The Roman provinces of Cilicia and Judea play a pivotal role in the early life of the Apostle Paul.
Both these provinces were once under the sceptre of the line of the Seleucids, or Greek kings of Syria; and both of them, though originally inhabited by a "barbarous" population, received more or less of the influence of Greek civilization. If the map is consulted, it will be seen that Antioch, the capital of the Graeco-Syrian kings, is situated nearly in the angle where the coast-line of Cilicia, running eastwards, and that of Judea, extended northwards, are brought to an abrupt meeting. It will be seen also, that, more or less parallel to each of these coasts, there is a line of mountains, not far from the sea, which are brought into contact with each other in heavy and confused forms, near the same angle; the principal break in the continuity of either of them being the valley of the Orontes, which passes by Antioch. One of these mountain lines is the range of Mount Taurus, which is so often mentioned as a great geographical boundary by the writers of Greece and Rome; and Cilicia extends partly over the Taurus itself, and partly between it and the sea. The other range is that of Lebanon - a name made sacred by the scriptures and poetry of the Jews; and where its towering eminences subside towards the south into a land of hills and valleys and level plains, there is Judea, once the country of promise and possession to the chosen people, but a Roman province in the time of the Apostles.
Cilicia, in the sense in which the word was used under the early Roman emperors, comprehended two districts, of nearly equal extent, but of very different character. The Western portion, or Hough Cilicia, as it was called, was a collection of the branches of Mount Taurus, which come down in large masses to the sea, and form that projection of the coast which divides the Bay of Issus from that of Pamphylia. The inhabitants of the whole of this district were notorious for their robberies: the northern portion, under the name of Isauria, providing innumerable strongholds for marauders by land; and the southern, with its excellent timber, its cliffs, and small harbors, being a natural home for pirates. The Isaurians maintained their independence with such determined obstinacy, that in a later period of the Empire, the Romans were willing to resign all appearance of subduing them, and were content to surround them with a cordon of forts. The natives of the coast of Rough Cilicia began to extend their piracies as the strength of the kings of Syria and Egypt declined. They found in the progress of the Roman power, for some time, an encouragement rather than a hindrance; for they were actively engaged in an extensive and abominable slave-trade, of which the island of Delos was the great market; and the opulent families of Rome were in need of slaves, and were not more scrupulous than some Christian nations of modern times about the means of obtaining them. But the expeditions of these buccaneers of the Mediterranean became at last quite intolerable; their fleets seemed innumerable; their connections were extended far beyond their own coasts; all commerce was paralyzed; and they began to arouse that attention at Rome which the more distant pirates of the Eastern Archipelago not long ago excited in England. A vast expedition was fitted out under the command of Pompey the Great; thousands of pirate vessels were burnt on the coast of Cilicia, and the inhabitants dispersed.
Situated near the western border of the Cilician plain, where the river Cydnus flows in a cold and rapid stream, from the snows of Taurus to the sea, was the city of Tarsus, the capital of the whole province, and "no mean city" (Acts 21:39) in the history of the ancient world. Its coins reveal to us its greatness through a long series of years:- alike in the period which intervened between Xerxes and Alexander, - and under the Roman sway, when it exulted in the name of Metropolis, - and long after Hadrian had rebuilt it, and issued his new coinage with the old mythological types. In the intermediate period, which is that of Apostle Paul, we have the testimony of a native of this part of Asia Minor, from which we may infer that Tarsus was in the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean, almost what Marseilles was in the Western. Strabo says that, in all that relates to philosophy and general education, it was even more illustrious than Athens and Alexandria. From his description it is evident that its main character was that of a Greek city, where the Greek language was spoken, and Greek literature studiously cultivated. But we should be wrong in supposing that the general population of the province was of Greek origin, or spoke the Greek tongue. When Cyrus came with his army from the Western Coast, and still later, when Alexander penetrated into Cilicia, they found the inhabitants "Barbarians." Nor is it likely that the old race would be destroyed, or the old language obliterated, especially in the mountain districts, during the reign of the Seleucid kings. We must rather conceive of Tarsus as like Brest, in Brittany, or like Toulon, in Provence, - a city where the language of refinement is spoken and written, in the midst of a ruder population, who use a different language, and possess no literature of their own.
If we turn now to consider the position of this province and city under the Romans, we are led to notice two different systems of policy which they adopted in their subject dominions. The purpose of Rome was to make the world subservient to herself: but this might be accomplished directly or indirectly. A governor might be sent from Rome to take the absolute command of a province: or some native chief might have a kingdom, an ethnarchy, or a tetrarchy assigned to him, in which he was nominally independent, but really subservient, and often tributary. Some provinces were rich and productive, or essentially important in the military sense, and these were committed to Romans under the Senate or the Emperor. Others might be worthless or troublesome, and fit only to reward the services of a useful instrument, or to occupy the energies of a dangerous ally. Both these systems were adopted in the East and in the West. We have examples of both - in Spain and in Gaul - in Cilicia and in Judea. In Asia Minor they were so irregularly combined, and the territories of the independent sovereigns were so capriciously granted or removed, extended or curtailed, that it is often difficult to ascertain what the actual boundaries of the provinces were at a given epoch.
