I'm reading Brent Winters' The Excellence of the Common Law right now, which relies heavily on the idea that the priesthood of Babylon fled to Pergamum when Babylon was conquered in 539 BC. The authority of this priesthood was then inherited by Rome when Attalus III willed the kingdom to Rome in the second century BC.

I'm trying to fact check this idea, and find some ancient source or other that backs it up, but I'm only able to find this idea repeated on conspiracy-theory type websites. Can anyone point me to a reputable source for this information, either confirming or debunking it?

Winters quotes William Burckhardt Barker's book Lares and Penates in establishing this idea, as well as Donald Grey Barnhouses' The Invisible War:

The king of Babylon [Nimrod] built a bridge across the Euphrates River and gave himself the title of the great bridge builder. The title was transferred, centuries later, to a king of Asia Minor [Attalus of Pergamos], was taken by the Caesars, and finally fell to the popes who boast in it today, Pontifex Maximus.

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    I ask why would the Babylonian priesthood flee from the Babylonian kingdom and the city of babylon when they were conquered by the Persians? Wouldn't fleeing from the area be worse for the priesthood business than staying there and carrying on during Persian rule. Do cuniform tablets from the period indicate any decrease in priestly activity after the Persian conquest?i
    – MAGolding
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:51
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    Why would the Babylonian priesthood have any authority amongst the Romans, unless they somehow converted the Romans to the Babylonian religion?
    – jamesqf
    Jan 8, 2021 at 19:40
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    I was wondering that too. It seems to have something to do with the idea that this secret cult had the power to validate civil authority, similar to the later divine right of kings. But Winters is also trying to make the case that it was a cult of power, and that an emperor justifies his own role as a god-emperor through power. Maybe he's just trying to trace the provenance of the idea of Julius Caesar claiming the title pontifex maximus, but as a causal thing it seems incoherent.
    – jstaab
    Jan 8, 2021 at 20:13
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    The pontifex thing is clearly bonkers.
    – Spencer
    Jan 14, 2021 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


The timing is wrong. Although there is evidence of settlement at Pergamum around this time, it does not enter the historical record until Xenophon wrote about bringing his mercenaries through around 400 BC. According to Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pergamum was not much more than a hilltop fortress until the Hellenistic Period.

The area around Pergamum was under the control of Lydia until Persian emperor Cyrus the Great conquered it in 546 BC. After that, the area was a Persian satrapy until Alexander the Great came through.

So, when Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, Pergamum was in a recently-conquered part of his empire. I don't think the Babylonian priests would have felt any safer there.

And of course there is no mention of Pergamum in the historical record until more than a century later.

  • The book does acknowledge that the Babylonian priesthood settled in Pergamum "around the time of Alexander the Great", which jives with what you're saying. So I guess the question is where were they for 200 years.
    – jstaab
    Jan 8, 2021 at 17:47
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    @jstaab Without a direct quote from the book, I'm afraid there are no further clarifications possible.
    – Spencer
    Jan 8, 2021 at 19:43

When Cyrus conquered Babylon 539 BC he left the city intact and Babylonians were free to worship their god Marduk. So there would be no reason to flee, in some historical accounts the people seemed to like him ruling better than their Babylonian predecessors Nibonidus/Belshazzar (co-regent). In the years that followed however there were several insurrections. During Darius’ reign in 521 B.C. and 482 B.C. under Xerxes. During these the rebel king and priests were executed. A great part of the city destroyed along their temples of worship. The remaining priests fled to Pergamum which at the time was a Roman City. Like the Washington DC of Asia Minor. The dates check out and the reason for their exile makes sense from a historical stand point. Not to mention it the vehicle through which Babylonian religious/paganism is adopted by Rome, before Christianity is by Emperor Constantine.

Some of this is found in the archeological record, the Cyrus cylinder. An inscription found by Darius. I would start there. Herodotus may have also written about it. But all the above checks out according to the Biblical account as well.

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    Please back up all nontrivial assertions with actual quotes from actual sources.
    – Spencer
    Feb 5, 2021 at 23:40
  • The edit is a very good start. Thank you! Still needs more specifics though. What specifically in the Cyrus cylinder backs up what specific claims? Same for the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 6, 2021 at 18:43
  • For the record, everything I've looked into (or already know about) in this answer checks out. Nobody's accusing you of anything. However, as a matter of principle we ask posters to show their work like this. Otherwise, I'm sure you could imagine the kind and volume of utter nonsense we'd end up hosting from internet randos.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 6, 2021 at 18:52
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    I don't understand the chronology -- could you clarify? Rome took over Pergamum in 133-129 BC, which seems a long time after Darius and Xerxes.
    – Mark Olson
    Feb 6, 2021 at 19:31
  • Also, the transcript of the Cyrus Cylinder I've read doesn't contain any mention of priests fleeing from Babylon at all, much less to Pergamum, so you're going to have to justify the citation or remove it.
    – Spencer
    Feb 12, 2021 at 17:48

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