Pergamon: The city and its landscape

An important Hellenistic-Roman city and royal seat: Investigation into the general organization of the Hellenistic city and settlements in the surroundings



39° 7' 57.2196" N, 27° 10' 55.6752" E

Plan of Pergamon: hypothetical reconstruction of the street grid (after U. Wulf-Rheidt) The acropolis of Pergamon as seen from the south © DAISituated in western Turkey, 110 km north of İzmir at the northern edge of the plain of the Bakır Çayı (the ancient River Kaikos) some 30 km inland. The present-day town of Bergama (pop. ca 70,000) lies at the foot of the ancient acropolis of Pergamon. The ancient city lies on a 300-m high spur and was definitely inhabited from the second millennium BC through the late Byzantine period (14th century AD), surrounded by walls of various extent and configuration. Only in Roman times did the city spread out into the plain beyond the fortifications into the area of today's Bergama. To the southwest of the modern town lie the ruins of the Asklepieion, the Sanctuary of Asklepios. In the surroundings are many other ancient settlements, among them Perperene, Atarneus, and Elaia (the harbor of Pergamon).


Although excavation began in 1878 with the goal of exposing the newly discovered reliefs of the "Pergamon Altar," over the past 100 years the focus has shifted to investigation of general organization throughout the ancient city. It is within this framework that the research program begun in 2005 is dedicated to the Hellenistic polis and its suburb. Directed by new questions and aided by new methods, our goals center on the dating of key monuments from the great Hellenistic urban expansion ascribed to the rule of Eumenes II (197-159 BC) and on the reconstruction of the settlement history and the street grid in the unexcavated sections of the acropolis. A further aim of the new program is the exploration of the ancient settlement structure of the surrounding landscape, including that of selected neighboring poleis. Such cities were after all never isolated units functioning autonomously, but invariably showed a preference for economic, military and cultural synthesis with communities in the surroundings. By focusing on the specific example of a harbor town and an inland town in the vicinity of the metropolis, we hope to shed some light on Pergamon's links with its neighbors in general.

Involved in the investigation of a large established excavation such as that at Pergamon is the constant reevaluation of both the earlier research and the specific recent projects limited to individual monuments and complexes. Although the concentration of our present project focuses most specifically upon the Hellenistic period, it involves some investigation of the prehistoric, Roman, and Byzantine epochs as well.

Another important responsibility of the Pergamon Excavations is, finally, the conservation and display of ancient structures of significance. At present we are therefore most particularly concerned with the situation of the lower city in antiquity, for it represents a bond between the ancient acropolis and the old city of historical times-and is thus vital in encouraging cultural tourism.

Previous Activities

Interior of Building Z © DAIFirst-generation excavators of Pergamon © DAIThe ancient remains at Pergamon were visited and described by many early travelers, some as early as the 15th century (Cyriacus of Ancona), and since the 19th century there has been a decidedly academic enumeration of goals (Marie-Gabriel Choiseul-Gouffier). Systematic excavation began more than 130 years ago now: the sculptural frieze of the Altar of Zeus was laid free in by the engineer Carl Humann, who began work in 1878 on behalf of the Königliche Museum in Berlin, and with permission of the Ottoman authorities the frieze was transported to Berlin. The archaeologist Alexander Conze directed the excavations and - not distracted by the sensation of sculptural finds - strove during the first years to investigate and expose as much of the entire city as possible. From 1900 through 1911 this work was continued by Wilhelm Dörpfeld, then the director of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Athens, to which responsibility for the Pergamon Excavations had been transferred. Among the monuments exposed under his guidance were the southern city gate, the Lower Agora, the House of Attalos, the gymnasium and the Sanctuary of Demeter. After a break of several years, campaigns were resumed in 1927 by Theodore Wiegand, who in 1932 was appointed president of the DAI. Under his direction work concentrated mainly on the acropolis, the Asklepieion, and the Red Hall. A pause in work occasioned by the war lasted until 1957, when the classical archaeologist and president of the DAI Erich Boehringer resumed the excavations with great energy and effort, initiating a new phase that lasted until 1968. Boehringer's interests were drawn to the Asklepieion and to an unfortunately unsuccessful search for the Sanctuary of Athena Nikephoros, a search which nevertheless revealed new discoveries in the Pergamene lower city. Boehringer also explored the surroundings, including a survey to pinpoint prehistoric sites. After a short pause, Wolfgang Radt took over direction of the Pergamon Excavations from 1971 to 2005. Following the spirit of settlement archaeology and socio-historical research, Radt and his team dedicated themselves first and foremost to excavation in the residential quarter of the city, which climaxed in the discovery of a richly decorated mansion of the Hellenistic and Roman periods (Bau Z). In the landscape, a rural sanctuary and the various conduits bringing water to the city were investigated as well. In 2002-2005 the Red Hall, an imperial sanctuary in the old quarter of Bergama, became the object of new archaeological and architectural studies (supervision: A. Hoffmann). Many projects of conservation and restoration were undertaken while Radt was in charge of the excavations, including a partial reconstruction of the Trajaneum and the erection of modern roofing to shield Bau Z (Building Z was thus opened to the public in 2004).

