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TARSUS Cilicia Campestris, Turkey.

A very ancient city founded on the earlier course of the Tarsus Çay (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 Taş (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 Gözlü 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.


W. M. Ramsay, “Cilicia, Tarsus, and the Great Taurus Pass,” The Geographical Journal (Oct. 1903) 1-56; G. Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate (1930) 130-34; A.H.M. Jones, Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (2d ed. 1971) Index s.v.; H. Goldman, ed., Excavation at Gözlü Kule, Tarsus (1950-1963).


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