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CILICIA sĭ lĭsh’ ə (Κιλικία, G3070). Cilicia was a region of varied character in the SE of Asia Minor. The derivation of the name is irrecoverable, but it must be native and ancient, for the area was known as Kizuwatna by the Hittites, and Khilakku by the Assyrians. As is not unusual with geographical terminology in the great peninsula, the name Cilicia is of varied significance. It is sometimes applied to the whole of the mountain region of southern Asia Minor, but in historical times commonly signified a region of two sharply different characters, Cilicia Tracheia or Rough Cilicia, and Cilicia Pedias or Level Cilicia. The former was the rugged limestone highland of the central Taurus range, the latter the fertile plain between the Taurus and Amanus mountain groups and the sea. Cilicia Tracheia was a wild, uncivilized region, the ancient haunt of the notorious Cilician pirates, but seems also to have been used by the Egyptians as a source of ship timber. Cilicia Pedias was of agricultural importance. It was also a borderland between E and W, one of those areas where the movements of two worlds were felt. Those who crossed by the great highway which traversed the Cilician Gates, the majestic pass through the Taurus mountains, and the corresponding Syrian Gates in the Amanus highlands, passed from Asia Minor into Syria with the sense that on the journey they had traversed a borderland of both regions, a place of mingling cultures. The function was not without significance in the cultural and spiritual training of Paul of Tarsus. The Hellenism of which Paul was a symbol began with an infusion of Gr. immigrants into the coastal regions of Cilicia in prehistoric times. Greeks settled and founded their cities as late as the 2nd and 3rd centuries b.c. The chief settlements were Soli, Mallus, and Alexander-ad-Issum. Tarsus was not primarily a Gr. foundation, but rather Cilician, but it became a key center of Hellenism and a confluence of E and W. The cities generally clung to the fertile, alluvial plain with its gently undulating contours, seldom more than a few ft. above sea level, where the moist heat was not conducive to a vigorous municipal life. Tarsus was the exception. It was closer to the first lift of the Taurus foothills. The city itself was some ten m. from the coast, at about eighty ft. above sea level, but immediately behind it the land rose in swelling hills to the Taurus highlands, affording an opportunity for escape from the coastal heat which no doubt played a part in the city’s history.

It was a feature of the great cultural phenomenon of Hellenism, and the associated penetration of the eastern Mediterranean by Gr. migrants, that its progress and influence continued amid the political ebb and flow of imperial powers. Cilicia Pedias had a period of vassalage, from 850 b.c., under the Assyrians, after the first Greeks had settled on the coast. Persian rule followed, but the Pers. administration, which was notably loose in its provincial structure, allowed the local Cilician princes to function in its name. Thus Xenophon tells in his Anabasis how the army of Cyrus, satrap of Sardis, in which the Ten Thousand were mercenaries, crossed Cilicia and found it ruled by a king named Syennesis. His capital appears to have been Tarsus.

It is recorded that Cilicia provided the Pers. armada against Greece with 100 ships. The whole area was one in which any power based to the E had necessarily to control the interests of its own frontier security. As a result of the strong hold of the Seleucids of Antioch, and the attempt of the Ptolemies of Alexandria to intrude, they sought to penetrate Asia Minor and to turn the rival Syrian flank. There is evidence that the Ptolemies were actually in control of Cilicia for the half cent. from 246 to 197 b.c. It was during the Hel. period that the large Jewish Diaspora found lodgement in the Cilician towns, notably Tarsus.

The Romans, whose search for security and stability in the eastern Mediterranean had brought them into Asia Minor in the 2nd cent. b.c., established provincial rule in Cilicia in 102 b.c., but this constituted little more than a chain of bases along the coast. Cilicia was, in fact, a “province” in the political and non-geographical sense of that Rom. term. It was a “sphere of duty,” and the governor in charge was the custodian of Rom. interests in the S and E of Asia Minor generally, and on the adjacent coasts. It was a roving command, and the Republic’s preoccupations over fully thirty-five years precluded any great show of power in the area. The famous campaign of Pompey in 67 b.c. against the Cilician pirates reveals how tenuous Rom. control was until this drastic clearance of the area was forced upon the Republic by the lawlessness and audacity of the sea robbers. It was at this time that the inland boundaries of the province were fixed. The frontier was high on the Taurus, “the natural geographical boundary between the Cilician land, steamy with the moist heat of its well-watered soil, and the broad lofty and inclement mountain region of Taurus, backed by the high central plateau of Anatolia” (W. M. Ramsay, The Cities of Saint Paul, p. 93).

