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Konya, was known in classical antiquity and during the medieval period as Ἰκόνιον (Ikónion) in Greek (with regular Medieval Greekapheresis Kónio(n)) and as Iconium in Latin. This name is commonly explained as a derivation from εἰκών (icon), as an ancient Greeklegend ascribed its name to the “eikon” (image), or the “gorgon’s (Medusa’s) head”, with which Perseus vanquished the native population before founding the city. In some historic English texts, the city’s name appears as Konia or Koniah.
Excavations have shown that the region was inhabited during the Late Copper Age, around 3000 BC. The city came under the influence of the Hittites around 1500 BC. These were overtaken by the Sea Peoples around 1200 BC.
The Phrygians established their kingdom in central Anatolia in the 8th century BC. Xenophon describes Iconium, as the city was called, as the last city of Phrygia. The region was overwhelmed by Cimmerian invaders c. 690 BC. It was later part of the Persian Empire, until Darius III was defeated by Alexander the Great in 333 BC.
Alexander’s empire broke up shortly after his death and the town came under the rule of Seleucus I Nicator. During the Hellenistic period the town was ruled by the kings of Pergamon. As Attalus III, the last king of Pergamon, was about to die without an heir, he bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman Republic. During the Roman Empire, under the rule of emperor Claudius, the city’s name was changed to Claudioconium, and during the rule of emperor Hadrianus to Colonia Aelia Hadriana.
The apostles Paul and Barnabas preached in Iconium during their first Missionary Journey in about 47–48 AD (see Acts 13:51, Acts 14:1–5 and Acts 14:21), having been persecuted in Antioch, and Paul and Silas probably visited it again during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey in about 50 (see Acts 16:2). Their visit to the synagogue of the Jews in Iconium divided the Jewish and non-Jewish communities between those who believed Paul and Barnabas’ message and those who did not believe, provoking a disturbance during which attempts were made to stone the apostles. They fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia. Paul recalled this experience in his second letter to Timothy (Acts 14:1–5), Albert Barnes therefore suggesting that Timothy had been present with Paul in Iconium, Antioch and Lystra.
In Christian legend, based on the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, Iconium was also the birthplace of Saint Thecla.
During the Byzantine Empire the town was destroyed several times by Arab invaders in the 7th–9th centuries.
The city was conquered by the Seljuk Turks in 1084. From 1097 to 1243 it was the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. It was briefly occupied by the Crusaders Godfrey of Bouillon (August 1097), and Frederick Barbarossa (May 18, 1190) after the Battle of Iconium (1190). The area was retaken by the Turks.
The name of the town was changed to Konya by Mesud I in 1134.
Many Persians and Persianized Turks from Persia and Central Asia migrated to Anatolian cities either to flee the invading Mongols or to benefit from the opportunities for educated Muslims in a newly established kingdom. By the 1220s, the city of Konya was filled with refugees from the Khwarezmid Empire. Sultan Kayqubad I fortified the town and built a palace on top of the citadel. In 1228 he invited Bahaeddin Veled and his son Rumi, the founder of the Mevlevi order, to settle in Konya.
In 1243, following the Seljuk defeat in the Battle of Köse Dağ, Konya was captured by the Mongols as well. The city remained the capital of the Seljuk sultans, vassalized to the Ilkhanate until the end of the century.
In this era (13th century) Persian was the main language of people of Konya. Persian refugees fled the Mongols to Konya. One of these refugees was Persian poet Rumi. The city is still influenced by Persian culture, such as Cult of Dervishes and Islamic mysticism rooted in eastern Iran.