Pergamum, Pergamos

PERGAMUM, PERGAMOS (pûr'ga-mŭm, Gr. Pergamos). A city of Mysia in the Caicus Valley, fifteen miles (twenty-five km.) inland; in KJV, Pergamos (Rev.1.11; Rev.2.12). Royally situated in a commanding position, Pergamum was the capital until the last of the Pergamenian kings bequeathed his realm to Rome in 133 b.c. Pergamum became the chief town of the new province of Asia and was the site of the first temple of the Caesar cult, erected to Rome and Augustus in 29 b.c. A second shrine was later dedicated to Trajan, and the multiplication of such honor marks the prestige of Pergamum in pagan Asia. The worship of Asklepios and Zeus were also endemic. The symbol of the former was a serpent, and Pausanias describes his cult image “with a staff in one hand and the other on the head of a serpent.” Pergamenian coins illustrate the importance that the community attached to this cult. Caracalla is shown on one coin, saluting a serpent twined round a bending sapling. On the crag above Pergamum was a thronelike altar to Zeus (cf. Rev.2.13) now in the Berlin Museum. It commemorated a defeat of a Gallic inroad and was decorated with a representation of the conflict of the gods and the giants, the latter shown as monsters with snakelike tails. To deepen Christian horror at Pergamum’s obsession with the serpent-image, Zeus was called in this connection “Zeus the Savior.” It is natural that “Nicolaitanism” should flourish in a place where politics and paganism were so closely allied (Rev.2.15), and where pressure on Christians to compromise must have been heavy.

Pergamum was an ancient seat of culture and possessed a library that rivaled Alexandria’s. Parchment (charta Pergamena) was invented at Pergamum to free the library from Egypt’s jealous ban on the export of papyrus.——EMB