The project is an excavation of the Central Directorate of the German Archaeological Institute entrusted to the Istanbul Branch of the DAI.

Recent Activities

CAD model of the upper town of Pergamon (S. Rolfes - F. Budenkotte) © DAIThanks to long years of archaeological research, much is known about the city plan, the residential quarters as well as the public buildings. There still remain, however, considerable gaps in our knowledge of the ancient city as a complete organism, i.e. the grid plan of the city streets and the relationship of structural ensembles, the density of population and the degree to which the metropolis was limited - or open - to access from the surroundings. It is this desideratum that the new investigations begun in 2005 are meant to counter. Through a variety of methods - measurement, surface and geophysical survey, and sondages - we intend to "map" the physical and chronological layout and settlement structure in areas of the city which have not yet been excavated. First, a digital archaeological map is under preparation at a scale of 1:1000. This will serve as a "Geo-information System"; upon it will be superimposed all the previous data collected from former plans and surveys at hand, verified by new measurements and evaluation of the finds. With the help of sondages, key monuments from the great Hellenistic expansion can be chronologically ordered and the existence of possible predecessors investigated. In addition, individual projects of excavation and architectural study are underway in the gymnasium (R. von den Hoff, V. Stappmanns), the area of the palaces (T. Zimmer), the house of Attalos (J.Fuchs) and the defense walls (J. Lorentzen) continue.

The investigations in progress in the suburbs of the ancient metropolis since 2006 include surface surveys, geophysical prospecting and the excavation of a previously unknown necropolis just beyond the southeastern city walls (spring 2007; in cooperation with Bergama Museum). In addition, archaeological finds are being documented at construction sites in the modern town.

Pergamon: trench on the east slope (street with fresh water piping) © DAIWork in the surroundings is presently focused on ancient Atarneus, to the west in the valley of the Kaikos/Bakır Çayı (M. Zimmermann, A. Matthaei), and on Elaia, the main harbor of Pergamon (F. Pirson, S. Feuser, G. Ateş). Since 2008, furthermore, a surface survey has been underway on the early Bronze Age settlement hill Yeni Yeldeğirmentepe west of Teuthrania (B. Horejs; collaboration with the Ephesus excavation the Austrian Archaeological Institute).

The goal of the survey in the Kaikos valley is the investigation of rural communities Hellenistic in date. The idea here is to determine the distribution of towns, villages, and farmsteads within given regions using the combined methods of aerial photogrammetry, geodesics, accurate documentation of the architectural remains as preserved, and surface survey based on pottery. In Elaia we are additionally employing geophysical survey to measure and map the some 46-hectare city and the surroundings. The data thus collected should provide a firm basis upon which to determine the relationship between Elaia and Pergamon, obviously grounded principally upon Pergamon's interest in possessing a military base and harbor in the northern Aeolis. For this reason the investigation of the harbor facilities in Elaia are of special interest. In 2008, geoarchaeological investigations were launched with the aim of reconstructing various historical environment scenarios necessary for the origin and development of the town and harbors.

