The Churches of Revelation, Then and Now
In May 2008 we made a tour of each of the sites of the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3. Accompanying me on the tour were Pastor David Brown of Milwaukee and Brian Snider of Alabama.
Our genial tour guide, Kemal Capar, is a very knowledgeable professional who spends part of each year in archaeological excavations.
In the apostle John’s day the seven cities were located in a province of the Roman Empire called Asia, but today they are located in western Turkey. This part of the world is also called Asia Minor. The seven cities are situated in a rough crescent about 400 miles in length, beginning with Ephesus on the coast by the Aegean Sea. About 60 miles north is Smyrna, and about 100 miles further north is Pergamum. From Pergamum you go southeast about 100 miles to Thyatira, then another 50 miles southeast to Sardis, then 40 miles southeast to Philadelphia, and finally 50 more miles southeast to Laodicea.
Asia Minor was part of the Byzantine Empire, with its headquarters in Constantinople. The ruins of churches that exist today are from that period and represent the Greek Orthodox faith.
In the 15th century the Muslims conquered Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul. It was the headquarters for the Ottoman Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Today Turkey is a democracy but the vast majority of the people are Muslim and Christians are often persecuted if they attempt to evangelize.
The countryside is rolling hills and small mountains, watered by rivers and streams and by rains part of the year. It is an agricultural paradise. Western Turkey is one of the breadbaskets of Europe. They export 80 types of fruits and 50 types of vegetables and are a major producer of olives, grapes, cotton, wheat, rice, and tobacco. Olive oil and wine have been two of the region’s major products since ancient times.
Turkey is the home of angora wool (the source of mohair), and sheep and goats are common sights in the region of the seven churches.
Western Turkey is an interesting mixture of old and new. The large-scale farming is done with machinery, but there are still many smaller farms that are operated by hand, using horses, donkeys, buggies, wagons, sickles, and other things that would be recognized by the apostle Paul if he were to walk on the scene today.
When the book of Revelation was written the province of Asia was a peaceful, prosperous place, lying at the very heart of the Empire. New roads connected the cities. Bandits and pirates were under control. Public works were massive and far reaching. An efficient financial and banking system existed. Coins were in common use. Business opportunities were great. Many people traveled extensively for business and pleasure. Public entertainment was provided in the form of plays, concerts, orations, sports, and gladiatorial fights.
The archaeological excavations from the Roman period are extensive and far exceeded our expectations. The archaeological recoveries at Aphrodisias, Pergamum, Hierapolis, Laodicea, Sardis, and Ephesus are world class and can compete with anything I have seen in Greece and Italy. And in Turkey you are allowed wonderful access to examine the ruins up close.
We got a great feel for what conditions were like during the days of the Lord’s apostles when they traveled across the Roman Empire preaching the gospel and establishing the first churches.
The aqueduct systems that brought water to the cities were extensive and well designed, and sections of them still stand in places. There were three aqueducts that supplied Pergamos. One was 50 miles long.
The gates to the cities were impressive. The cities were surrounded by walls and there were gates at each entrance and sometimes there were inner gates as well.
One of the gates to Ephesus is near the library.
The Gate of Hercules in Ephesus was narrow to restrict the flow of people into the main part of the city.
One of the main gates to Hieropolis was at the head of Frontinus Street.
There were paved avenues lined with marble columns and statues and shops. These were sometimes lit at night with lamps. Paul would have walked on these roads as he entered these cities.
The Priests’ Way in Ephesus
The Marble Way in Ephesus
The Arcadian Way in Ephesus
The Sacred Way in Pergamos
The Frontinus Street in Hieropolis
Two of the ancient streets of Laodicea have been recovered
There were colonnaded porticos or porches leading to major buildings.
There were arched gateways.
There were broad markets called agoras surrounded with columns and statues.
There were elaborate monuments.
Some parts of the cities were paved with tiles and mosaics, such as those we saw at Aphrodisias and Ephesus.
