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Archaeological Exploration of Sardis

Since its founding in 1958 by Harvard and Cornell Universities, the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis has excavated, conserved, and published on aspects of the ancient city of Sardis in western Turkey from prehistoric through Islamic periods.

Sardis was the capital of the Lydian empire in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, when a dynasty of kings from Gyges to Croesus conquered western Anatolia, invented the world’s first coins, and concluded treaties with the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Among the archaeological highlights from this period are the royal burial mounds of Bin Tepe, the 65-foot thick fortification wall and gate of the Lydian city, monumental (perhaps palatial) terraces, houses, and a gold refinery. Under the Achaemenid Persians, Sardis was the major regional capital of Anatolia, and the mustering-point for the invasions of Greece under Darius and Xerxes. During the Hellenistic and Roman periods after the conquest of Alexander the Great, Sardis remained an important metropolis, a provincial capital under Diocletian, and was one of the Seven Churches of Asia in the Book of Revelations. Monuments of these eras include the magnificent temple of Artemis, a luxurious synagogue, churches, an Imperial bath-gymnasium complex, shops, workshops, and villas.

The excavation is conducted with the permission of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and is directed by Professor Nicholas Cahill of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Each year’s team consists of 50 to 60 scholars and students from around the world, including archaeologists, art historians, architects, anthropologists, conservators, numismatists, epigraphers, illustrators, photographers, and other specialists. The permanent research and publication staff is directed by Dr. Bahadır Yıldırım at the project’s administrative headquarters at the Harvard Art Museums. With Harvard University Press, the project has published seventeen reports and monographs, as well as many studies, articles, exhibition catalogues, and other works.

To learn more about nearly 60 years of discovery, visit