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Pergamum - Scholars

By J. M. Bellew

The city of Pergamos is situated sixtyfour miles N.N.W. of Smyrna, in one of the most fertile valleys in the world. (When speaking of the modern town, the name is always written Pergamos; when of the ancient, Pergamus.) It is one of the seven churches which still continues to flourish, and is reckoned the third in importance, Smyrna and Philadelphia being its superiors. The modern, like the ancient town, is located beside a river at the foot of a high overhanging hill, the ancient Capitol, on which stood the Acropolis. From the accompanying engraving a most correct idea may be gathered of the position which Pergamos occupies. The town covers the entire valley at the back of the extensive ruin which is seen in the foreground, and a few of the better houses, surrounded by their gardens, are perched upon the slopes of the Acropolis itself.

On referring to the map it will be observed that Pergamos is seated upon the mainland in Asia Minor, immediately behind the Island of Lesbos, and almost directly eastward of Mytilene. A considerable river, the Caicus, connects the city with the Mediterranean, at the Elaitic Gulf. The seaboard is distant from the town about twenty miles. To the fact that Pergamos is only twenty miles from the sea, and is seated upon a navigable river, we trace the explanation of its having continued to exist, when so many other and greater cities around it, not possessing the same geographical advantages, have perished. Although it is usual to say that Pergamos is situated upon the banks of the Caicus, such is not strictly the fact. It will be more accurate to state that two mountain streams running towards the Caicus, and having expanded into the dimension of small rivers, flow through Pergamos, emptying themselves into the Caicus at a short distance south of the city. These are known as the Selinus and the Cetius. The first, the Selinus, rolls its rushing waters through the heart of the city; the other, the Cetius, anciently washed its walls, and (as will be seen presently) flowed through the midst of the Amphitheatre. As the volume of water in the Selinus was sufficient to serve the purposes of craft of small burthen, it was competent for the merchants of Pergamos to lade and unlade the vessels employed in the coasting trade of the Mediterranean upon their own wharves. This has been the cause of the preservation of the city. Its origin was occasioned by a very different, but also geographical, fact. We may pass over the mythical birth of the place, which Pausanias attributes to Pergamus, the son of Phyrrhus and Andromache. He also informs us that the widow of Hector found in Pergamus, in its Acropolis and situation, a souvenir of Troy, which attached her to the city. The first historical mention of Pergamus that we meet with, is in the Anabasis of Zenophon. From him we learn that the formidable position of the precipitous hill which overhangs the city attracted the attention of Lysimachus, who selected it as a safe locality for the deposition of his treasures. Having erected a citadel, and strongly fortified the hill, he converted this place into his treasury, and confided the guardianship of it to a eunuch named Philetaerus, of Tyane, in Cappadocia, a man whom Lysimachus raised from the position of an obscure subaltern, and who at length reached sovereign power and founded a dynasty. It was in consequence of the defeat of Antoninus at lpsus, B.C. 301, that the northwest provinces of Asia Minor became united to the Thracian kingdom of Lysimachus, and the security of the position caused him to favor the growth of the city around the foot of the Capitol in which he had stored his riches.

In consequence or the intrigues of Arsinoes, wife of Lysimachus, Philetaerus had, or conceived he had, good reason to tremble for the continuation of his deputed power as lieutenant of the king. He assumed to be driven into rebellion, and forced to assert his independence. Having revolted against his king and patron, he joined himself to Seleucus, King of Syria, and upon the death of that sovereign, B.C. 280, Philetaerus founded the independent kingdom of Pergamus, though he refrained from taking to himself the name of king. This title was only assumed by the second in succession from him, King Attalus, after his great victory over the Gauls. The following is a list of the sovereign rulers of the Pergamenean dynasty:

