From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]

TARSUS , the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia (  Acts 22:6 ) in the S.E. of Asia Minor, and the birthplace of St. Paul, is a place about which much more might be known than is known if only the necessary money were forthcoming to excavate the ancient city in the way that Pompeii, Olympia, Pergamum, and other cities have been excavated. It would be impossible to exaggerate the value which would accrue to the study of St. Paul’s life and writings and of Christian origins, if such a work were satisfactorily carried out. It may be commended to the whole Christian Church as a pressing duty of the utmost importance. Tarsus, as a city whose institutions combined Oriental and Western characteristics, was signally fitted to be the birthplace and training ground of him who was to make known to the Gentile world the ripest development of Hebrew religion.

Tarsus (modern Tersous ) is situated in the plain of Cilicia, about 70 to 80 feet above sea level, and about 10 miles from the S. coast. The level plain stretches to the north of it for about 2 miles, and then begins to rise gradually till it merges in the lofty Taurus range, about 30 miles north. The climate of the low-lying city must always have been oppressive and unfavourable to energetic action, but the undulating country to the north was utilized to counteract its effects. About 9 to 12 miles north of the city propel there was a second Tarsus, within the territory of the main Tarsus, in theory a summer residence merely, but in reality a fortified town of importance, permanently inhabited. It was to periodical residence in this second city among the hills that the population owed their vigour. In Roman times the combined cities of Tarsus contained a large population, probably not much less than a million.

The history of the Maritime Plain of Cillcia was determined by the mutual rivalries of the three cities, Mallus on the Pyramus, Adana on the Sarus, and Tarsus on the Cydnus. The plain is mainly a deposit of the second of those rivers, and contains about 800 square miles of arable land, with a strip of useless land along the coast varying from  2 Timothy 3 miles in breadth. The site of Mallus is now unknown, as it has ceased to have any importance; but the other two cities retain their names and some of their importance to the present day. In ancient times Mallus was a serious rival of Tarsus, and was at first the great harbour and the principal Greek colony in Cilicia. The struggle for superiority lasted till after the time of Christ, but the supremacy was eventually resigned to Tarsus. The river Cydnus flowed through the middle of the city. This river, of which the inhabitants were very proud, was liable to rise very considerably when there had been heavy rains in the mountains, but inundation in the city was in the best period very carefully guarded against. Between a.d. 527 and 563 a new channel was cut to relieve the principal bed, which had for some time previously been insufficiently dredged, and it is in this new channel that the Cydnus now flows, the original channel having become completely choked. About five or six miles below the modern town the Cydnus flowed into a lake; this lake was the ancient harbour of Tarsus, where were the docks and arsenal. At the harbour town, which was called Aulai, all the larger ships discharged, and in ancient times buildings were continuous between the north of this lake and the city of Tarsus. Much engineering skill must have been employed in ancient times to make a harbour out of what had been a lagoon, and to improve the channel of the river. A great deal was done to conquer nature for the common benefit, and it was not only in this direction that the inhabitants showed their perseverance. This city also cut one of the greatest passes of ancient times, the ‘Cilician Gates.’ Cilicia is divided from Cappadocia and Lycaonia by the Taurus range of mountains, which is pierced from N.W. to S.E. by a glen along which flows the Tcbakut Su. This glen offers a natural road for much of its course, but there are serious difficulties to overcome in its southern part. The Tarsians built a waggon road over the hills there, and cut with the chisel a level path out of the solid rock on the western bank of the stream. The probable date of this engineering feat was some time between b.c. 1000 and 500.

It is possible (but see Tarshish) that Tarsus is meant by the Tarshish of   Genesis 10:4 , and that it is there indicated c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 2000 as a place where Greeks settled. The difference in the form of the name need cause no difficulty in accepting this identification. The name is originally Anatolian, and would quite easily be transliterated differently in Greek and Hebrew. All the evidence is in harmony with the view that at an early date Greeks settled there among an originally Oriental community. Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, captured Tarsus about the middle of the 9th cent. b.c.; afterwards kings ruled over Cilicia, with the Persian kings as overlords. In b.c. 401 there was still a king, but not in b.c. 334, when Alexander the Great entered the country. He found a Persian officer directly governing the country. Of the character of the kingdom we know nothing. Thus for about five centuries Tarsus was really an Oriental city. Greek influence began again with Alexander the Great, but made very slow progress. During the fourth century Tarsus was subject to the Greek kings of Syria of the Seleucid dynasty. It continued during the third century in abject submission to them. The peace of b.c. 189 changed the position of Cilicia. Previous to that date it had been in the middle of the Seleucid territory. Now it became a frontier country. About b.c. 175 164 Tarsus was re-organized by Antiochus iv Epiphanes as an autonomous city under the name Antioch-on-the-Cydnus (cf. 2Ma 4:30 f., 2Ma 4:36 ). It is extremely probable that the exact date of this re-foundation was b.c. 171 170; the new name lasted only a few years. Not only Tarsus, but a number of other Cilician cities also were re-organized at this time, but Tarsus received the most honourable treatment.

