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 22


THE situation of Derbe was probably at a large mound — of the style that Strabo calls “mound of Semiramis” — named by the Turks Gudelisin, about three miles northwest from the village Zosta or Losta near the straightest road from Iconium to Laranda. Professor Sterrett placed Derbe between Zosta and Bosola (a village two miles further east): in both villages there are many ancient cut stones and some inscriptions; but it seemed to me that these had been carried, and that the true ancient site was at the now deserted mound, where evidently an old city once stood. The difference is not important for our purposes.1

While this site is highly probable, and suits well all our scanty information about Derbe, yet it is very desirable that excavation should be made in order to place it beyond doubt that Derbe was in this neighbourhood. At one time I thought Bin-Bir-Kilise might be the site of Derbe; but that does not suit so well. Others have placed Derbe at Serpek or Ambararassi, about fifteen miles west from Kybistra; but that seems irreconcilable with the evidence that Derbe was a Roman provincial city, and not a part of the kingdom of Archelaus or of Antfochus. Another proposed position for Derbe at the modern Divle, about twelve miles south-east of Serpek — on the theory that Divle retains the ancient name Derbe or Delbeia — is equally irreconcilable with the evidence.

The only other site that seems to have any real title to consideration is Dorla, a few miles north-west from Gudelisin. At that village, which is given on no map, and seems never to have been visited by any traveller except in 1890, there are many late inscriptions; but we reached it only about sunset, and after hastily copying the inscriptions in the failing light, we had to hurry on our journey in the darkness. This place requires further examination. It is so near Gudelisin that the same reasoning applies to both nearly equally well; and it would make no real difference to us, if hereafter Derbe had to be moved to Dorla.

In Lycaonia epigraphy has furnished hardly any information except near Iconium and Laodiceia. Elsewhere inscriptions are very rare and insignificant. No decrees of cities have been found. Part of the reason for the dearth probably lies in the higher value that attaches to good stones in a region where quarries are distant: good inscribed stones were used up in the numerous stately buildings of the Seljuk Turks.

Thus the chief source from which the history of Derbe might be reconstructed fails entirely.

The form Derbe represents a native Lycaonian name as adapted to Greek pronunciation. Stephanus mentions that Delbeia was another form of the name. In the Bezan Codex Δουβέριος, Doverius, is read instead of Δεπβαῖος; in Act 20:4; and this is apparently a form of the ethnic, implying that Doubera or Dovera was a way of pronouncing the Lycaonian name. It is well known that the Greeks found the greatest difficulty in pronouncing many native Anatolian names, in which V or W was an element, representing it by ου or β or ο, or even omitting it; the difficulty was enhanced if the name contained also R or L; and an additional complication was caused by the variation of vowel sound between U and I or E characteristic of Anatolia (as, e.g., Soublaion, Seiblia, Siblia are varieties of one name).

Hence Duvera or Duvra or Dubra are possible variations of Derbe or Delbeia; and the explorer asks whether the village name Duwer (common at the present day) may be a survival of the old Dubra: the name, however, is said by the peasants to be a Turkish word meaning “wall”.

From the supposed Dubra might come the ethnic Dubrios or Δουβέριος.

The thick, indistinct pronunciation of the Anatolian peasants remains a great difficulty to the explorer at the present day, and the ear requires long practice to catch the sounds correctly. Hence the extraordinary misrepresentation of names by many travellers while inexperienced: the simple Turkish name Yuvalik appears in some archaeological works as Djouk-Ovarlak: in 1882 I found it impossible after many repetitions to feel sure whether the first sound in the monosyllabic name of a village near Kybistra was P or K or T. The same coarse, rough, uneducated pronunciation characterised the people of the plateau in ancient time, and was part of the reason why there was such a broad division between those who had learned Greek pronunciation and accent and those who had not. The Hellene, i.e., the educated person, was recognised by the first word he spoke.

This is one of the fundamental facts in the life of Asia Minor at the time when Paul visited it — one of the things that is brought home to us so clearly by modern facts — one that the scholar who studies the ancient history of the country must fix deep in his memory as a foundation to build upon.

Gudelisin occupies a very important position near a great road, close to the natural frontier between the two districts of which Laranda and Iconium are respectively capitals. Hence Strabo speaks of it as a point of boundary.2 It has therefore been described in previous works3 as the frontier city of the Province Galatia, all beyond it to the east belonging to the realm of Antiochus. That Derbe was a Roman frontier city is confirmed by the brief description which Stephanus of Byzantium gives of it. He calls it a fortress of Isauria and a customs station:4 it was a station for customs at the frontier of the Province beside a great trade route.

Derbe was close to the Isaurian mountains, which rise boldly from the plain just behind Zosta, and hence the inaccurate expression “a fortress of Isauria”. Strabo correctly says it was “on the flanks of the Isaurican region,” and goes on to describe it as “adhering (like a barnacle) to Cappadocia”:5 that seems to be an allusion to the fact that at one time it was the frontier town of the Eleventh Strategia attached to Cappadocia: see section 7.

In the Galatic Province about A.D. 40-60 the importance of Derbe lay mainly in its relation to the dependent kingdom of Antiochus. Doubtless, there would arise frontier questions calling for the decision of the Roman governor; and these questions would have their centre at Derbe. Hence it probably was that the city was honoured with the title Claudio-Derbe, which is practically equivalent to Imperial Derbe: see p. 218. This occurred either in 41 or soon after; and it was probably as a compensation for the compliment to an inferior city that Iconium was permitted a similar title Claud-Iconium by the same Emperor,

In “Imperial Derbe” the feeling of superiority to the non-Roman Lycaones across the frontier would be peculiarly strong, because the city was in closer relations than other Lycaonians with them.

Derbe was detached from Galatia and included in the Triple Eparchy6 about A.D. 137, and struck coins naming the Koinon of the Lycaonians. From about 295 to 372 it was part of the Province Isauria, as Stephanus says (probably on the authority of Ammianus).7 Thereafter it was in the Province Lycaonia.


[1] It is about the same altitude as Iconium; but no observation has been made.

[2] μέχρι Δέρβης, p. 535.

[3] Church in Rom. Emp., p. 55; St. Paul the Trav., p. 120.)

[4] φρούριον Ἰσαυρίας καὶ λιμήν: many writers, taking λιμήν as a “harbour,” conjectured that λιμήν was the true reading. λιμήν also meant a “market” in Paphos, Crete, Thessaly (see Steph. Thesaurus); the Limenes or customs stations of Asia are often mentioned in inscriptions. See Wilhelm in Arch. Epigr. Mitth. Oest., 1897, p. 76, Rostowzew, ib., 1896, p. 127.

[5] ἐπιπεφυκὸς τῇ Καππαδοκίᾳ.

[6] See p. 177.

[7] Compare p. 178.

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