B.C. 280 to 262

Eumenes I 
262 to 241

Attalus I
241 to 197

Eumenes I
197 to 159

Attalus II (Philadelphus)
159 to 138

Attalus III (Philometer)
138 to 132

The kingdom of Pergamus attained its greatest extent after the defeat of Antiochus the Great by the Romans, who bestowed upon Eumenes II the provinces of Mysia, Lydia, Pisidia, Pamphylia, and many others. In the reign of Eumenes we read of the "greatest splendor of the city". It was by Eumenes that the celebrated library was founded which became the rival of that at Alexandria, and which was destined eventually to enrich the Alexandrine collection. It was also in the reign of Eumenes that the requirements of this library led to one of the most valuable discoveries that have sub served the purposes of literature parchment, which was anciently known by the name "Charta Pergamenta", and which, in the corruption of the word Pergamenta into parchment, still reminds us of its place of original discovery and utility. It was the jealousy of Ptolemy that led to this most useful discovery. The collection of 200,000 volumes brought into active exercise the pens of all the copyists whose services the King of Pergamus could secure. In order to provide material for their transcriptions, extensive orders for papyrus had to be sent to Egypt, which aroused the attention of the protectionist traders of that country. The foundation of the library had been viewed with displeasure by the King of Egypt, and he was consequently ill disposed to allow the material to be exported from his kingdom, which would provide the Pergameneans with the means of increasing their library, and without which, as the Egyptian monarch fallaciously argued, it would be impossible for the MSS. to be accumulated. A royal edict was issued, forbidding papyrus to be exported. In this, as in a multitude of similar cases, the shortsighted policy of the Egyptians was the direct means of supplying the Pergameneans with abundance of material for their transcriptions.

As with individuals so with nations, when forced into self‑reliance, instead of depending upon others, either intellectual or national resources are discovered which would otherwise have remained neglected and uncultivated. It is apparent misfortune or disaster. The greatest blessings have thus continually sprung out of the seeming misfortune of people forced to rely upon themselves. The Pergameneans discovered they were able to supply themselves with abundance of material to serve the requirements of their national library, when the ports of Egypt were closed against the exportation of papyrus, upon which the authorities in Egypt fondly imagined they were totally dependent. The vexation or disaster which the Egyptian king imagined he was about to create for the people of Pergamus, not only proved the greatest benefit, but it has been beneficial to the whole civilized world. What would have become of ancient records but for the Charta Pergamenta? It is impossible for us to estimate the incalculable value which the tanners of Pergamus have conferred upon civilization. Pursuing their trade of old time by the banks of the Selinus, as they still do, the want of papyrus raised the ingenuity of the citizens, and it was not long before the scraped and cleansed sheepskin yielded them a material exactly suited to their civic necessity, and a material, moreover, which, after a lapse of just two thousand years since the days of Eumenes, has maintained its place in literature and art as the most beautiful and most endurable substance on which to hand down from century to century the products of men's brains, or the facts which constitute the records of nations and histories, whether of public bodies or private families.

As it will not be necessary to refer again to the formation of the library by Eumenes, it may be as well to mention in this place its ulterior destiny and its final fate. The existence of this library attracted to Pergamus the learning of Asia Minor. The city became an eastern Athens, and in the pursuit of learning and of science it made Aesculapius the especial object of its idolatry. As a center of learning it had its influence upon Christianity when first introduced within its walls, although many years previous to that date the celebrated library had been moved. When Augustus gave to Anthony his sister Octavia in marriage, there was a new division of the empire. All the provinces eastward of Illyricum as far as the Euphrates were allotted to Anthony. On returning to the East, Anthony became, for a second time, enslaved by the beauty of Cleopatra, to whom he seems to have been unable to deny anything. Among other gifts, he presented to her the Pergamenean library, which was forthwith removed to Alexandria, and served to replace the loss that the great library had only a few years previously sustained when a portion of it was burnt during the siege of Alexandria by Julius Caesar. The utter destruction of this, the greatest library of the ancient world, is too sadly known to, and regretted by, all men of literature. Though it be popular to attribute this loss to the Saracens under the command of the Caliph Omar, there is too much reason to suspect that the story of Saracenic barbarity would better rest on the shoulders of the Christians of the fourth century, who, led by the Archbishop Theodosius, stormed the Serapium-Temple of Jupiter Serapis-and burnt the books deposited in that building. Whether the work of destruction was effected by fanatic Christians or by fanatic Mussulmans, it will profit us little at this time to pause and discuss. Enough for us to know that the Alexandrine library utterly perished, and with it the treasures of the library of Pergamus. Whether the books served to warm the baths of Alexandria for six months, in the year of our Lord 642, or whether two centuries before a rabble of over-muscular Christians, headed by a fire-and-faggot prelate, cleared the shelves, and almost destroyed the whole body of ancient literature (without even making the books so useful as to warm baths with their burning leaves), is a matter which will only be discussed with interest by those who have a purpose in asserting that the Christian archbishop was a lamb, and the unbelieving Saracen an outer barbarian. If the historian Orosius is to be credited, the shelves of the spoliated library were cleared a couple of centuries before Caliph Omar adopted such an expensive method for obtaining a warm bath.