The population of this re-constituted Tarsus, in addition to what remained of the earlier population, consisted of Dorian Greeks from Argos. That the Greek element in the population was mainly Dorian is proved by the fact that the chief magistrates bore the Dorian title damiourgos . A mythology was invented to prove that this Dorian element was much earlier. It is almost certain that, in accordance with the regular Seleucid practice, a large body of Jews also was added to the population by Antiochus. These would be incorporated as citizens in a new tribe by themselves, to enable them to practise their own religion unhindered. There may have been some Jews resident in Tarsus as strangers, but the majority must have been citizens with full burghers’ rights. St. Paul, and probably the ‘kinsmen’ of   Romans 16:7;   Romans 16:11;   Romans 16:21 , were citizens of Tarsus enrolled in the Jewish tribe. The later hostility of Antiochus to the ultra-Jewish party in Palestine cannot be alleged as an adequate reason against the view that he constituted, in b.c. 171 170, a large body of Jews citizens of Tarsus in a tribe by themselves. At that earlier date he regarded himself as the best friend of the Jews, and was so regarded by the more educated among themselves. As the Seleucid empire decayed, the Greek element in Tarsus became weaker, and the Asiatic spirit revived. About b.c. 83 its influence swept over Cilicia with the armies of Tigranes, king of Armenia, under whose power Tarsus fell. For about twenty years it continued under Oriental domination, till the re-organization of the East by Pompey the Great in b.c. 65 4. The Roman province Cilicia had been instituted about b.c. 104 or 102, but Tarsus was not then included in it. It was established mainly to control piracy in the Levant, and included the south and east of Asia Minor, but was not sharply defined in extent. In b.c. 25 the province Galatia (wh. see) was established by Augustus, and Cilicia in the narrow sense became a mere adjunct of Syria. Tarsus was the capital even of the large province Cilicia, and remained that of the smaller under the Empire, which brought many blessings to the provinces and their cities. Experience of the barbarian Tigranes caused a revulsion in favour of Hellenism, and the Tarsians were enthusiastic for the Empire, which carried on the work of Hellenism. Cassius forced them, in b.c. 43, to take his and Brutus’ side against Octavian and Antony, but they returned to their former loyalty on the earliest opportunity. Tarsus was made a free city (that is, it was governed by its own laws) by Antony, who met Cleopatra here. This privilege was confirmed by Octavian in or after b.c. 31. It is likely that Pompey, Julius Cæsar, Antony, and Augustus all conferred Roman citizenship on some Tarsians, and these would take new names from their benefactors: Gnæus Pompeius from Pompey, Gaius Iulius from Julius Cæsar or Augustus, Marcus Antonius from Antony. The Roman administration probably trusted more to the Jewish than to the Greek element. The latter was capricious, and was restrained by the Stoic Athenodorus, a Tarsian, who had the influence of Augustus behind him. The Oriental element seems to have thus become more assertive, and about a.d. 100 it was predominant. This Athenodorus lived from about b.c. 74 till a.d. 7. He was a Stoic philosopher, distinguished for his lectures and writings. He gained a great and noble influence over Augustus, who was his pupil, and he remained in Rome from b.c. 45 till b.c. 15 as his adviser; in the latter year he retired to Tarsus. There he attempted by persuasion to reform local politics; but, being unsuccessful, he used the authority granted him by Augustus, and banished the more corrupt of the politicians. A property qualification was now required for possession of the citizenship. (Among these citizens the Roman citizens formed an aristocracy.) Athenodorus was succeeded by Nestor, an Academic philosopher (still living a.d. 19). These men had influence also in the university, which was more closely connected with the city than in modern times. A new lecturer had to be recognized by some competent body. There was a great enthusiasm in Tarsus and neighbourhood for learning and philosophy, and in this respect the city was unequalled in Greece. It was here that St. Paul learned sympathy with athletics, and tolerance for the good elements in pagan religion. The principal deity of Tarsus corresponded to the Greek Zeus: he is the old Anatolian deity, giver of corn and wine. There was also a working Anatolian divinity, who was identified with Heracles, subordinate to the other. The former is represented as sitting on a chair, with left hand resting on a sceptre, and the right holding corn or grapes. The other stands on a lion, wears bow-case and sword, and holds a branch or flower in his right hand, a battleaxe in his left. Sometimes he is represented within a portable shrine.

A. Souter.

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [2]


This city is famous as the capital of Cilicia and the birthplace of St. Paul ( Acts 22:3;  Acts 9:11;  Acts 21:39). It was built on both banks of the Cydnus, in a rich and extensive plain, about 10 miles N. of the coast and 30 miles S. of the vast mountain-wall of Taurus. The river descends swift and cold from the snow-clad heights-ψυχρόν τε καὶ ταχὺ τὸ ῥεῦμα ἐστιν (Strabo, XIV. v. 12)-and Alexander the Great almost lost his life from the effects of an imprudent bathe in its icy water (Plut. Alex . 19). Flowing, 200 ft. wide, through the heart of the city, it entered, some miles down, a lake called the Rhegma-now a fever-breeding marsh, 30 miles in circumference-which served as an excellent harbour for the shipping of the Mediterranean. But the Cydnus was navigable as far as the city itself, and all the world knows of Cleopatra’s pageant on those waters (Plutarch, Antony , 25f.; Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra , act II. sc. ii. line 192 ff.).

The great trade-route from the Euphrates by the Amanus Pass joined the one from Antioch by the Syrian Gates about 50 miles E. of Tarsus, and the single road, after traversing the city, turned sharply northward towards the Cilician Gates-a natural pass, 70 miles long, greatly improved by engineering perhaps about 1000 b.c.-which gave access in peace and war to the vast central plateau of Asia Minor. Highways of sea and land thus combined to make Tarsus one of the most important meeting-places of East and West.

The 1st cent. Tarsus, whose most famous son was a Jew, a Hellenist, and a Roman citizen, resembled a composite photograph, in which the Greek type had been superimposed upon the Oriental, and the Roman upon both.

