The Pisidia region, in eastern Asia Minor in which Antioch resided, was known in the first century as an unsafe part of the Roman Empire in which to travel. Paul, when writing to the Corinthians regarding how much he had endured as a servant of God, writes that he was at times "in perils of robbers" (2Corinthians 11:26) while serving the churches. Conybeare and Howson's excellent book on the life of Paul states the following in this regard.
"The lawless and marauding habits of the population of those mountains (in Eastern Asia Minor) . . . were notorious in all parts of ancient history . . . No population through the midst of which Apostle Paul ever traveled, abounded more in those "perils of robbers," of which he himself speaks, than the wild and lawless clans of the Pisidian Highlanders (The Life and Epistles of Apostle Paul by Conybeare and Howson, Chapter 6)
Asia Minor's Antioch is the only place recorded in the New Testament where women (upper-class women in particular) are specifically mentioned as fully participating in the persecution of Christians (Acts 13:50). The church in Antioch was started by the Apostle Paul. He first evangelized the city sometime in 45 A.D. (Acts 13:14), then came back to it a few months later (Acts 14:21), visited it again in 50 A.D. (Acts 16:6), then one last time in 53 A.D. (Acts 18:23).
The eastern Asia Minor city of Derbe, along with Iconium and Lystra, was located in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia. The residents of Derbe spoke a different language from those located north of Iconium. The city's location in the far eastern part of the province made it the last city, on a road that heads east, that was within distinctively Roman territory. Commerce and trade entering the city and going west were required to pay Roman customs fees.
The Apostle Paul visited Derbe during his first, second and third missionary journeys. It was one of four cities in the eastern part of Asia Minor (not including his hometown of Tarsus) he visited at least three times during his ministry. Derbe was also hometown of a man named Gaius, who was one of several people who accompanied him on the last half of his third journey (Acts 20:4).
Paul was able to travel relatively easy to the city, during his first journey, using the then roughly fifty-year old Roman paved road called the Via Sebaste. This road ran through Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, a distance of about 93 miles (150 kilometers). It then ran from Iconium to Lystra, a distance of 18.5 miles (30 kilometers). From Lystra he traveled on an unpaved track of the road about 62 miles (100 kilometers) to Derbe (Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, Volume 2, by Gill and Gempf, Chapter 10).
Derbe, a city whose first Christian church was founded by Paul, was a far less tumultuous destination for preaching the gospel than other locations in Galatia. It was the only location in Galatia, during his first journey, where he and Barnabas (as Scripture suggests), were able to preach the gospel in peace (Acts 14:20 - 21, see also 2Timothy 3:10 - 11). Prior to coming to the city, he was expelled from Antioch by civic leaders (Acts 13:50), then threatened with assault and the possibility of being stoned in Iconium (14:1 - 6), then ACTUALLY stoned to death in Lystra and dragged outside the city (verses 19 - 20)!
Iconium was the ancient capital city of the Asia Minor region known as Lycaonia, which itself was part of the Roman province named Galatia. It was a wealthy town located in a well-watered, fertile region along the Roman road called the Via Sebaste.
The Apostle Paul visited Iconium in his first, second and third missionary journeys and founded the city's Christian church. He refers to the trials and troubles he had in preaching the gospel in the city when he writes the following to fellow evangelist Timothy.
11. Persecutions and sufferings - such as happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. You know what sort of persecutions I endured . . . (2Timothy 3:11, HBFV).
The Apostle Paul evangelized Lystra during his first, second and third missionary journeys and founded its Christian church. His discourse to the people during his first journey is a testament not only to God's grace but to the witness he leaves all mankind through nature (Acts 14:15 - 17).
The city is the location of two pivotal events in the ministry of Paul. The first, which occurred during his initial visit to Lystra, was being stoned and left for dead by the city's inhabitants after Jews from Antioch and Iconium stirred them up against the gospel (Acts 14:19 - 20). The second, which happened near the start of his second journey, was his meeting of a young man named Timothy (16:1 - 3). A resident of the city (2Timothy 3:10 - 11), he will become Paul's closest friend and most trusted fellow evangelist. Some commentaries speculate that Timothy may have witnessed Paul's stoning a few years previous.
Tarsus was the chief city and capital of the Roman Province of Cilicia which was located in the eastern part of Asia Minor. It was known for its wealth and schools of learning, which is why Apostle Paul described it as "no insignificant city" (Acts 21:39).
According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, Tarsus and the region that surrounds it were first populated by a grandson of Japheth named Tarshish (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 6). Japheth was one of Noah's three sons who survived the great flood in the ark. The city was the cult center for the oriental pagan god Sandan (Herakles by the Greeks), who is shown riding a mythical beast (Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, Volume 2, by Gill and Gempf, Chapter 4).
Paul was born in Tarsus around 2 A.D. to a family who were descendants of the tribe of Benjamin and who maintained an orthodox Jewish background (Philippians 3:5 - 6). Although he was a Jew, his birth in this Roman "free city" granted him the privilege of Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28), a status that was highly sought after not only by slaves but also by those in the military.
Soon after his conversion, Paul revisited Jerusalem and was so convincing in his teaching that those who opposed the gospel wanted him killed. His presence in the city created such a stir that brethren sent him back home to eastern Asia Minor, where he stayed for four years (Summer of 36 A.D. to 40 A.D.) until he was needed to help new believers in Syrian Antioch (Acts 9:29 - 30, 11:25 - 26). It is noteworthy that after Paul was sent out of Jerusalem the Bible says "the churches throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria had PEACE . . ." (Acts 9:31)!