Bill Long 10/29/04
A Lecture by Dr. Crawford H. Greenewalt, Jr.
It might seem strange at first that something about "Ancient Sardis" should end up on my "Current Events" or "Review" page, but the occasion was Professor Greenewalt's lecture on 10/28 sponsored by the Salem Chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America. He spoke with such clarity, passion and learning that I decided I needed to spend some time learning about him and the Sardis excavation.
The History of an Excavation
The modern excavation of Sardis dates back to 1958 and to the efforts of Prof. George Hanfman of Harvard University. Greenewalt, Harvard class of 1959, became involved in the expeditions quite early and has been, since 1977, the field director of the expeditions, now sponsored jointly by Cornell and the Fogg Museum at Harvard. Thirteen volumes of treasures from the site have been published to date, with a like number of volumes in press. While the Lydian (i.e., pre-Persian) history was of most interest at first, perhaps driven by the stories of the fantastic wealth of Croesus, subsequent digs have unearthed one of the largest Jewish synagogues in antiquity as well as the fourth largest Ionic Temple known in the ancient world. The latter was built in the Hellenistic/early Roman times. In his presentation on 10/28, Prof. Greenewalt introduced materials from three periods (Lydian, Hellensitic, Roman) to illustrate the archaeological finds and posed a number of tantalizing questions that the finds provoked.
Sardis, sixty miles easy of Izmir on the Izmir-Ankara highway, lies at the foot of Mt. Tmolus on the Hermus River plain. Herodotus, the fifth century Greek historian, attributes a 505 year rule of the "sons of Herakles" in Sardis, from about 1180-675 B.C.E. These sons were followed by a Lydian civilization which learned how to refine the gold that purportedly flowed down the Pactolus River from Tmolus, and became fabulously wealthy in the process. The riches of Croesus were already fabled in antiquity. Conquered by Cyrus about 547 B.C., the city remained under Persian rule until its conquest by Alexander the Great in 334 B .C. As with the rest of Asia Minor, it fell to the Romans in the 2nd century B.C. and remained under their control until the coming of the Byzantines several centuries later.
Of the many fascinating "finds" presented last evening, three call for mention. First were portions of a metallic helmet, dated to about 600 B.C.E. Questions arose about its early date, but he felt that the metallic/iron helmet with flaps was surely from that time period and was probably worn by a man found two meters away.
Second were a few balls with the name of "Stratonike" inscribed on them. She was a significant woman of antiquity, the daughter and granddaughter of kings and herself the mother of kings, and the balls gave Professor Greenewalt the opportunity to show the history of the Stratonike in art and music, much to the delight of the audience.
Finally, he focused attention on portions of four or five huge sculpted heads that were found in a refuse pit near the Temple of Artemis. Close inspection of the heads revealed that they were mostly of Roman Emperors from the 2nd Century A.D. (e.g., Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius), and that statues would have been nearly 30' tall to be proportional to the heads uncovered.
Thoughts on the Dig
Well-presented archaeological material is always a pleasure to try to understand. Gaps in the historical record, incomplete objects, partial excavations, ambiguous data all contribute to making the work of the archaeologist as much that of a detective as anything else. In addition, the plethora of specialties needed to master to read the data is daunting: one would need sojme training in chemistry (to understand gold refining), numismatics, epigraphy, dating techniques, archaeology, anthropology, history, anatomy, and many other fields. And, to be an anthropologist means that you need to be a person of extraordinary patience. Day after day and year after year you have to live with uncertainty, partial answers, and a collection of insignificant data that often sheds no light on "bigger realities."
Thus, I both admire archaeologists and know that I could never be one. Speculation and uncertainty is the nature of the archaeologist's life, with an occasional insight that might help put one leg on one creature that may have lived at one time in one part of the city of Sardis. But then, on the other hand, perhaps it is the archaeologist that truly approaches life in the humble and realistic spirit, realizing that the shards of pottery or statues is all we really ever get in life, that true breakthrough finds are rare indeed, and that the major focus of our life is in trying to put together pieces of a complex and refractory puzzle.
Philosophical musings aside, the lecture was a first-class presentation of work at a significant Lydian/Hellenistic/Roman city in Asia Minor. I was glad I went.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long