Letters to the Churches of Asia - 27 - Philadelphia, Missionary City

Chapter 27: Philadelphia: The Missionary City


Philadelphia was the only Pergamenian foundation among the Seven Cities. It derived its name from Attalus II, 159-138 BC, whose truth and loyalty to his brother Eumenes won him the epithet Philadelphus. The district where it was situated, the valley of the Cogamis, a tributary of the Hermus, came into the possession of the Pergamenian King Eumenes at the treaty of 189. From that time onward the district was in the heart of the Pergamenian realm; and therefore the new city could not have been founded as a military colony to guard a frontier, like Thyatira. Military strength was, of course, never entirely neglected in those foundations of the Greek kings; and especially a city founded, like Philadelphia, on an important road, was charged with the duty of guarding the road. But military strength and defence against invasion were required chiefly near the eastern frontier, far away on the other side of Phrygia, where an enemy should be prevented from entering the realm. Philadelphia was founded more for consolidating and regulating and educating the central regions subject to the Pergamenian kings. The intention of its founder was to make it a centre of the Graeco-Asiatic civilisation and a means of spreading the Greek language and manners in the eastern parts of Lydia and in Phrygia. It was a missionary city from the beginning, founded to promote a certain unity of spirit, customs, and loyalty within the realm, the apostle of Hellenism in an Oriental land. It was a successful teacher. Before AD 19 the Lydian tongue had ceased to be spoken in Lydia, and Greek was the only language of the country.

If sufficient information had been preserved about the religion of Thyatira and Philadelphia, it would have been possible to understand and describe the nature of those two Graeco-Asiatic cities and to specify the difference in character between a Seleucid and a Pergamenian foundation. From the religious establishment of each city, it would have been easy to distinguish what elements in each were native Anatolian, what were introduced from Europe, and what were brought in by colonists from Oriental lands, and how these were blended to produce a composite Graeco-Asiatic religion corresponding to the purposes which the new cities were intended to serve. This would be an object-lesson in practical government and religion, for those two cities are types of the fusion of Greek and Asiatic thought and custom, as attempted by the two chief Hellenising kingdoms in the Asiatic continent. But literary sources are silent, and the information furnished by coins and inscriptions is too scanty, sporadic, and superficial to be of much value.

The coins, as a rule, were much more Hellenised than the actual cults. Hellenised ideas about the gods, being more anthropomorphic, were more easily adapted to the small types which coins admitted; and, moreover, they belonged to the higher education, and obtained on that account more than their relative share of notice in such public and official monuments as coins. Philadelphia, also, was a centre for the diffusion of Greek language and letters in a peaceful land by peaceful means.

Alliance of Philadelphia and Ephesus

Figure 33: The alliance of Philadelphia and  Ephesus

A subject like that which appears in Figure 33 represents Philadelphia in a purely Greek and an entirely non-religious fashion by two men exactly similar in attitude and dress, standing and looking upon the genius of Ephesus as she carries the idol of her own Artemis towards a temple built in the Roman style. The two men are two brothers, and their identity of outward form is symbolical of their unanimity and mutual affection, and makes them a suitable envisagement of the nature of a city, whose name means brotherly love. This coin commemorates an "alliance," or agreement as to common religious and festal arrangements, between the two cities. Apparently the temple is to be understood as Philadelphian; and the Ephesian goddess is being introduced into established Philadelphian ritual in the presence of the twin Hellenised founders of the city.

Thoroughly Graeco-Roman in character, too, is the coin type shown in Figure 34. Here the front of a temple is represented as open, to show a statue of the sun-god, with head surrounded by rays: he holds out the globe of the sun (or is it the solid earth?) in his right hand, and carries a sceptre in his left.

More indicative of Anatolian religious character is a type which occurs more than once, a coiled serpent with raised head and protruding tongue riding on the back of a horse. The serpent is, without doubt, the representative of Asklepios, as in Figure 23, chapter 21, but it is probable that the type is not in a further sense religious: it does not indicate any connection in myth or cult between Asklepios and the horse, but merely that a horse-race was a prominent feature in the games celebrated under the name Asklepieia.

