Perge, one of Pamphylia's foremost cities, was founded on a wide plain between two hills 4 km. west of the Kestros (Aksu) river.
Skylax, who lived in the fourth century B.C. and was the earliest of the ancient writers to mention Perge, states that the city was in Pamphylia. In the New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles, the sentence "...when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perge in Pamphylia" suggests that Perge could be reached from the sea in ancient times. Just as the Kestros provides convenient communication today, the diver also played an important role in antiquity, making the land productive, and securing for Perge the possibility of sea trade. Despite its being some 12 km. inland from the sea, Perge by means of the Kestros, was able to benefit from the advantages of the sea as if it were a coastal city. Moreover, it was removed from the attacks of pirates invading by sea.
In later copies of a third or fourth century map of the world, Perge is shown beside the principal road starting at Pergamum and ending at Side.
ccording to Strabo, the city was founded after the Trojan War by colonists from Argos under the leadership of heroes named Mopsos and Calchas. Linguistic research confirms that Achaeans entered Pamphylia toward the end of the second millennium B.C. yn addition to these studies, inscriptions dating to 120-121 A.D., discovered in the 1953 excavations in the courtyard of Perge's Hellenistic city gate, provide further testimony to this colonization; inscriptions on statue bases mention the names of seven heroes-Mopsos, Calchas, Riksos, Labos, Machaon, Leonteus, and Minyasas, the legendary founders of the city.
There is no further record of Perge in written sources until the middle of the fourth century. There can be no doubt, however, that Perge was also under Persian rule until the arrival of Alexander the Great.
In 333 B.C. Perge surrendered to Alexander without resistance. Its submissive behaviour can be explained by, besides its favourable policy, the fact that at this period the city was not yet surrounded by protective walls.
With the death of Alexander, Perge remained for a short time within the boundaries of Antigonos domain and later fell under Seleucid sovereignty. When the border dispute between the Seleucids and the king of Pergamum continued after the treaty of Apamea, the Roman consul Manlius Vulso was sent from Rome in 188 A.D. in the capacity of mediator. Learning that Antiochos III had a garrison in Perge, he surrounded the city at the urging of Pergamum's king. At this point the garrison commander informed the consul that he could not surrender the city before obtaining permission from Antiochos; for this, he said he would need thirty days, at the end of which, Perge passed to Pergamum.
Perge became totally independent when the kingdom of Pergamum was turned over to Rome in about 133 B.C.
In 79 B.C. the Roman statesman Cicero described to the senate, Cilician questor Gaius Verres' unlawful conduct in Perge, saying, "As you know, there is a very old and sacred temple to Diana in Perge. I assert that this was also robbed and looted by Verres and that the gold was stripped from the statue of Diana and stolen".
Artemis occupied an important position among the gods and goddesses held sacred in Perge. This ancient Anatolian goddess appears on Hellenistic coins under the name Vanassa Preiia, as she was called in the Pamphylian dialect; after Greek colonization she became known as Artemis Pergaia. Besides being rendered on coinage as a cult statue or as a huntress, the Artemis of Perge is the subject of a variety of statues and reliefs found in excavations of the city. A relief in the from of a cult statue on a square stone block is particularly interesting. The cult of Artemis Pergaia also appears in many other cities, even in countries around the Mediterranean.
As famous as Artemis Pergaia was in the ancient world, no trace of the temple has yet been found. For the present we must content ourselves with what knowledge we can get from schematic representations of the temple on coins; of this renowned monument that safeguarded the gold-adorned statue of Artemis, and whose scale, beauty, and construction was marvelled at by ancient writers.
In 46 A.D., Perge became the setting of an event important to the Christian world. The New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles, writes that St. Paul journeyed from Cyprus to Perge, from there continued on to Antiocheia in Pisidia, then returned to Perge where he delivered a ser mon. Then he left the city and went to Attaleia.
From the beginning of the Imperial era, work projects were carried out in Perge, and in the second and third centuries A.D., the city grew into one of the most beautiful, not just in Pamphylia, but in all of Anatolia.