It will be observed in the above list of kings of the Pergamenean dynasty, that the race only existed for one hundred and fifty years, from B.C. 280 to B.C. 133. It terminated with the third Attalus, who bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans in one of the shortest wills that has ever been made under any circumstances, but a will that has become historically celebrated for its brevity in consideration of the vast territory and power which it carried with it from the testator to his heir. It ran as follows: "Populus Romanus bonorum meorum hoeres esto". The Roman people, duly appreciating the gift, took possession of Pergamus. From that date the kingdom may be said to have been extinguished. Pergamus, nevertheless, continued to be the capital of the surrounding provinces; but even this dignity was destined to be snatched from it, and under the Byzantine kings, the capital having been removed to Ephesus, the city at once declined.

From what has been already stated regarding the rise of Pergamus under the favor of Lysimachus, it will be understood that the place was never regarded by him as a city but only as a treasury. Pergamus (or as it is now written "Pergamos") only rose into importance under the favor of the rebellious lieutenant of Lysimachus Philetaerus. To its original patron, therefore, the history of Pergamus bears no testimony. Raised from a low position by Alexander the Great, and promoted to the dignity of a king, it has been his lot to be remembered in history chiefly on account of two incidents connected with brute creation. The preceptor of Alexander was Callisthenes, a pupil of Aristotle. To him Lysimachus became attached, and when the philosopher was about to suffer disgrace at the hands of his imperial master, Lysimachus had the courage to convey poison to him, and so enabled Callisthenes to rid himself of life. Alexander in his wrath ordered Lysimachus to be thrown to the lions, but the soldier was not prepared to die patiently. When the lion sprang upon him he thrust his hands into its mouth, and seizing its tongue, wrenched it out by the roots. Having vanquished the foe, Alexander was so pleased with the courage of his officer, that he immediately promoted him, and ever after bestowed upon him evidences of his high esteem. When Lysimachus met his death in his Asiatic war against Seleucus (who had given refuge to his rebel subject), it is narrated that his body, lost among the heaps of slain, was eventually discovered through the fidelity of a pet dog that watched over the spot where his master had fallen.

This capital of the Attalian kings exhibits (as might be expected from the foregoing historical facts) remains both of Grecian and Roman architecture. The Grecian belongs to the period when the kings Attalus and Eumenes reigned; the Roman to the period of the Christian era, and the two or three centuries immediately succeeding. In the accompanying illustration, the view presented is as nearly as possible from south to north. It looks N.N.E., and happily presents to our observation the most striking remains of ancient Pergamus. The large ruin in the foreground is what is commonly called the Basilica, and is commonly, or rather vulgarly, regarded as the remains of the church of St. John (Αγιος Θεολογος), supposed to have been built by that Christian emperor, Theodosius, whose penance before St. Ambrose has furnished a subject, frequently reproduced, for the exercise of the pencil of some of the greatest ancient masters. Theodosius died at Milan A.D. 395, and to those familiar with that city his name will be recalled in connection with St. Ambrose, on visiting the church of St. Ambrogio, one of the most perfect and early of the Byzantine churches now existing, the glory and the pride of the Milanese. That the so called Basilica may have been converted into a Christian church, and may have been dedicated to St. John, is very probable, but that it was built by Theodosius is highly improbable. It is, or rather has been, a purely Corinthian structure, and so exactly accords with the plans of Vitruvius that most probably it was originally erected by Eumenes or Attalus, and centuries later, when Christianity was established in the city, was converted into a Christian church. A glance at the engraving will show that the main structure of this remarkable pile of building is rectangular. Its measurement can only be given at a guess, from the impression made upon the eye. It is probably about 50 feet wide and 120 long. At the end of the building presented in the engraving, although the wall is considerably ruined, nevertheless the apsidal formation may be distinctly recognized. This semicircular apse, so exactly suited to contain the Αγια τράπεζα of a Greek church, has encouraged the members of that communion in the belief that the building was originally erected as a Christian church. It is easy to understand how eager the Asiatic Christians would be to encourage the belief that in Pergamus, so directly addressed by St. John, a building apparently well suited for ecclesiastical purposes should have been a church, and especially dedicated to the Apocalyptic Evangelist. Time has made the tradition venerable, and, undoubtedly, to the Christian traveler this so called Basilica of Pergamos becomes clothed with veneration when he thinks that he therein contemplates a Christian shrine, erected by the great Theodosius to the memory of the apostle. Unfortunately, however, the moment any one conversant with architecture, and acquainted with the broad distinctions between the forms of early Christian churches and heathen structures, comes to criticize this still stupendous ruin he has too good reason to regard the Greek tradition with suspicion, and to entertain the idea that the Basilica was erected at a date long prior to the Christian era.