Elaia: geoarchaeological pile core sampling © DAIThe reconsideration of earlier excavations and the find inventories from them are at present grouped within the following categories:

  • Building Z (M. Bachmann, S. Japp, K. Müller, F. Pirson, W. Radt)
  • House of the Consul Attalos (J. Fuchs)
  • The bath complex in the city (S. Japp)
  • Excavations in the Musalla Cemetery (A. Wirsching)
  • The Byzantine cemeteries (T. Otten, M. Schultz)
  • The glass inventory (H. Schwarzer)
  • Inventory of small finds in general (T. Otten, A. Pirson)
  • Coins (J. Chameroy)
  • Hellenistic lamps (W. Radt)
  • Megarian bowls (G. De Luca
  • Roman pottery with relief ornament (S. Japp)
  • Amphorai (U. Outschar)
  • Ceramic cooking wares (U. Outschar)
  • Inscriptions (H. Müller)
  • Prehistoric finds from the surroundings (B. Horejs)

A project for the conservation of the round tower at the south of the Red Hall is being financed by the Studiosus Foundation. Further conservation measures are being undertaken in the region of the lower city, including work at the Roman bath complex and the Asklepieion.


Methods employed in the investigations include all of the following:

  • Excavation in vertical sondages and horizontal trenches
  • Extensive and intensive survey
  • Documentation of architecture with attention to the state of the building materials
  • Mapping of all remains on a web-based data-bank with a GIS connection
  • Geodesics (including GPS technology, aerial photogrammetry, and the geo-coding of earlier plans)
  • Geophysical survey (magnetic, sonic, and electric)
  • Geoarchaeological survey
  • Archaeometric pottery analysis



Pergamon: new reconstruction of the street grid on the southeastern slope (as of 2008) © DAIThe efforts expended in 2005 and 2006 on the earlier uninvestigated southeastern slope of the acropolis have brought a completely new image to the street grid of the Hellenistic expansion. In contrast to the hypothetical reconstruction dominated by the strictly rectangular system (cf. Ill. 2), the layout here would indicate fan-shaped insulae more dependent upon the lay of the land. Of note as well is that the streets are oriented not upon the axis of the gates, but rather upon the entrance to the gymnasium and the angles formed by that particular structure. Through surface survey as well as geophysical prospecting, the layout became clear. The width of the thoroughfares leading upwards toward the acropolis measured up to four meters wide, dimensions that contrast with the narrower streets of the "old city" between the upper agora and gymnasium. This would suggest increased architectural awareness in the Hellenistic lower city as well as probable technical improvements in the various means of transport. Now, after the results of the 2007/08 campaigns, we are better informed about the size of the insulae on the southeastern slope: they measure approx. 35 x 45m, although deviations both upwards and downwards may occur. Compared to other new settlements of the Hellenistic era these are modest measurements, coming very close to the insulae of Late Classical Priene (approx. 35.30 x 47.10m). Given that the terrain on the southeastern slope of the acropolis hill is steep and in places very rugged, the small scale of the insulae makes good sense since it permits greater flexibility in adjusting to the lay of the land. This is particularly true of the north-facing part of the east slope, which is little suited to dense habitation in view of the many prominent rock formations. There appears to have been no street grid here, the occupants making do instead with simple pathways.

The sections that were cut in order to check the results of the geophysical prospection and the surface survey have afforded new insights into the settlement structure of the eastern slope. Particularly noteworthy, on account of its position and state of preservation, is a large Hellenistic-Roman structure underneath the entrance gate of the Gymnasium, which we have named Building T. Also of interest is another, extensive structure of the same age in the northwest of the area under investigation (Building U).

Pergamon: Building U during excavation in 2008 © DAIThe combination of surface survey and pottery survey with test excavations has yielded substantial information about the habitation history of the eastern slope. In the central and northern sections of the slope it appears that no solid Hellenistic-era construction took place before the late 2nd or early 1st century BC; hence construction occurred at a very much later date than the erection of the new defensive wall around the city which dates to the urban expansion program of the first half of the 2nd century BC (see below). This observation suggests that the eastern slope came to be settled gradually over a fairly long period from the south to the north. In the rugged northernmost section, large-scale architecture appears to be lacking except for Building U; we can assume that workshops or other ephemeral structures once stood here.

