Pergamon or Pergamum was an ancient Greek city in modern-day Turkey, in Mysia, north-western Anatolia, 16 miles from the Aegean Sea, located on a promontory on the north side of the river Caicus (modern day Bakirçay), that became the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon during the Hellenistic period, under the Attalid dynasty, 281-133 BC. Today, the main sites of ancient Pergamon are to the north and west of the modern city of Bergama. Pergamon's library on the Acropolis (the ancient Library of Pergamum) is the second best in the ancient Greek civilisation. When the Ptolemies stopped exporting papyrus, partly because of competitors and partly because of shortages, the Pergamenes invented a new substance to use in codices, called pergaminus or pergamena (parchement) after the city. This was made of fine calf skin, a predecessor of vellum. The library at Pergamom was believed to contain 200,000 volumes, which Mark Antony later gave to Cleopatra as a wedding present.
History of Pergamum
In the era following the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC), Lysimachus, one of Alexander’s generals, chose Pergamum as the depository for his vast wealth, placing here 9,000 talents of gold under the guardianship of his lieutenant, Philetaerus.
King Attalus III bequeathed (133 BC) his domains to the Romans, under whom the city retained its position as the preeminent artistic and intellectual center of Anatolia but declined in political and economic importance.
The city went through the Arab, Byzantine and finally the Turkish period in the 14C.
Pergamum attained a high culture in the Hellenistic era, boasting an outstanding library that rivaled in importance that of Alexandria, a famous school of sculpture and excellent public buildings and monuments of which the Zeus Altar is the best example.
In the Roman period, Pergamum played an important role in the early history of Christianity. It was also numbered among the Seven Churches of Revelation.
Upon Lysimachus’s death, Philetaerus used this fortune and founded the independent dynasty of the Attalid Kings. Pergamum later became the capital of a flourishing Hellenistic kingdom and one of the principal centers of Hellenistic civilization. Under Kings Attalus I and Eumenes II, Pergamum reached the height of its independent powers. At the same time, however, it began to look to Rome for alliance against the warring Hellenistic rulers. After signalizing himself as a friend of Rome, Attalus I was awarded the Seleucid dominions, making Pergamum a powerful kingdom, comprising of Mysia, Lydia, Caria, Pamphylia and Phrygia. In addition to extending the kingdom, Attalus I adorned his capital with architectural splendors. Eumenes II also brought the city to the climax of its cultural prominence. During the reigns of these two prominent kings, the city so flourished that it could only be compared to Antioch and Alexandria.
Pergamum, One of the Seven Churches of Revelation
(12) "Write this letter to the leader of the church in Pergamos:
"This message is from him who wields the sharp and double-bladed sword. (13) I am fully aware that you live in the city where Satan’s throne is, at the center of satanic worship; and yet you have remained loyal to me and refused to deny me, even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you by Satan’s devotees.
(14) "And yet I have a few things against you. You tolerate some among you who do as Balaam did when he taught Balak how to ruin the people of Israel by involving them in sexual sin and encouraging them to go to idol feasts. (15) Yes, you have some of these very same followers of Balaam among you!
(16) "Change your mind and attitude, or else I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
(17) "Let everyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: Every one who is victorious shall eat of the hidden manna, the secret nourishment from heaven; and I will give to each a white stone and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one else knows except the one receiving it.
A young German engineer Carl Humann, who was engaged in building a road in Bergama in 1875 was told that a great quantity of loose stone was available among the ruins at the top of the hill behind the city. That which started as the need for road construction resulted in Humann’s archeological studies and the uncovering of many beautiful pieces including the Zeus Altar and Gateway to the Sanctuary of Athena which were subsequently taken to the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.
