The Forgotten Greatness of the City of Pergamon


Friedrich Thierch’s 1882 Reconstruction Painting of Pergamon

The city of Pergamon, sometimes spelled Pergamum, was not only one of the greatest cities in the Hellenistic world, it was arguably one of the greatest cities of the entire ancient world. Located in the mountains a few miles in from the Aegean coast in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Pergamon would have been one of the most impressive cities to few in the last few centuries BC. Although settlements existed on the site beginning in the early Bronze Age, it became a great city when the Greek Attalid Dynasty made it their home in the third century BC.

The Attalid kings made Pergamon one of the jewels of the Hellenistic world through a carefully coordinated political and cultural program. The city became the capital of their small, yet powerful empire, where they accepted tribute from smaller kingdoms and met with other powerful rulers of the time. Most importantly, though, the Attalids imported some of the Hellenistic world’s greatest architects and artists to make the city more beautiful than any other of the period. Finally, the Attalid kings also made Pergamon an intellectual and academic center, building a library that rivaled the famed Library of Alexandria.

Early Pergamon and Its Settlement in the Hellenistic Period

Archaeologists have revealed that the area around Pergamon was first settled in the late fourth millennium BC. Due to its location on a high plateau, Pergamon offered a perfect defensive location for early settlers. It was probably during the late Bronze Age when the area became associated with the Greek legend of the hero Telephos, the son of Hercules who became the king of the region Mysia, which is where Pergamon is located. Pergamon was also relatively close to Troy, which led to later claims by the Attalid kings that settlement began during the Trojan War around 1200 BC. [1]

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