Situated on the Orontes, was the center of the worship of the Syrian sun-god Baal. Roman influence beginning with Pompey and Caesar was firmly established under domitian. Elagabalus (Heliogabalus), the chief priest of the sun-god who bore that deity's name, was proclaimed imperator in this city by the Syrian troops, assumed the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and ruled from 218 to 222. His debauched reign was ended by a pretorian revolt, and with his demise, efforts to spread the worship of the unconquered sun-god (Sol Invictus ) in the Roman Empire ceased temporarily. In 272 Aurelian's outnumbered forces gained a significant victory over Zenobia near Emesa. Attributing his success to an apparition of the sun-god who encouraged his troops, Aurelian entered the city, venerated the god, and built a shrine in his honor (Historia Augusta, Divus Aurelianus 25).
It is uncertain when Christianity entered this stronghold of pagan worship. The first known bishop of Emesa is Silvanus who suffered martyrdom under diocletian (eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 8.13); a later successor, Anatolius, attended the Council of Nicaea. Evidence for the progress of Christianity in Emesa is provided by the so called Chronicon Paschale [Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris 1857–66) 92:741B], which states that the great church in the city was desecrated under julian the apostate by the erection of a statue of Dionysus. In Byzantine times Emesa, the home of the renowned hymnographer romanus melodus (d. c. 560), became famous for the possession of the head of St. John the Baptist.
The see became an autocephalous archbishopric in 452 and, as Homs, has been the administrative center for the patriarchates of the Jacobites and Melchites and for the Roman Catholics. Because of its geographical location commanding the road north from Egypt, Palestine, and Damascus, Emesa experienced the vicissitudes of war from the armies of Arabs, Mongols, Turks, and Crusaders.
Bibliography: Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. (Stuttgart) 5.2 (1905) 2219–22; 10.1 (1917) 948–951. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris 1907–53) 4.2:2723–30. r. janin, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 15.1:397–399. k. baus, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 5:470–471. h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959) 195. e. honigmann, Byzantion 20 (1950) 64–71. Annuario Pontificio (Rome 1964) 183.