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Sardis - Scholars

By J. M. Bellew

Sardis, the casket of "famed Gyges treasures" and the repository of all the wealth of Croesus was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. Situated in the plain of the River Hermus, and sheltering itself under the protection of the snowy range of Mount Tmolus, Sardis may be described as having been the "halfway house" between Smyrna and Philadelphia. The modern name of the place is Sart. It is comprised in the Pashalic of Anadoli, and is distant from Smyrna about fifty miles. On leaving Smyrna, and penetrating into the country, the ruins of Sardis are the first remains of those ancient homes of civilization which make Asia Minor so con­spicuous on the pages of history. According to Strabo, the city was of more recent origin than the Trojan war. I owes its rise, according to Lydian chronology, to Gyges, though Gyges was only the founder of the third dynasty in Lydia, according to Herodotus. The people of the dis­trict in which Sardis is situated mere called in the Iliad, Μήονες, and were allies of the Trojans. Whether the Meonians changed their title, and became afterwards known as Lydians, or whether they and the Lydians were distinct peoples, it needs not that we should here pause to consider. The latter opinion has been adopted by Niebuhr. As concerning the origin of the Lydian kingdom, however, of which Sardis was the capital, a very striking observation has been made by Hamilton, in his "Researches in Asia Minor"; and it is so curious and so interesting, that it may be desirable to reproduce it at present, in speaking of the country over which Sardis rose to be the metropolis. It may be prefaced, that nearly all the works which the Greeks possessed, giving the history of Lydia, have perished, and that we derive our chief knowledge of the country from Herodotus. Air. Hamilton says, "Lydia might be divested of many of the inconsistent fables with which it has been clothed by Herodotus". "I wished to have shown," he observes (Appendix I., note A, p. 383, vol. ii.) "that Manes, the first king of Lydia, was no other than Noah; that Lydus, the grandson of Manes, was Did, the grandson of Noah; and particularly with regard to the much involved question of the Tyrrhenian emigration of the Lydians, that the whole account is a confused and perverted narrative, founded on the real emigration of another Tyrrhenus, viz., Abraham, the son of Terah, with the account of which, in the twelfth and thirteenth Chapters of Genesis, the Lydian emigration coincides in every important respect".

How Mr. Hamilton might develop his theory it is impossible for us to conjecture. It suffices our present purpose to inform the general reader that so distinguished a man as the secretary to the Geological Society has propounded an opinion that the founder of the first Lydian dynasty was the patriarch Noah. How Mr. Hamilton would have disposed of the Noachian deluge and the geographical traditions regarding Mount Ararat, is a question for the curious.

Turning to Herodotus, we are informed that Lydia was successively governed by three dynasties. The first, as he asserts, began with Lydus, the son of Atys. The second was the dynasty of the Heracleidae, beginning about B.C. 1200, with Agron, and ending with Candaules. Herodotus connects this dynasty with the founder of Nineveh, and he may possibly mean that it was of direct Assyrian origin. The Heracleids remained in power for five hundred and five years. Then came the third, or Mermnad, dynasty, which is to its practically (and likely enough positively) the first Lydian race of rulers. This commences with Gyges, B.C. 718. Gyges is said to have murdered Caudaules, and to have conquered the countries adjacent to the Hermus extending, his power even to the shores of the Hellespont. How much of truth or of myth there may be in the story which Herodotus tells of Gyges it is useless to inquire. Probably there is an immense structure of fiction on a small basis of fact. His name, however, still survives on the page of history, as the founder of the great dynasty of Lydian kings, and in the lake which adjoins Sardis, called the Gygean Lake, his memory has been preserved in connection with the geography of Asia Minor.

As it will be necessary to refer to various kings of Sardis, in describing the ruins and remains, it. may be well to introduce a table of Lydian chronology. Croesus was the last Lydian king of the dynasty of the Mermnadae.