The public baths were places for socializing and were richly ornamented. They were built of concrete and overlaid with marble veneer and decorated with carved figures, paintings, mosaics, and statues. The floors were tiled. Some had rooms as large as 200 yards square. There were separate sections for cold water, warm water, and hot water. The water was piped underground and heated in furnaces.
The gymnasiums were used for athletic training, education, and socializing. They were often connected to public baths and small theaters and were ornamented with rare marble, statues, mosaics, and fountains. The one at Sardis had 100 columns on the front façade. It was restored between 1965 and 1973.
There were beautiful fountains, such as the Fountain of Trajan in Ephesus. And the Triton Fountain at Hierapolis. The Water Palace at Ephesus was probably the largest building in the city. It acted as a reservoir to supply water to the city.
They even had public toilets, such as those we saw in Ephesus, which could seat 50 people at once. They were situated over a canal of running water that flowed into the city sewer system.
There were also magnificent libraries. The Celsian Library at Ephesus was a two-story building with a beautiful colonnaded façade. It was restored in the 1970s. A statue of Athena sat in a prominent place inside.
The theaters and stadiums were very impressive. They performed plays, concerts, orations, festivals to the gods and goddesses, gladiator competitions, and wild-animal fights. Condemned criminals would sometimes be burned alive or thrown to wild beasts. Christians, too, were tormented and killed in public spectacles.
The theater at Aphrodisias was built into a hollowed out hill and was completed in 27 B.C. It seated 7,000 and had a 3-storey marble stage. The man who funded it was a freed slave of the first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus. He was a native of the city and was probably captured by pirates and sold to Octavian. After his release, he returned to Aphrodisias a wealthy man.
The theater at Hierapolis seated 20,000. The performance area could be flooded with water for miniature mock naval battles.
The theater at Ephesus was built into the side of Mt. Pion and held 25,000 spectators. It had a 3-storey marble stage, which has not been restored. The stage acted as a sounding board and actors speaking in a normal voice could be heard throughout the theater.
Pergamos had a large theater built on the side of the acropolis below the temple of Athena. It had 78 rows of seats and a capacity of 10,000. The “acoustics were so perfect that an actor speaking in a normal voice could be heard on the topmost seat” (J. T. Marlin, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor).
The stadium at Aphrodisias was about 300 yards long and had 30 tiers of seating, with a capacity of 30,000. It is the best-preserved and largest ancient stadium in the world. It was the scene of Greek athletic contests (foot races, long jumping, wrestling, discus, javelin throwing), gladiatorial contests, and wild-beast fights. It was built along the old city wall, parts of which can still be seen.
The gladiators oftentimes fought to the death, after giving the traditional salute to the emperor: “Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!” (“Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you!”). The life of the loser could be saved if the governor and his entourage gave a thumbs up sign. In the Ephesus museum there is a chart that was recovered from tomb inscriptions describing the careers of some of the gladiators.
Age 21 - 4 years training, died during his 5th fight
Age 23 - survived 8 fights, died during the 9th
Age 27 - survived 15 fights, died during the 16th
Age 30 - 34 fights 21 victories, 9 draws, 4 defeats (always pardoned)
Age 48 - 19 victories, 20 years of service
Age 60 - freed and pensioned
The cities also had small theaters that were used as a meeting place for the city assemblymen as well as for plays, concerts, poetry readings, pantomimes, and speeches. They were called Odeons. The one at Ephesus seated 2,000. The one at Aphrodisias seated 1,000. Originally it had a roof and was entered by a lofty double-isled hall with marble columns running down the center. It had an upper section that has not been restored.
Wealthy people were buried in stone or marble caskets called sarcophagi. There is a large necropolis or burial ground outside of Hierapolis with hundreds of these intact. The gardens and grounds were maintained by trade guilds. Many of these have also been preserved in Ephesus.
The cities of the Roman Empire were given over to idolatry. They worshiped Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis (Diana), Apollos, Eros, Nike, Poseidon, and countless other deities.
Aphrodite, Artemis, and Diana were fertility goddesses (“the goddess of love”). Immoral rites were associated with their worship.
