[FLEUVES] The Antiochean Orontes: A City and its River, Realities and Legends

Réalisation : 29 septembre 2017 Mise en ligne : 29 septembre 2017
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Anatolian Rivers between East and West

Axes and Frontiers Geographical, economical and cultural aspects of the human-environment interactions between the Hebros and Tigris Rivers in ancient times The Cultural Aspects of Rivers 28th September-1st October 2017 Istanbul (French Institute of Anatolian Studies) Enez (Enez Excavations Directorate)

Perceptions and Representations of Western Asiatic Rivers

Catherine Saliou (University of Paris VIII / École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, The Antiochean Orontes: a city and its river, facts and myths

The presence of the Orontes at the feet of the Antiochean Tyche stresses the strength of the relationship between the city of Antioch and the river Orontes. The proceedings of a colloquium entitled Le fleuve rebelle. Géographie historique du Moyen Oronte d’Ebla à l’époque médiévale, recently published, are a good starting point for rethinking this relation in Classical and Late Antiquity. The various contributions in this volume remind the importance of the seminal work of Jacques Weulersse and offer some new insights about the role played by the Orontes in the history. In the course of this paper, we will first study the role of the Orontes in the urban landscape and urban life of Antioch, before turning to the imagined Orontes.

The course of the river changed through the times, and as a consequence our knowledge of the ancient landscape is blurred. Ancient Antioch extended along the left bank of the Orontes, between the river and the mountain. In the course of time, the city grew outside its walls and on the other side of the river, and in Late Antiquity the name of Palaia (“The Old city”) applied to the part (or to a part) of the agglomeration located on the left bank. The Antiochean Orontes, from the Amuk Lake to the sea, is a Mediterranean river, which may be navigable, and was indeed a shipping lane at least during the Roman and Late Roman period. This implies the existence of a fluvial harbour or several fluvial harbours. But the river was not only a shipping lane. Waterpower moved watermills. At least in Late Antiquity, such watermills were a source of income for the municipality. The flow of the river was also derived for various purposes. During the reign of the emperor Vespasian, at least two channels have been dug. The “fullers’ channel" was been dug by the people of Antioch. Another channel is known through a Latin inscription: referring to it as Dipotamiae fluminis ductus. This inscription commemorates the digging of this channel by soldiers of the Roman army. Two questions remain unsolved: the meaning of “Dipotamia” and the relationship between the channel and Antioch. A Greek inscription recently found3 helps to answer these questions. The mere fact that the same text has been posted, on two different supports, in Latin (language of the emperor) and in Greek (language of the city), is meaningful. The Orontes was familiar to the Antiocheans especially since, until the sixth century, the bank itself was apparently not fortified. To be sure, in the fourth century, there was no city-wall along the Orontes: Libanius and John Chrysostom speak about gardens extended until the river. People who lived on the slopes on the mountains, relatively far from the river, enjoyed nevertheless, a view on it. Moreover, the island and the suburbs were, in Late Antiquity at least, vibrant sectors of the agglomeration. The island itself is probably an artificial island, created by the digging of a channel. There are traces of occupation from the Hellenistic period onwards, but the Late Antique period is far the best known. In the Late Antiquity, it was named as “the New (city)” (Kaine). The imperial palace occupied the fourth of its surface. On the island were also the hippodrome and public baths. The New City was a vibrant centre of power and urban life. It was walled, which should mean visually isolated from the river. However, the upper gallery of the palace offered a direct view on the Orontes and the other bank of the river. There was also a way passing along the Orontes, between the palace and the river, and giving access to the Campus (parade ground, and meeting place of one of the Christian factions of the city ca 370). Beyond the island, Libanius describes the suburbs, on the right bank of the Orontes, as vivid and pleasant. We know also that some prestigious churches were located on this right bank. All this means that the agglomeration of Antioch as a whole was less bordered, than crossed by the river. This remark points out the importance of the bridges in the urban landscape and urban life. Things changed, however, in the sixth century. After Valens (dead in 378), emperors had ceased to come and stay in Antioch, and it seems that the New city had lost bit by bit its importance. After ravaging earthquakes (526 and 528) and the Persian invasion (540), Justinian ordered to rebuild the city on a reduced perimeter. The course of the Orontes itself was channelled, in order to border the new citywall. One of the consequences of these works was to cut (or at least stretch) the tie between the Antiocheans and the Orontes. In the fourth century, the Orontes was clearly for Libanius a structural component of the urban landscape. At the end of the sixth century, the river is mentioned only once in the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus, in the narrative of a riot which took place in 512. In the Vita of Symeon Stylites the Younger, written in the beginning of the seventh century, the river is never mentioned in the passages referring to Antioch. The Antiochean mental map seems to have evolved, and the Orontes might have lost its significance for the inhabitants of Antioch. The Orontes; however, was not the only watercourse in Antioch. A torrent called “Parmenios” by the chronograph Malalas and “Onopnictes” by Procopius of Caesarea came down from the mountain and flowed in the Orontes. This torrent could be very dangerous, and cause floods. For this reason,several talismans were supposed to protect the city. Such stories of magic were not told about the Orontes. But, the Orontes itself is also a mythological figure, and is associated with several myths or mythological beings. To sum up, the Orontes plays a role in the very ancient myth of the struggle between Zeus and Typhon (“Typhon” was said to be the ancient name of the river); the river is also involved in traditions relating to mythical or pseudo-historical giants, and might have been assimilated in some way to the Arcadian river Alpheus. We will examine whether, and how these traditions are tied with the city itself.


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