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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


  A very ancient city founded on the earlier course of the Tarsus Cay (Kydnos) only 40 km from Adana in the center of the alluvial plain. Known from excavation as a settlement from Neolithic times, Tarsus was long a Semitic city with important Oriental connections through its landlocked port of Rhegma. Indeed, apart from a brief period under the Satrap, it had local autonomy under the Persian Empire with rulers known as syennesis. Such it was when Xenophon and his Ten Thousand passed through Cilicia at the beginning of the 5th c. B.C. After Alexander's conquests, however, Tarsus was in dispute between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic factions, and was known for a while as Antioch on the Kydnos for Antiochos Epiphanes, and in order to prove a respectable pedigree chose to claim Perseus and Herakles as founders. In 67 B.C., after two centuries of turbulent misrule, Tarsus was occupied by Pompey during his Cilician campaign against the pirates, and it is at least possible that the father of St. Paul (a Tarsiot and Roman citizen by birth) had been honored for his services as a tent contractor to the Roman army at this time. If Paul was Tarsus' most illustrious son, among spectacular events in the city's history, Cleopatra's regal progress up the Kydnos for her rendezvous with Antony ranks high.
  N of Tarsus, Septimius Severus' passage through the Cilician Gates in pursuit of Pescennius Niger in 193 is marked by an inscription on the rock face. Tarsus was designated "first, greatest and most beautiful; the metropolis of the three provinces of Cilicia, Isauria and Lycaonia" and was the seat of a great university. Under Diocletian, Tarsus became metropolis of Cilicia Prima, the W part of the plain, while Anazarbos administered the E half. The retreat of the sea, due to silt carried downstream by the Kydnos, and the resulting abandonment of Rhegma, led Justinian in the 6th c. to divert the river into the channel E of the modern city, and through which it still flows. With the Arab occupation of Cilicia, Tarsus was laid in ruins, but was rebuilt by Harun-ar-Rashid to become the military base for the annual Moslem campaign against Byzantine territories N of the Taurus. It was reconquered by Nikephoros Phokas in the 10th c., only to fall again, first to the Christian kingdom of Little Armenia, then to the Egyptian Mamelukes, and finally to the Ottoman Turks.
  Classical Tarsus lies deep beneath the modern city, and the port of Rhegma is surely to be found in the eucalyptus forest that drains the swamps that marked the course of the Kydnos when it became choked with silt. A battered brick-faced arch on the road W of the city, and sometimes known as St. Paul's Gate, is of Arab date, and the only certain Roman monument is a massive concrete foundation known locally as Donuk Tas (The Frozen Stone), which was probably the podium of an important public building, since fragments of marble veneer are scattered nearby. In the Museum of Adana is the material discovered during excavations at Gozlu Kule, the original settlement, which shows evidence of a continuous occupation from the Neolithic to the Arab period. Also in the Adana Museum are the chance finds of pottery, figurines, statuary, mosaic, and other objects encountered by workmen on civic projects. Among them is a fine marble sarcophagus decorated with the scene of Priam begging Achilles for the return of the corpse of Hector.

M. Gough, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

Perseus Project index

The Catholic Encyclopedia

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


   Now Terso; the chief city of Cilicia, standing near the centre of Cilicia Campestris, on the river Cydnus, about twelve miles above its mouth. All that can be determined with certainty as to its origin seems to be that it was a very ancient city of the Syrians, who were the earliest known inhabitants of this part of Asia Minor, and that it received Greek settlers at an early period. At the time of the Macedonian invasion it was held by the Persian troops, who were about to burn it, when they were prevented by Alexander's arrival. After playing an important part as a military post in the wars of the successors of Alexander, and under the Syrian kings, it became, by the peace between the Romans and Antiochus the Great, the frontier city of the Syrian kingdom on the northwest, and still flourishes, having a population estimated at 100,000. As the power of the Seleucidae declined it suffered much from the oppression of its governors, and from the wars between the members of the royal family. At the time of the Mithridatic War, it suffered, on the one hand, from Tigranes, who overran Cilicia, and, on the other, from the pirates, who had their strongholds in the mountains of Cilicia Aspera, and made frequent incursions into the level country. From both these enemies it was rescued by Pompey, who made it the capital of the new Roman province of Cilicia, B.C. 66. Under Augustus, the city obtained immunity from taxes, through the influence of the emperor's tutor, the Stoic Athenodorus, who was a native of the place. It enjoyed the favour and was called by the names of several of the later emperors. It was the scene of important events in the wars with the Persians, the Arabs, and the Turks, and also in the Crusades. Tarsus was the birthplace of many distinguished men, among them the Apostle Paul.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