718 B.C.







The Romans

The two immediate successors of Gyges extended their kingdom slightly, without anything of great importance marking their reigns. Alyattes became a great warrior, and having conquered most of the Ionian cities, he pushed his conquests so far towards the East that he carried his dominion to the banks of the river Halys, and so reached the boundary territory of Cyaxeres, the Mede. This lust of empire conduced to the ultimate destruction of the Lydian dynasty. The imperial greatness of Alyattes is recalled to memory even to the present hour, when the traveler in Asia Minor, approaching Sardis, sees before him the tomb of Alyattes-the stupendous tumulus, or mound, erected over his grave by the people of Sardis. To this we shall presently refer. Though the treasures of Gyges had made Sardis famous, it was not until the death of Alyattes that the greatest of all Lydian kings ascended the throne. His successor was the world famous Croesus.

Croesus extended his conquests so far as to embrace nearly the whole of Asia Minor. It was in his reign that Sardis reached the culminating point of its glory-a glory that, in its ruins we must endeavor to recall. The ambition of the father of Croesus had unfortunately paved the way to his son's ruin. When two conquering nations push their frontiers forward, so as to come in contact, and are only divided by a narrow river, it needs little political foresight to predict that a collision must arise, and that the downfall of one or the other is imminent. The Persian on one bank of the Halys, and the Lydian on the other, could not long contemplate one another in peace and content. Conflict ensued: Croesus invaded the MedoPersian empire, but was repulsed, pursued, and at length conquered by Cyrus in the plain before his own city of Sardis. Then Lydia became annexed to the Persian empire, and Sardis the residence of the Satraps.

Upon this Sardis of the time of Croesus the mind ponders, as it surveys those moldering ruins which still remain the memorials of the city of his pride, his wealth, and his downfall. When those ruins were princely structures, Solon walked among them. The Σοφισται of Greece beheld the magnificence of the king, and congregated at his court. It was thence that the familiar story of the interview between Solon and Croesus was derived a story the moral of which is so beautiful, that we are tempted to rebel against the irreconcilable and obdurate difficulties of dates, which compel Mr. Grote to regard the beautiful narrative of Herodotus as an "illustrative tale... put together to convey an impressive moral lesson". Everyone would wish to believe the tale true, that Solon, seeing all the prosperity and magnificence of Croesus, on being asked who was the happiest man he had ever seen, should have warned the king of the precariousness of riches and that no man is to be esteemed happy until he has terminated life without a reverse. His wealth and pride were his destruction; and the Delphic oracle told him, and told truly, that when he should march against the Persians he would overthrow a great, empire. He overthrew his own!

We know that Croesus was subsequently attached to the Persian court, but of his ultimate fate we know nothing. In his downfall the glory of the Lydian kings departed, and from that moment the splendor of Sardis waned. Having passed into the possession of Darius, the Ionians, assisted by an Athenian force, having landed at Ephesus, and marched by the Cayster across the Tmolus, made a sudden descent upon the city, and took it, though they were unable to gain possession of the Acropolis.

It was during this raid, that a soldier set fire to a house, which swiftly spread, and soon enveloped the city in flames. It is most probable that in this fire the great temple perished. When Darius heard of the burning of the city, he shot an arrow into the air and vowed vengeance against the Athenians, a fact which singularly resembles the incident recorded in 2 Kings 13:15-17. That vow he was not destined to keep, but the oath of the father was bequeathed to his son, Xerxes, who made Sardis his winter quarters when preparing for the memorable invasion of Greece, which occupied four years in elaborating, and in which Herodotus asserts that when Xerxes reached Thermopylae, he was followed by an army of two million men. The repulse which he there experienced from Leonidas and his gallant band is sufficiently familiar. His great calamity at the battle of Salamis (which Xerxes himself beheld from a seat on Mount Aegaleos) was his crowning discomfiture, after which the Persian monarch retreated across the Hellespont, and returned to Sardis a humbled man. Sardis then became the home of revelry and of the basest amours of Xerxes, terminating in his murder. Subsequently, after the battle of the Granicus, it yielded without resistance to Alexander, who at once took possession both of the city and the Acropolis. At the death of Alexander it passed to the possession of Antigonus, and when he had been defeated at Ipsus, to the Seleucidae of Syria. Antiochus the Great besieged it, and obtained possession through one of his soldiers settling the precipitous rock of the Acropolis where it was unguarded, and opening the gates to the besiegers, who had vainly invested the city for a whole year.

