Much of the early history of Sardis has come down to us in the form of mythology. This was the region of the Kings of Lydia, who are thought to have occupied the areo in the 12th century B.C. It is not known, however, whether or not there was already a settlement from an even earlier period in Sardis. The mast famous dynasty of the Lydian kings was thot of the Heraclids which lasted until the seventh century when- King Candaules was assassinated by his minister, Gyges. The story of this, the most famous incident in Lydian history, is thus told: King Candaules, last of the Heraclids, so loved his wife and was so beset with pricfe for her beauty and perfection that he found it of utmost importance that Gyges, the minister, should witness this beauty by seeing her naked. That is, Candaules wanted Gyges to sneak into the queen’s bedroom, and see for himself that everything the king had said about his. loveliest possession was absolutely true. So, one night Gyges did what was asked of him: he positioned himself behind a screen in the queen’s bedroom, and had a good look. The resulting situation was one that King Candaules had not anticipated. Gyges was caught in the act! The queen gave her husband’s minister one of two alternatives: He could kill the king and marry the queen himself, or foil prey to the queen’s’ private mercenaries. To be sure, Gyges followed the former plan, thus ending the Heraclid dynasty of Lydian kings. The new dynasty, headed by Gyges, lasted for a hundred and fifty years, According to Herodotus, this was the greatest period of prosperity for Sardis and the rest of Lydia.
King Gyges gave vast sums of gold and silver to the cracle at Delphi, and, as might be expected, received a favorable recommendation for his sordid deed. This message from the gods served to calm the rebellious supporters of the murdered King Candaules. Gyges quickly moved against the Greek cities along the Aegean coast to bring them under his control. This action of subjugating neighboring cities continued through the reigns of later Lydian kings, namely Ardys, Sadyattes, Alyattes and the famous King Croesus, The Jatter’s name has come down in legends as one of the wealthiest kings of this dynasty. The area of Lydia was expanded os far as the Kızıl Irmak River, into the Halys, and as far aş the areas of the Medes and Assyrians, ft was Gyges who had started the expansion movement, and also he who made the first /nark in Lydian history. His name was recorded in the annals of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal This age of prosperity came to an end with the arrival of Cyrus the Great in 546. Cyrus attacked the citadel of Sardis and defeated King Croesus, This effectively put an end to the Kingdom of Lydia.
The Persian victory over Croesus has been recorded in the’ writings of Herodotus. After two weeks of indecisive fighting betwee’n the two sides, Cyrus and his Persians outside the city walis and Croesus with his Lydians effectively defending, the critical breakthrough occured. The Persians watched as one of Croesus’ troops scrambled down a point in the defence wall to retrieve his helmet. It was at this spot that the Persians massed and scaled the wall, gaining entrance to the city. Herodotus writes that this vulnerable section of the wall was the only spot where the Persians could have entered Sardis. Years before, under Lydian King Meles, the walls were rendered inviolable by carrying the young lion born of one of Meles’ concubines around the city’s fortifications. The spot where the Persians were able to scale the wall was the only section that had not been exposed to the supernatural powers of the lion. Shortly after the city was taken, Cyrus ordered King Croesus to be burned at the stake. The fires had been lit, but Cyrus had a change of heart. Apollo was summoned to save the Lydian king’s life, since no mortal was able to check the blazing flames around Croesus, At that instant, the heavens opened and sent down heavy rains to extinguish the blaze. Croesus was cut down from the stake and taken to the Persian leader. The conquering troops were busily at work pillaging and wrecking the city of Sardis when Croesus asked Cyrus why his men were behaving in such a manner, Cyrus replied that the men were making cff with the city’s treasures and destroying whatever else remained. To this Croesus promptly assured the Persian that the treasures no longer belonged to Sardis, they belonged to Cyrus himself, and that his men were destroying and pillaging Persian property. In an instant, the plundering was stopped. Under control of Cyrus, Sardis became the central city of a Satrapy, the residence of the Persian Satrop or governor, in 499 B.C., Sardis was partially destroyed by the invading Athenians.
This was during uprisings of the Ionian colonies in Asia. The last roLic left over from the Lydian dynasties, the Temple of Artemis, was then destroyed. The attacks of the Athenians were eventually repulsed by the Satrap Ataphernes. The following century saw the arrival of Alexander the Great. He dealt the Persians a death blow in 334 B.C., at the Battle of Granlcue. The Satrap surrendered Sardis without a struggle. The city was then ruled by one of Alexander’s Macedonian officers Asandrus, but the Lydian population was permitted to retain a great deal of its freedom as well as its code of laws. A tribute, like the one Sardis had been paying to the Archaemenids, was now paid to Alexander. A temple to the goddess Gybele was refurbished, and an altar for offerings to Zeus was erected on the acropolis. At Alexander’s death, Sardis was taken by Antigonus. When the Romans came in 190 B.C., the city was being ruled by the Seleuclds. Sardis became part of the Roman Empire in 133, and was annexed by Pergamum. The Romans were responsible for constructing a great many of the buildings seen at Sardis today. Tiberius rebuilt much of the city after damages were incurred from an earthquake in 17 A.D. A temple was later built to honor Tiberius.
Sardis felt the influence of Christianity very early, and was included In the list of Seven Churches of the Apocalypse The city’s name was changed to Chrysantius during the rule of Julian the Apostate in the fourth century, and an attempt was made to promote the worship of the pagan gods once again. During the Byzantine ages Sardis became the seat of a bishopric, in the eleventh century the city and surrounding areas were occupied by the Seljuk Turks, and then retaken by the Crusaders under the leadership of John Dukas. In the 13th century, the city was reduced to little more than a village. The monuments left over from the onoe prosperous capital of the Kingdom of Lydia are reminders of the city’s long and glorious history.