Sardis – celebrating 60 years of continuous archaeology

Posted On: Nov 13th, 2018 at 16:16

Sardis, one of the longest-running archaeological digs in history (1910 – 1914, 1922, 1958 – present day), was once the capital of the Lydian culture, the dominant force in western Anatolia for a thousand years before further Greek and Persian invasions.
Not to be confused with the contemporary culture of Lycia, which co-existed further east and contained a different language, Lydia included cities such as Troy, Ephesus and Miletus.
Sardis is located approximately 50 km east from the modern city of Izmir and, unlike many of its sister cities, was located further inland and so avoided many coastal raids from Greeks and Persians, and later pirates, although that didn’t mean the city was immune from inland attacks. Lydian culture itself was already gone long before the Roman Empire came to power. The city of Sardis, however, remained in use until the Byzantine era. From 1250 BC, the time of the Greek siege of Troy, the city remained the power center of the Lydian culture until the mid-6th century BC. Attacks from Cimmerians (7th Century BC), Greeks (6th Century BC), and Athenians and Persians (5th Century BC) shows how the city’s power was weakened during those centuries. Despite the Athenian attack in the 5th Century BC, the city remained under Persian rule from the 5th Century BC until the city surrendered to Alexander the Great in 334 BC, along with the rest of Anatolia. In the Hellenistic period the city was taken by King Antiochos III (3rd Century BC), and later the Romans.
Turkey contains some of the world’s most important archaeological sites, and one could argue the most important, due to the country being the bridge between east and west for more than 2,500 years. Troy, Ephesus, Gobekli Tepe, and so many more important cities, without which our world would not be what it is today. And then there’s the cult of Artemis and Apollo, along with Leto, which I strongly believe originated in Anatolia and not Greece, which shows how influential ancient Anatolian cities were in the formation of western culture.
Anatolian states were long established prior to the Greeks and the Romans, and only the Minoans and the Mycenaeans can boast a contemporary culture. At that time, however, Minoan influence in Anatolia was almost non-existent compared with the connection to mainland Greece. It seems during the second millennium BC these incredibly important city states pretty much avoided one another in regards to conflict until the great Trojan Wars, but trade would have been thriving nonetheless. Greek invasions of Asia Minor only occurred in an influential manner when their own city states started to collapse. Mycenae itself collapsed as a palace economy after the Trojan Wars through huge earthquakes which leveled the city around the same time as the victory over Troy itself. Irony, one might say, but it appears much of the wealth of the Mycenaeans was being funneled into the war effort. Thus a combination of a weakened economy and natural disasters brought an end to the Mycenaean culture and saw the rise of the Greek city states, such as Athens and Sparta.
Sardis remains as a legacy of Anatolian power prior to Greek or Persian influence, with now-extinct languages and a unique culture that highly influenced its southern European partners. Let’s hope excavations continue for another sixty years.