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 mountain range (which forms a southern branch of the Taurus) divided it off from Syria. These, at least, were its boundaries during much of its ancient history. Its name is believed to come from the Assyrian Hilakku, found in inscriptions of the ninth century B.C.E.
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 some sixteen semiautonomous cities, the most prominent of which was Tarsus, the birthplace of Saul (Paul).—Acts 21:39; 22:3; 23:34.
In addition to such products as wheat, flax and fruits, a principal product of Cilicia was its famous 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 Syro-Cilician Gates, a high pass through the Amanus range about twenty miles (32.2 kilometers) 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. These narrow passes provided easily defensible borders. Yet military forces of many nations marched over this route. Assyria and Persia successively dominated Cilicia, and in 333 B.C.E. Macedonian Alexander’s forces passed through the Cilician Gates and defeated the Persian army at the battle of Issus.
Under the Romans, Cilicia did not become an organized province until 67 B.C.E., when Pompey subdued the pirates of western Cilicia. In 27 B.C.E. the province was divided, part of the western portion being included with Cappadocia and part being turned over to the rule of local dynasties, while the eastern part was combined with Syria and Phoenicia as one province. 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 authorities 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. (Acts 6:9) By about 49 C.E. there were already congregations in Cilicia to whom the Christian council in Jerusalem sent a letter. (Acts 15:23) The route for Paul’s second and third missionary tours would naturally take him through Cilicia and the Cilician Gates.