As one of the principal cities of Roman Asia, Smyrna vied with Ephesus (which was located about forty miles away) and Pergamum (Pergamos) for the title "First City of Asia." Although the city was settled in the 11th century B.C., it did not begin to reach its height of importance until after Alexander the Great laid the foundation for a new city. The actual enlargement and fortification of the city was carried out under Antigonus (316 - 301 B.C.) and Lysimachus (301 - 281 B.C.).
The city's name means "myrrh," which is obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense and tastes bitter. Myrrh was used chiefly in embalming the dead because it had the property of preserving dead bodies from putrefaction. This type of embalming was used in Egypt and Judea. Myrrh is often associated as one of the three gifts the Magi gave to Jesus when he was born.In 197 B.C. the city cut its ties with King Eumenes of Pergamum and instead appealed to Rome for help. Because it had no ties to the empire, Smyrna created a cult of Rome to establish a bond. The cult eventually became widespread and is believed to have led to worshipping the pagan goddess Roma.
The Smyrna marketplace (Agora) was the largest of its kind in the world. On its ground floor were twenty-eight shops facing north. The second floor was composed of galleries along three rows of columns.
The Christian church in the city was likely founded by the apostle Paul. The celebrated Polycarp, a pupil of the apostle John, was a prominent leader in the church of Smyrna in the second century A.D.
Smyrna is the second of 7 churches of Revelation that received an evaluation of its spiritual condition directly from God:
"These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:
"I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. " (Revelation 2:8-11, NKJV).