Antioch was founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals. The city's geographical, military, and economic location benefited its occupants, particularly such features as the spice trade, the Silk Road, and the Persian Royal Road. It eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the Near East. It was also the main center of Hellenistic Judaism at the end of the Second Temple period. Most of the urban development of Antioch was done during the Roman empire, when the city was one of the most important in the eastern Mediterranean area of Rome's dominions.
Antioch was called "the cradle of Christianity" as a result of its longevity and the pivotal role that it played in the emergence of both Hellenistic Judaism and Early Christianity. The Christian New Testament asserts that the name Christian first emerged in Antioch. It was one of the four cities of the Syrian tetrapolis, and its residents were known as Antiochenes. The city was once a great metropolis of half a million people during Augustan times, but it declined to insignificance during the Middle Ages because of warfare, repeated earthquakes, and a change in trade routes, which no longer passed through Antioch from the far east, following the Mongol conquests.