Pergamum in northwestern Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) became one of the most important cities of the ancient world. Pergamum’s greatness was partly due to its favorable location. Sitting atop a ridge, Pergamum was naturally fortified. Just 15 miles from the Aegean Sea, it was close to a port. Pergamum also overlooked a rich farming valley.
Pergamum was the capital city of the Attalid dynasty*, which began in the middle 200s B.C. when Attalus I became king. Both Attalus and his successor strove to make Pergamum a magnificent and cultured city, and it soon ranked among the great Hellenistic* cities of Asia. Pergamum was a model of town planning, with impressive buildings and monuments constructed on terraces that lined the ridge. It had fortified barracks, a palace, temples, and a library that was second only to the great Library at Alexandria. The city also had the largest gymnasium ever built by the Greeks. Pergamum was especially noted for its sculptures, which significantly influenced art throughout the entire Greek world. One of the most famous is the Great Altar of Zeus, a frieze* depicting the victory of the gods over the Titans*.
Pergamum was famous for its medicinal waters and the hospital of Asclepius, the god of healing. Many people came to Pergamum for treatment, and the great Greek physician Galen was born and raised there in the A.D. 100s. Galen began his career in the hospital of Asclepius as physician to the gladiators*.
The last Attalid king surrendered his kingdom to the Romans in 133 B.C., and Pergamum was declared a free city within the Roman empire. (It was not required to pay tribute* to Rome.) Pergamum continued to be an important center of culture, wealth, and healing. Although the city was attacked and partly destroyed by Goths around A.D. 250, Pergamum remained an important center of learning for many generations.
* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group
* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.
* frieze in sculpture, a decorated band around a structure
* Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth before the Olympian gods
* gladiator in ancient Rome, slave or captive who participated in combats that were staged for public entertainment
* tribute payment made to a dominant power or local government