1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hierapolis

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HIERAPOLIS. 1. (Arabic Manbij or Mumbij) an ancient Syrian town occupying one of the finest sites in Northern Syria, in a fertile district about 16 m. S.W. of the confluence of the Sajur and Euphrates. There is abundant water supply from large springs. In 1879, after the Russo-Turkish war, a colony of Circassians from Vidin (Widdin) was planted in the ruins, and the result has been the constant discovery of antiquities, which find their way into the bazaars of Aleppo and Aintab. The place first appears in Greek as Bambyce, but Pliny (v. 23) tells us its Syrian name was Mabog. It was doubtless an ancient Commagenian sanctuary; but history knows it first under the Seleucids, who made it the chief station on their main road between Antioch and Seleucia-on-Tigris; and as a centre of the worship of the Syrian Nature Goddess, Atargatis (q.v.), it became known to the Greeks as the city of the sanctuary Ἱερόπολις, and finally as the Holy City Ἱεράπολις. Lucian, a native of Commagene (or some anonymous writer) has immortalized this worship in the tract De Dea Syria, wherein are described the orgiastic luxury of the shrine and the tank of sacred fish, of which Aelian also relates marvels. According to the De Dea Syria, the worship was of a phallic character, votaries offering little male figures of wood and bronze. There were also huge phalli set up like obelisks before the temple, which were climbed once a year with certain ceremonies, and decorated. For the rest the temple was of Ionic character with golden plated doors and roof and much gilt decoration. Inside was a holy chamber into which priests only were allowed to enter. Here were statues of a goddess and a god in gold, but the first seems to have been the more richly decorated with gems and other ornaments. Between them stood a gilt xoanon, which seems to have been carried outside in sacred processions. Other rich furniture is described, and a mode of divination by movements of a xoanon of Apollo. A great bronze altar stood in front, set about with statues, and in the forecourt lived numerous sacred animals and birds (but not swine) used for sacrifice. Some three hundred priests served the shrine and there were numerous minor ministrants. The lake was the centre of sacred festivities and it was customary for votaries to swim out and decorate an altar standing in the middle of the water. Self-mutilation and other orgies went on in the temple precinct, and there was an elaborate ritual on entering the city and first visiting the shrine under the conduct of local guides, which reminds one of the Meccan Pilgrimage.

The temple was sacked by Crassus on his way to meet the Parthians (53 B.C.); but in the 3rd century of the empire the city was the capital of the Euphratensian province and one of the great cities of Syria. Procopius called it the greatest in that part of the world. It was, however, ruinous when Julian collected his troops there ere marching to his defeat and death in Mesopotamia, and Chosroes I. held it to ransom after Justinian had failed to put it in a state of defence. Harun restored it at the end of the 8th century and it became a bone of contention between Byzantines, Arabs and Turks. The crusaders captured it from the Seljuks in the 12th century, but Saladin retook it (1175), and later it became the headquarters of Hulagu and his Mongols, who completed its ruin. The remains are extensive, but almost wholly of late date, as is to be expected in the case of a city which survived into Moslem times. The walls are Arab, and no ruins of the great temple survive. The most noteworthy relic of antiquity is the sacred lake, on two sides of which can still be seen stepped quays and water-stairs. The first modern account of the site is in a short narrative appended by H. Maundrell to his Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem. He was at Mumbij in 1699.

The coinage of the city begins in the 4th century B.C. with an Aramaic series, showing the goddess, either as a bust with mural crown or as riding on a lion. She continues to supply the chief type even during imperial times, being generally shown seated with the tympanum in her hand. Other coins substitute the legend Θεᾶς Συρίας Ἱεροπολιτῶν, within a wreath. It is interesting to note that from Bambyce (near which much silk was produced) were derived the bombycina vestis of the Romans and, through the crusaders, the bombazine of modern commerce.

See F. R. Chesney, Euphrates Expedition (1850); W. F. Ainsworth, Personal Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition (1888); E. Sachau, Reise in Syrien, &c. (1883); D. G. Hogarth in Journal of Hellenic Studies (1909).

2. A Phrygian city, altitude 1200 ft. on the right bank of the Churuk Su (Lycus), about 8 m. above its junction with the Menderes (Maeander), situated on a broad terrace, 200 ft. above the valley and 6 m. N. of Laodicea. On the terrace rise calcareous springs, that have deposited vast incrustations of snowy whiteness. To these springs, which are warm and slightly sulphureous, and to the “Plutonium”—a hole reaching deep into the earth, from which issued a mephitic vapour—the place owed its celebrity and sanctity. Here, at an early date, a religious establishment (hieron) existed in connexion with the old Phrygian Kydrara, a settlement of the tribe Hydrelitae; and the town which grew round it became one of the greatest centres of Phrygian native life but of non-political importance. The chief religious festival was the Letoia, named after the goddess Leto, a local variety of the Mother Goddess (Cybele), who was honoured with orgiastic rites in which elements of the original Anatolian matriarchate and Nature-cult survived: there was also a worship of Apollo Lairbenos. Hierapolis was the seat of an early church (Col. iv. 13), with which tradition closely connects the apostle Philip. Epictetus, the philosopher, and Papias, a disciple of St John and author of a lost work on the Sayings of Jesus, were born there. Hierapolis is now easily reached from Gonjeli, a station on the Dineir railway about 7 m. distant. A village of Yuruks has gradually grown below the site. The native name for the place is apparently Pambuk Kale (though doubt has been thrown on the statement), and this has always been explained by the cotton-like appearance of the white incrustations. It should be noted, however, that this name, if genuine, is curiously like that given by the Syrians to the Commagenian Hierapolis (above), Bambyce, the origin of which it has been suggested was a native name of the goddess Pambē or Mambē (whence Mabog). Considering that cotton is a comparatively modern phenomenon in Anatolia, it is worth suggesting that Pambuk in this case may be a survival of a primitive name, derived from the same goddess, Pambē. The goddesses of the two Hierapoleis were in any case closely akin. If an old native name has reappeared here after the decline of Greek influence, and been given a meaning in modern Turkish, it affords another instance of a very common feature of west Asian nomenclature. Combined with the petrified terraces, the ruins of Hierapolis present the most attractive of the easily accessible spectacles in Asia Minor. They are remarkable for the long avenue of tombs, mostly inscribed sarcophagi on plinths, by which the city is approached from the W., and for a very perfect theatre partly excavated in the hill at the N. side of the site. Stage buildings as well as auditorium are well preserved. On the S., just above the white terraces and largely blocked with petrified deposit, stand large baths, into which the natural warm spring was once conducted. Behind these is a fine triumphal arch, whence runs a colonnade. Ruins of several churches survive, and also of a large basilica. There is a sulphureous pool which may represent the “Plutonium,” but it has no such deadly power as was ascribed to that pond. Ramsay thinks that the “Plutonium” was obliterated by Christians in the 4th century. Over 300 inscriptions have been collected, mostly sepulchral, whence Ramsay has deduced interesting facts about the very early Christian community which existed here. The site has been often visited and described, and was systematically examined in 1887 by parties under W. M. Ramsay and K. Humann respectively.

See K. Humann, Altertümer v. Hierapolis (1888); Sir W. M. Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, vol. i. (1895).  (C. W. W.; D. G. H.)