Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.
The origins of the city of Perga are murky. The city was established in the style of the region’s earliest settlements as an acropolis, or “high city” built on top of a steep sided mesa for defense. A bronze tablet found in the library of Hattusha, capital of the Hittite Empire, mentions a city named ‘Perha’ that fits the description of Perga and may be the oldest surviving record of the city.
In 334 Alexander the Great arrived in Perga, stationing troops here while he conquered the cities of the surrounding plain. Alexander the Great’s coming marked the beginning of a new era, a period of Hellenization where the non-Greek peoples of the eastern Mediterranean would adopt Greek language and culture. Perga thrived in this period of flowing trade and a new lower city was built below the acropolis to make room for a growing population and grand public buildings.
Perga’s fortunes would only increase during the Roman period. Along with its nearby port city of Attaleia, Perga was the head of the Via Sebaste, a road built to connect the coast with Roman outposts and the city of Antioch in Pisidia. The commerce and peace of the time made Perga an important center and the Romans had grand buildings such as a stadium, theater, and baths built in the city.
As Roman power, wealth, and peace waned, the city of Perga dwindled until it was eventually abandoned in favour of Attaleia on the coast.
Perga in Christian History
The Via Sebaste, linking the coast to the interior over the mountains of Pisidia, was completed in 6 AD, only one year after the traditional date for the Birth of Paul the Apostle. Sailing from Paphos on Cyprus to the port of Attaleia, Paul and Barnabas would have found Perga a wealthy and influential city at the head of this important road. It was likely due to this position at the access point to the interior of Asia Minor that brought Paul and Barnabas here.
Acts 13 tells us nothing other than the fact that Paul and Barnabas journeyed through Perga on their way to Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. However, in the end of the next chapter (Acts 14:25), Perga comes up again as Paul and Barnabas make it their last stop on their journey “and when they had spoken the word in Perga” they sailed from Attaleia back to Antioch on the Orontes.
Destination photos and content courtesy of Josh Ryvers and artofwayfaring.com.