Ptolemais in Phoenicia

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ptolemais in Phoenicia (as part of: Old City of Acre)
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List

Ake-Ptolemais was a port near ancient Galilea

Type Cultural, historical
Criteria ii, iii, v
Reference 1042
UNESCO region Middle East
Inscription history
Inscription 2001 (25th Session)

Ptolemais was a Roman colony in southern Phoenicia, called Colonia Claudia Felix Ptolemais Garmanica Stabilis.[1] It was also called "Ptolemais in Phoenicia" (or "Akko" in Phoenician language, and "Ake" or "Akre") and later in the Middle Ages was famous as "Acre". Roman Ptolemais was under Rome for nearly seven centuries from 37 BC until 636 AD, when was conquered by the Muslim Arabs.


Around 37 BC the Romans conquered the Hellenized Phoenician port-city called Akko. Under Augustus was built a "Gymnasium" in the city. In 4 BC The Roman Proconsul Publius Quinctilius Varus assembled there his army in order to suppress the revolts that break out in the region following the death of Herod the Great.

The Romans built a breakwater and expanded the harbor at the present location of the harbor....In the Roman/Byzantine period, Acre-Ptolemais was an important port city. It minted its own coins, and its harbor was one of the main gates to the land. Through this port the Roman Legions came by ship to crush the Jewish revolt in 67AD. It also served was used as connections to the other ports (for example, Caesarea and Jaffa)....The port of Acre (Ptolemais) was a station on Paul's naval travel, as described in Acts of the Gospels (21, 6-7): "And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again. And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day".[2]

During the rule of the emperor Claudius there was a building drive in Ptolemais and veterans of the legions settled here. The city was one of four colonies (with Berytus, Aelia Capitolina and Caesarea Maritima) created in ancient Levant by Roman emperors for veterans of their Roman legions.[3] As a result, Claudius granted the title "Colonia Claudia Felix Ptolemais Garmanica Stabilis". The city was a center of Romanization in the region, but most of the population was made of local Phoenicians and Jews: as a consequence after the Hadrian times the descendants of the initial Roman colonists were no more speaking Latin and were fully assimilated in less than two centuries (however the local society's customs were Roman).

In 66 AD Gessius Florus, the Roman Procurator of Judea, conducted an initial massacre of the Jews living in the city. The next year Vespasian, the Roman military commander (soon to be emperor), accompanied by Josephus (Titus Flavius Josephus), moved from Akko-Ptolemais to suppress the Jewish rebellion in the Galilee.

In 80 AD the future emperor Titus arrived in Ptolemais to aid his father Vespasian in conducting his protracted war in the Galilee against the Jewish rebellion there. In 130 AD the port of Ptolemais was used as a base for the Roman Legions setting forth to suppress the Bar-Kochba revolt. After the destruction of Jerusalem many Jews settled in Ptolemais, that was losing its original Phoenician characteristics since Augustus times.

In 190 AD Christianity started to be important in the city: Clarus, the Bishop of Ptolemais, participated in a council of Christian leaders. Ptolemais grew to be an important port in the eastern Mediterranean sea of the Roman empire. After Hadrian times Ptolemais was the commercial center & port of Jewish Galilea and was starting to be no more part of Phoenicia.

In 351 AD Constantius Gallus suppressed a Jewish rebellion and did a small massacre of the Jews of Akko-Ptolemais (who were starting to be the majority of the city's population and rejected Roman domination).

Under Byzantine control the city lost importance and around 636 AD was conquered by the Arab Amr ibn al-Aas. Following the defeat of the Byzantine army of Heraclius by the Muslim army of Khalid ibn al-Walid in the Battle of Yarmouk, and the capitulation of the Christian city of Jerusalem to the Caliph Umar, Ptolemais was ruled by the Rashidun Caliphate beginning in 638 AD.

Christianity center

Ptolemais was an important center of early Christianity in the region. The same St. Paul was in the city when started his travels.

Since the end of the third century Ptolemais was a city predominantly Christian, but with a huge Jews community. An unknown visitor from Italy reported that in the sixth century the city had beautiful churches. Indeed, an important discovery has been made in 2011: a Byzantine church in the middle of Crusaders' "San Giovanni d'Acri" (as was called Ptolemais in the Middle Ages).[4]

Bishops of Ptolemais-Acre

The Apostle Paul, returning from his trip to Macedonia and Achea, landed at Tyre, and from there flew to Ptolemais, where he stayed some days with the local Christian community (acts 21.7).

The first bishop known is Clarus, who in 190 AD attended a Council meeting which saw some bishops of Phoenicia and Palestine to deal with the issue of the date of the Easter feast. But we must go back to the fourth century to find the next Bishop, Enea, who took part at the first Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and at the Synod held in Antioch in 341 AD. Nectabus was one of the fathers of the first Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. Between the 4th and 5th centuries lived Bishop Antiochus, opponent of Giovanni Crisostomo. Elladius participated in the first Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. Paul took part in the Council held at Antioch of 445 AD to judge the work of Athanasius of Perre and at the Council of Chalcedon of 451 AD. In 518 AD Bishop Giovanni signed a Synodal letter against Severus of Antioch and the Monophysite party. Finally, the last known Bishop of Ptolemais is Giorgio, who attended the second Council of Constantinople in 553 AD.

See also



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