The area of Cilicia was conquered by Roman general Pompey in 64 B.C. That same year it became a Roman province with its capital located in Tarsus. In 58 B.C., it had the island of Cyprus added to its provincial territory.
Cilicia is referenced eight times in the Bible (Acts 6:9, 15:23, 41, 21:39, 22:3, 23:34, 27:5, Galatians 1:21). New Testament cities within this province include Tarsus (hometown of Apostle Paul, Acts 21:39) and the Cyprus cities of Salamis (Acts 13:5) and Paphos (verse 6).
Not only was the area rich in agriculture, it was also strategically important to the Roman Empire.
"The Eastern, or Flat Cilicia, was a rich and extensive plain. Its prolific vegetation is praised both by the earlier and later classical writers . . .
"From this circumstance, and still more from its peculiar physical configuration, it was a possession of great political importance. Walled off from the neighboring countries by a high barrier of mountains . . . it was naturally the high road both of trading caravans and of military expeditions" (Life and Epistles of Apostle Paul, Chapter 1).
Praise and condemnation
"Tarsus did indeed seem to some a worthy object of 1st century civic pride in respect of its political, economic and intellectual prominence. An inscription proclaims 'Tarsus, the first and greatest and most beautiful metropolis'" (The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody by Brian Rapske, Chapter 4).
Unfortunately, the people of the province, as a whole, were not looked upon kindly by others.
"The people bore a low character among the Greeks and Romans. The Carians, Cappadocians, and Cilicians were called the three bad K's." (A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography by William Smith, page 204).
Thieves and pirates!
Cilicia was a dangerous place to live. Due to its mountainous region, it was the home of many robbers. Paul almost certainly had his home province in mind when he wrote of the dangers he encountered spreading the gospel which included "perils of robbers" (2Corinthians 11:26). He also stated he had to endure "weariness" and "watchings often" (verse 27), likely references to the loss of sleep experienced by having to watch for thieves during the night.
Pirates were also a huge problem in Cilicia's early history. Their massively thievery, which brought a sharp decline in the area's commerce, ultimately attracted the attention of Rome.
"The inhabitants of the rough Cilicia district were notorious for their robberies . . . the southern (part of the province), with its excellent timber, its cliffs, and small harbors, being a natural home for pirates.
"The natives of the coast of Rough Cilicia began to extend their piracies as the strength of the kings of Syria and Egypt declined. But the expeditions of these buccaneers of the Mediterranean became at last quite intolerable . . . all commerce was paralyzed; and they began to arouse that attention at Rome.
"A vast expedition was fitted out under the command of Pompey the Great (in 67 B.C.) and thousands of pirate vessels were burnt on the coast of Cilicia . . ." (Life and Epistles of Paul, chapter 1).
Zealous without knowledge
The province where Paul lived had many Jews who were zealous for God's law. When Stephen began to perform great miracles in 32 A.D. many from Cilicia, Asia and other places vehemently opposed him (Acts 6:8 - 14). Paul, before his conversion, also likely argued against the Biblical truth taught by Stephen in Jerusalem. Their opposition, coupled with their willingness to spread lies and suborn false witnesses, were the catalyst that caused Stephen to become the first Christian martyr (7:57 - 8:1).