The function of the acropolis in Pergamum was never the same as the function of the acropolis in Athens. In Athens everything was focused on religion, whereas in Pergamum it was on social and cultural activities, or in other words, daily life. As a result of this contrast, major buildings in Pergamum were reserved for public use in daily life. Even in the temples, religion was of secondary importance. Buildings had large areas for the public where they could meet, walk or join in social affairs. Pergamum was the first city to react against functional urbanism of Hippodamus preferring ornamental urbanism. Pergamenes agreed that functionalism was necessary, but that aesthetics were to be given even more consideration. The buildings of the Acropolis were designed to be seen from below and to impress those viewing the city from the valley.
Except for the Trajan Temple all the buildings were built in the Hellenistic period during which constructions were made of andesite and very rarely in marble.
Heroon, in general, is a shrine dedicated to a deified hero. The Heroon in the Acropolis of Pergamum was the imperial cult or the shrine in which kings of Pergamum, especially Attalus I and Eumenes II, were worshipped.
It was a peristyle building made of andesite from the Hellenistic period.
The Sanctuary of Athena was entered through a propylon which was built by Eumenes II. As written in its inscription, it was dedicated to victory-bringing Athena by King Eumenes. The entrance opens into a courtyard surrounded by three stoas of the Doric order. This also dates from the same period. At the corner near the theater was the Athena Temple in Doric order which was built earlier, in the 3C BC. It was built of andesite and stood on a crepidoma with two steps.
The Library of Pergamum, built by Eumenes II, was the second of the three famous ancient libraries. It contained 200,000 volumes. A century later Mark Antony gave them to Cleopatra as a wedding present to be added to the collection of the library in Alexandria. The library building was next to the north stoa of the Athena Sanctuary. Most probably, the second floor of the stoa was at the same level with the first floor of the library. It had a large reading hall with many shelves all around, leaving an empty space between walls and shelves for the circulation of air to prevent humidity. Manuscripts were written on parchment then rolled or folded and put on shelves.
When the Egyptians prohibited the export of papyrus, the King of Pergamum ordered that a new material be found. The new discovery was "parchment", a fine material from sheep or goat skin, highly polished with pumice stone and slit into sheets. Therefore the name of Pergamum has been perpetuated and seen as synonymous with the word "parchment".
The Temple of Trajan was a 2C AD temple in Corinthian order, dedicated to Trajan, built by his successor Hadrian. Both emperors were worshipped there. The temple was built of marble, probably on the site of a previous Hellenistic building. Before the construction, the area was leveled off by using a successful arched and vaulted substructure. The temple is flanked by stoas on three sides, the one at the back being higher than the others. It was in Corinthian order to have a peripteros plan, with 9 by 6 columns.
It is said that the Theater in the acropolis of Pergamum is the steepest raked Hellenistic theater in the world. The cavea of the theater which consists of 80 rows of seats is divided into three sections by two diazomas. The capacity was 10,000 people. The construction material is andesite. Because it was originally a Hellenistic theater, there was not a permanent stage building and people sitting on the cavea could see outside and beyond the playing area. In the Hellenistic period, performances were held in a festive atmosphere and took a long time. People spent a lot of time in the theater, usually the minimum of a full day. Therefore, they never wanted to block their view of outside and the stage building, being made of wood, was portable. Square holes at the back of the orchestra were for the portable stage building. The theater was also used during the Roman period with some alterations.
The finest altar ever built can be accepted as the Zeus Altar at Pergamum, of about 180 BC, which stands in its own precinct but, most unusually, without a temple. The altar, a marble offering-table, stood on an enormous stone plinth, which also supported the double colonnade of Ionic columns enclosing it on three sides. On the fourth side it was approached by a fine stairway, nearly 20 m / 65 ft wide.
Much of the structure and almost all of the friezes are now in Berlin. Decorated with vigorous friezes of life-size figures depicting a battle between gods and giants, its contemporary context is probably King Eumenes II’s celebration of his recent victories over the Gauls in Pontus and Bithynia. If this is so, then the context incorporates within its apparently straightforward mythology the King’s assertion of his own triumphant role as the defender of traditions against barbarianism.