Tarsus is mentioned in the ‘Black Obelisk’ inscription as one of the cities captured by the Assyrian Shalmancser about 860 b.c. ( Records of the Past , ed. A. H. Sayce, new ser., 6 vols., London, 1888-92, iv. 47). Under the Persian Empire it was governed sometimes by satraps, sometimes by subject kings. Xenophon (circa, about400 b.c.) found it a πόλιν μεγάλην καὶ εὐδαίμονα, where Syennesis, king of Cilicia, had his residence ( Anab . I. ii. 23). The victories of Alexander the Great changed the face of the East, and Tarsus was one of the many cities that were Hellenized by the Seleucids. Antiochus Epiphanes IV. visited Cilicia about 170 b.c. for the purpose of allaying discontent in Tarsus and the neighbouring town of Mallus ( 2 Maccabees 4:30f.), and Ramsay thinks it probable that this king reconstituted Tarsus as an autonomous Greek city, and that, according to the practice of the Seleucids, he planted a colony of Jews there, giving them equal rights of citizenship (ἰσοτιμία) with the Greeks ( The Cities of St. Paul , London, 1907, pp. 165, 180). The citizens of Greek towns were divided into ‘tribes’ (φυλαί), each observing its own special religious rites; and, as the individual could not enjoy civic privileges except in his relation to the tribe, there must have been a φυλή of Jews in Tarsus, each member of which could boast of being ‘a Tarsian of Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city’ ( Acts 21:39). The far-reaching change which this Antiochus, who was at first no enemy of the Jews, made in Tarsus was commemorated by the new name given to the city-‘Antioch on the Cydnus’-which, however, was soon dropped, as there were already so many Antiochs, and as Tarsus was still essentially an Oriental city. When Pompey reconstituted the province of Cilicia (in 64 b.c.), Tarsus became the headquarters of the Roman governor, but it lost this honour when Augustus formed the great joint-province of Syria-Cilicia-Phœnice (probably in 27 b.c.). Tarsus took Caesar’s side in the Civil War, and in memory of a visit which the dictator paid it in his march from Egypt to Pontus it either received or assumed the name of Juliopolis. The republican Cassius plundered it on that account, but Mark Antony made it a civitas libera et immunis , and Augustus confirmed its privileges. Under a strong and just Roman government, Tarsus was left to the peaceful development of its great resources, and reached the zenith of its prosperity, while its Hellenization now went on apace. Inspired with an enthusiasm for learning and the arts, it established a university, which was not indeed so splendidly equipped as the older foundations of Athens and Alexandria, but, according to Strabo (XIV. v. 12), even surpassed them in zeal for knowledge. At the same time Tarsus developed a higher civic consciousness, and under the benign rule of Augustus’ old preceptor, the Stoic Athenodorus, who received divine honours after his death, and of Nestor, the teacher of Marcellus and perhaps of Tiberius, it for a time realized the Platonic ideal of government by philosophers. T. Mommsen has called Asia Minor ‘the promised land of municipal vanity’ ( The Provinces of the Roman Empire , Eng. translation, 2 vols., London, 1909, i. 328, n.[Note: . note.]1), and it is curious to see how Tarsus, like so many other cities, arrogated such high-sounding titles as Metropolis, Neokoros, Free, First, Fairest, Best. But this was only the defect of her qualities, and all that was highest and worthiest in her life was associated with the intense local patriotism of her citizens.

We have not the means of accurately measuring the effect of such an intellectual environment on ‘Saul of Tarsus’ during his formative years. It cannot be proved that he received a liberal education in his native city before he went to study in Jerusalem. It is certain, however, that Tarsus was one of the great seats of Stoic philosophy, and ‘it is not mere conjecture, that St. Paul had some acquaintance with the teachers or the writings of this school’ (J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians 4 , London, 1878, p. 304). It is equally evident that he obtained in Tarsus an insight into civic and Imperial politics, which exercised a profound influence upon his thought as a Christian. He learned to give full value to the words πολίτης ( Acts 21:39), συμπολίτης ( Ephesians 2:19), πολιτεία ( Acts 22:28,  Ephesians 2:12), πολίτευμα ( Philippians 3:20). He not only enjoyed, like all his compatriots in Tarsus (the συγγενεῖς of  Romans 16:7;  Romans 16:11;  Romans 16:21), the freedom of his native city, but he had the far higher privilege, of which only few of them could boast, of being a Roman born ( Acts 22:28). While his Tarsian citizenship availed him little outside the city, his Ρωμαῖός εἰμι- Civis Romanus sum -was a talisman which afforded him protection almost everywhere. And his double citizenship not only was in itself a privilege, but became a fruitful ideal. The thought of a citizen-life worthy of a Tarsian and of a Roman early penetrated his mind, and reappeared by and by in the sublimated form of a civic conduct worthy of the gospel of Christ (πολιτεύεσθε,  Philippians 1:27), a conscientious citizen-life led always before God (πεπολίτευμαι τῷ θεῷ,  Acts 23:1).

After his conversion St. Paul spent several years in Tarsus and other parts of Cilicia ( Galatians 1:21), labouring and learning there in unrecorded ways, and it was in his native city that he was found by Barnabas ( Acts 11:25). At the beginning of his second missionary tour he was again in Cilicia, confirming the churches which he had probably founded ( Acts 15:41), and he could not avoid Tarsus on his way through the Cilician Gates to Derbe and Lystra ( Acts 16:1). His third tour also began with a journey from Syrian Antioch to the region of Phrygia and Galatia ( Acts 18:23), no doubt via Tarsus, which he then probably saw for the last time.

