Roman rule & the rise of Christianity
Ironically, Pergamum, the greatest of the post-Alexandrian cities, became the mechanism by which the Romans came to control Anatolia. The Roman legions had defeated the armies of a Seleucid king at Magnesia (Manisa) in 190 BC, but Pergamum became the beachhead from which the Roman embrace of Anatolia began in earnest when King Attalus III died in 133 BC, bequeathing the city to Rome. In 129 BC Ephesus was nominated capital of the Roman province of Asia and within 60 years the Romans had overcome spirited resistance from Mithridates of Pontus and extended their reach to Armenia, on the Persian border. The reign of Emperor Augustus was a period of relative peace and prosperity for Anatolia. It was in this milieu that the fledgling religion of Christianity was able to spread, albeit clandestinely and subject to intermittently rigorous persecution. Tradition has it that St John retired to Ephesus to write the fourth Gospel, bringing Mary with him. John was buried on top of a hill in what is now Selçuk; the great Basilica of St John marks the site. And Mary is said to be buried at Meryemana nearby. The indefatigable St Paul capitalised on the Roman road system, his sprightly step taking him across Anatolia from AD 45 to AD 58 spreading the word. As Christianity quietly spread, the Roman Empire grew cumbersome. In the late 3rd century Diocletian tried to steady the empire by splitting it into eastern and western administrative units, simultaneously attempting to wipe out Christianity. Both endeavours failed. Diocletian’s reforms resulted in a civil war out of which Constantine emerged victorious. An earlier convert to Christianity, Constantine was said to have been guided by angels in choosing to build a ‘New Rome’ on the ancient Greek town of Byzantium. The city came to be known as Constantinople (now İstanbul). On his death bed, seven years later in 337, Constantine was baptised and by the end of the century Christianity had become the official religion of the empire.