They were also mother goddesses. The ancient mother goddess worship permeated the Roman Empire. It had first appeared in ancient Babel and spread throughout the world. In the museum at Aphrodisias there is a section devoted to these goddesses. There was Artemis, Cybele, Opy, Rhea, Vesta, Kubaba, Tanrika, and others. Some of the goddesses were depicted with a child. An example is Tyche, the goddess of good luck. Another is Isis, who is depicted holding the baby god Horus. This is where Rome borrowed its Madonna-Child veneration.
Some of the old temples have been partially recovered. The temple of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias has some of the pillars still standing. The temple of Artemis at Sardis has been partially recovered. The temple of Artemis at Ephesus stood at the head of the harbor and was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It took 220 years to build and was 361 feet long and 180 feet wide. “It was built of cedar, cypress, white marble, and even gold, with which it glittered. ... The magnificence of this sanctuary was a proverb throughout the civilized world” (McClintock and Strong).
The Roman cities also worshiped the emperors. This was called the imperial cult. An annual festival was held and every citizen was expected to participate. Refusal brought persecution upon the Christians.
At Aphrodisias there was a temple called Sebasteion, which was dedicated to Julius Claudius. It was also associated with the worship of Nike and Aphrodite. At Ephesus there was a temple of Hadrian. It was also associated with Fortune, the god of fate. At Pergamum the temple of Trajan has been partially restored.
We also saw the ruins of an ancient Jewish synagogue in Sardis. Paul preached in the synagogues when he first came to a city. The one at Sardis is the largest ancient synagogue that has been recovered. There was a fountain in the entrance hall. The floors were covered with mosaics. The walls had designs made of marble inlays. The main hall is thought to have had a capacity of 1,000. There were thrones for Elijah and Moses. The throne of Moses was possibly occupied by the head rabbi, the president of the Sanhedrin, and the throne of Elijah by visiting speakers. Smaller thrones have also been discovered in the ruins of the synagogues at Chorazin in Israel, at Hammath by Tiberius, and on the island of Delos in Greece.
EPHESUS (Revelation 2:1-7)
Ephesus was the chief city of the region of Lydia in the Roman province of Asia and during the time of Caesar Augustus it bore the title “the first and greatest metropolis of Asia” (McClintock and Strong). It was called “the light of Asia” and “the market of Asia.” It was here that the Roman proconsul or governor lived.
Its prestige and wealth stemmed largely from its situation. It was located on the coast of the Aegean Sea, surrounded by very fertile soil and enjoying an exceptional climate. It had a large artificial harbor, the greatest in Asia, though it was subject to silting and shifting. After centuries of this process the sea has receded and the shore is now six miles away. “Standing at the entrance of the valley which reaches far into the interior of Asia Minor, and connected by highways with the chief cities of the province, Ephesus was the most easily accessible city in Asia, both by land and sea” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
It had a magnificent theater that could seat 24,000, and a large portion of it is still visible today in the excavated area of the city. It is in this theater that the event described in Acts 19:23-41 took place, when the people were stirred up against the apostle Paul by the idol-maker Demetrius. The theater was adorned with numerous pagan statues such as Cupid and Nike (also called Victory).
Ephesus was dedicated to the worship of Diana (Acts 19:24-28). (The Greeks called her Artemis, while the Romans called her Diana.) There was a magnificent temple of Diana at the head of the city’s harbor. The temple, which took 220 years to build with funds provided from cities throughout Asia Minor, was listed among the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” It was 110 meters (361 feet) long and 55 meters (180.5 feet) wide, sitting on a platform 127 meters (420 feet) long and 73 meters (240 feet) wide (Edwin Yamauchi, New Testament Cities, p. 103). “It was supported by 127 columns, each of which had been contributed by some prince, and were 60 feet high; 36 of them were richly carved. [They were also overlaid with gold.] ... The temple was built of cedar, cypress, white marble, and even gold, with which it glittered. ... The magnificence of this sanctuary was a proverb throughout the civilized world” (McClintock and Strong). One ancient writer testified: “I have seen the walls of the hanging gardens of Babylon, the statue of Zeus of Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, the lofty pyramids, the pharos of Alexandria and the ancient tomb of Mausolus. But when I beheld the temple at Ephesus towering in the clouds, all these other marvels were eclipsed” (J.T. Marlin. The Seven Churches of Asia Minor, p. 36).
