All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in April 2006.
- Lower City and Asklepion
(detail of a statue of either Trajan or Hadrian)
Temple to Serapis
Most of the buildings of the Roman Lower City lie under the modern town, but the gigantic walls of the Serapeum built during the reign of Hadrian have withstood the ravages of time. Their thickness reminds the viewer of Caracalla's Baths.
The main building is now called Kizil Avru (red courtyard) due to the colour of its bricks; it is flanked by two round towers, the purpose of which is still unclear; between the towers and the main building there are two pools which were most likely used for religious initiation rites.
While the classical design of an ancient temple was based on a rather small building (cella) where the statue of the god was placed, in this temple the statue of Serapis was inside a hall which could contain a large crowd, a sign that in the IInd century AD religious ceremonies were moving away from the traditional rites which took place outside the temple.
A gigantic hollow statue of the god stood on a high podium: a secret passage allowed access to the interior of the statue, from which a priest made the god speak. Maybe the statue portrayed Hadrian himself, although not in the same posture and attire of the statue found in the Asklepion library.
Many Roman emperors tried to reconcile the various beliefs existing in the provinces of the empire by promoting the cult of deities which in a way were a summary of these faiths.
Serapis was a god whose cult was first promoted by the Ptolemaic dynasty to integrate the Egyptian religion with that of their Hellenic rulers. Serapis had features of both Zeus and Osiris.
The Roman emperors often liked to identify themselves with Serapis and in several statues they were portrayed wearing the Egyptian head-dress which characterized this god. Hadrian in particular placed a statue of Antinous, dressed as an Egyptian god in the Serapeum of Villa Adriana (the statue is now in the Vatican Museums - external link).
By wandering in the archaeological area one can find evidence that in the following centuries the site housed a Byzantine church, a Jewish cemetery and several Ottoman buildings.
Roman Pergamum - Asklepion
According to the Greek myths, Asclepius learnt the art of healing from both his father Apollo and the centaur Cheiron; he became so skilled in surgery and the use of drugs that he was revered as the founder of medicine. A major sanctuary was dedicated to him at Epidaurus, his birthplace. The Asklepion of Pergamum is linked with one of the actual founders of medicine: Claudius Galenus (Galen).
The Asklepion of Pergamum was something in between a sanctuary and a spa resort. It had facilities where the sick could relax and enjoy themselves such as a library and a small theatre: these were located outside a square portico, while fountains and pools were placed inside it.
Galen started his career at the Asklepion as a therapeutes (a junior member of the staff); he then left Pergamum to deepen his knowledge of medicine in Smyrna, Corinth and at Alexandria. He returned to Pergamum in 157 to work as a physician in a gladiator school, gaining experience of trauma and wound treatment. From 162 he lived in Rome where he became a court physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus. He was again in Pergamum during 166-169.
Asclepius had the power to raise from the dead and he himself was restored to life by Zeus: for this reason he was thought to have also a snake form and tame snakes were kept in his temples as this animal was regarded as a symbol of regeneration (snakes shed their skins every year). The Temple to Asclepius is almost entirely lost with the exception of an altar fragment decorated with snakes (see the god's snake at Isola Tiberina in Rome).
Telesphorus was a son of Asclepius who had healing powers and more exactly he was the god of convalescence (theles = fulfilment; phorus = bearer). The design of his temple in the Asklepion is amazing; although the main building was almost at the same level as the central square, an underground passage led to it so that the patients went down a short flight of steps into a tunnel: cubicles were located at the sides of the passage: patients spent the night there to then tell their dreams to the priests/doctors to facilitate the diagnosis of their disease. In the morning the patients ascended to the temple which had a circular shape so that they could walk in a never ending procession: the pillars supporting the vaults had individual tubs for bathing.
There is no doubt that this sophisticated therapy based on both psychological and physical treatments was often successful in restoring health.
Move to the Roman Acropolis.
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