Laodicea on the Lycus

Laodicea on the Lycus
Λαοδίκεια πρὸς τοῦ Λύκου (Greek)
Laodikeia (Turkish)

Colonnaded street in Laodicea
Shown within Turkey
Location Eskihisar, Denizli Province, Turkey
Region Phrygia
Coordinates 37°50′09″N 29°06′27″E / 37.83583°N 29.10750°E / 37.83583; 29.10750Coordinates: 37°50′09″N 29°06′27″E / 37.83583°N 29.10750°E / 37.83583; 29.10750
Type Settlement

Laodicea on the Lycus (Greek: Λαοδίκεια πρὸς τοῦ Λύκου; Latin: Laodicea ad Lycum, also transliterated as Laodiceia or Laodikeia) (modern Turkish: Laodikeia) was an ancient city built on the river Lycus (Çürüksu). It was located in the Hellenistic regions of Caria and Lydia, which later became the Roman Province of Phrygia Pacatiana. It is now situated near the modern city of Denizli.

It contained one of the Seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation.[1]


Laodicea is situated on the long spur of a hill between the narrow valleys of the small rivers Asopus and Caprus, which discharge their waters into the Lycus. The town was originally called Diospolis, "City of Zeus", and afterwards Rhodas,[2] and Laodicea, the building of which is ascribed to Antiochus II Theos, in 261-253 BC, in honor of his wife Laodice, was probably founded on the site of the older town. It was approximately 17 kilometres (11 mi) west of Colossae, and 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south of Hierapolis.[3] It was approximately 160 kilometres (99 mi) east of Ephesus and, according to Strabo,[4] it was on a major road. It was in Phrygia, although some ancient authors place Laodicea in differing provincial territories – not surprising because the precise limits of these territories were both ill-defined and inconstant; for example, Ptolemy[5] and Philostratus[6] call it a town of Caria, while Stephanus of Byzantium describes it as belonging to Lydia.

Western Theatre with Hierapolis–Pamukkale in the distance

At first, Laodicea was not a place of much importance, but it soon acquired a high degree of prosperity. In 220 BC, Achaeus was its king. In 188 BC, the city passed to the Kingdom of Pergamon, and after 133 BC it fell under Roman control. It suffered greatly during the Mithridatic Wars[7] but quickly recovered under the dominion of Rome. Towards the end of the Roman Republic and under the first emperors, Laodicea, benefiting from its advantageous position on a trade route, became one of the most important and flourishing commercial cities of Asia Minor, in which large money transactions and an extensive trade in black wool were carried on.[8]

The area often suffered from earthquakes, especially from the great shock that occurred in the reign of Nero (60 AD) in which the town was completely destroyed. But the inhabitants declined imperial assistance to rebuild the city and restored it from their own means.[9] The wealth of its inhabitants created among them a taste for the arts of the Greeks, as is manifest from its ruins, and that it contributed to the advancement of science and literature is attested by the names of the sceptics Antiochus and Theiodas, the successors of Aenesidemus[10] and by the existence of a great medical school.[11] Its wealthy citizens embellished Laodicea with beautiful monuments. One of the chief of these citizens, Polemon, became King of Armenian Pontus (called after him "Polemoniacus") and of the coast round Trebizond. The city minted its own coins, the inscriptions of which show evidence of the worship of Zeus, Æsculapius, Apollo, and the emperors.

It received from Rome the title of free city. During the Roman period, Laodicea was the chief city of a Roman conventus, which comprised twenty-four cities besides itself; Cicero records holding assizes there ca. 50 BC.[12]

Antiochus the Great transported 2,000 Jewish families to Phrygia from Babylonia.[13] Many of Laodicea's inhabitants were Jews, and Cicero records that Flaccus confiscated the considerable sum of 9 kilograms (20 lb) of gold which was being sent annually to Jerusalem for the Temple (Pro Flacco 28-68).

The Byzantine writers often mention Laodicea, especially in the time of the Comneni. In 1119, Emperor John the Beautiful and his lead military aid John Axuch captured Laodicea from the Seljuk Turks in the first major military victory of his reign.

It was fortified by the emperor Manuel I Comnenus.[14] In 1206–1230, it was ruled by Manuel Maurozomes. The city was destroyed during the invasions of the Turks and Mongols.

Christianity at Laodicea

With its large Jewish community,[15] Laodicea became at a very early period a seat of Christianity and a bishopric. The Epistle to the Colossians mentions Laodicea as one of the communities of concern for the writer.[16] It sends greetings from a certain Epaphras from Colossae, who worked hard for the Christians of the three Phrygian cities of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis.[17] Asking for greetings to be sent to the Laodicean Christians,[18] the writer requests that his letter be read publicly at Laodicea and that another letter addressed to the Laodiceans (see Epistle to the Laodiceans) be given a public reading at Colossae.[19] In some of the Greek manuscripts, the First Epistle to Timothy ends with the words: "Written at Laodicea, metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana".[20] Laodicea is also one of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation.[21]

The first three bishops attributed to the see of Laodicea are very uncertain, their names recalling people mentioned in the New Testament: Archippus (Colossians 4:17); Nymphas, already indicated as bishop of Laodicea by the Apostolic Constitutions of the last quarter of the 4th century[22] (a man named Nymphas or, according to the best manuscripts, a woman named Nympha is mentioned in Colossians 4:15); and Diotrephes (3 John 9). After these three comes Sagaris, martyr (c. 166). Sisinnius is mentioned in the Acts of the martyr Saint Artemon, a priest of his church. Nunechius assisted at the Council of Nicaea (325). Eugenius, known by an inscription, was probably his successor. The Arian Cecropius was transferred by Constantius to the See of Nicomedia.[20]

