We are familiar with Pergamum, not because of the apostle Paul but because of John’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3.
There were 3 great cities in this part of the Mediterranean. We began with Ephesus. Forty miles north of it was Smyrna, and another forty miles more was Pergamum. It was the strongest city in this part of the Roman Empire. An ancient city, Pergamum was first mentioned in about 401 BC.
This is the Via Sacra, or the Sacred Way. This roadway leads to one of 3 different parts of Pergamum. This is the hospital center. The Via Sacra leads to the Asklepion. Of the 3 parts of Pergamum, the most important is located high upon a mountain top. The part that we are seeing now was in the valley. It was a center of worship and of healing by the Greek god Asclepius. This is an example of a familiar form of road building. Horses and chariots would use the road between the rows of columns.
We have seen many columns in these pictures. A column is made up of three main parts. The topmost part is called a "capital". The column gets its name from the kind of capital it has. The ones we see here are Ionic. Others are Doric and Corinthian, with variations of these. The Corinthian column is probably the best known, and it is considered by many to be the most beautiful. The second section of the column is the "shaft", and the third is the "base".
We continue on the Sacred Way to the "Asklepion" or "the healing center of Asclepius". Here we see the walkway for people on foot. This is the colonnade.
We have come now to the great healing center of Pergamum. People who came from all over the world to this place believed in the healing ability they thought the god Asclepius had. Physicians were trained here in the art of healing. We are standing in the library and are looking toward the northwest. That area contains a theater, which we will see later. In the northeast corner of this big square are the ruins of the Propylea, or the entrance way to the square. The Romans would have called this area the "forum"; the Greeks called it "agora".
These are the ruins of the Propylea and perhaps some of the library also. This would have been the first view of Pergamum that the people who came here for healing would have seen. They would have walked through the Propylea and might have entered the library that contained scrolls about the magical arts of healing.
We have included this picture because it shows us the construction of a column. These columns were put together without the use of cement or mortar. This column has been chipped away, showing how the iron pins which come from the first century or earlier would have held the column to the base. The same was probably true of its capital.
We are again looking at the northwest corner, but we are nearer to the theater. There were probably shops along the right side, where products pertaining to the health of the people who came to Pergamum were sold.
This is our first view of the theater. Hippocrates is the father of modern medicine. It is said that Galen, another physician, second in importance, lectured here. Other physicians would come to hear this great man.
You can see the marble stage floor restored. This theater is one of five in Pergamum. Pergamum was divided into 3 parts. We are looking at the first. The second is the lower Pergamum at the base of the mountain. At the top of this mountain was Acro, the high city, or Acropolis.
The original marble can still be seen in this arena. Matching marble has been added to show how it would have looked in the first century.
We are looking back toward the east from the stage of the theater. You can see the same colonnade we saw when we made our entrance. Shops were probably to the left of the colonnade.
We have come down to the street and if we continued straight ahead, we would come to the library and the Propylea again. On our right is the agora.
We are standing at the Sacred Spring. There were 3 different springs of water in the Asklepion or healing area of Pergamum. Treatment was given here in the form of sunbathing, water baths in hot and cold water, music, prayers, and by interpretation of dreams. You can see by the vegetation that the water is still running. Many in our group drank from this “sacred” spring.
This is the entrance to the tunnel called "Crytoporticus". On top of this tunnel are square openings. We will enter this tunnel and make our way about 100 yards to another important place in the healing art of Pergamum. This entry way is adjacent to the sacred spring. The tunnel exits at one of the most important rooms in this area.
Inside the Cryptoporticus you can see the openings in the roof. As a patient would pass through this tunnel, priests on top of the tunnel would shout words of encouragement and addressing the illnesses, such as, “You will be healed of your fever.” The ailment of the patient would be named. Here we have one of the first examples of faith healing. Some of the patients who had psychosomatic illnesses would be healed. The same thing is in effect today.
We have come the length of the 100 yard tunnel to a large room called the Pump Room. It was the most important ward for the whole healing temple. There was a water system beneath this floor of the tunnel which flowed from the springs. This water came into a number of rooms where stone baths had been built. The patients were given sacred baths, diet, exercise and sometimes had their bodies coated with mud and were made to run around the temple. They slept in the sanctuary of the temple and if they had dreams, they were interpreted.
We are on the outside of the Pump Room, looking down at the top part of it. It had a second story with 6 rooms, which was connected to the building we see here. This was the core of the building, and it all was enclosed in a circular frame. There were 2 entrances. We came in the rear entrance by way of the tunnel.
