A relatively small and narrow region of SE Asia Minor. On the S lay the Mediterranean Sea, to the W was Pamphylia, on the N the Taurus mountain range separated it from Lycaonia and Cappadocia, and to the E the Amanus (now Nur) Mountains, which form a southern branch of the Taurus Mountains, divided it off from Syria. These, at least, were its boundaries during much of its ancient history.
Basically the region was divided into two natural sections: the western, called Cilicia Tracheia (Cilicia the Rugged) and the eastern, called Cilicia Pedias (Plain Cilicia). Cilicia Tracheia was a wild plateau region of the Taurus Mountains, rich in forest land. Its rugged seacoast, broken by rocky headlands, provided numerous sheltered harbors and inlets. From early times it was a haven for robbers and for pirates, who preyed on the coastal shipping. Cilicia Pedias embraced the broad coastal plain, a well-watered, extremely fertile section. In Roman times this plain was dotted with semiautonomous cities, the most prominent of which was Tarsus, the birthplace of Saul (Paul).—Ac 21:39; 22:3; 23:34.
In addition to wheat, flax, and fruits, Cilicia produced goats’ hair, known as cilicium in Roman times. Its use in the manufacture of tents may partly account for Paul’s early experience as a tentmaker.
Cilicia occupied a strategic position, both militarily and commercially. The principal trade route from Syria passed through the Syrian Gates, a high pass through the Amanus (now Nur) Mountains about 30 km (20 mi) N of Antioch, then traversed Cilicia to Tarsus and ascended the Taurus Mountains to the Cilician Gates, the sharp defiles, or clefts, that give access into central and western Asia Minor.
Under the early Roman Empire, the province was divided, part of the western portion being turned over to the rule of local dynasties, while the rest was evidently administered by neighboring client kingdoms. It was not until the time of Vespasian (72 C.E.) that the eastern and western sections of Cilicia were reunited in a single province. So, during the early part of apostolic times, there was an especially close relationship between Cilicia and Syria, and this seems to be reflected at Acts 15:23, 41 and Galatians 1:21, some researchers suggesting that “Cilicia” in these texts refers to Cilicia Pedias. On the other hand, when Acts 27:5 says that Paul sailed “through the open sea along Cilicia and Pamphylia” on his way to be tried in Rome, “Cilicia” there apparently includes the entire region of eastern and western Cilicia.
Jews from Cilicia were among those disputing with Stephen prior to his death. (Ac 6:9) By about 49 C.E. there were already congregations in Cilicia to which the Christian council in Jerusalem sent a letter. (Ac 15:23) The route for Paul’s second and third missionary tours would naturally take him through Cilicia and the Cilician Gates.