One of my favourite places in the world is the British Museum in London. As someone who is passionate about the Old Testament prophets, the Assyrian collection there has a particular magic for me. I’ll post about it some other time, but since I’m in Berlin next week I will just post about that city’s wonderful Pergamum Museum – another of my favourite places. The greatest pleasure there for me is the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, which I will cover in my next post. I’ll start, though, with something which relates to the New Testament, rather than the old: the Great Altar from Pergamum. This is the museum’s centrepiece and the very reason why it was built in the first place. The partially reconstructed altar is an enormously impressive structure.

Great Altar from Pergamum
The Great Altar from Pergamum (Bergama, in modern Turkey), in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin
© Tony Watkins. This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Some fragments were found by the German engineer Carl Humann in 1871, re-used in a Byzantine wall in Pergamum, which prompted the Berlin Museum to start excavating seven years later. The remains of the Great Altar were discovered and shipped to Germany where part of the altar was reassembled. What we see in the museum is just the front part, as can be seen from the model below.

Model of Great Altar from Pergamum
Model of the Great Altar of Pergamum
© Tony Watkins. This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Pergamum is mentioned in Revelation 2:13–17. The reference to ‘the throne of Satan’ in v. 13 may refer to the Great Altar, which was dedicated to both Zeus and Athena.

Part of the altar
A section of the entablature of the altar itself, from the Great Altar of Pergamum
© Tony Watkins. This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Around the altar was a 113 m long freize, decorated with carvings of a battle between the giants and the Greek gods and goddesses.

Freize from the Great Altar from Pergamum
Part of the freize from the Great Altar of Pergamum
© Tony Watkins. This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Freize from the Great Altar from Pergamum
Part of the freize from the Great Altar of Pergamum
© Tony Watkins. This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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4 thoughts on “The Great Altar from Pergamum

  1. Great photos, really interesting! I was in the British Museum for the first time recently… amazing place, I really enjoyed the Assyrian artefacts. The carvings of a lion hunt are particularly impressive – they liked showing off about killing those lions!

  2. Whenever I go to the British Museum, I always spend so long in the Assyrian collection that I don’t have time for much else. I will post about some of those objects sometime soon, but I think I may need to go back and take some more photos first . . .

  3. Hi Tony, I agree with your excitement about the Ishtar Gate relating to the Old Testament prophets. I used to live a few minutes walk from the museum and it was a definite highlight to my life in Berlin.
    I have a question, do you know the temple which is at the far end of the museum with its monolithic heavy statues of kings? It’s an oppressive and scary room but I can’t remember the period of the temple. If you know any details could you pass it on to me for my theological studies? Thank you, Georgie

  4. Hi George. I wonder if what you have in mind is not actually a temple, but the market gate at Miletus, which looks like a temple. It is huge and has some Roman statues. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_Gate_of_Miletus

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