🔼The name Pergamum: Summary
- Capital, Citadel
- From the name Priam: primary, utmost.
🔼The name Pergamum in the Bible
Pergamum is the Latin transliteration of the Greek name Pergamos (also known as Pergamon), which belonged to a celebrated city of Mysia (a region of Asia Minor, part of Anatolia, modern Turkey), situated about thirty kilometers from the west-coast. It's mentioned twice in the Bible, both times in Revelation, as the northernmost city of the seven to which the Apocalypse was addressed (Revelation 1:11 and 2:12).
The seven paragraphs directed at the churches of the Apocalypse are deeply cryptic, possibly as not to incriminate the original recipients — Christianity was illegal in those days and much of the texts that comprise the New Testament are obviously coded. But the Book of Revelation, cryptic as it is, discusses absolute evil (embodied by totalitarianism in general and Rome specifically) versus absolute good (freedom and self-ownership of the individual, embodied by Jesus of Nazareth). See our article on Asia for some more thoughts on the seven churches.
🔼The seat of satan
Jesus submits that Pergamum was host to "satan's throne" and "dwelling place" (2:13), but it should be noted that both Smyrna and Philadelphia housed a "synagogue of satan" (2:9, 3:9) and that at Thyatira folks went after the "deep things of satan" (2:24).
In these contexts, "satan" should probably be understood to have to do with Roman totalitarian rule; that which aims to turn humanity into a machine, that convinces people that they have to suppress their individuality and blindly obey orders that come from outside of them, that their purpose in life is to play a minute part in the greater mechanism, and that therefore they themselves are easily replaceable and thus effectively worthless.
Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, teaches that all individuals are to partake in the anointment (2 Corinthians 1:21, 1 John 2:20), that all individuals therefore are to be Christs and Messiahs (that is: kings and priests), with no earthly superiors and with a direct link of communication with the Creator. In Christ, our orders come from within, like DNA.
🔼Pergamum's claims to fame
Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. The issue of his succession rent the known world to pieces (Daniel 8:8, 8:22) and in the vacuum the infant Roman Republic slithered its way to greatness, became unstable, collapsed and rose again as totalitarian Empire and epitome of blasphemy against the Lord of Life (Daniel 8:23-26). General Antipater (or short: Antipas) is commonly considered the last man to keep Alexander's empire together, and his death in 319 BC was the beginning of the end.
Instrumental in bringing about this end was Lysimachus, who had become king in Pergamum in 323 BC, and who came to rule all of Asia Minor as well as Thrace and Macedon in 306 BC. At Pergamum, king Lysimachus kept his treasure of 9,000 talents of silver (roughly 270,000 kilograms, enough to hire an army of 50,000 men for three years), which he entrusted to a eunuch named Philetaerus (tells us Strabo, Geo.13.4.1).
That arrangement went well until in 282 BC Lysimachus's wife decided to poke fun at Philetaerus and the latter retaliated by giving the keys to the city and its treasure to Seleucus, who held the huge eastern part of Alexander's realm. This part would become known as the Seleucid empire, which brutalized the Jewish people into the revolt that resulted in the Maccabean royal dynasty of Judea.
Philetaerus, in the meantime, started his own dynasty (via his more capacious nephew), which shifted away from the Seleucids and towards Rome, helping it greatly to overcome Macedon and expand formidably. The last of Philetaerus' dynastic kings bequeathed Pergamon to Rome in 133 BC.
The Seleucid empire began to shrivel and in 63 BC was finally terminated by the Roman general Pompey, who at the same time also terminated the Maccabean dynasty and thus the autonomous kingdom of Israel, desecrated the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem by entering the Holy of Holies and ultimately destabilized the Roman Republic to the point at which Julius Caesar and Octavian (later the first emperor Augustus) could hijack it and turn it into the Empire.
🔼Scholars and dollars
The Ptolemies, who ran the Egyptian part of Alexander's realm, controlled the world's papyrus, and papyrus was essential to correspondence and thus to the consistency of one's realm. Since the Ptolemies didn't like Pergamum they refused to supply it with papyrus.
The craftsmen of Pergamum were forced to invent parchment (hence the word), which was a papyrus substitute made from animal skin, and proceeded to copy the world's wisdom onto their invention. Thus Pergamum accumulated a library of a baffling 200,000 volumes (or possibly many more), which was second only to the library of Alexandria. But apparently this library was merely a show of wealth as there was very little scholarship associated to Pergamum.
After the Liberators optimistically killed Julius Caesar, general Mark Anthony joined Octavian and hunted down the perps and defeated them at Philippi in 42 BC. Mark Anthony was rewarded Rome's Egyptian territories, and since those were ruled by queen Cleopatra VII, he decided to wed her and additionally engrace her with the gift of Pergamum's entire literary stock. The library of Alexandria famously went up in smoke (Julius Caesar is often named as chief arsonist, but this accusation may be of the same genus as Nero's presumed kindling of Rome) but it isn't clear if this was prior or after its confluence with that of Pergamum.
This half-amazing, most infuriating tale is told by Plutarch, in the words of one Calvisius, of whom Plutarch says that he was "thought to have invented these charges" (Plutarch Antonius 58.9), and may very well have been a legend themed on the rivalry between Alexandria and Pergamum.
Wars, then and now, are based as much on cunning (today: intelligence assessment and military technology) as on brute power, which is why most ancient generals and some modern ones were also intellectuals, and the wisdom-accumulating rivalry between Alexandria and Pergamum a virtual arms race slash cold war. Wisdom is God's great gift to mankind and to hoard it for war sake is perhaps a grim enough endeavor to earn the predicate seat of satan.
🔼The snake of old
Pergamum was also host to a large number of temples, although the most spectacular appear to have been built after John wrote Revelation. One of these splendid buildings was the Asclepion, which was founded in the 4th century BC and was slowly elaborated upon until it had become quite a world famous spectacle by the second century AD.
The Asclepion was of course dedicated to Asclepius — the god of healing whose pet emblem was the snake (today still the symbol of the medicinal industrial complex) — and folks came from all over the place to be cured. As with faith-healers and witch doctors today, a large percentage of people was indeed cured, which perpetuated the myth as well as the cash flow (in those days contributions were voluntary and medical attention free for all).
Still, an industry based on despair and deceit is grim to say the least, also since the Lord of Life offers health, healing and wisdom as part of humanity's inherent qualities (see our article on Hierapolis for more on this).
🔼Etymology of the name Pergamum
The name Pergamos derives from the term Περγαμον (Pergamon), which describes a citadel or acropolis. It appears to have been originally applied by Homer to the citadel of Troy, and formed from Πριαμος (Priamos), which in turn means "of or like Priam", who was the king of Troy during the war.
The name Priam doubtlessly looked to Greeks as having to do with the familiar preposition "pro" and thus with being the first. Volkert Haas in Die hethitische Literatur derives this name from a Luwian term priya-muwa, meaning "[having] first-class courage" (erstklassige Mut).