In order to give the reader an ocular evidence of what is meant, let him examine the engraving, and he will remark, east and west of the central block of building, that there are circular towers. These were originally connected with the central block. Assuming that the entire structure was Grecian, raised during the Pergamenean dynasty, there would be no difficulty in accounting for these "towers" which, in reality, appear to have been small temples or shrines. Internally they are about 40 feet in diameter, with a recess on one side, fitted to receive a statue. Rising to a considerable height, they are roofed with cupolas. It is almost unnecessary to state that no Christian church has ever been known, flanked east and west with such circular temples; and supposing that this building had really been erected as late as the days of Theodosius, we know by the example of the church of St. Ambrogio at Milan what would have been the general plan of a Christian church erected by him. It would have had to the west a quadrangular court, surrounded by a cloister (the origin of "cloisters" as appended to our modern cathedrals), in which catechumens would have collected to listen to the service within the church, prior to their baptism and right of admission into the sacred edifice. In the "Basilica" of Pergamos there is no such resemblance to the Byzantine or early Christian churches, but on the contrary there are several architectural features which strongly indicate that the building not only was not erected subsequent to the establishment of Christianity at Pergamos, but was never intended in heathen days for the worship of the gods of antiquity. One remarkable piece of evidence to this effect is the introduction of spiral staircases on each side of the apse. One of these staircases is contained in the angle of the building, as presented in the illustration. Supposing either a heathen or a Christian altar, or even the statue of a god, to have occupied this apse, it is evident that staircases abutting upon such altars, and leading to galleries which ran round three sides of the building, would never have been constructed or permitted. Many other features in this structure might be quoted in support of the opinion that it was built long before the time of Theodosius; and though it is very probable that it was at a late date appropriated to the purposes of Christian worship in Pergamos, it is almost certain that it was originally built for some civic purpose by one of the Pergamenean kings. There have not been wanting travelers, who, in contemplating this singular erection and its adjacent circular temples, have risked the opinion that it maybe the remains of the ancient library of Pergamus. It is obvious that this is one of those architectural puzzles concerning which busy brains may spin numberless webs of conjecture, and never arrive at any positive conclusion. "It may have been" this or that. The traveler contemplates it in absolute uncertainty as to what it really was, although it must be admitted that the construction of the building is far more appropriate to a library than to a temple, and that if we can coax ourselves into the supposition that this is a remain of the library of Pergamus, we invest it with a far higher interest than it could possibly assume in our eyes, supposing it to have been built for any other purpose. These ruins at present bear the title Kizel Aneg, or the "red courtyard". The name has been given because the carcasses of the buildings are constructed of red brick, granite and marble having been used for the pillars, windows, and general embellishments.

