Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 06 February 2023



  • Arnold Hugh Martin Jones
  •  and Stephen Mitchell


  • Ancient Geography
  • Christianity

Tarsus, a native Cilician (see cilicia) town with a long prehistoric past, which later claimed Triptolemus, Perseus(1), and above all Heracles as its founder. It was capital of the Cilician kings and of the Persian satraps of the region (see persia; satrap), but it issued coins in its own name with Greek and Aramaic legends and with predominantly Persian types during the 5th and 4th cents. bce. It was renamed Antioch on the Cydnus and issued coins in this name under Antiochus (4) IV between 175 and 164; the old name prevailed later and is still used today. Annexed to Cilicia by Pompey it was granted freedom and immunity (see free cities; immunitas) by Antony (M. Antonius(2)) and was capital of the province of Cilicia from c. ce 72. The city's prosperity owed much to the linen industry and it was a notable centre of commerce. During the 1st cent. bce it was the centre of a famous philosophical school and was the birthplace of St Paul. Under the empire its inhabitants earned a reputation for insubordination and were reproached in two speeches by Dio Cocceianus (Dio Chrys.Or.33 and 34). The city's link with Heracles attracted the attention of Commodus, who held the chief magistracy (dēmiourgos). Temples for the provincial imperial cult were built under Hadrian and under Commodus; foundations for the latter, originally an enormous structure of Proconnesian marble (see propontis), have been identified. Tarsus served as a base for Caracalla's Parthian war in ce 216 (see parthia), and the tribulations which this brought to the city were offset by various privileges granted by the emperor. During the 3rd cent. its history was dominated by rivalry with its local rival Anazarbus.


  • W. Ruge, Real-Encyclopädie d. klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 4a (1932), 2413–39.
  • C. P. Jones, The Roman World of Dio Chrysostom (1978), 71–82.
  • M. Gough, Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites 883–4.
  • Archaeological Reports 1989/90, 131 (temple).
  • R. Ziegler, Städtisches Prestige und Kaiserliche Politik (1985) (the 3rd cent.).
  • B. Burrell, Neokoroi: Greek Cities and Roman Emperors (2004), 212–9.