Tar'sus (Ταρσός), the chief town of Cilicia, "no mean city" in other respects, but illustrious to all time as the birthplace and early residence of the apostle Paul (Ac 9:11; Ac 21:39; Ac 22:3). The only other passages in which the name occurs are Ac 9:30 and Ac 11:25, which give the limits of that residence in his native town which succeeded the first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, and preceded his active ministerial work at Antioch and elsewhere (Ac 22:21 and Ga 1:21). It was during this period, no doubt, that he planted the Gospel there, and it has never since entirely died out. There is little doubt that Paul was there also at the beginning of his second and third missionary journeys (Ac 15:41; Ac 18:23). SEE PAUL.
Tarsus was situated in a wide and fertile plain on the banks of the Cydnus, the waters of which are famous' for the dangerous fever caught by Alexander when bathing, and for the meeting of Antony and Cleopatra. The river flowed through it and divided it into two parts. Hence it is sometimes by Greek writers called Ταρσοί in the plural, perhaps riot without some reference to a fancied resemblance in the form of the two divisions of the city to the wings of a bird. This part of Cilicia was intersected in Roman times by, good roads, especially one crossing the Taurus northward by the "Cilician Gates" to the neighborhood of Lystra and Iconium, the other joining Tarsus with Antioch and passing eastward by the "Aunanian" and "Syrian Gates."
Tarsus was founded by Sardanapalus, king of Assyria. The Greeks, however, claimed a share in its colonization; and Strabo (14, 673) has preserved an ancient legend of certain Argives having arrived there with Triptolemus in search of Io. It appears first in authentic history in Xenophon's time, when it was a city of some considerable consequence (Anab. 1, 2, 23). It was occupied by Cyrus and his troops for twenty days and given up to plunder. After Alexander's conquests had swept this way (Q. Curt. 3, 5) and the Seleucid kingdom was established at Antioch, Tarsils usually belonged to that kingdom, though for a time it was under the Ptolemies. In the civil wars of Rome it took Caesar's side, and on the occasion of a visit from him had its name changed to Juliopolis (Caesar, Bell. Alex. 66; Dion Cass. 47, 26). Alugustus made Tarsus free (Appian, Bell. Civ. 5, 7). This seems to have implied the privilege of being governed by its own laws and magistrates with freedom from tribute; but did not confer the jus coloniwarum nor the jus civitatis; and it was not, therefore, as usually supposed, on this account that Paul enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship. Tarsus, indeed, eventually did become a Roman colony, which gave to the inhabitants this privilege; but this was not till long after the time of Paul (Deyling, Observat. Sacr. 3, 391 sq.). SEE CITIZENSHIP; SEE COLONY. We thus find that the Roman tribune at Jerusalem ordered Paul to be scourged, though he knew that he was a native of Tarsus, but desisted on learning that he was a Roman citizen (Ac 9:11; Ac 21:40; Ac 22:24,27). We ought to note, on the other hand, the circumstances in the social state of Tarsus, which had, or may be conceived to have had, an influence on the apostle's training and character. It was renowned as a place of education under the early Roman emperors. Strabo compares it in this respect to Athens and Alexandria, giving, as regards the zeal for learning shown by the residents, the preference to Tarsus (14, 673). Some distinguished names adorn its annals; among others, Athenodorus; the tutor of Augustus, and Nestor, the tutor of Marcellus, the nephew of Augustus; Artemidorus and Diodoruos, celebrated grammarians, and Dionysides, a tragic writer. Tarsus, also, was a place of much commerce, and Basil describes it as a point of union for Syrians, Cilicians, Isaurians, and Cappadocians (Ep. Euseb. Samos. Episc.). Owing to its commercial advantages, Tarsus continued to flourish under the Roman emperors, until it fell into the hands of the Saracens. It was taken from them after a memorable siege by the emperor Nicephorus, but soon afterwards restored to them. In the time of Abfeda, that is, towards the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century, Tarsus was still large and surrounded by a double wall, and in the occupation of Armenian Christians (Tab. Syrice, p. 133). It still survives, though greatly reduced, under the modern name Tersus. Kinneir, who spent a week in Tarsus, states (Travels, p. 121) that hardly a vestige of the former magnificence of Tarsus remains; nor does, perhaps, the modern town occupy one fourth part of the area of the ancient city. He observed a few ancient ruins, but not a single inscription or any monument of beauty or art. The houses are intersected by gardens and orchards; they seldom exceed one story in height, are flat-roofed, and the greater part of them are constructed of hewn stone, to furnish which the more ancient edifices have been leveled with the ground. The inhabitants amount to about thirty thousand souls, mostly Turks and Turcomans. The adjoining villages are chiefly inhabited by Greeks, who prefer agricultural pursuits to a town life. The sea is not visible from the town. The Cydnus is there about forty-yards wide, and small canals are cut from it for irrigation.
See Heumann, De Claris Tarsenensib. (Gött. 1748); Altmann, Exerc. de Tarso (Bern. 1731); Zeibich, Συμμικτά Antiq. Tarsens. (Viteb. 1760); Mannert, 2, 97 sq.; Rosenmüller, Bibl., Geo. 3, 38; Beaufort, Ksaramania, p. 275; Irby and Mangles, Travels, p. 502-506; Bellev, in vol. 27 of the Academic des Inscript.; Rennell, Geog. of West. Asia, 2, 87; Cramer, A sia Minor, 2, 344; Leake, Asia Minor, p. 214; Barker, Lares and Penates, p. 31, 173, 187; Smith, Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v.; Lewin, St. Paul, i, 78 sq.; Murray's Handbook for Turkey in Asia, p. 370.