Sun god of Philadelphia

Figure 34: The Sun-god of Philadelphia

Inscriptions give some information, which the Hellenised coins refuse, about the cults practised in the city, and prove that the Anatolian character was strongly marked. In those Graeco-Asiatic cities there is no sign that the Greek spirit in religion took the place of the Anatolian to any great extent. The Greek character in religion was confined to superficial show and festivals: in heart the religion was thoroughly Anatolian. Many of the formulae characteristic of the religion practised in the Katakekaumene (a district described below), confession of sin, punishment of sin by the god, thanks to the god, publication of the circumstances on a stele erected as a testimony, etc., occur in inscriptions found at Philadelphia.

The Pergamenian king selected an excellent situation for the new city. A long vale runs up southeast from the Hermus Valley into the flank of the central plateau: this is the vale down which comes the river Cogamis to join the Hermus. The vale offers the best path to make the ascent from the middle Hermus Valley, 500 feet or less above the sea, to the main plateau: the plateau is over 3,000 feet above sea-level, and its outer rim is even higher. It is not easy for a road to make so high a step, and even by the Cogamis vale there is a very steep and long climb to the top of the hills which form the rim of the plateau. But this is the path by which trade and communication from the harbour of Smyrna and from Lydia and the northwest regions are maintained with Phrygia and the East. It was at that time an important road, rivalling even the great trade-route from Ephesus to the East; and in later Byzantine and medieval times it was the greatest trade-route of the whole country. Its importance is now continued by the railway, which connects Smyrna with the interior.

Moreover, the Imperial Post-Road of the first century, coming from Rome by Troas, Pergamum and Sardis passed through Philadelphia and went on to the East; and thus Philadelphia was a stage on the main line of Imperial communication. This ceased to be the case when the later overland route by Constantinople (Byzantium, as it was then called) and Ancyra was organised in the second century.

The Cogamis Vale is enclosed between Mount Tmolus on the left (south and west) and the plateau proper on the right. A site for the city was found on a broad hill, which slopes gently up from the valley towards Tmolus. In a too close view from the plain the hill seems to merge in the main mass of Tmolus, but when one ascends through the streets of the modern town to the highest point, one finds that the hill is cut off from the mountains behind. Thus the site was susceptible of being made a very strong fortress in ancient warfare, provided it were carefully fortified on the lower slopes and courageously defended in the hour of trial; and its strength was proved in many long and terrible sieges by the Mohammedans in later centuries.

From these general considerations the modern scholar has to reconstruct in imagination the character of the city at the beginning of our era. It was then an important place with a considerable coinage: the great Swiss numismatist, M. Imhoof Blumer, assigns a large body of coins to the reign of Augustus.

Then Philadelphia emerges into world-wide fame through a conspicuous disaster. It was situated on the edge of the Katakekaumene, a district of Lydia where volcanoes, now extinct, have been active in recent geological time, where the traces of their eruptions in rivers of black lava and vast cinder-heaps are very impressive, and where earthquakes have been frequent in historical times. In AD 17 an unusually severe earthquake destroyed twelve cities of the great Lydian Valley, including Sardis and Philadelphia. Strabo, who wrote about two or three years after this disaster, says that Sardis suffered most at the moment, but gives a remarkable picture of the long-continued terror at Philadelphia. Apparently frequent shocks were experienced there for a long time afterwards. It has been the present writer's experience in that country that the first great shock of earthquake is not so trying to the mind as the subsequent shocks, even though less severe, when these recur at intervals during the subsequent weeks and months, and that people who have shown conspicuous courage at first may give way to utter panic during some of the later shocks. This state of panic set in at Philadelphia, and continued when Strabo wrote, AD 20. Many of the inhabitants remained outside the city living in huts and booths over the vale, and those who were foolhardy enough (as the sober-minded thought) to remain in the city, practised various devices to support and strengthen the walls and houses against the recurring shocks. The memory of this disaster lived long; the very name Katakekaumene was a perpetual warning; people lived amid ever threatening danger, in dread always of a new disaster; and the habit of going out to the open country had probably not disappeared when the Seven Letters were written.

Philadelphia shared in the bounty of the Emperor Tiberius on this occasion, and took part with the other cities in erecting in Rome a monument commemorating their gratitude. It also founded a cult of Germanicus, the adopted son and heir of Tiberius (according to the will of Augustus), who was in Asia at the time, and who was probably the channel through which the bounty was transmitted. In spite of this liberality the city suffered severely; its prosperity was seriously impaired; and no coins were struck by it throughout the reign of Tiberius.