In the first half of the fourth century, during the reign of Constantine the Great (324-337), Perge became an important centre of Christianity once this faith had became of official religion of the Roman Empire. The city retained its status as a Christian centre in the fifth and sixth centuries. Due to frequent rebellions and raids, the citizens retreated inside the city walls, able to defend themselves only from within the acropolis. Perge lost its remaining power in the wake of the mid-seventh century Arab raids. At this time some residents of the city migrated to Antalya.
The first building one encounters on entering the city is a theatre of Greco-Roman type constructed on the southern slopes of the Kocabelen hill. The cavea, slightly more than a semicircle, is divided in two by a wide diazoma passing through it. It contains 19 seating levels below and 23 above, which translate into a total seating capacity of about 13,000. In conformance to the canons of Roman theatre galleries serving as the entrance and exit ways, spectators reached the diazoma from the parados on either side via vaulted passages and stairs; from there they were dispersed to their seats.
The orchestra, situated between the cavea and the stage building, is wider than a semicircle. Because of the gladiatorial and will animal combats popular in the mid-third century, the orchestra was used as an arena. To keep the animals from escaping, it was surrounded by carved balustrade panels that passed between marble knobs made in the form of Herme.
The partially standing two-storey stage building can be dated to the middle of the second century A.D. by its columned architecture and sculptural ornamentation. On the facade, columns between the five doors by which the actors entered and exited support a narrow podium above. The theatre's most striking feature is a series of marble reliefs of mythological subject decorating the face of this podium. The first relief on the right portrays the local god personifying the Kestros (Aksu) river, Perge's lifeblood, along with one of the mythological females called nymphs. From here on, the reliefs depict, in serial form, the entire life story of Dionysos, the god of wine and the founder and protector of theatres. Dionysos was the son of Zeus and Semele, the daughter of a king and reputed to be as beautiful as spring. Hera, ever jealous of her husband, wanted to get rid of Semele along with her son. To trick her, the goddess assumed the form of the girl's mother and begged Semele to persuade Zeus to let her see him in all his might and glory. The credulous Semele was taken in by the ruse and implored Zeus to acquiesce. Zeus, unable to resist the pleas of his beloved, came down from Olympos on his golden chariot and appeared before her, but the mortal Semele could not withstand his radiance and was consumed by fire. Dying, she gave birth to the fruit of her love, who had not yet come to full term, and threw him from the flames. Zeus took this little boy, sewed him into his hip and kept him there until his term was completed. It is in this way that the boy was given the name Dionysos-born once from his mother's womb and coming into the world a second time from his father's hip. So that the infant could be protected from Hera's malevolence, fed and brought to manhood, he was taken by Hermes to the nymphs of Mount Nysa, who raised the boy in a cave, giving him love and careful attention. Finally, as a young man, Dionysos one day drank the juice of all the grapes on the vine growing along the cave's walls. This is how wine was discovered. With the aim of introducing his new drink into every corner of the globe and spreading the knowledge of viniculture, the god of wine went on a journey around the world in a chariot drawn by two panthers.
It is unfortunate that an important section of these beautiful reliefs was damaged as a result of the subsidence of the stage building. From pieces recovered during excavations begun in 1985, it is evident that the building was originally decorated with several more friezes on different themes. The subject of a 5 metre-long frieze from an as yet undetermined part of the building is especially interesting. Here, Tyche holds a cornucopia in her left hand, and in her right a cult statue. On either side are the figures of an old man and two youths bringing bulls for sacrifice to the goddess.
