Thyatira, an inland and former border city in Asia Minor, was originally established by the Lydians, then conquered and settled by the Seleucids, integrated into the Kingdom of Pergamum, and finally became part of the Roman Republic in 133 BC and one of the major cities of Roman Asia Province (cf. Strabo, Geography for settling by Macedonian Seleucids; Livy). The city apparently had an earlier name, but a legends is preserved that the name “Thyatira” came about as a result of a combination of a sacrifice of a deer and its running, although scholars have speculated that it is originally Lydian (Stephanus of Byzantium; Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon). Thyatira is mentioned in Acts and Revelation as the hometown of Lydia, and later one of the main churches of Asia Minor (Acts 16:14; Revelation 2:18-29). Paul may have visited Thyatira and brought the Gospel there during his 3-year stint in Asia Province, most of which was spent in Ephesus (Acts 19:10, 20:31). Now located inside modern Akhisar, about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum and on the road to Sardis, this was the 4th destination of the 7 letters of Revelation.
Archaeology has revealed little about Thyatira in the New Testament period. Brief excavations uncovered a Roman street and part of a public building, while explorations at the site discovered several inscriptions and coins. Gods such as Zeus, Artemis, Apollo, Demeter, and Athena were worshiped at the city, and a coin of Vespasian suggests that a temple to the Emperor may have existed there by at least 79 AD. According to inscriptions found at Thyatira, the city had many trade guilds, including wool, linen, baking, slaves, leather, bronze, pottery, and dyes (Hicks, “Inscriptions from Thyatira”). One of the major industries was the dying of textiles. However, the purple dye used in Thyatira was made from the madder root, which was much easier to obtain and therefore a much less expensive “imitation” alternative than the rare purple dye from the murex snail found on the Mediterranean coast (the dye of Thyatira is called “Turkey Red” in modern times). The low cost and high volume made the sale of these dyed garments very profitable (McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament). Lydia, who had moved to Philippi in the Province of Macedonia from Thyatira, worked in this industry, specifically as a seller of purple dyed fabrics (Acts 16:14). An inscription found at Philippi honored a purple dye dealer from Thyatira who was a patron of a citizen in Philippi, demonstrating that others involved in the dye business, like Lydia, had moved from Thyatira to Philippi and were people of financial means (CIL 3.664.1; Keener, Acts). Coins and inscriptions from the city demonstrate the presence of smiths, and particularly those working in bronze. Several coins issued by Thyatira depict Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, using a hammer and tongs to craft a helmet. Other coins show Demeter holding a fiery torch. The passages to Thyatira in Revelation about fire, fine bronze, a rod of iron, and broken pottery could be word pictures of the familiar blacksmith and pottery trades in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18, 27).
1st century Thyatira was primarily a pagan city, similar to others in the Roman Empire, but the letter to the church there contained a specific warning about a false, self-proclaimed prophetess that John calls “Jezebel” in an allusion to the evil, pagan Phoenician queen of ancient Israel associated with harlotry and witchcraft (Revelation 2:20; 1 Kings 16:31; 2 Kings 9:22). The “deep things of Satan” may be a reference to the practicing of mystery religions, which were considered “secret” and only special initiates were allowed to learn and participate in the rituals (Revelation 2:24). Demeter, one of the main goddesses at Thyatira, was a central deity of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries. Thyatira did have a community of Jews, and while many of the Jews may have syncretized to paganism in a manner reminiscent of Israel during the time of Jezebel, it is more likely that the letter to Thyatira uses the name “Jezebel” as an illustration for the evil practices that the prophetess is teaching to members of the church (CIG 2.3509; Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen).