Worried about the growing power of the Persians, the Lydian ruler Croesus offered lavish gifts to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi where the Pythia (oracle) told him that if he made war on the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, "a great empire would be destroyed." Based on the oracle he attacked Cyrus but was forced to retreat to Sardis where he suffered a siege. In 547? BC, Cyrus conquered Sardis. Ancient historian Herodotus recorded the shock of the Lydian defeat, as the city was considered impregnable. It seems the oracle was correct, but the "destroyed" kingdom was that of Croesus, not Cyrus.

Cyrus spared Croesus' life and made him his advisor and Sardis became the headquarters for Persian administration in western Asia Minor. The Persians built the famed Royal Road, a 1,600-mile-long commercial highway from Sardis to Babylon. Near Babylon, it split into two routes, one through the future Persian capital of Susa (in present-day Iran) and then southeast to Persepolis. During Persian occupation Sardis prospered, with a lifestyle famous for its splendor and luxury.

Persian rule ended in 334 BC, when Sardis surrendered to Alexander the Great. Following Alexander's death, Sardis became a Seleucid capital, and acquired the status of a Greek city-state. In 189 BC it came under rule of the Kingdom of Pergamum and in 133 BC it passed into the hands of the Romans upon the death of Attallus II, the last King of Pergamum.

Under Roman rule the city again flourished until it was devastated by an earthquake in 17 AD, called by historians:

the greatest earthquake in human memory. Twelve cities were destroyed in one night, but the disaster was harshest to the citizens of Sardis.

Emperor Tiberias assisted with rebuilding the city and some scholars feel that because of the indebtedness to him, the city gave itself to the cult of emperor worship. In 26 AD, Sardis lost a competition with Smyrna for the coveted permission to build a temple to the emperor.

By the end of the first century AD, Sardis had become an important Christian center and home to a significant Jewish community. First century AD Jewish historian Josephus notes that in 214 BC Antiochus III in 214BC moved many of the Jews from Mesopotamia and Babylon to important areas of his newly conquered realm including, probably, Sardis.

The ruins of Sardis can be divided into four areas:

  1. Acropolis, on a spur of Mount Tmolus (modern name, Bozdag)
  2. Later Greek city in the Pactolos River valley where a temple to Artemis was built
  3. Lower City on both sides of the modern highway between Ankara and Izmir
  4. Bin Tepeler or Bin Tepe (Turkish "Thousand Hills") consisting of over 200 tombs dating back to the 7th and 6th centuries BC.

Below, Google Earth view of modern Sart, ancient Sardis.

Google Earth view of Sart, ancient Sardis

Below, the acropolis of Sardis, a spur of Mount Tmolus, is still impressive.

Sardis acropolis and temple of Artemis

Because of heavy weathering and earthquakes, little has survived on the acropolis apart from the remains of massive walls (below) on the south and east sides, also a 12,000-15,000 seat Hellenistic and Roman theater.

sardia acropolis wall remnant

Below, remains of the Sardis theater carved into the side of the acropolis.

sardis theater

Below, on a low hill within the later Greek city are the remains of the celebrated Temple of Artemis. It was built on the site of a former temple dedicated to the cult of the Anatolian goddess Cybele (burned down by the Athenians). Construction began about 334 BC, soon after Sardis was liberated from Alexander the Great. Artemis was the main goddess of the city and the Sardis temple was one of the seven largest Greek temples (more than double the size of the Parthenon in Athens). Artemis, known to the Romans as Diana, was the daughter of Zeus and twin of Apollo.  She was the goddess of the hunt, the moon and fertility.

Artemis temple remains at Sardis

Construction on the temple was abandoned during the late Hellenistic period and resumed in c.175 BC but again abandoned before completion. The disastrous 17 AD earthquake buried the temple in a landslide from the acropolis. A third stage of construction began about 150 AD, sparked by the Romans granting Sardis the prestigious title of neokoros, "temple-warden," which required the city to have a temple dedicated to the imperial family. The Temple of Artemis was thus divided: one half for Artemis and the empress Faustina and the other half for Zeus and emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).

Today, only two of the temple's original 82 Ionic columns are intact, with parts of thirteen others. At the southeast corner of the temple is a small 4th century AD church.

Sometime before 400 AD, a small brick church (below, lower left corner) was constructed at the southeastern corner of the Artemis temple. Designated church "M" by archaeologists, it was built to consecrate the temple to a Christian purpose. The temple then served as an entrance to the church.


Below, segment of the Royal Road at Sardis

Royal road segment at sardis

Below, large gymnasium-bathhouse built during the reign of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 AD) in the center of the lower city. The complex covered an area of over five acres. Its western part was characterized by large vaulted halls for bathing. The eastern part was a a large open courtyard (palaestra) for exercise.

Sardis Gymnasium reconstruction

At the southern end of the gymnasium a large synagogue (below) was discovered by chance in 1962 during excavations by Harvard and Cornell Universities. It measures over 300 feet in length — the largest known ancient synagogue. It dates from the 3rd century AD when part of the bathhouse was given to the Jewish community and they remodeled it as a synagogue. Its size is a testimony to the prosperity and status of the Jews in Sardis during Roman period.

Red Courtyard and synagogue

Below, interior of synagogue with its intricate mosaic floor. The lack of any mention of persecution in Sardis reflects the secure position of the city's large Jewish community. Evidently Christians and Jews co-existed peacefully with each other and the city establishment.

Sardis synagogue interior

The synagogue floors were paved with ornate mosaics (below) and its walls were covered with panels made with multicolored marble.

synagogue mosaic

Backed onto one wall of the synagogue is a row of Byzantine-era (4th century AD) shops along the main road of the city (below). The road once formed the westernmost stretch of the Royal Road. Some of the shops can still be identified from inscriptions: "shop of Jacob, elder of the synagogue," "hardware shop," "office," "Jacob's paint shop" and "restaurant."

Sardis Byzantine shops

One of the shops appears to have served as a Christian baptistery, with a rectangular basin (below) made of reused marble slabs with crosses superimposed over pagan inscriptions and decorations.

Sardis baptistry

Below, In the lower city are the ruins of two churches, designated "E" and "EA," built one over the top of the other. Church "EA" was larger and older (middle of 4th century), the oldest in Asia Minor. The round brickwork in the center is the dome of church "E." (Note the Sardis acropolis in the background.

Two churches buiilt one on top the other

Below, large artificial hills at Bin Tepeler or Bin Tepe (Turkish "Thousand Hills") consisting of 210 burial mounds dating back to the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Buried in these mounds were the leaders of Lydia. The largest tumulus is associated with Alyattes, who ruled in the 6th century BC and it is the same size range as the pyramids of Egypt.

Bin Tepe burial mounds