Today we headed to the city of Pergamum. For those who have visited this impressive Roman site in the past, you might recall the sky-tram running from the base of the mountain to the park entrance. At this time, the system is being repaired so the larger busses have to hire a series of cabs to ferry people to the top. Since we are a smaller group traveling in a van we went up the winding road ourselves. There was one larger group ahead of us, otherwise we had the acropolis to ourselves.
The city has a rich history. Pliny the Elder considered the city “the most important in the province” (Naturalis historia 5.126). Pergamum was the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon 281–133 BC; in 133 BC Attalus III died without an heir and gave the kingdom of Pergamon to Rome in his will.
Although Pergamum was the site of the first imperial cult in Asia under Augustus, the imperial cult site at the acropolis was redesigned for Trajan (who died before it was completed) and Hadrian. The city reached its peak population of about 200,000 at this time.
One of the main points of interest is the platform of the Temple of Zeus. The temple itself was dismantled and moved to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, but one can still imagine how impressive the building would have been sitting at the time of the acropolis. For many interpreters, Revelation 2:13 refers to this temple as the “place where Satan has his throne.” For others, this is a reference to the imperial cult, although the impressive imperial Temple was not constructed until after Revelation was written. A few have suggested Satan’s throne is the Asclepium (see below).
The imperial temple has been partially reconstructed. There are a number of impressive pillars and the vault system is open to visitors. A partial statue of Trajan is still standing, everything else has been moved to a museum. In a small open-air collection of inscriptions next to the imperial temple is an inscription honoring Trajan. After listing many of his imperial titles, the main part of the inscription ends with the words, “of the earth and the sea, Lord.” This is the imperial claim that the Emperor was the Lord of the Land and Sea, probably reflected in Revelation’s beast of the earth and beast of the sea (Revelation 13).
The theater is the steepest in the ancient world. The 78-rows could hold up to 10,000 people. Pergamum also boasted a large library containing as many as 200,000 volumes.
One member of our group grabbed a wooden handrail and was skewered by a massive splinter. After a brief detour to the hospital for stitches, we spent some time at the Asclepion. (I suppose we could have waited for the healing waters of Asclepius, but we thought a tetanus shot was a better idea).
I had not visited the this site in my two previous trips to Turkey, I was really looking forward to seeing this center of healing in the Ancient world. Asclepius was the god of medicine and the Asclepion was equal parts cultic center and medical center. Certainly the sick benefited from medicine and hygiene, but they were also encouraged to sleep in the presence of the god and listen for his voice in the night suggesting medical treatments. The famous ancient physician Galen worked at the Asclepion in Pergamum for many years,
We had a late lunch and a visit to an onyx shop (many contributed to the local economy) before heading back to the hotel for our last night in Izmir.