Captured by the Arabs in the 7th, and by the Crusaders in the 11th cent., Tarsus ultimately fell into Ottoman hands in the 16th century. It has now a population of 25,000, a congeries of many nationalities.

Literature.-W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul , 2 vols., London, 1877, i. 26 f., 59 f.; A. Hausrath, A History of the NT Times , 4 vols., do., 1895, iii. 4 ff.; W. M. Ramsay, The Cities of St. Paul , do., 1907; C. Wilson, in Murray’s Handbook to Asia Minor , do., 1895, p. 184 f.

James Strahan.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

 Acts 9:11;  Acts 22:3;  Acts 21:39. Paul's birthplace and early residence. Capital of Cilicia, in a plain on the river Cydnus at the foot of the passes northward over Mount Taurus into Cappadocia and Lycaonia. Through these passes a road led to Lystra and Iconium (Acts 14), another road by the Amanian and Syrian gates eastward to Antioch. Founded by Sennacherub of Assyria; the Greeks too took part in its colonisation (Strabo xiv. 673), Xenophon mentions it (Tarsoi In The Ariabasis) . Julius Caesar rewarded Tarsus for fidelity, and Augustus made it a free city, i.e. governed by its own laws and magistrates and free from tribute, but without Roman citizenship, which Paul must have acquired in some other way. Ranked by Strabo above Athens and Alexandria for its school of literature and philosophy; Athenodorus, Augustus' tutor, the grammarians Artemidorus and Diodorus, and the tragedian Dionysides belonged to Tarsus.

Here Paul received providentially that training which adapted him for dealing with the polished Greeks on their own ground, quoting Aratus a Cilician poet, Epimenides a Cretan, and Menander the Athenian comedian. He resided in Tarsus at intervals after his conversion ( Acts 9:30;  Acts 11:25); after his first visit to Jerusalem and before his ministry with Barnabas at Antioch, and doubtless at the commencement of his second and third missionary journeys ( Acts 15:41;  Acts 18:23). G. Rawlinson thinks Tarshish in  Genesis 10:4 can scarcely designate Tartessus, founded not until after Moses, but Tarsus in Cilicia; though said to be founded by Sennacherib, an old settlement doubtless preceded his colony. Thus, Tarshish in  Genesis 10:4 will represent the Cilicians or the Greeks in Cilicia; it is associated with Kittim or Cyprus, which was near.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [4]

The name of a celebrated city, the metropolis of Cilicia, in the southeastern part of Asia Minor; situated six miles from the Mediterranean, on the banks of the river Cydnus, which flowed through and divided it into two parts. Tarsus was distinguished for the culture of Greek literature and philosophy, so that at one time, in its schools and in the number of its learned men, it was the rival of Athens and Alexandria. In reward for its exertions and sacrifices during the civil wars of Rome, Tarsus was made a free city of Augustus. It was the privilege of such cities that they were governed by their own laws and magistrates, and were not subjected to tribute, to the jurisdiction of a Roman governor, nor to the power of a Roman garrison, although they acknowledged the supremacy of the Roman people, and were bound to aid them against their enemies.

That the freedom of Tarsus, however, was not equivalent to being a Roman citizen, appears from this, that the tribune, although he knew Paul to be a citizen of Tarsus,  Acts 21:39 , yet ordered him to be scourged,  Acts 22:24 , but desisted from his purpose when he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen,  Acts 22:27 . It is therefore probable that the ancestors of Paul had obtained the privilege of Roman citizenship in some other way,  Acts 9:30   11:25   22:3 . It is now called Tarsous; and though much decayed and full of ruins, is estimated to contain a population in summer of 7,000, and in winter of 30,000, chiefly Turks. During the excessive heat of summer, a large part of the people repair to the high lands of the interior.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [5]

Tar'sus. The chief town of Cilicia, "no mean city," in other respects, but illustrious to all time, as the birthplace, and early residence, of the apostle Paul.  Acts 9:11;  Acts 21:39;  Acts 22:3. Even in the flourishing period of Greek history, it was a city of some considerable consequence. In the civil wars of Rome, it took Caesar's aide, and on the occasion of a visit from him, had its name changed to Juliopolis. Augustus made it a "free city." It was renowned as a place of education under the early Roman emperors. Strabo compares it, in this respect, to Athens unto Alexandria. Tarsus also was a place of much commerce. It was situated in a wild and fertile plain, on the banks of the Cydnus. No ruins of any importance remain.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [6]

The capital of Cilicia, in Asia Minor. It ranked as a city of importance, called by Paul 'no mean city.' It was a seat of learning under the early Roman emperors and was ranked by Strabo as even above Athens and Alexandria: it was Paul's native place, and he visited it after his conversion.  Acts 9:11,30;  Acts 11:25;  Acts 21:39;  Acts 22:3 . It is now called Tersûs, a small town, with scarcely any trace of its former greatness. The river Cydnus, which in the days of Cyrus and Alexander flowed through the city, now runs about half a mile east of it. The houses are mostly but one storey in height, built with stones apparently taken from larger buildings.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [7]

