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Map of Asia in Roman Times
Map of Asia Minor in the Roman Empire
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Map of Asia Minor in the Roman Empire

Map of Asia Minor and the adjacent Mediterranean lands in Roman times. Asia was a term which in the books of the Maccabees actually means Asia Minor, which Antioch III (the Great) had to give up to the Roman province of Asia Proconsularis (formed after 133 B.C.), which embraced the regions of Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and Phrygia (see Rom 16:5; II Tim 1:15; Acts 1:4).

Revelation 1:4 - John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;

Asia in Smith's Bible Dictionary

(orient). The passages in the New Testament where this word occurs are the following; Ac 2:9; 6:9; 16:6; 19:10,22,26,27; 20:4,16,18; 21:27; 27:2; Ro 16:5; 1Co 16:19; 2Co 1:8; 2Ti 1:15; 1Pe 1:1; Re 1:4,11 In all these it may be confidently stated that the word is used for a Roman province which embraced the western part of the peninsula of Asia Minor and of which Ephesus was the capital. Full Article

Asia in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE

Asia Minor in the First Century AD.

1. The Population:
The partition of Asia Minor into Roman provinces did not correspond to its ethnological divisions, and even those divisions were not always clearly marked. As is clear from the brief historical sketch given above, the population of Asia Minor was composed of many overlying strata of races, which tended in part to lose their individuality and sink into the original Anatolian type. Answering roughly to the above-mentioned separation of Asia Minor into two countries, and to its characterization as the meeting-place of East and West, we can detach from among a medley of races and institutions two main coexistent social systems, which we may call the native system, and the Hellenistic system. These systems (especially as the result of Roman government) overlap and blend with each other, but they correspond in a general way to the distinction (observed in the country by Strabo) between city-organization and life on the village system. A deep gulf separated these forms of society.

2. The Native Social System:
Under the Roman Empire, there was a continuous tendency to raise and absorb the Anatolian natives into Greek cities and Roman citizenship. But in the Apostolic Age, this process had not gone far in the interior of the country, and the native social system was still that under which a large section of the population lived. It combined the theocratic form of government with institutions derived from a preexistent matriarchal society. The center of the native community was the temple of the god, with its great corporation of priests living on the temple revenues, and its people, who were the servants of the god (hierodouloi; compare Paul's expression, "servant of God"), and worked on the temple estates. The villages in which these workers lived were an inseparable adjunct of the temple, and the priests (or a single priest-dynast) were the absolute rulers of the people. A special class called hieroi performed special functions (probably for a period only) in the temple service. This included, in the ease of women, sometimes a service of chastity, sometimes one of ceremonial prostitution. A woman of Lydia, of good social position (as implied in her Roman name) boasts in an inscription that she comes of ancestors who had served before the god in this manner, and that she has done so herself. Such women afterward married in their own rank, and incurred no disgrace. Many inscriptions prove that the god (through his priests) exercised a close supervision over the whole moral life and over the whole daily routine of his people; he was their Ruler, Judge, helper and healer.

3. Emperor Worship:
Theocratic government received a new direction and a new meaning from the institution of emperor-worship; obedience to the god now coincided with loyalty to the emperor. The Seleucid kings and later the Roman emperors, according to a highly probable view, became heirs to the property of the dispossessed priests (a case is attested at Pisidian Antioch); and it was out of the territory originally belonging to the temples that grants of land to the new Seleucid and Roman foundations were made. On those portions of an estate not gifted to a polis or colonia, theocratic government lasted on; but alongside of the Anatolian god there now appeared the figure of the god-emperor. In many places the cult of the emperor was established in the most important shrine of the neighborhood; the god-emperor succeeded to or shared the sanctity of the older god, Grecized as Zeus, Apollo, etc.; inscriptions record dedications made to the god and to the emperor jointly. Elsewhere, and especially in the cities, new temples were founded for the worship of the emperor. Asia Minor was the home of emperor-worship, and nowhere did the new institution fit so well into the existing religious system. Inscriptions have recently thrown much light on a society of Xenoi Tekmoreioi ("Guest-Friends of the Secret Sign") who lived on an estate which had belonged to Men Askaenos beside Antioch of Pisidia, and was now in the hands of the Roman emperor. A procurator (who was probably the chief priest of the local temple) managed the estate as the emperor's representative. This society is typical of many others whose existence in inner Asia Minor has come to light in recent years; it was those societies which fostered the cult of the emperor on its local as distinct from its provincial side (see ASIARCH), and it was chiefly those societies that set the machinery of the Roman law in operation against the Christians in the great persecutions. In the course of time the people on the imperial estates tended to pass into a condition of serfdom; but occasionally an emperor raised the whole or part of an estate to the rank of a city.

