Jewish Bread-Stamp from Sardis

Jewish Bread-Stamp from Sardis

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Sardis Synagogue

Sardis Synagogue is a synagogue located in Manisa Province, Turkey. Sardis was under numerous foreign rulers until its incorporation into the Roman Empire in 133 BCE. The city served then as the administrative center of the Roman province of Lydia. Sardis was reconstructed after the catastrophic AD 17 Lydia earthquake, and it enjoyed a long period of prosperity under the Roman rule.

Sardis is believed to have gained its Jewish community in the 3rd century BCE, as that was when King Antiochus III (223–187 BCE) encouraged Jews from various countries, including Babylonia, to move to Sardis. Josephus Flavius wrote of a decree from Lucius Antonius, a Roman proquestor of 50–49 BCE: "Lucius Antonius. to [the Sardian people], sends greetings. Those Jews, who are fellow citizens of Rome, came to me, and showed that they had an assembly of their own, according to their ancestral laws. [They had this assembly] from the beginning, as also a place of their own, wherein they determined their suits and controversies with one another. Therefore, upon their petition to me, so that these might be lawful for them, I ordered that their privileges be preserved, and they be permitted to do accordingly."1 (Ant., XIV:10, 17). "A place of their own" is generally taken as a reference to the synagogue at Sardis. Josephus Flavius noted that Caius Norbanus Flaccus, a Roman proconsul at the end of the 1st century BCE, upheld the rights of Sardis Jews to practice their religion, including the right to donate to the Temple in Jerusalem. (Ant., XVI:6,6). [1]

Jewish Bread-Stamp from Sardis - History

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

sar'-dis (Sardeis): Sardis is of special interest to the student of Herodotus and Xenophon, for there Artaphernes, the brother of Darius, lived, and from there Xerxes invaded Greece and Cyrus marched against his brother Artaxerxes it is also of interest to the student of early Christian history as the home of one of the Seven Churches of Rev (1:11 3:1 ff). It was moreover one of the oldest and most important cities of Asia Minor, and until 549 BC, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. It stood on the northern slope of Mt. Tmolus its acropolis occupied one of the spurs of the mountain. At the base flowed the river Pactolus which served as a moat, rendering the city practically impregnable. Through the failure to watch, however, the acropolis had been successfully scaled in 549 BC by a Median soldier, and in 218 by a Cretan (compare Rev 3:2,3). Because of its strength during the Persian period, the satraps here made their homes. However, the city was burned by the Ionians in 501 BC, but it was quickly rebuilt and regained its importance. In 334 BC it surrendered to Alexander the Great who gave it independence, but its period of independence was brief, for 12 years later in 322 BC it was taken by Antigonus. In 301 BC, it fell into the possession of the Seleucidan kings who made it the residence of their governor. It became free again in 190 BC, when it formed a part of the empire of Pergamos, and later of the Roman province of Asia. In 17 AD, when it was destroyed by an earthquake, the Roman emperor Tiberius remitted the taxes of the people and rebuilt the city, and in his honor the citizens of that and of neighboring towns erected a large monument, but Sardis never recovered its former importance (compare Rev 3:12). Again in 295 AD, after the Roman province of Asia was broken up, Sardis became the capital of Lydia, and during the early Christian age it was the home of a bishop. The city continued to flourish until 1402, when it was so completely destroyed by Tamerlane that it was never rebuilt. Among the ruins there now stands a small village called Sert, a corruption of its ancient name. The ruins may be reached by rail from Smyrna, on the way to Philadelphia.
The ancient city was noted for its fruits and wool, and for its temple of the goddess Cybele, whose worship resembled that of Diana of Ephesus. Its wealth was also partly due to the gold which was found in the sand of the river Pactolus, and it was here that gold and silver coins were first struck. During the Roman period its coins formed a beautiful series, and are found in abundance by the peasants who till the surrounding fields. The ruins of the buildings which stood at the base of the hill have now been nearly buried by the dirt washed down from above. The hill upon which the acropolis stood measures 950 ft. high: the triple walls still surround it. The more imposing of the ruins are on the lower slope of the hill, and among them the temple of Cybele is the most interesting, yet only two of its many stone columns are still standing. Equally imposing is the necropolis of the city, which is at a distance of two hours' ride from Sert, South of the Gygaean lake. The modern name of the necropolis is Bin Tepe or Thousand Mounds, because of the large group of great mounds in which the kings and nobles were buried. Many of the mounds were long ago excavated and plundered.
We quote the following from the Missionary Herald (Boston, Massachusetts, August, 1911, pp. 361-62):
Dr. C. C. Tracy, of Marsovan, has made a visit to ancient Sardis and observed the work of his countryman, Professor Butler, of Princeton University, who is uncovering the ruins of that famous city of the past. Already rich "finds" have been made among them portions of a temple of Artemis, indicating a building of the same stupendous character as those at Ephesus and Baalbec, and a necropolis from whose tombs were unearthed three thousand relics, including utensils, ornaments of gold and precious stones, mirrors, etc. What chiefly impressed Dr. Tracy was the significance of those "Seven Churches of Asia," of which Sardis held one. "When I think of the myriads of various nationality and advanced civilization for whose evangelization these churches were responsible, the messages to the Christian communities occupying the splendid strategic centers fill me with awe. While established amid the splendors of civilization, they were set as candlesticks in the midst of gross spiritual darkness. Did they fulfill their mission?"
One of Dr. Butler's recoveries is the marble throne of the Bishop of Sardis looking upon it the message to Sardis recurs to mind. A fact of current history quickened the visitor's appreciation of the word to "the angel" of that church. "Yonder among the mountains overhanging Sardis there is a robber gang led by the notorious Chakirjali. He rules in the mountains no government force can take him. Again and again he swoops down like an eagle out of the sky, in one quarter of the region or another. From time immemorial these mountains have been the haunts of robbers very likely it was so when Rev was written, `I will come upon thee as a thief.' In each case the message was addressed to `the angel of the church.' Over every church in the world there is a spirit hovering, as it were--a spirit representing that church and by whose name it can be addressed. The messages are as vital as they were at the first. `He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.'"
E. J. Banks Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'sardis'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". - ISBE 1915.

