The necropolises of Hierapolis are the most important, not only in Asia Minor but in the entire ancient world. Extensive necropolises were built on the slopes both north and south of the city, along the roads linking the Aegean coast with the Anatolian plateau. Countless beautifully preserved sarcophagi and imposing mausolea cover the hillsides outside the city.

The oldest tombs date to the second and first centuries B.C. They are tumuli, or burial mounds, a traditional form widespread in the region of Phrygia. During the Roman imperial period, tombs were constructed in the forms of sacella (chapels with gabled roofs) or with basements containing precious marble sarcophagi.

Many inscriptions and symbols, such as the seven-branched candelabrum, or menorah, suggest the presence of a large Jewish community: One tomb dating to the second century A.D. bears an inscription that mentions the family of Aurelii, described as Ioudaioi (“Jews”).

During the fourth century, Christian inscriptions begin to appear. They were engraved on the limestone sarcophagi, often with crosses and the letters Α and Ω, alpha and omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) representing Christ as the beginning and end of all the world.

In one inscription, the owner of a tomb describes himself as hydropotes, “drinker of water,” indicating his affiliation with the strict Encratic sect of Christians, whose members abstained from alcoholic beverages, meat and sexual activity.

After the seventh-century earthquake, tombs at Hierapolis were constructed not in the ancient necropolises but next to the churches inside the urban area.