For the past two summers, the lazy countryside around the minuscule village of Sart in Turkey has been the scene of frenetic excavations. Under the field directorship of George M. A. Hanfmann, professor of Fine Arts and Curator of Classival Antiquities at the Fogg Museum, archaeological experts from Harvard and Cornell have led Turkish workmen in an attempt to unearth the remains of the famed ancient metropolis of Sardis.
This uncommonly rich site had already yielded great finds to the probes of American scholars in a previous expedition. During the four years that preceded World War I, a group of Princeton archaeologists unearthed the Hellenistic temple of Artmis, a architectural masterpiece, and numerous examples of Lydian minor arts.
Further, the Princeton group wished to explore the archaeological resources of this area especially to uncover traces of the original Lydian city, but the World War, and later, the Turko-Greek conflicts continually discouraged their efforts. One of the members of the Princeton group was George Chase, who later became a professor of Archaeology here and a Dean of the GSAS. Chase's administrative duties prevented him from tracking down the Lydian earthware that the expedition had discovered but had left at the site. Instead, in 1938, he suggested to his then-assistant, Professor Hanfmann, that a return trip to Sardis would have immense scholarly importance, not only because of the earthenware but because of large ruins nearby.
Professor Hanfmann was intrigued by Chase's idea. Hanfmann's major field of study has been Lydian pottery and he is especially concerned with the Lydian influence on the Etruscan culture that arose in Italy during the sixth century B.C.
A visit to Sardis while Hanfmann was in Turkey on another campaign convinced him that although Chase's pottery finds had been destroyed by vandals, Sardis itself, "this great and famous city must be resurrected, that American scholarship had a moral obligation to resume the work that the first Sardis expedition had begun."
Hanfmann was not going to prepare a "treasure hunt," however. "Due to rising nationlism, almost all the young Near Eastern countries rich in as yet unexplored cultural objects do not allow foreign excavators to export their resources. The days of booty grabbing are over. We have returned to Sardis to find new areas for the building of history. It has been undertaken in the interests of scholarship alone."
Sardis was a vital area in the ancient world. The fame and grandeur of the city in ancient times was enormous. During the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., the Lydian empire grew, and, under King Croesus, reached its peak around 550. The source of the legendary wealth of Lydia was the enormous gold deposits (the present expedition hopes to discover their exact location). In 540, the Persians conquered the city and Croesus, the "millionaire-king" whose memory is still honored in the phrase "rich as Croesus", died.
The glorious fame of Sardis continued into Christian times. Sardis was one of the few towns in Asia Minor to have a bishopric and was later the site of a metropolitan see that was mentioned until late in the Middle Ages.
It is, therefore, an area strategic to the understanding of the arts and history of Lydia, Hellenistic Persia, and Roman and Byzatian Asia Minor.
Professor Hanfmann's great enthusiasm for a renewed search for the treasures of Sardis was echoed by A. Henry Detweiler, Cornell professor of Architecture, who promised to furnish a contingent from Ithaca, and by the Bollingen Foundation of New York. The financial burden (the first two expeditions cost $60,000, the forthcoming campaign ought to come closer to $50,000) was shared by Harvard and Cornell with the Foundation giving $20,000 each year for three years if the two colleges raised equal or greater sums.
Pleased though Harvard is with the scholarly promise and achievements of the expedition, it believes that all Faculty research projects should be financed without the University's direct monetary aid. What Harvard does offer, however, is tax exempt status for those specified funds that are given to Harvard for the special expedition.
The first two years of what Hanfmann plans ideally to be a ten-year operation have yielded great finds. First the exact location of the Lydian capital has been definitely established. Though the Princeton expedition had found traces of Lydian art-work near the Temple of Artemis, it had not discovered any building dating back to the seventh century.
In archaeology, major discoveries don't usually occur in any meaningful chain of events. The Lydian room was uncovered after extensive exploration of the precinct of the House of Bronzes (called by the excavators "H.B."), just a few days before the campaign of 1958 was to end.
The House of Bronzes is itself a fascinating area. In the second week of August, three bronze vases were found under a melon patch not far from the highway. Hanfmann bought the land and excavations soon disclosed a luxurious room, full of bronzes of early Christian and Roman origins. The floor of a neighboring room glistened with elegant marble work. A fine statue of Bacchus stood in the corner of one room along with objects of a Christian nature and on the floor incised with Christian symbols. The mystery of the coexistence of the statute of the pagan god and the Christian implements, among them a unique liturgical embers shovel decorated with a cross and two dolphins, has not yet been solved by the scholars.
Further discoveries of a chapel-like area nearby and more Christian inscriptions led Detweiler, Associate Field Director of the Expedition to suggest that this house was originally a residence of the bishops of Sardis. Corroborating the general theory of its housing firm Christian believers is the fact that it was destroyed by a conflagration, most probably during Anti-Christian campaigns in the Fifth century A.D.