Copyright Information
© International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)


Ruins of ancient Sardis (photo by Joel Meeker).

When Jesus Christ gave His message to the church at Sardis at the end of the first century, there were congregations in other nearby cities. Yet, as noted in the introductory article &ldquoSeven Churches of Revelation,&rdquo Sardis and six others were chosen by Christ to receive messages that were relevant to them at the time. These churches also seem to represent the chronological development of the Church throughout the centuries, and the messages are timeless instruction for God&rsquos people.

This article will focus on the history of Sardis and then provide an explanation of Christ&rsquos message to this congregation and its relevance for us.

History of Sardis

Sardis was &ldquoone of the oldest and most important cities of Asia Minor, and until 549 BC, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. It stood on the northern slope of Mt. Tmolus its acropolis occupied one of the spurs of the mountain. At the base flowed the river Pactolus which served as a moat, rendering the city practically impregnable. Through the failure to watch, however, the acropolis had been successfully scaled in 549 BC by a Median soldier, and in 218 by a Cretan (compare Rev 3:2, Rev 3:3)&rdquo (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1939, &ldquoSardis&rdquo).

Earthquakes were common in this part of the world, and in A.D. 17 the city was destroyed by such a tremor. The Roman emperor Tiberius &ldquoremitted the taxes of the people and rebuilt the city, and in his honor the citizens of that and of neighboring towns erected a large monument, but Sardis never recovered its former importance (compare Rev 3:12)&rdquo (ibid.).

A small Turkish village called Sert is now located among the ancient ruins. The chief remains of the ancient city are the triple walls surrounding the hill on which the acropolis stood and two upright columns from the temple of Cybele.

The message

&ldquoAnd to the angel of the church in Sardis write, &lsquoThese things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: &ldquoI know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard hold fast and repent.

&ldquoTherefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

&ldquoHe who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches&rdquo&rsquo&rdquo (Revelation 3:1-6).

The explanation

Like Christ&rsquos messages to the preceding congregations, this one is also addressed &ldquoto the angel of the church&rdquo (Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18 3:1). The word angel is translated from the Greek word aggelos, which means &ldquoa messenger, envoy, one who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God&rdquo (Thayer&rsquos Greek Definitions).

The context shows that these messages are not sent to these messengers themselves but rather to each &ldquoas presiding over or representing the churches, for what is recorded pertains to the churches, and was evidently designed to be laid before them. It was for the churches, but was committed to the &lsquoangel&rsquo as representing the church, and to be communicated to the church under his care&rdquo (ISBE, ibid.).

