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Tarsus

Page history last edited by Nicole Barnes 9 years, 7 months ago

 In the annals of ancient history, the city of Tarsus stands out as one of the most unusually significant. Located in a fertile plain between the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, the city was likely founded by the Syrians as a stopping point on a key trade route.[i] Perhaps due to its desirable and lucrative location, the city saw strife for much of the time prior to its possession by the Roman Empire; an event achieved by Pompey the Great in 67 B.C. In defeating the Cicilian pirates, Pompey established the province of Cicilia and made Tarsus the capital.[ii] A year later, the city’s residents were granted Roman citizenship, a move that prompted them to temporarily rename the city “Juliopolis” in flattery of Julius Caesar.                                                                                                                                                                               

 

While Tarsus’s origins are, essentially, unknowable, considerable legend has been preserved. One legend holds that the city was founded after the Pegasus landed in the area to heal an injured foot. Bolstering this legend is the fact that Tarsus shares etymological similarity to the Greek word tarsos, which means the sole of the foot and that, for a time, the city produced coins stamped with the image of the Pegasus. Another legend holds that Perseus and Triptolemus founded the city while another claims that Hercules was imprisoned for a time in the city.[iii] These legends, which cannot be proven or disproven, speak to the city’s cultural importance to the Greeks, importance that continued with the Roman Empire.

 

By all accounts, Tarsus was a vibrant and valuable city for the Roman Empire. Under Antony, the city became a free city and was excused from having to pay taxes to Rome. Already flourishing in agriculture and trade, the city grew as a site of education, rhetoric, and philosophy. Tarsus was also a favorite of many Emperors, several of whom died in the city. While Tarsus was, for a time, considered a site of cultural and philosophical supremacy, the moment was short lived. Philostratus heavily criticized the city for its vapidity and laziness, after which the reputation of the city appears to have significantly tailed off.[iv] 

 

Importance to Rhetoric

 

Tarsus was the birthplace of Hermogenes, an important rhetorician who achieved a status in the Byzantine Empire similar to that of Cicero in the Roman Empire. As a youth, Hermogenes was such a talented declaimer, that at the age of 15 he declaimed for the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Yet, it was his scholarship that made a true and lasting impact, “forming the backbone of the Byzantine rhetorical tradition” for almost a thousand years.[v] According to George Kennedy, Hermogenes was the “single most influential Greek rhetorician of the Roman Empire”, even though his work was almost unknown to most of the empire.[vi]

 

Apart from the singular significance of Hermogenes, Tarsus was also known as a university town that engaged in declamation and speechmaking typical to the Roman Empire.[vii] The city had a great number of schools of rhetoric and was noted as a center of the Stoic philosophy. While those of means would study outside of Tarsus (preferring Alexandria or Athens), the predominance of schools and universities contributed to much wider literacy than in other parts of the Empire.[viii]

 

Famous Residents

 

The city is most noted for its most famous residents. In 41 B.C., Mark Antony and Cleopatra met for the first time in Tarsus, with Cleopatra remaining and living in the city for quite some time. A gate bearing Cleopatra’s name still stands in the city today.

 

Perhaps more notable to the modern era, Saint Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, was a native and grew up in the city.[ix] Paul, who was raised in the Jewish tradition, which, at the time, tended to insulate the youth from Roman influences, emerged from Tarsus as a Roman citizen skilled as a public speaker and interested in philosophy.[x] This is likely due to the education and training he received in schools well immersed in rhetoric and philosophy and helps explain his competence in Greek.

 

While obviously important to the Christian tradition, Tarsus later became an important site for Islam, primarily for its strategic position in defending Arab lands from the Byzantine Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Tarsus was occupied or fought over many times before eventually becoming a regional center of Islamic power.[xi]

 

Modern Day

 

Today, Tarsus is a rather small city, registering a population of just over 200,000 in 2000. The city’s predominant industries are agriculture and cotton milling.[xii] While not achieving great cultural importance in the modern era, Tarsus remains renown as the birthplace of Paul. Even though the city was razed by Arabs in 660 A.D., some ruins do remain. The ruins of a house alleged to be the Saint Paul’s birthplace, for example, continues to draw visitors each year. Also, one can visit Cleopatra’s Gate, an ancient Roman gate that is still standing, although may not have anything to do with Cleopatra.[xiii]

 

Cleopatra's Gate


[i] Barnett, Paul. Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999). 

[ii] Bunson, Matthew, Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (New York, NY: Facts on File, 2002)

[iii] Boadt, Lawrence and Schapper, Linda. The Life of St. Paul. (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1986).

[iv] Smith Reid, James. The Municipalities of the Roman Empire. (London, Cambridge Universities Press, 1913).

[v] Emmett, Arthur R. “Hermogenes of Tarsus: Rhetorical Bridge from the Ancient world to the Modern,” Justin T. Gleeson and Ruth C.A. Higgins (eds). Rediscovering Rhetoric: Law, Language, and the Practice of Persuasion (Sydney, Australia: The Federaion Press, )114-115.

[vi] Kennedy, George Alexander. Classical Rhetoric & its Christian & Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

[vii] Witherington, Ben. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1995).

[viii] Barnett. 

[ix] Badiou, Alain. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 16-18.

[x] Boadt and Schapper.

[xi] Bosworth, C.E. The Arabs, Byzantium and Iran (Aldershot, New Hampshire: Variorum, 1996).

[xii] Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/583734/Tarsus

[xiii] Campbell, Verity. Turkey. (Lonely Planet, 2007).

 

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