Chief city of the province of Cilicia, Tarsus was a large and important city in the days of the Roman Empire ( Acts 21:39; for map see Acts, Book Of ) It was famous for its educational institutions, and was considered the centre of learning in Asia Minor (as Athens was in Greece and as Alexandria was in Egypt). Tarsus was Paul’s home town ( Acts 9:11;  Acts 9:30;  Acts 11:25;  Acts 22:3) and this may have had some influence on his education. Paul’s style of systematic thinking suggests a Greek educational background of the kind available in Tarsus.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Tarsus ( Tär'Sus ). A town of Cilicia, the birthplace of the apostle Paul.  Acts 9:11;  Acts 21:39;  Acts 22:3. Augustus made it a "free city." It was renowned as a place of education under the early Roman emperors. Strabo compares it in this respect to Athens and Alexandria. Tarsus also was a place of much commerce. It was situated in a wild and fertile plain on the hanks of the Cydnus. No ruins of any importance remain.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [9]

the capital of Cilicia, and the native city of St. Paul,  Acts 9:11;  Acts 21:39 . Some think it obtained the privileges of a Roman colony because of its firm adherence to Julius Caesar; and this procured the inhabitants the favour of being acknowledged citizens of Rome, which St. Paul enjoyed by being born in it. Others maintain that Tarsus was only a free city, but not a Roman colony, in the time of St. Paul, and that his privilege as a Roman citizen was founded upon some other right, perhaps gained by his ancestors.

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(1): ( n.) The foot of an insect or a crustacean. It usually consists of form two to five joints.

(2): ( n.) A plate of dense connective tissue or cartilage in the eyelid of man and many animals; - called also tarsal cartilage, and tarsal plate.

(3): ( n.) The ankle; the bones or cartilages of the part of the foot between the metatarsus and the leg, consisting in man of seven short bones.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [11]

 Acts 21:39Paul

King James Dictionary [12]

T`ARSUS, n. That part of the foot to which the leg is articulated, the front of which is called the instep.

Holman Bible Dictionary [13]

 Acts 9:11Paul

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [14]

tar´sus ( Ταρσός , Tarsós , ethnic Ταρσεύς , Tarseús ) :

1. Situation

2. Foundation Legends

3. Tarsus under Oriental Power

4. Tarsus under Greek Sway

5. Tarsus in the Roman Empire

6. The University

7. The Tarsian Constitution

8. Paul of Tarsus

9. Later History


1. Situation:

The chief city of Cilicia, the southeastern portion of Asia Minor. It lay on both banks of the river Cydnus, in the midst of a fertile alluvial plain, some 10 miles from the seacoast. About 6 miles below the city the river broadened out into a considerable lake called Rhegma (Strabo xiv. 672), which afforded a safe anchorage and was in great part fringed with quays and dockyards. The river itself, which flowed southward from the Taurus Mountains with a clear and swift stream, was navigable to light craft, and Cleopatra, when she visited Antony at Tarsus in 38 BC, was able to sail in her richly decorated barge into the very heart of the city (Plut. Ant. 26). The silting-up of the river's mouth seems to have resulted in frequent floods, against which the emperor Justinian (527-65 AD) attempted to provide by cutting a new channel, starting a short distance North of the city, to divert the surplus water into a watercourse which lay to the East of Tarsus. Gradually, however, the original bed was allowed to become choked, and now the Cydnus flows wholly through Justinian's channel and passes to the East of the modern town. Two miles North of Tarsus the plain gives way to low, undulating hills, which extend to the foothills of Taurus, the great mountain chain lying some 30 miles North of the city, which divides Cilicia from Lycaonia and Cappadocia. The actual frontier-line seems to have varied at different periods, but the natural boundary lies at the Cilician Gates, a narrow gorge which Tarsian enterprise and engineering skill had widened so as to make it a wagon road, the chief highway of communication and trade between Cilicia and the interior of Asia Minor and one of the most decisive factors in Anatolian history. Eastward from Tarsus ran an important road crossing the Sarus at Adana and the Pyramus at Mopsuestia; there it divided, one branch running southeastward by way of Issus to Antioch on the Orontes, while another turned slightly northward to Castabala, and thence ran due East to the passage of the Euphrates at Zeugma. Thus the fertility of its soil, the safety and convenience of its harbor and the command of the main line of communication between Anatolia and Syria or Mesopotamia combined to promote the greatness of Tarsus, though its position was neither a healthful or a strong one and the town had no acropolis.

2. Foundation Legends:

Of the foundation of the city various traditions were current in antiquity, and it is impossible to arrive any certain conclusion, for such foundation legends often reflected the sympathies and wishes of a city's later population rather than the historic facts of its origin. At Anchiale, about 12 miles Southeast of Tarsus, was a monument commonly known as the tomb of Sardanapalus, king of Assyria, bearing an inscription "in Assyrian letters" stating that that monarch "built Anchiale and Tarsus in a single day" (Strabo xiv. 672; Arrian Anab . ii. 5). The statement of Alexander Polyhistor, preserved by Eusebius ( Chron . i, p. 27, ed Schoene), that Sennacherib, king of Nineveh (705-681 BC), rounded the city, also ascribes to it an Assyrian origin.

On the other hand, the Greeks had their own traditions, claiming Tarsus as a Greek or semi-Gr foundation. Strabo says that it owed its rise to the Argives who with Triptolemus wandered in search of Io (xiv. 673), while others spoke of Heracles or Perseus as the founder. It must be admitted that these tales, taken by themselves, give us little aid.