The message begins with the familiar statement, &ldquoI know your works&rdquo (verse 1). After conveying this important point, Christ states, &ldquoYou have a name that you are alive, but you are dead&rdquo (verse 1). These few words are the major focus of the entire message to Sardis.

Ruins of a Jewish synagogue at Sardis (photo by Joel Meeker).

To understand how having a name meant they were alive but were dead, we need to note what Christ had previously taught about the significance of the name of God and what transpired in history. Praying to His Father prior to His crucifixion, Jesus said, &ldquoHoly Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are&rdquo (John 17:11, emphasis added throughout). Here we see that the people of God were to be kept or identified by God&rsquos name.

Although He was also God, Jesus always gave deference to His Father. So it was the Father&rsquos name that was to be used to identify God&rsquos people. Throughout the New Testament, the Scriptures predominantly identify God&rsquos people as the Church of God. To see the 12 scriptures that clearly make this point and to read more about this identifying principle, see &ldquoTrue Church: What Is Its Name?&rdquo

In saying &ldquoyou have a name that you are alive&rdquo (Revelation 3:1), Jesus was acknowledging that the Church of God at Sardis had the correct name and in that sense was spiritually alive. Yet in saying &ldquobut you are dead&rdquo (verse 1), Jesus was telling them that it took more than the correct name to please God. Sadly, many in this church were spiritually dead&mdashtheir works were not &ldquoperfect before God&rdquo (verse 2). Their actions were not complete&mdashnot fully exemplary of a living Christian faith.

As for this issue regarding God&rsquos name, history shows that from the latter part of the first century onward, many deviations from the teaching of Christ and the apostles began to develop within Christianity. Put another way, many began to claim that they were Christians and followers of God, yet according to their works, they denied God.

In concluding His famous Sermon on the Mount, which gave an overview of the major themes that Jesus preached, our Savior pointedly said, &ldquoNot everyone who says to Me, &lsquoLord, Lord,&rsquo shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, &lsquoLord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?&rsquo And then I will declare to them, &lsquoI never knew you depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!&rsquo&rdquo (Matthew 7:21-23).

Again, just calling oneself Christian or part of the Church of God is not sufficient. God expects accompanying works&mdashthe same deeds that Jesus and the apostles practiced&mdashfor anyone to truly belong to God.

Because many of the members at Sardis had become spiritually dead, Christ warned them to &ldquobe watchful, and strengthen the things which remain&rdquo and to &ldquohold fast and repent&rdquo (Revelation 3:2-3). Jesus also warned them to watch for His return&mdashan indication that people representing Sardis in the historical development of the Church may be alive at His second coming.

Christ&rsquos message to Sardis concludes with the encouraging words that some among this church would remain spiritually faithful: &ldquoYou have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments&rdquo (verse 4). These people will be clothed in white garments, symbolic of righteousness (Revelation 19:8) and be in the &ldquoBook of Life&rdquo (Revelation 3:5)&mdasha record of those who will live forever in the family of God.

A lesson for us

Like the messages to the previous congregations, the one to Sardis closes with the sober warning: &ldquoHe who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches&rdquo (Revelation 3:6). So what would Christ have us learn from His message to this church?

Ruins of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis (photo by Joel Meeker).

A major lesson is that God doesn&rsquot accept nominal Christians&mdashones who claim to be Christian yet deny the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Today the world is filled with almost countless varieties of people and organizations claiming to be Christian. Yet how can they all be correct when their doctrines are so different? Toward the end of the first century, Jude admonished members of the Church of God to &ldquocontend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints&rdquo (Jude 1:3).

There was only one form of Christianity originated by Christ and taught by the apostles. God intended that the faith originally established by His Son remain the only form of Christianity throughout the ages. He wanted the members at Sardis and people throughout time to remain zealous for His way of life and pure in conduct. Yet church history and the progressive revelation of the messages to the seven churches of Revelation show a sustained effort to water down, change or deny the original teachings of Christ.

What about you? Are you striving to learn the true Christianity as taught and practiced by the early Church? And as you learn it, are you living it? Notice the admonitions of two first-century apostles to live as God requires.

  • Paul wrote: &ldquoFor not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified&rdquo (Romans 2:13).
  • James said, &ldquoBut be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves&rdquo (James 1:22).

