By J. M. Bellew
The situation of Thyatira was for a considerable period a matter of dispute. During many centuries its site was unknown, and supposed to be entirely lost. When interest was revived regarding the seven churches, speculation began to be busy as to the geographical position of Thyatira. Ruins in various parts of Asia Minor were christened with the name of this city, and one locality, very much to the south of the town now recognized as Thyatira, was for a length of time esteemed the veritable site. The modern town, Akhisar, has been proved to be the locumtenens of the city to which St. John addressed his warning.
The foregoing facts will prepare the reader for the further and disappointing information, that of all the seven churches, Thyatira, or rather Akhisar, presents the smallest amount of interest to the Christian traveler or antiquarian. When Chandler visited Asia he was scared away from the valley of the Lycus by the presence of the plague. When Texier visited it, he considered this place sufficiently honored with a single line in his chapter "Lydie". A glance at the accompanying engraving of Thyatira (Akhisar) will inform the eye almost as thoroughly as an actual visit to the place would, both as to its present appearance, and also as to the amount of "remains" that bear evidence to the apocalyptic age. The artist has happily seized upon the most favorable spot for presenting in one view a picture of ancient Thyatira, and modern Akhisar, though it must be noted that the circular tower to the right of the engraving has no claim upon our interest, as it is nothing better than the ruin of a windmill. The caps of pillars, fragments of plinths, and remains of friezes scattered about the ground in various parts of the suburbs, or otherwise turned to account in the walls and buildings of the modern town, are the only evidences which the traveler can now discover of the once thriving city. Sir C. Fellows remarks that Akhisar teems with relics of an ancient splendid city. The statement is certainly correct, but not appreciable to the eye of an ordinary traveler. It requires the taste and the patient search of an antiquarian to discover in this town the teeming evidences to which Sir C. Fellows alludes. We are ordinarily satisfied if we can find but one ruin of stately importance on the site of an ancient city. It is in vain that we look for one at Thyatira. Regarded as a town, its buildings are entirely modern. No amphitheatre, no castle, no temple, no traces even of walls, have survived and braved the centuries. Its prosperity has been its destruction, in antiquarian sense. Paradoxical as this may sound, it is strictly true; and, moreover, it is true with reference to all the cities of the seven churches.
The remains of the apocalyptic cities are most perfect in those places from which trade has departed, and which have, consequently, fallen into decadence. Smyrna, Philadelphia, Pergamum, and Thyatira are still thriving commercial markets. Sardis, Laodicea, and Ephesus are deserted. Classic remains are most abundant in the latter; from the former they are almost entirely swept away. The truth of this observation may be still further demonstrated by a comparison of the four still flourishing cities. In proportion to their modern prosperity is the destruction of their antiquities. Pergamum, the least commercial and progressive, is the most rich in ruins. Philadelphia, on the highway from the interior to the Mediterranean, retains very few objects of interest. Smyrna has slipped away from its ancient sites; but where the modern town has come in contact with Roman or Grecian architecture, it has consumed and destroyed it. So also in Thyatira. A thriving trade and a most fertile situation have fostered an increasing modern town, and the destruction of the ancient city has been the consequence. This may, perhaps, be regarded as a natural consequence, and by some persons it would be called inevitable. If natural, it is to be regretted; but if considered inevitable, we are driven to the conclusion that in the midst of modern civilization there still lingers an immense amount of barbarism. The blank disappointment which any traveler must experience in visiting the modern Thyatira is precisely the same feeling that centuries hence would have filled the mind of any stranger to our national cities, bad there not, happily, been reawakened during the present century, both in England and on the Continent, a reverential regard for the temples and shrines, the castles and the abbeys, which, even in their ruins are the ornaments of Europe, and the landmarks of a country's history. It is to be feared that this conservative tendency is not yet sufficiently indoctrinated into men's minds. Wonderful as are the changes now being effected in Paris, many a timeworn relic of ancient days, associated with French history, has been swept away, for the loss of which the stateliest Napoleonic boulevard can make but poor atonement.
Progress and the requirements of commerce have in like manner made civic prosperity the greatest enemy to the rare old antiquities of London. In Manchester, in Bristol, in Newcastle, and in many other provincial towns, the most splendid specimens of mediaeval domestic architecture have been leveled to the ground in order to clear a space for buildings, monsters in size, and monstrous in taste. It is to be hoped that the tide of destruction is checked at last, and that we are not doomed in England to witness such a spectacle as Thyatira exhibits in the total annihilation of the stately edifices of classic ages.
The town is situated in one of the most fertile valleys of Asia Minor. It is seated in the north of Lydia, on the river Lycus; and on the road leading from Sardis in the south, to Germa, north. It is 26 miles north of Sardis, and 56 miles northwest of Smyrna. The contiguity of Thyatira and of Pergamum to Smyrna accounts to us for the present prosperity of these places. Communication with the seaboard being easy, the roads good, and the distance short, there is every convenience afforded by nature to the lethargic Turk for conveying his produce to the great port of Smyrna.
