Thyatira is bordered by gently sloping hills and lies in a long, open valley extending north and south between the Hermus and Caicos River valleys. It had no illustrious history and was scarcely mentioned in ancient texts. However, finds of housewares reveal the existence of primitive settlements dating back to 3,000 BC. Because of its location in northern Lydia, it was one of the towns where money was first used. Although it was primarily a garrison town it had no proper acropolis from which to make a defense.
The principal deity of Thyatira was the ancient Lydian sun-god Tyrimnos (Tyrimnaeos) who was identified with the Greek sun-god Apollo. During Roman times the worship of Apollo Tyrimnos was joined with the emperor worship cult. Of lesser importance was Boreitene, a goddess identified with Artemis, the sister of Apollo. Thyatira also paid homage to the goddess Sambethe or Sambethe, a Sibyl (from the Greek sibylla, prophetess) who claimed to speak for Apollo.
Because of its location on a main line of communication and trade Thyatira developed into a thriving and prosperous manufacturing and marketing center. Inscriptions show it was home to numerous trade guilds including coppersmiths, tanners, dyers, leatherworkers, woolworkers and linenworkers. More guilds were found in Thyatira than any other contemporary city in the Roman province of Asia. Every guild owned property in its own name, made contracts and wielded wide influence in the city's political, economic, social and religious life. Guild membership was compulsory for anyone pursuing a trade. Each provided specific benefits and took actions to protect its interests. Each guild had a patron deity, and all proceedings and feasts commenced with paying homage to that god or goddess. The guilds held banquets, probably in temples, which included sexual orgies and wild feasts at which food offered to idols was served. This posed a dilemma for the shopkeepers and craftsmen among the city's Christian community who risked loss of income for refusing to join guilds or for not taking part in their rituals. Christian craftsmen whose commercial and financial security was determined by participation in the guilds may have found it difficult to live out their faith and practice their craft. Necessity for membership in a trade community must have strengthened temptation to compromise.
Acts 16:14 supports a conclusion that there was a Jewish settlement at Thyatira. When Paul, Silas and Timothy entered Philippi in Macedonia they soon learned the city had no synagogue; there weren't enough Jews in the city to support one. They did find a group of women gathered at a place of prayer outside the city gate by the Gangetis River. One was Lydia, a dealer of purple goods made in Thyatira, and she was "a worshiper of God," a gentile who had been drawn to Judaism, probably through contact with the Jews in Thyatira. But she was not a full convert.
Lydia's home served as a meeting place for he Christians of Philippi and after Paul and Silas were released from their illegal imprisonment they went there to encourage "the brothers" before traveling through Amphipolis and Apollonia, to Thessaloniki then on to Athens and Corinth. Possibly Lydia returned to Thyatira at some point and became a leader in the church there.
Anyone traveling to Thyatria expecting to see significant remains of an ancient city will be disappointed. Thyatira is the least interesting in terms of geographical location and least important of the seven cities in terms of historical significance. Little excavation has been done and the ancient site is now covered by the modern Turkish town of Ashisar (white castle) with over 80,000 inhabitants. Situated on a flat plain, the city and the surrounding region produce olives, cotton, tobacco, graphite, wool, raisins and dyes.
The scant archaeological remains of the ancient city are preserved in a fenced off archaeological park (dark square, middle of above Google Earth photo) in the "Tepe Mezari" area of downtown Akhisar.
Among the ruins are (above) columns and arches from a portico dating from about the 4th century AD.
Above, remains of a basilica dating from the 5th or 6th century AD. In places it is preserved to a height of 16 feet. Artifacts give no indication that it was ever a church. It is thought to have been a public building with various functions.
Above, Highly decorated remains at Akhisar.
Above, Remains of a portico (a covered walkway or porch) which once stood on the west side of a column-lined street.
Above, Portico arches probably dating to the 4th century AD.
Above, Colonnade remains; modern streets and buildings surround the archaeological park.
Above, Akhisar street lined with high-rise buildings.