🔼The name Assos: Summary
- Number One, Unity, Whole
- From ασσον (asson), nearer.
- From εις (heis), one.
🔼The name Assos in the Bible
The name Assos belonged to a city on the western coast of Anatolia (now called Behramkale in Turkey). In the New Testament Assos is mentioned twice in one scene (Acts 20:13 and 20:14 only), but its other claim to fame is that Aristotle had settled there, after leaving the academy of Plato in Athens in 348 BC, and founded his own school. Besides coming up with philosophies that would change the world, Aristotle also married the daughter of his old friend king Hermias of Assos (like Aristotle, also a former student of Plato). When the Persians invaded and captured Assos and killed Hermias, Aristotle fled to his other friend, king Philip of Macedonia, where he took to tutoring young Alexander, later the Great, and two of his future generals and Diadochi, Ptolemy and Cassander.
In the first century, this town was also known as Apollonia, but so were a great many more.
After the uproar in Ephesus, Paul and friends traveled through Macedonia (and Hellas) but departed from Macedonian Philippi and crossed over to Anatolian Troas. There Eutychus fell out the window. Paul revived him, talked until morning, and then decided to take the land route to Assos, while the friends, including author Luke, took the boat.
The reason why Paul chose to take the land route (rather than the boat, where he could have napped) isn't given, but Luke's insertion of this certainly hints at some hidden profundity (i.e. hidden to us moderns; not to a learned person in the first century CE). Paul's decision would have resulted in a brisk march of about 30 kilometer, or 45 if he followed the coast. But he needn't have walked. He might have rented a horse, hitched a ride or taken some kind of public transport. We don't know. The verb πεζευω (pezeuo) that Luke uses indeed derives from πους (pous), foot, but via πεδον (pedon), literally a place of footing (opposite the sea, where one can't stand). The verb merely says that he took the land route.
However, much of the subject matter of the New Testament pretty much amounted to high treason against the Roman state, which is why Paul and the people of the Way were prosecuted and routinely executed. But this is also why the New Testament is riddled with code (see our article on the name Onesimus). "Taking the land route" may very well have been some sort of idiom, like "going to Arabia" or "settling in the Land of Nod".
In our article on the noun νεφελη (nephele), cloud, we discuss the cognitive version of the hydrological cycle, with the dry land of established wisdom and the waters of uncertainty and inspiration. Paul taking the land route to Assos may very well be Luke's way of saying that Paul took some time to review certain established orthodoxies in regard to Plato (see πλατυς, platus) and Aristotle, and perhaps the Stoics and Epicureans, and maybe even the Persians (hence the Pharisees) whom Alexander the Great had defeated.
🔼Etymology of the name Assos
The city of Assos was founded in around 1000 BC (the time of David) by Aeolians from Lesbos, so the chances are excellent that the name Assos is Greek. And that suggests that this name derives from the closely similar adverb ασσον (asson), meaning closer or nearer:
The adverb ασσον (asson) means nearer or closer. It stems from αγχι (agchi), close, and ultimately from the same PIE root from which English gets words like angina, anxious and angry.
Formally unrelated, the noun ασσαριον (assarion) denotes the smallest monetary unit, the least valuable coin. It relates to εις (heis), meaning one.
Calling a place Closer implies contrast to some other place called Farther, which might have been Macedonia, whose name derives from μακρος (makros), meaning distant. Perhaps all this was relative to Athens, to which Assos would indeed have been slightly closer than, say Philippi.
Our adverb ασσον (asson) is relatively rare. Homer uses it very sporadically, but perhaps most notably in Il.1.567, where Zeus warns uppity Hera: "...all the gods on Olympos will avail you nothing when I come closer and lay invincible hands on you!"
That said, the town's name may also have had something to do with Assaracus (Ασσαρακος, Assarakos), who had been a Dardanian prince and son and successor of Tros who had founded the kingdom of Troy. When Assaracus died after a long and successful reign, his grateful subjects buried him in the middle of Troy. The king of Troy at the time of the Trojan War was Priam, who was a grandson of Assaracus' brother Ilus (hence the word Iliad). After the sack of Troy, Assaracus' great grandson Aeneas sailed to Italy and sired the people who would become the Romans. In his Aeneid, Virgil speaks of the future Romans by dubbing them gens Assaracus (Ae.9.643).
Homer's Iliad plays around the same time as the Exodus and like the Exodus primarily talks about human legacies and thus human languages and hence the rise of competing writing systems (although Homer mentions writing in a literal sense only once: compare Il.6.169 to 2 Corinthians 3:6). What language the Dardanoi spoke isn't clear (rather remarkably), so there's no telling what the name Assaracus may have meant. But the name Priam (from which comes the name Pergamum and thus the word parchment) has to do with primality and relates to the Greek preposition προ (pro), meaning first or before (hence English words like prior, prime, prince, principle, and so on). All that suggests that the name Assaracus, like Eutychus, Aristotle and Priam, may very well stem from the Dardanian version of yet another expression of primality, namely εις (heis): the cardinal number one:
There are two words that are spelled εις but are pronounced slightly different. The preposition εις (eis) describes a motion into any place or thing. The word εις (heis) is the cardinal number one, but be also express unity.
The name Assos may derive from a rarely used adverb ασσον (asson) and revel in the fact that it's Closer than some other place. Or it relates to the name of the local son and international hero king Assaracus, Number One and the patriarch of all things Rome.
Even in 1000 BC, when there was no Rome yet, the preference would probably have inclined toward Assaracus. Assos means Number One.