After the battle of Magnesia, in which Antiochus was defeated by the Romans, Sardis became part of the Roman territory. As such, and during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, it suffered frightfully from the too celebrated earthquake, which played havoc among the cities of Asia Minor in the time of Tiberius. As a Roman city we contemplate it at the time when St. John addressed it in the Book of Revelation, and such it continued down to the close of the Byzantine empire. In the eleventh century the Turks took possession of it. In the thirteenth it suffered frightfully, and as a city was destroyed by Tamerlane. From that date, down to the present time, the historical Sardis is no more. Its site is called Sart. A Greek who keeps a mill upon the river which flows through it, is the only European in the place, and the village of Turks is difficult to discover. Such is a hurried outline of the history of Sardis. It has been necessary to preface a description of the place by this sketch of its antecedents, since the great interest of what now remains of Sardis is particularly centered in its Lydian kings, Gyges, Alyattes, and Croesus.

On turning to the map, of Asia Minor, it will be, observed that a lengthened mountain chain extends eastward from behind Smyrna as far as the Catakekaumene beyond Philadelphia, bearing the title Mount Tmolus. This range of mountains, in many parts capped with snow, runs from west to east, and upon its northern side looks down upon the spreading plain through which the Hermus flows. Upon the lowest spurs or mounds of the Tmolus, where it sinks with gentle slopes into the plain, stood Sardis-now stand its ruins. In the illustration accompanying this narrative, the peaks of Tmolus are seen in the southern distance. Behind the ruins a solitary hill lifts itself up, on which formerly stood the Acropolis. Viewed from the city side, as it is presented to us in the picture, it will be observed that its slopes are steep. On the opposite side, and looking towards the Tmolus, it is a precipitous rock of the most formidable character, and in that direction was considered by the ancients to be impregnable, although it so happens that on the two great occasions when Sardis was taken, both Cyrus and Antiochus gained possession of it through the precipitous rock of the Acropolis being scaled, where it was left unprotected by the garrison, because it was considered that from that direction it was unapproachable.

Upon the summit of the Acropolis remains of the ancient triple line of fortifications still exist, which, although Byzantine, have no claim to Hellenic antiquity. In the "Voyage a Magnesie, a Thyatire, a Sardis", &c., par M. de Peyssonel (Paris, 1765), there are a series of rude but very interesting drawings of the remains in Sardis, as he beheld them; and among others, views or the Acropolis from the precipitous side, and of the interior of the fortifications on its summit. It is from this summit that a bird's eye view of the situation of Sardis, and of the, surrounding country, must be taken. It is like taking a view of Edinburgh and its neighborhood from Arthur's Seat.

Behind us stretch the ranges of the Tmolus, one peak above another, the loftiest crested with snow. Through a luxuriant gorge in those mountains, and behind the Acropolis, a stream rushes from the heights, and winding at a little distance round the base of the Acropolis, flows down into the plain, losing itself eventually in the Hermus. This stream is the Pactolus, the classic Pactolus, beside whose golden waters Sophocles, in the Philoctetes, tells its that the goddess Cybele loved to dwell.

The great and famous temple of Sardis, dedicated to Cybele, stood upon the banks of the Pactolus, behind the Acropolis. There its ruins still stand, the west front rising above the river, the east nestling under the overhanging Acropolis. Following the course of the Pactolus (which was called "Golden", Πακτωλον ευχρυσον, because in ancient days its bed was rich with golden nuggets, and served as a "digging" in the time of Croesus) as it winds round the base of the Acropolis, and flows northward across the plain, the eye wanders over one of the most picturesque scenes in Asia Minor. Beneath our feet, skirting the sides of the Pactolus, are the few and shattered remnants of the Lydian capital-the city that was identified with the exploits of Croesus, Cyrus, Xerxes, and Alexander.