The temple of Diana was filled with incalculable treasure that was donated to the goddess, and because of its strength and prestige it became a banking center where people stored their money for safe-keeping.
The right of sanctuary or asylum was granted to any criminal who took refuge within a bowshot of the Diana temple, but this system became so abused and the number of criminals so increased in the surrounding village that it was abolished by the emperor Tiberius.
The temple of Diana burned in 262 A.D. for the fifth time and was never rebuilt. Some of its marble was used to build the Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople and the Basilica of St. John in Ephesus. Other columns and sculptured stones were carried to Rome and used in the building of Roman Catholic churches. In the 14th century the Cayster river overflowed its banks and deposited mud over the spot of the former temple, “and at last its very site was forgotten.”
The temple ruins were discovered in 1870 during an excavation led by John T. Wood for the British Museum. “Almost by accident it was then found in the valley outside the city walls, several feet below the present surface. Its foundation, which alone remained, enabled Mr. Wood to reconstruct the entire temple plan. The temple was built upon a foundation which was reached by a flight of ten steps. ... like the temples of Greece, its interior was open to the sky” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
Ephesus was also famous for its magic arts. The “Ephesian letters,” containing magic formulas written on paper or parchment, were much sought after for use as amulets to ward off evil spirits and to bring good luck. Through Paul’s preaching and the conversion of many people at Ephesus a bonfire was made of magic books at the time of the founding of the church there (Acts 19:17-19).
Present day Ephesus is located in Turkey and is called Selcuk, with a population of 10,000. Extensive archeological excavations have been carried out since the discovery of the ruins of the ancient Diana temple in the 19th century.
SMYRNA (Rev. 2:8-11)
It was located about 50 miles north of Ephesus on the Aegean sea in a pleasant location with a prevailing gentle west wind. It had an excellent harbor that could be closed to shipping. The city was built at the head of a gulf that reached 30 miles inland. “The harbor was double in fact. The outer harbor was a portion of the gulf and was used as a place for the mooring of ships and the inner harbor, now silted in, was small enough that it could be closed to the seagoing boats of that age by a chain” (Marlin, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor).
It was one of the finest cities in the province of Asia. It was beautifully and advantageously situated. “From the sea it spread to the foothills and to Mt. Pagos that was covered with temples and lovely buildings. These have been referred to as the ‘crown of Smyrna.’ Aristides said that Smyrna was the most beautiful city in the world, ‘a flower of beauty such as earth and sun had never showed to mankind’” (Marlin). “The streets were handsome, well paved, and drawn at right angles, and the city contained several squares, porticos, a public library, and numerous temples and other public buildings” (McClintock and Strong). The “golden street” that connected the temples of Zeus and Cybele is said to have been the best in the world (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
It was a place of great commerce, science, and medicine, and was also famous for its rhetoric and philosophy.
It had many pagan temples dedicated to gods and goddesses, including Zeus, Dionysius, and a goddess called the Mother of the Gods, who was said to be both the mother and wife of Zeus and the mother of all things. From the time of Tiberius there was a temple in Smyrna dedicated to Roman emperor worship.
Olympic games dedicated to Zeus were held here and a magnificent 20,000-seat stadium was built for this purpose. It was in this stadium that the Christian preacher Polycarp was martyred in 155 A.D. “It was exactly on such occasions that what the pagans regarded as the unpatriotic and anti-social spirit of the early Christians became most apparent; and it was to the violent demands of the people assembled in the stadium that the Roman proconsul yielded up the martyr” (McClintock and Strong).