3. Tarsus Under Oriental Power:

Ramsay believes that Tarsus existed from time immemorial as a native Cilician settlement, to which was added, at some early date unknown to us, a body of Ionians, which migrated from the western coast of Asia Minor under the auspices and direction of the oracle of Clarian Apollo near Colophon. The earliest historical record of the town is found on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, about 850 BC, where it figures among the places captured by that king. It is thus proved that Tarsus already existed at that remote date. For many centuries it remained an oriental rather than a Hellenic city, and its history is almost a blank. After the fall of the Assyrian empire, Cilicia may have regained its independence, at least partially, but it subsequently became a province of the Persian empire, paying to the Great King an annual tribute of 260 white horses and 500 talents of silver ( Herodotus iii. 90) and contributing considerable fleets, when required, to the Persian navy. From time to time we hear of rulers named Syennesis, who appear to have been vassal princes in a greater or less degree of dependence upon the oriental empires. Two clear glimpses of the city are afforded us, thanks to the passage through it of Hellenic troops engaged upon eastern expeditions. Xenophon ( Anab . i. 2,21 ff) tells how, in 40l BC, Cyrus the Younger entered Cilicia on his famous march against his brother Artaxerxes, and how some of his Greek mercenaries plundered Tarsus, which is described as a great and prosperous city, in which was the palace of King Syennesis. The king made an agreement with Cyrus, who, after a delay of 20 days, caused by the refusal of his troops to march farther, set out from Tarsus for the Euphrates. Again, in 333 BC, Alexander the Great passed through the Cilician Gates on his way to Issus, where he met and routed the Persian army under Darius III. Arsames, the satrap of Cilicia, failed to post a sufficient force at the pass, the garrison fled without resistance and Alexander thus entered the province without striking a blow. The Persians thereupon set fire to Tarsus, but the timely arrival of the Macedonian advance guard under Parmenio saved the city from destruction. A bath in the cold waters of the Cydnus which Alexander took while heated with his rapid advance brought on a fever which all but cost him his life (Arrian Anab . ii. 4; Q. Curtius Hist. Alex . iii. 4 f) For two centuries Tarsus had been the capital of a Persian satrapy, subject to oriental rather than to Hellenic influence, though there was probably a Hellenic element in its population, and its trade brought it into touch with the Greeks. The Cilician coins struck at Tarsus confirm this view. Down to Alexander's conquest, they ordinarily bear Aramaic legends, and many of them show the effigy of Baal Tarz, the Lord of Tarsus; yet, these coins are clearly influenced by Greek types and workmanship.

4. Tarsus Under Greek Sway:

Alexander's overthrow of the Persian power brought about a strong Hellenic reaction in Southeastern Asia Minor and must have strengthened the Greek element in Tarsus, but more than a century and a half were to elapse before the city attained that civic autonomy which was the ideal and the boast of the Greek pólis . After Alexander's death in 323 Bc his vast empire was soon dismembered by the rivalries and wars of his powerful generals. Cilicia ultimately fell under the rule of the Seleucid kings of Syria, whose capital was Antioch on the Orontes. Though Greeks, they inherited certain features of the old Persian policy and methods of rule; Cilicia was probably governed by a satrap, and there was no development within it of free city life. Early in the 2nd century, however, came a change. Antiochus III, defeated by the Romans in the battle of Magnesia (190 BC), was forced to evacuate most of his possessions in Asia Minor. Cilicia thus became a frontier province and gained greatly in importance. The outcome was the reorganization of Tarsus as an autonomous city with a coinage of its own, which took place under Antiochus 4 Epiphanes (175-164), probably in 171 BC. It is at this time that Tarsus is first mentioned in the Bible, unless we are to accept the disputed identification with Tarshish (which see). In  2 Maccabees 4:30 f we read that, about 171 "it came to pass that they of Tarsus and Mallus made insurrection, because they were to be given as a present to Antiochis, the king's concubine. The king therefore came to Cilicia in all haste to settle matters." That this settlement took the form of a compromise and the grant to Tarsus of at least a municipal independence we may infer from the fact that Tarsus struck its own coins from this reign onward. At first they bear the name of Antioch on the Cydnus, but from the death of Antiochus this new appellation falls into disuse and the old name reasserts itself. But it is almost certain that, in accordance with Seleucid policy, this reorganization was accompanied by the enlargement of the citizen body, the new citizens in this case consisting probably of Jews and Argive Greeks. From this time Tarsus is a city of Hellenic constitution, and its coins no longer bear Aramaic but Greek legends. Yet it must be remembered that there was still a large, perhaps a preponderating, native and oriental element in the population, while the coin types in many cases point to the continued popularity of non-Hellenic cults.

5. Tarsus in the Roman Empire:

About 104 Bc part of Cilicia became a Hem province, and after the Mithridatic Wars, during which Tarsus fell temporarily into the hands of Tigranes of Armenia, Pompey the Great reorganized the eastern portion of the Hem Empire (64-63 BC), and Tarsus became the capital of a new and enlarged province, administered by Hem governors who usually held office for a single year. Thus we find Cicero in command of Cilicia from the summer of 51 Bc to the summer of the following year, and though he expressly mentions Tarsus only rarely in his extant letters of this period (e.g. Ad Att . v. 20,3; Ad Fam . ii. 17,1), yet there is reason to believe that he resided there during part of his year of office. Julius Caesar passed through the city in 47 Bc on his march from Egypt to Pontus, and was enthusiastically received. In his honor the name Tarsus was changed to Juliopolis, but this proved no more lasting than Antioch on the Cydnus had been. Cassius temporarily overawed it and imposed on it a crushing fine, but, after the overthrow of the republican cause at Philippi and the assignment of the East to Antony's administration, Tarsus received the position of an independent and duty-free state ( civitas libera et immunis ) and became for some time Antony's place of residence. This privileged status was confirmed by Augustus after the victory of Actium had made him sole master of the Roman Empire (31 BC). It did not by itself bestow Roman citizenship on the Tarsinas, but doubtless there were many natives of the city to whom Pompey, Caesar, Antony and Augustus granted that honor for themselves and, as a consequence, for their descendants.

