A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 1

Society and Religion in Central Asia Minor in the Time of St. Paul

Chapter 17

The Cities and the Peoples of South Galatia

WE have pointed out that all attempts to find in the Epistle to the Galatians the characteristic features of the North Galatian society and life have failed.

Further, there are in the Epistle many references to the circumstances of family life, of education, of inheritance, etc.1 They all imply a settled order of the Graeco- Asiatic type as existing among the Galatians. Those references would be misleading and barely intelligible to a people among whom Roman civilisation was superinduced directly on Celtic customs. They have their proper effect only among cities in which there existed a Greek form of law and society, as modified in some details to suit the Asiatic subjects of the Greek kings.

We turn now to the cities of South Galatia, in order to see whether the law which is appealed to in the Epistle is likely to have been the law that existed among them.

They are to be compared with the Asian cities on the great highway from Ephesus to the East, and must in fact be classed with the general body of Hellenised cities in Asia Minor generally. The whole of those cities were characterised by a uniform type of society, and, to a great extent, of law. They were mostly cities which the Greek kings had founded or remodelled, with the intention of making them centres of Greek feeling and manners and civilisation in an Oriental land. In founding them the kings took as models rather the Greek colonies of the coast, Smyrna, Ephesus, Miletus, etc., than the cities of Greece proper. They planted in the new cities not the pure Hellenism of Athens and Greece proper, but Hellenic institutions as they were adapted to an Oriental country. Greece had conquered the East under the leadership of Alexander the Great; but, in conquering, it modified itself and assimilated some Oriental elements.

Those Graeco-Anatolian cities had now passed under the Roman rule. But the Romans did not attempt or desire to eradicate the Greek manners, or to substitute Roman law for Greek, just as they were not hostile to Greek literature or the Greek language. They left the constitution of the Greek and Graeco-Anatolian cities practically unaltered. They allowed the Greek language to be on an equality with Latin. Society, manners and law were hardly affected by the Roman conquest. The Romans were skilful administrators, and knew that it would be folly to begin their rule by trying to destroy an existing civilisation and to force Roman ways and language on a Grecised people. In the barbarian western lands, which were taken into the Empire, Roman manners and language were quickly established, because the only civilisation which the barbarians saw was Roman. But, in the East, Greek civilisation was nearest and most impressive; and Rome found in it an ally rather than an opponent.

In process of time Roman institutions were to some degree adopted in the Graeco-Anatolian cities; but that process had hardly begun in the time of Paul, and need not here be touched. Only in the Roman colonies, which were planted in a few cities of Southern Galatia, were there bodies of Roman citizens, speaking Latin, practising Roman ways, electing magistrates with Roman titles, judged according to Roman law.2 These colonies were intended by their founder, Augustus, chiefly as garrisons to defend the Province against attack from the lawless mountaineers of Taurus, but also, probably, in part as models and centres of a more Romanised system, from which the surrounding cities might learn. But, as time passed, the Latin colonies in Southern Galatia were much more affected by Greek models than the Greek cities by Roman. The manners and society of even Colonia Antiocheia in the time of Paul, though superficially Roman, were beyond doubt in many ways fundamentally Hellenistic. The Roman character was an exotic which would not take root in the East; and all that Rome could do was to strengthen there the Greek civilisation, modifying it with some Roman elements. With Greek civilisation necessarily went the Greek language.

Such was the class of cities in which, according to the South Galatian theory, the “Churches of Galatia” were planted.

In the preceding Sections, we have traced the ultimate decay of the Province Galatia as a part of the Roman Imperial policy. But the fact that the policy of imposing a Roman unity on the Province was finally abandoned should not blind us to the power with which it was at first urged on by the young Empire. Deeper causes, which were not observed in the first flush of enthusiasm felt by the Eastern Provinces for the new Empire, came in time to the surface, and necessitated some modification of the Imperial policy. But Paul’s work lay in the early time; and it ought not to be studied in the light of later circumstances.

The truth must once more be repeated that, in order to conceive the position of Central Asia Minor in the time of Paul, we must above all bear in mind the vigour and energy of the Roman administration in the country. The Roman idea, i.e., the Province Galatia as a fact of politics and government, was being impressed with all Rome’s organising skill on the minds of the people: and the people, so far as they were not Celtic by descent, were of the easy tempered, easily governed type that we have described.

The Empire was popular in the highest degree as the giver of peace and prosperity. People were glad to belong to it, and they belonged to it only in virtue of being members of a Province, and entitled to be addressed by a Roman official under the name “Galatę” (except a few, who were actually “Roman citizens “). Acquaintance with the more educated persons that came from the West implanted aspirations after education; and education could only be GraecoRoman. The fundamental fact in central Asia Minor at that time was this: to be educated, to be progressive, to think, to learn, was to be Romanised and Hellenised. To be a Phrygian, was to be rude, ignorant, unintelligent, slavish.

Until that is firmly fixed in one’s mind, it is impossible to understand the position of the new religion in the country, or to properly appreciate Paul’s attitude towards the “Galatians”.

The history of the South Galatian cities is closely connected with the great line of communication along which Roman administration travelled. There were, in fact, at least two alternative roads; but their object was the same, viz., to maintain communication by land between the Ęgean coast (especially Ephesus) and the East (especially Syria and Cilicia). One road led through Derbe, Iconium and Antioch, the other kept a little further north; but both passed right across Lycaonia and Southern Phrygia. A messenger hurrying from Cilicia to Ephesus and Rome would take the northern road;3 but those who wished to trade or to stop by the way would prefer the southern.