It may be that this part of the eastern slope also served as a sanctuary landscape. This is at least suggested by the discovery of four potential nature sanctuary sites. One of the sites can already be deemed a sanctuary with absolute certainty on account of a cult statue base that was found there. In the other cases, prominent rock formations, niches and grottos indicate a similar function, but evidence can only be obtained through excavations, which are due to begin in 2009.

The work on the southeastern slope will be completed in 2009 and subsequently we plan to extend our investigations to the western slopes. Initial geomagnetic prospecting there yielded promising results in 2007.

Pergamon: GIS map of find distribution on eastern slope © DAIStratigraphic sondage as a means of dating key monuments focused in 2005-2006 on the formerly unexplored southeastern slopes of the acropolis, where the gymnasium and the so-called "Eumenid fortifications" were investigated. The finds so far recovered from the foundation of the upper terrace of the gymnasium reflect the whole of the second century BC in general, thus neither confirming nor denying an ascription of the structure to Eumenes II (197-159). What has become clear through the sondages here, however, is that the area occupied by the Roman East Bath clearly lay outside the Hellenistic gymnasium complex, a factor of great import in our understanding of the original structure and its urban bond.

In 2007, as part of the project investigating the visual and functional design of the Hellenistic Gymnasium (R. von den Hoff), a floor was discovered which can be dated - with some reservations - to the early 2nd century BC and would thus support the dating of the foundation phase to the reign of Eumenes II. Excavations in the foundation chambers of the southern termination of what is referred to as the Cellar Stadium now seem to confirm such a dating. A number of other excavation finds from rooms on the upper terrace show that the decor of the complex was still very plain in the Hellenistic period, the marble being added only in the Roman imperial era. In addition to the discovery of statue bases, noteworthy observations have been made concerning modifications to the plan and alterations to the structure of the complex as early as in the Hellenistic period. In this matter the results of the sondages can be combined with the observations from the construction history investigations being carried out as part of the same project.

Pergamon: cult statue base from a newly discovered rock sanctuary on the south slope © DAITrenches sunk at the South Gate and other locations along the line of the Hellenistic defense wall have yielded stratified finds that would seem to confirm a date in the first half of the second century BC. Thus its construction in the time of Eumenes II, earlier suggested only by vague references in the ancient sources and recently challenged, is now supported by archaeological evidence.

No further substantial findings relevant to the dating of the foundation phase have been contributed by the sondages in the area of the Lower Agora, since - according to an initial evaluation - the find material there can be dated only generally to the Hellenistic period. The reason for the very small quantity of finds is the economical method of building employed during the foundation phase of the complex, since the spoil that was generated by the terracing work, and was almost completely find-free, was used in leveling the terrain and filling foundation chambers.

Pergamon: Roman tomb in the recently discovered necropolis © DAIPergamon: inventory of the early Byzantine burial © DAIAn unexpected find of considerable historic relevance appeared during our research into the ancient streets not yet excavated on the southeastern slope of the acropolis: a Byzantine grave from the seventh century replete with jewels, decorative elements from the garments and gifts of weaponry. Less ceremonious was the place of burial: the body had been laid to rest in a drainage canal of an earlier street.

The investigations in the suburban area have brought to light a previously unsuspected ancient quarry and have supplied the first evidence of the network of roads that existed in the suburbs. Geomagnetic prospecting around the Hellenistic tumulus of Yiğmatepe and outside the Asklepieion indicates that the remains of further ancient structures and settlements may be expected, especially in the vicinity of known monuments.

The excavation of sections of a Roman necropolis as part of Bergama municipality's project to build a cable-way has considerably enriched our hitherto insufficient understanding of funerary architecture and burial customs in Pergamon. In all, six tombs containing a total of 14 burials have been discovered, along with 15 further graves (urn burials, tile graves, rock graves). The graves were mostly plundered or relocated in ancient times with the result that hardly any grave-goods ensembles have been recovered complete. Particularly worthy of note were the bone-made fittings on a bier which was decorated with Egyptizing figures.

Pergamon: Egyptizing figure from a bier © DAIThe necropolis is laid out on a slope that has been terraced using settlement debris; relatively old ruins on the slope suggest that suburban development extended this far in Hellenistic times.