Among the Rom. governors of Cilicia was the statesman and orator Cicero, who, most unwillingly, undertook the task in 51 b.c. Cicero wrote much in his voluminous correspondence about his governorship, and the record is illuminating. A. L. Irvine comments on the letters of the period: “No phase of Cicero’s career gives him a better title to our respect....He had a vast province to administer, covering some 40,000 square miles, while the client kingdom of Cappadocia added to his responsibilities. He succeeded a governor of the worst type in Appius Claudius, and suffered grave embarrassments from the pressure put on him by influential people at home to recover debts or exorbitant interest on them. Nothing could show more clearly how impossible it was for an honest governor to do much permanent good under the system of one-year commands, so long as there was only a corrupt clique to whom the rulers of provinces were responsible. We can understand why such posts were coveted by the unscrupulous, when a man who took not a penny beyond his allowances and often less, could, after a year in office, leave a small fortune in a bank at Ephesus. The eastern frontier was none too safe, and Cicero’s troops were inadequate to meet serious trouble. But Cassius defeated a Parthian raid on Syria in 51, and next year domestic complications kept the enemy quiet. Still, Cicero’s time did not pass without military experience. In the autumn of 51 he had cause to chastise certain hill tribes within his eastern border, and with his brother’s aid the campaign was well conducted. He clearly enjoyed his success, was saluted Imperator by his men, and conceived a hope, afterwards somewhat embarrassing to him, of obtaining one of the cheap triumphs so easily awarded in those days.”

With the empire came the end of unbridled corruption, and began the era of sound organization which won the empire the regard of the war-weary world. Augustus, with his practical good sense, reorganized the eastern Mediterranean and broke up Cilicia into its distinct geographical parts. Tracheia was attached to Galatia and Pedias to Syria, an arrangement which survived for the best part of a cent. Vespasian reunited the areas in the reconstituted province of Cilicia.

The Rom. citizenship of a section of Tarsian Jews possibly dates from the settlement of the eastern regions by Pompey in 65, 64 b.c. It was because of this that Paul was born into the coveted privilege. Jews of Cilicia were found disputing with Stephen in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9), but it is not known who carried the Christian Gospel to the province. It could have been Paul himself, who was proud of his native city (Acts 21:39), and would undoubtedly rank it high among his priorities of evangelism (Acts 15:23; Gal 1:21). It is interesting to mark in both of these NT contexts how closely Paul associated Cilicia with Syria. Cilicia still looked E, but the western world was on the Taurus. The area was still a bridge. Evidence seems to point to a strong Christian element by the end of the 1st cent. Fourteen major centers of Christian activity were identifiable by the end of the 3rd cent.


Strabo, 533-551, 667-676; W. M. Ramsay, The Cities of St. Paul (1908); A. H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (1937).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An important province at the Southeast angle of Asia Minor, corresponding nearly with the modern Turkish vilayet of Adana; enfolded between the Taurus mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, with the Amanus range on the East and Pamphylia on the West; chief rivers, the Pyramus, Sarus, Cydnus and Calycadnus. The character of Cilician history has been largely determined by the physical features of the province. It is divided by nature into a mountainous part to the West, called Tracheia, and a broad, alluvial plain, hot and fertile, toward the East, termed Campestris or Pedias. Cilicia has always been isolated from its neighbors by land by its encircling mountains, save for its two famous mountain passes, the "Syrian Gates," which offer an easy road to Antioch and the South, and the wonderful "Cilician Gates," which open a road to central and western Asia Minor. Through these passes the armies and the pilgrims, the trade and the travel of the centuries have made their way. Alexander was one of the most renowned leaders of such expeditions, and at Issus he met and shattered the power of the Persian empire.

The early settlers of Cilicia are held to have been Semitic Syrians and Phoenicians, but in the still earlier days the inhabitants must have been Hittites. While few Hittite remains have been brought to light in Cilicia proper, the province was so surrounded by Hittites, and such important works of Hittite art and industry remain on the outskirts of the province, as at Ivriz, Marash, Sinjirli and Sakche Geuzi, that the intervening territory could hardly fail to be overspread with the same civilization and imperial power. See Professor John Garstang’s The Land of the Hittites.

Cilicia appears as independent under Syennesis, a contemporary of Alyattes of Lydia, 610 BC. Later it passed under the Persian sway, but retained its separate line of kings. After Alexander the Seleucid rulers governed Cilicia from Antioch. The disturbances of the times enabled the pirates so to multiply and establish themselves in their home base, in Cilicia, Tracheia, that they became the scourge of the Mediterranean until their power was broken by Pompey (67-66 BC). Cilicia was by degrees incorporated in the Roman administration, and Cicero, the orator, was governor (51-50 BC).

Armenians migrating from the North founded kingdom in Cilicia under Roupen which was terminated by the overthrow of King Levon, or Leo, by the conquering Turks in 1393. A remnant of this kingdom survives in the separate Armenian catholicate of Sis, which has jurisdiction over few bishoprics, and Armenians are among the most virile of the present inhabitants of the province.