Archaeology Conference: City and Empire in Seleucid Asia Minor: Sardis from the King’s Peace to the Peace of Apamea


Thu - Fri, Feb 23 to Feb 24, 9:00am - 1:30pm


Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, 2nd Floor Conference Room, 61 Kirkland Street, Cambridge MA

City and Empire in Seleucid Asia Minor: Sardis from the King’s Peace to the Peace of Apamea


This conference is a capstone event for the first phase of the Hellenistic Sardis Project, a research collaborative formed in 2014 with the aim of understanding the city and its hinterland in the two centuries between its conquest by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. and its incorporation into the Roman empire in 133 B.C.E. At the start of this period, Sardis was an Anatolian entity: the old capital of Lydia, then the satrapal capital of Achaemenid Persia. By the time of the Roman take-over some two centuries later, Sardis had become a classical urban entity, adorned with the necessary fixtures of Greek civic life: a city sanctuary with monumental temple; a theater; a gymnasium; a mint that produced regular city issues; sizeable, decorated private houses.

The Hellenistic Sardis Project was formed to investigate this transformation from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Our picture of Hellenistic Sardis has not been updated since 1983, when George M. A. Hanfmann, then-field director of the Sardis excavations, published his Sardis from Prehistoric to Roman Times, a magisterial synthesis of excavation results from 1958, the first year of the Harvard-Cornell Expedition, through 1975, the final year of his own direction of the site. Annual excavations since 1975 have produced tremendous gains in evidence, but his picture of the Hellenistic city has not been challenged or expanded. This has meant that in the past 25 years, in most historical treatments of politics, culture, and society in Hellenistic Asia Minor and the wider Hellenistic east, the roles of Sardis and Lydia – strategic, fertile, and mythically resonant – have remained static, and increasingly marginalized.

Yet Sardis was a keystone of western Asia Minor and one of the most important political centers of both the Aegean and Near Eastern worlds. In the fourth and third centuries BCE, when its neighbor cities of Ephesus and Pergamon were still relatively small, secondary centers, Sardis was this region’s political center of gravity, a strategic magnet with a legendary past. In the two centuries that followed Alexander’s conquests, Sardis functioned as a royal residence, imperial administrative center, and garrison site, as well a revived urban center for new military foundations and older settlements. It is time to bring its story up-to-date and more widely appreciated, and to re-insert it into the scholarly conversation on the Hellenistic east.

The Hellenistic Sardis Project

The Hellenistic Sardis Project is a research collaboration between long-standing expedition members and scholars keenly interested in the site. The opportunity to begin a comprehensive reassessment of Hellenistic Sardis began with Excavation Director Nick Cahill’s invitation to Andrea Berlin to undertake a systematic, detailed re-assessment of the site’s Hellenistic deposit history. This endeavor was both possible and timely thanks to the publication in 2004 of Susan Rotroff’s and Andrew Oliver Jr.’s monograph The Hellenistic Pottery from Sardis: The Finds through 1994, a comprehensive typology of shapes and wares. This allowed close study of Sardis’ stratified deposits in order to firm up their relative and absolute chronological relationships. In 2011 Berlin began the project of studying every Hellenistic deposit excavated at Sardis since 1958. Berlin worked in tandem with excavation numismatist Jane Evans, who was already engaged in a thorough re-study of all coin finds. Both efforts were facilitated by the site-wide database that Cahill had built, which for the first time allowed Sardis researchers to search, link, and display every catalogued object excavated since 1958. Berlin and Evans also worked with Cahill to combine their results with his own detailed research on the city’s changing architecture and layout.

By 2014, enough new, reliable, datable material and associated remains had been identified to make a group conference at the site worthwhile. In July, during the excavation season, Paul Kosmin, Ruth Bielfeldt, John Ma, Fikret Yegül, and Baha Yildirim joined Nick Cahill, Andrea Berlin, Jane Evans, and Susan Rotroff for three days of intensive discussion, review of new material, on-site seminars and brainstorming.

Our key questions included: how, when, and in what ways Sardis was transformed from a native imperial capital and Persian satrapal seat into a Hellenistic imperial capital; how, when, and with what motivations it became a polis, and the significance of this; if and how the great built centers, either discovered (e.g. the Artemis temple, the second theatre) or attested (e.g. the gymnasium, Metroön, and first theatre), reflect and manifest these changes; the complex bundle of questions concerning cultural identity and cultural change, including “acculturation,” “Hellenization,” Lydian and/or Sardian identity, multiple ethnicities in the Persian period, local memory etc., and the evidence that might be brought to bear on these; the nature of and transformations in empire-city interactions, both within the urban setting and a broader institutional, ideological frame; developments in economic life and social hierarchy; how the city interacted with a changing rural landscape, the newly founded military colonies (katoikiai), and the other big urban players in the region (Ephesus, Pergamum, and Apamea-Celaenae); and, ultimately, how the various political periodizations mapped onto other delineations of time. At a larger scale, were any of these phenomena similar to or distinct from contemporary developments elsewhere in the Hellenistic world, e.g. the “Ionian Renaissance” or the Seleucid empire in the east? Was Sardis and its trajectory unique?

