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Seleucia Pieria: Port of Antioch on the Orontes

Seleucia (in) Pieria (Cevlik) was founded partly on a rocky promontory projecting from Mt Coryphaeus and partly on the small plain below, some 10 km away from the point where the Orontes river pours into the Mediterranean at the foot of Mt Casius (Keldag).

In the archives of Ugarit and to the Hittites this mountain was known as Mt Hazzi. According to legend, while Seleucus 1(321-281 BCE) was sacrificing on this mountain an eagle snatched part of the sacrificial offering and carried it to the place where the new town would be built. It was named after the nearby Mt Pieria (Musa Dagi). Seleucia Pieria was chosen as a capital before the foundation of Antioch and was one of the nine cities which the king had named after his dynasty.

The king, however, seeing that a coastal city was open to attacks from the sea, and lacking a strong navy, preferred to move the new capital of his kingdom to Antioch from where the inland trade routes also could be controlled. His worries would later be confirmed by the occupation of the port by Ptolemies of Egypt between 241-219 BCE, which is mentioned in the First Book of Maccabees: 'Plotting evil against Alexander, King Ptolemy took possession of the cities along the seacoast as far as Seleucia-by-the-Sea' (1 Mc 11 :8).

The port of Seleucia was created by enlarging a natural basin formed by a stream. Later, under Vespasian and then Titus, and finally completed in the following century, an artificial watercourse was constructed to divert this stream from the harbor to prevent it from being silted up. This is a canal of some 1400 m long, the final 130 m of which was tunneled through the rock to a height and width of 6 m.

The cutting of so-called tunnel of Titus was the greatest project that Rome ever undertook in the provinces. Inscriptions which have survived on its walls, and which give the names of Vespasian (69-79) and Titus (79-81), originally must have also included Domitian (81-96).

Other inscriptions record that the work was done in sections and by the participation of particular Roman legions stationed in eastern Anatolia. Some inscriptions also show that further work was done by soldiers of the legions under Antoninus Pius in about 149. This was the port from which St. Paul and St. Barnabas sailed to Cyprus on St. Paul's First Journey.


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