PHRYGIA (frĭj'ĭ-a, Gr. Phrygia). In Bible times an inland province of SW Asia Minor. Its tablelands, which rose to 4,000 feet (1,250 m.), contained many cities and towns considerable in size and wealth. Most historians agree that the province included greater or lesser territory at different times, and there is no common agreement on the boundaries, as they shifted almost every generation. It seems that at one time it included a greater part of western Asia Minor. Then it was divided into Phrygia Major and Phrygia Minor; later the Romans even divided it into three parts. Some Bible students believe the term “Phrygia” is used loosely in the NT, as in the Book of Acts, and that it even included small provinces like Pisidia. In these days “Phrygia” meant an extensive territory, which at times contributed area to a number of different Roman provinces. It is thought to have this broader meaning in Acts.2.10, which speaks of devout Jews from Phrygia at Pentecost.

Whatever the exact extent of the province, it receives its renown mainly from Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul and his co-workers visited the fertile territory, which contained rich pastures for cattle and sheep and a heavy population in need of the gospel, during all three missionary journeys. If Phrygia is understood in its broader sense, Paul and Barnabas introduced Christianity into the province during the first journey (Acts.13.13; Acts.14.24). Acts.16.6 briefly describes the visit of Paul and Silas on the second journey in these words: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” On his third journey Paul quickly revisited the province on his way to Ephesus and Corinth (Acts.18.23): “After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.” Although a great deal of Christian activity took place in ancient Phrygia, with this reference it passes from the biblical record.——LMP


PHRYGIA frĭj’ ĭ ə (Φρυγία, G5867). Phrygia forms a tract of territory of indeterminate and wavering boundaries, lying on the W watershed of the Anatolian plateau, and comprising, apparently, in earliest times, the major part of western Asia Minor. The difficulty found in any attempt at geographical definition is a reflection of the history of an area frequently overrun and compressed by successive waves and ripples of folk migration from Europe, and particularly from contiguous Thrace.

It may be said that Phrygia was the area occupied by the Phrygians, with its western and southern limits on the Aegean and the Dardanelles, its northern boundaries on the upper valley of the Sangarius, whereas to the S and E, Phrygian occupation seems not to have penetrated beyond the basin of the Maeander or the areas around Pisidian Antioch and Iconium.

The Phrygians themselves certainly came from Europe, because it is possible to find evidence of their presence in Thrace, and also in Macedonia. The fact seems to suggest a route of folk wandering on a familiar and repeated pattern, a thrusting S of Indo-European tribesmen toward the warmer Mediterranean coasts. The main influx of Phrygians (or Phryges in the Gr. nomenclature) into Asia Minor took place toward the end of the second millennium before Christ, a period of multiple tribal migrations. The sagas, which found ultimate surviving expression in the Homeric epics, seem to contain a folk-memory of the Phrygian invasion. “Erewhile,” says Priam to Helen, “fared I to Phrygia, the land of vines, and there I saw that the men of Phrygia were very numerous, they of the nimble steeds, even the hosts of Otreus and Mygdon, that were encamped along the banks of Sangarios. For I, too, being their ally, was numbered among them on the day that the Amazons came...” (Homer, Iliad 3. 184ff.).

The reference to confrontation with alien tribes in the last sentence of the Homeric passage, is suggestive of the subsequent history of the invading Phrygian tribes. They reached the limits of their eastward expansion on the high country of the central Anatolian plateau, and were subject to pressure on the E and N by subsequent movements of invasion from the same European tribal reservoirs from which they themselves had originally come. Mysian, Bithynian, and later Galatian tribes pressed in on their territory, and made a pattern of geographical overlay, which is visible in one difficult passage. In the Acts of the Apostles (16:6), the KJV renders “Phrygia and the region of Galatia,” but the correct tr. is “the Phrygian region of Galatia.” Literally, the Gr. text runs: “the Phrygian and Galatian region,” and this can mean only the portion of the province that was both Phrygian and Galatian. As with the Homeric passage already noted, the geographical expression contains a hint of history. This was old Phrygian territory, overrun by the Celtic tribes of a later Gallic inroad, who left their name in Galatia—as one might, with reference to Alfred’s day, speak of a Danish or a Saxon part of Britain.

The kingdoms of the half legendary Midas and Gordius belong to the little known period of Phrygian independence and ascendancy. Perhaps the rock cities and the sculptured and sometimes inscribed facades of the so-called “Phrygian Monument country,” S of Dorylaeum, are the chief surviving memorial of an independent and powerful Phrygia. The conquest of Phrygia by Lydia was complete and final. Phrygia was never free again, and the word Phrygian in classical Gr. (e.g., in Aristophanes’ comedy) seems to be synonymous with the idea of a slave. To such indignity was the warrior stock of Homer’s day reduced by conquest and degradation. In both Gr. and Lat. lit., the Phrygians also appear as a by-word for softness and effeminacy.