We’re looking back at the whole area and you can see in the center of the picture the tree. That tree is the Sacred Spring Way and you can see that we went underground by the tree and we have come all this way, (100 yards) and photographed the top of the Pump Room – the route the patients would have come in the first century.
We will go by the Via Sacra back in the northerly direction from where we came. The people of ancient times would have used this same route, coming in on the Sacred Way, through the Propylea, received their treatment for their ailments, and exited. The population of Pergamum in the first century was probably 200,000. In the third century an earthquake destroyed much of the city, leaving what we have seen here. Historians point out that there was a double cause for the destruction of this city. The preaching of the gospel caused the people to lose faith in the god Asclepius. An earthquake and Christianity caused the downfall of the Asklepion.
Here are the ruins of the temples of Zeus and Asclepius. Zeus was the chief of the gods and Asclepius was the god of healing. This is our last look at the Asklepion, center of health and healing for the first century Romans.
We are coming now to the main Pergamum. There is another Pergamum that has a Turkish city built over it. We can see it from the top of this mountain. Here we see another Propylea. This is the gateway to this mountain top. This was one of the most luxurious and important cities north of Smyrna and 15 miles from the sea.
The one thing that Pergamum was noted for, more than anything else, was this library. It rivaled the great library of Alexandria, Egypt. There were more than 200,000 volumes in the Pergamum library. When Julius Caesar burned the library at Alexandria, Mark Antony and Cleopatra took volumes from this library to refurnish the library at Alexandria. Pergamum was a Roman city. These people turned their rule over to the Romans a long, long time before Christ. It was made a chief city in the Roman Empire.
This is the palace area. There are 2 names that stand out as rulers of Pergamum. Attalus and Eumenes. Attalus I lived between 241 and 197 BC. He began the building of the Acropolis and the palace he reigned from 197 to 159 BC. He was the most important ruler this city ever had. He is noted for building the library. Attalus III reigned from 159 to 133 BC. On his death bed he gave Pergamum, and the whole empire, to Rome. It was from that point on that Rome controlled and had a stronghold in the days of Paul and John.
This is another section of the library. The credit for the invention of parchment goes to Pergamum. Ptolemy was one of the generals for Alexander the Great. When he took over Egypt and the Bible Lands, he set as his goal to build one of the world’s finest libraries at Alexandria, Egypt. When he saw that the library at Pergamum was his chief rival, he cut off their supply of papyrus. That was a plant that grew in the marshes of Egypt. It would be dried and pressed, and the pulp and fiber of this plant could be made into paper. Pergamum could not grow the papyrus plant, so when Ptolemy or Philadelphus cut off their supply, they had to come up with another material. They took sheep and goat skins, polished them highly with pulpus and cut them into sheets. This was the beginning of modern books. They did not roll the sheets of leather into scrolls, but put them in page form and bound them.
We have come to the stone barracks area. This is where the soldiers lived. Archaeologists have found catapult stones here. It is adjacent to the palace. This city was well fortified.
This is part of the wall of the city. Ancient cities were fortified, and their walls were their chief means of defense. If a city could be built on a very high hill, it was almost impossible for a siege engine to tear down the wall. You can see in the distance how difficult it would have been for an enemy to get through the wall of this city built on top of a 1,000 foot hill. Every Greek city tried to build an Acropolis, so in times of war and siege, the residents of the low city could flee to the high city.
This wall was built by Eumenes II, 197 to 159 BC. This wall would have been here before the time of Jesus. We do not know whether Paul was here. There are no records of any trips he might have made to Pergamum.
We have turned and are looking into the valley. We can see how wide this river valley beneath Pergamum is.
This is the Citadel or palace at the top of the hill.
This store room could hold grain enough for 1,000 men for one year.
There are four prominent river valleys and these river valleys give access to the interior of Asia Minor. The northernmost of these valleys is the Caicus. Pergamum commands the entrance of the Caicus River into the Agean Sea. Pergamum commanded this whole river valley. The Hermus River runs into the sea near Smyrna, so Smyrna commanded the Hermus River valley. Cayster River valley was commanded by Ephesus, and the Meander River emptied into the Mediterranean Sea by Miletus. We get our word "meander" from that river which weaves lazily back and forth.
This is the edge of the wall and the modern town of Pergamum. The population is probably 120,000. It is built on a section of the ruins of ancient Pergamum. The Turkish people took the word "Pergamum" and called it" Bergamum". This completes the 3 cities of Pergamum. We saw first, Askelepion. Next we looked at a portion of the high city of Pergamum built on the 1,000 foot mountain.
Now we are looking down in the valley to the site of ancient Pergamum, covered now by the modern town of Bergamum.
