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 20


THERE is a remarkable resemblance between the beautiful and impressive situation of Damascus and that of Iconium. Both cities are situated near the western end of vast level plains, which extend to the east far further than the eye can see; and mountains, rising like islands out of the level plain, give character and variety to the wide view eastwards. Within a few miles towards the west in each case rises a great hilly, even mountainous region, from which issue streams that make the immediate surroundings of both cities a perfect garden: the streams find no outlet to the sea, but are merged in the marshy lakes that lie a little way east in the open plains. Situated thus in an always green and rich garden on the edge of the wilderness, each of the two cities enjoys a permanent importance which no political changes can destroy, however much misgovernment may diminish their wealth and prosperity. Each is of immemorial antiquity. Damascus is famed as the oldest of cities. At Iconium King Nannakos or Annakos reigned before the flood; and, as there was a prophecy that “after him came the deluge, when all must perish,” his Phrygian subjects mourned for him with a sorrow that became proverbial.

The legend of Nannakos makes him a king of the Phrygians. Xenophon, who visited it during the Anabasis of Cyrus, calls it the extremest city of Phrygia, Pliny quotes it among a list of famous old Phrygian cities,1 evidently using some Greek authority; though, where he describes the political geography of Asia Minor, he makes Iconium the capital of the Lycaonian Tetrarchy, which was added to Galatia. In Act 14:6 Paul and Barnabas flee from Iconium into Lycaonia, implying that it was not a city of Lycaonia. In A.D. 163, at the trial of Justin Martyr, one of his associates, a slave named Hierax, described himself as coming from Iconium of Phrygia.2 About A.D, 250 Firmilian attended the Council of Iconium, and describes it as a city of Phrygia. It does not on its coins name the Koinon of Lycaonia. The Vita S. Artemii (ascribed to Joannes Damascius) mentions Iconium as the last city of Phrygia (doubtless on some older authority).3

This forms a very complete chain of evidence, almost entirely taken from persons who had seen the city. On the other hand persons who thought only of political connection and geography, always describe Iconium as a city of Lycaonia: so e.g., Strabo, Pliny, Ptolemy, Cicero, Stephanus,4 etc.

The contradiction is explained by the situation of Iconium in the vast Lycaonian plain, while it was the extreme point to which the Phryges had extended their conquest. It was, in perfect truth, the last Phrygian city; all beyond it to the south and east was Lycaonian. At a frontier city, the memory of diversity in race is sometimes preserved most tenaciously, because it is kept vividly before the minds of the people. So it was in Iconium. Usually in Asia Minor boundaries between countries and races were vague and uncertain. But the boundary between Phrygia and Lycaonia was narrowly fixed at that one point. The world in general spoke of Iconium as the chief city of Lycaonia: nature and geography make it that. But the Iconians distinguished themselves from the Lycaonians and claimed to be of Phrygian stock, even in late Roman times.

The reason why the Iconians were always so clear and positive as to their Phrygian origin must have lain in something that was vividly brought before the minds of the people; and part of the cause was, beyond all doubt, difference of language. That is revealed to us in Act 14:6 : when Paul and Barnabas fled from Iconium to its near neighbour Lystra, they crossed into Lycaonia (out of Phrygia); and the Lystran rabble spoke in the Lycaonian tongue (p. 150).

Late authorities describe Iconium as a city of Pisidia. That is due to the political arrangement according to which western Lycaonia was part of a Province Pisidia, from A.D. 295-372. 5 Iconium was a sort of secondary metropolis of Pisidia Provincia.6 When the new Province Lycaonia was organised about 372, Iconium became its metropolis; and Amphilochius (375-circ. 400), a bishop of great vigour, made it a highly important place in ecclesiastical history.

The tendency is often seen to take some prominent name and extend it over several regions as title of a Roman political division, in defiance of strict geographical truth: so the names Asia, Galatia, Cilicia, Pisidia, were employed in a very wide way at different times, because each was strong in the Roman mind at the time.

Iconium is about 3350 feet above sea-level: it is now a railway station, and chief city of a vitayet or Turkish province.

The extraordinary vicissitudes in the history of Iconium during the last three centuries B.C. have been described in sections 7-12.

