(Possibly Acts 19:10; Rev. 1:11; 2:8-11)
The second city of the seven churches of Revelation to receive the message from the Apostle John was that of Smyrna. Established as a Roman commercial center, the city was a port located on the Aegean. Smyrna was established thirty-five miles north of Ephesus on the road that lead to Pergamum. It was built near the ruins of a Greek colony destroyed by the Lydian Kingdom in the C7 BCE. Following the death of Alexander the Great, a General of Alexander’s army named Lysimachus took over the region, and established the new Hellenistic city (C3 BCE).
The port was a natural one, and had the distinctive fortune of the Hermus River which flowed from inland to this natural gulf. Because of the river access to inland along with the major north-south highway the city grew to importance. The well watered region produced significant crops, and this provided the backbone of a prosperous trade between land and sea.
The city was reputed to be “the most faithful ally” of Rome according to Cicero, as the city had a history of siding squarely with Rome. In the conflicts of Rome and Seleucia of 195 BCE, and the war between Mithridates and Rome the city showed true loyalty, and received significant patronage from the Emperors in exchange.
The city was noted by the geographer Strabo for its “beautiful” public buildings:
“Next one comes to another gulf, on which is the old Smyrna, twenty stadia distant from the present Smyrna. After Smyrna had been razed by the Lydians, its inhabitants continued for about four hundred years to live in villages. Then they were reassemble into a city by Antigonus, and afterwards by Lysimachus, and their city is now the most beautiful of all; a part of it is on a mountain and walled, but the greater part of it is in the plain near the harbour and near the Metroum and near the gymnasium. The division into streets is exceptionally good, in straight lines as far as possible; and the streets are paved with stone; and there are large quadrangular porticoes, with both lower and upper stories. There is also a library; and the Homereium, a quadrangular portico containing a shrine and wooden statue of Homer; for the Smyrnaeans also lay especial claim to the poet; and indeed a bronze coin of theirs is called Homereium. The river Meles flows near the walls; and, in addition to the rest of the city’s equipment, there is also a harbour that can be closed. But there is one error, not a small one, in the work of the engineers, that when they paved the streets they did not give them underground drainage; instead, filth covers the surface, and particularly during rains, when the cast-off filth is discharged upon the streets. It was here that Dolabella captured by seige, and slew, Trebonius, one of the men who treacherously murdered the deified Caesar; and he set free many parts of the city.(Strabo 14.1.37)
…and its roads were commended for their geometric design. With a stadium that likely seated as many as 20,000 people, and a well developed infrastructure, scholars believe the city grew to about 100,000 by the time of the Apostle’s Paul and John. Tacitus records the city had requested and gained permission to build a Neokorite Temple (to the Emperor Tiberius) in the following record:
The deputies from Smyrna, on the other hand, after retracing the antiquity of their town-whether founded by Tantalus, the seed of Jove; by Theseus, also of celestial stock; or by one of the Amazons-passed on to the arguments in which they rested most confidence: their good offices towards the Roman people, to whom they had sent their naval force to aid not merely in foreign wars but in those with which we had to cope in Italy, while they had also been the first to erect a temple to the City of Rome, at a period (the consulate of Marcus Porcius) when the Roman fortunes stood high indeed, but had not yet mounted to their zenith, as the Punic capital was yet standing and the kings were still powerful in Asia. At the same time, Sulla was called to witness that “with his army in most critical position through the inclement winter and scarcity of clothing, the news had only to be announced at a public meeting Smyrna, and the whole of the bystanders stripped the garments from their bodies and sent them to our legions.” The Fathers accordingly, when their opinion was taken, gave Smyrna the preference. (Tacitus, Annals 4.56)
The Church of St. Polycarp reminds the modern visitor that Polycarp, an “Apostolic Father” and student of the Apostle John, was martyred in the city in 155 CE. His famous speech concerning his dedication to Jesus is recalled here.
The site has little excavation, as this important commercial port city is the second largest population in the modern Republic of Turkey. Because of the Christian community, the city carried the appendage “infidel Smyrna” for some time.