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PATARA (păt'a-ra, Greek Πάταρα, G4249). An ancient seaport of Lycia near the mouth of the Xanthus in southern Asia Minor. There was an old shrine of Apollo situated in the town, hence the poetic title Patareus for the god. The trade of the river valley and its position on the Asia Minor coast gave the port its importance. It was convenient for ships running east before the prevailing autumn wind for Phoenicia or Egypt. Paul, for example, made for Tyre in one stage from Patara (Acts.21.1-Acts.21.2).

Because of its fine harbor, its maritime commerce, and its inland trade, Patara was a large city. Its importance may be judged by the fact that it issued its own coinage as early as the 4th cent. b.c. As early as 440 BC autonomous coins were struck there; during the 4th and the 3rd centuries the coinage was interrupted, but was again resumed in 168 BC when Patara joined the Lycian league.

The city was said to have been founded by Patarus, the son of Apollo, and its temple and oracle of the god were famous. Many remains of the ancient city can still be seen, such as the walls, baths, a theater, etc. Its celebrated oracle of Apollo is said to have spoken only during the six winter months of the year. Among the ruins there is still to be seen a deep pit with circular steps leading to a seat at the bottom; it is supposed that the pit is the place of the oracle.

Patara maintained strong commercial ties with Egypt. During the 3rd cent. b.c. Ptolemy Philadelphus beautified and enlarged the city and renamed it Arsinoe for his sister. The name did not last, and the old name was soon restored. The city became a favorite stopping place for travelers enroute from Egypt to the western parts of Asia. During this Ptolemaic period the native Lycian culture gave way to the process of Hellenization, for Lycian inscrsiption disappeared from the scene, and Greek became universal. In the 2nd century a.d., Patara retained its outstanding position, being one of six cities mentioned as belonging to the first rank in the revived Lycian League.

Patara in the Bible

The Apostle Paul reached Patara, via Cos and Rhodes, coming from Miletus on his final trip to Jerusalem. There he transferred to another ship, bound for Tyre (Acts 21:1, 2). Codex Bezae adds the words “and Myra” after “Patara” in Acts 21:1. If this reading is followed, then the apostle did not change ships at Patara, but at Myra instead.

In the history of early Christianity, Patara took but little part, but it was the home of a bishop, and the birthplace of Nicholas, the patron saint of the sailors of the East. Though born at Patara, Nicholas was a bishop and saint of Myra, a neighboring Lycian city, and there he is said to have been buried. Gelemish is the modern name of the ruin. The walls of the ancient city may still be traced, and the foundations of the temple and castle and other public buildings are visible. The most imposing of the ruins is a triumphal arch bearing the inscription: "Patara the Metropolis of the Lycian Nation." Outside the city walls many sarcophagi may be seen, but the harbor, long ago choked by sand, has been converted into a swamp.


A. H. M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (1937), 98-102.

See also Myra.