6. The University:

It is under the rule of Augustus that our knowledge of Tarsus first becomes fairly full and precise, Strabo, writing about 19 AD, tells us (xiv. 673 ff) of the enthusiasm of its inhabitants for learning, and especially for philosophy. In this respect, he says, Tarsus surpasses Athens and Alexandria and every other university town. It was characterized by the fact that the student body was composed almost entirely of natives, who, after finishing their course, usually went abroad to complete their education and in most cases did not return home, whereas in most universities the students were to a large extent foreigners, and the natives showed no great love of learning. Alexandria, however, formed an exception, attracting a large number of foreign students and also sending out many of its younger citizens to other centers. In fact, adds Strabo, Rome is full of Tarsians and Alexandrians. Among the famous men who learned or taught at Tarsus, we hear of the Stoics Antipater, Archedemus, Nestor, Athenodorus surnamed Cordylion, the friend and companion of the younger Marcus Cato, and his more famous namesake (called Canaanites after the village of his birth), who was the tutor and confidant of Augustus, and who subsequently reformed the Tarsian constitution. Other philosophers of Tarsus were Nestor, a representative of the Academy, and tutor of Marcellus, Augustus' nephew and destined successor, and of Tiberius, Plutiades and Diogenes; the latter was also famous as an improvisatore, and indeed the Tarsians in general were famed for their ease and fluency in impromptu speaking. Artemidorus and Diodorus the grammarians and Dionysides the tragic poet, a member of the group of seven writers known as "the Pleiad," complete Strabo's list of eminent Tarsians. A less attractive view of the life in Tarsus is given by Philostratus in his biography of Apollonius of Tyana, who went there to study in the early part of Tiberius' reign (14-37 AD). So disgusted was he by the insolence of the citizens, their love of pleasure and their extravagance in dress, that he shook the dust of Tarsus off his feet and went to Aegae to pursue his studies in a more congenial atmosphere ( Vit. Apollon . i. 7). But Strabo's testimony is that of a contemporary and an accurate historian and must outweigh that of Philostratus, whose work is largely tinged with romance and belongs to the early years of the 3century AD.

7. The Tarsian Constitution:

Strabo also tells us something of an important constitutional reform carried out in Tarsus under the Emperor Augustus, probably about 15-10 BC. Athenodorus Canaanites, the Stoic, returned to his city as an old man, after some 30 years spent at Rome, armed with authority from the emperor to reform abuses in its civic life. He found the constitution a democracy, swayed and preyed upon by a corrupt clique headed by a certain Boethus, "bad poet and bad citizen," who owed his position partly to his ready and persuasive tongue, partly to the favor of Antony, whom he had pleased by a poem composed to celebrate the victory of Philippi. Athenodorus sought at first to mend matters by argument and persuasion, but, finding Boethus and his party obdurate, he at length exercised his extraordinary powers, banished the offenders and remodeled the constitution, probably in a timocratic mold, restricting the full citizenship to those possessed of a considerable property qualification. On his death, his place as head of the state was taken for a while by the academic philosopher Nestor (Strabo xiv. 674 f). Next to Strabo's account our most valuable source of information regarding Tarsus is to be found in the two orations of Dio Chrysostom addressed to the Tarsians about 110 Ad ( Orat . xxxiii, xxxiv; see Jour. Hell. Studies , Xxiv , 58 ff). Though admitting that the city was an Argive colony, he emphasized its non-Hellenic character, and, while criticizing much in its institutions and manners, found but a single feature to commend, the strictness with which the Tarsian women were veiled whenever they appeared in public.

8. Paul of Tarsus:

Such was Tarsus, in which Paul was born ( Acts 22:3 ) and of which he was a citizen ( Acts 9:11;  Acts 21:39 ). Its ancient traditions and its present greatness explain and justify the pride with which he claimed to be "a citizen of no mean city" ( Acts 21:39 ). It is probable that his forefathers had been among the Jews settled at Tarsus by Antiochus Epiphanes, who, without sacrificing nationality or religion, became citizens of a community organized after the Greek model. On what occasion and for what service Roman civitas had been conferred on one of Paul's ancestors we cannot say; this only we know, that before his birth his father had possessed the coveted privilege (  Acts 22:28 ). It is a fascinating, but an elusive, quest to trace in Paul's life and writings the influence of his Tarsian ancestry, birth and early life. Jerome, it is true, claims that many Pauline words and phrases were characteristic of Cilicia, and some modern scholars profess to find traces, in the apostle's rhetoric and in his attitude toward pagan religion and secular learning, of Tarsian influence. But such speculations are likely to be misleading, and it is perhaps best to admit that, save in the trade learned by Paul, which was characteristic of his birthplace, we cannot with any precision gauge the effects of his early surroundings. At the same time it is certain that the character of his native city, its strong oriental element, its Greek constitution and speech, its position in the Roman Empire, its devotion to learning, must have made an impression upon one who, uniting Jewish nationality with membership of a Greek state and Roman citizenship, was to be the great interpreter to the Greco-Roman world of a religion which sprang from the soil of Judaism. How long Paul remained at Tarsus before beginning his studies in Jerusalem we cannot say. His own declaration that he was "born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city" ( Acts 22:3 ) seems to show that his training at Jerusalem began at an early age, and is inconsistent with the supposition that he was one of those Tarsian students who, after studying at their native university, completed their education abroad. During his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, plots were formed against his life, and he was induced to return to Tarsus ( Acts 9:30 ), where, according to Ramsay's chronology, he remained for some 8 years. Thither Barnabas went to seek him when he felt the need of a helper in dealing with the new problems involved in the growth of the Antiochene church and the admission into it of Gentiles in considerable numbers ( Acts 11:25 ). Tarsus is not again mentioned in the New Testament, but Paul doubtless revisited it on his second missionary journey, when he "went through Syria and Cilicia" ( Acts 15:41 ), and traveled thence by way of the Cilician Gates into Lycaonia, and again at the beginning of his third journey when, after some time spent at Antioch, "he departed, and went through the region of Galatia, and Phrygia, in order" ( Acts 18:23 ).

