Thyatira

THYATIRA (thī'a-tī'ra, Gr. Thyateira). A city in the province of Asia, on the boundary of Lydia and Mysia. Thyatira has no illustrious history and is scarcely mentioned by ancient writers. Coinage suggests that, lying as it did on a great highway linking two river valleys, Thyatira was a garrison town for many centuries. Its ancient Anatolian deity was a warlike figure armed with a battle-ax and mounted on a charger. An odd coin or two shows a female deity wearing a battlemented crown. The city was a center of commerce, and the records preserve references to more trade guilds than those listed for any other Asian city. Lydia, whom Paul met in Philippi, was a Thyatiran seller of “turkey red,” the product of the madder root (Acts.16.14). It is curious to find another woman, nicknamed after the princess who by marriage sealed Ahab’s trading partnership with the Phoenicians, leading a party of compromise in the Thyatiran church (Rev.2.20-Rev.2.21). The necessity for membership in a trade guild invited the Christians of Thyatira to compromise and opened the door to many temptations. Thyatira played a significant part in the later history of the church.


A city in W Asia Minor, in the Hermus valley, a tributary of the Caicus. Situated on a fertile plain at about 330 feet, it had no significance as a stronghold, but its position on the imperial post road linking Italy-Greece-Asia Minor with Egypt, gave it commercial importance. Lydian in origin, Thyatira was refounded by Seleucus Nicator as an outpost against Macedonia, and then a Pergamene outpost. When the Pergamene kingdom became the Roman province of Asia in 133 b.c., it passed into control of Rome. It is probable there was a Jewish colony there (Acts 16:14), but it is not clear when Christianity reached Thyatira. One possibility is that Paul or one of his helpers ministered there from Ephesus (Acts 19:10). What is certain is that by about a.d. 95, when John addressed the church there, it was quite a strong church (Rev. 2:18-29). But little is known of Thyatira, and no archaeological excavations have been carried out. The ancient site is now occupied by the modern town of Akhisar (population about 30,000).


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THYATIRA thī’ ə tī’ rə (Θυατείρα). Thyatira lay some twenty m. SE of Pergamum, on a valley road in the alluvial plain between the Hermus and Caicus Rivers. Both in the days of Pergamum’s leadership in western Asia Minor, and later, when international politics drew Rome strongly into the great peninsula, the city derived strength and wealth from the fact that it was a nodal point of communications. The city was founded, doubtless on some Anatolian site, by Seleucus I, Alexander’s general who, of all four successors of Alexander, inherited the largest area. Seleucus’ kingdom stretched from far beyond Antioch of Syria to the Hermus valley, where its frontiers pressed hard on those of Lysimachus, who held part of the old Ionian littoral of Asia Minor. Seleucus planted a demobilized group of Alexander’s Macedonian veterans there, to form a determined barrier against all attempts to disturb the border.

In 282 b.c., Philetaerus rebelled, and the dynamic state of Pergamum, destined to endure for a cent. and a half, was founded. The new state formed a buffer area between Seleucus and Lysimachus, but a state so founded could not but be militarily alert, and Thyatira, a guard post on the eastern road, stood in the front rank against possible aggression from the E. The history of the place, pieced precariously together from ruins and coins, suggests that Thyatira on its wavering frontier often changed hands, as Syrian or Pergamene power flowed or ebbed on the borderlands.

Thyatira, faced with this inevitable garrison role, had no strong acropolis like Sardis and Pergamum. The city lay on a small hill, and was valuable in strategy only because a confident defense force there could break the impetus of a hostile assault, while decisive defense was organized in depth behind. This duty imposed on a vulnerable city a spirited readiness to face peril and fight, without reliance on natural defenses, or on anything but personal valor. Religion reflected this duty and attitude. The Macedonian soldiers who were first settled there adopted the worship of a local patron hero, who appears on early coins as a warrior on horseback, armed with a battle axe; hence the symbolism of the risen Christ in John’s apocalyptic letter.

Rome appeared in force in Asia after her defeat of the Syrian Antiochus in 189 b.c., and the area passed permanently into Rom. control when the last of the Pergamenian kings, sensing the shape of the future, bequeathed his kingdom to the rising republic in 133 b.c. With the “Roman Peace,” tranquility came to Thyatira. Under Claudius, Thyatira began to issue its own coinage once more, for the first time after the lapse of full two centuries. The abundance of Thyatiran coins, continuing right into the 3rd cent., suggests a vigorous commerce. Paul’s first convert in Europe was Lydia, a Thyatiran who sold purple cloth in Philippi, hundreds of m. from home. The purple or crimson, which dyed the cloth that Lydia sold, was a local manufacture from the madder root, a cheap rival of Phoen. murex dye.

Commercial prosperity attracted a large Jewish minority to Thyatira, for the agricultural Jews began in exile to assume monetary and commercial interests, which were to become their enduring mark. Dyed cloth and garments, and bronze armor were famous exports. A coin of Thyatira shows Hephaestus, the divine smith, hammering a helmet on an anvil, and the word in the apocalyptic letter for “fine brass,” “chalcolibanos,” found nowhere else, may have been a Thyatiran trade name, caught up for local color. Commerce, indeed, may have been the crux of the Christians’ problem in the city. Inscriptions are not numerous, but they mention workers in wool, linen, leather, and bronze, potters, bakers, dyers, and slavers. Each had their guild like that of the silversmiths of Ephesus.

