A city with a strong and vibrant Jewish community during the Roman period, as well as a center for the worship of Artemis and home to a significant Christian community, Sardis is an intriguing place to visit for anyone interested in biblical studies or ancient religious history. The partially restored 3rd-century-C.E. synagogue in the city is the largest known synagogue outside Palestine from ancient times. Ancient shops, a bath-gymnasium complex, and the Temple of Artemis provide glimpses of the life of this ancient city. Once the capital of the ancient Lydian Kingdom, Sardis (Sart) lies approximately 60 miles east of Izmir along the modern highway (E96/300) connecting Izmir to Ankara in the Hermus River valley (today called the Gediz River). Portions of the ruins of Sardis are situated adjacent to the highway and are easily accessible. The ancient city was built along the Pactolus River, a tributary of the Hermus, and at the foothills of the Tmolus Mountains. The city’s acropolis was strategically located atop a spur of the Tmolus Mountains. The Tmolus Mountains (or Mt. Tmolus) were, according to some ancient traditions, the birthplace of the gods Dionysus and Zeus. Sardis first came to prominence during the 1st millennium B.C.E. when it served as the center of the powerful Lydian kingdom, which encompassed most of the western half of Asia Minor. The Lydians supposedly were the first to develop a technique to dye wool and also to invent dice games, knucklebones, and other games. (Interestingly, archaeologists found a terra-cotta die in the ruins at Sardis.) Legend says that Midas, the mythical Phrygian king, was able to rid himself of his golden touch by bathing in the Pactolus River. As a result, the sands of the river turned to gold. Though legendary, this account points nonetheless to the enormous wealth enjoyed by the Lydian kingdom. The earliest Lydian rulers belonged to the Heraclid dynasty, which according to Herodotus (5th-century-B.C.E. Greek historian) lasted 505 years. They were succeeded by the Mermnad dynasty, of which the first king was Gyges (r. ca. 680–ca. 652 B.C.E.).
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