Smyr'na (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 (Re 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.
II. Characteristics. — Smyrna contained a temple of the Olympian Zeus, with whose cult that of the Roman emperors was associated. Olympian games were celebrated here, and excited great interest. On one of these occasions (in the year 68), a Rhodian youth of the name of Artemidorus obtained greater distinctions than any on record, under peculiar circumstances which Pausanias relates. He was a pancratiast, and not long before had been beaten at Elis from deficiency in growth. But when the Smyrnaean Olympia next came round, his bodily strength had so developed that he was victor in three trials on the same day — the first against his former competitors at the Peloponnesian Olympia, the second with the youths, and the third with the men; the last contest having been provoked by a taunt (Paus. 5, 14, 4). The extreme interest excited by the games at Smyina may perhaps account for the remarkable ferocity exhibited by the population against the aged bishop Polycarp. It was exactly on such occasions that what the pagans regarded as the unpatriotic and anti-social spirit of the early Christians became most apparent; and it was to the violent demands of the people assembled in the stadium that the Roman proconsul yielded up the martyr. The letter of the Smyrnaeans, in which the account of his martyrdom is contained, represents the Jews as taking part with the Gentiles in accusing him as an enemy to the state religion-conduct which would be inconceivable in a sincere Jew, but which was quite natural in those which the sacred writer characterizes as "a synagogue of Satan" (Re 2:9).
In the vicinity of Smyrna was a Macedonian colony settled in the country under the name of Hyrcani. The last are probably the descendants of a military body in the service of Seleucus, to whom lands were given soon after the building of new Smyrna, and who, together with the Magnesians, seem to have had the Smyrnaean citizenship then bestowed upon them. The decree containing the particulars of this arrangement is among the marbles in the University of Oxford. The Romans continued the system which they found existing when the country passed over into their hands. Not only was the soil in the neighborhood eminently productive, so that the vines were even said to have two crops of grapes, but its position was such as to render it the natural outlet for the produce of the whole valley of the Hermus. The Pramnean wine (which Nestor, in the Iliad, and Circe, in the Odyssey, are represented as mixing with honey, cheese, and meal, to make a kind of salad dressing) grew even down to the time of Pliny in the immediate neighborhood of the temple of the Mother of the Gods at Smyrna, and doubtless played its part in the orgiastic rites both of that deity and of Dionysus, each of whom in the times of imperial Rome possessed a guild of worshippers frequently mentioned in the inscriptions as the ἱερὰ σύνοδος μυστῶν μητρὸς Σιπυληνῆς and the ἱερὰ σύνοδος μυστῶν καὶ τεχνίτων Διονύσου. One of the most remarkable of the chefs-d'oeuvre of Myron which stood at Smyrna, representing an old woman intoxicated, illustrates the prevalent habits of the population.
The inhabitants of new Smyrna appear to have possessed the talent of successfully divining the course of events in the troublous times through which it was their destiny to pass, and of habitually securing for themselves the favor of the victor for the time being. Their adulation of Seleucus and his son Antiochus was excessive. The title ο θεὸς καὶ σωτήρ is given to the latter in an extant inscription; and a temple dedicated to his mother, Stratonice, under the title of]Αφροδίτη Στρατονικίς, was not only constituted a sanctuary itself, but the same right was extended in virtue of it to the whole city. Yet when the tide turned, a temple was erected to the city of Rome as a divinity, in time to save the credit of the Smyruaeans as zealous friends of the Roman people. Indeed, though history is silent as to the particulars, the existence of a coin of Smyrna with the head of Mithridates upon it indicates that this energetic prince also, for a time at least, must have included Smyrna within the circle of his dependencies. However, during the reign of Tiberius, the reputation of the Smyrnaeans for an ardent loyalty was so unsullied that on this account alone they obtained permission to erect a temple, in behalf of all the Asiatic cities, to the emperor and senate, the question having been for some time doubtful as to whether their city or Sardis (q.v.) — the two selected out of a crowd of competitors — should receive this distinction. The honor which had been obtained with such difficulty was requited with a proportionate adulation. Nero appears in the inscriptions as σωτὴρ τοῦ σύμπαντος άνθρωπείου γένους.
It seems not impossible that just as Paul's illustrations in the Epistle to the Corinthians are derived from the Isthmian games, so the message to the Church in Smyrna contains allusions to the ritual of the pagan mysteries which prevailed in that city. The story of the violent death and reviviscence of Dionysus entered into these to such an extent that Origen, in his argument against Celsus, does not scruple to quote it as generally accepted by the Greeks, although by them interpreted metaphysically (4, 171, ed. Spence). In this view, the words ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος, ὅς ἐγένετο νεκρςὸ καὶ ἔζησεν (Re 2:8) would come with peculiar force to ears perhaps accustomed to hear them in a very different application. The same may be said of δώσω σοι τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς, it having been a usual practice at Smyrna to present a crown to the priest who superintended the religious ceremonial, at the end of his year of office. Several persons of both sexes have the title of στεφανηφόροι in the inscriptions; and the context shows that they possessed great social consideration. These allusions derive additional force from the superstitious regard in which the Smyrneans held chance phrases (κληδόνες) as a material for augury. They had a κληδόνων ἱερόν just above the city outside the walls, in which this mode of divination was the ordinary one (Pausan. 9, 11, 7).