Don&rsquot be like the members at Sardis who became spiritually dead. Be zealous and live your life as God demands!

If you have questions about the original Christianity taught by Christ or questions about how to put Christ&rsquos teaching into practice, feel free to contact us. We are dedicated to helping you learn how to put His wonderful way of life into practice. Read more in the articles about &ldquoChange.&rdquo

David Treybig

David Treybig is a husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife, Teddi, have two grown children and seven grandchildren. He currently pastors the Austin, Texas, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He has served in the pastoral ministry for over 40 years, pastoring congregations across six states.


Ancient city of Asia Minor and capital of Lydia situated on the Pactolus at the northern base of Mount Tmolus, about sixty miles from Smyrna. The town is first mentioned by Æschylus ("Persæ," ed. Kirchhoff, line 47), and may be the "Sparda" of the Old Persian inscriptions of Darius Hystaspes (Behistun, i. 15 Persepolis, e, 12 Naḳshi Rustam, a, 28). It had an eventful history, and after the establishment of the Roman province of Asia in 133 B.C. it became the capital of a "conventus" or district.

The date and early history of the Jewish community of Sardis are unknown, although it is clear that by the second half of the first century B.C. it had become an influential one for in a decree of the proquestor and propretor Lucius Antonius, dating from 50-49 and preserved by Josephus ("Ant." xiv. 10, § 17), the Jews are described as having "an assembly of their own, according to the laws of their forefathers, and this from the beginning, as also a place of their own, wherein they determined their suits and controversies with one another." In obedience to an order of Antonius that the Jews, as Roman citizens, should be confirmed in their rights and privileges, the Sardians passed a decree (ib. § 24) that the community should enjoy freedom of worship, while special measures were taken to import food which should be ritually clean. A few years later, in the early part of the reign of Augustus, the proconsul Caius Norbanus Flaccus, at the express command of the emperor, renewed the religious privileges of the Jews of Sardis and permitted them to send money to Jerusalem (ib. xvi. 6, § 6).

The single allusion to Sardis in Rev. iii. 1-4 adds no information concerning its Jewish community, nor does the Talmud throw any light on the history of the Jews in the city, although, Sardis may be meant by "Asia" in a few passages (Sifre, Balaḳ, ed. Friedmann, p. 47b 'Ab. Zarah 30a B. M. 84a). Its site is now occupied by the ruined village of Sart.

Turkey has been a place of refuge for scores of persecuted Jews for centuries. Jewish settlements in the Turkey region date back to 4th century BCE and include the ancient cities Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamon and Smyrna (now known as Izmir). While Izmir was known for its large Jewish community, Sardis was known for its ancient synagogue built in 220 BCE. Its ruins still stand today. Other synagogues in Turkey include the Ahrida Synagogue founded in 1460, Zulfaris Synagogue (1671) and the Beit Yaacov synagogue (1878). With such rich history, it is easy to see the strong influence of the Jewish community in the early years of the Ottoman Empire and throughout the history of Turkey.

Turkey’s reputation as a safe haven for Jewish refugees began in 1492 when Jews were being persecuted in Spain. At the time, the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, ordered Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country. When Sultan Bayezid II heard this, he welcomed the Sephardim, the term given Jews leaving Spain as a result of 1492 expulsion, into the Ottoman Empire. These Romaniote Jews were predominantly Greek Jews who had been living in the Eastern Mediterranean more than 2,000 years. The influx of Sephardim Jews in Turkey overwhelmed the existing Romaniote Jewish community. Eventually, the Romaniote culture was completely consumed by the Sephardim.

Under the Byzantine rule of Turkey’s early years beginning in AD 395, Jewish communities were oppressed and segregated. Jews could not live amongst Christians, were not allowed in civil service or the military, and could not marry non-Jews. Conversion to Judaism was also illegal.

Things changed during Ottoman Empire, established in 1299, under the rule of Sultan Orhan (1323-1362) who allowed Jewish people to build their first synagogue. The synagogue was named Etz ha-Hayyim, or “Tree of Life” which remained in service until approximately 50 years ago.