On the slopes beneath us, whereon these ruins stand, we see the dwarf ibex and the arbutus flourishing; and a turn in the river near the Gerusia, or supposed palace of Croesus, brings back to memory the sides of the upper lake at Killarney. Looking across the plain, bounded by the Phrygian mountains, we see the Hermus winding through its center, at the distance of between two and three miles from the site of Sardis; while beyond the river the Gygean lake glitters in the sun, encompassed about by a fringe of hills, and skirted with its own reeds and rushes. Near to it the eye rests upon a series of mounds, and in their midst a monster mound rises in solitary dignity. This is the Necropolis of Sardis. Those mounds are the tombs of her kings, and that ambitious tumulus, looking down upon all that surrounds it, is the grave of Alyattes. There it stood for Herodotus to see and to describe, and there the tomb of Alyattes, at the term of twenty centuries, still stands for the modern traveler to see and describe. On every side the rich tints of the brushwood, and the luxuriant green of the arbutus, give beauty and picturesque effect to the pinnacled rocks and the jagged sides of the hills, scarred and furrowed by the mountain torrents which have seamed their faces and ploughed their features with the wrinkles of time.

Sardis is in itself a very interesting evidence of the tremendous changes which are produced by the abrasions of mountain storms and rains. Of the walls upon the Acropolis the greater proportion have disappeared, their foundations having been undermined by the wear and tear of the weather; and not only walls, but rocks and crags have given way, so that it seems as if the Acropolis itself were subjected to gradual decline. So, again, with the site of the city. The soil, and rabble, and sand are washed away, and in many parts pieces of rock are left protruding from the ground, above which originally was the level of the city. It is curious to observe upon these rocks in various places remains of ancient walls, or fragments of buildings, which now seem to be lifted into the air, but which, in reality, mark the ancient level of the city, that storm and torrent have literally washed away.

This spreading Lydian plain, in the midst of which Sardis sat a queen wearing her Acropolis like a coronet over her head, was anciently called Σαρδιανον πεδιον. Of its picturesque beauty the reader is able to form some estimate by the description here attempted to be given of the plain as it now presents itself to the traveler's observation. But how splendid must it have been when the Temple of Cybele, with the most exquisite Ionic columns that ever were constructed, rose beside the golden Pactolus, and beneath the overhanging Acropolis; when that same stream flowed through the classic Agora, or marketplace, and washed the walls of the stupendous palace, or Gerusia; the house of Croesus, where he displayed his wealth and splendor to the admiring Greeks when the stadium and the theatre, constructed of marble, enriched the foot of the Acropolis upon the city side; and when the whole circuit of the capital was surrounded by walls so massive and stupendous that they were considered impregnable, and resisted a twelve months' siege of the troops of Antiochus! Here the Lydians taught the world to coin gold and silver; here, as a commercial people, they were the first to establish retail trade; here likewise the use of dice was first invented, beside many other games of hazard, which betokened a people laboring under it plethora of wealth. Now we look upon its ruins, picturesque indeed with thickets of tamarisk, and made vocal with the songs of the nightingale, but in their desolation realizing the prophetic warning- "If, therefore, then shall not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee". Among the few remains that exist the most interesting are those of the Temple of Cybele, the Gerusia, the Acropolis, and, though it is removed seven miles away across the Hermus, the Necropolis of the Kings, with the Tomb of Alyattes.

The most important remain in Sardis is the temple. In point of size it was inferior to many others, but in architectural beauty it was probably-in the Ionic order-unsurpassed. When Smith, the first of our English travelers, visited it in the time of Charles II, there were ten of its columns still standing. In 1750 there were three columns, with their architraves, part of the cella, and three detached columns. In 1812 this number had diminished by one half when Cockerell visited Sardis, and there then remained standing only what we now see-two of the columns with caps, which belonged to the eastern front, and part of the trunk of one of the detached columns at the side of the temple. To those who have traveled in Asia, and are unacquainted with the character of the present inhabitants of the country, it may seem strange that within one hundred years six stupendous columns, measuring from six to seven feet in diameter, should have vanished, particularly when we consider that their solidity made them capable of withstanding for thousands of years any probable natural influence except earthquake. The wonder ceases in a moment when it is that the Turks have been in the habit of blowing these columns up in order to get the iron where with their joints were clamped, or to look for the gold which their vulgar traditions led them to believe was buried in the masonry of the temple. The small remains of this beautiful temple which now gladden the eye of the traveler, are buried for quite twenty five feet in the ruin and rubbish which have accumulated about its walls. It is impossible, therefore, to know how much of the foundation of the temple itself remains; but the probability is, that if the collected soil could be cleared away, and the proportions or the temple dug out, its original pavement, and the trunks of many of its columns, would be discovered in the highest state of preservation. It belonged to that classification which Vitruvius called "Octastylus Dipterus". As this title designates, the architrave was supported east and west by a row of eight columns; and a remarkable fact in the arrangement of these columns was, that the two center ones were the widest, while the distance between the successive columns decreased as they approached the flank of the building.