Phrygia, from her collapse onward, as a geographical expression for the area of a depressed peasant stock, followed the fortunes of western Asia Minor, subject in turn to the imperialism of Persia, and Persia’s successor states, the Seleucid empire of Syrian Antioch, the kingdom of Pergamum, and its Attalid dynasty. In 133 b.c., the kingdom of Pergamum, bequeathed by its last king, Attalus III, to Rome, became the province of Asia, and in 116 b.c., Asia’s extended boundaries took in most of Phrygia. The remaining E portion became part of the province of Galatia in 25 b.c., occasioning the phrase of Acts 16:6.

The Rom. administrative divisions are interesting, and it is to be noted that the provincial boundaries did not attempt to conform to the ethnic divisions of the territory. W. M. Ramsay has an important comment on this:

The issue of events showed that the Empire had made a mistake in disregarding so completely the existing lines of demarcation between tribes and races in making its new political provinces. For a time it succeeded in establishing them, while the energy of the Empire was still fresh, and its forward movement continuous and steady. But the differences of tribal and national character were too great to be completely set aside; they revived while the energy of the Empire decayed in the second century. Every change in the bounds of the provinces from a.d. 138 onward was in the direction of assimilating them to the old tribal frontiers; and at last in 295 even the great complex province of Asia was broken up after 428 years of existence into the old native districts, Lydia, Caria, Phrygia, etc; and the moment the political unity was dissolved there remained nothing of the Roman Asia (St. Paul the Traveller, p. 136).

The Romans had always found a peculiar attraction in the orgiastic rites of the goddess Cybele, which were indigenous in Phrygia (vide. Catullus 63), and Phrygian fertility cults, along with the Phrygian language, survived until the early Byzantine period.

Phrygia was a major area of settlement for the Jews of the Dispersion. There is evidence that Jewish migrants were encouraged to settle there by the Seleucid kings, who regarded them as a stabilizing element in the population. In his oration Pro Flacco (28) Cicero wrote that his client took a large sum of gold from the Jews of Asia, and mentioned specifically two Phrygian cities, Apamea and Laodicea as their places of residence. The amount involved would appear to represent the annual tribute for Jerusalem of 50,000 Jews, a very considerable minority group in the population of the territory. At the same time the Jews of Phrygia were not highly regarded by metropolitan Jewry, whose stricter members looked upon them as lax in their Judaism, and too prone to take up the corrupt religious practices of their environment. The Jewish minority had lost contact with their ancient tradition and had nothing of the developed Judaism of the Alexandrian Jews. “The baths of Phrygia and its wine,” said the Talmud, “had separated the Ten Tribes from their brethren”; hence their openmindedness. Even the Talmud mentions many defections from Judaism. Paul’s adventures in the area, both his large measure of acceptance, and the subsequent persecution, may reflect this situation, a readiness to accept the new and the unorthodox, opposed by a rigid group of traditionalists sensitive about the testimony and the reputation of the local diaspora.

Jews from Phrygia were on Pentecostal pilgrimage in Jerusalem when the events recounted in the early chs. of the Acts of the Apostles took place (2:10). Converts to Christianity among those who participated in this mass movement into the new faith may have been those who founded the church in the region of their dispersion (2:41), but, if this is the case, nothing is known of their primitive evangelism. The earliest recorded penetration of the Christian faith is on the occasion of Paul’s first journey, when, coming up to the central high country from Perga in Pamphylia to Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, Paul and Barnabas left Christian cells behind them. Antioch and Iconium were the only Phrygian towns of the four, deeply submerged under Greek, Roman, and Jew though their Phrygian elements were. The frontier lay betwen Iconium and Lystra as Acts 14:6 implies. A second visit was by way of the Cilician Gates and the inland route, reaching Derbe first. This was also the entry point for the third visit to the Phrygian region. Such repeated traverses of the Phrygian territory suggest the presence there of a strong Christian establishment, but both the epistles to the Galatians and to the Colossians may also reflect difficulties arising in the Christian communities from the old tendencies to syncretism and to emotional religion native to the area from pagan times. W. M. Ramsay’s famous theory, developed in his book on the “Seven Churches of Asia,” was that Christian groups mirror in some fashion the ethos and the spirit of the society in which they live, both for good and for ill. Perhaps the churches functioning in old Phrygian environments offer further illustration of Ramsay’s thesis.

Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea—the towns of the Lycus valley—were in part of ancient Phrygia. These towns were, to the best of our knowledge, not visited by Paul, and their churches were therefore not Pauline foundations. It is possible to pick up such names as Epaphras (Col 4:12) and Archippus (4:17), and to suggest the activity of the dynamic Ephesian church, and later the ministry of John and, traditionally, of Philip, as providing historic explanation for the origin of the churches of the Lycus valley. They were varied and vigorous communities, and determined to hold out against strong movements of persecution that fell upon the area (1 Pet 1:1). The stern condemnation of the Laodicean church in the cryptic apocalyptic letter of John (Rev 3) does nothing to diminish the impression of a powerful church in the town. It was merely colored and enervated by the wealth, affluence, and liberalism of the social environment, and needed firm rebuke and stiffening in the face of coming testing and opposition.

The 2nd cent. reveals the same pattern of good and ill. Influential leaders like Papias and Apollinaris, both bishops of Hierapolis, appeared in Phrygia, and a somber list of martyrs proved the reality of conviction and dedication in the church. At the same time, the fatal tendency toward emotional perversions of religion seems not to have been purged from the Phrygian spirit. In the second half of the 2nd cent. (the recorded dates vary between 156 and 172) one Montanus, inventor of a curious apocalyptic heresy, arose in Phrygia. Montanus preached an imminent outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the Church, and the “New Jerusalem,” literally interpreted, was to descend near Perpuza in Phrygia. After the perennial fashion of such ecstatic perversions, the movement boasted its own prophets and prophetesses, and claimed a special divine unction that set its devotees beyond argument or appeal. Montanus himself was associated with two women esp. called to minister, Prisca and Maximilla. Tertullian was Montanus’ most famous convert, when the movement spread to N Africa. It died out, as such cults from then to now commonly do, not under orthodox condemnation—some Montanist epitaphs are notable for their defiance of such opposition—but rather because of the disappointment that inevitably follows the failure of extravagant promises of signs, wonders, and ultimate catastrophe to materialize.

The 3rd cent., according to Eusebius (Euseb. Hist. 8. 11. 1), saw a near triumph of Christianity in the Phrygian areas of Asia Minor. He mentions one city that was wiped out during the Diocletian’s decade of persecution (a.d. 301-312) because its entire population was professedly Christian. This is not impossible, if only in view of the situation in early 2nd cent. Bithynia, where, according to its Rom. governor Pliny, the Christian faith had all but emptied the pagan temples of the whole province.


W. M. Ramsay, The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia (1895); Historical Commentary on Galatians (1900); H. A. M. Jones, Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (1937); D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor (1950).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A large ancient country of Central Asia Minor, very mountainous and with table-lands reaching 4,000 ft. in height. Its name is derived from Phryges, a tribe from Thrace, which in early times invaded the country and drove out or absorbed the earlier Asiatic inhabitants, among whom were the Hittites. Thus, the Phrygians borrowed much of oriental civilization, especially of art and mythology which they transferred to Europe. To define the boundaries of Phrygia would be exceedingly difficult, for as in the case of other Asia Minor countries, they were always vague and they shifted with nearly every age. The entire country abounds with ruins of former cities and with almost countless rock-hewn tombs, some of which are of very great antiquity. Among the most interesting of the rock sculptures are the beautiful tombs of the kings bearing the names Midas and Gordius, with which classical tradition has made us familiar. It seems that at one period the country may have extended to the Hellespont, even including Troy, but later the Phrygians were driven toward the interior. In Roman times, however, when Paul journeyed there, the country was divided into two parts, one of which was known as Galatian Phrygia, and the other as Asian Phrygia, because it was a part of the Roman province of Asia, but the line between them was never sharply drawn. The Asian Phrygia was the larger of the two divisions, including the greater part of the older country; Galatian Phrygia was small, extending along the Pisidian Mountains, but among its important cities were Antioch, Iconium and Apollonia. About 295 AD, when the province of Asia was no longer kept together, its different parts were known as Phrygia Prima and Phrygia Secunda. That part of Asia Minor is now ruled by a Turkish wall or governor whose residence is in Konia, the ancient Iconium. The population consists not only of Turks, but of Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Kurds and many small tribes of uncertain ancestry, and of peculiar customs and religious practices. The people live mostly in small villages which are scattered throughout the picturesque country. Sheep and goat raising are the leading industries; brigandage is common. According to Ac 2:10, Jews from Phrygia went to Jerusalem, and in Ac 18:23 we learn that many of them were influential and perhaps fanatical. According to Ac 16:6, Paul traversed the country while on his way from Lystra to Iconium and Antioch in Galatian Phrygia. Twice he entered Phrygia in Asia, but on his 2nd journey he was forbidden to preach there. Christianity was introduced into Phrygia by Paul and Barnabas, as we learn from Ac 13:4; 16:1-6; 18:23, yet it did not spread there rapidly. Churches were later founded, perhaps by Timothy or by John, at Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis.