Sabina, adjoined an imposing fortification wall. Colonnaded streets led past a large theater to the imperial sanctuary and beyond to a fountain house and bath complex, both fed by impressive aqueducts. The team also uncovered remains of two early churches, one of which preserves an elaborate fourth-century mosaic floor. 

After 1924, it was not until the 1980s that Turkish and other archaeological teams resumed work at the site. Survey and excavation continue to the present day.

“Envisioning Antioch” displays archival documents and artifacts from Antioch in the Kelsey collections along with a physical model of the city. At the center of the exhibition is a 3-D movie that takes viewers on a journey through a virtual-reality reconstruction of the city. 

The exhibition celebrates the publication of a new book entitled Building a New Rome: The Imperial Colony of Pisidian Antioch, 25 BC-AD 700, which discusses the archaeology of the city and a nearby sanctuary of a local god. The book highlights recent research by archaeologists from the University of Michigan and other institutions.