Apamea (آفاميا‎)

Location: Hama Governorate        Map

Used: 300 BC- 1200AD

Apameia on the Orontes (Apamea, Qal’at al-Mudik, Arabic أفاميا or آفاميا, DMG Afāmya, Greek Απάμεια της Συρίας) is an ancient site in northern Syria, located on the Orontes River; they were the capital of the state of Apamene, after the Roman province of Syria secunda.


History of Apamea

The occupation of the site dates back to the Paleolithic. In the Bronze Age, the site can probably be identified with the city of Nija, known from Egyptian, Akkadian and Hittite texts. During the Persian era (5th century BC), the city was called Pharnake. After the conquest of the region by Alexander the Great, it became a Macedonian colony and took the name Pella. According to a new historical and iconographic source from Late Antiquity, the founding of Pella took place in 320 BC, three years after the death of Alexander the Great. The colony was founded on the initiative of Antipater and organized on the initiative of Cassandra.


Hellenistic Apamea

During the Hellenistic period, shortly after May 300 BC, the Seleucid king Seleucus I founded it on an almost virgin site and gave it the name Apamea in honor of his first Persian wife Apama. The city was one of the four great Seleucid foundations of the Syrian tetrapolis with Seleucia of Pieria, its capital, Antioch on the Orontes, and Laodicea on the sea. It is located on the edge of a plateau, east of the Ghāb, on an eminence which dominates a vast fertile plain. It presents the usual type of colonial town planning which is characterized by a regular checkerboard plan, with rectangular islets, inside an immense enclosure.

The city experienced sudden development in the 2nd century BC. BC, sign of demographic growth and prosperity. A surrounding wall of almost 7 km in circumference was then built, and the large colonnade was extended with porticos and shops built beyond the north gate. According to the scholar and geographer Posidonios, originally from Apamea, the city was part of the 2nd century BC. BC of the four satrapies which formed the Seleucid (Northern Syria). It also had the reputation of being a military city, because it sheltered not only the Seleucid army with the royal stud farms and the horses of the cavalry, but also the 500 elephants which were the most spectacular element of this army until 'at the Peace of Apamea in 188 BC. Thanks to the troubled situation created by dynastic quarrels in Syria, several cities acquired their autonomy: Apamea thus inaugurated an era of freedom by issuing a silver currency, a sign of its independence, in 76- 75 BC, under Tigranes II of Armenia. Roman intervention soon after put an end to the Seleucid period.


Roman Apamea

When Pompey arrived in Syria in 64 BC, he was determined to reduce it to a Roman province. The region was plunged into the heart of the Roman civil war, Apamea and Antioch were taken. However, during the census carried out by the governor of Syria, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, in 6 AD, the city retained all its importance: it had 117,000 free men, or some 500,000 inhabitants if we include slaves and rural non-citizens. But in 47 AD, then again in 115, Apamea was the victim of an earthquake centered on Antioch and which caused serious damage, leading to an almost complete reconstruction. The thermal baths offered by a rich inhabitant of Apamea named Lucius Julius Agrippa were built after 115. From the beginning of the 2nd century, the city was embellished with long streets with colonnades and porticos with a grandiose appearance, aqueducts , macella and temples on high podiums like the Tycheion. At the same time, urban housing was decorated with vast peristyle residences decorated with mosaics and enriched with marble furniture. During the 3rd century, to face the offensives of the Sassanid Persians of Shapur I against Syria, the ramparts were reinforced and towers were added. The city housed the winter quarters of the 2nd Parthian Legion. In the 5th century, it became the capital of the province of Second Syria.

During the Byzantine period, it became an archbishopric. The city suffered from the war between the Persians and the Byzantines during the reign of Emperor Heraclius.


Intellectual life in Apamea

During the Hellenistic era as well as under the Roman Empire, Apamea provided Greek culture with philosophical schools and scholars who were among the most brilliant. The city was an active center of learning and an Epicurean movement was represented there. But it was above all the Platonic and Neo-Platonic school which exerted the greatest influence on cultivated circles, in particular thanks to the conferences of Maximus of Tyre. In the 2nd century, Numenios of Apamea, considered both a Platonist and a Pythagorean, profoundly influenced Plotinus. His work attracted Amelius Gentilianus of Etruria to Apamea, and his teaching was continued by Longinus of Emesa, Porphyry of Tire and especially the philosopher Iamblichus of Chalcis of Belos. The latter founded a Neoplatonic school in Apamea where he taught from around 290 to 325 and exercised considerable influence. The vigor of Greek culture is evident in the large number of rhetoricians, philosophers, novelists, scholars and historians who distinguished themselves in all the cities of Syria, among whom the most eminent scholar undoubtedly remains Posidonios of Apamea.


