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Sardis (Greek: "red ones") is the fifth city mentioned in the Book of Revelation to receive a message from Jesus Christ. Sardis rose to power because of its location on an important highway from the Aegean Sea, its command over the fertile plain of Hermus, and its military strength. Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, the seat of a proconsul under the Roman Empire, and the metropolis of the province Lydia in later Roman and Byzantine times.
Sardis was located 2.5 miles south of the Hermes river in the middle of the Hermus valley, at the foot of Mt. Tmolus, a steep and lofty spur. At top of Mt. Tmolus was an acropolis, which was surrounded by a triple wall and thought impregnable by the Lydian kings. Under Lydian rule, Sardis was important as an industrial city, manufacturing and dying wool and carpets. The stream Pactolus which flowed through the market-place "carried golden sands" in early antiquity (gold dust out of Mt. Tmolus) and Sardis became a city of commerce, being one of the first cities to use money.
The Lydian King Croesus fell unexpectedly to the Persians under Cyrus the Great, and Sardis formed the end station for the Persian Royal Road which began in Persepolis, capital of Persia. After this defeat, Sardis changed hands as often as the other cities in the region, being conquered by Antigonus shortly after the death of Alexander the Great (who had granted it independance), then becoming part of the empire of Pergamos until Roman conquered the region.
Sardis was leveled by an earthquake in 17 AD, but was rebuilt with the donations and tax relief of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Sardis rebuilt and regained its importance even despite being removed from the main roads of communication after Constantinople became the capital of the East. Much of the ancient archetecture in Sardis was destroyed in 615 AD by the Sassanians (a pre-Islamic Persian empire), but Sardis regained its importance as a Byzantine city. Emperor Porphyrogenitus records that in the 10th century Sardis had an influential Church, the 3rd under Constantinople only after Ephesus and Smyrna. There is archeological evidence which suggest that a Byzantine church was located in Sardis in the corner of the old temple of Artemis.
Sardis slowly languished as the provinces of Magnesia ad Sipylum and Philadelphia came to power between the 10th to 14th centuries, although it remained in the Byzantine domain. The country round Sardis was frequently ravaged both by Christians and by Turks during the 13th century. Soon after 1301 AD, the Seljuk Turks overran the whole of the Hermus and Cayster valleys, and the fort on the citadel of Sardis was handed over by treaty in 1306 AD. The city continued its decline until its capture (and probable destruction) by the Mongol warlord Timur in 1402 AD.
Religion in Sardis
The godess of Sardis was Cybele, whose identity was later merged with Artemis. The Temple to Artemis was one of the most imposing structures in Sardis, and its size tells of the importance of Cybele/Artemis to the people of Sardis.
Cybele (the Great Mother, or Mother of the gods) was the mother of the twins Apollo (the sun god) and Artemis (the moon godess) by Zeus. Her cult was celebrated with great festivals, reveling, and immorality, and the most ecstatic followers of Cebele were males who ritually castrated themselves, after which they were given women's clothing and assumed "female" identities (referred to by the third century commentator Callimachus in the feminine Gallai). Her priestesses led the people in immoral ceremonies with wild music, drumming, dancing and drink.
Artemis was the patron of hunters, and godess of fertility. In Rome Artemis was known as Diana. Artemis was also known as the perpetual virgin.
By mixing the worship and identities of Cybele and Artemis, the godess of Sardis became the "Mother of God" and the "Perpetual Virgin". The prominence of the cult of Cybele/Artemis overshadowed the worship of any other Greek or Roman gods in Sardis.
- Wycliffe Dictionary of Biblical Archeology, Charles F. Pfeiffer. 1973, Baker Book House Co.
- Photographic tour of the antiquities
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