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Bible Dictionaries
Asia Minor, Cities of

Holman Bible Dictionary

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The cities located on the Anatolian peninsula (modern-day Turkey). Cities of Asia Minor important to the New Testament accounts included Alexandria Troas, Assos, Ephesus, Miletus, Patara, Smyrna, Pergamum, Sardis, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colassae, Attalia, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Tarsus. The cities figured prominently in the Apostle Paul's missionary journeys, several of the churches receiving epistles. Among the list are the “Seven Cities” of the Revelation.

Geography and History The geography of Asia Minor greatly influenced the development of settlements in the area. The region can be described as the point where “East meets West,” linking the continent of Europe with the Near East. The peninsula is a high plateau surrounded by steep mountain ranges. The mountains isolate Asia Minor from much of the outside world. Narrow passes through the mountains connect the interior with the Near East. Deep ravines cut by numerous and often navigable rivers linked the cities of the plateau with the western coastline. Cities developed in locales vital to trade and commerce, such as near the mouths of rivers and mountain passes.

The history of Asia Minor reflects the region's unstable position between the east and west. The Hittite Empire thrived in the eastern portion of the peninsula during after 2000 B.C. Exposed on the west to the Aegean Sea, the coastal area became the home to numerous Greek colonies beginning about 1200 B.C. Centered in Sardis, the Lydian Empire began to expand about 600 B.C., but was soon conquered by the Persians. Control passed to Alexander the Great about 333 B.C. Upon his death Asia Minor fell under the rule of the Seluccids. Beginning about 200 B.C. Roman control of the peninsula increased until all of Anatolia was absorbed into the Roman provincial system. At this time, “Asia” designated the provinces of only western Anatolia. Galatia, Cappadocia, and Cilicia comprised the eastern provinces, while Bitnia and Pontus bordered the Black Sea to the north. The Anatolian peninsula was probably first termed “Asia Minor” after A.D. 400.

Coastal Cities The name Troas described both the northwest region of Asia Minor as well as the port city. Located ten miles south of the site of ancient Troy, Alexandria Troas was founded as a Roman colony during the period of Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14) and served as a primary port for trade passing between Asia Minor and Macedonia. Remains of the ruined city wall and a bath complex built after A.D. 100 are still visible. As with many ancient ports, the once busy harbor silted up and became unusable. Paul once set sail from Troas to Greece in response to his vision of the “Macedonian Man” ( Acts 16:11 ). On his third journey, Paul's companions embarked on a ship sailing toward the port of Assos , twenty miles south (Acts 20:13 ). A bustling port city surrounded by a wall dating to after 400 B.C., Assos featured a temple of Athena high on the acropolis overlooking the harbor. At Assos, Paul joined the ship carrying Luke and several others after journeying on foot from Troas.

Ephesus served as the primary trading center of all Asia Minor. The large port facility provided ample anchorage for ships carrying goods east from Greece and Italy, as well as for those which took to Rome the wares brought overland from Asia and the Far East. A well-laid road linked the post facilities at Ephesus with Tarsus to the east. The road approached the city from the southeast, entering a monumental gateway near the public baths. Remains of the city's immense theater, capable of seating 24,00 spectators, stand today as a reminder of the great crowd which in protest to Paul filled the seats and for several hours shouted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” ( Acts 19:34 ). The city's temple honoring Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the world. Known as the Artemision to the Greeks, the temple possessed 127 pillars 60 feet high which held up the roof of the largest all-marble structure in the Hellenistic world. The city's harbor, built around the outlet of the Cayster River, gradually filled with silt; and the site now lies some six miles away from the sea. As the chief port and city of Asia, Paul's choice of Ephesus as a center of ministry provided the perfect base from which the Gospel could be spread throughout the Roman world.

During the early period of Greek colonization, Miletus exercised extensive control over southwestern Anatolia. As a major sea-power, the city remained independent throughout the time of Lydian rule in the region. The city was able to withstand attempted incursions by the Persians until 494 B.C. Once a wealthy port for the wool industry, Miletus was a city of little significance during the New Testament era ( Acts 20:15 ).

Acts 21:1 recounts how Paul sailed for Tyre from Patara. The city served as a popular port for ships traveling eastward during the early autumn months when favorable winds made travel to Egypt and the Phoenician coast easier. The harbor sat near the outlet of the Xanthus River and was the main shipping facility of provincial Lydia.

Smyrna surrounded a well-protected harbor on the Aegean coast at the outlet of the Hermus River. Extensive trade into and out of Asia passed through the city. During the first century A.D. Smyrna reigned as one of the grandest cities of all Asia. A large temple dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius boasted the close alliance of the city with the Empire. Numerous other temples dedicated to a wide-range of Roman deities as well as scores of beautifully-adorned public buildings decorated the city.

Cities of the Interior Located fifteen miles inland overlooking the Caicus River, Pergamum contained the first temple in Asia dedicated to a Roman Emperor, Augustus, in 29 B.C. The city possessed a commanding position on a hill high above the valley. Located on the Upper Acropolis were a large theater, library, agora, palace, barracks, and altar of Zeus. The large altar area may be that referred to by John as the “throne of Satan” ( Revelation 2:13 ). The city was well-known as a center of worship for the gods Asklepios, Zeus, Demeter and Persephone, Serapis, Isis, as well as the cult of the emperor.

