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A city in the Roman province of Asia, in the valley of the Lycus, a tributary of the Maeander. The Lycus was the ancient thoroughfare eastward from the west coast of Asia Minor through Phrygia. Of the three cities of the valley, including Hierapolis and Laodicea, it was the oldest, mentioned by Herodotus and Xenophon in the fifth century b.c. At Colossae the Lycus valley narrows, to be dominated by Mt. Cadmus at 8,013 feet, and the site itself is 1,150 feet above sea level. Here the road to Sardis and Pergamum branched off. It was a wool center, known for its sheep-raising. But the rise of Hierapolis and especially Laodicea brought crippling competition, and Colossae was eventually abandoned between 600 and 700.

The site has never been excavated, though it was first identified by W.J. Hamilton in 1835. Epaphras, a member of Paul's missionary team and native of Colossae, seems to have been largely responsible for its evangelization (Col. 1:7; 4:12,13). Paul had apparently not visited it when he wrote his epistle, though he may have gone subsequently (Col. 1:4; 2:1; Philem. 22). It is clear from the Colossian epistle that Christianity had severe contests there with various aspects of paganism and heresies.

See D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor (1950), pp. 126f., 985f.; and W.M. Ramsay, The Cities and Bishopries of Phrygia (1895), pp. 208-13.

COLOSSAE kə lŏs’ ĭ (Κολοσσαί, G3145). A Phrygian city, in NT times situated in the Rom. province of Asia, ten to eleven m. further up the Lycus valley than Laodicea and thirteen m. from Hierapolis. The three cities formed a triangle in an area which was prob. evangelized during the fruitful period of Paul’s residence in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), the gateway to the whole thickly populated southwestern corner of Asia Minor.

Colossae originally lay on the main road from Ephesus to the Euphrates and the E, at the junction of the highways to Sardis and Pergamum, and it was the visible policy of Paul to plant the Gospel at places whence it would diffuse down the main arteries of trade and communication. The active Christian communities of the Lycus valley are vividly illustrated in both Laodicea and Colossae, the one beset by problems of affluence, the other by the heretical philosophies of a cosmopolitan community. Colossae lost its significance under the Empire, because the road to Pergamum was moved W, and Laodicea, an active and commercially aggressive society, absorbed the trade and importance of its neighbor. Originally Colossae seems to have shared in the wool trade of Laodicea, and in Pers. times to have preceded that city in standing and importance. Xerxes passed that way (Her. 7.30), and Cyrus also (Xen. Anab. 1.2.6), and the fact that both historians mention Colossae as a staging post on the march of armies is indicative of its importance at the beginning and end of the 5th cent. b.c. Laodicea was not founded until 260 b.c., and Colossae was without rival.

Colossae was disastrously weakened in the 7th and 8th centuries, when the breakdown of Byzantine power in Asia Minor left the position damagingly exposed to raiders. There was a shift of the remaining population to Chonae, the modern Chonas, on the nearby slopes of Mount Cadmus. Final destruction came with the Turkish invasion in the 12th cent. The site is at present unoccupied. It lies ten m. from the town of Denizli. Archeological investigation has located the site of the church.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)