The city was famous for its wine and drunkenness. It was devoted to the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine and moral debauchery. A statue “representing an old woman intoxicated illustrates the prevalent habits of the population.”
Today Smyrna is called Izmir, and the population is two million. The modern city is built over the ancient one, and there are no archaeological excavations of any significance. The harbor is very beautiful and is visited by many large cruise ships.
PERGAMOS (Rev. 2:12-17)
Pergamos is located about 90 miles north of Smyrna, and though it was some 15 miles from the sea, the nearby river Caicus was navigable by small craft.
In John’s day the city had been built around the foot of the hill while the city’s acropolis (high fortified city) was located on the summit. On the acropolis were palaces and temples.
Pergamos was located at the crossroads of all the major roads of western Asia and was the district center of jurisdiction and of commerce. It was a banking city for the wealthy. It was famous for its ointments, pottery, tapestries, and parchment. “The sumptuousness of the Attalic princes had raised Pergamos to the rank of the first city in Asia as regards splendor, and Pliny speaks of it as without a rival in the province” (McClintock and Strong).
The Pergamos mosaicists were renowned. “The mosaicists of Pergamum seem to have been among the earliest artists who superimposed one colour on another to create an intermediate shade, such as applying a translucent coat of red plaster to white mosaic cubes to obtain a particular bright red. They were also known as the first who reduced the size of the mosaic cubes to the size of pin-heads. By using very small mosaic cubes in graded shades of each colour they achieved gradual transitions of tone and shadow which gave their works the impression of painting” (Fatih Cimak, Pergamum).
It was a magnificent city of impressive, highly ornamented palaces, public buildings, and pagan temples, featuring fine marble, Corinthian and Ionic columns, and splendid capitals.
On the side of the acropolis was a large theater with 78 rows of seats and a capacity of 10,000, “whose acoustics were so perfect that an actor speaking in a normal voice could be heard on the topmost seat” (J. T. Marlin, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor).
Its library, consisting of 200,000 volumes, was exceeded in magnificence only by that of Alexandria, Egypt, and eventually the emperor Mark Anthony gave it to the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.
The making of books on parchment (prepared animal’s skins) was invented here, the word “parchment” being derived from the name of the city. While visiting Pergamos I bought a sheet of sheepskin parchment made in the region.
Pergamos was addicted to idolatry and its attending sensuality. Most of the temples were located on the top of the acropolis overlooking the city. There was a beautiful grove called the Nicephorium in the midst of which were temples dedicated to Zeus (Jupiter or Jove), Dionysus, Athena, Diana, Apollo, Aphrodite, and Venus.
The great altar of Zeus was 40 feet in height and was renowned as one of the wonders of the world. A large frieze carved in marble depicts a mythical battle between Greek gods (e.g., Zeus and Hercules) and supernatural giants. It was “one of the greatest achievements in the field of sculpture” (Marlin). Today there are trees growing on the altar’s location. Significant parts of it were recovered in the 1870s by German archaeologists and it was reconstructed in the Berlin Museum.
There were three temples in Pergamos dedicated to Roman emperors. There was also a statue of Augustus in the Athena temple. The ruins of the temple of Trajan are some of the most impressive I have seen.
Probably the most celebrated temple was dedicated to Asklepios (Asclepios or Aesculapius), a god worshipped in the form of a serpent. Asklepios Soter means “Asklepios the Savior,” and this idol was called “the god of Pergamos.” It was located in the plain at the foot of the acropolis. The city’s coins depicted a rod encircled by a serpent. They also depicted the god Asklepios as a bearded man holding a serpent-entwined staff. In other depictions he was sitting in a chair with the serpent underneath and patients approaching him for healing. The serpent-entwined staff symbol was adopted by the medical school that was associated with the temple, and it remains the symbol of medical practice today. The sick flocked here seeking a cure, believing that while they slept in the court of the temple the serpent god would reveal his healing power by means of dreams. The priests interpreted the dreams and prescribed cures. If the patients were touched by any of the snakes that were kept in the temple, they believed that they had been touched by God.