On the right of the asphalt road running from the theatre to the city is one of the best preserved stadiums to have survived from ancient times to our own. This huge rectangular building measuring 34x 334 metres, is shaped like a horseshoe on its north end and open on its south. It is wery likely that the building was entered at this point via a monumental wooden door. The stadium was built on a substructure of 70 vaulted chambers, 30 along each long side and 10 on its narrow northern end. These chambers are interconnected, with every third compartment providing entrance to the theatre. From inscriptions over the remaining compartments giving the names of their owners and listing various types of goods,it is clear that these spaces were used as shops. The tiers of seats which lie on top of these vaulted rooms, provided a seating capacity of 12,000. When gladiatorial and wild animal combat became popular in the mid-third century, the north end of the stadium was surrounded with a protective balustrade and turned into an arena. Its architectural style and stone work date this edifice to the second century A.D.
Another noteworthy ruin outside the city walls is the tomb of Plancia Magna, who was the daughter of Plancius Verus, the Governor of Bithynia. She was a wealthy and civic minded woman who, around the beginning of works in Perge, and who had a number of spots in the city adorned with monuments and sculpture. Because of her community service, the people, assembly, and senate erected statues of her. In various inscriptions Plancia's name appears with the title "demiurgos", which was the highest civil servant in the city's government. In addition, she was a priestess of Artemis Pergaia, a priestess-for-life of the mother of the gods, and the head priestess of the cult of the emperor.
A large part of Perge is encircled by walls that in some places go back to the Hellenistic period. Towers 12-13 metres high were built on top of the fortifications. However, during the time of the Pax Romana, which provided a period of continuous peace and tranquility, the walls lost their importance, and buildings such as the theatre and stadium could be built beyond the walls without fear. On entering the city through a late period gate in the fourth century walls, one comes to a small rectangular court 40 metres long bounded by walls of later date. From this courtyard one continues through a second, southern gate built in the form of a triumphal arch and highly decorated, particularly on the back. This gate leads into a trapezoidal courtyard 92 metres long and 46 metres wide. On the west wall of this court, which was used as a ceremonial site during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 A.D.) is a monumental fountain or nymphaeum. The building consists of a wide pool, and behind it a two-storeyed richly worked facade. From its inscription, it is apparent that the structure was dedicated to Artemis Pergaia, Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna, and their sons. An inscription belonging to the facade, various facade fragments, and marble statues of Septimius Severus and his wife, all found in excavations of the nymphaeum, are now in the Antalya Museum.
A monumental propylon directly north of the nymhaeum opens onto the largest and most magnificent bath in Pamphylia. A large pool (natacia) measuring 13x20 m. covers the inside of an apsed chamber on the south portico of a broad palaestra; the palaestra is bounded in front by a portico. Pergaians cleansed themselves in this pool after exercising in the palaestra. It is clear from the dynamic architecture of the facade, the coloured marble facing, and the statues of Genius, Heracles, Hygiea, Asklepios and Nemesis, that decorated, this space must have been dazzlingly beautiful. From here another door leads to the frigidarium, a space that also contained a pool. Before entering, bathers washed their feet in water flowing along a shallow channel running the full length of the pool's north side. Existing evidence suggests that the frigidarium was adorned with statues of the Muses. Next are the tepidarium and the caldarium, which connect with each other. Beneath these rooms one can see courses of bricks belonging tothe hypocaust system that circulated the hot air coming from the boiler room. Washing in a Roman bath was a proces that took place in several stages. First the bather removed his clothing in a room called the apodyterium and from there entered the palaestra where he took his exercise. Then he either went into the pool to get rid of the dirt and perspiration from this physical exertion, or washed himself in hot water in the caldarium. From there he went to the tepidarium or to the frigidarium for a cold water bath. In the Roman era the bath was not just a place for washing, but was also a place where men met to pass the time of day or to discuss a variety of important topics. The long rectangular compartment at the north of the frigidarium was probably a place where bathers strolled and chatted. A long marble bench extends along this room's west wall. Inscriptions on a large number of plinths found during excavations, indicate the statues that once stood on them were donated by a man named Claudius Peison.