It certainly ranked as a Hellenic city, i.e., a city in which Hellenic order and municipal organisation had been naturalised, and in which the official language was Greek from the end of the fourth century. Hence, like many other Hellenised Phrygian cities, it liked to connect its origin with Greek legend: it derived its name either from the image of Medusa, brought there by Perseus,7 or from the clay images of men which Prometheus made there after the flood to replace the drowned people. The latter story shows an intention of giving to the Iconian legend of the flood a Greek appearance.8

Thus we see that, though it claimed to be Phrygian in contrast to Lycaonian, it also claimed to be of Greek origin ultimately. That proves it to have taken on the Greek character, with Greek forms of government and society. Its people would be called in the customary sense Hellenes, and that name is applied to them in Act 14:1

The North Galatian Theorists maintain that the Iconians would have chosen to be called Phrygians (or Lycaonians);9 as if persons who claimed the rank of Hellenes would have accepted that address as anything but an insult. Ethnologically, they were Phrygians; but the title Hellenes implied a certain standard of education, knowledge and social elevation, inconsistent with the address “Phryges”: pp. 129, 181 f, 230 f.

During the period 37-72 the name Lycaones had a peculiarly non-Roman innuendo, for it was regularly used to designate the inhabitants of that part of Lycaonia which was outside Roman bounds, and subject to King Antiochus. On his coins the legend “Of the Lycaonians” is engraved. At that time the Iconian pride in their Roman connection (i.e., in their belonging to the Province Galatia) was marked by the title Claud-Iconium. That title is a real indication of political feeling. To understand its significance, one must try to imagine Dublin assuming and boasting in public documents of the title Victorian Dublin. What a change in Irish feeling that would indicate!

Little can be gathered from the Iconian inscriptions about the city constitution. It was governed by Archons; but no decrees have been found earlier than the changes introduced by Hadrian, except C. I. G., 3991, which is an honorary decree of the Demos.

Hadrian conferred on Iconium the rank of a Colonia, with the title Aelia Hadriana Iconiensium (see p. 123).

Doubtless this elevation gave the position and rights of Romans to the whole body of Iconian citizens. It is doubtful whether the ordinary colonial constitution was instituted in Iconium; but an inscription10 might perhaps be restored as Γ. Ἀππώνιος Κρίσπος δ[υανδρικὸς] Εἰκωνίου, implying that C. Aponius Crispus was duumvir of the Colonia. Latin was adopted as the official language; but there is not the slightest reason to think that this was more than a superficial Romanisation. Greek still continued, beyond any doubt, to be the only speech (besides Phrygian) in actual use among the people, as the inscription of Crispus and others show. Except in two or three official decrees, the language of inscriptions was still Greek. But it was a matter of pride to employ Latin officially on coins and in decrees of the city, to mark its new Roman rank.

As to the religion of Iconium the inscriptions and authorities give very scanty information; but there can be no reasonable doubt as to its resemblance to the general Anatolian type. The remarkable words of C. L G., 4000, enigmatic as they are, would alone prove this: —



Δκά[ρ]ας δήμου χάριν τῆς δεκα [μ] άζου,11

 Τετρακόρης τε Θεᾶς πρόπολοι καὶ Διονύσου

“priests of the four-headed, ten-breasted (deity) on behalf of the people, and servants of the many-natured goddess and of Dionysos”: i.e., priest and priestess of the patron gods of the city, a goddess of the type of Ephesian Artemis, the nursing mother of all life, and her associated god, giver of wine like the Greek Dionysos.12 Moreover the goddess is called in C. L G., 3993, by many names: she is Angdistis and Mother Bo[ri]thene 13 and Mother of the gods. She is also the Mother Zizimene or Dindimene: Sarre in Oesterreich. Mittheil., 1896, p. 31.

At the same time there was doubtless a certain local variation everywhere in the Anatolian religion. At Iconium we are nearing the southern side of the plateau, and the legend of Perseus (so common on the south coast along with the kindred tale of Bellerophon) played a great part in the city tradition.

One of the most extensive groups of early Christian inscriptions belongs to Iconium and the country north and north-east from it. The inscriptions have no dates. So far as the style of lettering goes, some of them might be assigned to the third century; but the majority belong more probably to the fourth and even fifth centuries.

