Cilicia Trachea

Kilikia Tracheia, Rough Kilikia, a land of hills, valleys, steep slopes, and narrow tracks, a land of villages, small towns, and many ports, which had been rarely under any government’s control.

John D. Grainger1


Cilicia was the ancient name of the southeastern part of Asia Minor, which is now part of Turkey. It was bordered to the south by the Mediterranean Sea, to the west by the Western Taurus Mountains (Batı Toroslar in Turkish), to the north and northeast by by the Central Taurus Mountains (Orta Toroslar in Turkish), and to the southeast by the Amanus Mountains (Nur Dağları in Turkish). It is worth mentioning that the later Roman province of the same name had different borders, which changed several times in the course of time, and other significant changes in the territorial administration also occurred in the Byzantine period. However, the Roman and Byzantine periods are beyond the scope of this website.

The term Cilicia is the Latinized form of Greek Kilikia (Κιλικία). The area has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age and its Greek name originates from the older Assyrian name Hilikku. The Greek name Cilicia first appears in Homer’s Iliad.2 Herodotus and some later ancient writers state that the land was named after the mythical founder Cilix (Greek Κίλιξ / Kilix), son of the Phoenician king Agenor and brother of the mythical Europe.3

In ancient times, Cilicia was divided into two parts. The western part was called Cilicia Trachea (Greek Κιλικία Τραχεῖα / Kilikia Tracheia, i.e. ‘Rough’ or ‘Rugged Cilicia’) and the eastern part Cilicia Pedias (Greek Κιλικία Πεδιάς / Kilikia Pedias, i.e. ‘Plain’ or ‘Flat Cilicia’).4 The interior of Cilicia Pedias consisted of a large fertile coastal plain watered by the rivers Cydnus (Greek Κύδνος / Kydnos, now the Berdan or Tarsus River), Sarus (Greek Σάρος / Saros, now the Seyhan River) and Pyramus (Greek Πύραμος / Pyramos, now the Ceyhan River).

Cilicia Trachea, on the other hand, was predominantly mountainous. It extended from Cape Anemurium in the west (near the present-day town of Anamur)5 to the Lamus River in the east (Greek Λάμος / Lamos, now the Limonlu River or Limonlu Çayı in Turkish), which separated it from Cilicia Pedias. This area is formed by the spurs of Taurus, which often terminate in rocky headlands with small sheltered harbors. The mountains are traversed by small rivers and scattered with small valleys and basins supported village-size communities. In the interior, a number of peaks exceed an altitude of two thousand metres. Fertile land is scarce and found mainly in some coastal areas and in the Calycadnus River valley (Greek Καλύκαδνος / Kalykadnos, today the Göksu River or Göksu Nehri in Turkish).

Greek colonization of Cilicia Trachea probably began in the 8th century BC. Given the geographical conditions, it is not surprising that Greek cities (πόλεις / poleis) were founded on the coast. Five Greek poleis are known in the pre-Hellenistic period. From west to east, these were: Anemourion (Ανεμούριον), Aphrodisias (Aφροδισιάς), Holmoi (Oλμοι), Kelenderis (Κελένδερις) and Nagidos (Νάγιδος).6 For some of them we can assume a link to some form of earlier settlement. There were probably several reasons for the colonisation of this area with its lack of fertile land. An important reason may have been the Taurus Mountains themselves, which in ancient times were largely covered with forests, mainly cedar and pine, which provided timber for shipbuilding. Other important factors are likely to have been favourable conditions for port constructions and the strategic location close to the maritime routes connecting the Levant and Cyprus with the Aegean and other parts of the Greek world.

In the second half of the 6th century BC, Cilicia became part of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, but enjoyed internal autonomy.7 The office of satrap over all of Cilicia was entrusted to the local Syennesis dynasty that had ruled Cilicia Pedias since the 7th century BC. The capital of the satrapy was Tarsus (Greek Ταρσός / Tarsos). According to Herodotus, Cilicia paid an annual tribute of 360 horses and 500 talents of silver, of which 140 talents for the horsemen protecting Cilicia and 360 talents for the Persian king.8

In 401 BC, the Achaemenid prince Cyrus the Younger attempted to overthrow his older brother Artaxerxes II by military force and seize the Persian throne. The ruler of Cilicia, Syennesis III, was forced by circumstances to support Cyrus. After Cyrus’ defeat, he was dethroned and Cilicia became an ordinary satrapy. The satraps were now appointed directly by the king.

Alexander the Great conquered Cilicia in 333 BC. After his the death in 323 BC, Cilicia was first part of the kingdom of Antigonus Monophthalmus, one of the Diadochi. After his defeat at Ipsus in 301 BC, costal cities belonged to the Ptolemaic empire. In 294 BC, Cilicia was annexed by Seleukos I, but it belonged again to the Ptolemaic empire by 270 BC at the latest. In 198–197 BC, all of Cilicia was permanently annexed to the Seleukid Empire. After the Peace of Apamea concluded in 188 BC, with the decline of Seleukid power, conditions were created for the rise of piracy based in Cilicia Trachea, which was only completely suppressed by Pompey the Great in 67 BC. The further history of Cilicia Trachea in the Roman period and in late antiquity is not the subject of this brief survey.9

Coinage in Cilicia Trachea started in the second half of the 5th century BC. At least four cities minted coins in the Classical Period: Anemourion, Holmoi, Kelenderis and Nagidos. The most active mints were Kelenderis and Nagidos. Coin production of Holmoi was significantly lower and minting of Anemourion coins was probably only short-lived. As for Aphrodisias, some anepigraphic coins are attributed to this city, but this attribution is uncertain.


1 Grainger 2011, p. 198.

2 Homer (Iliad, 6.395) lists the Cilicians as allies of the Trojans, but locates Cilicia elsewhere.

3 Herodotus, Histories, 7.91; Hyginus, Fabulae, 178; Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3.1.1; Nonnos, Dionysiaca, 2.684-5; Malalas, Chronographia, 2.30–31; Euripides, Fragments: Phrixus B, fr. 819. See also Michels 2023, p. 322.

4 In the Roman period, Cilicia Trachea was called Cilicia Aspera and Cilicia Pedias was called Cilicia Campestris.

5 The western border is sometimes considered to be the city of Korakesion (Greek Κορακήσιον, Latin Coracesium), located about 100 km west of Anemurium. See, for example, Rauh et al. 2009, p. 255, note 5.

6 Several other cities may have been Greek settlements prior to Alexander’s conquest (LGPN VB, p. xvii).

7 Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 7.4.1–2 and 8.6.8.

8 Herodotus, Histories, 3.90.3.

9 For a broader overview of the history of Cilicia, see, for example: LGPN VB, pp. xvi-xx; Weiskopf 2012; Jona Lendering,, “Cilicia”.


14 July 2021 – 25 June 2023