Jesus spoke of Pergamos as the seat of Satan, and some think He was referring particularly to the temple of Zeus, and this is possible, as Zeus was the chief of the Greek gods. It is also possible that He was referring to the emperor worship, as this is what got the Christians in trouble more often than not. It might be, though, that He was referring to Pergamos’ function as a center for idolatry in general.
The archaeological excavations at Pergamos are extensive. Much of the acropolis has been excavated, as well as the Asklepios temple area below the mountain and its adjoining small theater. On the acropolis we find the ruins of the old walls, the library, the palace, the temple of Athena, the seat of Zeus, the temple of Trajan, the temple of Dionysius, and the theater. Parts of the ancient Roman aqueduct are still standing.
THYATIRA (Rev. 2:18-29)
Thyatira, located about 100 miles southeast of Pergamos, was a wealthy town in the region of Lydia in the Roman province of Asia. It was situated in a valley near the river Lycus.
The city was famous for its dying processes. The dye was made of the madder-root, the color of which is now called Turkish Red. “With this guild there can be no doubt that Lydia, the seller of purple stuffs, from whom Paul met with so favorable a reception at Philippi (Acts 16:14), was connected. ... The waters here are said to be so well adapted for dyeing that in no place can the scarlet cloth out of which fezzes are made be so brilliantly or so permanently dyed as here” (McClintock and Strong). “A small quantity of this expensive dye would cost the equivalent of a workman’s wages for a year” (Marlin).
The city’s trade guilds were very advanced. There was a separate guild for each trade and each artisan belonged to his particular guild. Through their unity they wielded great influence. “These guilds were a source of great problems for the Christians. There were guilds for the workers in the various trades like leather, wool and linen, metal, pottery, dying, dress making, baking, etc. At their various meetings they would have a meal and oftentimes the meat served had been offered to an idol or they met in an idol temple and Christians could not engage in these practices. ... To refuse to belong to a guild in that day and age would be like a carpenter, a plumber or a coal miner refusing to belong to his union today. Commercial existence was dependent upon one’s belonging to a guild” (Marlin).
The principal deity of Thyatira was Tyrimnos, who was worshipped as the sun-god. There were also cults dedicated to the worship of Artemis (Diana), Hercules, Bacchus, and Athena, among others. The temple of Sambethe featured a prophetess who acted as an oracle of the god.
Ancient Tyratira is located in modern-day Turkey and is called Akhisar, with a population of 60,000. The modern city is built over the ancient city and the archaeological excavation is limited to one small area. They recovered part of an old Greek orthodox basilica and below that are the remnants of the ancient Roman street. It was lined with 100 pillars decorated with 25 statues of Eros.
SARDIS (Rev. 3:1-6)
Sardis was located about 50 miles south and slightly east of Thyatira, and was situated on the northern slope of Mt. Tmolus. The river Pactolus flowed by the base of the mountain, and the surrounding area is a well watered plain. The soil is rich and the climate moderate. Its acropolis (high fortified city) was built on a rock of soft sandstone 950 feet high, which was a spur of the mountain, and its southern perpendicular wall was considered impregnable and thus left unguarded, though, as we will see, troops found a way to scale the wall and successfully attack the city in the 6th and again in the 3rd century B.C.
The historian Pliny said the art of dying wool was invented here. There were vast flocks of sheep in the surrounding region and the wool was sent to Sardis for processing. Its carpets were so famous that they were used by the king of Persia.
The sands of its rivers produced much gold, and gold and silver coins were first minted in Sardis.
The city featured magnificent pagan temples, such as the temple of Zeus (Jupiter, Jove), that was built by Alexander the Great, and the temple of the goddess Artemis.
The city was also infamous for its immoral habits.
Some extensive archaeological excavations have been done at Sardis (called Sart today). The first period of excavation was between 1910 and 1922. Excavations began again in 1958 and have continued to the present.
The gymnasium and Roman bath had 100 columns on the front façade. It was restored between 1965 and 1973.
