Smyrna, izmir, Turkey – Ancient Smyrna in Asia Minor
Originally populated by Asian peoples, ancient Smyrna was first identified with Greeks in 1100 BC. According to Norma Goodrich, the city was founded by a warrior-queen named Smyrna and long thereafter honored a number of female deities including Cybele and Athena. The birth place of Homer, Smyrna was “considered the most beautiful of the cities of the Roman Province of Asia,” according to Anna Edmonds. E. J. Banks writes that the Golden Street which connected the temples of Zeus and Cybele was “the best in any ancient city.”
Ancient Beginnings of Smyrna
Archaeologists date Smyrna to c 2000 BC and the city was relocated several times. One tradition holds that “New” Smyrna was relocated to Mt. Pagus by Alexander the Great following a dream while sleeping on the slopes of the mountain. The earliest city, however, c 850 BC, was surrounded by thick walls of stone and brick that comprised one of the finest ancient city defenses and relates to the first migration of Greek invaders around 1100 BC.
The city was conquered by both the Lydians and the Persians. In 688 BC, another migration of Greeks, following the calamities of the Dark Ages, settled in Smyrna which became part of the Ionian Confederacy. Although Lysimachus is credited with rebuilding the city on a new site, another tradition holds that this was accomplished earlier by Alexander the Great.
Smyrna During the Roman Period
In 195 BC Smyrna helped the Romans defeat the Seleucids. Following the death of Attalus III of Pergamum, Smyrna, which had been part of his kingdom, became part of the Roman Province of Asia. Smyrna developed into an important trade city and was renowned for its schools of medicine and science. Unlike Ephesus, the other prominent Roman city in Anatolia, Smyrna’s harbor never silted.
A city of wide roads and impressive building, the theater, built on the side of Mt. Pagus, seated 20,000 spectators. As Christianity grew during the latter first century AD, Smyrna became an important site for the expanding sect, associated with Polycarp, an important Christian bishop who was martyred in the city. Smyrna is one of the “Seven Churches” mentioned in the Apocalypse of St. John. During this period, the inhabitants numbered over 100,000 people.
Decline of Ancient Smyrna
Depending on trade for its survival, the city gradually declined during the Byzantine period, a trend that can be traced, perhaps, to the building of Constantinople. Incessant warfare between Muslims and the Byzantines exacerbated the city’s decline. The Mongol invasion of AD 1402 devastated the city with most of the inhabitants massacred by Tamerlane. Ultimately, during the late 15th century, as Europe sought new trade routes to the east and discovered America, Smyrna’s utility as a trade center diminished.
Built over the ruins of centuries of ancient civilizations, the Turkish city Izmir is one of the largest in Asia Minor. Few ruins remain visible other than the old Roman agora.
Edgar J. Banks, “Smyrna,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia Vol. IV, James Orr, Gen. Ed., (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939).
Fatih Cimok, A Guide to the Seven Churches (Istanbul:A Turizm Yayinlari, 2001).
Anna G. Edmonds, Turkey’s Religious Sites (Istanbul: Damko A.S., 1998).
Norma Lorre Goodrich, Priestesses (HarperPerennial, 1990).