Pergamon (also Pergamos, Pergamum) received the third letter of the seven letters of the St. John to the Churches of Asia Minor. The impressive city has been variously described as the most illustrious city of Asia (Barclay); the most spectacular Hellenistic city of Asia Minor because of its imaginative town planning (Mellink, IDB, III: 734); and a royal city (Ramsay, Letters, p. 295).
The city was located 16 miles inland from the Aegean Sea, two miles north of the Caicus River (modern Bakir Cay) in southern Mysia. It was about 57 miles north of Izmir, built on a precipice about 1165 feet above sea level, one thousand feet above the surrounding plain. The image of strength and permanence is obvious on first glace of the city's remains. The terraces that overlook the Caicus River valley lead to the entry gate of the city.
The two small tributaries of the Caicus that neared the city, the Selinus to the west, the Cetius to the east were navigable by small vessels that transported goods in the ancient period from the sea. The city was also joined to an inland road climbing over toward Thyatira and on into Sardis. Today, the modern Turkish town of Bergama (population 45,000) surrounds the ancient precipice, and partially covers the ruins of Roman Pergamum.
There appears to have been a small settlement in antiquity, but little is known of its history. By the C5th BCE coins were issued. The city became prominent in the Hellenistic Period. Lysimachus, a successor to Alexander the Great, deposited 9,000 talents of gold for war expenses with a regional General named Philetaerus. The General revolted against the rule of Thrace, and when news came of the death of Lysimachus in 232 BCE, Philetaerus used the 9,000 talents to set up his own kingdom, calling it the Attalid Kingdom (named after the nephew of Philetaerus).
The successive dynasty was celebrated in the heroon, built by the citadel gate. This served as a sanctuary for the kings, then worshipped as gods. The succession was as follows:
Philetaerus (282-263 BCE)
Eumenes I (263-241 BCE) Extensive minting of coinage.
Attalus I (241-197 BCE) Held against the attacking Galatians who had migrated from Gaul (Gallic tribes). He carefully aligned himself closely with Rome. He took the title savior as the protector against barbarians. He expanded the kingdom along the Aegean and inland.
Eumenes II (197-159 BCE) This king was most responsible for building the majority of the Pergamum city seen today. He built the Doric Temple to Athena and a theatre on the steep western slope (170 BCE). The now decimated altar of Zeus to commemorate the victory of Attalus I was built in his reign, as well as the 200,000 volume library, which rivaled Alexandria. He completed most of the work on the city's five palaces and five theatres. Built toward the end of his reign, the arsenal contained a huge supply of catapult stones, and was said to have contained enough grain for 1000 men for a year. Most archaeologists also credit his building campaign with the 2700 foot Corinthian colonnade called the Sacred Way (common to many noble cities). This lead to the Asclepion, or healing center.
Attalus II (159-138 BCE) He sent money for the famous Stoa of Attalus (now entirely restored as a museum) near the forum in Athens.
Attalus III (138-133 BCE) Intending apparently to bequeath all the movable assets of his lands to the Romans, they generously interpreted the gesture as a complete inheritance of his throne and lands totaling some 66,750 square miles.
In the Roman period, Pergamum became the capital of Asia, as the first city to make an alliance with Rome. Ephesus became the capital of the province, but scholars have argued that this city remained the focal point of the worship of the Roman Emperors. The city lost its great library to Alexandria when Mark Antony gave it to Cleopatra. The famous physician Galen, who served the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, and Septimius Severus, was born here in 129 CE.
The religious life of Ephesus has been the subject of much research by scholars and historians. Three specific threads appear to be visible. First, the association with the worship of snakes and the handling of reptiles in antiquity appears valid. Other early signs of the worship of Dionysus, the god of vegetation also appears to be well accepted. Later, worship of Asklepios (Roman Aesculapius) the god of healing emerged. The serpent became the emblem of Asklepios.
A Pergamene coin shows the emperor Caracalla standing spear in hand before a great serpent twined around a bending sapling. Christians must thus have found the cult of the god of healing, and his serpent infested temple, peculiarly revolting (Blaiklock, Ibid.). The altar of Zeus built by Eumenes II to commemorate the victory of Attalus I over the Gallic invaders had striking pagan scenes on the frieze. The gods of Olympus were represented as giants with serpent like tails. Zeus was called savior.
The second association was dominant in the Hellenistic kingdom. This included the worship of Zeus and the goddess Athene. Finally, the Imperial Cult flourished in the city, making it a neokoros or temple guardian for the Roman Imperial cult. The first temple in Asia was erected to Augustus in 29BCE. Other temples were later erected to honor Trajan and Caracalla. It was Emperor Domitian who made these temples a litmus test for civic loyalty.