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The Asclepieion archaeological site, Bergama (Pergamon).
|Asclepieion archaeological site|
|Opening times: daily 8:30 - 17:30
Admission: 15 Turkish lira
An uphill walk or drive of about 2 km westwards, along a road which starts next to the Kurşunlu Cami mosque, opposite the post office (PTT) on Bankalar Cad, Bergama's main street.
The start of the road is marked by a signpost to the Asclepieion and a statue of the Greek physician Galen (see below) on Cumhuriyet Square.
There is a free car park, free toilets, a cafe and souvenir shops opposite the entrance to the site (see next page) outside the entrance to the site.
The Asclepieion (also asclepeion or asclepion; Greek, Ἀσκληπιεῖον, Asklepieion; Latin, aesculapium) was an ancient healing and cult centre, sacred to Asklepios (Ἀσκληπιός; Latin, Aesculapius), the Greek god of healing and son of Apollo. Approached by a sacred way, the Via Tecta, the sanctuary contained a round Temple of Asklepios (named Asklepios Soter or Zeus Soter Asklepios), as well as one to his son, the mysterious hooded youth Telesphoros (see below). There was also a spring of slightly radioactive water used for therapeutic purposes, a library and a small theatre.
The cult of Asklepios had a mysterious and mystical association with snakes (as did those of other Greek gods such as Athena), many of which were kept at the sanctuary. Therapy at the centre included the interpretation of dreams.
You can see the types of medical instruments used in antiquity in the photo below.
The Asclepieion is thought to have been founded in the 4th century BC by a certain Archias, who is said to have brought the Asklepios cult from its main centre at Epidavros (Επιδαύριος, Latin Epidaurus), in the Peloponnese. Eumenes II (ruled 263-241 BC) elevated the cult to a state religion.
Further enhancements were made to the healing centre by Roman emperors, including Hadrian (76-138 AD, reigned 117-138 AD), who supported and financed building works at the Asclepieion. He is thought to have visited Pergamon during his travels through Asia Minor in 123 AD.
The spread of the cult of Asklepion and the establishment of such healing centres around the Greek world from the late Classical period had important practical aspects. The presence of an Asclepieion in an ancient city was the equivalent of a modern hospital for its citizens. It was also a source of prestige as well as considerable income, particularly in the case of Epidavros and Pergamon, to which rich people came from far afield to be cured, and in return paid, or donated as a religious offering, large sums of money and other gifts.
Several locations since time immemorial had been thought of as especially beneficial for the treatment of diseases, due to particular local properties, such as their waters, and the traditional associations they had acquired with deities, nymphs and other supernatural beings. With the scientific advancements of medical theories in Classical and Hellenistic times, the practice of medicine began to be systematized and standardized to a certain extent, and one could speak of a medical industry.
The profession of medicine at these centres was a male preserve, and it seems no accident that other healing deities, such as the health goddess Hygieia (Ὑγιεία, see photo below), came to be seen as subservient (sons and daughters) to Asklepios, who became the exemplary and primary divine master and patron of the healing arts. The new medical science of Hippocrates and the cult of Asklepios in many places replaced the more ancient local ways.
The Asclepieion was excavated in 1927 by the German archaeologist Theodor Wiegand (1864-1936), who also discovered the Arsenal on the Pergamon Acropolis.
Some of the images relating to Asklepios
previously on this page can now be seen on
the Asklepios page of the MFP People section.
Statue of Asklepios,
Greek god of healing, from
the Sanctuary of Asklepios
at Epidauros, Greece. 
Pentelic marble. Roman
period, around 160 AD, copy
of a 4th century BC original.
Inv. No. 263.
Copy of a marble head of
Hippocrates, from an over
life-size statue. Second half
of the 2nd century BC.
Found near the Odeion on
the island of Kos, Greece.
Replica in the National
Athens, of the original
in the Archaeological
Museum of Kos.
Marble figurine of enthroned Asklepios
from the Pergamon Asclepieion.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Terracotta votive figurine of
a statue of Asklepios from
the Pergamon Asclepieion.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Coin from Pergamon showing Asklepios
and Artemis of Ephesus, 253-268 AD.
Inscription: EΠI CEΞ KΛ - CEIΛI/ANO/
V - ΠEPΓ-AMHN-ΩN // KAI EΦECIΩN / OMON.
Minted during the reign of Emperor Gallienus,
253-268 AD, by the Asiarch (magistrate)
Sextus Claudius Silianus. the obverse side
shows a bust of Gallenius, facing right,
wearing a laurel wreath and cuirass, and
the inscription: AVT K Π ΛIKI - ΓAΛΛIHNOC.
Diameter 37 mm, weight 27.26 grams.