Paul’s letter to Corinth is clear indication that the trade guilds, with their demanding social life, their pagan ritual, and their periodic feasts, were to be a serious problem for the Christian member pledged by conscience to abjure the licentiousness of the world about them.

It was difficult to abtain from the guild festivities without losing one’s business and social acceptance. To conform meant exposure to the licentious background and pagan ritual that marked the guild dinner. The section of the Church that dangerously sought some form of saving compromise, the Nicolaitans of two other accompanying epistles, seem to have been led by an able woman, whom John called Jezebel. This term was deliberately chosen, for the marriage of Ahab with Jezebel of Tyre was a disastrous compromise, as Elijah showed, a damaging arrangement doubtless to keep trade flowing between Samaria and the Phoenicians. John denounced her and pronounced a fierce commination. “See,” the most obscure v. in the letter runs, “I am placing her on a dining-couch, and her base associates with her, and they shall enjoy great tribulation, unless they repent. That she cannot repent she has demonstrated.” A Thyatiran inscr. quoted by Ramsay, shows that it was not customary for respectable women to feast publicly with men. A leading citizen is recorded to have given a religious feast. Men and women were segregated for the occasion. The v. of grim menace prob. means that such looseness can only lead to ruin. Therefore let the woman’s victims desert her, and leave her to the doom her willful perversion must inevitably bring.

Such heresy was to become rife in the Church, as John’s last letter shows. Perhaps Thyatira saw the beginnings. The exhortation concludes, “the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; only hold fast what you have, until I come” (Rev 2:24, 25).

The symbolism in the letter is local and striking. The ascription of Christ (Rev 2:18) speaks of “fine brass,” mentioned above, the “chalcilibanos” of a city renowned for its brass-working. The promise in vv. 26 and 27 also reflects the military nature of the place. Jezebel is a striking figure of speech replete with OT significance, of compromise and apostasy for the sake of commerce and trade partnership with pagan wealth and power.

Bibliography

W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (1905); E. M. Blaiklock, The Cities of the New Testament (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Thyatira was a wealthy town in the northern part of Lydia of the Roman province of Asia, on the river Lycus. It stood so near to the borders of Mysia, that some of the early writers have regarded it as belonging to that country. Its early history is not well known, for until it was refounded by Seleucus Nicator (301-281 BC) it was a small, insignificant town. It stood on none of the Greek trade routes, but upon the lesser road between Pergamos and Sardis, and derived its wealth from the Lycus valley in which it rapidly became a commercial center, but never a metropolis. The name "Thyatira" means "the castle of Thya." Other names which it has borne are Pelopia and Semiramis. Before the time of Nicator the place was regarded as a holy city, for there stood the temple of the ancient Lydian sun-god, Tyrimnos; about it games were held in his honor. Upon the early coins of Thyatira this Asiatic god is represented as a horseman, bearing a double-headed battle-ax, similar to those represented on the sculptures of the Hittites. A goddess associated with him was Boreatene, a deity of less importance. Another temple at Thyatira was dedicated to Sambethe, and at this shrine was a prophetess, by some supposed to represent the Jezebel of Re 2:20, who uttered the sayings which this deity would impart to the worshippers.

Thyatira was specially noted for the trade guilds which were probably more completely organized there than in any other ancient city. Every artisan belonged to a guild, and every guild, which was an incorporated organization, possessed property in its own name, made contracts for great constructions, and wielded a wide influence. Powerful among them was the guild of coppersmiths; another was the guild of the dyers, who, it is believed, made use of the madder-root instead of shell-fish for making the purple dyestuffs. A member of this guild seems to have been Lydia of Thyatira, who, according to Ac 16:14, sold her dyes in Philippi. The color obtained by the use of this dye is now called Turkish red. The guilds were closely connected with the Asiatic religion of the place. Pagan feasts, with which immoral practices were associated, were held, and therefore the nature of the guilds was such that they were opposed to Christianity. According to Ac 19:10, Paul may have preached there while he was living at Ephesus, but this is uncertain; yet Christianity reached there at an early time. It was taught by many of the early church that no Christian might belong to one of the guilds, and thus the greatest opposition to Christianity was presented.

Thyatira is now represented by the modern town of Ak-Hissar on a branch line of the Manisa-Soma Railroad, and on the old Ro road 9 hours from Sardis. Ak-Hissar is Turkish for "white castle," and near the modern town may be seen the ruins of the castle from which the name was derived. The village is of considerable size; most of the houses are of mud, but several of the buildings erected by Caracalla are still standing, yet none of them are perfect. In the higher part of the town are the ruins of one of the pagan temples, and in the walls of the houses are broken columns and sarcophagi and inscribed stones. The population of 20,000 is largely Greek and Armenian, yet a few Jews live among them. Before the town is a large marsh, fever-laden, and especially unhealthful in the summer time, formed by the Lycus, which the Turks now call Geurdeuk Chai. The chief modern industry is rug-making.