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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Smyrna

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(Σμύρνα , myrrh), a city which derived its Biblical importance from its prominent mention as the seat of one of the Apocalyptic churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2:8-11). In the following account we freely condense the ancient and modern information on the subject.

I. History. This celebrated commercial city of Ionia (Ptol. 5, 2) is situated near the bottom of that gulf of the Aegean Sea which receives its name from it (Mela, 1, 17, 3), at the mouth of the small river Meles, and 320 stadia north of Ephesus (Strabo, 15, 632). It is in N. lat. 38° 26', E. long. 27° 7'. Smyrna is said to have been a very ancient town founded by an Amazon of the name of Smyrna, who had previously conquered Ephesus. In consequence of this, Smyrna was regarded as a colony of Ephesus. The Ephesian colonists are said afterwards to have been expelled by Aeolians, who then occupied the place, until, aided by the Colophonians, the Ephesian colonists were enabled to reestablish themselves at Smyrna (ibid. 14, 633; Steph. B. s.v.; Pliny, 5, 31). Herodotus, on the other hand (1, 150), states that Smyrna originally belonged to the Aeolians, who admitted into their city some Colophonian exiles; and that these Colophonians afterwards, during a festival which was celebrated outside the town, made themselves masters of the place. From that time Smyrna ceased to be an Aeolian city, and was received into the Ionian confederacy (comp. Paus. 7, 5, 1). So far, then, as we are guided by authentic history, Smyrna belonged to the Aeolian confederacy until the year B.C. 688, when, by an act of treachery on the part of the Colophonians, it fell into the hands of the Ionians and became the thirteenth city in the Ionian League (Herod. loc. cit.; Paus. loc. cit.).

The city was attacked by the Lydian king Gyges, but successfully resisted the aggressor (Herod. 1, 14; Pans. 9, 29, 2). Alyattes, however, about B.C. 627, was more successful; he took and destroyed the city, and henceforth, for a period of 400 years, it was deserted and in ruins (Herod. 1, 16; Strabo, 14, 646), though some inhabitants lingered in the place, living κωμηδόν , as is stated by Strabo, and as we must infer from the fact that Scylax (p. 37) speaks of Smyrna as still existing. Alexander the Great is said to have formed the design of rebuilding the city (Paus. 7, 5, 1) soon after the battle of the Granicus, in consequence of a dream when he had lain down to sleep after the fatigue of hunting. A temple in which two goddesses were worshipped under the name of Nemeses stood on the hill, on the sides of which the new town was built under the auspices of Antigonus and Lysimachus, who carried out the design of the conqueror after his death. The new city was not built on the site of the ancient one, but at a distance of twenty stadia to the south of it, on the southern coast of the bay, and partly on the side of a hill which Pliny calls Mastusia, but principally in the plain at the foot of it extending to the sea. After its extension and embellishment by Lysimachus, new Smyrna became one of the most magnificent cities, and certainly the finest in all Asia Minor.

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; but one great drawback was that it had no drains (Strabo, loc. cit.; Marm. Oxon. No. 5). It also possessed an excellent harbor which could be closed, and continued to be one of the wealthiest and most flourishing commercial cities of Asia. It afterwards became the seat of a conventus juridicus which embraced the greater part of Aeolis as far as Magnesia, at the foot of Mount Sipylus (Cic. Pro Flacc. p. 30; Pliny, 5, 31). During the war between the Romans and Mithridates, Smyrna remained faithful to the former, for which it was rewarded with various grants and privileges (Liv. 35:42; 37:16, 54; 38:39). But it afterwards suffered much when Trebonius, one of Caesar's murderers, was besieged there by Dolabella, who in the end took the city, and put Trebonius to death (Strabo, loc. cit.; Cic. Phil. 11, 2; Liv. Epit. 119; Dion Cass. 47, 29). In the reign of Tiberius, Smyrna had conferred upon it the equivocal honor of being allowed, in preference to several other Asiatic cities, to erect a temple to the emperor (Tac. Ann. 3, 63; 4, 56). During the years 178 and 180 Smyrna suffered much from earthquakes, but the emperor M. Aurelius did much to alleviate its sufferings (Dion Cass. 71, 32). It is well known that Smyrna was one of the places claiming to be the birthplace of Homer, and the Smyrnaeans themselves were so strongly convinced of their right to claim this honor that they erected a temple to the great bard, or a ῾Ομήρειον , a splendid edifice containing a statue of Homer (Strabo, loc. cit.; Cic. Pro Arch. 8): they even showed a cave in the neighborhood of their city, on the little river Meles, where the poet was said to have composed his works. Smyrna was at all times not only a great commercial place, but its schools of rhetoric and philosophy also were in great repute. The Christian Church also flourished through the zeal and care of its first bishop, Polycarp, who is said to have been put to death in the stadium of Smyrna in A.D. 166 (Iren. 3, 176). Under the Byzantine emperors the city experienced great vicissitudes. Having been occupied by Tzachas, a Turkish chief, about the close of the 11th century, it was nearly destroyed by a Greek fleet, commanded by John Ducas. It was restored, however, by the emperor Comnenus, but again subjected to severe sufferings during the siege of Tamerlane. Not long after, it fell into the hands of the Turks, who have retained possession of it ever since.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Smyrna'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/smyrna.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Smyrna