The city is notable for handcrafted copper goods and a special cheese called "tulum peyniri" in Turkish. It is a significant road and rail junction and was once noted for its silverware. Current industries include sugar refining and textile industries. The city is home to the headquarters of the Turkish Third Army.
Acilisene, the ancient city that is now Erzincan, was the site of the Peace of Acilisine by which in AD 387 Armenia was divided into two vassal states, a smaller one dependent on the Byzantine Empire and a larger one dependent on Persia. This is the name (Ἀκιλισηνή in Greek) by which it is called by Strabo in his Geography, 11.4.14. The etymological origin of the word is disputed, but it is agreed that the city was once called Erez. For a while it was called Justinianopolis in honour of Emperor Justinian. In more recent Greek it has been called as Κελτζηνή (Celtzene) and Κελεζηνή (Celezene)
In the Armenian language, the 5th-century Life of Mashtots called it Yekeghiats In the more recent past, it was known in Armenian as Երզնկա (Yerznka)
In the settlement of Erez, at a yet unidentified site, there was a pre-Christian shrine dedicated to the Armenian goddess Anahit. A text of Agathangelos reports that during the first year of his reign, King Trdat of Armenia went to Erez and visited Anahit's temple to offer sacrifice. He ordered Gregory the Illuminator, who was secretly a Christian, to make an offering at its altar. When Gregory refused, he was taken captive and tortured, starting the events that would end with Trdat's conversion to Christianity some 14 years later. After that conversion, during the Christianisation of Armenia, the temple at Erez was destroyed and its property and lands given to Gregory. It later became known for its extensive monasteries.
It is hard to tell when Acilisene became a bishopric. The first whose name is known is of the mid-5th century: Ioannes, who in 459 signed the decree of Patriarch Gennadius I of Constantinople against the simoniacs. Georgius or Gregorius (both forms are found) was one of the Fathers of the Second Council of Constantinople (553), appearing as "bishop of Justinianopolis". Theodorus was at the Third Council of Constantinople in 681, signing as "bishop of Justinianopolis or the region of Ecclenzine". Georgius was at the Photian Council of Constantinople (879). Until the 10th century, the diocese itself appears in none of the Notitiae Episcopatuum. At the end of that century, they present it as an autocephalous archdiocese, and those of the 11th century present it as a metropolitan see with 21 suffragans. This was the time of greatest splendour of Acilisene, which ended with the decisive defeat of the Byzantines by the Seljuq Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. After the 13th century there is no mention of diocesan bishops of Acilisene and the see no longer appears in Notitiae Episcopatuum. No longer a residential bishopric, Acilisene is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.
In 1071 Erzincan was absorbed into the Mengüçoğlu under the Seljuk Sulëiman Kutalmish. Marco Polo, who wrote about his visit to Erzincan, said that the "people of the country are Armenians" and that Erzincan was the "noblest of cities" which contained the See of an Archbishop. In 1243 it was destroyed in fighting between the Seljuks under Kaykhusraw II and the Mongols. However, by 1254 its population had recovered enough that William of Rubruck was able to say an earthquake had killed more than 10,000 people. During this period, the city reached a level of semi-independence under the rule of Armenian princes.
Erzincan was one of the most pivotal towns in Safavid history. It was there, in the summer of 1500, that about 7,000 Qizilbash forces, consisting of the Ustaclu, Shamlu, Rumlu, Tekelu, Zhulkadir, Afshar, Qajar and Varsak tribes, responded to the invitation of Ismail I, whom would aid in him establishing his dynasty.
The Battle of Erzincan took place during the Caucasus Campaign of the First World War. In 1916 Erzincan was the headquarters for the Turkish Third Army commanded by Kerim Pasha. The Russian General Nikolai Yudenich led the Russian Caucasus Army who captured Mama Hatun on 12 July 1916. They then gained the heights of Naglika and took a Turkish position on the banks of the Durum Durasi river, with their cavalry breaking through the Boz-Tapa-Meretkli line. They then advanced on Erzincan arriving by 25 June and taking the city in two days. The city was relatively untouched by battle and Yudenich seized large quantities of supplies. Despite the strategic advantages gained from this victory, Yudenich made no more significant advances and his forces were reduced due to Russian reverses further north.
Colonel Kâzım Karabekir was appointed commander of the First Caucasian Army Corps. Aware of the withdrawal of the Russian Army following the Russian Revolution, they retook Erzincan in February 1918.
The city was completely destroyed by a major earthquake on December 27, 1939. The sequence of seven violent shocks, the biggest measuring 7.8 on the moment magnitude scale, was the most powerful one to strike Turkey in recent history. The first stage of the earthquake killed about 8,000 people. The next day, it was reported that the death toll had risen to 20,000. An emergency relief operation began. By the end of the year, 32,962 had died due to more earthquakes and several floods. So extensive was the damage to Erzincan city that its old site was entirely abandoned and a new town was founded a little further to the north.
Erzincan has a continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dsa) with freezing, snowy winters and hot and dry summers. Spring is the wettest season whilst late summer is the driest. The lowest temperature recorded was -32.5°C (-26.5°F) in January 1950. The highest temperature recorded was 40.6°C (105.1°F) in July 2000. The highest snow thickness recorded was 74 cm (29.1 inches) in February 1950.
Mulberry tree plantations were found in Erzincan in the early 20th century, which were used in sericulture.