published on 31 May 2012
Tarsus is a city located inland from the Mediterranean by about 20km in the area of Cilicia, Anatolia. It sits on a major trade route which increased its prosperity over its 2000 years of known historical contribution. It was an important point of intersection between the land and sea routes making it a significant place of commerce. At one point it was the accepted capital of Cilicia in the Roman Empire and held fame for being the meeting place of Anthony and Cleopatra as well as being the birthplace of Paul the Apostle.
Excavations at Tarsus reveal that occupation dates back to the Neolithic period and continues throughout the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age. Excavations of the ancient city have been limited due to the placement of the modern city but much of the history of the city is known through literary accounts. Tarsus is mentioned in the campaigns of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon and in the records of Shalmaneser I and Sennacherib. The foundation of the city itself is unclear but legends spring up in the Roman period and the geographer Strabo asserts that it was founded by explorers from Argos. At first it appears that Tarsus was ruled by the Hittites before falling into the hands of the Assyrians and the Persian Empire. It was a Persian satrapy from around 400 BCE and is mentioned by Xenophon in his record of the march of Cyrus the Younger.
The patron god of Tarsus was Sandon throughout the majority of its established history down to the third century CE. And further fame was accorded to Tarsus as it was affected by the passing through of Alexander the Great in 333 BCE. Tarsus was also famed for its schools and a library which were said to rival those of Athens and Alexandria. Around this time Tarsus was also known as Antiochia on the Cydnus. When Pompey defeated the pirates in Cilicia, Tarsus became subject to Rome and took the name Juliopolis. Subsequent to this and the birth of Paul the Apostle, Tarsus held a long and prosperous ecclesiastical association and history.