Judea was twice a monarchy; and thus its history furnishes illustrations of the two systems pursued by the Romans, of direct and indirect government.
Another important contrast must be noticed in the histories of these two provinces. In the Greek period of Judea, there was a time of noble and vigorous independence. Antiochus Epiphanes, the eighth of the line of the Seleucids, in pursuance of a general system of policy, by which he Bought to unite all his different territories through the Greek religion, endeavored to introduce the worship of Jupiter into Jerusalem. Such an attempt might have been very successful in Syria or Cilicia: but in Judea it kindled a flame of religious indignation, which did not cease to burn till the yoke of the Seleucidae was entirely thrown off: the name of Antiochus Epiphanes was ever afterwards held in abhorrence by the Jews, and a special fast was kept up in memory of the time when the "abomination of desolation" stood in the holy place. The champions of the independence of the Jewish nation and the purity of the Jewish religion were the family of the Maccabees or Asmonaeans: and a hundred years before the birth of Christ the first Hyrcanus was reigning over a prosperous and independent kingdom. But in the time of the second Hyrcanus and his brother, the family of the Maccabees was not what it had been, and Judea was ripening for the dominion of Rome. Pompey the Great, the same conqueror who had already subjected Cilicia, appeared in Damascus, and there judged the cause of the two brothers. All the country was full of his fame. In the spring of the year 63 he came down by the valley of the Jordan, his Roman soldiers occupied the ford where Joshua had crossed over, and from the Mount of Olives he looked down upon Jerusalem. From that day Judea was virtually under the government of Rome. It is true that, after a brief support given to the reigning family, a new native dynasty was raised to the throne.
The period when Herod was reigning at Jerusalem under the protectorate of Augustus was chiefly remarkable for great architectural works, for the promotion of commerce, the influx of strangers, and the increased diffusion of the two great languages of the heathen world. The names of places are themselves a monument of the spirit of the times. As Tarsus was called Juliopolis from Julius Caesar, and Soli Pompeiopolis from his great rival, so Samaria was called Sebaste after the Greek name of Augustus, and the new metropolis, which was built by Herod on the sea-shore, was called Caesarea in honor of the same Latin emperor: while Antipatris, on the road (Acts 23:31) between the old capital and the new, still commemorated the name of the king’s Idumaean father. We must not suppose that the internal change in the minds of the people was proportional to the magnitude of these outward improvements. They suffered much; and their hatred grew towards Rome and towards the Herods. A parallel might be drawn between the state of Judea under Herod the Great, and that of Egypt under Mahomet Ali, where great works have been successfully accomplished, where the spread of ideas has been promoted, traffic made busy and prosperous, and communication with the civilized world wonderfully increased, - but where the mass of the people has continued to be miserable and degraded.
After Herod’s death, the same influences still continued to operate in Judea. Archelaus persevered in his father’s policy, though destitute of his father’s energy. The same may be said of the other sons, Antipas and Philip, in their contiguous principalities. All the Herods were great builders, and eager partisans of the Roman emperors: and we are familiar in the Gospels with that Coesarea (Caesarea Philippi), which one of them built in the upper part of the valley of the Jordan, and named in honor of Augustus, - and with that Tiberias on the banks of the lake of Genesareth, which bore the name of his wicked successor. But while Antipas and Philip still retained their dominions under the protectorate of the emperor, Archelaus had been banished, and the weight of the Roman power had descended still more heavily on Judea. It was placed under the direct jurisdiction of a governor, residing at Caesarea by the Sea, and depending, as we have seen above, on the governor of Syria at Antioch. And now we are made familiar with those features which might be adduced as characterizing any other province at the same epoch, - the praetorium, (John 18:28) - the publicans, (Luke 3:12, 19:2) - the tribute- money, (Matthew 22:19) - soldiers and centurions recruited in Italy, - Caesar the only king, (John 19:15) and the ultimate appeal against the injustice of the governor. (Acts 25:11) In this period the ministry, death, and resurrection of JESUS CHRIST took place, the first preaching of His Apostles, and the conversion of Apostle Paul. But once more a change came over the political fortunes of Judea. Herod Agrippa was the friend of Caligula, as Herod the Great had been the friend of Augustus; and when Tiberius died, he received the grant of an independent principality in the north of Palestine. He was able to ingratiate himself with Claudius, the succeeding emperor. Judea was added to his dominion, which now embraced the whole circle of the territory ruled by his grandfather. By this time Apostle Paul was actively pursuing his apostolic career.