This arrangement is indicative of a very high antiquity; indeed it cannot be doubted that the temple was the work of the Lydian kings, and that it was most probably approaching completion at the time of the fall of Croesus. Cockerell calculated that there were seventeen pillars along the flanks of the building, as we already know there were eight in double rows, east and west. The entire length of the peristyle, east to west, was 260 feet, and its breadth 144 feet. The caps of the columns which still remain have elicited the admiration of every European traveler who has examined them. Cockerell very justly pronounced them the "grandest remains" of Ionic architecture that he had ever seen. They are grand not only in the massiveness of their proportions, but in the exquisite elaboration of their carving. How stupendous they were may be, in some degree, realized, when it is mentioned that the architrave between the columns was constructed with single blocks of stone, each one extending from the center of one cap to the center of the next. Each of these blocks weighed, it is computed, not less than twenty five tons weight. How they were raised to their elevated position, at least 80 feet above the level of the ground, is a mechanical puzzle which yet remains to be solved. It is most deeply to be lamented that the hand of barbarism has been laid so ruthlessly upon this exquisite marble temple. The two columns which still stand at the east end supporting their solitary fragment of architrave, supply us with the only data to calculate what must have been the glory and beauty of the entire structure; for though it is true that there are the truncated remains of two other columns at the cast end, and one column of the portico of the Pronaus, nevertheless as these are deprived of their caps, and are buried at least 25 feet from their base in accumulated debris, they afford little help to the architectural enthusiast in his strong desire to reconstruct in his imagination the original elevation of the Temple of Cybele. When Sardis was burnt, during the invasion of the Ionians, aided by the Athenians, it seems probable that the temple was destroyed.

The vow of vengeance which Darius took and which Xerxes endeavored to carry into effect, has been referred to. It is a remarkable fact, that wherever the army of Xerxes marched on its devastating way through Greece, the soldiers invariably destroyed the Grecian temples. This would appear to have been an act of vengeance, in retaliation for the destruction of the Temple of Cybele. The day may perchance come when the foundations of this temple will be reclaimed from the mass of rubbish under which they are now hidden; but as that day seems at present to be distant, the reader must rest content with the few details here given, which are all that can be put together upon file subject.

After the temple, the most important ruins are those of what has been conjectured to be the Gerusia, or palace of Croesus. Whether this is or is not the site of Croesus' palace, it is evident that the ruins themselves are the remains of some majestic structure. The outline of two chambers is complete, and a ground plan of it has been given by Pryssonel. They measure 156 feet in length and 42,5 in width. The ends of these superb apartments are both semicircular. The walls of the Gerusia are 101 feet in thickness. The structure consists of brick and marble-marble piers sustaining ponderous fragments of brick arches. Chandler, in his travels, points attention to the brick of which this palace is built, as an evidence of the durability of that material for the purpose. If this be the palace of Croesus, these brick walls must have stood for more than two thousand years. So great is their solidity and sound state of preservation, that it is even now difficult-nay, almost impossible-to separate one brick from another, In the accompanying engraving the lofty piers in the foreground represent the remains of this supposed Gerusia. Further back, and beneath the slope of the Acropolis, the outlines of the theatre and stadium appear. The theatre is on the brow of the Acropolis, which was called Prium; it is 400 feet in diameter, but is one of the least attractive of these structures in Asia Minor, as none of the architectural embellishments remain. Parts of the vaulting that supported the tiers of marble seats are all that have survived the ravages of the Turks. These serve to trace the outline of the building, and to prove its proportions. Below the theatre, and at right, angles with it, is the stadium, 1,000 feet long. This, like the theatre, is completely defaced and ruined.