Mehmed II, also known as Mehmed the Conqueror, took over Constantinople in 1453 and found an oppressed Jewish community. Mehmed worked to give the Jewish people more opportunities and freedom. He appointed Hekim Yakuo Pasa, a Jew, as his minister of finance and physician Moses Hamon as Chief Physician to the Sultan. Mehmed also designated a Jewish grand rabbi and put plans in place to repopulate Constantinople through the establishment of many communities. Around this time, the Ottoman Empire began encouraging the immigration of Jews to their land. Jews received three invitations to immigrate to the land acquired by the Ottomans. Two invitations were made by Muslim sultans Muhammad II in mid-15th century and later Bayezid II in 1492. In a 1454 invitation from Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati , he wrote: “Here every man dwells at peace under his own vine and fig tree”. The Rabbi sent the invitation in hopes of helping Jews throughout Europe could escape persecution by coming to Turkey. Thus, the Ottoman Empire became a safe place for European Jews trying to escape religious persecution.

By 1477, 11% of the households in Istanbul were Jewish. With a growing Jewish population as a result of increasing immigration, the Ottoman Empire enjoyed an extended period of prosperity and influence. One significant development was the invention of the printing press in 1493. David and Samuel ibn Nahmias created the first Hebrew printing press in Istanbul and went on to print the first book ever printed in the Ottoman Empire in December of 1493, Arbaah Turim (Four Orders of the Code of Law).

There were 80,000 Jews living in Turkey when Israel was established in 1948. This is thought to be the pinnacle of the Jewish population in Turkey. The freedom that Jewish communities enjoyed during this time led to the creation of exceptional literature and religious texts, advancing their spirituality.

In 1856, the proclamation of Hatti Humayun made all Muslim and non-Muslim Ottoman citizens equal under the law. As a result, leadership shifted its emphasis from the religious to the secular. The Ottoman Empire collapsed during WWI and the Turkish Republic rose with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk elected president. Under this new government, a secular constitution was created and the Caliphate was dissolved. When Turkey was recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, it presented minority rights to the three principal non-Muslim religious minorities, Judaism being one, allowing them to continue their religious education and social institutions.

Today, the Jewish population in Turkey is approximately 17,200 out of a total population of 70 million. Approximately 330,000 – 450,000 Turkish Jews live around the world with 280,000 of those living in Israel. The Turkish Jews hold strongly to their cultural roots and pay homage to their history through such traditions as making bourekas and stuffed grape leaves. Although bourekas have Balkan roots and stuffed grape leaves were brought by the Romaniote Jews to Turkey, they still serve as important cultural ties to Turkey. Be sure to see our recipes for Potato Leek Bourekas and Spinach & Feta Bourekas.

Fun Fact:
Did you know that a Jewish diplomat, Salamon ben Nathan Eskenazi, was the first to construct diplomatic ties between the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire?

Jewish Bread-Stamp from Sardis - History

The Acropolis

Known biblically as the home of the church that received the fifth of letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Sardis was the capital of the Lydian empire and one of the greatest cities of the ancient world.

Located on the banks of the Pactolus River, Sardis was 60 miles (97 km) inland from Ephesus and Smyrna. The city was home to the famous bishop Melito in the 2nd century.

Temple of Artemis

Artemis was the main goddess of the city and the temple dedicated to her in Sardis was one of the seven largest Greek temples (more than double the size of the Parthenon).

Artemis, known as Diana by the Romans, was the daughter of Zeus and twin of Apollo. She was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and fertility.

Sardis Lower City

“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write . . . I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If . . . thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief” (Rev 3:1-3).


A large complex built in the center of the lower city in the 2nd century AD included a gymnasium and a bathhouse.

The complex was over five acres (2 ha) in size and its western part was characterized by large vaulted halls for bathing. The eastern part was a palaestra, a large open courtyard for exercise.


The synagogue of Sardis is notable for its size and location. In size, it is one of the largest ancient synagogues excavated. In location, it is found in the center of the urban center, instead of on the periphery as synagogues typically were. This attests to the strength and wealth of the Jewish community in the city. This synagogue came into use in the 3rd century AD.

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Related Websites

Sardes (Livius). This page walks through Sardis’s history, illustrating with pictures.

Sardis (The Met). The article on the site is interesting on its own, but the pictures of artifacts found at Sardis are of particular note.

Sardis (Focus Multimedia). Highlights interesting and important facts about the city in a brief, reader-friendly format.

The Archaeological Exploration of Sardis ( This website belongs to the Harvard team excavating Sardis. It is abundant with information and photos.

Sardes (The Catholic Encyclopedia). Gives a brief, but rather technical history of the ancient city. Text only, no pictures.

