7:58; 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3; 22:28; 26:9-10; Rom. 11:1;
2 Cor. 11:22; Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:4-7; 2 Tim. 3:14ff)
was the capital of the Roman Province of Cilicia, situated between the Taurus
Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. The Province of Cilicia varied between 30
to 60 miles wide and was about 300 miles long. The city of Tarsus was about 10
miles inland of the Mediterranean on the alluvial plain, watered by the Cydnus
and may have had as many as one half million inhabitants in the time of Paul.
Ramsey described the city as about 70 feet above sea level on a level plain. The
lower Cyndus was made navigable and a port had been built to carry goods to and
from the sea. A major road lead to the north where the famous mountain pass
known as the “Cilician Gates” lay less than 29 miles inland. Sir William
Ramsey described the pass as “one of the most famous and important passes in
origins of the city are shrouded in mystery, but it appears the city was a
native Cilician town taken over by Ionian settlers of antiquity. Josephus
attributes the city to the Tarshish of Genesis 10:4, but this is by no means
certain. It is mentioned several places in historical record with certainty. The
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser says this city was taken by the Assyrians (mid C9
BCE). Xenophon passed through in 401 BCE, and found the ruler to be a local.
Alexander found the rulership in the hands of the Persians, and he replaced the
ruler (334 BCE).
found in excavations of the region make no claim of autonomy until after the
defeat of Antiochus the Great at the hands of the Romans (189 BCE). Syria
appears to have undergone some reorganization at this time, allowing autonomy in
some of the regions. Tarsus appears to have grown into autonomy at this time
establishing a constitution as a free city. The city became part of the Roman
Empire with the arrival of Pompey the Roman General and the defeat of the
pirates that often harassed the city by about 64 BCE.
scholars speculate that Paul may be a descendant of some of those who were
promised free citizenship if they moved to the Cilician city in 171 BCE. Another
claim for the citizenship ancestry of Paul can be found in some who raise the
possibility that Paul’s father or grandfather helped Marc Antony (and thus
Rome) during Cleopatra’s renowned visit to Tarsus in 41 BCE. The historian
Strabo mentions the splendor of the event, as Cleopatra sailed her gilded barge
in the Cyndus into the city. In addition, there is reason to believe that Antony
and Octavian used some resources of the city in their struggle against Brutus
and Cassius, who they later defeated at Philippi in Macedonia. Some have even
suggested that a tent maker’s gift could have been repaid in citizenship (cp.
Acts 18:3), though this is mere speculation.
meant that Tarsus was able to govern itself under its own laws, impose import
taxation and a variety of other freedoms. Strabo mentions that the city was
excited by education, and was home to the third largest university, after Athens
and Alexandria. One teacher or note that came from Tarsus was the famous
Athenodorus, a Stoic Philosopher that tutored Augustus at Apollonia, and later
became his advisor from 44 to 15 BCE. This probably accounts for August’s
favor on the city. Athenodorus returned to Tarsus and established a reform to
the city in15 BCE. Along with the reforms, he established a patrician class that
probably included the family of Paul, who boasts of his association with the
city (Acts 21:39).
In addition to being the hometown of Paul (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3), it was also the city Paul returned to after his escape from Jerusalem (Acts 9:30). Barnabas found Paul in the city and enlisted him to service at Antioch (Acts 11:25ff). Paul may well have visited on the Second and Third Mission Journeys (Acts 15:41; 18:22-23).