It was an event of more than usual importance when Barnabas departed to Tarsus to seek Paul. "And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch" (Acts 11:26), probably about the year 45, or perhaps 46, A.D.
This Syrian Antioch is to be distinguished from the many other cities of the same name (especially the Pisidian Antioch mentioned in Acts 13:14, lying about three hundred miles to the west, in Asia Minor). Capital of the Roman province of Syria, it ranked as the third city of the whole Roman empire, yielding in importance only to Alexandria and to Rome itself. It lay about three hundred miles north of Jerusalem, on the navigable River Orontes, and like Tarsus was built some miles from the sea. Rising in a fertile plain overlooked by mountains, it was a mighty walled city of perhaps half a million inhabitants, famed for its magnificent buildings. Theaters and a hippodrome, costly temples, statues, and porticoes, together with the luxurious villas of the rich, gave it an appearance of the utmost prosperity. Its main street, paved with marble, was bordered by covered colonnades running for four to five miles. The rich soil and adequate water supply assured its inhabitants of an abundance of trees and flowers. Altogether, it is not surprising that it won for itself the title of "The Queen of the East."
All the fame and outward beauty of Antioch could not offset the reputation for immorality and vice associated with its varied and sophisticated population. Nevertheless, this cosmopolitan commercial city was also a cultural center with a degree of genuine interest in intellectual and religious inquiry. Moreover, it was a free city and included a large Jewish population. In such a city as this there was ample scope for the missionary ardor of a Barnabas and the fervid preaching of a Paul.