The reason why they were so numerous then probably is that there was at that time a great development of education among the rustic population. The pagan Graeco-Roman civilisation had its seat in the towns, and hardly touched the country districts. It was Christianity which spread a knowledge of Greek and a certain degree of education among them; and, when the country people first began to write and to use inscriptions, their names and other signs show they were Christians.

This large group of inscriptions extends into Phrygia Paroreios on the west, and up through the Added Land west of Lake Tatta on the north-east. It seems beyond doubt to mark an influence spreading from Iconium. To describe its character would be outside of our proper subject.

In many of those inscriptions Jewish names occur; but it is uncertain how far these can be assumed to mark Jewish-Christians. C. I. G., 9270, is in all probability Jewish-Christian and perhaps various others. A certain Tyrronius of Iconium, a trainer of athletes in the second century, has been recognised as a Jew.14 Possibly the name Ebourenos may also be Jewish.15

Iconium was always the Christian metropolis, and head of the ecclesiastical system of Lycaonia, which was as highly developed as that of Pisidia at an early time. Sixteen bishoprics are mentioned during the fourth century or earlier;16 one appears first in 451 (Barata); and one in 680 (Verinopolis). The latter, previously, was probably included in a joint bishopric with Glavama; but, being far north near the Galatian frontier, they shared in the growing importance of that northern country: see p. 170 f.

Note. — Pliny mentions a city Iconium in Cilicia. That was true in a political and Roman sense about B.C. 80-40. It is also true that Cilicia was used by Appian, Bell. Civ., V 75, and doubtless by others in a loose way to include a good large slice of Lycaonia; and the first kingdom of Polemon, which included Iconium, is called simply “part of Cilicia,” sections, 9, 10. In the late Notitiae Episcopatuum and in the late Byzantine and the Armenian writers, Cilicia extends far beyond the Cilician Gates to include Podandos, Faustinopolis-Loulon, and even Thebasa.

Pliny in that passage, V 93, was trusting to an authority who used Cilicia in that wide, loose way. But his statement has been perverted to prove that an Iconium in Cilicia must be distinguished as a separate city from Iconium in Lycaonia or Phrygia: e.g., the Liber Nominum Locorum ex Actis (Hieronymus, ed. Migne, III 1302) says, “Iconium civitas celeberrima Lycaoniae: et est altera in Cilicia”. So some moderns.


[1] Read Iconium for Conium, V 41, 145.

[2] Ruinart alters the text of the MSS.

[3] διελθὼν τοίνυν ἁπᾶσαν τὴν Φρυγίαν καὶ πρὸς τὴν ἐσχάτην αὐτῆς πόλιν τὸ καλούμενον Ἰκόνιον καταντήσας.

[4] Yet he mentions Nannakos and his Phrygian subjects.

[5] Ammianus, XIV 2, Basil, Epist. 8, 393, 406.

[6] μετὰ τὴν μεγίστην ἡ πρώτη, Basil, Epist. 8.

[7] εἰκών, Eustath., ad Dionys. Per., 856.

[8] Steph. Byz. Compare the development of the native legend of the flood at Kelainai-Apameia, Cities and Bish. of Phrygia, II, pp. 415 and 671.

[9] Many of them have taken it as a city of Lycaonia.

[10] Sterrett, Epigraph. Jouru., No. 254 (not restored there).

[11] Maltreated by Boeckh and Franz: though punctuation marks show the verses, they read ἀρ[χιερεῖ]ς for ἀρη[τ]ῆρες (Homeric and late epic), and place it at the beginning of a new hexameter. The following word seems to be intended for (τετρα) κα[ρ]υς perhaps (but Franz reads [Ἀχ]αίας): it may be an epithet of the goddess or of the Demos (as containing four tribes).

[12] τετραπρύσωπος and τρικάρανος both occur in a late hymn to Selene, Hermes, IV, p. 64.

[13] Reading PI for H: Boritene was an epithet of the goddess Kore at Thyatira and Attalia (a neighbouring town).

[14] Cities and Bish. of Phrygia, II, p. 650.

[15] Sterrett, Epigr. Journ., No. 192.

[16] Glavama, according to Le Quien, is first mentioned in 451; but in 325 it is mentioned as a Bishopric of Galatia, to which Province it then belonged, p. 178. Ilistra in 325, see section 21.

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