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Reference: Tarsus


The name of a celebrated city, the metropolis of Cilicia, in the southeastern part of Asia Minor; situated six miles from the Mediterranean, on the banks of the river Cydnus, which flowed through and divided it into two parts. Tarsus was distinguished for the culture of Greek literature and philosophy, so that at one time, in its schools and in the number of its learned men, it was the rival of Athens and Alexandria. In reward for its exertions and sacrifices during the civil wars of Rome, Tarsus was made a free city of Augustus. It was the privilege of such cities that they were governed by their own laws and magistrates, and were not subjected to tribute, to the jurisdiction of a Roman governor, nor to the power of a Roman garrison, although they acknowledged the supremacy of the Roman people, and were bound to aid them against their enemies. That the freedom of Tarsus, however, was not equivalent to being a Roman citizen, appears from this, that the tribune, although he knew Paul to be a citizen of Tarsus, Ac 21:39, yet ordered him to be scourged, Ac 22:24, but desisted from his purpose when he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, Ac 22:27. It is therefore probable that the ancestors of Paul had obtained the privilege of Roman citizenship in some other way, Ac 9:30; 11:25; 22:3. It is now called Tarsous; and though much decayed and full of ruins, is estimated to contain a population in summer of 7,000, and in winter of 30,000, chiefly Turks. During the excessive heat of summer, a large part of the people repair to the high lands of the interior.

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the chief city of Cilicia. It was distinguished for its wealth and for its schools of learning, in which it rivalled, nay, excelled even Athens and Alexandria, and hence was spoken of as "no mean city." It was the native place of the Apostle Paul (Ac 21:39). It stood on the banks of the river Cydnus, about 12 miles north of the Mediterranean. It is said to have been founded by Sardanapalus, king of Assyria. It is now a filthy, ruinous Turkish town, called Tersous. (See Paul.)

Illustration: Tarsus

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Ac 9:11; 22:3; 21:39. Paul's birthplace and early residence. Capital of Cilicia, in a plain on the river Cydnus at the foot of the passes northward over Mount Taurus into Cappadocia and Lycaonia. Through these passes a road led to Lystra and Iconium (Acts 14), another road by the Amanian and Syrian gates eastward to Antioch. Founded by Sennacherub of Assyria; the Greeks too took part in its colonisation (Strabo xiv. 673), Xenophon mentions it (Tarsoi in the Ariabasis). Julius Caesar rewarded Tarsus for fidelity, and Augustus made it a free city, i.e. governed by its own laws and magistrates and free from tribute, but without Roman citizenship, which Paul must have acquired in some other way. Ranked by Strabo above Athens and Alexandria for its school of literature and philosophy; Athenodorus, Augustus' tutor, the grammarians Artemidorus and Diodorus, and the tragedian Dionysides belonged to Tarsus.

Here Paul received providentially that training which adapted him for dealing with the polished Greeks on their own ground, quoting Aratus a Cilician poet, Epimenides a Cretan, and Menander the Athenian comedian. He resided in Tarsus at intervals after his conversion (Ac 9:30; 11:25); after his first visit to Jerusalem and before his ministry with Barnabas at Antioch, and doubtless at the commencement of his second and third missionary journeys (Ac 15:41; 18:23). G. Rawlinson thinks Tarshish in Ge 10:4 can scarcely designate Tartessus, founded not until after Moses, but Tarsus in Cilicia; though said to be founded by Sennacherib, an old settlement doubtless preceded his colony. Thus, Tarshish in Ge 10:4 will represent the Cilicians or the Greeks in Cilicia; it is associated with Kittim or Cyprus, which was near.

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TARSUS, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia (Ac 22:6) in the S.E. of Asia Minor, and the birthplace of St. Paul, is a place about which much more might be known than is known if only the necessary money were forthcoming to excavate the ancient city in the way that Pompeii, Olympia, Pergamum, and other cities have been excavated. It would be impossible to exaggerate the value which would accrue to the study of St. Paul's life and writings and of Christian origins, if such a work were satisfactorily carried out. It may be commended to the whole Christian Church as a pressing duty of the utmost importance. Tarsus, as a city whose institutions combined Oriental and Western characteristics, was signally fitted to be the birthplace and training ground of him who was to make known to the Gentile world the ripest development of Hebrew religion.

Tarsus (modern Tersous) is situated in the plain of Cilicia, about 70 to 80 feet above sea level, and about 10 miles from the S. coast. The level plain stretches to the north of it for about 2 miles, and then begins to rise gradually till it merges in the lofty Taurus range, about 30 miles north. The climate of the low-lying city must always have been oppressive and unfavourable to energetic action, but the undulating country to the north was utilized to counteract its effects. About 9 to 12 miles north of the city propel there was a second Tarsus, within the territory of the main Tarsus, in theory a summer residence merely, but in reality a fortified town of importance, permanently inhabited. It was to periodical residence in this second city among the hills that the population owed their vigour. In Roman times the combined cities of Tarsus contained a large population, probably not much less than a million.