Under the Greek kings of the Seleucid dynasty, who ruled most of the southern half of Asia Minor, that line of communication had been the prime necessity in the maintenance of their power. It was an imperial highway in the fullest sense. In the confused time after B.C. 189, little imperial need for such a highway existed. But after 80 the great Province Cilicia was built up along the highway,4 embracing all the districts that were most conveniently administered as the Roman governor travelled along it. When the pirates were most dangerous, all communication between Rome and the Province of Syria must have passed along that land route. As soon as the Provinces were reorganised after the civil wars, B.C. 49-31, the route became one of the greatest arteries of the Empire, probably more important than any other outside of Italy.

Further, throughout the Greek and Roman period, the two roads formed a great trade-route. Not merely brisk traffic existed among the many great cities on or near the line of communication; there was also much through traffic from inner Asia. Strabo mentions, e.g., that a kind of red earth from Cappadocia, which in early time had been brought to Greece by way of Sinope and thence by ship, was in later time carried along the trade-route to Ephesus.

Such a situation was most favourable for the spread of Greek civilisation. Trade was mainly conducted on Greek lines and in the Greek tongue. Wherever trade went, there the Greek spirit, the use of Greek names and forms and language went. Only the cities, indeed, were affected thereby; and the rustic districts and population continued to be simply Anatolian in type.

The mere statement of the general situation in South Galatia shows how complete was the contrast between it and North Galatia.

The only peoples in South Galatia with whom we are immediately concerned in the present study are the Phrygians and the Lycaonians. The Phrygians have been already described in Sections 3-5.

The Lycaonians are probably the representatives of the unmixed old race which had been conquered by the immigrant Phryges about the tenth century B.C. The strength of the conquering Phryges was sufficient to carry them as far as Iconium; but at that point it was exhausted, and could go no further. The religion of Lycaonia, and the general character of the people, are not likely to have differed much from the description given in Sections 3-5. See Section 20.

The native tongue was spoken in Lycaonia, alongside of Greek, the educated speech. Probably it had once been spoken all over Great Phrygia before that country was subdued by the Phryges. As to the character and affinities of the Lycaonian language nothing is known; but probably the inscriptions in “Hittite” symbols found near Tyriaion and Kybistra and elsewhere in Asia Minor will ultimately throw some light on it.

The country of Lycaonia consists mainly of a vast dead level plain; but the last outer hills and slopes of the Taurus mountains also belong to it. In the centre of the plain rises Kara-Dagh, in a gently sloping rounded glen of which are the striking ruins of a Christian city, called the Thousand-and-One-Churches (Bin-Bir-Kilise) from the twenty or thirty ruined churches that give a unique character to the site, as a holy city and a place of pilgrimage — the latter character being also proved by a number of graffiti. At one time I was disposed to regard this as the site of Derbe; but it seems rather to be the site of Barata. In that case, the sanctity of the site would be due to St. John in the Well, a hermit who lived ten years in one of the deep wells or cisterns, which furnish the only drinking water in the plains north and east of Kara-Dagh.5 This hermit, who had come forth from Kybistra into the treeless, waterless plains, was buried by a man of Barata (who was summoned for the purpose by an angel).6

North-east from Kara-Dagh a line of sharp conical hills stretches across the level plain to Karadja-Dagh, which overhangs the town of Kara-Bunar, “Black-Fountain”. The most remarkable of these cones is one about two miles southeast of Kara-Bunar, most obviously an extinct volcano. Few places in the world show such marked signs of volcanic action as this. The soil consists for miles of black cinders, which look like the remains from a fire of yesterday. To the ancients such a place must have seemed a home of divine subterranean power; and here probably “Holy Hyde,” the frontier city of Lycaonia towards Cappadocia and Galatia, is to be sought. Karadja-Dagh in that case would mark the boundary of Lycaonia on the north-east. North of it begins the “Added Land” of Galatia, east of it the country of Cappadocia.

On the north-west Strabo reckons Laodiceia Combusta, twenty-seven miles north of Iconium, as the frontier; but many extended Lycaonia further west into Phrygia to include also Tyriaion, and the Romans included even Philomelion in the Lycaonian Dioecesis (which was part of the great Province Cilicia from 80 to some time after 45).7

On the west the broad belt of hilly country which stretches north and south about six miles from Iconium contained the frontier between Pisidia and Lycaonia: but from 372 onwards all that country was attached to Lycaonia.

The most southern city of Lycaonia, and in some respects the most important, was Laranda, which lies in a corner of the Lycaonian plain, stretching deep into the outer foothills of Taurus. As the centre from which radiate a series of roads across Taurus through Cilicia Tracheia to the southern sea,8 it had been attached to the kingdom made up of Tracheiotis and Commagene, which was conferred on Antiochus IV by Caligula in A.D. 37, and confirmed to him by Claudius in 41. Previously, as part of Amyntas’s former realm, it had been included in the province Galatia.

These explanations, together with the sketch of political history in sections 7, 10-12, and 15, will render the following account of Iconium, Derbe and Lystra more distinct.


[1] See especially the summary in § XXXV.

[2] See p. 204 ff.

[3] By the Gates, Loulon, Hyde, Tyriaion, Metropolis, and then over the higher parts (Act 19:1), through Tralla and Teira. Trade from Cappadocia also necessarily took the northern road by Savatra, Tyriaion, Metropolis, then south through Lower Phrygia by Apameia and Laodiceia.

[4] See section 11.

[5] Until one reaches Sultan-Khan, where there is a strong flowing stream.

[6] Histor. Geogr. of Asia Minor, p. 337.

[7] See above, p. 106 ff. Philomelion was transferred to Asia either by Antony or more probably by Augustus. Tyriaion is reckoned to Galatia by Pliny (if Τετάϊον, Τετράδιον, Τετάριον, are corruptions of Τετάρϊον), but by Strabo apparently to Asia.

[8] See above, p. 125.

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