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COLOSSAE (Κολοσσαί: Eth.Κολοσσηνός, Eth. Κο-λοσσαεύς), a city of Phrygia, first mentioned by Herodotus (7.30) as a large city of Phrygia, on the Lycus, a branch of the Maeander. Xerxes, on his march to Sardes, B.C. 481, reached Colossae after leaving Anaua. [ANAUA] The younger Cyrus, on his march from Sardes towards the Euphrates, B.C. 401, passed through Colossae. He crossed the Maeander, and after a march through Phrygia of 8 parasangs from the river, he came to Colossae, a large and prosperous city. (Anab. 1.2.6, &c.) The march of Cyrus from Colossae to Celaenae was 20 parasangs. The position of Colossae south of the Maeander is determined by these two authorities. Strabo (pp. 576--578) places Colossae near Laodiceia on the Lycus. In his time Apameia Cibotus and Laodiceia were the largest cities in this part of Phrygia. Laodiceia was then the chief town of a conventus, to which Colossae and more than twenty other towns belonged. Both Laodiceia and Colossae were famed for their wool, and the people of Colossae also derived a great profit from their skill in dyeing it. (See Groskurd's note on the passage of Strabo, p. 578; Transl. Strab. vol. ii. p. 533.) The upper valley of the Maeander was a sheep-feeding country.

Colossae had become a place of comparatively little importance in Strabo's time. In the middle ages there arose near it a town called Chonae (Χῶναι, or Χοναί), and Colossae disappeared. Chonae was the birthplace of Nicetas Choniates, one of the Byzantine historians. East of Denizli there is a place now called Khonos, or Chonos, situated at the base of the mountain range of Cadmus. Arundell (Asia Minor, vol. ii. p. 159, &c.) supposes that Khonos, which is certainly the site of Chonae, is also the site of Colossae; and that the name Chonae superseded that of Colossae under the Byzantine Empire. His description is not clear. Hamilton (Researches, &c. vol. i. p. 508) found extensive ruins of an ancient city about three miles north of Khonos. On this site are large blocks of stone, foundations of buildings, and fragments of columns, architraves and cornices. He also found “the hollow cavea of a theatre, built on the side of a low sloping hill, and of which several seats were still in situ.” He does not mention any inscriptions. Herodotus says that the Lycus disappears in Colonae by sinking into a cleft (χάσμα γῆς), and after running about five stadia under ground it appears again and flows into the Maeander. If this cleft or hole can be determined, we may be pretty certain that we have ascertained the site of Colossae. Hamilton, who examined the ground carefully, found the necropolis or burying place of this city, of which we have spoken, to be on one side of a river, and the theatre and other ruins on the opposite side. There is a bridge, which crosses a rapid stream, flowing from east to west; and this river is “formed by the junction of three rivers, which unite their waters immediately above the bridge.” The chief stream is called the Tchoruk, which Hamilton supposes to be the Lycus. Another stream is called Ak-su (white water), and possesses highly petrifying qualities. Below the bridge is a narrow gorge, through which the waters of the united rivers flow. He found that the Ak-su had once fallen into the Lycus lower down than where it now does, exactly at the place where the chasm is narrowest. Another large stream falls over the cliff on the south side of the river, or the side opposite to the Ak-su which runs from the NW. This river has also the same qualities as the Ak-su, and makes a great deposit, forming cliffs of travertine, and burying the plants and other substances that are in its way. This operation is going on rapidly, and the cliffs on each side have been formed by it. Hamilton adds, “it is evident, that if the water always flowed in the same channel, these cliffs would approach each other, and continue to overhang the river until a natural bridge were completed by the touching of the opposite sides, while the arch or passage of the river below would be kept clear, the rapidity of the stream not allowing the deposit of the calcareous matter. It is indeed most apparent that this has been the case, that the two cliffs have been here joined, and thus formed the χάσμα γῆς, through which, as Herodotus [p. 1.649]reports, the water flowed by a subterranean channel for half a mile, the soft crust having been in all probability subsequently broken up by an earthquake. In the hollow below the bridge are several mills, which are turned by the petrifying stream of the Ak-su; in consequence of the rapid accumulation of calcareous matter, it has been frequently necessary to change their position; they would otherwise be soon choked up, and buried in the calcareous silt deposited round them by the spray and overflowings of the mill stream.” This very clear and instructive explanation, founded on the examination of the spot by a practised eye, leaves no doubt about the conclusion, that this is the spot within Colossae which Herodotus describes, though, as Hamilton observes, it may still be doubted whether the Lycus is the river which now flows through the centre of the plain, or the Ak-su. This, however, is not very material: one of these streams is certainly the Lycus. The passage in Pliny (31.2) is now fully explained: “at Colossae there is a stream, into which if bricks are thrown, they come out stones.” Hamilton observes that the Ak-su, which joins the Tchoruk in the centre of the town, would soon cover a brick with a thick incrustation, and even fill the pores by infiltration. This is, no doubt, what Pliny means.

Colossae was one of the early Christian churches of Asia, and the apostle Paul addressed one of his epistles to the people of this place. It does not appear from the epistle that he visited Colossae, and an expression (1.3, 4) has been cited to show that he had not been there; and also another (2.1). But the want of words to prove directly that he was at Colossae, does not justify the conclusion that he never was there, especially as we know that he went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia.

The epigraph on the coins of Colossae is δημος Κολοσσηνων.


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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.30
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 31.2
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