An archaeometric project to determine the provenance of pottery found in Pergamon and its environs (S. Japp, H. Mommsen, G. Schneider) has yielded new information about workshop groups operating in the Pergamene ceramic industry as well as about imports to Pergamon. It has also been possible to establish a distinctive Elaian production and to define its characteristic clay composition.

The Region (Elaia, Atarneus, Yeni Yeldeğirmentepe)

In Elaia, substantial moles, wharfs and buildings have been discovered on the modern coast line thanks to geophysical measurements. They indicate that the size of the harbor far exceeds our expectations. Mighty fortifications plus cannonball finds underline the military significance of the harbor. Geophysical measurements at other sites in the urban area have led to the localization of sections of the city wall, the remains of buildings and streets, as well as several potter's kilns. In 2008 a street grid was detected in the northern part of the town; with a strict north-south orientation and with insulae having side lengths in a ratio of 1:2 (approx. 28 x 56 m), the street grid conforms to the rules of Hellenistic town-planning.

Elaia: geophysical survey map with street grid © DAIElaia: Extent of city and harbor structures © DAIFurther harbor structures whose function is as yet unknown (moles, breakwaters, docks?) have been detected in the shallow waters off the modern coastline extending across an area of about 1 x 2 km. If further geoarchaeological investigations are able to confirm that they do indeed date from the Hellenistic period, as suggested by building technology analysis and by general historical circumstances, this will have far-reaching implications for any assessment of the role of Pergamon as a sea power. The priority at this stage is to verify the extent of the structures by means of geophysical prospection on land and on water. Preliminary measurements in 2008 yielded important new information (H. Stümpel).

The archaeological survey has brought to light find material, above all pottery, dating from the 3rd mill. BC to the Byzantine period. It is therefore now beyond doubt that habitation at the site predates the first written mention of Elaia in the 5th century BC. The surface survey, moreover, has revealed significant concentrations of find material in certain localities, which suggests differentiation of the urban area according to function or settlement history. The settlement was concentrated around the Acropolis hill into the classical era and seems to have expanded only during the Hellenistic era. This observation is consistent with the position of the newly discovered street grid (see above). The virtual absence of Late Byzantine pottery is consistent with the testimony of the written sources, which document Elaia until the 10th century. Some ancient architectural remains display clear parallels with pieces from Pergamon - evidence of the influence the capital had on the harbor town of Elaia, which was built up as one of the maritime satellites of the royal capital in the Hellenistic period.

Elaia: boundary of the recently discovered necropolis with a mortise for a stele © DAIElaia: Structural remains in shallow waters © DAIGeoarchaeological investigations by means of pile core sampling, commenced in 2008, have already yielded some notable results (H. Brückner). Thus in the plain north of the town the maximum marine transgression has been determined, i.e. the point which the coastline originally reached inland.

In collaboration with Bergama Museum (A. Sarıoğlu) several cremation burials dating from the late 4th and early 3rd century BC have been found in a necropolis which, however, was already severely damaged by illicit digging. An interesting discovery was the demarcation between the ancient street and necropolis. Among other things, mortises for the erection of stelae were found in a course of boundary stones.

A complete report can be found here

In Atarneus and in the western valley of the Kaikos (M. Zimmermann), survey work consisting of a two-week preliminary campaign in summer 2006, a two-week campaign of work in 2007 and a four-week campaign in 2008 has produced to a wealth of significant results. These contribute a great deal to our understanding of both the important polis of Atarneus (northwest of Pergamon near the modern-day town of Dikili) and the rise of Pergamon to its position as the pre-eminent urban center of the region. Pottery finds prove that settlement activities in Atarneus began in the late Bronze Age at the latest. In the classical era the city grew to cover an area of 24 ha and was thus by far the largest polis in this portion of the coast of Asia Minor. It was able to maintain this position until the rise of Pergamon in the 3rd century BC; two Hellenistic ring walls, a dense residential housing district on the southern slope and the necropolis lining the western arterial road have been documented. From the high Hellenistic period onward, however, the significance of the flourishing late classical / early Hellenistic polis waned appreciably. In contrast to Elaia we observe in Atarneus, therefore, a contrary development which older poleis in the vicinity of new Hellenistic centers experienced.