Jewish Sardis (Turkey) (Turkey Travel Planner). Written by the author of the original Lonely Planet guide to Turkey, this site offers a practical look at Sardis, with an emphasis on Jewish roots.

Turkey and Seven Churches of Revelation Photo Album (ArcImaging, Rex Weissler). Photographs from a tour of Turkey highlight important archaeological features of the city. Scroll to “S” section or click on the appropriate photo tour at the top of the page.

King Croesus’ Gold (Cornell News). Reviews the book in which Cornell University archaeologist documents one famous find from the Sardis expedition.

Artists’ visions/versions of ancient Sardis (The Harvard Gazette). An article looking at this history of artistic reconstructions of Sardis.

Jewish bread stamp

In 2011, Excavators with the Israel Antiquities Authority unearthed a 1,500-year-old Jewish bread stamp from a small Byzantine settlement near the ancient port city of Akko. The sixth-century clay stamp, excavated from the small site of Horbat Uza just east of Akko, bears an image of the seven-branched Temple menorah, while its handle is engraved with several Greek letters that likely spelled the name of the Jewish baker who used the stamp to mark his goods. “The stamp is important because it proves that a Jewish community existed in the settlement of Uza in the Christian-Byzantine period,” said Danny Syon, one of the excavation’s directors. “Due to the geographical proximity of Horbat Uza to Acre [Akko], we can speculate that the settlement supplied kosher baked goods to the Jews of Acre in the Byzantine period.”

Excavators with the Israel Antiquities Authority have unearthed a 1,500-year-old Jewish bread stamp from a small Byzantine settlement near the ancient port city of Akko.


Sardes or Sardis (Greek Σάρδεις): capital of Lydia, one of the most important sites in western Turkey, one of the "seven churches" of the Revelation of John, modern Sartmustapha.

Lydian Capital

According to the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who often mentions Sardes and is our main source for its early history, the city was the capital of ancient Lydia, the kingdom founded by king Gyges (r. c.680-c.644). The city is older - there are finds that date back to the Bronze Age - but archaeologists have confirmed that Sardes rose to prominence in the mid-seventh century, the age of Gyges. After the Cimmerians had raided Anatolia and had destroyed the Phrygian Empire, Sardes became a more impressive town.

The source of its wealth was the fertile plain north of the city, which allowed a large population to be fed. Another important source of wealth was the Pactolus, a little river that contained gold dust. It is probably no coincidence that the world's first coins were minted in Sardes.

The last king of independent Lydia was the proverbially rich Croesus. In his age, Sardes was a large city with trade contacts with Greece in the west and the Black Sea area in the north. Archaeological research has brought to light the Lydian market area and has shown that the temple of Artemis/Cybele, which was to become one of the most splendid monuments of Asia Minor, already existed in these days. The citadel was occupied as well, while the Lydian kings were buried directly north of the city, at Bin Tepe.

After c.547, the Persian king Cyrus the Great captured Sardes (more. ) and made it the western capital of his empire. From here, the Persians ruled the Yaunâ, notorious pirates and clever salesmen, better known to us as the Greeks.

Persian Capital

/> The "Mistress of the animals": slab from the original temple of Artemis. The archer who is partly visible to the right, must be Heracles.

At the beginning of the fifth century, the Yaunâ revolted and destroyed the lower part of Sardes. note [Herodotus, Histories 5.100-102.] The citadel remained uncaptured and the Persians were able to retaliate: many Greeks who had taken part in the raid, perished on their way back home, note [Herodotus, Histories 5.99-102.] and the Persians brought the war to the Greek homeland in the years 492-479.

Eventually, their expedition forces were defeated, but at least, the Greeks recognized that they should leave Sardes to the Persians, and during the next century and a half, Sardes was the place from which gold was sent to the Yaunâ, who were thus divided and controlled. Diplomatic control could be even more direct: in 387/386, Sardes was the place where the Persian nobleman Tiribazus dictated the terms of the King's Peace to the Greeks. note [Xenophon, Hellenica 5.1.30.]

The city, which was connected with the Persian heartland by the age-old Royal Road, is not very well-known. It was the capital of one of the main satrapies, and we know that there was a palace on the citadel, but archaeologists have, until now, not often focused on this period. Yet, the tomb of one official has been identified on the western slopes of the citadel, and from literary sources we know that the temple of Cybele/Artemis was an important monument. Other native deities were Sabazius and Argistis, while Greek and Persian cults were popular as well.

