Laodicea was founded by the Seleucid dynasty under Antiochus II. In this respect, it was probably similar to Thyatira and had a similar constitution and laws. Like the other cities that received letters from John, Laodicea was also strategically located along the great road from the west, extending from Ephesus and Miletus until it reached the Gate of Phrygia. At the entrance to the gate are a series of hot springs and mud baths, some in the bed of the Meander River and others on its banks.
The word Laodicea means judging of the people and was given to the city by Antiochus II in honour of his wife Laodice. In many ways, Laodicea was a city of compromise. A chameleon in an ever-changing landscape of business and commerce. There was nothing extreme about the city, no strong features that marked it or set it apart as unique but this is perhaps what contributed to its strengths.
Laodicea’s ability to adapt and evolve, to change and compromise, made it a successful trading city, teeming with financiers and bankers. It was easy to cut a deal in Laodicea. To float in the grey zone between right and wrong, to broker a lucrative deal. Geographically Laodicea was located about fifty miles from Philadelphia and about six miles from Colossae. The city was a boomtown crowded with large markets, bursting with exotic wares and jostling banking exchanges.
It was also surrounded by rich farmland and pasture allowing for the grazing of flocks and herds. The area produced glossy black wool that was soft, luxurious, and in high demand. The wool was generally used to weave into clothing. Some historians speculate that this kind of wool was produced by a program of careful cross-breeding.
Originally Laodicea was a fortified city strategically placed to provide fortification for the region along the great road. But it had one serious vulnerability; it was entirely dependent on an external source for its water supply. The city received the bulk of its water supply from hot springs about six miles to the south through an aqueduct. The aqueduct ran underground and was a weak link in its defense. All an invading army had to do was to locate the aqueduct and destroy it in order to bring Laodicea, fortifications and all, to her knees.
Coins found in Laodicea point to the cultic worship of Asclepius and Zeus. Laodicea also had a School of Physicians with doctors who practiced experimental medicine. One of the special medications concocted at Laodicea was a type of ointment used to strengthen hearing which the physician Galen mentions as having been originally produced only in Laodicea
Laodicea also produced a special eye salve that was made by powdering a special Phrygian stone. The stone and salve were later imported throughout the Greek and Roman world but their first known use and preparation was in Laodicea
The city was also known as a health resort, one of the best in the Graeco-Roman world owing mostly to its lukewarm baths and mineral springs, attracting flocks of tourists from Europe and Asia.
Ancient Laodiceans in general were a self-sufficient citizenry. They lived in a city that was both wealthy and progressive, socially mobile and teeming with suave investors and bankers. They were also part of an urbanized metropolis that was a playground for wealthy pleasure seekers, flocking there to soak in the spas and hot springs the city boasted. All in all, Jesus’ description of Laodicea was fitting, rich, and increased with good with a sense of self-sufficiency and pride.
Paul mentions writing an epistle of Laodicea but his letter was somehow lost and is not part of the New Testament canon. The council of Laodicea held under the auspices of the Emperor Constantine was hosted in Laodicea in 325 BC just as the church was beginning to mix paganism and Christianity.