Stark, Rodney. "Chapter 7: Urban Chaos and Crisis: The Case of Antioch." The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997, 147-162..
Based on his observation that Christianity was largely an urban phenomenon, Stark sets out to analyze urban dynamics which may have shaped Christianity (Stark 1997, 147). He selects Antioch as his test case, since it was a major population center and was also home to a relatively large Christian community.
Stark emphasizes the small size of Greco-Roman cities (Stark 1997, 149). With an area of about two square miles, by the end of the first century Antioch had a population around 150,000. Stark notes this is a population density three times that of modern New York City, and over five times that of Chicago (Stark 1997, 149). Antioch suffered from frequent earthquakes, which limited the height of their buildings. Additionally there were large public buildings. Stark therefore revises his density figure to a practical density of 195 persons per acre (Stark 1997, 150).
Crowded conditions create a variety of sanitation issues. Water access and purification, even with aqueducts, was limited (Stark 1997, 152). Sewage disposal was also an issue, with most people depending on chamber pots which would be emptied into ditches or streets (Stark 1997, 153). These conditions are routinely linked to disease. Stark observes that urban mortality has always been high. Until the 20th century, cities in western Europe or North America could not maintain population without immigration. Stark considers this highly likely to be the case in Greco-Roman cities as well (Stark 1997, 155).
The Greco-Roman city, to maintain population, had a constant stream of new residents. In modern cities this is always associated with high rates of crime (Stark 1997, 156). Stark considers this to be one of the effects of lacking interpersonal attachments, which tend to enforce moral order. Antioch gives an example of this immigrant community without cultural attachments (Stark 1997, 157). The ethnic diversity, rather than creating a new and cohesive whole, may have tended to fragment society.
Stark finally observes that a city like Antioch was transitory in nature. Not only would buildings fall or burn and be replaced, but the population would also rise and fall, shift ethnicity, and even disappear almost entirely. In a period of 600 years, "Antioch was taken by unfriendly forces eleven times and was plundered and sacked on five of those occasions. The city was also put to siege, but did not fall, two other times. In addition, Antioch burned entirely or in large part four times, three times by accident and once when the Persians carefully burned the city to the ground after picking it clean of valuables and taking the surviving population into captivity" (Stark 1997, 159). Stark goes on to speak of internal strife, large riots, earthquakes, epidemics, and famines. He adds up all the serious events for an average of one catastrophe every 15 years (Stark 1997, 160). Why did people stay? Antioch was at a location of great strategic importance between Persia and the West.
Stark concludes that Christianity served to give hope amid the despair so prevalent in lage cities. The Christian faith also brought charity and care to those living in poverty. It provided a social network for the floods of immigrants. It provided nursing care to the sick and injured (Stark 1997, 161). The arrival of Christianity was a source of hope to people who otherwise had none.