Hellenistic City

In the spring of 334, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great defeated the Persian garrison of Asia Minor on the banks of the Granicus. Sardes surrendered almost immediately its last satrap, a man named Mithrenes, became one of the grand lords at the court of Alexander. The city received several privileges. note [Tacitus, Annals 3.62.] For Sardes and Lydia, this was the beginning of an unquiet period, marked by nearly continuous warfare.

Initially, it was part of the empire of Antigonus Monophthalmus, but after the battle of Ipsus (301 BCE), it was taken over by Lysimachus, who lost the city to Seleucus I Nicator in the battle of Corupedium (281), which was fought on the plain north of the city. Later, the town was one of the residences of Antiochus Hierax, a Seleucid prince who acted rather independently. In a series of conflicts in the 240s, he managed to stand his ground against his brother, Seleucus II Callinicus, but the main center of western Asia was slowly moving to Pergamon.

History repeated itself after 223 BCE, when the Seleucid general Achaeus restored order, started to act independently, and was attacked by an army from the central government, commanded by king Antiochus III the Great, who captured Sardes in 213.

One of the Seleucid victors announced the rebuilding of the sanctuary of Artemis as a Greek temple. However, the blueprint was too grandiose and the temple was not finished.

Antiochus was defeated by the Romans in the Syrian War (192-188), and the victors awarded Sardes to the Pergamene king Eumenes II Soter, their ally. In 175 BCE, construction of the temple of Artemis was resumed, but again, it was impossible to finish the sanctuary. It was more than three centuries later, during the reign of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (r.138-161 CE), that the building was finally complete. By then, however, the goddess Artemis had been forced to share her home with the emperor. It was now a double sanctuary.

Sardes, Temple of Artemis and citadel

Sardes, Temple of Artemis, Commemorating a venatio

Sardes, Temple of Artemis and citadel

Roman City

Rome had taken over the city in 133 BCE, when the last king of Pergamon, Attalus III Philometor, had died and had bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans. Sardes was, by now, a Greek city, with a gymnasium, Greek-style sanctuaries (although sometimes unfinished), Greek city institutions, a theater, a stadium, and inscriptions in the Greek language.

As part of the Roman Empire, Sardes was loyal to the Senate, fighting against king Mithridates VI Eupator during the First Mithridatic War (89-85). To its heroic behavior, the city owed certain privileges, such as a special position in the provincial council, and an important law court. When the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 CE, the emperor Tiberius awarded no less than ten million sesterces for its reconstruction, and told the Sardians that they did not have to pay taxes for five years. note [Tacitus, Annals 2.47.]

Among the buildings of this age are a temple for Augustus and Gaius Caesar, a temple for Tiberius, baths, and an aqueduct (built during the reign of Claudius). The emperor Septimius Severus (r.193-211) restored the gymnasium.

Next to the gymnasium was the synagogue, which dates back to the reign of the emperor Severus Alexander (r.222-235). There were no separate arrangements for women, which suggests that they worshiped together with the men, a practice frowned upon in several other parts of the Mediterranean world.

Sardes, Synagogue, Table, Eagle

Sardes, synagogue, Torah ark

The Jewish presence in Lydia, however, is much older. Flavius Josephus quotes a document from the authorities of Sardes, in which permission is granted to build a synagogue. note [Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 14.259-261.] It has even been thought that there were Jews in Sardes as early as the third quarter of the sixth century BCE (if the Sepharad mentioned in Obadiah 20 are indeed the Jews of Sfard, the original name of Sardes). Another indication for a Jewish community is the presence of Christians, which are mentioned in the Revelation of John 3.1-5. They must have been converted Jews.

Late Antiquity

In the fourth century, Sardes was still an important city, where weapons were produced for the Roman army. It may have had as many as 100,000 inhabitants, was sufficiently wealthy to redecorate its market, gymnasium, and synagogue, and build at least two basilicas. There are some Byzantine remains.

Sardes was captured by the Sasanian king Khusrau II in 616, an event that marks the decline of the city. The citadel, however, remained in use for centuries to come.

Maps are essential for any serious study, they help students of Roman history understand the geographical locations and historical backgrounds of the places mentioned in historical sources.

