Before I talk about Pergamon, I want to highlight a point regarding dates:
When referring to dates in history, should I use BC or BCE for the years before year “0”? And, should I use AD or CE for the years after year “0”?
BC’ stands for “Before Christ,” is used to date events before the birth of Jesus, and AD, which stands for the Latin phrase “Anno Domini” meaning “in the year of our Lord,” is used for the dates after the birth of Jesus. These two terms have been replaced by BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era), which are exactly the same as BC and AD, but more global and with less emphasis on the religious side. I go with the BCE and CE use and try to undo all my history upbringing. This is going to be a challenge!
I visit Pergamon (Bergama in Turkish) during my wonderful two-day tour with TJ Travel. After visiting Galipoli and Troy, we head south to visit this ancient city before we reach Kusadasi near Ephesus.
The Kingdom of Pergamon goes back to 282 BCE. The Book of Revelations cites Pergamon as one of the Seven Churches of Asia. It was also the capital city for many kingdoms before Ephesus gained importance. The history of Pergamon is complicated. All those wars. Greeks and Romans. Rich landlords. Pergamon’s higher Acropolis is perched on a high hill overlooking a breathtaking view of the modern city of Bergama sprawled on a river valley and the surrounding mountains.
When you arrive at this ancient site, you feel the importance of this city just by the sheer size of the grounds it covers. The size of the Hellenistic amphitheater that can hold 10,000 people and the spread of the ruins confirms that this city’s population reached 200,000 people at one point. For me, the most impressive structure is the amphitheater because of its steepest seating. Our guide tells us this is the steepest seating of any known ancient theater in the world. There are several royal palaces, The Sanctuary of Athena, The Library of Pergamum which once contained more than 200,000 volumes (rumors say Mark Antony gave it to Cleopatra as a wedding present), the Temple of Dionysus, Roman baths, and many more.
We also pass by Asklepion, in the lower Acropolis, which was the world’s first psychiatric hospital built in the 2ndcentury CE. After reading the history of Pergamon, which may take pages to cover, I can imagine and understand why this hospital is built here given the very confused history behind this city. Actually, the real reason is a sacred source of water having radioactive properties. The treatments at this hospital included psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, mud bathes, dream interpretations, and drinking of this sacred water. It was more of a spa than a hospital. Patients included Hadrian (Roman Emperor, 76-138 CE), Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor, (121-180 CE), and Caracalla (Roman Emperor, 188-217 CE).
As one of the Book of Revelations’ seven major churches of Early Christianity in Asia Minor, Pergamon joins Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These churches are known as The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse or the Seven Churches of Revelation. There are Biblical tours in Turkey that you can take to cover these seven locations.
One amazing fact I learn is that the “parchment paper” was invented by the people of Pergamom. At its peak, Pergamon was turning into a center of art, medicine, and research. There was a library rivaling the Library of Alexandria, later was given to Cleopatra by Mark Anthony as a wedding gift. However, King Ptolemy IV was not pleased with another library as good or better than the one in Alexandria, so he banned the export of papyrus paper from Egypt. So, Pergamon people created a new form of paper by treating the skins of sheep and calves. This paper is called parchment, a distortion of the name Pergamon (parchment is pergamino in Spanish and pergamena in Italian). So, thanks to a jealous king, a new version of paper was born. Where is the King of the Trees to ban the export of the “paper” to destructive humans!
Walkway arches in Pergamon