The temple of Artemis is the valley by the river. By the 20th century it was completely covered with dirt except for the top of the two tall pillars. It was excavated under the direction of Howard Butler of Princeton University between 1910 and 1914. Originally there were 78 great pillars, each 58 feet high. The temple was also devoted to Zeus and to the worship of the imperial cult.
An excavation in 1962 uncovered the largest ancient Jewish synagogue yet discovered. The first stage of it was built sometime after the earthquake of 17 A.D. (Edwin Yamauchi, New Testament Cities, p. 71). It was built by the gymnasium.
Nearby was one of the main Roman avenues. It was about 55 feet wide, which is twice as wide as the typical modern roadway. It was paved with marble blocks and lined with porticos with colored mosaic floors.
Along the street at this point were shops owned by Jews. Some of the plaques have been recovered, such as one saying, “The shop of Jacob the elder of the synagogue.”
There was a fountain in the entrance hall of the synagogue. The floors were covered with mosaics. The walls had designs made of marble inlays. The main hall is thought to have had a capacity of 1,000. There were thrones for Elijah and Moses. The throne of Moses was possibly occupied by the head rabbi, the president of the Sanhedrin, and the throne of Elijah by visiting speakers. Smaller thrones have also been discovered in the ruins of the synagogues at Chorazin in Israel, at Hammath by Tiberius, and on the island of Delos in Greece.
PHILADELPHIA (Rev. 3:7-13)
The city was located about 40 miles southeast of Sardis and about 150 miles due east of Ephesus and was built on several hills “extremely regular in figure and having the appearance of truncated pyramids.” It was about 650 feet in altitude and had a pleasant and healthy climate. The land nearby was exceedingly fertile.
The city got its name from Attalus Philadelphus, one of its kings, or was named after him by his brother Eumenes in the 2nd century (Edwin Yamauchi, New Testament Cities, p. 77).
It was called “Little Athens” because of the magnificence of the temples and other public buildings which adorned it (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
It was famous for its wine (which was celebrated by the Roman poet Virgil), and the city’s coins featured an image of Bacchus (or a female Bacchant), the god of revelry and debauchery. Dionysus was also worshipped in Philadelphia.
The modern city of Philadelphia was built over the ancient city, and very little archaeological excavation has been done. There is only one small section that can be seen in the yard of the ruins of St. Jean Church, a Greek Orthodox church that was built about 600 A.D.
LAODICEA (Rev. 3:14-22)
Located about 40 miles south and a little east of Philadelphia and 18 miles west of Colosse, Laodicea was a large and important city in John’s time. It was situated upon six or seven hills about a mile and a half from the small river Lycus. It was located on the crossroads of the most important highway running from Ephesus to the east. The road entered the city on the west through the Ephesian Gates and left the city on the east by the Syrian Gates.
The city was the residence of the Roman governors of Asia under the emperors and had magnificent public buildings, a large stadium, and three marble theaters, one of which was 450 feet in diameter.
It was famous for its wealth. It was a banking and trading center. It has been called the “Wall Street” of Asia Minor. It was so wealthy that when the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 61 A.D. the citizens rejected the help of the Roman government and rebuilt at their own expense.
It was a clothing and fashion center. The fine glossy black wool of its sheep was known far and wide. One thing made from this was a soft wool tunic called trimita, which was extremely popular (William Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches).
The city was also devoted to sports and music. The enclosed stadium 1,000 feet in length served for gladiatorial games as well as musical contests.
The city was given over to idolatry, worshipping Zeus, Dionysus, Helios (the sun), Athena, Aphrodite, and others (Yamauchi, New Testament Cities in Western Asia Minor).
There was a renowned school of medicine there, and a popular Phrygian powder for weak and sick eyes was manufactured in Laodicea and distributed widely in tablet form.
The ancient city of Laodicea was abandoned and eventually covered with dirt. Archaeological excavations began only recently, but much has been uncovered, including bath houses, the foundations of major buildings, fountains, theaters, temples, gates, and two of the colonnaded streets.
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