Numismatic Collection, Bode Museum, Berlin.
Inv. No. 18200358.
Acquired in 1873 with the entire collection
of General Charles Richard Fox.
Small marble head of Asklepios.
From the Yortanli Dam salvage
excavation, Allianoi, near Pergamon.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
|Galen of Pergamon
The famous Greek physician, philosopher and author on medicine, Galen of Pergamon (Γαληνός, Galenos, "calm"; Latin name Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus, 129 - circa 199/217 AD) studied medicine as a θεραπευτής (therapeutes, or attendant) at the Asclepieion for four years, from the age of 16. He then spent 8 years travelling around the cultural centres of the eastern Mediterranean, such as Alexandria in Egypt, which had a renowned medical school.
After widening his horizons and deepening his knowledge, he returned to Pergamon in 157 AD and worked as a doctor, treating the gladiators of the powerful High Priest of Asia. He left for Rome in 162 AD and became an imperial court physician to emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus and Septimius Severus.
Emperor Caracalla (188-217 AD, ruled 198-217 AD, see photo on gallery 1, page 7) may have received treatment here when he visited Pergamon. He made Asclepieion the neokoros, the official centre for the imperial cult of Asklepios and himself for the Roman province of Asia. This was the third of three neokoroi the city was awarded. 
Modern statue of Galen
in the centre of Bergama.
Telesphoros (Τελεσφόρος, "the accomplisher" or "bringer of completion"; Latin, Telesphorus), a son of Asklepios was also worshipped at the Asclepieion as the helper in recovery from illness.
In stark contrast to the powerful images of his father Asklepios and his ancient health-conscious sister Hygieia, Telesphoros is always depicted as a small, sad-looking child or dwarf wearing a hooded cape or conical cap and a short tunic. This very un-Greek representation of a deity has led to theories that this late-comer to Hellenic religion was of foreign origin, possibly Thracian, Phrygian or Celtic, and that he was originally one of the hooded spirits (genii cuculati), daemons associated with fertility and death. Images of him are also known on the Danube. His worship may have been introduced to the Greek world by the Galatians when they invaded Anatolia in the 3rd century BC. He became associated with Asklepios by the Greeks of Pergamon and other Asklepios centres in Anatolia (Asia Minor).
The spread of his cult westwards to Greece and the Roman Empire was accelerated following his adoption by Epidauros in the 2nd century AD. 
See more photos and information about Telesphoros
on the Asklepios page of the MFP People section.
Figurine of Telesphoros,
wearing a long hooded cloak.
From the Yortanli Dam
salvage excavation, Allianoi,
Ancient medical instuments found at the Asclepieion in Allianoi, near Pergamon.
From the Yortanli Dam salvage excavation, Allianoi.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Remains of an inscribed marble clipeus (shield) on the broken tympanum (east pediment)
of the north hall of the propylon (monumental gateway) of the Pergamon Asclepieion.
The inscription is a dedication by Aulus Claudius Charax of Pergamon (circa 115 - after
147 AD), who was a priest at the sanctuary and financed the building of the propylon:
ΚΛ[ΑΥΔΙΟΣ] ΧΑΡΑΞ ΤΟ ΠΡ[Ο]ΠΥΛΟ[Ν]
Cl[audius] Charax [dedicated] the pr[o]pylo[n]
In situ at the site of the propylon. Inv. No. 193,7. Inscription IvP III 141. 
Height of Tympanum 130 cm, diameter of clipeus 80 cm, letter height 1.75 cm.
The propylon, known as "the Propylon of Claudius Charax",
was built in the mid second century AD, during the reign of
Hadrian (117-138 AD) or Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD),
replacing the Hellenistic buidling of the 3rd century BC.
See also a inscription honouring Aulus Iulius Charax, grandson
or great-grandson of Aulus Claudius Chara, on gallery 1, page 14.
|Marble statue of Asklepios and his son Telesphoros.
The detail on the right shows a close-up of the diminuitive daemon.
Excavated in 1906-1907 at the Faustina Baths, Miletus (Balat,
Aydin, Turkey). Height 213 cm; height of Telesphoros 81 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 1995.
Cat. Mendel (Volume I, 1912) 124.
|The statue depicts the lofty god Asklepios carrying his symbol of a staff (sometimes shown as a crutch), around which a snake is entwined. A relatively tiny Telesphoros is shown leaning against his father's protective garment, looking up to him, and clutching implements which are probably medical instruments. The implication of this image seems to be that Telesphoros was his father's little helper.
Marble relief showing the healing god Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia,
goddess of health. In some myths Hygieia is the wife of Asklepios.
Classical, last quarter of the 5th century BC. From Therme, Macedonia, Greece.