Yeni Yeldeğirmentepe: surface survey © DAIAtarneus: Settlement hill © DAIField-walking at several sites in the western valley of the Kaikos which were visited and described in the late 19th century by C. Schuchhardt, A. Conze and W. Dörpfeld has resulted in the location of structural remains not previously documented. In addition, several unrecorded habitation sites have been discovered. The remains of two Hellenistic forts on hilltops in the area of Atarneus are of particular interest because they indicate the boundaries of the towns' rural districts (chorai).
full report

After preparatory work in 2007, surface surveying began in summer 2008 on Yeni Yeldeğirmentepe, a prehistoric settlement hill near Teuthrania in the western valley of the Kaikos (B. Horejs). The site was excavated previously - for a few days only in 1908 - by members of the Pergamon Excavation. Re-inspection of the find material from the old excavation has made clear once again how significant the site is in the prehistoric settlement history of northwestern Asia Minor, a history which is still far from being completely understood particularly between Troy in the north and the Izmir region in the south. It is furthermore hoped that the new project will help reveal continuities and discontinuities between the Bronze Age and the later habitation phases of the Kaikos valley.

A few days' field-walking were enough to fully surpass our expectations. The hill and its immediate surroundings are notable for a remarkably dense dispersal of find material from the early Bronze Age showing clear parallels with Troy and with Çukuriçi Höyük (Ephesus). We therefore have the prospect of being able to define the micro-region of the Kaikos valley better in future and to include the micro-region in a consideration of questions of supra-regional significance.

Cooperation / Cooperation partners

The General Directorate of Monuments and Museums, Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Turkey
Bergama Museum
DFG-Schwerpunktprogramm 1209 "Die hellenistische Polis als Lebensform. Urbane Struktur zwischen Tradition und Wandel"
DAI-Forschungscluster 3 "Politische Räume"
Wissenschaftliches Netzwerk "Manifestationen von Macht und Hierarchien in Stadtraum und Landschaft"
Ankara Üniversitesi, Başkent Meslek Yüksekokulu, Restorasyon ve Konservasyon Programı
Archäologisches Institut der Universität Freiburg
Archäologisches Institut der Universität Köln
Geodätisches Institut der Universität Karlsruhe
Historisches Seminar, Abt. Alte Geschichte, der LMU München
Institut für Geomatik der Hochschule Karlsruhe
Institut für Geowissenschaften der Universität Kiel
Institut für Strahlenphysik der Universität Bonn
Institut für Chemie und Biochemie der FU Berlin
Fachbereich Geographie der Universität Marburg
Kommission für Alte Geschichte und Epigraphik des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts
Ephesosgrabung des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Antikensammlung
Studiengang Konservierung/Restaurierung und Grabungstechnik der FHTW Berlin
The firm Eastern Atlas


Kulturstiftung der deutsch-türkischen Wirtschaft / Türk Alman İşadamları Kültür Vakfı

The conservation work
supported by the Studiosus-Foundation
is a part of the Ernst-Reuter-Initiative


Vorberichte jährlich in Archäologischer Anzeiger. - Publikationsreihen: Altertümer von Pergamon und Pergamenische Forschungen. - W. Radt. Pergamon. Geschichte und Bauten einer antiken Metropole (Primus Verlag / Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1999). Mit ausführlicher Literaturliste.- Derselbe in: Harvard Theological Studies Nr. 46 (1999), in englischer Sprache, mit aktuellerer ausführlicher Literaturliste.- Derselbe in: Der Kleine Pauly, Bd. 9, S. 543 ff., s.v. Pergamon [Städtebauliche Entwicklung]; Bd. 15/2, S. 407 ff., s.v. Pergamon [Grabungsgeschichte, Restaurierung, Präsentation] (Verlag Metzler, Stuttgart, 2000 und 2002). - zu Elaia: F. Pirson, Elaia, der maritime Satellit Pergamons, in: Festschrift Wolfgang Radt, Istanbuler Mitteilungen 54, 2004, 197-213.

The early Pergamon publications are accessible on the Internet via the Propylaeum Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Altertumswissenschaften.

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