4. The Hellenistic System:
Much of inner Asia Minor must originally have been governed on theocratic system; but the Greek city-state gradually encroached on the territory and privileges of the ancient temple. Several of these cities were "founded" by the Seleucids and Attalids; this sometimes meant a new foundation, more often the establishment of Greek city-government in an older city, with an addition of new inhabitants. These inhabitants were often Jews whom the Seleucids found trusty colonists: the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14 ff) probably belong to this class. The conscious aim of those foundations was the Hellenization of the country, and their example influenced the neighboring cities. With the oriental absolutism of the native system, the organization of the Greek and Roman cities was in sharp contrast. In the earlier centuries of the Roman Empire these cities enjoyed a liberal measure of self-government. Magistracies were elective; rich men in the same city vied with each other, and city vied with city, in erecting magnificent public buildings, in founding schools and promoting education, in furthering all that western nations mean by civilization. With the Greek cities came the Greek Pantheon, but the gods of Hellas did little more than add their names to those of the gods of the country. Wherever we have any detailed information concerning a cult in inner Anatolia, we recognize under a Greek (or Roman) disguise the essential features of the old Anatolian god. The Greeks had always despised the excesses of the Asiatic religion, and the more advanced education of the Anatolian Greeks could not reconcile itself to a degraded cult, which sought to perpetuate the social institutions under which it had arisen, only under their ugliest and most degraded aspects. "In the country generally a higher type of society was maintained; whereas at the great temples the primitive social system was kept up as a religious duty incumbent on the class called Hieroi during their regular periods of service at the temple. .... The chasm that divided the religion from the educated life of the country became steadily wider and deeper. In this state of things Paul entered the country; and wherever education had already been diffused, he found converts ready and eager." This accounts for "the marvelous and electrical effect that is attributed in Acts to the preaching of the Apostle in Galatia" (Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, 96).

5. Roman "Coloniae":
Under the Roman Empire, we can trace a gradual evolution in the organization of the Greek cities toward the Roman municipal type. One of the main factors in this process was the foundation over inner Asia Minor of Roman colonies, which were "bits of Rome" set down in the provinces. These colonies were organized entirely on the Roman model, and were usually garrisons of veterans, who kept unruly parts of the country in order. Such in New Testament time were Antioch and Lystra (Iconium, which used to be regarded as a colony of Claudius, is now recognized to have been raised to that rank by Hadrian). In the 1st century Latin was the official language in the colonies; it never ousted Greek in general usage, and Greek soon replaced it in official documents. Education was at its highest level in the Greek towns and in the Roman colonies, and it was to those exclusively that Paul addressed the gospel.

Christianity in Asia Minor.
Already in Paul's lifetime, Christianity had established itself firmly in many of the greater centers of Greek-Roman culture in Asia and Galatia. The evangelization of Ephesus, the capital of the province Asia, and the terminus of one of the great routes leading along the peninsula, contributed largely to the spread of Christianity in the inland parts of the province, and especially in Phrygia. Christianity, in accordance with the program of Paul, first took root in the cities, from which it spread over the country districts.

Christian Inscriptions, etc.:
The Christian inscriptions begin earliest in Phrygia, where we find many documents dating from the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd centuries AD. The main characteristic of those early inscriptions--a feature which makes them difficult to recognize--is their suppression as a rule of anything that looked overtly Christian, with the object of avoiding the notice of persons who might induce the Roman officials to take measures against their dedicators. The Lycaonian inscriptions begin almost a century later, not, we must suppose, because Christianity spread less rapidly from Iconium, Lystra, etc., than it did from the Asian cities, but because Greek education took longer to permeate the sparsely populated plains of the central plateau than the rich townships of Asia. The new religion is proved by Pliny's correspondence with Trajan (111-13 AD) to have been firmly established in Bithynia early in the 2nd century. Farther east, where the great temples still had much influence, the expansion of Christianity was slower, but in the 4th century Cappadocia produced such men as Basil and the Gregories. The great persecutions, as is proved by literary evidence and by many inscriptions, raged with especial severity in Asia Minor. The influence of the church on Asia Minor in the early centuries of the Empire may be judged from the fact that scarcely a trace of the Mithraic religion, the principal competitor of Christianity, has been found in the whole country. From the date of the Nicene Council (325 AD) the history of Christianity in Asia Minor was that of the Byzantine Empire. Ruins of churches belonging to the Byzantine period are found all over the peninsula; they are especially numerous in the central and eastern districts. A detailed study of a Byzantine Christian town of Lycaonia, containing an exceptionally large number of churches, has been published by Sir W. M. Ramsay and Miss G. L. Bell: The Thousand and One Churches. Greek-speaking Christian villages in many parts of Asia Minor continue an unbroken connection with the Roman Empire till the present day.  Full Article

The Bible Mentions "Asia" in many places:

Acts 6:9 - Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called [the synagogue] of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.

1 Corinthians 16:19 - The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Revelation 1:11 - Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

Acts 19:27 - So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.

Acts 19:10 - And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Acts 19:26 - Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:

Acts 27:2 - And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; [one] Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.

1 Peter 1:1 - Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

Acts 20:16 - For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.

2 Corinthians 1:8 - For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:

Acts 2:9 - Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,

Acts 16:6 - Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

Acts 21:27 - And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

Acts 19:22 - So he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus; but he himself stayed in Asia for a season.

Acts 24:18 - Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult.

Revelation 1:4 - John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;

Acts 19:31 - And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring [him] that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.

2 Timothy 1:15 - This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.

Acts 20:18 - And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

Acts 20:4 - And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.

 

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