III. Present Condition. — From the convenience of its situation, Smyrna has still maintained its rank as a great city and the central emporium of the Levantine trade; and seeing the terrible decay which has fallen upon the numerous great and beautiful cities of Asia Minor, its relative rank among the existing cities of that region is probably greater than that which it anciently bore. The Turks call it Izmir. It is a better built town than Constantinople, and in proportion to its size there are few places in the Turkish dominions which have so large a population. It is computed at from 180, 000 to 200, 000, according to the season of the year; and the Franks compose a far greater proportion than in any other town of Turkey; and they are generally in good circumstances. Next to the Turks the Greeks. form the most, numerous class of inhabitants, and they have a bishop and two churches. The unusually large proportion of Christians in the town renders it peculiarly unclean in the eyes of strict Moslems, whence it has acquired among them the name of Giaour Izmir, or Infidel Smyrna. There are in it 20, 000 Greeks, 8000 Armenians, 1000 Europeans, and 9000 Jews: the rest are Moslems.
The prosperity of Smyrna is now rather on the increase than the decline; houses of painted wood are giving way in all directions to mansions of stone; and probably not many years will elapse before the modern town may not unworthily represent that city which the ancients delighted to call "the lovely — the crown of Ionia the ornament of Asia." It is the seat of a pashalik, and is the center of all important movements in Asia Minor.
Smyrna stands at the foot of a range of mountains which enclose it on three sides. The only ancient ruins are upon the mountains behind the town, and to the south. Upon the highest summit stands an old dilapidated castle, which is supposed by some to mark the previous (but not the most ancient) site of the city; frequent earthquakes having dictated the necessity of removing it to the plain below, and to the lower declivities of the mountains. Mr. Arundell says, "Few of the Ionian cities have furnished more relics of antiquity than Smyrna; but the convenience of transporting them, with the number of investigators, has exhausted the mine. It is therefore not at all wonderful that of the stoas and temples the very ruins have vanished; and it is now extremely difficult to determine the sites of any of the ancient buildings, with the exception of the stadium, the theater, and the Temple of Jupiter Acraeus, which was within the acropolis" (Discoveries in Asia Minor, 2, 407). Of the stadium here mentioned the ground plot only remains, it being stripped of its seats and marble. decorations. It is supposed to be the place where Polycarp, the disciple of John, and probably "the angel of the Church of Smyrna" (Joh 2:8), to whom the Apocalyptic message was addressed, suffered martyrdom. The Christians of Smyrna hold the memory of this venerable person in high honor, and go annually in procession to his supposed tomb, which is at a short distance from the place of martyrdom.
Smyrna has a deep interest to Christians from this fact. During one of the Roman persecutions many Christians suffered the most dreadful torments here. They were put to death at the stake, or by wild beasts in the amphitheater; and the only test applied to them was whether they would throw a few grains of incense into the fire as a sacrifice to the genius of the emperor, or whether they would refuse. A circular letter addressed to the churches in the Christian world from that of Smyrna gives a most interesting account of Polycarp's death, and Neander has admirably translated, abridged, and systematized it. The proconsul before whom Polycarp was accused did all he could to save the venerable bishop, now in his ninetieth year; and when, like Pontius Pilate before him, he found it impossible to restrain the popular fury, he refused to allow any wild beasts to be let loose, and Polycarp, abandoned to the populace, was fastened to a stake and soon surrounded with flames. An old tradition states that the flames formed an arch above the head of the martyr, and left him uninjured; seeing this, a Roman soldier pierced him to the heart with a spear, and the fire then did its office, and consumed the lifeless body. It is, however, as Neander observes, more rational to believe that Polycarp died as Ridley and Latimer have done in more modern times. It is by no means improbable that Polycarp was confined in some one of the arched vaults within the acropolis, which remain to this day. An ancient mosque is also standing, which is said to have been the Church of St. John; but tradition is not much to be depended upon for assigning the correct site to such buildings, and the edifices of Smyrna are constructed of a white and peculiarly friable marble not adapted for great permanency. The Apocalyptic message to the Church at Smyrna is one which conveys no reproach, and, it has been often brought forward as a proof of the inspiration of the book in which it is found, that Smyrna has been always a flourishing city, and that there has been, ever since the days of the apostle, a numerous congregation of Christians among her inhabitants. This, however, has not been, strictly speaking, the case, and it is easy to carry such a mode of proving the truth of Scripture too far; but it is satisfactory to know that true religion is greatly on the increase in this important city, and that the labors of Protestant missionaries have been abundantly successful.
IV. Authorities. —
1. Ancient — Strabo, 14, 183 sq.; Herodotus, 1, 16; Tacitus, Annal. 3, 63; 4, 56; Pliny, H.N. 5, 29; Bockh, Inscript. Groec. "Smyrnaean Inscriptions," especially Nos. 3163-3176; Pausanias, loc. cit., and 4, 21, 5; Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1, 18.
2. Modern. — Rosenmuller, Alterthumsk. 1, 2, 224 sq.; Turner, Travels, 3, 138-141, 285-291; Arundell, ut sup.; Richter, p. 495; Schubert, 1, 272- 283; Narrative of Scottish Mission, p. 328-336; Eothen, ch. 5; M'Farlane, Progress of the Turkish Empire; Prokesch, in the Wiener Jahrb. d. Literatur, 1834; Wrangel, Skizzen aus d. Osten (Dantz. 1839); Murray, Handbook for Turkey in Asia, p. 262 sq. SEE ASIA MINOR.