  Tarsos: Eth. Tarsenos or Tarseus. Sometimes also called Tarsi (Tarsoi), Tersus Tersos), Tharsus (Tharsos), or Tarsos pros toi Kudnoi, to distinguish it from other places of the same name was the chief city of Cilicia, and one of the most important places in all Asia Minor. It was situated in a most fertile and productive plain, on both sides of the river Cydnus, which, at a distance of 70 stadia from the city, flowed into a lagoon called Rhegma or Rhegmi. This lagoon formed the port of Tarsus, and was connected with the sea. The situation of the city was most favourable, for the river was navigable up to Tarsus, and several of the most important roads of Cilicia met there. Its foundation is ascribed to Sardanapalus, the Assyrian king, and the very name of the city seems to indicate its Semitic origin. But the Greeks claimed the honour of having colonised the place at a very early period; and, among the many stories related by them about the colonisation of Tarsus, the one adopted by Strabo (xiv. p. 673; comp. Steph. B. s. v.) ascribes the foundation to Argives who with Triptolemus arrived there in search of Io. The first really historical mention of Tarsus occurs in the Anabasis of Xenophon, who describes it as a great and wealthy city, situated in an extensive and fertile plain at the foot of the passes of Mount Taurus leading into Cappadocia and Lycaonia. (Anab. i. 2. § 23, &c.) The city then contained the palace of Syennesis, king of Cilicia, but virtually a satrap of Persia, and an equivocal ally of Cyrus when he marched against his brother Artaxerxes. When Cyrus arrived at Tarsus, the city was for a time given up to plunder, the troops of Cyrus being exasperated at the loss sustained by a detachment of Cilicians in crossing the mountains. Cyrus then concluded a treaty with Syennesis, and remained at Tarsus for 20 days. In the time of Alexander we no longer hear of kings; but a Persian satrap resided at Tarsus, who fled before the young conqueror and left the city, which surrendered to the Macedonians without resistance. Alexander himself was detained there in consequence of a dangerous fever brought on by bathing in the Cydnus. (Arrian, Anab. ii. 4; Curt. iii. 5.) After the time of Alexander, Tarsus with the rest of Cilicia belonged to the empire of the Seleucidae, except during the short period when it was connected with Egypt under the second and third Ptolemy. Pompey delivered Tarsus and Cilicia from the dominion of the eastern despots, by making the country a Roman province. Notwithstanding this, Tarsus in the war between Caesar and Pompey sided with the former, who on this account honoured it with a personal visit, in consequence of which the Tarsians changed the name of their city into Juliopolis. (Caes. B. Alex. 66; Dion Cass. xlvii. 24; Flor. iv. 2.) Cassius afterwards punished the city for this attachment to Caesar by ordering it to be plundered, but M. Antony rewarded it with municipal freedom and exemption from taxes. It is well known how Antony received Cleopatra at Tarsus when that queen sailed up the Cydnus in a magnificent vessel in the disguise of Aphrodite. Augustus subsequently increased the favours previously bestowed upon Tarsus, which on coins is called a libera civitas. During the first centuries of the empire Tarsus was a place of great importance to the Romans in their campaigns against the Parthians and Persians. The emperor Tacitus, his brother Florian, and Maximinus and Julian died at Tarsus, and Julian was buried in one of its suburbs. It continued to be an opulent town until it fell into the hands of the Saracens. It was, however, taken from them in the second half of the 10th century by the emperor Nicephorus, but was soon after again restored to them, and has remained in their hands ever since. The town still exists under the name of Tersoos, and though greatly reduced, it is still the chief town of that part of Karamania. Few important remains of antiquity are now to be seen there, but the country around it is as delightful and as productive as ever.
  Tarsus was not only a great commercial city, but at the same time a great seat of learning and philosophy, and Strabo (xiv. p. 673, &c.) gives a long list of eminent men in philosophy and literature who added to its lustre; but none of them is more illustrious than the Apostle Paul, who belonged to one of the many Jewish families settled at Tarsus. (Acts, x. 30, xi. 30, xv, 22, 41, xxi. 39; comp. Ptol. v. 8. § 7; Diod. xiv. 20; Hierocl. p. 704.)

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

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