History tells us that the Pactolus flowed through the Agora, or marketplace, of Sardis. Of this building, which must have been one of the grandest in the city, there is not at present a trace. It has been frequently asserted that the remains of two Christian churches survive among the ruins! This statement rests upon conjecture, springing out of the desire of persons interested in the history of the seven churches to connect some ruin in Sardis with the church to which St. John addressed himself. Smith originally started the idea that he had found remains of a church; and others adopted his supposition.

From Sardis to the Necropolis of the Kings, is a distance of seven miles. The Necropolis is plainly visible from the ruins, and lies directly northwest across the plain, and on the other side of the Hermus. A pleasant ride through tamarisk thickets for a distance of about two miles and a half, brings us to the rather deep ford by which the broad and dangerous Hermus is crossed. Four miles beyond it we come upon the Gygean Lake, surrounded with marshes and skirted with reeds. The Necropolis, famed for the tomb of Alyattes, is in its immediate vicinity. This home of the dead is called by the Turks "Bin Tepe" or the "Thousand Bills" on account of the, burial mounds or tumuli which on every side surround the grave mound of Alyattes. There are three of these mounds of stupendous proportion, while sixty or seventy smaller ones are gathered around them.

In book i. cap. 93, Herodotus gives us all account of this tomb, which, as a work of Art, he. declares is second only to those of Egypt and Babylon. A mound, according to this measurement, six stadia and two plethra, or rather more than three quarters of a mile in circumference, and thirteen plethra in breadth, or 433 yards-is certainly vastly larger than the mountain mound which still continues to be as much a subject of interest and astonishment as in the days of Herodotus. The largest possible size which can be at present assigned to this tumulus, is half a mile round. Even this measurement would give a size and vastness to which the European eye is altogether unaccustomed. It has often been said that the base of the Great Pyramid would just fit into Lincoln's Inn Fields, in order to convey to the intelligence of London the size of the Egyptian monument. In the same way, to realize the immense proportions of the tomb of Alyattes, let us suppose the entire area of Lincoln's Inn Fields converted into a mound, rising to the height of the clock tower of St. Paul's Cathedral. Even these proportions would be considerably smaller than the measurement which Herodotus gives.

He tells us that this tumulus was constructed by three classes of people, the laborers, the artisans, and the ενεργαζόμεναι παιδισκαι-the Lydian young women who made it a rule to sell themselves, and so accumulate a marriage portion. The greater proportion of this vast mound was erected by this class of women. To the present hour it continues a wonder of the world. There is a tradition still existing that the neighboring Gygean Lake was originally dug. It is supposed that the artisans and laborious Lydian women may have carried, from what is now part of the basin of the lake, the earth which was required to construct the tumulus. If not from the bed of the lake, it must have been brought a still greater distance from the bed of the river.

However much Herodotus may have exaggerated the size of this monument to the memory of Alyattes, and although it has evidently been greatly decreased in the lapse of two thousand years through the deep ravines worn into its sides by the rains, particularly towards the south, nevertheless an estimate of its present vastness may be formed from the fact, that it takes full tell minutes for a traveler on horseback to ride round its base. On the summit of this mound there still exist the foundations of the Termini to which Herodotus alluded, and upon which pyramidical finish to the tomb inscriptions were originally cut telling its history. The Termini have vanished, but the foundations, 18 feet square, still exist.

No accurate measurement of this tumulus has been made until very lately. M. Spiegenthal, the Prussian Consul at Smyrna, having explored it, gives the measurement of its diameter at 281 yards, which gives us a circumference of half a mile. Now as Lincoln's Inn Fields is just one eighth of a mile from north to south, it will give the reader a tolerably accurate idea of the tomb of Alyattes to imagine that entire area occupied with a circular mound, and rising 200 feet in height. The Prussian consul dug a gallery into the center of the mound, and discovered there a sepulchral chamber (composed of white blocks of marble), 11 feet long, 8 feet broad, and 7 feet high. It was quite empty, and contained no remain either of sarcophagus or inscription. But this was accounted for by the fact that M. Spiegenthal discovered the mound had been pierced with various galleries at former dates, and therefore the tomb of Alyattes had been rifled. Nevertheless the chamber remains as perfect at this moment as when it was originally constructed in the days of Solon and of Croesus.

