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Cilician Gate

Cilician Gate: road across the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey, modern Gülek Bogazi.

The Cilician gate
The Cilician gate
The Cilician Gate is a pass through the Taurus mountains; it connects Cappadocia and Cilicia. Because there are not many roads through this mountain range, it was of great strategical importance. Xenophon tells that only one cart could pass through the narrow pass.note It is often said that the the Gülek Bogazi is identical to the Cilician Gate, but this is only partially true.

Tarsus valley
Tarsus valley
Any army moving from the north to the south (e.g., that of the Persian rebel Cyrus in 401, Alexander the Great in 333 BCE, or that of Septimius Severus in 194), was first forced to take the Gate itself, but then he had to move through the narrow canyon of the river Tarsus. Even today, this part of the journey is extremely difficult, because the soldiers will have to walk on small, sharp stones. The Crusaders called it "Gate of Judas".

The alternative is to take a higher road, which forces the invaders to make a large detour. An indication of the difficulty of forcing the Cilician Gate comes from the twentieth century: on the 28th of May 1920, five hundred French soldiers were prevented from passing through the mountain pass by forty Turks.

Tarsus Valley
Tarsus Valley
Still, it was possible to break through the mountains. When Septimius Severus fought against Pescennius Niger, he did not attack at the Cilician Gate, but made a detour that must have led him indirectly to the river valley. Pescennius' army, expecting the attack at the Gate, were caught by surprise.

Milestone, found near the Cilician Gate, erected by Caracalla in 217
Milestone, found near the Cilician Gate, erected by Caracalla in 217
Alexander the Great was even more lucky, because the Persians tried to lure him into a trap. Their stratagem was to allow the Macedonians to cross the Taurus; when they were in Cilicia, they would discover that all granaries would have been razed to the ground, and would be forced to return. The Persians would attack the hungry enemies. At least, that was the idea and Alexander could easily cross the Taurus. The Persians, however, had underestimated the speed with which the Macedonian cavalry could reach the capital of Cilicia, Tarsus. Alexander captured the granaries before they had been destroyed, and was master of Cilicia. The next battle was not to be in Anatolia, but in Syria.

This page was created in 2003; last modified on 6 October 2014.