This is one of the most spectacular sights in all the ruins of Pergamum. This theater was constructed in 170 BC. It has 80 rows of seats, spread out to a height of 165 feet. In terms of a modern building this is about 16 stories height. The trees at the top of the picture mark the ruins of an important temple, the Temple of Zeus.
At the foot of this great theater was a colonnaded terrace, which also formed part of the stage. In Pergamum was a school for sculptors, so we are not surprised to find in many of the ruins some of the finest examples of sculpture of ancient times.
A second look at theater shows us that the steep grade on which it was built made it one of the finest theaters of ancient times. We are told that it could easily seat 15,000 spectators. It was not as large as the theater at Ephesus, but it was on a steeper grade.
We have come around the top of the mountain to another section of the library. The library contained pictures as well as scrolls. This library was the beginning of modern books. Ancient scrolls were rolled around a stick of wood. As they were read, they had to be unrolled. It would be difficult to find a particular section in a scroll. When leather was used to make the pages, it was found to be too thick to roll. The people of Pergamum cut the pages into squares and sewed them together. This type of book was called a "codex". This is the Temple of Athena. It is surprising to find her here, for she was the pagan goddess of Athens. However, Athena was shared by a number of other cities, and she was worshipped here. This temple is surrounded on 3 sides by parts of the library.
These Corinthian capitals formed a part of the great temple of Athena. It is said that the Corinthian column was inspired by a basket in a field of thistles. A sculptor saw it and used the design to make one of the most beautiful of the Greek capital designs.
Here are more Corinthian capitals from the temple. The temple was one of the largest and most beautiful of the ancient buildings in Pergamum. The people of Pergamum worshipped Zeus, chief of the Greek gods, Dionysus, Athena, Asklepios, and there was even a cult of emperor worshippers here, with a temple built of Augustus, the Roman emperor when Jesus was born.
These are more Byzantine ruins. The Byzantium period was from 400 to 800 AD. Constantinople or Byzantium was the capital of the Roman Empire during those years. The capital was moved from Rome to Byzantium by Constantine, who supposedly became a Christian in 326 AD. The Byzantines and Greeks built churches throughout the area, and here we have the ruins of one of the churches.
Behind these ruins we find more of the Library of Pergamum.
The man in the picture gives us a means of comparing the enormous size of the Corinthian capitals from the temple of Athena. They are larger than any we have seen thus far in the Bible world. You can imagine how big the temple would have been.
This colonnade leads back to section three of the library. The library had four sections. The books of that time were made of long strips of papyrus (our word "paper" comes from “papyrus”). These strips were about 12 inches wide and were rolled around a stick. It would have been difficult to find a particular passage. It would have taken a large library to house 200,000 books in scroll form.
We come now the temple of Zeus. Zeus was also called "Zeus Soter", or "Zeus the Savior". This would have been particularly offensive to the Christians who lived here in the first century. By comparing the trees that we saw a moment ago, we can see how high this theater was built. The temples of Zeus and of Athena could have been seen by all the people in the valley below. This temple rested on a foundation 125 feet by 115 feet. The main part of the altar rested on a horseshoe-shaped plinth 30 feet high. The giant altar was marvelously sculptured. It showed gods fighting against giants. It is listed as one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World". We are made to wonder if John was referring to this when he sought to encourage the Christians at Pergamum. When he wrote in Revelation 2:13, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” The Germans were the first to excavate here, so this beautiful altar was taken to Berlin. It is there today and may be seen in the State Museum of East Berlin.
The first to excavate this agora was the German archaeologist, Carl Humann. In 1868 he began his work since 1878, when the Berlin Museum began work in conjunction with Humann. Our guide became very emotional when he pointed out the empty spot where the altar of Zeus had stood. “The Germans have it,” he said, “You have to go to Berlin to see it.” Recent excavations have been conducted by Professor E. Bolinger in 1955, and 1958. This is a well excavated city.
This is another area of the agora and the gate way. We came across on the horizon, we saw section one of the library and made a circle on top of this great hill, a thousand feet above the valley below.
As we look through this Byzantine arch, the ruins are behind us and the valley is before us. The valley contained the second part of Pergamum. The third part is covered by the modern city of Bergamum. We will close this section by reading that the apostle John had to say to the Christians of Pergamum, in Revelation 2:12-17. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also some who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone which no one knows except him who receives it." We have seen Pergamum, one of the great cities of New Testament times.
Original text and slides from "Bible Cities and Geography", ©1974 Star Bible Publications. Unlawful to duplicate or reproduce in any form or manner. Used by permission. Various edits and new audio recordings by the Bible Study Center 2006-2014.
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