DERBE (dûr'bē, Gr. Derbē). A city in the SE corner of Lycaonia in Asia Minor. Paul visited it on the first journey after being stoned at Lystra (
DERBE dûr’ bĭ (Δέρβη, G1292). The name of this city, situated in the southeastern part of the Lycaonian region of Rom. Galatia, may derive from a dialectical word for the juniper tree. It was the most easterly locality visited by Paul and Barnabas on the journey in which they established the churches of southern Galatia. The reason for pausing at this point is plain to see if Paul’s Rom. strategy is taken into account. To proceed further E would have taken them beyond the confines of the Rom. province, and into the territory of a client kingdom (
The site of Derbe has been a matter of considerable debate. The last chapter of Ramsay’s study of the cities of St. Paul (pp. 385ff.) discusses the matter at great length, but the precise locality seems to have been established in 1956 by M. Ballance, at Kerti Hüyük, some thirteen m. NNE of Karaman, or Laranda, and sixty m. from Lystra. Therefore, as F. F. Bruce remarks, the closing words of
Derbe has left no great mark on history. Amyntas, ruler of Galatia from 39 to 25 b.c., held the area as part of his domain, and Derbe must have passed with the rest of his territory into Rom. hands in the year of his death (25 b.c.). From a.d. 41 to 72, it was dignified with the prefix Claudia, in recognition of its position as a frontier town of the province. This covered the period of the visits of Paul and the establishment of the Christian community in the area. Of that community, one Gaius is known. He traveled with Paul (
W. M. Ramsay, Cities of St. Paul (1908), 385ff.; M. Ballance, The Site of Derbe: A New Inscription (Anatolian Studies, VII) (1957), 147ff.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
A city in the extreme Southeast corner of the Lycaonian plain is mentioned twice as having been visited by Paul (on his first and second missionary journeys respectively), and it may now be regarded as highly probable that he passed through it on his third journey (to the churches of Galatia). The view that these churches were in South Galatia is now accepted by the majority of English and American scholars, and a traveler passing through the Cilician Gates to Southern Galatia must have traversed the territory of Derbe.
Derbe is first mentioned as the seat of Antipater, who entertained Cicero, the Roman orator and governor of Cilicia. When the kingdom of Amyntas passed, at his death in 25 BC, to the Romans, it was made into a province and called Galatia (see Galatia). This province included Laranda as well as Derbe on the extreme. Southeast, and for a time Laranda was the frontier city looking toward Cappadocia and Cilicia and Syria via the Cilician Gates. But between 37 and 41 AD Laranda was transferred to the "protected" kingdom of Antiochus, and Derbe became the frontier city. It was the last city on distinctively Roman territory, on the road leading from Southern Galatia to the East; it was here that commerce entering the province had to pay the customs dues. Strabo records this fact when he calls Derbe a limen or "customs station." It owed its importance (and consequently its visit from Paul on his first journey) to this fact, and to its position on a great Roman road leading from Antioch, the capital of Southern Galatia, to Iconium, Laranda, Heracleia-Cybistra, and the Cilician Gates. Roman milestones have been found along the line of this road, one at a point 15 miles Northwest of Derbe. It was one of those Lycaonian cities honored with the title "Claudian" by the emperor Claudius; its coins bear the legend "Claudio-Derbe." This implied considerable importance and prosperity as well as strong pro-Roman feeling; yet we do not find Derbe standing aloof, like the Roman colonies Iconium and Lystra, from the Common Council of Lycaonian cities (Koinon Lykaonias).
Derbe remained in the province Galatia till about 135 AD, when it passed to the jurisdiction of the triple province Cilicia-Isauria-Lycaonia. It continued in this division till 295 AD, and was then included in the newly formed province Isauria. This arrangement lasted till about 372 AD, when Lycaonia, including Derbe, was formed into a separate province. The statement of Stephanus of Byzantium that Derbe was "a fortress of Isauria" originated in the arrangement which existed from 295 to 372 AD. Coins of the city represent Heracles, Fortuna and a winged Victory writing on a shield (after the pattern of the Venus of Melos, in the Louvre, Paris). Derbe is mentioned several times in the records of the church councils. A bishop, Daphnus of Derbe, was present at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
The site of Derbe was approximately fixed by the American explorer Sterrett, and more accurately by Sir W. M. Ramsay, who, after carefully examining all the ruins in the neighborhood, placed it at Gudelisin. Up to 1911, certain epigraphic evidence fixing the site had not been found, but Ramsay’s identification meets all the conditions, and cannot be far wrong. On the East, Derbe was conterminous with Laranda, on the Northeast with Barata in the Kara Dagh. It bordered on the territory of Iconium on the Northwest, and on Isauria on the West. Its territory touched the foothills of Taurus on the South, and the site commands a fine view of the great mountain called Hadji Baba or the Pilgrim Father. The Greeks of the district say that the name is a reminiscence of Paul, "over whose travels" the mountain "stood as a silent witness."
The remains are mostly of the late Roman and Byzantine periods, but pottery of an earlier date has been found on the site. An inscription of a village on the territory of Derbe records the erection of a building by two architects from Lystra. A line of boundary stones, separating the territory of Derbe from that of Barata, is still standing. It probably belongs to an early delimitation of the territory of the frontier town of Galatia (Ramsay).
3. Paul at Derbe:
The only complete account of Derbe is that given in Sir W. M. Ramsay’s Cities of Paul, 385-404. On Paul’s mission there, see the same author’s Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, 119, 178. Many inscriptions of the later Roman period are collected in Sterrett, Wolfe Expedition to Asia Minor, Numbers 18-52. The principal ancient authorities, besides Acts, are Cicero Ad Fam. xiii.73; Strabo xxx.569; Ptolemeus, v.6, 17; Steph. Byz., Hierocl., 675; Notit, Episcop., I, 404, and the Acta Conciliorum.