It was probably in commemoration of the kindness shown by the Emperor on this occasion that Philadelphia assumed the name Neokaisareia: the New Caesar was either Tiberius (as compared with Augustus) or Germanicus (as compared with Tiberius). The name Neokaisareia is known both from coins and epigraphy during the ensuing period. At first the old name was disused and the new name employed alone; then the old name recurred alongside of or alternately with the new; and finally about AD 42-50 the new name disappeared from us. Philadelphia was the only one of the Seven Cities that had voluntarily substituted a new name for its original name: the other six were too proud of their ancient fame to sacrifice their name, though Sardis took the epithet Caesareia for a short time after AD 17.

This explanation of the name Neokaisareia differs from that given by M. Imhoof Blumer, who says that the name was assumed in honour of Caligula. His reason is that the name is found only on some coins of Caligula and of his successor; but it was impossible to put it on coins of Tiberius, for no coins were struck under that Emperor. The new name began to fall into disuse even during the short reign of Caligula, and disappeared entirely soon after the accession of Claudius.

Subsequently, during the reign of Vespasian, AD 70-79, Philadelphia assumed another Imperial title and called itself Flavia; and the double name remained in use occasionally on coins through the second and third centuries.

Thus Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several characteristics: first, it was the missionary city: secondly, its people lived always in dread of a disaster, "the day of trial": thirdly, many of its people went out of the city to dwell: fourthly, it took a new name from the Imperial god.

Philadelphia, during the second century and the third, more than recovered its prosperity; and under Caracalla it was honoured with the title Neokoros or Temple-Warden in the State religion. This implies that a Provincial temple of the Imperial cult was built there between AD 211 and 217; and henceforward the Commune of Asia met there occasionally to hold some of its State festivals.

The history of the Philadelphian Church was distinguished by a prophetess Ammia, who flourished apparently between AD 100 and 160. She was universally recognised as ranking with Agabus and the four daughters of Philip, as one of the few in the later time who were truly gifted with the prophetic power. She remains a mere name to us, preserved in Eusebius' history, v., 17, 2.

In Byzantine and in medieval times its importance increased steadily. Civilisation of a kind became more firmly settled in the heart of Asia Minor in the centuries following the foundation of Constantinople as capital of the Roman Empire. The inner lands of Asia Minor became more important. Their trade now flowed to Constantinople rather than to Rome; and the coast-towns on the Aegean Sea became less important in consequence. The centre of gravity of the world, and the moving forces of civilisation, had shifted towards the East; and the connection of Asia Minor with the West was no longer of such pre-eminent importance as in the Roman time. The Empire of Rome had been strongly orientalised and transformed into a Roman-Asiatic Empire, on whose throne sat successively Phrygians, Isaurians, Cappadocians, and Armenians. In that period the situation of Philadelphia made it a great city, as a centre of wide influence, and the guardian of a doorway in the system of communication.

In the last stages of the struggle between the decaying Empire and the growing power of the Turks, Philadelphia played a noble part, and rose to a lofty pitch of heroism. Long after all the country round had passed finally under Turkish power, Philadelphia held up the banner of Christendom. It displayed all the noble qualities of endurance, truth and steadfastness, which are attributed to it in the letter of St. John, amid the ever threatening danger of Turkish attack; and its story rouses even Gibbon to admiration.

During the fourteenth century it stood practically alone against the entire Turkish power as a free, self-governing Christian city amid a Turkish land. Twice it was besieged by great Turkish armies, and its people reduced to the verge of starvation; but they had learned to defend themselves and to trust to no king or external government; and they resisted successfully to the end. Philadelphia was no longer a city of the Empire; and the Emperors regarded rather with jealousy than with sympathy its gallant struggle to maintain itself against the Turks. At last, about 1379-1390 it succumbed to a combined Turkish and Byzantine army; what the Turks alone had never been able to do they achieved by availing themselves of the divisions and jealousy among the Christians. Since that time Philadelphia has been transformed into the Mohammedan town of Ala-Sheher, the reddish city, a name derived from the speckled, red-brown hills around it.

In the last period of its freedom, it succeeded, as even the stubbornly conservative and unchanging ecclesiastical lists allowed, to the primacy among the bishoprics of Lydia, which had belonged for more than a thousand years to Sardis.