At the Christian era, it has already been stated, Sardis was subject to Roman government. It had been one of the twelve great cities which had suffered so terribly from earthquake-that earthquake, which Tacitus informs its happened in the night, when hills sank and valleys rose to mountains. Sardis was indebted to the Emperor Tiberius for its restoration. How Christianity came to be planted in this city is unknown; there is a tradition that St. John preached in it, and that Clement, a disciple of St. Paul, was its first bishop. The warning addressed to it by St. John in the Apocalypse is the first historical reference to it which we possess, as a home of Christianity. That it was a place of great solicitude to the Evangelist there can be no question. "I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain". "Thou hast a few names, even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments: and they shall walk with me in white, for they are, worthy!" Even in Sardis would seem to imply that the progress of the Gospel in that city was subjected to great discouragement.

Its history has afforded us but "a few names" of men illustrious as the champions of the Cross; and in later centuries the church in Sardis may be said to have utterly perished with the total depopulation of the place. One of its bishops has left an illustrious name in the annals of the Christian Church. In the second century, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 177), Melito one of the pillars of the Church in Asia, was Bishop of Sardis. He is distinguished in history as the first Christian who ever made a catalogue of the books of the Old Testament. This he was led to do through traveling in Palestine. We are indebted to Eusebius for preserving many fragments of the writings of Melito: among others, for a part of the letter dedicatory to Onesimus, regarding the Canon of Scripture. He says, "When therefore I traveled in the East, and came into that country where these things were preached and done, I made strict inquiries about the books of file Old Testament, a catalogue of which I have herewith sent you". For the making of this catalogue the Christian Church to the present hour is indebted to Melito, Bishop of Sardis. He is historically distinguished as having put forth an apology for the Christians suffering persecution, addressed to Marcus Antoninus. The defense offered to the emperor will be found quoted by Meander in his "Church History" (vol. ii). It is to be regretted that the moving appeal of Melito was of none effect. Eusebius has preserved another fragment regarding Melito that is extremely curious and interesting. It would appear that Melito, actively engaged in supporting Polycarp, wrote two books upon the fiercely disputed subject of Easter. The works themselves are lost, but this scrap of their preface is preserved: "Servilius Paulus being Proconsul of Asia, when Sagaris suffered martyrdom, there arose a controversy at Laodicea concerning Easter, at which time I wrote these books". Bishop Melito seems to have been a voluminous writer, judging from the number of his works catalogued by Eusebius. "As an early apologist, a voluminous writer, and an exemplary Christian", says Milner, "he was one of the pillars of the Asian churches, in an age when the fiery torrent of persecution beat against them". In the acts of the Council of Chalcedon, mention is made of one Florentus, Bishop of Sardis. With the exception of these two men, history has not preserved to us the names of any among the "few" who were found faithful at Sardis.

In the reign of Julian, idolatry was restored in Sardis; though at his death Christianity was again established. The faith then continued to hold root in the city until the fifth century, when Sardis was taken by the Goths, and given up to rapine and pillage. Its streets flowed with blood at the time of the persecutions of Nestorius. Its subsequent history is that of the common country about it. The inroads of the Tartars and the Turks have brought it down gradually, since A.D. 1304, to its present state of desolation. The invasion of Tamerlane sealed its doom. Since that date, century by century, and year by year, it has declined, until it is at length a desolation; and the miller who grinds his corn at the mill on the Pactolus is the "last man" who can be called an inhabitant of Sardis. "In the lapse of twenty centuries the Persian chivalry, the Macedonian phalanx, the Roman legion, and the barbarous Goth, have been witnessed within its walls; while its inhabitants have alternately listened to the counsels of Solon, the hymns of the half frantic priestess, the lessons of Apostles, and the doctrine of the false prophet. But princes, warriors, temples, and churches have now passed away, and the owl and the jackal occupy the gorgeous palace of Croesus; while the black tent of the Turcoman is alone seen upon the plains through which Xerxes poured his millions to fall beneath the Grecian sword".


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