When Phrygia was divided into two provinces, Laodicea became the metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana: it figures under this title in all the Notitiae Episcopatuum. Some twenty incumbents are known besides those already enumerated; the last occupied the see in 1450. Since then, the bishopric has become a titular see, listed as Laodicea in Phrygia by the Catholic Church,[23] which has appointed no further titular bishops to the see since the transfer of the last incumbent in 1968.[24]

There are extant, in Greek, sixty canons of a Council of Laodicea. That this assembly was actually held, we have the testimony of Theodoret.[25] There has been much discussion as to the date: some have even thought that the council must have preceded that of Nicaea (325), or at least that of Constantinople (381). It seems safer to consider it as subsequent to the latter. The canons are, undoubtedly, only a resume of an older text, and indeed appear to be derived from two distinct collections. They are of great importance in the history of discipline and liturgy; some Protestants have invoked one of them in opposition to the veneration of angels.[20]

The ruins

Temple "A"

The existing remains attest to its former greatness. The ruins near Denizli (Denisli) are well preserved and as of 2012 are being substantially renovated. Its many buildings include a stadium, baths, temples, a gymnasium, theatres, and a bouleuterion (Senate House). On the eastern side, the line of the ancient wall may be distinctly traced, with the remains of the Ephesus gate; there are streets traversing the town, flanked by colonnades and numerous pedestals. North of the town, towards the Lycus, are many sarcophagi, with their covers lying near them, partly imbedded in the ground, and all having been long since rifled.

West Baths

Particularly interesting are the remains of an aqueduct starting several kilometres away at the Baspinar spring in Denizli, and possibly having another more distant source. Unusually, to cross the valley to the south of Laodicea, instead of the usual open channel carried above the level of the city on lofty arches as was the usual practice of the Romans, an inverted siphon was employed consisting of a double pressurised pipeline, descending into the valley and back up to the city. The low arches supporting the siphon commence near the summit of a low hill to the south where the header tank was located, and thence continue to the first terminal distribution tank (castellum aquae) at the edge of the hill of the city, whose remains are visible to the east of the stadium and South Baths complex. The water was heavily charged with calcareous matter, as several of the arches are covered with a thick incrustation where leaks occurred at later times. The siphon consisted of large carved stone pipes; some of these also are much incrusted, and some completely choked up. The terminal tank has many clay pipes of various diameters for water distribution on the north, east and south sides which, because of the choking by sinter, were replaced in time. To the west of the terminal is a small fountain next to the vaulted gate. The aqueduct appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake, as the remaining arches lean bodily on one side, without being much broken. A second distribution terminal and sedimentation tank is visible 400 metres (1,300 ft) north of the first, to which it was connected via another siphon of travertine blocks, and this one is bigger and supplied most of the city.

The stadium, which is in a good state of preservation, is near the southern extremity of the city. The seats are arranged along two sides of a narrow valley, which appears to have been taken advantage of for this purpose, and to have been closed up at both ends. Towards the west are considerable remains of a subterranean passage, by which chariots and horses were admitted into the arena, with a long inscription over the entrance. The city ruins bear the stamp of Roman extravagance and luxury, rather than of the stern and massive solidity of the Greeks. Strabo attributes the celebrity of the place to the fertility of the soil and the wealth of some of its inhabitants: amongst whom Hiero, having adorned the city with many beautiful buildings, bequeathed to it more than 2000 talents at his death.[26]


  1. St. Paul, Ep. ad Coloss. ii. 1, iv. 15, foll.; Apocal. iii. 14, foll.
  2. Pliny. v. 29.
  3. Antonine Itinerary p. 337; Tabula Peutingeriana; Strabo xiii. p. 629.
  4. 14.2.19.
  5. v. 2. § 18.
  6. Lives of the Sophists i. 25
  7. Appian, Bell. Mithr. 20; Strabo xii. p. 578.
  8. Cicero Epistulae ad Familiares ii. 1. 7, iii. 5; Strab. xii.8.16; comp. Vitruvius viii. 3.
  9. Tacitus, Annals. xiv. 27.
  10. Diogenes Laertius ix. 11. § 106, 12. § 116.
  11. Strabo xii. p. 580.
  12. Cicero ad Fam. iii. 7, ix. 25, xiii. 54, 67, xv. 4, ad Att. v. 15, 16, 20, 21, vi. 1, 2, 3, 7, In Verrem i. 30.
  13. Josephus, Ant. Jud., xii.3.4.
  14. Nicet. Chon. Ann. pp. 9, 81.
  15. Josephus Ant. Jud. xiv. 10, 20; Hierocl. p. 665.
  16. Colossians 2:1
  17. Colossians 4:12-13
  18. Colossians 4:15
  19. Colossians 4:16
  20. 1 2 3 Sophrone Pétridès, "Laodicea" in Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1910)
  21. Revelation 1:11, 3:14-22
  22. Apostolic Constitutions, 7:46
  23. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013, ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 913
  24. Laodicea in Phrygia
  25. In Coloss., ii, 18, Patrologia Latina, LXXXII, 619.
  26. Comp. Fellows, Journal written in Asia Minor, p. 280, foll.; William Martin Leake, Asia Minor, p. 251, foll.
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