Perga

PERGA (pûr'ga, Gr. pergē). The chief city of old Pamphylia of Asia Minor located about twelve miles (twenty km.) from Attalia on the River Cestris, which formed an inland port. Paul and Barnabas passed through the city twice on the first missionary journey, both going and returning (Acts.13.13-Acts.13.14; Acts.14.24-Acts.14.25). Here John Mark left the party and returned to Jerusalem. During Greek times a celebrated temple of Artemis or Diana was located in the vicinity, which perhaps was the reason Christianity never flourished there as in other cities of Asia Minor. Today it is known as Murtana and the well-preserved ruins still reveal an immense theater holding about thirteen thousand people.


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Street in Perga with wagon ruts worn into the pavement.

PERGA pûr’ gə (Πέργη, G4308). The chief city of Pamphylia in Asia Minor. Perga stood some eight m. inland from the coast, a situation frequently found with cities in the eastern Mediterranean, where the Cilician pirates were a recurrent danger. The intervening tract of land formed a glacis, and a protection against a surprise attack by night.

Paul and Barnabas passed through Perga twice on their first penetration of Asia Minor, both on the way into the territory and on the way out (Acts 13:13, 14; 14:24, 25). Attention seems to have been paid to Perga only on the outward journey (14:25). It might have been expected that such an opportunity should rather have been taken on the inward journey, and the question of the reason arises. Writing later to the churches of southern Galatia, founded on this occasion, Paul mentioned a serious illness which was physically apparent when he first visited them (Gal 4:13). Since the climate of the Pamphylian plain is enervating, it is not impossible that, after the strain of Cyprus, Paul fell a victim at Perga to the malaria that seems to have been endemic in the area. If so, the surest alleviation of the condition would be a rapid move to the higher country of Pisidia, and arduous bandit-ridden journey of ninety m. to a level of 3,600 ft. The reason for John Mark’s withdrawal from the party at Perga is no doubt to be found somewhere in this set of circumstances, whether it was dispute over the priority of the Perga synagogue, resort to a Rom. colony, or confrontation with physical peril.

Little that is certain is known of the early history of Perga. The name itself is prob. pre-Gr. It seems likely that Gr.-speaking colonists occupied the Pamphylian coastal plain in an early Aegean diaspora associated perhaps with the continued pressure and irruption of the Dorian tribes into the area, and the ensuing collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. If Rhys Carpenter’s theories of climatic change, and the shifting of population in consequence to maritime environments exposed to the wet W winds, are found acceptable, a spread of colonization along the Pamphylian coast is equally probable. At any rate, there is some evidence of Arcadian speech in the region to lend support to the contention that Perga was a foundation of very early Gr. origin.

Legends and dedications mention Calchas, the diviner of the Greeks before Troy, and Mopsus, diviner of the Argonauts, as foundation heroes. Both figures, coming from the area of mingled myth and history associated with the breakdown of the Mycenaean culture, give color to a theory of early settlement from a disrupted Aegean. Like the founders of Ephesus, the founders of Perga took over a Bronze Age goddess under the name of Artemis, and Perga became notable for her cult. Artemis of Perga, like Artemis of Ephesus, was no doubt worshiped in the form of some primitive image, perhaps a meteoric stone.

Little is known of Perga during the period of Pers. domination in Asia Minor. Alexander in his first movement into Pers. imperial territory passed through the city twice, and under the “Successors” the city seems to have been firmly in the control of the Seleucids of Syria. When the Romans passed through in 188 b.c., it was a Syrian garrison that they encountered there.

With the breaking of the Seleucid power at this time by the Romans, Perga appears to have become independent, and subsequent coinage tells a story that runs from this time until three centuries into the Christian era. Little, however, is known of the history of the city, beyond the fragmented evidence of coinage and inscr. The notorious Verres, destroyed in court by a set of famous forensic orations of Cicero, appears to have practiced some of his familiar depredations there, and sundry emperors of the first two centuries are honored in surviving inscrs.

It is archeology and the imposing remnants of the city itself, still surviving on the site, that have most to say on the ancient prosperity and standing of the Pamphylian city. The ruins are well-known, standing as they do near the modern Murtana, some eleven m. to the E of Antalya, in the province of Konia. There is an acropolis, naturally formed by a rocky eminence some 160 ft. high, a position of vantage and defensive strength that must have attracted the first colonists.

Surviving remnants of the lower city are chiefly Hel. Surrounding fortifications and a fine city gate are visible, the whole complex elaborated and adorned by the benefactions of a noble Rom. matron, Plancia Magna, to whom considerable epigraphic tribute is found. Curbed and channeled Rom. shopping streets, over a chain wide and lined with Ionic columns, are characteristic of this period of city building. The Rom. market place has cloisters formed by Corinthian columns. Palaestra and baths are within the walls. Outside is a Rom. stadium and a theater cleverly built into a hillside. The seating capacity, some 12,000, is an indication of the population of the city in imperial times.

The site of the temple of the patron goddess Artemis has not yet been located, but four late Christian churches have been identified, two 4th cent. and two medieval. The dates suggest that Christianity did not take early root in Perga, and it may be significant that the city has no mention in the early tales of martyrdom and persecution. The only modern bishopric in the region is at Atalya, ancient Attaleia, port of Perga. It is nine centuries old.

Bibliography

W. Ruge, “Perge” in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Enzyclopädie, XIX (1937), 694-704.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Perge):

1. Location and History:

An important city of the ancient province of Pamphylia, situated on the river Cestris, 12 miles Northeast of Attalia. According to Ac 13:13, Paul, Barnabas and John Mark visited the place on their first missionary journey, and 2 years later, according to Ac 14:24,25, they may have preached there. Though the water of the river Cestris has now been diverted to the fields for irrigating purposes, in ancient times the stream was navigable, and small boats from the sea might reach the city. It is uncertain how ancient Perga is; its walls, still standing, seem to come from the Seleucidan period or from the 3rd century BC. It remained in the possession of the Seleucid kings until 189 BC, when Roman influence became strong in Asia Minor. A long series of coins, beginning in the 2nd century BC, continued until 286 AD, and upon them Perga is mentioned as a metropolis. Though the city was never a stronghold of Christianity, it was the bishopric of Western Pamphylia, and several of the early Christians were martyred there. During the 8th century under Byzantine rule the city declined; in 1084 Attalia became the metropolis, and Perga rapidly fell to decay. While Attalia was the chief Greek and Christian city of Pamphylia, Perga was the seat of the local Asiatic goddess, who corresponded to Artemis or Diana of the Ephesians, and was locally known as Leto, or the queen of Perga. She is frequently represented on the coins as a huntress, with a bow in her hand, and with sphinxes or stags at her side.

2. The Ruins:

The ruins of Perga are now called Murtana. The walls, which are flanked with towers, show the city to have been quadrangular in shape. Very broad streets, running through the town, and intersecting each other, divided the city into quarters. The sides of the streets were covered with porticos, and along their centers were water channels in which a stream was always flowing. They were covered at short intervals by bridges. Upon the higher ground was the acropolis, where the earliest city was built, but in later times the city extended to the South of the hill, where one may see the greater part of the ruins. On the acropolis is the platform of a large structure with fragments of several granite columns, probably representing the temple of the goddess Leto; others regard it as the ruin of an early church. At the base of the acropolis are the ruins of an immense theater which seated 13,000 people, the agora, the baths and the stadium. Without the walls many tombs are to be seen. E. J. Banks