When we consider how much is done in the present day by the combinations of brick and stone, we can form some idea of the beautiful effects of color originally produced in so immense a structure as that which presents itself to our notice in the accompanying engraving. Brick, granite, and marble formed the materials out of which the structure was raised. Within and without the "nave" there have been rows of Corinthian columns, and it is curious to observe (as far as we can trust observation in the present condition of the ruin) that the polished granite columns seem to have been used within the building, while the rows of marble shafts were outside. A great number of fragments of marble lie scattered about the outside. They are the remains of the Corinthian columns which once adorned the building, and the sole reason why these fragments have escaped is because they have not been wanted as yet to break up and reduce to lime. The finest pieces of marble have been used to build the Turkish tombs in the cemetery which adjoins the ruins. In the interior of the nave are five recesses on each side, extending about three quarters of the length of the area. Between each recess there has been a pillar, so that counting the pillars of the aisles, there were double rows on each side of the nave supporting the gallery above, which ran round the building. This gallery was lighted with rows of windows, five on each side, corresponding to the number of recesses below. They are indicated in the illustration, and, as the reader will observe, they bear a strong resemblance to our early Saxon "lights". Here again is a puzzle. If this building had been constructed as a temple, these lights would have been most curious and singular. If the building was a library, their purpose would be plain enough. If it was converted into a church, the insertion of these windows would be equally explicable; they would, in fact, be the clerestory windows. But as far as a general examination of the walls permitted the writer to form an opinion, these "lights" appear to belong to the original structure, and to have been necessary to its peculiar construction. It must be frankly admitted that their existence is one very strong argument in favor of the building having been constructed for Christian purposes. But then how are we to explain away the difficulty of the galleries being approached by staircases entered from either side of the altar, opening out of the apse? And how are we to explain the meaning of the two circular temples, Οι Βωμοι, "the altars", as the Greeks call them? Knowing, as we do, that Aesculapius was an especial object of Pergamenean worship, we can find a meaning in these temples connected with a library or school of learning in ancient Pergamus. Assume that the building was erected by Theodosius for Christian worship, and these temples become eccentricities without any conceivable meaning or purpose. The preponderance of evidence in the writer's mind goes to prove that the so called Basilica was converted into a church, but was in reality a public structure of ancient Pergamus, adapted to the rites of primitive Christian worship.

The Greek Christians, still adhering to the traditions regarding the buildings, stick up wretched paper figures of saints against the pillars, and make offerings of candles which are fixed to the walls. These are the only indications of the place ever having been used for sacred purposes; at the present time the shelter of its vaulted roof is taken advantage of for the purposes of manufacturing coarse pottery.

Besides the so called Basilica, there are three remnants of antiquity in modern Pergamos which are worthy of close examination. These are the Acropolis and its ruins, the amphitheatre, and the bridges and tunnel. In the engraving the mouth of the tunnel is seen. It is a most remarkable remain, and shows us how space within the circuit of the ancient city walls was economized. This tunnel formed, and still forms, a platform upon which to carry a portion of the city. As the course of the river ran through the most densely populated part of the city, it was necessary either to sacrifice a large amount of space, or to obtain it by this device. The masonry, which is purely classical, and takes its back to the days of the ancient kings, is just as fresh and as serviceable at this moment as when it was originally constructed. The tunnel measured 196 meters in length. As a proof of its immense strength, it may be mentioned that in ancient edifice was built upon it, the crumbling remains of which serve to show that it was of vast proportions. The tunnel is still part covered with human habitations, closely packed together. To these houses the Turks give a very characteristic name; they are called Ne Yerde ve ne Gokde, "Neither on earth nor in heaven".

As the rivers Selinus and Cetius passed through the city, we might naturally expect to find bridges in various directions. Such expectation is more than gratified, for not only are there remains of bridges, but there are in actual use and excellent preservation five of these bridges spanning the river in various quarters of the city, and stretching from north to south over 867 meters. Architecturally, they are of very great interest, as the substructure of the whole of them is purely Grecian, while the superstructure, or, at least, the repairs and the ornamentation is Roman. The bridges, therefore, are a chapter in stone upon the history of ancient Pergamus. The Pont do Mouslouk is the most, important work, and at the same time one of the finest existing specimens of Grecian bridge engineering. It is composed of two arches, which are irregular in span, the larger measuring 13 yards, while the smaller is only about 9 yards. Le Pont du St. Sophia is Byzantine in its ornamentation, and has lost something of its character by having been repaired by one of the sultans.

