The place first appears in Greek as Bambyce, but Pliny (v. 23) tells us its Syrian name was Mabog (also Mabbog, Mabbogh). It was doubtless an ancient Commagenian sanctuary; but history records it first under the Seleucids, who made it the chief station on their main road between Antioch and Seleucia on the Tigris; and as a centre of the worship of the Syrian Nature Goddess, Atargatis, it became known to the Greeks as the city of the sanctuary Ιεροπολις (Ieropolis), and finally as the Holy City Ιεραπολις (Ierapolis).
The temple contained a holy chamber into which only priests were allowed to enter. A great bronze altar stood in front, set about with statues, and in the forecourt lived numerous sacred animals and birds (but not swine) used for sacrifice.
Some three hundred priests served the shrine and there were numerous minor ministrants. The lake was the centre of sacred festivities and it was customary for votaries to swim out and decorate an altar standing in the middle of the water. Self-mutilation and other orgies went on in the temple precinct, and there was an elaborate ritual on entering the city and first visiting the shrine.
The remains are extensive, but almost wholly of late date, as is to be expected in the case of a city which survived into Moslem times. The walls are Arab, and no ruins of the great temple survive. The most noteworthy relic of antiquity is the sacred lake, on two sides of which can still be seen stepped quays and water-stairs. The first modern account of the site is in a short narrative appended by H Maundrell to his Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem Hewasat Mumbij in 1699.
The coinage of the city begins in the 4th century BC with an Aramaic series, showing the goddess, either as a bust with mural crown or as riding on a lion. She continues to supply the chief type even during imperial times, being generally shown seated with the tympanum in her hand. Other coins substitute the legend O~.s ~vpias ‘I€poiro?urii’v, within a wreath. It is interesting to note that from Bambyce (near which much silk was produced) were derived the bombycina vestis of the Romans and, through the crusaders, the bombazine of modern commerce.