(Perʹga·mum) [Citadel; Acropolis].
A Mysian city in the NW part of Asiatic Turkey (Asia Minor) and the location of one of the seven congregations to which the apostle John addressed letters as recorded in Revelation. (Re 1:11; 2:12-17) The city was about 80 km (50 mi) N of Smyrna (modern Izmir) and about 25 km (15 mi) from the coast of the Aegean Sea. Close to the site of ancient Pergamum lies modern Bergama. Pergamum was originally a fortress on a steep, isolated hill between two rivers. In time the city spread into the valley below, and the hill became the acropolis.
History. There is uncertainty as to the origin of the people of Pergamum, but some evidence points to Achaia in Greece. By 420 B.C.E. the city was striking coins, and in the next century Xenophon made mention of the city. After the death of Alexander the Great, it became part of Lysimachus’ territory. Lysimachus’ lieutenant Philetaerus became ruler of the city and surrounding territory, beginning the reign of the Attalids under whom Pergamum became a wealthy and important city. King Attalus I (241-197 B.C.E.) sided with the Romans against the Macedonians. His successor, Eumenes II, built up an immense library that rivaled the famous library in Alexandria. Supposedly at this time writing parchment (pergamena charta) was invented in the city. Also, by this period the kingdom of Pergamum controlled most of W Asia Minor. In 133 B.C.E. Attalus III, on his deathbed, willed Pergamum to Rome, whereupon the city became the capital of the Roman province of Asia. (See ASIA.) Even when it ceased to be the capital, Pergamum continued to hold great importance as an official administrative center.
Religion of Pergamum. Pagan religion was greatly stressed in Pergamum. It seems that Chaldean Magi (astrologers) fled from Babylon to Pergamum, setting up their central college there. Eumenes II built a huge marble altar to the god Zeus to celebrate his defeat of the Gauls. The remains of it have been unearthed and show that it was decorated with an enormous relief depicting gods battling giants. (PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 945) The sick from all parts of Asia flocked to Pergamum because of its temple of Asclepius, the god of healing and medicine.
An especially noteworthy aspect of religion in Pergamum was its worship of political rulers. The city built a magnificent temple for the worship of Caesar Augustus. Thus it was the first city to have a temple dedicated to the imperial cult. During the days of Emperors Trajan and Severus, two more such temples were constructed there, so that the Encyclopædia Britannica calls Pergamum “the chief centre of the imperial cult under the early empire.” (1959, Vol. 17, p. 507) Such worship of the Roman emperor doubtless served politically to weld all the various conquered countries of the empire together under a common god; they could each worship their local or national gods, but all must also worship the emperor.
“Where the Throne of Satan Is.” In the apostle John’s letter to the congregation in Pergamum, he mentioned that the city was “where Satan is dwelling” and that the Christians were thus living “where the throne of Satan is.” (Re 2:13) “The phrase has been referred to the complex of pagan cults, . . . but the main allusion is probably to emperor worship. This was where the worship of the divine emperor had been made the touchstone of civic loyalty under Domitian.” (New Bible Dictionary, edited by J. Douglas, 1985, p. 912) Since the martyrdom of Antipas is mentioned in the same verse as “the throne of Satan,” Antipas may have been killed for refusing to worship Caesar.
Perhaps an additional factor bearing on the identification of “where the throne of Satan is” was the prominent worship of Zeus, or Jupiter, the chief god among all the pagan gods and goddesses. Legend said that from the hill where Pergamum was built certain gods had witnessed the birth of Zeus, and the immense altar later located on the acropolis is considered one of the marvels of the age. Persons worshiping Zeus could have other gods but were to view them as subordinate to him. The Christians in Pergamum were commended, though, because they held fast to their exclusive devotion to the true God, Jehovah, and did not deny the faith despite dwelling ‘where the throne of Satan was.’
“Teaching of Balaam.” However, in the congregation there was the undermining influence of those “holding fast the teaching of Balaam.” (Re 2:14) This expression calls to mind the Mesopotamian prophet Balaam, who, after unsuccessful attempts to curse Israel, suggested using pagan women to draw male Israelites into the lewd worship of false gods. As a consequence of the resulting sexual immorality and idolatry, 24,000 Israelites died. (Nu 25:1-18; 1Co 10:8; see BALAAM.) Evidently some in the Pergamum congregation, those “holding fast the teaching of Balaam,” were condoning fornication.—Jude 4, 11; 2Pe 2:14, 15.
Some in the congregation had also been influenced by the teaching of “the sect of Nicolaus,” and they were urged to repent of that.—Re 2:15, 16.