Cultures > Kingdom of Pergamon

Kingdom of Pergamon


PERGAMUM, or Pergamus (mod. Bergama), an ancient city of Teuthrania, a district in Mysia. It is usually named Πέργαμον, by Greek writers, but Ptolemy has the form Πέργαμος. The name, which is related to the German burg, is appropriate to the situation on a lofty isolated hill in a broad fertile valley, less than 15 m. from the mouth of the Caïcus. According to the belief of its inhabitants, the town was founded by Arcadian colonists, led by Telephus, son of Heracles. Auge, mother of Telephus, was priestess of Athena Alea at Tegea, and daughter of Aleus; fleeing from Tegea, she became the wife of Teuthras, the eponymous king of Teuthrania, and her son Telephus succeeded him. Athena Polias was the patron-goddess of Pergamum, and the legend combines the ethnological record of the connexion claimed between Arcadia and Pergamum with the usual belief that the hero of the city was son of its guardian deity, or at least of her priestess.

Nothing more is recorded of the city till the time of Xenophon, when it was a small fortified town on the summit of the hill; but it had been striking coins since 420 B.C. at latest. Its importance began under Lysimachus, who deposited his treasures, 9000 talents, in this strong fortress under the charge of a eunuch, Philetaerus of Tium. In 283 B.C. Philetaerus rebelled, Lysimachus died without being able to put down the revolt, and Pergamum became the capital of a little principality. Partly by clever diplomacy, partly through the troubles caused by the Gaulish invasion and by the dissensions among the rival kings, Philetaerus contrived to keep on good terms with his neighbours on all sides (283-263 B.C.). His nephew Eumenes (263-241) succeeded him, increased his power, and even defeated Antiochus II. of Syria in a pitched battle near Sardis. His successor Attalus I. (241-197) won a great battle over the Gauls, and assumed the title of king.

The other Greek kings who aimed at power in Asia Minor were his natural enemies, and about 222 reduced Pergamenian power to a very low ebb. On the other hand, the influence of the Romans was beginning to make itself felt in the East. Attalus prudently connected himself with them and shared in their continuous success. Pergamum thus became the capital of a considerable territory and a centre of art and regal magnificence. The wealth of the state and the king's desire to celebrate his victories by monuments of art led to the rise of the “Pergamenian school” in sculpture.

The splendour of Pergamum was at its height under Eumenes II. (197-159). He continued true to the Romans during their wars with Antiochus and Perseus, and his kingdom spread over the greater part of western Asia Minor, including Mysia, Lydia, great part of Phrygia, Ionia and Caria. To celebrate the great achievement of his reign, the defeat of the barbarian Gauls, he built in the agora a vast altar to Zeus Soter (see below). He left an infant son, Attalus (III.), and a brother, Attalus II. (Philadelphus), who ruled 159-138, and was succeeded by his nephew, Attalus III. (Philometor).

The latter died in 133, and bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans, who erected part of it (excluding Great Phrygia, which they gave to Mithradates of Pontus) into a province under the name of Asia. Pergamum continued to rank for two centuries as the capital, and subsequently, with Ephesus and Smyrna, as one of the three great cities of the province; and the devotion of its former kings to the Roman cause was continued by its citizens, who erected on the Acropolis a magnificent temple to Augustus. It was the seat of a conventus, including the cities of the Caïcus valley and some of those in the northern part of the Hermus valley. Under the Roman Empire Pergamum was one of the chief seats of the worship of Asclepius “the Saviour”; invalids came from distant parts of the country to ask advice from the god and his priests.

The temple and the curative establishment of the god were situated outside the city. Pergamum was the chief centre of the imperial cult under the early empire, and, in W. M. Ramsay's opinion, was for that reason referred to in Rev. ii. 13 as the place of “Satan's throne.” It was also an early seat of Christianity, and one of the Seven Churches. The place, re-fortified by the Byzantines, and still retaining its name as Bergama, passed into Moslem hands early in the 14th century. The lower town was rebuilt, and in the 17th and 18th centuries became a chief seat of the great Dere Bey family of Kara Osman Oglu (see Manisa), which did not resign it to direct Ottoman control until about 1825. It is still an administrative and commercial centre of importance, having some 20,000 inhabitants.


The site of the ancient city has been the scene of extensive excavations promoted by the Berlin museum since 1878, and directed first by K. Humann and A. Conze, and afterwards by W. Dörpfeld. The first impulse to them was given in 1873 by the reception in Berlin of certain reliefs, extracted by Humann from the walls of Bergama. These were recognized as probably parts of the Great Altar of Zeus erected by Eumenes II. in 180 B.C. and decorated with a combat of gods and giants, symbolic of the struggle betwee11 the Pergamene Greeks and the Gaulish barbarians. Excavation at the south end of the Acropolis led to the discovery of the Altar itself and the rest of its surviving reliefs, which, now restored and mounted in Berlin, form one of the glories of that city.

In very high relief and representing furious action, these sculptures are the finest which survive from the Pergamene school, which replaced the repose and breadth of earlier schools by excess of emphasis and detail. The summit of the Acropolis is crowded with public buildings, between the market place, which lies at the southern point, and the Royal Gardens on the north. In the interval are the Zeus altar; the great hexastyle Doric temple of Athena Hanked by the palace on the east, by the theatre and its long terrace on the west, and by a library on the north; and a large Corinthian temple of Trajan. The residential part of the Greek, and practically all the Roman city lay below the Acropolis on ground now mostly occupied by modern Bergama; but west of the river Selinus, on rising ground facing the Acropolis, are to be seen notable remains of a Roman theatre, an amphitheatre and a circus.


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See, beside general authorities for Asia Minor, J. Dallaway, Constantinople, &c. (1797); W. M. Ramsay, Letters to the Seven Churches (1904); and especially the publication by the Royal Museum of Berlin, Alterthumer von Pergamon (1885 sqq.); “Operations at Pergamon 1906-1907,” in Athenische Mitteil. (1908), xxxiii. 4; G. Leroux, “La Prétendue basilique de Pergame” in Bull. Corr. Hell. (1909), pp. 238 sqq. (D. G. H.)

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 21

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