the Second Week of Lent
Click to donate today!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
properly PERGAMUS (Πέργαμος ), or PERGAMUM (Πέργαμον, as usually in classical writers), a town of the Great Mysia, the capital of a kingdom of the same name, and afterwards of the Roman province of Asia Propria. It was an ancient city, in a most beautiful district of Teuthrania, in Asia Minor, north of the river Caicus. Near the point where the city was located, two other rivers, the Selinus and Cetius, emptied themselves into the Caicus; the Selinus flowed through the city itself, while the Cetius washed its walls (Strab. 13:619; Plin. v. 33; Pausan. 6:16, § 1; Livy, 37:18). Its distance from the sea was one hundred and twenty stadia, but communication with the sea was effected by the navigable river Caicus. The name was originally given to a remarkable hill, presenting a conical appearance when viewed from the plain. The local legends attached a sacred character to this place. Upon it the Cabiri were said to have been witnesses of the birth of Zeus, and the whole of .the land belonging to the city of the same name which afterwards grew up around the original Pergamos appertained to these deities. The city itself, which is first mentioned by Xenophon (Anab. 7:8, § 8), was originally a fortress of considerable natural strength, being situated on the summit of the hill, round the foot of which there were at that time no houses. Sublsequently, however, a city arose at the foot of the hill, and the latter then became the Acropolis. We have no further information as to the foundation of the original town on the hill, but the Pergamenians believed themselves to be the descendants of Arcadians who had migrated to Asia under the leadership of the Heraclid Telephus (Pausan. 1:4, § 5). 1 hey derived the name of their town from Pergamus, a son of Pyrrhus, who was believed to have arrived there with his mother Andromache, and, after a successful combat with Arius, the ruler of Teuthrania, to have established himself there (Pausan. 1:11, § 2).
Another tradition stated that Asclepius, with a colony from Epidaurus, proceeded to Pergamos. At all events, the place seems to have been inhabited by many Greeks at the time when Xenophon visited it. Still, however, Pergamos remained a place of not much importance until the time of Lysimachus, one of the generals of Alexander the Great. The sacred character of the locality, combined with its natural strength, seems to have made it. like some others of the ancient temples, a bank for chiefs who desired to accumulate a large amount of specie. Hence this lysimachus chose Pergamos as a place of security for the reception and preservation of his treasures, which amounted to 9000 talents. The care and superintendence of this treasure in as entrusted to Philetrerus of Tium, a eunuch from his infancy, and a person in whom Lysimachus placed the greatest confidence. For a time Philetaerus answered the expectations of Lysimachus, but having been ill-treated by Arsinoe, the wife of his master, he withdrew his allegiance, and declared himself independent. B.C. 283. As Lysimachus was prevented by domestic calamities from punishing the offender, Philetuerus remained in undisturbed possession of the town and treasures for twenty years, contriving by dexterous management to maintain peace with his neighbors. He transmitted his principality to a nephew of the name of Eumenes, who increased the territory he had inherited, and even gained a victory over Antiochus, the son of Seleucus, in the neighborhood of Sardis. After a reign of twenty-two years, from B.C. 263 to 241, he was succeeded by his cousin Attalus, who, after a great victory over the Galatians, assumed the title of king, and distinguished himself by his great talents and sound policy (Strabo, 13:623, 624; Polyb. 18:21; Livy, 33:21). He espoused the interests of Rome against Philip of Macedonia, and in conjunction with the Rhodian fleet rendered important service to the Romans. It was mainly this Attalus that amassed the wealth for which his name became proverbial. He died at an advanced age, in B.C. 197, and was succeeded by his son Eumenes II, from B.C. 197 to 159.
