History of Pergamon in Hellenistic Period

The ruins of the ancient city of Pergamon

Pergamon, also referred to by its modern Greek form Pergamos, was a vibrant and influential ancient Greek city in Mysia. It is situated 16 miles (26 kilometers) from the current coastline of the Aegean Sea on a peninsula on the north side of the river Caicus and northwest of the modern town of Bergama in Turkey.

Pre-Hellenistic History of Pergamon

Pergamon’s settlement can be seen as far back as the Archaic era, thanks to archaeological finds, mostly fragments of pottery introduced from the west, particularly eastern Corinth and Greece, which records to the late 8th century BCE.

In the Bronze Age, earlier habitation cannot be exhibited, although Bronze Age stone tools are discovered in the surrounding area.

Possible coinage of the Greek ruler Gongylos, wearing the Persian cap on the reverse, as ruler of Pergamon for the Achaemenid Empire. Pergamon, Mysia, circa 450 BC. The name of the city ΠΕΡΓ (“PERG”), appears for the first on this coinage, and is the first evidence for the name of the city.

The oldest mention of Pergamon in literary references comes from Xenophon’s Anabasis since the Ten Thousand’s march under Xenophon’s command concluded at Pergamon in 400 BCE. Xenophon, who calls the town Pergamos, handed over the remaining of his Greek troops to Thibron, who was preparing for a campaign against the Persian satraps Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes, at this site in March 399 BCE. At this time, Pergamon was in possession of the family of Gongylos from Eretria, a Greek favorable to the Achaemenid Empire who had taken shelter in Asia Minor and received the territory of Pergamon from Xerxes I, and Xenophon was hosted by his widow Hellas.

In 362 BCE, Orontes, satrap of Mysia, based his revolution against the Persian Empire at Pergamon but was defeated. Only with Alexander the Great was Pergamon and the neighboring area removed from Persian occupation. There is little evidence of the pre-Hellenistic city. In the following period, the terrain was profoundly altered, and the development of broad terraces involved the replacement of almost all earlier buildings. Parts of the temple of Athena and the foundation and the walls of the altar in the shrine of Demeter go back to the fourth century.

Hellenistic period

The Kingdom of Pergamon, shown at its greatest extent in 188 BC

Lysimachus, King of Thrace, took the territory in 301 BCE. Still, soon after his officer Philetaerus expanded the town, the kingdom of Thrace collapsed in 281 BCE, and Philetaerus became an autonomous ruler, establishing the Attalid dynasty. His family managed Pergamon from 281 until 133 BCE. The region of Philetaerus was limited to the area encompassing the city itself, but Eumenes I could expand them greatly. After the Battle of Sardis in 261 BCE against Antiochus I, Eumenes secured the region down to the coast and some way inward. Thus, the town became the center of a territorial range, but Eumenes did not take the royal title. In 238, his successor Attalus I, defeated the Galatians. Pergamon had paid tribute under Eumenes I. Attalus after that declared himself the leader of an entirely independent Pergamene kingdom, which went on to reach its most incredible power and territorial extent in 188 BCE.

The Attalids became some of Rome’s most loyal supporters in the Hellenistic world. Under Attalus I (241 BCE –197 BCE), they allied with Rome against Philip V of Macedon during both the Macedonian Wars.

Under the brothers Attalus II and Eumenes II, Pergamon reached its zenith and was restored on a monumental scale. Until 188 BCE, it had not evolved significantly since its founding by Philetaerus and covered 52 acres (21 hectares). After this age, a bulky new city wall was built, 2.5 mi (4 kilometers long) and encompassing a region of almost 220 acres (90 hectares). The Attalids’ goal was to create a second Athens, a Greek world’s artistic and cultural hub. They renovated the Acropolis of Pergamon after the Acropolis in Athens. Epigraphic records show how the Attalids preserved towns’ growth by remitting taxes and sending in skilled artisans. They allowed the Greek towns in their domains to maintain formal independence. They sent donations to Greek educational sites like Delos, Delphi, and Athens. The Library of Pergamon was famous as second only to the Alexandria Library.

Over-life-size portrait head, probably of Attalus I, from early in the reign of Eumenes II

When Attalus III died without a successor in 133 BCE, he granted Pergamon’s whole to Rome. This was questioned by Aristonicus, who claimed to be Attalus III’s sibling and led a fierce uprising against the Romans with Blossius, a popular Stoic philosopher. He enjoyed success for a period, killing and defeating the Roman consul P. Licinius Crassus and his men, but he was overthrown in 129 BC by the consul M. Perperna. Pergamon’s kingdom was split between Pontus, Rome, and Cappadocia, with the majority of its territory becoming the new Roman territory of Asia. The town itself was declared free and was briefly the province’s capital before it was assigned to Ephesus.

Was it worth reading? Let us know.