Monograph 14: Sardis: Greek and Latin Inscriptions, Part II: Finds from 1958 to 2017 (2019)

by Georg Petzl



Ancient Sardis, the capital of Lydia, was of outstanding importance: in the Lydian period (until 547 BC), it served as residence of the kings and subsequently, under the Persian rule (until Alexander the Great), as that of the satraps. Throughout Greek-Roman antiquity it remained an administrative center. In the course of the last 350 years, inscriptions from this city and its surroundings became known, partly due to travellers and from 1910 onwards due to archaeological excavations. Most are written in Greek, some in Latin (the relatively small number of inscriptions in Lydian language, written in Lydian alphabet, are not the subject of the present collection; they have been published in Sardis VI 1 and 2). In the corpus Sardis VII 1 (1932), W. H. Buckler and D. M. Robinson published all Greek and Latin inscriptions (228 numbers) known up to 1922, after which year the American Society for the Excavation of Sardis came to a halt because of the Greek-Turkish war. Since the exploration was resumed in 1958 by the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, a portion of the Greek and Latin inscriptions has been published in various, widely scattered places; another portion, containing important texts discovered during the last years, is still unpublished.

In antiquity, much of what is now written on paper was chiselled on stelai, bases, walls, etc., of stone. Epigraphical documents, therefore, cover a wide range of themes. The present volume starts with “Decrees and other decisions”, amongst which there is a regulation issued by Caesar a few days before he was murdered (305). It stipulates the right of asylia of various Sardian sanctuaries and was engraved on a huge pillar, which served as “sacred and inviolable boundary of the Sardian Artemis.” Another group of texts contains letters written by king Antiochus III and his wife Laodike to Sardis (307313, late third century BC) dealing with the improvement of the formerly strained relations between the king and the city. Other letters and edicts from later periods show how private associations or villages communicated with the ruling power in order to be permitted, e.g., to put up a stele (317), to establish one market-day per year (318), to obtain the accustomed financial support by the city (321322), etc. There are even preserved the minutes of an assembly of the Athenian Areopagus (320) when it bestowed, in ca. 150 AD, honors on the Sardian representative to the Panhellenion, Polybios. They end with “He is worthy!” shouted by the Areopagitai. Public honors are epigraphically mirrored by the great number of honorific decrees and inscriptions from Hellenistic times to late antiquity. Some of them help to establish a prosopography of the Sardian elite.

Inscriptions tell us about building activities in Sardis, from the erection or repair of buildings like a portico (426427) or a fountain (428) to the dedication of the sumptuous Marble Court to the Sardian deities and the Imperial family in 211–212 AD (419). In the early first century AD, a temple was built by the prominent Sardian Sokrates Pardalas, who “erected the (statue of) Hera. Iulia Lydia, his granddaughter, restored it after the earthquake” (440). The excavation of the Synagogue has brought to light the epigraphical record of the contributions of many members of the Jewish community (often belonging to late antique Sardis’s elite) to the oikos and its decoration (486566). This leads to the high number of inscriptions witnessing the worship of various deities (434485): some of them are of Lydian, some of Anatolian, some of Persian origin; the Greek pantheon is well represented, and from late antiquity date texts by followers of the Jewish (see above the inscriptions from the Synagogue) or Christian religions (467469).

Religious or philosophical thoughts can be laid down in epitaphs. Some concern the idea of life after death (e.g., 690, a funerary epigram: “If one can speak of true friendship and the gift of awareness among the dead, then: Greetings to you, Prokleianos...!”), some the divine power of protecting tombs (e.g., 672: “I adjure the gods of the netherworld that nobody else be buried in this funerary niche.”). But many of them have a simpler form (e.g., 625, written on the lid of a funerary chest: “Artemon, son of Sipylos, aged 30 years.”). Some of the more developed ones give specific regulations (e.g., 692: “I, Aurelius Antoninus, diacon, have built the grave, in which there are two tombs and a tower under them and a triclinium and a sleeping room, for me, my children, and grandchildren, who share the (Christian) faith. If anybody else wants to bury (here), he will have to deal with the Last Judgment.”

There is a considerable number of fragmentary inscriptions some of which yield scarcely more than a few letters. Those fragments must not be neglected as is shown, e.g., by the (still incomplete) text 405 naming the emperor Diocletian. It consists of two joining fragments, one of which was found in 1959, the other in 1963; it was only recently that their belonging together was discovered and with that their meaning became clear. Seemingly insignificant fragments can also contain remains of great interest as is shown by the followng example: it is to be assumed that 577, consisting of but twelve mutilated lines, belonged to a long and detailed chronicle listing outstanding events from at least as early as the eighth century BC onwards. It was written, probably in the second or third century AD, on a marble plaque; further fragments of that important piece of historiography will hopefully turn up in future.

The above overview is only intended to give a general idea about the wide range of topics dealt with in Sardian inscriptions. The aim of Sardis: Greek and Latin Inscriptions, Part II: Finds from 1958 to 2017 is to present the entire epigraphic harvest (485 numbers) made in Sardis and its territory since 1958 in a comprehensive corpus. Each inscription is accompanied by a description of the monument, bibliography, translation and commentary, and many by a photo. Indices, concordances, and maps are useful tools for scholarly work.