A marble avenue where ancient shoppers thronged, a Roman bath with colorful mosaics, and the first glimpse of the fabled golden riches of the capital of Croesus are among important discoveries made by a Harvard-Cornell team this summer in its fourth expedition at Sardis, Turkey.
The new findings at the capitol of the great Lydian empire during the time of Croesus were made by a team of 30 scholars and students, aided by some 200 workmen. They worked at the vast site in western Turkey which during much of the 3,000 years of its history was the Paris of the ancient world. The directors of the expedition are George M. A. Hanfmann, professor of Fine Arts at Harvard, and A. Henry Detweiler of the Cornell faculty.
Searching unsuccessfully for the royal road of the Persian kings, the expedition uncovered the grand shopping street of Sardis. This street, some 50 feet wide with marble pavement and sidewalks, was flanked by mosaicked colonnades, which enabled the citizens to shop or chat out of the sun or rain.
Avenues, colonnades, and shops were part of a rebuilding project begun about 400 A.D. Disaster struck this sumptuous quarter of the city some 200 years later when Persian invaders overran Sardis. Byzantine engineers later levelled the toppled columns, walls and other debris and on top laid a much humbler cobble-paved road.
The Byzantine engineers unwittingly preserved a masterpiece of sculpture, the bearded head of an unknown sage or saint, which the expedition found in the bedding of the Byzantine road. The head apparently belonged to a statue which stood in the colonnade before the Persian invaders destroyed it.
"Brilliantly carved, the portrait-head vibrates with nearly fanatic spirituality," Hanfmann said. "It well expresses the spirit of transition from the Roman to the Christian world, when pagan philosophers and Christian saints shared an intensive quest of otherworldiness." Because the artists tried to portray the subject's inner life, scholars have described such works as soul-portraits.
Next to the avenue, the Harvard-Cornell team is uncovering a large Roman gymnasium. The colonnaded marble court had capitals decorated with the heads of sad and laughing satyrs, Gorgons with snakes for hair, and other mythical characters. The archaeologists discovered new fragments of two great inscriptions; one records the construction of the mable court in 211-212 A.D., while the other speaks of gold-covered roofs, mosaics, and marble inlays applied to the building when it was restored by Byzantine architects during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.
Several hundred yards to the west, the excavators have begun to expose a Late Roman bath with bright, tapestry-like mosaics. The bath's heating system once conducted hot air under the floors and within the walls. The mosaic floor, carefully consolidated and lifted by a Turkish expert with the Harvard-Cornell expedition, will be placed on public view in the Museum at Manisa.
The archaeologists found another brightly colored mosaic-floor in one small room of a Roman villa of the 4th century A.D. "The cleverly interwoven pattern of the mosaic," Hanfmann said, "suggests the highly sophisticated ornamental sense of late Roman interior decorators," To command a view of Sardis, the villa was built high on a cliff above the torrent Pactolus, which once brought gold to the ancient Lydians.
The expedition found its first Lydian gold when it followed up the lead of modern graverobbers. A tomb of a Lydian lady had been illicitly opened during the winter; the archaeologists completed the excavation by sifting every bit of earth. Out of the dirt came a half-inch gold bead, delicately adorned with tiny gold globules, an agate pendant on gold wire, and a tiny silver figurine of a hawk, From broken pottery in the grave, the archaeologists dated the burial to the time of Croesus' father, about 600 B.C.
Information on trade and industry in Lydian kingdom of Croesus, in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., came from excavation of the Lydian bazaar in a great trench south of the modern highway. Heaps of ashes lying in a circle, moulds with bits of bronze, and actual bronze objects showed that large-scale bronze casting was carried on.
On the floors of shops and workshops, the archaeologists discovered many identical sets of crockery, each set containing a cup, plate, and two little jugs. "This set-up was apparently what a well-supplied Lydian needed to each lunch or breakfast," Hanfmann said. "But the meal in progress was rudely interrupted; the diners abandoned their places, never to return." Hanfmann suggests that the interruption was the attack by Ionian Greeks, who fell upon Sardis in 499 B.C. and burned down the city.