He continued his father's friendship for the Romans, and assisted them against Antiochus the Great and Perseus of Macedonia. After the defeat of Antiochus, the Romans rewarded his services by giving him all the countries in Asia Minor west of Mount Taurus. Pergamos, the territory of which had hitherto not extended beyond the gulfs of Elea and Adramyttium, now became a large and powerful kingdom (Strabo, l.c.; Livy, 38:39). Eumenes II was nearly killed at Delphi by assassins said to have been hired by Perseus; yet at a later period he favored the cause of the Macedonian king, and thereby incurred the ill-will of the Romans. Pergamos was mainly indebted to Eumenes II for its embellishment and extension. He was a liberal patron of the arts and sciences; he decorated the temple of Zeus Nicephorus, which had been built by Attalus outside the city, with walks and plantations, and erected himself many other public buildings; but the greatest monument of his liberality was the great library which he founded, and which yielded only to that of Alexandria in extent and value (Strabo, l.c.; Athen. 1:3). He was succeeded by his son Attalus II; but the government was carried on by the late king's brother, Attalus, surnamed Philadelphus, from B.C. 159 to 138. During this period the Pergamenians again assisted the Romans against the pseudo-Philip. Attalus also defeated Diegylus, king of the Thracian Cseni, and overthrew Prusias of Bithynia. On his death, his ward and nephew, Attalus III. surnamed Philometer, undertook the reins of government, from B.C. 138 to 133, and on his death bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans. Soon after Aristonicus, a natural son of Eumenes II, revolted, and claimed the kingdom of Pergamos for himself; but in B.C. 130 he was vanquished and taken prisoner, and the kingdom of Pergamios became a Roman province under the name of Asia (Strabo, 14:646.) The city of Pergamos, however, continued to flourish and prosper under the Roman dominion, so that Pliny (l.c.) could still call it "longe clarissimum Asiae Pergamum:" it remained the center of jurisdiction for the district, and of commerce, as all the main roads of Western Asia converged there. Pergamos was one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:12).
Under the Byzantine emperors the greatness and prosperity of the city declined; but it still exists under the name of Bergamo, and presents to the visitor numerous ruins and extensive remains of its ancient magnificence. It lies on the north bank of the Caicus, at the base and on the declivity of two high and steep mountains, on one of which now stands a dilapidated castle. A wall facing the south-east of the Acropolis, of hewn granite, is at least one hundred feet deep, and engrafted into the rock; above it a course of large instructions form a spacious area, upon which once rose a temple unlivalled in sublimity of situation, being visible from the vast plain and the AEgean Sea. The ruins of this temple show that it was built in the noblest style. Besides this, there are ruins of an ancient temple of AEsculapius, which, like the Nicephorion, was outside the city (Tacit. Ann. 3:63; Pausan. 13, § 2); of 4 royal palace, which was surrounded by a wall, and connected with the Caicus by an aqueduct; of a prytaneum, a theater, a gymnasium, a stadium, an amphitheatre, and other public buildings. All these remains attest the unusual splendor of the ancient city, and all travelers speak with admiration of their stupendous greatness. The numerous coins which we possess of Pergamos attest that Olympian games were celebrated there; a vase found there represents a torchrace on horseback; and Pliny (10:25) relates that public cock-fights took place there every year. Pergamos was celebrated for the manufacture of ointments (Athen. 15:689), pottery (Pliny, 35:46), and parchment, which derives its name (charta Perzamena) from the city.
The library of Pergamos, which is said to have consisted of no less than 200,000 volumes, remained at Pergamnos after the kingdom of the Attali had lost its independence, until Antony removed it to Egypt, and presented it to queen Cleopatra. (Pliny, Hist. Nat. 3:2' Plutarch, Anton.). The valuable tapestries, called in Latin aulva, from having dorned the hall of king Attis, were also wrought in this town. Even now it is a place of considerable importance containing a population estimated at 14,000, of whom about 3000 are Greeks, 300, Armenians, and the rest Turks (Macfarlane's Visit). The writer just cited says, "The approach to this ancient and decaved city was as impressive as well might be. After crossing the Caicus, I saw, looking over three vast tumuli, or sepulchral barrows, similar to those of the plains of Troy, the present Turkish city, with its tall minarets and taller cypresses, situated on the lower declivities and at the foot of the Acropolis, whose bold gray brow was crowned by the rugged walls of a barbarous castle, the usurper of the site of a magnificent Greek temple." The town consists for the most part of small and mean wooden houses, among which appear the remains of early Christian churches, showing "like large fortresses amid vast barracks of wood." None of these churches have any scriptural or apocalyptic interest connected with them, having been erected "several centuries after the ministry of the apostles, and when Christianity was not a humble and despised creed, but the adopted religion of an immense empire." The pagan temples have fared worse than these Christian churches. "The fanes of Jupiter and Diana, of AEsculapius and Venus, are prostrate in the dust; and where they have not been carried away by the Turks, to cut up into tombstones or to pound into mortar, the Corinthian and Ionic columns, the splendid capitals, the cornices and pediments, all in the highest ornament, are thrown into unsightly heaps."
These files are public domain.