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PHILADELPHIA (Gr. Philadelphia, brotherly love). A Lydian city founded by Attalus II Philadelphus (159-138 b.c.). The king was so named from his devotion to his brother Eumenes, and the city perpetuated his title. Philadelphia was an outpost of Hellenism in native Anatolia. It lies under Mount Tmolus, in a wide vale that opens into the Hermus Valley, and along which the post road ran. It is on a broad, low, easily defended hill, and this explains Philadelphia’s long stand against the Turks. The district is disastrously seismic, and the great earthquake of a.d. 17 ruined it completely. Placed right above the fault, Philadelphia was tormented by twenty years of recurrent quakes after the disaster of 17. Hence, says Ramsay, is derived the imagery of Rev.3.12 (“Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.”). The new name is certainly a reference to the proposal to rename the city Neocaesarea in gratitude for Tiberius’s generous earthquake relief. The district was an area of vine growing and wine production, and therefore was a center for the worship of Dionysus, god of wine and fertility. A Christian witness, in spite of Muslim invasion and pressure, was maintained in Philadelphia through medieval and into modern times.

PHILADELPHIA fĭl’ ə dĕl’ fĭ ə (Φιλαδελφία, Φιλαδέλφεια). A Lydian city founded by Attalus II Philadelphus (159-138 b.c.), the king of Pergamum. The ruler was called Philadelphus because of his devotion to his brother Eumenes. The Gr. name of his foundation means “brotherly love.” Some say the city was founded by Eumenes, in honor of his brother. It lay in the valley of the Cogamus, near the pass that carries the main trade route from the Maeander to the Hermus valley, a wide vale beneath Mount Tmolus. It was an outpost of Gr. culture in Anatolia, and came violently into Rom. history with the shocking earthquake that devastated the southwestern end of Asia Minor in a.d. 17. The historian Tacitus listed Philadelphia third among the cities of the province that were the recipients of earthquake relief from the Rom. senate (Tac. Ann. II. 47). Philadelphia appears to have been on the main fault line, on the edge of a scarred volcanic area called the “Burntland” (Katakekaumene) from the masses of calcined scoria and lava that covered it and indicated recent activity. The chronic instability, which began with the major seismic disturbance of a.d. 17, continued for years. Strabo, the geographer, writing in a.d. 20, noted the troubled nature of the place, and the continuous visitation of earth tremors. To escape to the open country from the menace of falling walls must have been a common and horrifying experience for the people of Philadelphia. Note, according to Ramsay, the imagery of Revelation 3:12.

In gratitude for the relief given after a.d. 17 Philadelphia sought to change its name to Neocaesarea, a short-lived innovation, which also provided the apocalyptic letter with an allusion (Rev 3:12). The city on its low hill was strategically valuable. It lay on a frontier of culture, the gateway to central Asia Minor with its non-Gr., non-Rom. patterns of life; hence the “open door” of Revelation 3:7, 8. Other allusions in the cryptic letter are explained by the presence in Philadelphia of an active synagogue of Jews, which Ignatius also mentioned in a letter to the church. Bitterly nationalistic, the Jews of Philadelphia fought the Christian secessionists with every refinement of persecution. The author insisted in his apocalyptic letter that the true Jew was rather one who interpreted aright his international privilege and responsibility. Philadelphia had a long and valiant history. In the 14th cent., when the Eastern Rom. empire had been driven out of Asia Minor by the advancing Moslems, save for a small bridgehead opposite Constantinople, Philadelphia still resisted, an island of Christian civilization in the Turkish sea. Gibbon paid it eloquent tribute by his reference to the standing pillar (Rev 3:12; Decline and Fall, ch. lxiv).


W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (1904), 391-412; E. M. Blaiklock, The Cities of the New Testament, ch. 22.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Philadelphia: A city of ancient Lydia in Asia Minor on the Cogamus River, 105 miles from Smyrna. It stood upon a terrace 650 ft. above the sea. Behind it are the volcanic cliffs to which the Turks have given the name of Devitt, or "inkwells"; on the other side of the city the land is exceedingly fertile, and there was produced a wine of whose excellence the celebrated Roman poet Virgil wrote. Philadelphia is not so ancient as many of the other cities of Asia Minor, for it was founded after 189 BC on one of the highways which led to the interior. Its name was given to it in honor of Attalus II, because of his loyalty to his elder brother, Eumenes II, king of Lydia. Still another name of the city was Decapolis, because it was considered as one of the ten cities of the plain. A third name which it bore during the 1st century. AD was Neo-kaisaria; it appears upon the coins struck during that period. During the reign of Vespasian, it was called Flavia. Its modern name, Ala-shehir, is considered by some to be a corruption of the Turkish words Allah-shehir, "the city of God," but more likely it is a name given it from the reddish color of the soil. In addition to all of these names it sometimes bore the title of "Little Athens" because of the magnificence of the temples and other public buildings which adorned it. Philadelphia quickly became an important and wealthy trade center, for as the coast cities declined, it grew in power, and retained its importance even until late Byzantine times. One of the Seven Churches of the Book of Revelation (Re 3:7 ) was there, and it was the seat of a bishop. As in most Asia Minor cities, many Jews lived there, and they possessed a synagogue. During the reign of Tiberius the city was destroyed by an earthquake, yet it was quickly rebuilt. Frederick Barbarossa entered it while on his crusade in 1190. Twice, in 1306 and 1324, it was besieged by the Seljuk Turks, but it retained its independence until after 1390, when it was captured by the combined forces of the Turks and Byzantines. In 1403 Tamerlane captured it, and, it is said, built about it a wall of the corpses of his victims.

Ala-shehir is still a Christian town; one-fourth of its modern population is Greek, and a Greek bishop still makes his home there. One of the chief modern industries is a liquorice factory; in the fields about the city the natives dig for the roots. On the terrace upon which the ancient city stood, the ruins of the castle and the walls may still be seen, and among them is pointed out the foundation of the early church. The place may now best be reached by rail from Smyrna.