The history of the Maritime Plain of Cillcia was determined by the mutual rivalries of the three cities, Mallus on the Pyramus, Adana on the Sarus, and Tarsus on the Cydnus. The plain is mainly a deposit of the second of those rivers, and contains about 800 square miles of arable land, with a strip of useless land along the coast varying from 2 to 3 miles in breadth. The site of Mallus is now unknown, as it has ceased to have any importance; but the other two cities retain their names and some of their importance to the present day. In ancient times Mallus was a serious rival of Tarsus, and was at first the great harbour and the principal Greek colony in Cilicia. The struggle for superiority lasted till after the time of Christ, but the supremacy was eventually resigned to Tarsus. The river Cydnus flowed through the middle of the city. This river, of which the inhabitants were very proud, was liable to rise very considerably when there had been heavy rains in the mountains, but inundation in the city was in the best period very carefully guarded against. Between a.d. 527 and 563 a new channel was cut to relieve the principal bed, which had for some time previously been insufficiently dredged, and it is in this new channel that the Cydnus now flows, the original channel having become completely choked. About five or six miles below the modern town the Cydnus flowed into a lake; this lake was the ancient harbour of Tarsus, where were the docks and arsenal. At the harbour town, which was called Aulai, all the larger ships discharged, and in ancient times buildings were continuous between the north of this lake and the city of Tarsus. Much engineering skill must have been employed in ancient times to make a harbour out of what had been a lagoon, and to improve the channel of the river. A great deal was done to conquer nature for the common benefit, and it was not only in this direction that the inhabitants showed their perseverance. This city also cut one of the greatest passes of ancient times, the 'Cilician Gates.' Cilicia is divided from Cappadocia and Lycaonia by the Taurus range of mountains, which is pierced from N.W. to S.E. by a glen along which flows the Tcbakut Su. This glen offers a natural road for much of its course, but there are serious difficulties to overcome in its southern part. The Tarsians built a waggon road over the hills there, and cut with the chisel a level path out of the solid rock on the western bank of the stream. The probable date of this engineering feat was some time between b.c. 1000 and 500.

It is possible (but see Tarshish) that Tarsus is meant by the Tarshish of Ge 10:4, and that it is there indicated c. b.c. 2000 as a place where Greeks settled. The difference in the form of the name need cause no difficulty in accepting this identification. The name is originally Anatolian, and would quite easily be transliterated differently in Greek and Hebrew. All the evidence is in harmony with the view that at an early date Greeks settled there among an originally Oriental community. Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, captured Tarsus about the middle of the 9th cent. b.c.; afterwards kings ruled over Cilicia, with the Persian kings as overlords. In b.c. 401 there was still a king, but not in b.c. 334, when Alexander the Great entered the country. He found a Persian officer directly governing the country. Of the character of the kingdom we know nothing. Thus for about five centuries Tarsus was really an Oriental city. Greek influence began again with Alexander the Great, but made very slow progress. During the fourth century Tarsus was subject to the Greek kings of Syria of the Seleucid dynasty. It continued during the third century in abject submission to them. The peace of b.c. 189 changed the position of Cilicia. Previous to that date it had been in the middle of the Seleucid territory. Now it became a frontier country. About b.c. 175

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The capital of Cilicia, in Asia Minor. It ranked as a city of importance, called by Paul 'no mean city.' It was a seat of learning under the early Roman emperors and was ranked by Strabo as even above Athens and Alexandria: it was Paul's native place, and he visited it after his conversion. Ac 9:11,30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3. It is now called Ters?s, a small town, with scarcely any trace of its former greatness. The river Cydnus, which in the days of Cyrus and Alexander flowed through the city, now runs about half a mile east of it. The houses are mostly but one storey in height, built with stones apparently taken from larger buildings.

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the chief town of Cilicia, "no mean city" in other respects, but illustrious to all time as the birthplace and early residence of the apostle Paul.

Ac 9:11; 21:39; 22:3

Even in the flourishing period of Greek history it was a city of some considerable consequence. In the civil wars of Rome it took Caesar's aide, sad on the occasion of a visit from him had its name changed to Juliopolis. Augustus made it a "free city." It was renowned as a place of education under the early Roman emperors. Strabo compares it in this respect to Athens unto Alexandria. Tarsus also was a place of much commerce. It was situated in a wild and fertile plain on the banks of the Cydnus. No ruins of any importance remain.

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TARSUS, the capital of Cilicia, and the native city of St. Paul, Ac 9:11; 21:39. Some think it obtained the privileges of a Roman colony because of its firm adherence to Julius Caesar; and this procured the inhabitants the favour of being acknowledged citizens of Rome, which St. Paul enjoyed by being born in it. Others maintain that Tarsus was only a free city, but not a Roman colony, in the time of St. Paul, and that his privilege as a Roman citizen was founded upon some other right, perhaps gained by his ancestors.

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