Sardis is a fantastic site in western Turkey, beautifully situated and with a magnificent acropolis. I have recently uploaded my photos from there to the Stoa gallery. My trip there inspired me to read Elspeth Dusinberre’s book on the city’s time as a Persian satrapal capital (559-330 BC). She asks all the right questions, but the main problem is that there simply isn’t much evidence for satrapal palaces, gardens (‘paradeisoi’) or, basically, anything that can be related to the achaemenid period in Sardis except for a relatively large number of graves that were summarily excavated in the early 20th century and a few other, very isolated finds. The “cosmopolitan” city of Sardis thus remains somewhat elusive. Apart from that, it’s an interesting book that looks at western Turkey from the often neglected eastern perspective.
My main reason to visit Sardis, however, was its late antique archaeology. The synagogue is especially famous. It is exceptionally large – 80 metres long, taking up an entire wing of the so-called Bath-Gymnasium complex. It was built in the 2nd century AD, but did not come to serve the city’s Jewish community until the last half of the 3rd century. The standing remains, however, date to the 4th century, although a large part has been reconstructed. In the atrium stood a large marble basin for washing before entry to the synagogue proper (see photo below). The floors were decorated with mosaics, several of which have inscriptions. The epigraphic material is in itself extremely important, as it gives us information about the attendants and donors to this Jewish meeting place.
Elspeth R. M. Dusinberre. 2003. Aspects of Empire in Achaemenid Sardis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lee I. Levine. 2000. The Ancient Synagogue. The First Thousand Years. New Haven: Yale University Press.