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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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SARDIS was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia on the western coast of Asia Minor, and in the 6th cent. b.c. one of the most powerful cities of the world. It stood on one of the alluvial hills between Mount Tmolus and the sea, about 1500 feet above and south of the great plain of the river Hermus, and was inaccessible except by a neck of land on the south. The date of its foundation must be about b.c. 1200, and the situation was ideal for an early fortified capital of a kingdom. As time advanced, extension was necessary, and a lower city was built on the west and north sides of the original city, near the little river Pactolus, and probably also on the east side. The older city now acted as acropolis, or citadel, for the later. This rich Oriental city, whose wealth depended on well-cultivated land and incessant commerce, was for centuries to the Greek the type of an Oriental despotism, under which all must sooner or later bend. Its absorption was not without its effects on the conquerors, and Sardis became the home of a newer Hellenism, different from the old.

Crœsus was king of Lydia in the second half of the 6th cent. b.c., and planned a campaign against Cyrus, the Persian king. He proceeded with the greatest caution, and crossed the river Halys. There he was completely defeated. He returned to prepare a second army, but Cyrus pursued him in haste, and besieged him in Sardis before he could get it ready. The citadel was captured by means of a climber who worked his way up by an oblique crevice in the perpendicular rock. The city was similarly captured by Antiochus the Great from Achæus late in the third century b.c. The patron deity of the city was Cybele, but she is conceived as possessing different attributes from those usually associated with the name. A special characteristic was the power of restoring life to the dead. The city suffered greatly from an earthquake in a.d. 17, and received a large donation as well as a remission of five years’ taxation from the Emperor Tiberius. The greatness of the city under the Roman empire was due entirely to its past reputation. The acropolis ceased to be inhabited, being no longer necessary for purposes of defence. Its use was revived in the earlier Turkish days, but for long there has been no settlement at Sardis. Its place is taken by Salikli, above 5 miles to the east.

According to the view of Sir W. M. Ramsay, Sardis is alluded to in the Apocalypse, as are all the other six churches, as a centre of influence in its district. One of the cities within its sphere was Magnesia. The letter addressed by the writer of the Apocalypse to Sardis, with which, as with the other six cities named there, he was obviously well acquainted, shows that the church at Sardis was practically dead. It had degenerated and decayed from its early promise to an extent equalled by no other city. There were in it only a few faithful souls. That there is a remarkable analogy between the history of the city and the history of the church may be seen even from the bald account of the former just given. The instability of the city in history finds its parallel in the immorality of the church members. Most of the Christians had fallen back to the pagan level of life. The few noble ones shall have their names enrolled in the list of the citizens of heaven. The letter doubtless had a good effect. Christianity survived at Sardis. It was the capital of the province Lydia, instituted about a.d. 295. The bishop of Sardis was metropolitan of Lydia, and sixth in order of precedence of all the bishops subject to the patriarch of Constantinople. Not far from Sardis there dwells in the present day a people whose customs differ so much from those of Mohammedanism that it is probable they would become Christian if they dared.

A. Souter.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sardis'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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Friday, November 27th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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