Apamea during the modern era

After its conquest by the Arabs in the 7th century, it slowly declined. In the 12th century, Crusaders and Muslims fought over the site, known as Afamya. Two particularly violent earthquakes (1152 and 1170) practically completely destroyed the ancient site. What remained of the inhabitants took refuge on the ancient acropolis overlooking the plain, where the village of Qal`at al-Madhīq (“citadel of the parade”) is located.


Archeological site

The ruins occupy an area of 255 hectares, only part of which has been excavated. Excavations at Apamea only began in the 20th century, on the initiative of the Belgian Franz Cumont, who had visited the region in 1928. Financed by the National Fund for Scientific Research and the Cinquantenaire Museum, the first Belgian archaeological mission took place in 1930. Other excavation campaigns followed throughout the 1930s, under the direction of Fernand Mainz and Henri Lacoste.

The ruins date mainly from Roman times. The Romans retained the orthogonal plan of the Hellenistic city. The enclosure, 7 km long, is lined with fifty towers and four gates. It dates mainly from the Hellenistic period with repairs during the Roman and Byzantine periods. It has been restored in modern times.


Columns of the cardo maximus

The cardo maximus was the main axis of the city: the dimensions of this colonnaded avenue are quite exceptional, with a roadway 24 m wide, and nearly 40 m from one wall to the other, while the street extends over a length of almost two kilometers; this axis is bordered on both sides by a 7 m wide portico, built after the earthquake of 115. It is made up of smooth columns, roughened columns with straight grooves and columns with twisted grooves. At the intersection of the cardo and a side street stands a 14 m high votive column.



The theater, with a diameter of 139 m, is one of the largest in the ancient world. Less well preserved than that of Bosra, it served as a fortress in the Middle Ages. We can still see the cavea and part of the stage wall.


The city, the mosaics

Among the residences excavated in the south-eastern district, we can distinguish the “triclinos” building, made up of a set of nearly 80 rooms around a peristyle. It may have served as the residence of the governor of Second Syria. It is remarkable for its numerous mosaics, notably the large mosaic of the Hunt, the mosaic of the Amazons, partly destroyed and stolen in 1968, restored in 1974, a composition where Alexandrian landscapes appear between the Seven Wise Men of Greece, and a another composition representing Gê, allegory of the Earth, surrounded by the Seasons.

The atrium church was built in 420, on the site of a synagogue which had a mosaic floor with geometric decoration. It owes its name to the atrium which precedes the building.

Following the Syrian revolt of 2011-2012, the archaeological site of Apamea, like that of Palmyra, was exposed to destruction and looting.



The city lies on a plateau above the Oronte Valley and covers an area of more than 200 hectares, which is enclosed by a city wall. The well-preserved 2nd century AD colonnaded street is one of Syria's most important and best-preserved ruins. With a length of almost 1,600 m and a width of almost 40 m, the street was the largest of its kind. The cityscape also included numerous temples, a nymphaeum, a palace complex, magnificent Roman villas and several church buildings. A theater was built in the west of the city, which was the largest in Syria with a diameter of 139 m. The city's founder, Seleukos, also had a citadel built on a nearby hill, which is now called Qal'at al-Mudiq. This became the seat of the Crusaders at the beginning of the 12th century, but was recaptured by Nur ad-Din in 1149.

In the years 1930–38, 1947 and 1953, excavations took place under the direction of the Belgian Franz Cumont, and since 1965 new excavations have taken place under the direction of Jean-Charles Balty. Numerous finds from the early excavations, especially mosaics, can be found in the Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire in Brussels.


Destructions since 2012

During the Syrian civil war, the Pillar Street came under artillery fire on March 15, 2012. In spring 2013, aerial photos available on GoogleEarth showed severe destruction of the archaeological site due to large, stolen excavation holes that were specifically created to supply the illegal antiquities market (antique stolen goods) with new goods. Heavily armed, organized gangs with international contacts are largely considered responsible for this.


Roman auxiliary unit

In the Roman Empire, the auxiliary unit Cohors I Apamenorum was recruited from the city of Apamea and its surroundings.