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Colossae AncIent CITy

Colossae or Colosse was a city of ancient Phrygia, on the south bank of the Lycus River, a tributary of the Maeander. It was 120 miles east of Ephesus near the great trade route from Ephesus to the Euphrates. Colossae was one of three Christian cities in the unusually fertile but earthquake-prone Lycus valley. Laodicea was 9 miles west-northwest, Hierapolis was 12 milesnorthwest.Colossae was the first of the three to achieve city status.

What little we know of Colossae comes from the study of coins and related materials, and the comments of ancient writers. Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BC) listed it as a “large city of Phrygia” and Xenophon (also 5th century BC) mentions it as a large and prosperous city. But, in Hellenistic times competition arose from Laodicea and Hierapolis and by Paul’s day Colossae’s importance had diminished. The majority of the population was Phrygian, but the letter to the Colossians supposes the presence of a Jewish colony. In 62 BC at least 11,000 adult male Jews lived in the district, with Laodicea as the capital. These were descended from the 2,000 families transported from Babylon in about 213 BC by Antiochus III.

The Colossian church, which was predominately Gentile, was not founded by Paul, but by Epaphras, possibly one of Paul’s convertsduring his extended stay (2 years, 3 months) in Ephesus. Epaphras, a native of Colossae, also preached in neighboringLaodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 1:7-8; Colossians 4.12-13.) Colossae was home to Paul’s companions Archippus and Philemon,also to his very dear sister, Appia, and to Onesimus. Paul’s letters to Colossae and Philemon, also Ephesus, were delivered by Tychicus, a disciple and traveling companion.

Although Paul sent two letters — Colossians and Philemon — to Colossae, he may not have visited the city: “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (Colossians 2:1)

Paul hoped to visit the city after his release from house arrest in Rome and asked Philemon to prepare lodging for him: “And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

Given the biblical significance of Colossae it is surprising that its site has never been excavated. The ruins of the city are visible on the south bank of the Lycus. Surveys have revealed remains on the acropolis, a defensive wall and a pit lined with stones to the west, a theater on the east side and a necropolis (city of the dead or cemetery) to the north of the Lycus River.