The greatest city in Lydia, Sardis is remembered as the first municipality to mint coins of silver and gold. Set in the fertile Hermus valley, Sardis served as the capital of the Lydian king Croesus, a name synonymous with wealth. The city fell to the Persian armies of Cyrus in 549 B.C. and to the Romans in 188 B.C. A tremendous earthquake in A.D. 17 struck Sardis, a blow from which it never fully recovered.

Following the Hermus River inland from Sardis, one reached Philadelphia , the name commemorating the brotherly love between Attalus Philadelphus and Eumenes. Founded after 200 B.C., the city was set amidst vast vineyards and led in the worship of Dionysius. The terrible earthquake of A.D. 17 was followed by dangerous tremors for the next twenty years, each one debilitating the city further. The Apostle John's reference to the giving of a “new name” (Revelation 3:12 ) may be a word-play on the proposed dedication of the city as “Neocaesarea” in honor of aid sent by Tiberius. Despite the gains by Islam in Asia Minor in later years, Philadelphia maintained a continued Christian witness across the centuries.

Journeying inland from Miletus, a traveler followed the course of the Meander River until it joined the Lycus. In the center of the valley sat Laodicea . Situated along the major east-west trade route, the city prospered greatly. As the chief city of the wealthy province of Phrygia, Laodicea boasted of a large number of banks. In 51 B.C. Cicero recounted how he stopped to cash drafts at one of the city's banks. The great wealth of Laodicea allowed it to finance its own rebuilding after a destructive earthquake in A.D. 60, refusing help from the Senate of Rome. The city was also known for clothes and carpets woven from the rich, glossy black wool raised in the valley. Laodicea served as home to a medical school renowned for production of collyrium, an eye salve. Revelation makes mention of the riches of the city, admonishing believers to seek instead spiritual gold of eternal worth, and to anoint their eyes with a spiritual salve. John's description of “white garments” to cover their nakedness contrasts the Laodicean preference for “home-grown” black wool, a symbol of worldly prosperity (Revelation 3:14-18 ).

Eleven miles south of Laodicea lay Colossae. The city was well-known as early as about 450 B.C. as a commercial center, famous for red-dyed wool. The establishment of Laodicea, however, led to the decline of Colassae's prosperity. Several remains are still visible, including a small theater on the ciyt's southeast side. The Apostle Paul never personally evangelized the city. Instead, the church was established by Epaphras during Paul's third missionary journey (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12-13 ). Paul wrote to the church during his Roman imprisonment, complementing the work of Philemon's servant Onesimus (Colossians 4:9 ). A church built in the city during the Byzantine era was ultimately destroyed by Seljuk Turks in A.D. 1070, and the city abandoned.

Cities of Eastern Asia Minor Much of Paul's Asian ministry centered around the provinces of Galatia and Lycaonia. On his first journey, Paul and Barnabas most likely arrived by sea at Attalia , a relatively small and unimportant harbor. Moving northward from the port and crossing Pamplia, the group arrived at Antioch in the province of Galatia (Acts 13:14 ). Luke's “Antioch of Pisidia ” carried the title of Colonia Caesarea Antiocheia , a colony established in 25 B.C. upon a much earlier Hellenistic city. Antioch had been renovated by Rome to provide for the defense of Galatia. A temple to Augustus dominated the central plaza, and the official inscription telling of his victories and of achievements was displayed in the city. Wagons bearing Anatolian marble passed through Antioch on their way to ships at Ephesus to be used in the decoration of the empire.

Moving southeast from Antioch, Paul and his companions traveled to Iconium ( Acts 13:51 ). Located in a fertile, well-watered plain, Iconium supplied large amounts of fruit and grain for the surrounding provinces. Several years after Paul's visit, the Emperor Claudius allowed the town to be renamed Claudiconium in his honor, a reminder of the strong ties it shared with Rome.

Lystra lay twenty miles to the south of Iconium along the Via Sebaste. The title of Julia Felix Gemina Lustra was conferred upon this colony of Rome around 6 B.C. by Augustus. Connected by a fine road with Antioch to the west, the city honored Zeus and Hermes as patron gods. A statue dedicated to the two was discovered in the 1800's, reminiscent of the city's identification of Paul and Barnabas with the gods ( Acts 14:1 ). Timothy was a native of Lystra. The ruins of the city are today near the small Turkish town of Katyn Serai.

Derbe was situated 60 miles from Lystra at the present-day site of Kerti Huyuk. Although a large city of Lyconia, Derbe was relatively unimportant. Paul's decision to visit the city infers a large Jewish population in the region. It is possible that some believers had already advanced the Gospel to Derbe, having been earlier expelled from Iconium.

The boyhood home of the Apostle Paul, Tarsus of Cilicia lay on the eastern end of the east-west trade route beginning at Ephesus. At Tarsus, merchants had the option of going south into Syria and Palestine, or continuing across the mountains on to Zeugma and the East. The Cydnus River provided Tarsus with an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea, ten miles away. Lumber and linen were the main industries of Tarsus, but the related manufacture of goat's-hair cloth was practiced by many, including Paul. This skill served as his main source of income wherever he traveled. Tarsus also housed a university and school of philosophy, an academic atmosphere which formed the basis of Paul's latter rabbinic career.

David C. Maltsberger

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Asia Minor, Cities of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​a/asia-minor-cities-of.html. 1991.
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