Thyatira is embosomed with hills, in the midst of the extensive plain to the north of the river Hermus which is famous throughout the country for its fertility and fruits. Cavalcades of camels laden with the produce of Thyatira may be continually seen threading their way through the narrow streets and bazaars of Smyrna, conveying their loads to the Frankish quarter, to be bartered to the Greek and French merchants. Strabo, in speaking of Thyatira, calls it a Macedonian colony. It is said that Seleucus Nicator gave it the name "Thyatira" because it happened that he was resident there when he received intelligence of the birth of a daughter (θυγατηρ). It is now considered that the assertion of Strabo is incorrect, and that the city, known by a variety of names, existed long before the Macedonian conquests. It probably belonged to Mysia. After the time of Antiochus Nicator it rose into importance, although comparatively little is known of it prior to the Roman conquest of Asia. It is in its conquest that Thyatira first appears as a place of note on the page of history.
Turning to the engraving, the reader catches sight of the slopes upon which Antiochus the Great mustered his hosts prior to the fatal battle with the two Scipios that crushed his power, and led to his untimely death. The plain of Thyatira must ever be associated with the name of Antiochus. If St. John has made it a place of interest to the Christian historian, Antiochus has invested it also with stirring interest to the student of ancient history. In that plain, and present in the battle, were three of the most famous men of the second century before Christ Antiochus the Great, Hannibal, Scipio Africanus. Lucius Cornelius Scipio (Asiaticus), the brother of Africanus, was there likewise: indeed, it was he that commanded the Roman army, Africanus having merely accompanied him in the subordinate capacity of his lieutenant. Upon that field were confronted once more Hannibal and his conqueror! Both the former commanders of the mighty armies that met upon the field of Zama, and there decided the conflict between Rome and Carthage, met again in the plain of Thyatira, and both as friends and attendants upon other generals!
At the present period Thyatira contains about eleven hundred houses and three or four hundred huts. As already stated, it possesses nine mosques, and only one Greek church, if the wretched structure honored by that title may be admitted to deserve it. There are a few Greek and Armenian priests in Thyatira, which ecclesiastically is under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Ephesus, who is here entitled Αρχιερευς. Christianity certainly has a resting place in Thyatira
-it has its priests- it has its church; but anything more miserable than the attitude it assumes it would be hard to conceive. The staple trade of the town is traffic in cotton wool, and in dyed goods. It was the purple dye of Thyatira-its particular commerce which first brought the place into contact with Christianity. When St. Paul was at Philippi "On the Sabbath day we went out of the city by a river side where prayer was wont to be made, and we sat down and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman, named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us, whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of St. Paul. She was baptized, and her household", &c. The common tradition of the church has been that Lydia's presence at Philippi, when St. Paul happened to be there, was the direct means of the Gospel of Christ being made known in Thyatira. She and her household having been baptized would be certain to make known the truths which they had learned, as soon as their commercial engagements at Philippi in selling purple stuffs brought from Thyatira had terminated, and they had returned to that place. She, "whose heart the Lord opened", and who received St. Paul and Silas into her house, may with confidence be assumed to have been the first Christian missionary in Thyatira.
The message to the church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:17-29) is the fullest of any penned by St. John. Its phraseology is very remarkable. "Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants". "Unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira as many as have not this doctrine, and Aliieh have not known the depths of Satan", & c. It is probable that these term, are used with the same meaning as "the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which I hate", that was alluded to in the description of Pergamum. The same errors most probably affected these neighboring churches, and the sin of Jezebel was akin to the sin of "the doctrine of Balaam". "Jezebel" is here used as a generic term, just as the "Virgin Daughter", the "Bride and Spouse" are elsewhere used. When Joram. saw Jelu, he said, Is it peace, Jehu ? And he answered, What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many? As the term "Virgin" and "Virgin Daughter" were symbolically used to express purity of life and purity of religious service as the term "Bride" was significant of devotion and self dedication to the service of "one Lord" so "Jezebel" was a term used to signify infidelity of heart and impurity of life. Such infidelity, we know, abounded among professed Christians in Pergamum; and it is evident, from the expression here used by St. John, that the Christians of Thyatira, in a similar manner, had used their Gospel liberty for a cloak of maliciousness. Self indulgence seems to have been the besetting sin of these infant Asiatic churches. The "depths of Satan" is probably an allusion to the errors of doctrine coupled with it; for, according to Epiphanius, the faith of the people of Thyatira was corrupted through the teaching of the agents of Montanus, who professed himself to be the promised Paraclete.
That the church in this place became terribly corrupt there can be no doubt; nevertheless, although ancient Thyatira has perished and passed away, the early alliance between commerce and Christianity which planted the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ in this city has survived, and still preserves in modern Akhisar a few who hold fast till I come.