9. Later History:

This is not the place to discuss in detail the later history of Tarsus, many passages of which are obscure and difficult. It remained a focus of imperial loyalty, as is indicated by the names Hadriane, Commodiane, Severiane and others, which appear, isolated or conjoined, upon its coins, together with the title of metropolis and such epithets as "first," "greatest," "fairest." Indeed it was chiefly in the matter of such distinctions that it carried on a keen, and sometimes bitter, rivalry, first with Mallus and Adana, its neighbors in the western plain, and later with Anazarbus, the chief town of Eastern Cilicia. But Tarsus remained the capital of the district, which during the 1st century of the empire was united with Syria in a single imperial province, and when Cilicia was made a separate province Tarsus, as a matter of course, became its metropolis and the center of the provincial Caesar-worship, and, at a later date, the capital of "the three eparchiae,"Cilicia, Isauria and Lycaonia. Toward the close of the 4th century Cilicia was divided into two, and Tarsus became the capital of Cilicia Prima only. Soon after the middle of the 7th century it was captured by the Arabs, and for the next three centuries was occupied by them as their northwestern capital and base of operations against the Anatolian plateau and the Byzantine empire. In 965 it was recaptured, together with the rest of Cilicia, by the emperor Nicephorus Phocas, but toward the close of the following century it fell into the hands of the Turks and afterward of the Crusaders. It was subsequently ruled by Armenian princes as part of the kingdom of Lesser Armenia, and then by the Memluk sultans of Egypt, from whom it was finally wrested by the Ottoman Turks early in the 16th century. The modern town, which still bears the ancient name in the slightly modified form Tersoús , has a very mixed population, numbering about 25,000, and considerable trade, but suffers from its unhealthful situation and the proximity of large marshy tracts. Few traces of its ancient greatness survive, the most considerable of them being the vast substructure of a Greco-Roman temple, known locally as the tomb of Sardanapalus (R. Koldewey in C. Robert, Aus der Anomia , 178 ff).


The best account of Tarsus will be found in W. M. Ramsay, The Cities of Paul (London, 1907), 85-244; the same writer's articles on "Cilicia, Tarsus and the Great Taurus Pass" in the Geographical Journal , 1903,357 ff, and on "Tarsus" in Hdb should also be consulted, as well as H. Bohlig, Die Geisteskultur yon Tarsos im augusteischen Zeitalter (Gottingen, 1913). For inscriptions see LeBas-Waddington, Voyage archeologique , III,   Numbers 1476 ff; Inscr. Graec. ad res Roman. pertinetes , III, 876 ff. For coins, B. V. Head, Historia Numorum2 , 729 ff; G. F. Hill , British Museum Catalogue of Coins: Lycaonia, Isauria and Cilicia , 76 ff, 162 ff.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [15]

Tar´sus, a celebrated city, the metropolis of Cilicia, in Asia Minor, on the banks of the River Cydnus, which flowed through it, and divided it into two parts. Tarsus was a distinguished seat of Greek philosophy and literature, and, from the number of its schools and learned men, was ranked by the side of Athens and Alexandria. Augustus made Tarsus free. This seems to have implied the privilege of being governed by its own laws and magistrates, with freedom from tribute; but did not confer the jus coloniarum, nor the jus civitatis: and it was not therefore, as usually supposed, on this account, that Paul enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship. Tarsus, indeed, eventually did become a Roman colony, which gave to the inhabitants this privilege; but this was not till long after the time of Paul. We thus find that the Roman tribune at Jerusalem ordered Paul to be scourged, though he knew that he was a native of Tarsus, but desisted on learning that he was a Roman citizen . In the time of Abulfeda, that is, towards the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century, Tarsus was still large, and surrounded by a double wall, and in the occupation of Armenian Christians. It is now a poor and decayed town, inhabited by Turks; but it is not so much fallen as many other anciently great towns of the same quarter, the population being estimated at 30,000. There are some considerable remains of the ancient city.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [16]

A city of great antiquity and interest, the ancient capital of Cilicia, now in the province of Adana, in Turkey in Asia, on the Cydnus, 12 m. above its entrance into the Mediterranean; legend ascribes its foundation to Sennacherib in 690 B.C.; in Roman times was a famous centre of wealth and culture, rivalling Athens and Alexandria; associated with the meeting of Antony and Cleopatra and the deaths of the emperors Tacitus and Maximinus; here St. Paul was born and notable Stoic philosophers; in the hands of the Turk has decayed into a squalid residence of merchants busy with the export of corn, cotton, wool, hides, &c. In winter the population rises to 30,000.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [17]

Bibliography Information McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Tarsus'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/t/tarsus.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.