SARDES (Σάρδεις or Σάρδις: Eth. Σαρδιανός), the ancient capital of the kingdom of Lydia, was situated at the northern foot of Mount Tmolus, in a fertile plain between this mountain and the river Hermus, from which it was about 20 stadia distant. (Arrian, Arr. Anab. 1.17.) The small river Pactolus, a tributary of the Hermus, flowed through the agora of Sardes. (Hdt. 5.101.) This city was of more recent origin, as Strabo (xiii. p.625) remarks, than the Trojan times, but was nevertheless very ancient, and had a very strong acropolis on a precipitous height. The town is first mentioned by Aeschylus (Aesch. Pers. 45) and Herodotus (1.84) relates that it was fortified by a king Meles, who, according to the Chronicle of Eusebius, preceded Candaules. The city itself was, at least at first, built in a rude manner, and the houses were covered with dry reeds, in consequence of which it was repeatedly destroyed by fire but the acropolis, which some of the ancient geographers identified with the Homeric Hyde (Strab. xiii. p.626 comp. Plin. Nat. 5.30 Eustath. ad Dion. Per. 830), was built upon an almost inaccessible rock, and surrounded with a triple wall. In the reign of Ardys, Sardes was taken by the Cimmerians, but they were unable to gain possession of the citadel. The city attained its greatest prosperity in the reign of the last Lydian king, Croesus. After the overthrow of the Lydian monarchy, Sardes became the residence of the Persian satraps of Western Asia. (Herod. v 25 Paus. 3.9.3.) On the revolt of the Ionians, excited by Aristagoras and Histiaeus, the Ionians, assisted by an Athenian force, took Sardes, except the citadel, which was defended by Artaphernes and a numerous garrison. The city then was accidentally set on fire, and burnt to the ground, as the buildings were constructed of easily combustible materials. After this event the Ionians and Athenians withdrew, but Sardes was rebuilt and the indignation of the king of Persia, excited by this attack on one of his principal cities, determined him to wage war against Athens. Xerxes spent at Sardes the winter preceding his expedition against Greece, and it was there that Cyrus the younger assembled his forces when about to march against his brother Artaxerxes. (Xenoph. Anab. 1.2.5.) When Alexander the Great arrived in Asia, and had gained the battle of the Granicus, Sardes surrendered to him without resistance, for which he rewarded its inhabitants by restoring to them their freedom and their ancient laws and institutions. (Arrian, 1.17.) After the death of Alexander, Sardes came into the possession of Antigonus, and after his defeat at Ipsus into that of the Seleucidae of Syria. But on the murder of Seleucus Ceraunus, Achaeus set himself up as king of that portion of Asia Minor, and made Sardes his residence. (Plb. 4.48, 5.57.) Antiochus the Great besieged the usurper in his capital for a whole year, until at length Lagoras, a Cretan, scaled the ramparts at a point where they were not guarded. On this occasion, again, a great part of the city was destroyed. (Plb. 7.15, &100.8.23.) When Antiochus was defeated by the Romans in the battle of Magnesia, Sardes passed into the hands of the Romans. In the reign of Tiberius the city was reduced to a heap of ruins by an earthquake but the emperor ordered its restoration. (Tac. Ann. 2.47 Strab. xiii. p.627.) In the book of Revelation (3.1, &c.), Sardes is named as one of the Seven Churches, whence it is clear that at that time its inhabitants had adopted Christianity. From Pliny (5.30) we learn that Sardes was the capital of a conventus: during the first centuries of the Christian era we hear of more than one council held there and it continued to be a wealthy city down to the end of the Byzantine empire. (Eunap. p. 154 Hierocl. p. 669.) The Turks took possession of it in the 11th century, and two centuries later it was almost entirely destroyed by Tamerlane. (Anna Comn. p. 323 M. Ducas, p. 39.) Sardes is now little more than a village, still bearing the name of Sart, which is situated in the midst of the ruins of the ancient city. These ruins, though extending over a large space, are not of any great consequence they consist of the remains of a stadium, a theatre, and the triple walls of the acropolis, with lofty towers. The fertile plain of Sardes bore the name of Sardiene or Σαρδιανὸν πεδίον, and near the city was the celebrated tomb of Alyattes. Sardes was believed to be the native place of the Spartan poet Alcman, and it is well known that the two rhetoricians Diodorus and the historian Eunapius were natives of Sardes. - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed.

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