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LYCIA (lĭsh'ĭ-a, Gr. Lykia). A district on the coast of the southern bulge of western Asia Minor, forming the western shore of the Gulf of Adalia. A mountainous area, Lycia successfully maintained its independence against Croesus of Lydia and was granted a measure of independence under the Persians. The Athenians established a brief foothold there in Cimon’s day (468-446 b.c.), but Lycia reverted to Persian rule. Under Alexander’s successors the area was part of Syria, but the Ptolemies of Egypt exercised brief authority in the third century. After the Roman overthrow of Syria, Lycia was placed briefly under Rhodes, a situation its people bitterly resented. Freed in 169, the region enjoyed comparative independence in the imperial system until Vespasian. Even then the forms of local administration were retained (see 1Macc.15.23; Acts.21.1-Acts.21.2; Acts.27.5).


LYCIA lĭsh’ ĭ ə (Λυκία, G3379). A mountainous country in SW Asia Minor.

This country of c. 3,500 square m. protrudes southward into the Mediterannean Sea bounded on the NW by Caria, on the N by Phrygia and Pisidia, and on the NE by Pamphylia. Lycia was shut in by rugged mountain ranges and since the land jutted out into the sea, it would not have any important trade routes. Its climate rapidly fluctuated between the extremes of temperature. Its mountainous slopes afforded much excellent timber for the building of houses and ships, and were also suitable for grazing and for vineyards and olive farms. The valleys provided space for the cultivated grains. Its main contact to the outside world was through its seaports, the main two being Patara and Myra. On the return of the third missionary journey, Paul’s ship stopped at Patara (Acts 21:1; some MSS also include another stop at Myra) and then sailed to Phoenicia. On his journey to Rome, Paul’s ship went along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia and at Myra Paul and the other prisoners were put on another ship which had come from Alexandria and was sailing for Italy. Due to prevailing W winds it was common for Alexandrian grain ships to travel N along the Syrian coast and then move slowly E along the coasts of Cilicia and Pamphylia. Myra was a natural place for the grain ships (cf. Acts 27:38) to harbor and to be serviced before their journey to Italy; and hence it would not be unusual for the centurion to find one here for Paul and the other prisoners.

The existing Jewish community in many of the cities of Lycia is evident from a letter sent by the Romans c. 139 b.c. to the confederate cities that they should not harm the Jews (1 Macc. 15:23). Evidence for Christianity in the first two centuries is lacking.


W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 14th ed. enlarged (1925), 297-300, 316-320; J. Keil, “The Greek Provinces,” CAH, XI (1936), 590-597; D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor (1950), L, 516-539; II, 1370-1396; L. Casson, “The Isis and Her Voyage,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, LXXXI (1950), 43-56; L. Casson, “Speed under Sail of Ancient Ships,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, LXXXII (1951), 136-148; F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts (1954), 420, 421, 502, 503; B. Levick, Roman Colonies in Southern Asia Minor (1967), passim; J. A. O. Larsen, Greek Federal States (1967), 240-263; G. E. Bean, Turkey’s Southern Shore: An Archeological Guide (1968), 151-173; G. E. Bean, “Lycia,” The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1970), 627; A. H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd ed. (1971), 95-109.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An ancient country forming the southeast portion of Asia Minor. The surface of Lycia is exceedingly rugged, and its lofty mountains rise almost directly from the sea. Over them several trade routes or passes lead from the coast to the interior. Down the mountain sides rush many small rivers, of which the Xanthus is the chief. The history of Lycia, like that of the neighboring countries, forms a part of the history of Asia Minor. Successively it was in the possession of the Persians, of Alexander the Great, of the Seleucid kings and of the Ptolemies. In 188 BC it fell into the hands of the Romans, who gave it to the island of Rhodes; 20 years later, because of its loyalty to Rome, it became free and independent (1 Macc 15:23). In 53 AD, during the reign of the emperor Claudius, it became a Roman province, and in 74 AD it was united with Pamphylia to form a double province over which a Roman governor presided.

At different times during the history of Lycia, there were about 100 places which issued coins of their own. Pliny speaks of 70 cities which had existed there, but in his age there were but 36. Of these, Patara, Myra and Phaselis are of interest to Bible students. From the coast city of Patara, according to Ac 21 f, Paul took ship for Phoenicia. It was a place celebrated not only as a trading-center, and a port of entry to the interior, but as the seat of the oracle of Apollo, and the birthplace of Nicholas. Myra, though over 2 miles from the coast, possessed a harbor, and was also a trading-center. Here, according to Ac 27:5-38, Paul found a grain ship from Alexandria. For some time Myra was the capital of the Roman province; to Christendom it is especially known as the home of Nicholas, who was its bishop and the patron saint of the sailors along the coast. Phaselis, on the border of Pamphylia, was also the home of the bishop.

Lycia was a stopping-place, rather than the scene of the active work of Paul, and therefore it figures little in the earliest history of Christianity. For a long time the people strongly opposed the introduction of a strange religion, and in 312 AD they even petitioned the Roman emperor Maximin against it. A portion of the petition has been discovered at Arykander.