Roman rule of Cilicia
Life and Epistles of Apostle Paul

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If we turn now to consider the position of the Cilicia province and city under Roman rule, 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.

Not to enter into any minute history in the case of Cilicia, it will be enough to say, that its rich and level plain in the east was made a Roman province by Pompey, and so remained, while certain districts in the western portion were assigned, at different periods, to various native chieftains. Thus the territories of Amyntas, King of Galatia, were extended in this direction by Antony, when he was preparing for his great struggle with Augustus.

For some time the whole of Cilicia was a consolidated province under the first emperors: but again, in the reign of Claudius, we find a portion of the same Western district assigned to a king called Polemo II. It is needless to pursue the history further. In apostle Paul’s early life the political state of the inhabitants of Cilicia would be that of subjects of a Roman governor and officials, if not Roman soldiers, would be a familiar sight to the Jews who were settled in Tarsus.

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Picture of Tarsus in Cilicia

We shall have many opportunities of describing the condition of provinces under Roman dominion; but it may be interesting here to allude to the information which may be gathered from the writings of that distinguished man, who was governor of Cilicia, a few years after its first reduction by Pompey. He was entrusted with the civil and military superintendence of a large district in this corner of the Mediterranean, comprehending not only Cilicia, but Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, and the island of Cyprus; and he has left a record of all the details of his policy in a long series of letters, which are a curious monument of the Roman procedure in the management of conquered provinces, and which possess a double interest to us, from their frequent allusions to the same places which apostle Paul refers to in his Epistles. This correspondence represents to us the governor as surrounded by the adulation of obsequious Asiatic Greeks. He travels with an interpreter, for Latin is the official language; he puts down banditti, and is saluted by the title of Imperator; letters are written, on various subjects, to the governors of neighboring provinces, - for instance, Syria, Asia, and Bithynia; ceremonious communications take place with the independent chieftains.

The friendly relations of the Roman writer Cicero with Deiotarus, King of Galatia, and his son, remind us of the interview of Pilate and Herod in the Gospel, or of Festus and Agrippa in the Acts. Cicero’s letters are rather too full of a boastful commendation of his own integrity; but from what he says that he did, we may infer by contrast what was done by others who were less scrupulous in the discharge of the same responsibilities. He allowed free access to his person; he refused expensive monuments in his honor; he declined the proffered present of the pauper King of Cappadocia; he abstained from exacting the customary expenses from the states which he traversed on his march; he remitted to the treasury the moneys which were not expended on his province; he would not place in official situations those who were engaged in trade; he treated the local Greek magistrates with due consideration, and contrived at the same time to give satisfaction to the Publicans.

From all this it may be easily inferred with how much corruption, cruelty, and pride, the Romans usually governed; and how miserable must have been the condition of a province under a Verres or an Appius, a Pilate or a Felix. So far as we remember, the Jews are not mentioned in any of Cicero’s letters regarding Cilicia. If we may draw conclusions, however, from a speech which he made at Rome in defense of a contemporary governor of Asia, he regarded them with much contempt, and would be likely to treat them with harshness and injustice.

That Polemo II., who has lately been mentioned as a king in Cilicia, was one of those curious links which the history of those times exhibits between Heathenism, Judaism, and Christianity. He became a Jew to marry Berenice, who afterwards forsook him, and whose name, after once appearing in Sacred History (Acts 25 - 26), is lastly associated with that of Titus, the destroyer of Jerusalem. The name of Berenice will at once suggest the family of the Herods, and transport our thoughts to Judea.

When Cilicia was a province, it formed a separate jurisdiction, with a governor of its own, immediately responsible to Rome: but Judea, in its provincial period, was only an appendage to Syria. Judea was twice a monarchy; and thus its history furnishes illustrations of the two systems pursued by the Romans, of direct and indirect government.

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