Our 2014 meeting informed the continuing site-based researches of Berlin, Evans, and Cahill, and led also to a second workshop the next year (July 12th-14th, 2015), in order to address two additional subjects: tombs and burial practices; and the relationship of the city with its surrounding region and hinterland. Berlin re-examined the surviving material from Hellenistic burials, and the entire group devoted a day to site-based discussion of the city’s Hellenistic cemeteries. A critical topic was how to “read” the re-use of older Lydian tombs, a practice that highlights changing social practice as well as use of space around the city.

In order to develop ideas and merge perspectives on the wider Sardian landscape, we spent a day exploring its northern hinterland, the location of many of the turning points of western Anatolia’s political history: the Battle of Corupedium (281 BCE), which inaugurated Seleucid rule in the region; the Battle of Coloe (228 BCE), that gave the Attalids initial control of Lydia; and the Battle of Magnesia (190 BCE), when a Roman-Rhodian-Pergamene coalition defeated Antiochus III and brought about the political demotion of Sardis. These repeated confrontations testify to the city’s frontier character, and its significance as the most westward projection of stable imperial power in Asia.

We canvassed the sites of Thyateira, Apollonis, Hyrcanis, Dareioukome, and Magnesia-on-the-Sipylus, in order to ground-truth discussion of such issues as lines of sight, transit routes, and topography. These and other farmsteads, military colonies, and towns provided the resources that supported Sardis under the Seleucids, and that made it attractive to the Attalids. Understanding their imperial and civic relationships depends in large part on situating the great cities within their wider settlement matrix.

We developed a new perspective on the re-urbanization of the city when it came under Seleucid control. This insight built on several lines of research: Cahill’s demonstration that the enormous space within the city walls was largely empty during Achaemenid times; Berlin’s fine-grained chronology of stratified remains showing that the first fundamental changes in settlement and cultural orientation occurred in the reign of Antiochus I; Yegül’s understanding of these decades as the likeliest moment for the start of construction of the Artemis temple; and Evans’ dating of the emergence of civic coinage to circa 240 BCE. A consensus emerged that Antiochus I's selection of Sardis as the western Seleucid capital was a hinge moment politically, socially, and culturally. We see Sardians, non-elites as well as elites, pivoting from a focus on their Lydian past to participants in the Seleucid present.

The traditional understanding of Antiochus III’s siege of Sardis in 215-213 BCE as the great rupture in the city’s history can no longer be sustained. Instead, it seems that the city’s fortunes turned with the Peace of Apamea in 188 B.C.E., after which Sardis was incorporated into the newly expanded Attalid empire. Shortly thereafter the city’s elites introduced new cults and festivals, a new stone theatre was constructed, dedications were re-inscribed in the Artemis sanctuary, a political culture of honorific statuary developed, and Pergamene-inspired household goods were produced for a burgeoning middle class.

The Conference

The goal of this conference and its accompanying publication is to bring together for consideration this wealth of new archaeological data and focused academic engagement. We see both conference and book as intermediate steps in the larger endeavor of re-imagining Hellenistic Sardis; it will be a capstone experience for work done thus far, but also a springboard to help us visualize what will come next.

We will focus especially on the era of Seleucid Sardis, with attention also to its immediately preceding situation. We will explore the following research themes:


  • the physical changes that marked the city’s transformation from Lydian capital and Persian satrapal seat into Hellenistic imperial center. This includes structures that are physically represented (e.g., the Artemis temple, the first and second theatres) as well as those only textually attested (e.g., the gymnasium, the Metroön).
  • the date and circumstances under which it became a polis, and the social implications of this;
  • the role that the physical landscape played in the maintenance of cultural memory and the formation of new identities;
  • the relationship—social, cultural, economic, administrative—between the city’s new political circumstances and the wider territory;
  • the interactions between city and empire, both within the immediate physical environs as well as within broader institutional and ideological frames.


The conference program is as follows:


Thursday, 23rd February

9.00 am           Paul Kosmin: Introduction


PANEL I: Sardis before the Seleucids – the long third century in context

9.15 am           Nick Cahill: Shifting Sands: Sardis in the Achaemenid and Lysimachean Periods

10.00 am         Chris Roosevelt: Beyond Sardis: The Inhabited Landscapes of Lydia

10.45 am         Coffee break 

11.00 am         Frances Gallart Marqués: Hear Her Roar: Figural Terracottas and the Cult of Kybele at Sardis


PANEL II: Seleucid Sardis: The Making of a Capital

11.45 am         Paul Kosmin: Sardis and the Seleucid Empire: Questions and Hypotheses

12.30 pm         Lunch

1.30 pm           Andrea Berlin: The archaeological evidence for life at Sardis after Alexander

2.15 pm           Phil Stinson: The City Plan: Looking Back, Looking Forward

3.00 pm           Coffee break

3.30 pm           Jane DeRose Evans: The Mint at Sardis amid the Changing Political Landscape of the Third and Second Centuries

4.15 pm           Fikret Yegül: The Temple of Artemis at Sardis: A Hellenistic Temple


Friday, 24th February

PANEL III: Sardis in and out of Anatolia

9.00 am           Ruth Bielfeldt on Sardis and Pergamon

9.45 am           Boris Chrubasik: Seleukid Sardeis and Attalid Pergamon: A Tale of Cities, Empires and Tensions

10.30 am         Coffee break

11.00 am         Elspeth Dusinberre: Gordion before and after the Knot

11.45 am         Sabine Ladstätter on Sardis and Ephesus

12.30 pm         Lunch

1.30 pm           Susan Rotroff: Sardis and Athens