Sardis, the present day Salihli district of western Manisa province, was the capital of the Lydian kingdom and was known as the “Queen of Asia.” The city is believed to have prospered under the Persians and Romans as it was the endpoint of the Royal Road, which stretched from Persia to Anatolia.
Excavation first began here in 1854 and was conducted by Spiegelthal. Operations continued systematically until the breakout of World War I and resumed after 1958.
Studies carried out between 1910 and 1914 by Harold Butler of Princeton University produced more than 1,230 tombs in the Artemis Temple. Upon Butler’s death in 1921, a joint initiative by Harvard University and Cornell University, headed by Professor George M. A. Hanfman and subsequently by Professor Crawford H. Greenewalt, Jr., continued his work.
The excavations have also led to the discovery of the Artemis Temple, the biggest known ancient synagogue of the world, one of the seven holy churches of Christianity in Anatolia, a gymnasium and a gold refinery.
Speaking with the Anatolia news agency, Professor Nicholas D. Cahill, the current head of the excavations, said many Lydian and Roman remains have been uncovered and restored, including a Roman bath and a gymnasium.
Noting that the restoration was the largest of its kind within Turkey, Cahill cited the unearthing of the city walls during Greenewalt’s tenure in 1976 as one of the most important achievements of the excavation.
The professor said a one-piece structure, 20 meters wide and 11 meters high, of the 3-3.5-kilometer-long wall unearthed so far is the biggest archeological structure from the Lydian kingdom to be found in western Anatolia.
“The discovery has gone beyond our expectations. Currently we are digging under this wall and hope to find more information to be able to date it better,” Cahill said.
‘Theaters built over remains of houses’
The excavations have also led to the discovery of Roman houses which had been constructed on the city walls in addition to many painted pieces, coins and pottery as well as Lydian houses under a Roman theater. “The discovery of the remains of Lydian houses, believed to have been burned down by the Persians, is very exciting because it gives us an insight into daily life at the time. In fact, we have used information gleaned from the houses to add to the knowledge of the late history of Sardis. We also concluded that the Lydians were very rich, but that this wealth was taken away by the Persians.”
The professor then spoke about Sardis and money. Sardis was the first city in the world to use coins as money. Professor Hanfman discovered a shop full of gold and silver coins which gave new insight into the beginning stages of minting. Cahill says: “The coins were very valuable. As far as we can understand, the smallest coin weighed 0.5 grams and would be able to buy three lambs today. The excavations led to the discovery of a coin next to the head of a soldier’s skeleton. There were no pockets back then, so people carried small coins in their mouth.”
Ongoing excavations are concentrating on the region where the Roman theater and acropolis as well as the city walls are located, Cahill noted. “We feel as if we were at the beginning of the excavation process. Many important finds have been discovered in the last 50 years of work, but another 50 are needed. Many sites are intact, and we have been unable to decipher everything we’ve found. The work completed so far has produced only 0.6 percent of all historical artifacts in the area,” he said, adding that workers do their best to complete their tasks without harming the historical structures.
The Culture and Tourism Ministry’s Manisa branch director, Erdinç Karaköse, says Manisa is home to one of the most important historical sites in the world as it is the home of the Artemis Temple and Sardis. He added that the excavations, once complete, will contribute immensely to both the city and the world because the site will attract considerable attention from all around the world in addition to shedding light on a particular period in history.
“Sardis will be turned into an archeological city once the excavations are complete. In the days to come we will work on setting up demonstrations of how the first coins were minted to increase the number of tourists coming into the city,” Karaköse said.