From Perge to Pisidian Antioch

Traveling northward from Perge, Paul and Barnabas followed the Roman road known as the Via Sebaste. With the mountains looming in the distance, the 100-mile journey took them about seven days (traveling about 15 miles a day) and was extremely dangerous. The rough, mountainous passage, which was infested by thieves and crossed by frightening precipices, caused Antioch to be isolated, since it was the only way in and out of the city. (Were these mountains daunting to John Mark, and the reason he chose not to continue the journey?).

Map of area covered by first missionary journey


Historical background

Pisidian Antioch, or Antioch in Pisidia, was located north-northeast of Perge. According to written sources and archaeological finds, the city was founded by Seleucus I Nicator in 280 BC, and was one of seventeen Antiochs he named for his father Antiochus. The city stood at a junction of two main roads, guarding access from the south, as well as the so called "high road" from Ephesus to Syria. It was situated in the proximity of the border of Pisidia and Phrygia and served the Seleucids as a border fortress up until the defeat of Antiochus III by the Romans. This strategic importance combined with its fertile lands meant that it was an important settlement in the region. From coins minted around that time it is evident that the city rose to a pinnacle of economic prosperity. The population of the city at that time has been put at over one hundred thousand.1st century BC Jewish historian Flavius Josephus mentions that Antiochus III ordered 2,000 Jewish families be moved from Babylonia to areas in Lydia and Phrygia because he believed they would be loyal supporters of the Seleucids (Jewish Antiquities 12.146-153). This would account for the presence of Jews in the city by the time of Paul's arrival in the 1st century AD.

Along the way from Perge to Pisidian Antioch they would have passed Egirdir Gölü (Egirdir Lake), below. Eventually, after endless climbing for scores of miles, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch on the 3,280 feet-high plain of the Anatolian plateau. High, cool and dry, the city must have seemed like an oasis to the ailing Paul.


Pisidian Antioch

Below, looking toward the site of Pisidian Antioch. Atop the ridge in the center of the photo is the aqueduct that supplied water to the city).

 looking toward the site of Pisidian Antioch

Below, close up of the aqueduct that brought water from a spring in the foothills to meet the increasing demand for water during the Roman period.


Dating to the 1st century AD, the aqueduct ran for nearly 6 miles along the ridge to the north of the city. Constructed according to the conditions of the terrain, it led to a monumental fountain (Nymphaeum) from where the water was distributed to about two-thirds of the city.


In the footsteps of Paul — Pisidian Antioch

The remains of the Pisidian Antioch are located just over a half mile north of the modern Turkish city of Yalvaç in the province of Isparta. The first excavations were carried out in 1913-14 and 1924 by archaeologists W. Ramsay and D. M. Robinson, revealing settlement since the Neolithic Age. Excavations were resumed in 1979, and although only ten percent of the city has so far been revealed, this once magnificent ancient capital in the center of Anatolia is a fascinating place to visit.

Below, site of Pisidian Antioch (satellite view from Google Earth).

site of Pisidian Antioch (satellite view from Google Earth)

The city was set atop a precipice described by Sir William Ramsey on his visit at the beginning of the 20th century as "an oblong hill varying from 50 to 200 feet above the plain," nearly two miles in circumference. As the eastern, southern and northern slopes of the hill are very steep, it is possible to approach the city only from the west. The hilltop is not flat; indeed there are several high-points on every side, giving the appearance of seven hills, like Rome. The majority of buildings were constructed on the slopes of these small hills or in the valleys. Within the fortification walls, the city is laid out along two main axes, north-south and east-west, which intersect at a right angle. Straight, narrow side-streets cut the main streets at right-angles. It is interesting that this so-called Hippodamian street-system (streets arranged on a rectangular grid) was skillfully adapted to the terrain.


The remains of many important buildings dating from the Roman and subsequent eras have been revealed.

On the west side of the city are the foundations of the synagogue where Paul gave his first recorded sermon. In the 4th century AD the Church of St. Paul (below) was built on the remains, incorporating its southern wall. Most of the walls have disappeared, but mosaics and inscriptions entirely cover the floor. At the center of the mosaic, four Greek inscriptions giving the names of people who made the mosaic floor and the names of priests and dedicators. One mentions Optimus, a leader and bishop in the Antioch church between 375-381 AD. It is significant that this is the only church in ancient Anatolia built on the site of a synagogue.

synagogue site with Paul church

 The city had two town squares: The Augusta Platea (Square of Augustus) was located at the very highest point of the city and  connected to the lower Tiberia Platea (Square of Tiberius) by a monumental staircase of twelve steps.

Below, "Tiberia Platea" (foreground) and "Augusta Platea" (background, higher level).

"Tiberia Platea" foreground and "Augusta Platea" background,

 Below, Augustus Temple and plaza

augusta plaza

The Augusta Platea was the site of a temple built in honor of the emperor Augustus (re-created below). The foundation was carved out of the rock of the hill. At the back of the temple was a two storied, semicircular portico, also quarried out of the rock of the hill. Around 400 AD, the complex was used as an open-air church.

Augustus Temple and plaza

The theater (below) was on an hill not far from the city center overlooking the city. It could accommodate 12,000 to 15,000 spectators and probably consisted of 26 rows of seats. It was built during the Hellenistic period and later expanded by the Romans and existed when Paul visited the city.


Below, Decumanus, the city's main east-west street, ran through a tunnel beneath the south side of the seating area, an unusual feature that has not been observed elsewhere.

Decumanus, the city's main east-west street,

City walls (below). Some sections date to the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods; they protected the city on three sides; the fourth side was protected by a steep hillside.

hellenistic wall

Below, monumental fountain (nymphaeum).

 monumental fountain nymphaeum

Below, Roman bathhouse, dating to the 1st century AD.


Below, Cardo Maximus, the city's main north-south street.

Cardo Maximus

Below, foundations of a 26-foot-wide triumphal arch, a triple gateway built in the 2nd century AD and dedicated by Emperor Hadrian in 129 AD.

foundations of a 26-foot-wide triumphal arch

Below, one of several marble bocks containing the RES GESTAE DIVI AUGUSTI (Latin, Deeds of the Divine Augustus) discovered at Pisidian Antioch; now displayed at the museum in nearby Yalvac (See information about this significant discovery at the bottom of the right column.)

RES GESTAE DIVI AUGUSTI (Latin, Deeds of the Divine Augustus) discovered at Pisidian Antioch;


Paul and Barnabas Preach the Gospel in Pisidian Antioch

It has been suggested that Paul and Barnabas originally aimed for Pisidian Antioch at the recommendation of Sergius Paulus, the newly converted governor of Cyprus, because archaeology has shown that his family had roots in the city. Excavations at Antioch uncovered an inscription referring to "Lucius Sergius Paulus the younger," thought to be the son the Cyprus governor.

inscription referring to "Lucius Sergius Paulus

Regardless, the missionaries first took the Gospel message to the Jews of Antioch, as was standard procedure on this and all of Paul's subsequent missionary journeys. On the Sabbath they went to the synagogue. It was customary in synagogues throughout the empire to invite visiting Jews to address the congregation after the main part of the service:" After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, 'Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak'" (Acts 13:15).Paul's audience included both Jews and God-fearers — Gentiles who respected the Jewish religion but who had not fully converted to it (uncircumcised). First, he gave them a brief history of Israel, from the Exodus, to the entry into the Promised Land, the period of the "judges," then the first kings, Paul followed by David, from whose line God promised to send a Messiah who would bring salvation to the world. Paul then announced that God had fulfilled this promise in Jesus whose coming was foretold by John the Baptist. In the second half of his sermon Paul described the process by which Jesus was condemned and crucified, then resurrected so that all believers, including those in Antioch, could have eternal life. Paul's message (see Acts 13:16-41) had a powerful effect on his audience, and he was invited back for the next Sabbath. Over the following week, word-of-mouth spread so that when the time came, the synagogue was packed. However, the crowd included some orthodox Jews who tried to disprove Paul's claims. After what was undoubtedly a heated debate, Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly:

"We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth'" (Acts 13:46,47).

Gentiles in the audience were elated with what they heard, and a congregation was formed. Paul's message also aroused hostility among a number of the Jews, although the reason is not specified. Most likely it was because they resented welcoming the Gentiles into the church as equals to themselves, "God's chosen people." In any case, they incited some of Antioch's influential citizens to have the missionaries expelled from the city. Shaking the dust from their feet — an expression of extreme contempt and a sign of that they would not have any further dealings with them — Paul and Barnabas departed for Iconium. However, as they headed out of town they were elated in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit had worked through them to bring new converts into the body of Christ. This account concludes with the statement, "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52)


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