Tarsus in Cilicia was Paul’s native home, described as “no insignificant city” (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3). The city had been important historically. Located near the Mediterranean on the River Cydnus, about 30 miles from the famous Cilician Gates, it was a fortified city and trade center as early as 2000 B.C. It had been captured by the Assyrian kings, Shalmaneser III (833 B.C.) and Sennacherib (698 B.C.), and had seen the likes of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra.
Tarsus was important commercially. Ancient writers mention the linen woven here from flax which grew in the fertile plain. A material called cilicium was woven from goat’s hair and used to make coverings which would protect against cold and wet. The city was also culturally important. Strabo describes the people as being avid in the pursuit of culture. Tarsus was a university town and noted as the home of several well-known philosophers, especially of the Stoic school. Barclay says:
“If a man was destined to be a missionary to the world at large, there was no better place in all the east for him to grow to manhood than in Tarsus” (The Mind of Paul, 25-26).
After Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem sought to put Saul to death, the brethren sent him off to Tarsus.
And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. (Acts 9:29-30 NAU)
When Barnabas was overwhelmed in the work at Antioch, he went to Tarsus to look for Saul. Saul came to Antioch with Barnabas and they taught a large number of people (Acts 11:25-26).