Derbe in the New Testament
Derbe is first mentioned as the seat of Antipater, who entertained Cicero, the Roman orator and governor of Cilicia. When the kingdom of Amyntas passed, at his death in 25 BC, to the Romans, it was made into a province and called Galatia.
This province included Laranda as well as Derbe on the extreme. Southeast, and for a time Laranda was the frontier city looking toward Cappadocia and Cilicia and Syria via the Cilician Gates. But between 37 and 41 AD Laranda was transferred to the "protected" kingdom of Antiochus, and Derbe became the frontier city.
It was the last city on distinctively Roman territory, on the road leading from Southern Galatia to the East; it was here that commerce entering the province had to pay the customs dues. Strabo records this fact when he calls Derbe a limen or "customs station." It owed its importance (and consequently its visit from Paul on his first journey) to this fact, and to its position on a great Roman road leading from Antioch, the capital of Southern Galatia, to Iconium, Laranda, Heracleia-Cybistra, and the Cilician Gates.
Roman milestones have been found along the line of this road, one at a point 15 miles Northwest of Derbe. It was one of those Lycaonian cities honored with the title "Claudian" by the emperor Claudius; its coins bear the legend "Claudio-Derbe." This implied considerable importance and prosperity as well as strong pro-Roman feeling; yet we do not find Derbe standing aloof, like the Roman colonies Iconium and Lystra, from the Common Council of Lycaonian cities (Koinon Lykaonias).
Derbe remained in the province Galatia till about 135 AD, when it passed to the jurisdiction of the triple province Cilicia-Isauria-Lycaonia. It continued in this division till 295 AD, and was then included in the newly formed province Isauria. This arrangement lasted till about 372 AD, when Lycaonia, including Derbe, was formed into a separate province. The statement of Stephanus of Byzantium that Derbe was "a fortress of Isauria" originated in the arrangement which existed from 295 to 372 AD.
Coins of the city represent Heracles, Fortuna and a winged Victory writing on a shield (after the pattern of the Venus of Melos, in the Louvre, Paris). Derbe is mentioned several times in the records of the church councils. A bishop, Daphnus of Derbe, was present at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
The site of Derbe was approximately fixed by the American explorer Sterrett, and more accurately by Sir W. M. Ramsay, who, after carefully examining all the ruins in the neighborhood, placed it at Gudelisin. Up to 1911, certain epigraphic evidence fixing the site had not been found, but Ramsay's identification meets all the conditions, and cannot be far wrong. On the East, Derbe was conterminous with Laranda, on the Northeast with Barata in the Kara Dagh. It bordered on the territory of Iconium on the Northwest, and on Isauria on the West.
Its territory touched the foothills of Taurus on the South, and the site commands a fine view of the great mountain called Hadji Baba or the Pilgrim Father. The Greeks of the district say that the name is a reminiscence of Paul, "over whose travels" the mountain "stood as a silent witness."
The remains are mostly of the late Roman and Byzantine periods, but pottery of an earlier date has been found on the site. An inscription of a village on the territory of Derbe records the erection of a building by two architects from Lystra. A line of boundary stones, separating the territory of Derbe from that of Barata, is still standing. It probably belongs to an early delimitation of the territory of the frontier town of Galatia (Ramsay).
Paul at Derbe
In Acts 14:20,21, it is narrated that Paul and Barnabas, after being driven out of Lystra, departed to Derbe, where they "preached the gospel .... and made many disciples." But they did not further. Paul's mission included only the centers of Greco-Roman civilization; it was no part of his plan to pass over the frontier of the province into non-Roman territory.
This aspect of his purpose is illustrated by the reference to Derbe on his second journey (Acts 16:1). Paul started from Antioch and "went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches" (15:41). "Then he came to Derbe and Lystra" (16:1 the King James Version). The unwarned reader might forget that in going from Cilicia to Derbe, Paul must have, passed through a considerable part of Antiochus' territory, and visited the important cities of Heracleia-Cybistra and Laranda. But his work ends with the Roman Cilicia and begins again with the Roman Galatia; to him, the intervening country is a blank.
Concentration of effort, and utilization only of the most fully prepared material were the characteristics of Paul's missionary journeys in Asia Minor. That Paul was successful in Derbe may be gathered (as Ramsay points out) from the fact that he does not mention Derbe among the places where he had suffered persecution (2 Tim 3:11). Gaius of Derbe (among others) accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, in charge of the donations of the churches to the poor in that city (Acts 20:4).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).