The partially restored synagogue and the ruins of temples and churches mark the importance of Sardis as a religious site. Beginning in the 6th century BC Sardis was the terminus of the main east-west Royal Road. As the capital of Lydia it was the commercial center of the western Mediterranean well into 1st century BC. On the main highway east from İzmir, now surrounded with rich farm land, Sardis owed much of its power to the gold that its kings took from the Pactolus (Sart çayı) stream that comes down out of Mt. Tmolus (Bozdağ). The Lydian empire included almost all of western Anatolia.
The history of Sardis is told with many anecdotes by Herodotus. One of its first kings, Gyges was forced by the queen to kill his predecessor and mary her. Gyges carried on diplomatic relations with the Assyrian Emperor Assurbanipal (669-627 BC) This occurred during the time that Judah was a vassal state of Assyria and its merchants were busy throught the Empire. Thus while there are no references in Herodotus or in the Bible to Jewish merchants in Sardis, it seems reasonable that they may well have been working there at the time. In the Old Testament Sardis perhaps appears as the place called Sepharad where there were were exiles from Jerusalem. These may have been people who had left Jerusalem after the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC. Or they may have been slaves who were sold to the Lydians by one of Nebuchanezzar’s ministers, Nabuzaradan.
Croesus was the king of Sardis from 560 to 546 BC; his name is still synonymous with wealth. However, overconfident because of his wealth, Croesus mistook the power of the Persian Empire which had replaced that of the Assyrian. Challenging the Persian Cyrus the Great, he was defeated and captured in his citadel in Sardis in 546. From then until the time of Alexander, Sardis was a Persian satrapy. By the 6th century BC Lydians had made important innovations in music with the seven-string lyre and in finance with gold and silver coinage guaranteed by the state for its standard value. Sardis also contributed the game of dice to the world’s entertainment market.
A main street of ancient Sardis parallels the present highway. A number of shops once opened onto that street -a paint shop and a hardware shop have been identified among them. To the north of them are one of the two synagogues and the gymnasium complex, both partially reconstructed in recent years by people contributing to the Sardis American Excavations Fund.
The reconstructed synagogue shows some of its original splendor and has several unusual features: It was originally a wing of the gymnasium; it was made into the religious center in the 3rd century AD, possibly with the hekp of Emperor Lucius Verus. Its long, narrow shape comes from its previous use. It also is the largest known synagogue from this time outside Jerusalem. That, its frescoes and its mosaics suggest a large, well-established and succesful Jewish community in Sardis. More familiar is the semicircular bank of facing seats for the elders at the west end; this feature was carried over into church architecture, as can be seen in the Church of St. Irene in Istanbul.
Across the highway are the stadium, theater and market place. In the so-called House of Bronzes opposite the synagogue excators found so many pieces of bronze that are religious in character that they think the house may have been the residence of a priest.
The Temple to Artemis, built in about 334 BC at a time of regional prosperity, is at the foot of the peak and near the stream. Even in its ruined condition it is one of the most impressive buildings of antiquity. Of the original seventy-eight columns that surrounded the temple, two still are topped with their Ionic capitals. Reconstructed several times, the final building (a double temple) of AD 150 is about 50 m wide by 100m long. In the northeast corner is a small, possibly 4th century AD church in poor condition.
A short distance southwest of the Temple to Artemis, on the bank above the stream, archaeologists have recently discovered the city’s gold refinery. Not far from it are the ruins of a pre-7th century AD church.
In the Book of Revelation, John stated that Sardis needed to wake up. He complained that their acts did not live up to their reputation, that they did not finish what they started. But he held out the hope to those who were not polluted that they should robes of white. White was the color then of righteousness and immortality.
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