The ancient kingdom of Cilicia in Asia Minor was the area known to the Assyrians as Khilakku in the West and Kue in the East. The western half, Cilicia Tracheia (rough Cilicia), is the rugged and still largely inaccessible and undeveloped section of the Taurus stretching inland from Anamur, while to the east is the fertile Cilician plain of Cukurova, with its fields of grain and cotton and its banana and citrus groves. This division of what is now a flourishing agricultural region, with a well developed industrial base, still persists today, when Cilicia roughly falls into two Turkish provinces; Icel, with its capital at Mersin, and Adana, the area around the industrial city of the same name at the heart of the Cilician plain. Cilicia was never a kingdom in its own right for very long. It was too much of a buffer state, too often a prey to the power struggles of neighboring kingdoms. There is no doubt, however, that this was among the regions that served as the cradle of ancient civilizations from the earliest times. On the Cukurova plain alone, between Mersin and Toprakkale, there are 150 historic sites, some dating as far back as the Neolithic, Calcolithic and bronze ages, along with major ruins from the Hittites right up to Classical Greece and Rome. For thousands of years people have lived on these fertile alluvial plains in the Taurus foreland, the legacy of the "rivers of Paradise", as the Arabian geographers called the Seyhan and the Ceyhan rivers.

Some of Cilicia was probably for a time part of the independent kingdoms of Arzawa and then Kizzuwadna (from about 1650 BC.), buffer states between the Hittites and the Mitanni. From 1196 BC it belonged for about 400 years to the late Hittite Kueli kingdom. After the established order in Anatolia was destroyed in the late 7th century BC by invading Scythian and Cimmerian "barbarians" from southern Russia, a kingdom of Cilicia south of the Taurus was one of the new political power structures which soon emerged as regions sought to establish their own identity. The Cilician kings who ruled in Tarsus as vassals of the Persians managed to retain a certain degree of independence and succeeded in expanding their territory as far as Cappadocia and Pamphylia.

Around 103 BC Cilicia came under the way of the Romans. However, it was not until 66 BC, when Pompei rooted out and destroyed the ferocious pirates from their lairs in the west, that Tarsus was made the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia. This ushered in a long period of prosperity, ended only in the 7th century AD by the Arabs sweeping up from the south. The Armenian kingdom of Cilicia (until 1375, Little Armenia) started to develop in the late 11th century with support from the Crusaders after 1199, and Armenians were in fact to continue living in the Taurus mountains north-east of Adana and in Kahramanmaras around Hacin until their deportation in 1900's.

Between 1352 and 1378 the Ramazanoglu nomads succeeded in winning for themselves a princedom from the Turcoman tribes who had been gradually moving in since 1185 from the north-east, and this was to survive for about 250 years despite its absorption into the Ottoman Empire in 1517.

With time, and against a background of growing political uncertainty such as uprising at Celali and Saruca / Sebkan, the demands of these wandering herdsmen led to the flat parts of Cilicia near the coast being turned over the winter pastures, where fewer and fewer people settled, and it was only when the nomadic way of life had to be abandoned in the late 19th century that farming returned to the coastal plain again.