Not inferior to the Basilica or the bridges, in point of interest, is the Amphitheatre, which stands upon the sister stream the Cetius, and is removed at some distance to the west of the modern town. The interesting and curious fact connected with this amphitheatre is, that it does stand upon a river, and that the waters flow right through the center of the arena. In point of size, this amphitheatre ranks with those of Nismes and Arles, but as far as the writer knows it is unique at the present day, as having been constructed for the display of aquatic spectacles. Standing in a deep ravine, massive Grecian arches have been thrown across the river, above which the circle of the amphitheatre has been completed. It is entirely constructed of stone, and therefore it was probably built about the third century, for it has been demonstrated that the stone amphitheatres now remaining were erected at dates posterior to the reigns of the Caesars. In the Pergamenean amphitheatre, as might be expected from the purpose for which it was erected, there are no dormitories, the arena being constructed with a view to its being instantaneously filled with water. The only entrances into the arena are by two narrow gangways, right and left of the principal gallery. It might be supposed that the river had at some period been roofed in with a tunnel, but there is no trace of any such arrangement, and therefore it is natural to suppose that when the water was drawn off, the stream was crossed with planks. The flood gates at the extreme ends of the arena, beneath the archways, were so contrived that the arena could be filled with water in a few minutes when the games were about to commence. As an amphitheatre for the display of aquatic spectacles, this ruin at Pergamos is especially interesting, and well deserves the careful examination of every traveler.

In excelsissimolia, once rose majestically above the ramparts on this hill, dominating the surrounding vallies, as the Parthenon did. When Dallaway visited the ruins, he was able to measure the dimensions of the temple. The length of the cella was 34 feet; the ground plan, 49 feet; the portico, 20 feet deep; the pillars, 4 feet in diameter. Short as the time is, comparatively, since these measurements were made, the work of destruction has been rapid´┐Żso much so, that the outline of the temple cannot now be clearly traced. The foundations of the Castle or Palace of Lysimachus, because less rich in material, have fared better, and exist to the present moment. Upon the Acropolis there are evidences of the same passion for mingling stone and marble that we have traced in the Basilica.

Of the Christian church founded in Pergamos, the description given by St. John is one of the most interesting regarding the seven churches. He speaks of "Antipas, my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelled". The death of Antipas occurred most probably during the Domitian persecution. In the still extant "Acts of Antipas", he is said to be one of our Saviour's earliest disciples, and to have been Bishop of Pergamos. He was put to death, as the tradition asserts, by being enclosed in a brazen bull, which was then put in a fire, and the martyr was roasted alive. The allusion to Pergamos, as the place where Satan dwelled, and where Satan's seat is, is supposed to allude, first of all to the device of the city, which is seen upon its coinage, which presents the figure of a serpent, indicative of the worship of Aesculapius. In this sense Pergamos was "Satan's seat". But in a deeper and more awful sense, it would appear that the Christians made it a home of Satan, from the frightful manner in which they degraded the teaching of Christ, by mixing it up with the doctrine of devils. The "doctrine of Balaam" and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, "which things I hate", says the Apocalypse, are charged against the Pergamenean Christians. We can gather the meaning of this accusation from 2 Peter 2: 15, 16, and by comparing that passage of Scripture with Numbers 25:1, 2, and, specially 26:16. The conduct and character of the Pergameneans resembled that of the Mesopotamian divines. Their religion was disgraced with odious obscenities and licentious libertinism. Sensual gratification took its place in religious ceremonial, just as the Midianitish women were engaged in the sensual practices of Balak's idolatry, when "Israel joined himself to BaalPeor"; or, as we may read it, "because initiated in Baalphegor". The grace of God was turned into lasciviousness in Pergamos, and Christian worship amalgamated with pagan rites. While Christian doctrines were trifled with, Christian conduct was degraded; and consequently the flagitious crimes of such proceedings came to be attributed to Christianity itself. For this, Pergamos is called upon to repent, or the vengeance of God is threatened against it. Its present ruins and humiliation tell us the rest.


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