Therme was the ancient name of Thessalonike (Thessaloniki) before it was
renamed by Cassander, king of Macedonia, in 316/315 BC.
See History of Stageira and Olympiada - Part 6.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 109 T. Cat. Mendel 51.
Small (mouse-size) cast bronze mouse, sitting on its hind feet and eating a
round object held between its forepaws. Perhaps a votive offering to Asklepios.
Found in the Pergamon Asclepieion in 1932. Helenistic or Roman period.
Antikensammlung, Berlin State Museums (SMB). Inv. No. 31533.
|Why a mouse? The museum labelling suggests it is perhaps due to the fact that mice were on the diet of the snakes kept at the sanctuary. Also, because as pests and carriers of diseases, contrary to modern expectations, they may have become associated with the healing god. Mice played an important role in the Anatolian cult of Apollo Smintheus (Σμινθεύς, Destroyer of Mice), and the mouse may be a playful allusion to Apollo, the father of Asklepios. Other scholars have suggested that similar Roman figures of mice were used to guard food stores: animal magic.
Philip Kiernan, The Bronze Mice of Apollo Smintheus. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014), pages 601-626. Archaeological Institute of America. Article at jstor.org.
Jos. Virgil Grohmann, Apollo Smintheus und die Bedeutung der Mäuse in der Mythologie der Indogermanen. Verlag der J. G. Calve'schen K. K. Universitäts-Büchhandlung, Prague, 1862. At the Internet Archive.
The best known surviving mouse in ancient art appears on the "Asarotos Oikos" (Unswept Room) mosaic in the Vatican Museums, which may be a copy of – or have been inspired by – a mosaic from Pergamon by Sosos (see Pergamon gallery 2, page 12).
Another very cute Roman bronze mouse (9.5 cm long), dated circa 2nd - 3rd century AD, was recently extimated by Christie's auction house at 10,000-15,000 US dollars. See: onlineonly.christies.com ...
|Notes, references and links
1. Statues of Asklepios
For further information about this statue and other images related to Asklepios, see the Asklepios page of the MFP People section.
2. Pergamon's three neokoroi
The title "neokoros" also referred to the priest of the cult. From the Greek νεωκόρος, meaning temple-keeper or temple warden. Derived from koreo, to sweep, and hence one who sweeps and cleans a temple; temple servant; one who has charge of a temple, to keep and adorn it (a sacristan).
From the time of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, the Greek cities of Asia Minor, such as Pergamon, Smyrna and Ephesus, competed for the honour and prestige of becoming the official centre of the imperial cults for the new Roman province of Asia.
Pergamon's first neokoros, or "provincial temple" was the Temple of Augustus and Roma (see gallery 2, page 6).
The second neokoros at Pergamon was the Temple of Trajan, or Trajaneum, dedicated to Zeus Philios (Latin Jupiter Amicalis), Trajan and Hadrian (see gallery 1, pages 14-19).
3. Pausanias on Telesphoros
Pausanias (Greek, Παυσανίας), the 2nd century AD Greek travel writer, who may himself have been a doctor, and who spent some time in Pergamon, mentioned Telesphoros in his description of the sanctuary of Asklepios at Titani (Τιτάνη Κορινθίας), in Sikyonia, near Corinth. He tells us that Asklepios' son was known at Titani as Euamerion (Ευαμεριων, prosperous), and at Epidavros as Akesis (Ακεσις, Cure).
"Alexanor, the son of Makhaon, the son of Asklepios, came to Sikyonia and built the sanctuary of Asklepios at Titane... There are images also of Alexanor and of Euamerion; to the former they give offerings as to a hero after the setting of the sun; to Euamerion, as being a god, they give burnt sacrifices. If my conjecture is correct, the Pergamenes, in accordance with an oracle, call this Euamerion Telesphoros, while the Epidaurians call him Akesis."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 2, Chapter 11, Sections 5-7. English Translation by W.H.S. Jones and H.A. Ormerod. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, and William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1918. At Perseus Digital Library.
4. The Propylon of Claudius Charax
See: Christian Habicht, Die Inschriften des Asklepieions, Altertümer von Pergamon VIII 3, Nr. 141 on Seite (page) 142, with Abb. 141 on Tafel 40. Berlin, 1969.
Statue of Asklepios.
From Rome, 2nd century AD.
Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
Inv. No. Sk 71.
|Map, photos and articles: © David John
Additional photos: © Konstanze Gundudis
All photos and articles are copyright protected.
Images and materials by other authors
have been attributed where applicable.
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Higher resolution versions are available on request.
Some of the information and photos in this guide to Pergamon
originally appeared in 2004 on davidjohnberlin.de.
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