At the northern end of the inner court is a Hellenistic gate that is Perge's most magnificent structure. Dating to the third century B.C., this gate, consisting of two towers with a horseshoe-shaped court behind them, was clevery designed according to the defensive strategy of the day. The towers had three storeys and were covered with a conical roof. With the aid of Plancia Magna, several alterations in the decoration of the court were made between 120 and 122 A.D., changing it from a defensive structure to a court of honour. To create a facade, the Hellenistic walls were covered with slabs of coloured marble, several new niches were opened, and Corinthian columns were added. Figures of gods and goddesses like Aphrodite, Hermes, Pan and the Dioskouroi occupied the niches on the lower level. In excavations in the court, the inscribed bases of nine statues were found, but the statues themselves have not been recovered. According to their inscriptions, these statues which must have been placed in the niches on the upper level, represent the legendary heroes who founded Perge after the Trojan War, as described in historical notes. In inscriptions on two pedestals, the names M. Plancius Varus and C. Plancius Varus, his son, appear with the adjective meaning "founder", essentially, because of their goodness and generosity toward Perge, they were acepted as second founders for whom this honour seemed appropriate.
The horseshoe-shaped court is bounded on the north by a three-arched monumental gate built by Plancia Magna. Inscriptions on pedestals unearthed in excavations indicate that statues of the emperors and their wives from the reign of Nerva to Hadrian, stood in the gate's niches.
An agora 65 metres square is located to the east of the Hellenistic gate. On all four sides a wide stoa surrounds a central lined with shops. The floor of these shops is paved with coloured mosaics. An interesting stone used in an ancient game can be seen in front of one store in the north portico. The game, which was played with six stones per person and thrown like dice, must have been very popular throughout the region, as similar stones were also found in other neighbouring cities. At the centre of the court is a round building, just as there is in Side's agora; the precise nature of this structure is not yet known.
A colonnaded street runs north-south through the city centre going under the triumphal arch of Demetrios-Apollonios, currently under restoration, at a point near the acropolis. This thoroughfare is intersected by another running east-west. On both sides of this 250 metre-long street are broad porticoes behind which are rows of shops. In this way the columned architecture on both sides offers various examples of the Roman understanding of perspective. The porticoes also provided a place where people could both take shelter from the violent rains in winter, and protect themselves from Perge's extremely hot summer sun. Because of their suitability for the climate, avenues of this type are frequently found in the cities of southern and western Anatolia. Certainly the most interesting aspect of Perge's colonnaded street is the pool-like water channel that divides the road down the middle. Made to flow by the rived god Kestros, these clear, clean waters ran out of a monumental fountain (nymphaeum) at the north end of the street and flowed placidly along the channels, cooling the Pergeians just a little in the cruel Pamphylian heat. At approximately the middle of the street, four relief-carved columns belonging to the portico immediately catch the eye. On the first column, Apollo is depicted riding a chariot drawn by four horses; on the second is Artemis the huntress; the third shows Calchas, one of the city's mythical founders; and the last, Tyche (Fortune).
The main road comes to an end at another nymphaeum built at the foot of the acropolis in the second century A.D. The rich architecture of its two-tiered facade and its numerous statues make it one of Perge's most striking monuments. The water brought from the spring empties into a pool beneath the statue of the river god Kestros standing precisely in the centre of the fountain, and from there flows to the streets via channels.
Turning left from the triumphal arch of Apollonios that intersects the streets, and passing the Hellenistic gate, one comes to the palaestra, known to be Perge's oldest building. Here, under the supervision of their teachers, the youth of the city practised wrestling and underwent physical education. According to an inscription this square edifice, consisting of an open area surrounded by rooms, was dedicated to the Emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54 A.D.) by a certain C. Julius Cornutus.
Perge, transformed by artisans into a city of marble, was truly magnificent, with a faultless layout that would have been the envy of modern city planners. In order to fully appreciate its grandeur today, one must visit the Antalya Museum to see the hundreds of sculptures from Perge now housed there.
Among the famous men raised in this city can be cited the physician Asklepiades, the sophist Varus, and the mathematician Apollonios.
Source: Ministery of Culture